datbeardyman

Less about the world, more about me.

Year: 2010 (page 1 of 2)

Still a Progressive Democrat!

I was questioned recently about my virulent hatred of Fianna Fàil, while trumpeting, with pride, my past membership and support of the Progressive Democrats. Fianna Fàil were not alone in Government these last 13 years. The PDs were right there with them, part and parcel of those successive administrations, which destroyed our Country. The pride however, remains?

I know I am unquestionably a hypocrite and that I’m inconsistent, but I retain my pride for two reasons. The first reason is that the PDs, or we the PDs, paid the ultimate price for our negligence. We no longer exist and our place in history will be forever tarnished for having had a hand in this economic tsunami.

There is something quite bracing in receiving one’s righteous punishment. We erred, erred dreadfully and we were destroyed. Justice was done and even if one is on the receiving end of that justice, its very rarity makes it well worth the experience. It also helps with the guilt of course, well it does for those who accept that guilt is an appropriate response to the mistakes of the past.

The second reason for me still having pride, in being a PD, will take a little longer to explain. It has to do with their place in my history.

I still remember that evening, in 1985, when the formation of the Progressive Democrats made it onto the news. I was 11 at the time, but even at that age and coming from an apolitical family, I was instantly a supporter.

Back then there were two themes which dominated our reality; the recession and Haughey. Coming from a working class family, I understood even then, what a recession meant. The shortage of money, the parcels from America and the less than salubrious accommodation were my family’s experience of that time. It was not beyond the wit of a child to know that we were at or near, the bottom of the pile. (it was also a time of mass emigration, a 60% tax rate, a crippling National Debt, a rampant Black Economy and the Church still had us in its death grip)

And even a child was aware of Charles J. Haughey. Even a child had to take sides in the great narrative of that time. It was either Saint Haughey or Evil Haughey. There was no middle ground and I definitely saw him as evil. At 11 that perception, could not have been altogether of my own creation. Family, friends and media, must have played their part in making me see Haughey as the villain of the piece. Whatever the Genesis of my opinions were, Haughey was the enemy.

I could not see (and still can’t to be honest) any goodness in him and thus I could not feel hope for the future. He did bestride the world like a colossus to my young eyes. He was the leader, he was a strong leader, and if he continued as such, we were doomed. (a big reason why I still mistrust the Irish desire to have a strong man to lead them) Then came Des O’Malley and even more than Garrett The Good, he represented the rising of the people against the scary Overlord. That he came from within Haughey’s own ranks, made him even more impressive.

Yes, I’m being melodramatic, but I am speaking on behalf of a child, a child who became a Progressive Democrat in his heart, at just 11 years of age.

That was then though, I could remain idealistically, even naively, loyal to the PDs, but now I must reexamine my Party and its actions. With so much time having passed, one can now bring twenty-twenty vision to bare on where the PDs went wrong.

For the longest time I blamed everything on Michael McDowell. Just because he was such a poor politician. I still consider him a cut above many TDs for both his intellect and his integrity, but a politician he is not. Two decisions I thought were the killers of our Party. The first was his reaction to a Labour Party Bill on Same Sex Partnerships. McDowell killed it, as he knew it would prove unconstitutional. Making it easy for the left-wing media to paint him as a fascist. He was correct of course and saved the State some millions but the smarter thing to do would have been to back the Bill and let the dice roll.

The second big mistake he made was not knifing Bertie Ahern at the earliest possible opportunity, I really wish he had knifed Berie. Though it would have given our Party an undeserved boost. With the benefit of hindsight however I no longer blame Mr McDowell for a thing. The rot set in, I believe, the very moment that the PDs entered Government in 1989, supporting Haughey as Taoiseach.

I say this as someone who knocked on doors in support of the 1997 coalition. My distaste for FF was still there but I also thought we were a party with a future. I didn’t at the time question what O’Malley had done and I didn’t question what Mary Harney was doing in 1997. It’s is only in the last year that I have concluded that O’Malley (one of the very few people I actually admire) destroyed his own creation by going into Government with his bet noir, Haughey.

In the short four years from its inception in 1985 to the election in 1989, the entire play book of the Progressive Democrats had already become National Policy. Taxes were being lowered and the State rolled back. The Tallaght Strategy formalised this ideological shift, Fianna Fàil and Fine Gael put aside their differences on the economy and began to turn it around, leading to the boom.

The liberal agenda, championed by the PDs also finally began to gain traction. Try to remember that this was a time before even Marital Rape was a crime and that Des O’Malley lost the Fianna Fail whip because he refused to vote against a plan to make contraception easier to access.

I have to wonder what if O’Malley had demanded Haughey’s head in 1989? How different would our recent history have been? Would FF have had to wait all the way to Brian Cowen for a leader untouched by personal corruption? Would our politics have been so reduced? Would we be less cynical about our leaders during this crisis? FF could of course have called the PDs‘ bluff, which may have resulted in our obliteration, but what a way to go.

We are a conservative people and so for their time, the Progressive Democrats were as radical as they come. And their radicalism also offered many people what they wanted most, but could not find in the Ireland of that time, hope!

History may not be kind to the Progressive Democrats, but there are a few of us who will always remember that they did eventually see off Haughey and preside over the destruction of his name, they played a vital role in ending the previous recession and they prevented FF ever again ruling alone.

We were dealt with harshly, but fairly, by the electorate. I just hope the electorate do to Fianna Fàil what they did to us and what we should have spent our entire existence trying to do to Fianna Fàil.

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Moral Hazard

As appeared in Letters – Kerryman – 27 October, 2010 edition 2010

There is an ugly term being used by bankers and politicians during these economically troubled times. The term is ‘moral-hazard’ and while moral is in the term, it isn’t in the meaning of the term. Moral-hazard is the dirty little piece of philosophical sophistry that the banks and politicians have invented that will allow them to reenact the evictions of the nineteen century.

What moral-hazard means is that if our government doesn’t beggar several generations of taxpayers to save the banks, instead choosing to save the heavily mortgaged tax payers of today, we citizens would party like twas 1999 and never again pay back a loan.

The banks, the professional lenders, are more trustworthy than we fools who availed of the services of these licensed loan-sharks. Think on that, think hard on that, the politicians, and by politicians I mean all 163 members of the current Dàil, have opted to save the banks at our expense. The men and women whose fabulous wages and outrageous pensions we pay have decided, on our behalf, that it is morally acceptable to save the bankers but morally dubious to save the rest of us.

How do we react to this? How can we react to this? I am hit by my desire for two, apparently contradictory things, fairness and vengeance. If the bank ends up owning my house, then I will want some conditions met before I can be sanguine about being thrown to the State’s mercy.

Moral-hazard is particularly galling as it should also apply to banks, to bankers and to politicians. If a bank is considered too big and important to fail, then why would it concern itself with conducting its business in a proper manner? If the tax payer is always available to bail it out, it can behave in whatever way it wishes.

As for the bankers themselves, well their behaviour is easy to understand. Some got rich through the mishandling of their banks and it seems the worst they face is living off their hefty pensions. Banking seems to be a consequence free profession.

Speaking about consequence free professions however one has to look at the politicians who destroyed our country. Thirteen years of Fianna Fàil rule has brought us from recession to recession, but this time it’s a recession with the added pain of huge personal debt. It took 20 years, from 1977 to 1997 to recover from the previous Fianna Fàil recession, just in time for them to learn from their mistakes and make the this recession the most destructive of them all.

Consequences however for the Fianna Fàil ‘brains trust’ who did this to us? Fat pensions and a delusional refusal to accept that they destroyed us. A delusion so strong that they would rather see politics debased beyond repair than resign, a confusion so deep that they cannot distinguish between Fianna Fàil and Ireland.

Men and women so divorced from normality and morality that come the next election, they can look forward to six figure pay offs, when they are thrown out of office. That is their future, comfort, ease and a few decades of writing memoirs that show it was all the fault of an American bank.

What though, can we do? How can we endure these hardships, while those responsible get to put their feet up and relax on the money we are paying them? How can the pain of every death caused by cut backs, every suicide, every life ruined, every family torn apart by emigration, be placed at the feet of these vile creatures, these bankers and politicians of ruin?

We are exhorted to come out onto the streets in protest. Irish people don’t do protest. What we do is follow, doesn’t always matter who we follow, but that’s what we do. Now we need someone to follow who will make the right promises. Don’t downplay the pain to come, we know now thats unavoidable. Do promise that no one is going to get off easy this time.

Make us just ten promises and Ireland will follow;

  1. Promise us a new Constitution.
  2. Promise us less TDs on significantly less money.
  3. Promise us that incompetence will cost a banker or a politician their pension.
  4. Promise us that this will be back dated to include every member of the Government now in power.
  5. Promise us that the banks will pay back every penny, with interest and without them passing this onto their customers.
  6. Bring the solicitors, barristers, consultants dentists, judges and anyone else, paid for by the tax payer, to heel.
  7. Break the Public Sector Unions.
  8. Eradicate the quangos.
  9. Dispense with all the higher grade civil servants. The tax payer is forced to pay for expensive Government advisers anyway. Why pay double?
  10. Finally and most importantly, any TD not pulling their weight, should be forced to face a by-election.

A Party who promises to remake, punish and lead will be able to save those of us who remain on this benighted island. A new Ireland may just be able to avoid destroying itself again.

The real moral-hazard the Irish people of today face, is if we bequeath a nation worth living in to our children, or do we just pass on our debt?

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Atheism for Children

I recently spoke to a class of 7 year olds about Atheism and Humanism. It was in an Educate Together school in Tralee, County Kerry. I found the prospect quite intimidating. I was worried because the audience were 7, not because of any problems with explaining my philosophical stance. I may be a strident Atheist, but if a child asks me about Santa Claus, then I’m playing the believer without pause or doubt. Of course I wanted questions, but the Santa question scared me.

I was sharing a platform with a Biblical Christian and a Moslem. It was to be an explanation of points of view and not a free for all of competitive proselytizing. I was glad of that, converting people to atheism is not something I would ever do. I of course believe the World would be a better place if magical thinking was consigned to the history books, but atheism does not provide the warm fuzzy feelings that many people require and can only achieve through religion.

Richard Dawkins is a hero of mine. I do however disagree with him about spreading the word, as it were. Mr Dawkins has a much higher regard for humanity than I and indeed many other atheists have. His zeal is an expression of his devotion to the betterment of his species. Most atheists would settle for a world where simply our beliefs are not outraged. Mr Dawkins wants to show people that our species could create a paradise, if we would but accept reason.

I think many people confuse Mr Dawkins‘ personal contentment and his enthusiasm for the rest of us, as smugness. I suppose so many of us have come to mistrust those who display any degree of certainty that we instinctively think Mr Dawkins must be on the make. It is horrible how cynical we have become, a cynicism that Mr Dawkins seems to have avoided.

None of that entered the class room thankfully. Difficult enough to explain an unfeeling and consequence free universe to children, without bringing orthodox and non orthodox atheism into the discussion. My concern was primarily how to pitch such an idea to an age group this young.

So I cheated, I made sure I was last to speak. This way I could glean some idea of who I was speaking to. One of my brighter ideas I must admit, though the fact that these 17 children were bright and well behaved and interested and open minded made the job of the speakers much easier than we had a right to expect.

My plan was to break my plan up into three parts. First define atheism and humanism, second, play a game of Chinese Whispers and finally talk about kindness, the Golden Rule and the Great Apes.

The first part went OK, but I did slip in an unworthy joke equating God with Harry Potter. In retrospect that was uncalled for, a hackneyed jibe more appropriate for the pub or a tweet. I explained that atheism describes an absence of belief in magical creatures and events. Humanism then is a philosophy of ethics based on reason and logic and science. They appeared to broadly understand these ideas.

The Chinese Whispers portion of the talk was a disaster. Seven year olds are literalists. So the concept of just passing information on as best as possible is foreign to them. It is the correct information or none at all. The game was quickly abandoned and never referred to again. I still think however that it is a good game to play when seeking to demonstrate the probable accuracy of any information passed down from the distant pass. I didn’t however panic, I did vomit in my mouth a little, but still appeared almost as if in control of the situation.

The third and most wordy portion of the talk was a tad under-prepared. I tried to sound bite too many things instead of picking one particular point and knocking it completely out. I didn’t trust the children enough, unfortunately I should have and would have delivered a more coherent and concise speech.

I began with a brief description of the Golden Rule, i.e. ‘treat others as you would have them treat you,’ a maxim as old as civilisation and explained that this was how I tried to live my life. I then explained that kindness is built into evolution and that our species could not survive without it. I then spoke about studies using the Great Apes that proved kindness and fair play are part of what define our closely related species’.

Then the questions began. The two most important were what happens when we die and do I believe in any kind of spirituality (the internal kind not the ghost kind). I was quite abrupt about death. I said we cease to exist, except possibly in the minds and hearts of our loved ones. Glib I know, but with a grain of linguistic truth.

As for spirituality I said that I did believe our species to be unique, we are unique in that we alone can tell the future. We alone know we are undoubtedly going to die (I said ultimate fate instead of die, they are children after all). It is how we deal with this unavoidable futility that I choose to call spirituality. We can embrace despair or choose to live full, kind and useful lives. This is my spirituality. There the talk ended.

I didn’t make a fool of myself and I didn’t misrepresent atheism and I almost avoided denigrating the magic thinkers. So not too shabby. I really hope I get the opportunity to speak on this subject again.

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Bring on the IMF

As appeared in Letters – Kerryman – 13 October, 2010 edition

 

Over the years, there have been many things used to scare entire countries. The Vikings, the Normans, the Protestants (or Catholics), the Communists, the immigrants have all scared or been used to scare populations. In Ireland it used to be the English that scared us. Today however, the rich people, who took over from the English, are telling us that it is the IMF that should be feared most.

 

The International Monetary Fund is the big scary monster that the powerful, suit wearing, men in Dublin harp on about, when we dare to question why they are mortgaging our unborn grandchildren’s futures. Their argument can be summed up as, ‘if you think we are bad, the IMF will eat your children. ‘

 

What is the IMF? It is the organisation which tries to keep all financial crises local. They will lend money to nations that no longer can borrow money from the usual sources. They do this to keep the global financial system operating smoothly. It is an organisation which a country goes to when there are no other options. Think 19th Century Poor House. A person would avoid starvation, but only just and pay a painful price.

 

They are an organisation that cares for one thing and one thing only, financial stability. They don’t do emotions. They also don’t do small print. They will say exactly what they want for their money and what they will want, what they always want, are cutbacks. The young, the old and sick will suffer.

 

I can’t bloody wait. I can’t wait because I can no longer see any other options. We all know that our Nation must be restructured, must be rebuilt, to save it from our suited men in Dublin. The IMF are the only ones who will break these rich men who are sucking the life blood from our county.

 

Only the IMF can cut out the cancer of cronyism that threatens our 90-year experiment with independence. The cronyism that is the small number of men that run our Government, our banks, our civil service, our Public Sector Unions and our quangos. This small number of vastly over paid men are guilty of destroying this nation through a combination of greed, incompetence and rank treasonous stupidity.

 

They still have the power and they won’t give it up. They won’t give it up because just like the previous bunch, the English, they think they are not only entitled to rule and rob us, they think themselves best qualified to rule and rob us.

 

The IMF will bring with them suffering, there will be tears and despair. They will however give us back our country. We will be a poorer country but we will be a wiser country. We will have learned that allowing a small number of men to run absolutely everything in the country, for their own benefit and their friend’s benefit, is not to be endured. We may then finally see patriotism as it should be, politicians wishing to serve, not to benefit.

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Green Party

This is an article that I had published in The Kerryman in April, 2008

It seems that not a day goes by without some reference to the environment. Be it the melting ice-caps due to global warming or eagles being reintroduced to Kerry or stringent planning laws to prevent house building. Decisions are being made and laws passed that seek to reduce our freedoms and choices to make the environment better. How can this be happening, when only 4.7% of the electorate regarded the environment important enough to vote for the Green Party at the last General Election?

Where is the democratic will of the citizenry in a situation where six TDs can inflict their ideology on an entire nation? We now find ourselves having this, tiny Dublin based entity, deciding how we in Kerry should conduct our lives. And the focus of their ire is directed at ‘one-off housing’. There is no democracy in changing a way of life without the agreement of those who are most affected. The values of the Green Party are not our values and in a democracy they are obliged to convince us not impose upon us.

Why however do these city dwellers so object to us building our houses wherever we choose? Why having lost the argument at the last election do they legislate as if they had won?

There are few people living in Kerry today who pine for the past. One would have to be absolutely perverse to miss the unemployment, the emigration, the crippling taxes and the sense of hopelessness. One cannot but be staggered by the new found wealth and energy of our county’s people. Anywhere one turns one can see new houses built and new house being built. Our lost generations are returning to enjoy the prosperity and in their wake we are experiencing the entirely new phenomenon of inward immigration.

Yet the environmentalists say that our house building is objectionable, unsustainable, harmful and even ugly. Would they have us return to the bad old days of stagnation and Christmas parcels from America? Where are their arguments and their respect for our culture and our democracy?

We should not however object to the environmentalist agenda just for the sake of it, we should first examine their case in detail. Give them the respect of the open mind that they seem unable to show us. There are eight headings under which the environmentalists object to one-off housing. They are all about sustainability, which really means that we will suffer in the future for what we are doing now. The arguments are as follows:

1) The environmentalists speak about ‘visual impact’. In other words what we are doing is making Kerry a lot less pretty. Unobstructed views of fields, trees, rivers and mountains are what bring the tourists to Kerry, not apparently the multitude of bungalows, dormers, holiday homes and mansions which have been built in the last ten years. This they say has and will impact on our spiritual and financial well being.

2) One-off housing also leads to increased reliance on cars. I suppose that’s an obvious one really. With everyone spread out then of course we will need to travel more. And public transport can only survive if heavily subsidised by the tax payer, who will also have to keep the roads in good shape. And the car users themselves are going to see the cost of keeping their cars going up and up.

3) Then of course there is the problem of electricity, water, phone lines and sewerage. We now have the most polluted water in Europe. This according to the environmentalists is because everyone has their own septic tank, whose contents are seeping into our drinking water. Plus we didn’t spend the money in the first place to upgrade our sewerage system. And phone lines and electricity pylons cost money, and do admittedly look ugly as they run through the countryside searching out every new house.

4) They also speak about other things such as schools, shops and jobs. The more scattered a population the more difficult and more expensive it is to provide essential services. And as mentioned before, it is becoming more expensive to actually travel to these increasingly expensive services.

5) Then there are the old people, who are used as yet another weapon in the environmentalists’ attack on our freedom. The more our population ages, in our scattered bungalows, the more difficult it will be, to provide the type of care needed to keep older people in their own homes and out of institutions. The number of carers provided will grow hugely and the cost of this will be borne by the tax payer. This is yet again a very expensive outcome.

6) The environmentalists don’t stop at that however. They also claim that we have a moral obligation to people who don’t even exist. They assert that in destroying our environment, we are destroying the environment of the unborn generations that will follow us. How can we be expected to build our homes based on what may be in the best interests of people not yet born?

7) There is also the issue of rural isolation and rural pubs. Without massively subsidised public transport or the relaxing of drink-driving laws then the time honoured culture of meeting up in the local pub will die out. We either stop drinking and drive to the pub or we all live within walking distance of the pub or we pay for someone to transport us all there. Whatever we do the present situation cannot be allowed to continue as in extreme cases it is leading to suicide.

8) Our creaking and crisis ridden health system has it in mind to centralise services. It is hoped that the fewer centres they have the better their expertise will be. This for many will mean eight hour return journeys for things like chemotherapy. So we can have substandard services on our door steps or we can travel for days for life saving services. It appears that where we live will decide if we will survive cancer or not.

This summary highlights the obvious weakness of the Green Party philosophy. They speak to us about prettiness and unborn generations and spirituality when they should be speaking about taxes. Stop talking about the environment and ask us if we areprepared to pay for our current life styles.

 

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Dying in Kerry

This is an article I had published in the Kerryman in 2009

I took a very grown-up step last year, I bought a house. Now don’t immediately switch off, just because I have mentioned property buying in the middle of a property crash, this is not about the epic financial crisis that our country is experiencing. This is a very uplifting discussion about funerals. Really! What do buying houses and funerals have in common and more importantly how can this be uplifting? Well, put simply, I now have an excuse to write a Will.

Healthy thirty-something year olds don’t usually have any reason to write Wills. It is one of the many advantages of being young and healthy. What I had not realised however, was that despite the eye watering length of my mortgage, the Life Assurance Policy I was obliged to take out, will pay whatever balance is left on my mortgagee, if I die prematurely.

So I find myself in the unexpected position of having an estate to distribute after I die. Of course my first wish would be to take everything with me in a Viking style funeral, but we are all environmentalists now, so I cannot be so irresponsible. I have to therefore sit down and write out what I want done with my possessions, who gets what, who is in charge of the process and how I want my body disposed of. I also get to pay a solicitor to make sure all this happens according to my instructions.

When I mentioned writing a Will to those close to me, I found them staring at me, searching for some hidden signs of terminal ill-health. They did not share my enthusiasm for controlling things from beyond the grave which is what a Will really is. Whether one believes in an afterlife or not, a Will is an exercise in extreme vanity. By signing a piece of paper, one gets to distribute property and listen to particular types of music, even though one is dead. How can one not be attracted to such power? A power I certainly don’t get to exercise while alive.

In writing a Will one must choose a solicitor and one must decide who gets what. That is the easy part of the process. After this it gets tricky. One must decide on an Executor. This is kind of like deciding on a Best Man or a God Parent. Except that liking the person is optional, one can dislike the Executor and prove this by leaving them nothing other than the unpleasant task of fulfilling one’s wishes.

Though in truth, picking a trusted friend is the best option. Again like a God Parent, the nominated person should first be asked. And when you have convinced them of your continuing good health and they are no longer angry at being given a fright, one has to make clear to them one’s specific wishes for how the immediate aftermath of one’s death is handled. It is a heavy responsibility, having to deal with one’s grief for a lost friend or relative and still having to attend to the details of that person’s particular wishes. So some pre-death planning should be done.

Fortunately, humanity has ritualised death to such a degree that in most cases one can go through the practicalities of losing a loved one on autopilot. A good undertaker will understand this and will quietly take almost all the pressure off the grief stricken, by simply doing their job. The process from the very moment of death up to the actual burial will happen almost as if by magic, because that is what a good Funeral Director can do.

Problems can arise however in a situation where one is not a traditionalist. If one wishes to alter one aspect of what is the usual process of burial, then that is where a Will, a well-informed Executor and an excellent Funeral Director become even more important. This only became apparent to me a few months ago. An elderly lady in Donegal died and as she was non-religious, her son ended up having to bury her in Derry.

It can be argued that this was a pointless thing for her son to do; he could have just given her a Catholic funeral and not worry about her wishes. Everyday people who live non-religious lives and lifestyles attend Catholic Churches for ceremonies, because Churches are where ceremonies are conducted. Even the Priests are aware of this ongoing pretence.

Respect for the dead however is something we take very seriously in this country. We are all keen to speak well of someone who has died and to ensure that their funeral is a picture of solemn reverence. So we must decide which is more important, a respect for tradition or our respect for the dead. Not an easy question. But a Will, with clear instructions will allow the Executor and the Funeral Director the opportunity, at least, to fulfil the wishes of the deceased.

I certainly don’t want to end up like that Donegal woman and have my friends and family traveling the country, with my coffin, looking for an unconsecrated hole in the ground. Thankfully however that won’t happen. There are 139 cemeteries in Kerry owned by the Council. So even the dead non-religious have rights in Kerry. But what of our need of ritual?

This thankfully can also be satisfied. Funeral homes, Community Centres or other public buildings will accommodate those who wish to attend the Memorial Service. And perhaps more importantly, one can also get someone to direct proceedings. An organisation called the Humanist Association of Ireland has trained personnel, who conduct Naming Day Ceremonies, Marriages and Funerals. Our need to do things the same as we have always done is still possible. It can look the same and even more importantly feel the same, but it doesn’t have to be the same.

The very last thing we will get to have any control over is our Funeral. Planning for it is not a bad thing.

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Lord of the Rings (The Movies)

In an earlier post I embarrassed myself with my big love of the Lord of the Rings book. In this blog I will embarrass myself further with a description of my ten favourite scenes from the LOTR film trilogy.

If you are the type of person who hasn’t watched (or studied) the extended versions of each of these epoch altering films, then you may find this blog a tad tedious.

My only regret about these movies (other than that they are not much much longer) is that Peter Jackson’s achievements did not launch a raft of large scale adult fantasy films. Understanding this failure is difficult. Did Peter Jackson set the bar too high? Is the film industry too scared to trust the non-fantasy book reader to dip their toes again? Is the source material without peer? Has the world-wide recession just taken too much money out of the movie industry? Or in this golden age for television, would epic fantasy be better accommodated on the small screen?

Anyway, these are my ten favourite scenes.

10 – RETURN OF THE KING – Near the end of the film, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin are having a drink in The Green Dragon. As they settle to their drinks, they share a look, as scenes of rustic oblivion carry on around them. In that look is shared an understanding that they will be forever apart from the others in the Shire. They know and accept that only their exclusive little group can understand what they experienced. It’s a quick look they share and it speaks volumes. It reminded me of those so many movies that showed the difficulty veterans had in adjusting to normal society after the heightened reality of war.

9 – FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING – Gollum and Sméagol’s debate about how to react towards Frodo’s rapprochement is a stand out moment of acting, characterisation and CGI. We get to watch, what is essentially a glorified cartoon, play two dramatic roles which succeed in winning the viewers empathy. It is a near perfect piece of acting. Anyone who bemoans the advent of CGI should watch this and see how Andy Serkis, CGI and fine writing add immeasurably to the art of film making.

8 – TWO TOWERS – As the Urak-Hai approach Helm’s Deep, King Theoden orders all able bodied males, including boys and old men to be pressed into the defence of the Keep. We watch as mothers and old women cry as their sons and husbands are taken away and armed. It’s a short scene, without dialogue and with emotive music in the back ground. It succeeds completely in alerting the viewer that this battle is about the extermination of the Rohirrim not the mere elimination of an enemy fortress.

7 – RETURN OF THE KING – The relationship between Legolas and Gimli is one of my favourite parts of the LOTR book and while the film version of this relationship is perhaps a tad glib it is still thoroughly enjoyable. Though it may be argued that those of us who read the book first would have gotten more out of the film version than those who didn’t. What the film version hints at, but the books detail, is the ‘daggers drawn’ tension and dislike that exits between Elves and Dwarves. This is due to pre LOTR events, but be assured, they don’t like each other. They both however, provide a great deal of the comedy throughout the movies culminating in the Battle of Pelennor Fields. Legolas and Gimli are keeping a kill count throughout the story and when Legolas brings down a mûmakil, with great aplomb, Gimli dismisses it still only counting as one.

6 – TWO TOWERS – Elrond attempts to convince his daughter, Arwen, to take a ship to Valinor. Arwen doesn’t want to go as she is in love with Aragorn and still has hope that he will survive the coming battles. There follows a very emotional and haunting scene where Elrond explains to Arwen her probable fate, even if Aragorn survives and thrives. He paints a picture of her watching him eventually die and her spending a near eternity withering away in grief. It’s quite beautiful and chilling.

5 – RETURN OF THE KING – Annie Lennox helped write and she sang ‘Into the West’ which is on the LOTR soundtrack. So good was this song that it won an Oscar. It is a beautiful song and even though it is the culminating piece of three epic films, it in quite melancholic. It tells of the passing of an Age and the loss of magic. Those who have read the book will recognise a quote from Legolas, about hearing the sea birds and will know the significance of this. It is a song that still has the power to bring a lump to my throat.

4 – FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING – Boromir’s last stand against the Urak-Hai is as heroic as it is redemptive. Having failed to resist the lure of The Ring, Boromir sacrifices himself to protect Merry and Pippin. We get to see him at his warrior best, standing bravely against overwhelming odds. Better still, he recognises Aragorn as his King and receives absolution from him. His momentary aberration is washed away and he dies a warrior, his honour intact.

All my top three moments from The Trilogy, all feature King Theoden. I found this character interesting in the books, but no more than that. Bernard Hill however gave a wonderful performance and I think he managed to steal every scene he was in. Theoden is a torn man and a torn monarch. The time lost under the influence of Wormtongue are a source of shame for Theoden and eat away at his confidence as King. This Theoden is inspirational as he strives to be the King he thinks he should be while he leads his people through their darkest hour.

3 – TWO TOWERS – As the Urak-Hai approach Helm’s Deep, Theoden is helped to don his armour. As he does so, he asks his aid de camp if he trusts his King. Theoden doesn’t appear to expect to survive the coming battle and is stealing himself for it. There is so much self-doubt and yet so much determination in him as he recites a poem. They also slowed down the action, which ad to the atmosphere.

2 – RETURN OF THE KING – This was my favourite scene in all three films from the moment I saw it. Though at the time of writing this, it is my second favourite, but ask me in a week and it may have swopped places again with my present favourite. Theoden at the head of the Rohirrim crests a hill and looks down on a sea of Orcs covering Pelennor Fields. Even with his 6000 men, charging the massed ranks of Orc would be near suicidal. Despite this however, Theoden inspires his soldiers to make the charge anyway. He gets them so excited that they embrace their deaths. Then they charge and it has so much momentum that nothing and no one can stand against them.

1 – RETURN OF THE KING – King Theoden’s death is as near a perfect ending of a life as one could ever hope for. Theoden had the opportunity to restore his honour, the honour of this throne and the honour of his people and he seized that opportunity. His inspired charge broke the Orc lines, he charged the mûmakil and in the end it took a Nazgûl to bring him down. His parting words (again beautifully acted by Bernard hill) to Éowyn are I think Shakespearean, ‘I go to my fathers, in whose mighty company, I shall not now feel ashamed’. He doesn’t pass just then however, there is a moment of fear as he dies. A fitting end to a man and monarch worthy of respect.

 

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A New Politics

As appeared in Letters – Kerryman – 15 September, 2010 Edition

I have written to you before about my anger towards the great and good of Ireland and their destruction of our Nation. Who could not be angry at their actions and enraged that they will not face any consequences? I would however like to be more constructive in this letter.

One of the most important elements in our economic ruination was our politicians. Their ignorant self interest made it possible for the bankers and the developers to behave as they did. I am of the opinion that this happened because we don’t elect people to sit in our national parliament, we instead elect men and women who’s primary job is to screw over all the other constituencies.

We in Kerry have seen this played out since 1997. In electing Jackie Healy-Rae, South Kerry was more than just fortunate, it hit the jackpot. As an Independent, who’s vote was and is needed by the governing parties, he gets to attract a great deal of money to South Kerry. Such money that we in North Kerry are left watching, with pot holed roads, green with envy.

At the next election the situation will change and Mr Healy-Rae will not have the same level of influence, but that doesn’t mean North Kerry will be doing the screwing. There is no realistic electoral arithmetic that will give any of the prospective North Kerry TDs any clout. We may get a junior Minister, but in a government with an overwhelming majority and during a decade of cut backs. We will not get our turn, we’ll be lucky to even get our passports back.

The alternative to a system of public representatives working mightily to get one over on other public representatives, is to elect men and women who’s job it is to look after our country, not our medical cards. This system is called the List System.

Put simply, each party will present a list of it’s candidates and depending on the number of votes the party gets, the bigger the number from the list are deemed elected. Now there are many ways to fine tune this system so that voters can have more or less influence on which particular people from a list get elected, but in the end, our TDs will have been elected to do one job and that job is running our country, not acting as messenger boys for the rich and powerful or pushing their snouts into the trough at the expense of the other pigs.

There are also two side benefits to this system. The first is that we would require fewer politicians, as we could decide on a number of TDs per citizen, instead of trying to make sense of the differing counties, constituencies, cities and populations.

The second is that instead of teachers and lawyers running our economy and heath system, we could actually access experts. Men and women who wish to offer their expertise to their country but not their lives to a career of meetings, bake sales, golf outings and boot licking.

Kerry has seen the best and the worst of our present system. The sighs of relief coming from our shock absorbers as our cars pass into South Kerry should tell us that this system is rotten. Even those in South Kerry must acknowledge something is wrong as they face the loss of access coming with the next election.

We can continue to elect hard necked shouters, hoping that luck and hunger for power will play the ball into our paths, or we can choose legislators whose job it is to govern all of us equally. I support the green and gold of Kerry, I don’t know what colours a constituency wears.

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LOTR Homage

Other than pontificating about how much better the World would be, if only everyone thought as I thought, I have also always wanted to blog about Lord of the Rings. I love this book, I really do. I have to be careful however not to claim this book as being one of the most important books of all time, just because it is so important to me.

I’m not suggesting that it is a brilliant book. I read a quote once that described it as a book about scenery. It is a book where the female characters are underwritten, there is little if any moral ambiguity and it is, in Tolkien’s words, too short. I must confess that when I reread it, I tend to skim over large sections, usually large chunks of the beginning and much of the Frodo and Sam narrative.

As a lifelong reader of epic fantasy I don’t think LOTR would even make my top five fantasy books. It remains however one of the most important books I have ever read. It remains the fantasy book that all others are judged by and none have yet surpassed. The reasons for this are; the term ‘epic’ and the mad genius of Tolkien.

Tolkien set out to create (or restore) an Anglo-Saxon mythology which did not survive the Norman conquest of the British Isles. Added to this insane desire was his in depth knowledge and passion for Norse languages. Thus he created an entire World, Middle-Earth and then told a little story about this World and called it the Lord of the Rings.

It is in this that LOTR has yet to be emulated. It is a book that appeals to the historian in us. References, hints, asides and allusions permeate the text and instead of being lazy back story, they all exist as historical facts that he has already written. Think on that. LOTR is but the tip of the creative iceberg. It is World War II or the Fall of the Roman Empire or the Renaissance. His World even has its creation myth, as detailed in The Silmarillion.

Erikson, Jordan and Martin write on impressive scales. Tolkienesque however remains the domain of just the man himself. Peter Jackson realised this and attempted to render this historicity on film, quite successfully in my opinion.

Scale alone however, does not explain the hold LOTR has over me. Timing is the vital second ingredient that makes LOTR so addictive. In this, one of its weaknesses becomes one of its strengths, namely the moral certainty. A modern novel without moral equivocations would be unreadable. I first read LOTR in my early teens.

It was in my early teens that I had begun to realise just how bleakly amoral the World really was. I had begun to see that black and white were really infinite shades of grey and it didn’t help that Spitting Image was showing me that an intellectually challenged Ronald Reagan had his shaky confused finger hovering over the nuclear button.

LOTR offered certainty, it offered heroism and it was moral. Granted it was an anti-feminist, xenophobic, violent and Christian ethic, but it was still something more worthy than what was being offered by reality.

That is why this ardent and strident atheist still returns to LOTR. I already know the truth about death but in LOTR I can find some truths about living, or at the very least, some stirring distractions.

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Being Irish

As appeared in Letters – Kerryman – 25 August, 2010 edition

Being Irish is becoming an increasingly strange experience for many of us. Having grown up in a white, Catholic, poor and unsophisticated land, we were adept at avoiding disappointment by simply avoiding hope. Then the boom happened. The broken heart of emigration was mended, men in dresses stealing our children was ended and our attitude to hope amended. Finally, the nonsense of the good old days could be dismissed by merely pointing to today on a calendar. We were in our new Golden Age. It may not have been a return to the “Land of Saints and Scholars’, but at least we had the en suites.

The Celtic Tiger was not however a lie. It did happen, I was there and I loved it. Years on end without worry, without fear and without gloom, I loved it. How could I not, money was plentiful and Kerry were winning All Irelands every other year? Truly a Golden Age to be both an Irish man and a Kerry man. It was not a lie.

Though it wasn’t at all real. Now we know Ireland was being mortgaged, remortgaged and then mortgaged again by over ambitious developers, with the help of greedy bankers, under the sleepy eye of cowardly Civil Servants, with our mediocre leprechaun politicians jumping up and down, clapping their hands with dumb glee. The only positive thing we can say about this murder of woeful men, is that the scale of their incompetent cupidity is truly astonishing. They did not beggar a Nation; they have beggared at least three generations of what are supposed to be their fellow citizens. At least the British had the decency to be racist foreigners.

We were led, herded, cajoled, sleep walked and applauded into ruin by little men in suits who are still spending our money. From the Norman invasion of 1169 to the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, we men and women of Ireland always held the belief that we were best qualified to rule this island. Now we know that this is isn’t strictly true. Now we know that there is such a thing as ‘economic treason‘ we now know that a few dozen men in suits can put our unborn grand children into debt.

We invited the Normans into Ireland in 1169, we elected these politicians in 1997, 2002 and again in 2007 and very soon they will be coming back to our doors saying how well they have been doing dealing with this unfortunate mess, that was caused by the Americans. We take such pride in the accomplishments of our fellow citizens. An Irish man or an Irish woman does anything positive anywhere in the world and we will feel a tiny tingle of joy. We spend huge amounts of money traveling the length and breadth of this island following our counties sporting representatives. Sharing their joys and their disappointments.

How do we retain such pride in our counties and in our Nation, yet display so much self-loathing in how we vote?

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