Less about the world, more about me.

Month: November 2012

Chief O’Brien on Comedy

(This is an article that the good people over on ramp.ie were kind enough to publish on their site)

If there is one thing that can be said about Chief Petty Officer, Miles O’Brien, is that he is not always Politically Correct. He may be able to make friends with an upper-class Arab, with an English Public School accent, but when it comes to Cardassians, it’s Cardie this and Cardie that. He really does not like them. He is not wholly above flirting with a pretty Cardassian (even if he maintains it was inadvertent), but generally, Cardassians cannot be trusted. He even killed a few of them, back on Setlik III.

Not very United Federation of Planets. Is it possible that this prejudice is such, that if Quark had a holosuite programme of Bernard Manning telling Cardassian jokes, Chief O’Brien would attend? Would he laugh? Would he take Keiko? Would he laugh as this holographic projection of Manning, inserts Cardassian into the place of black, paki, nigger, darkie, paddy and any other racial epitaph Manning delighted in, and grew rich in the use of?

Not likely. Chief O’Brien may not be always Politically Correct, but he is never hateful. He is also an engineer. He likes to work out how things tick. And he would recognise the genius of Manning. An excellent joke-smith, tapping into the latent (and not so latent) fears of his audience. There is a chance that the good Chief may titter a few times at the beginning of the routine, but he is an enlightened person. Soon he would be demanding his Latinum back from Quark. And if he was on the Enterprise, he would most likely book a session with Counsellor Troi.

What then would his response be to Quark selling him a Frankie Boyle holosuite experience? He would hear the same words used by Manning, but O’Brien would notice a qualitative difference. Boyle would make vicious jokes about Cardassians, but he would follow them with jokes about the religiously freakish, Bajorans. Even the fifty million or so Bajorans, killed during the Occupation would merit mention and mocking. O’Brien would be conflicted. Boyle would now be explaining that The Federation is so effete and liberal, that it would find some way to buy off the advances of The Founders, with sexual favours.

O’Brien would also hear the C-word used more often in that thirty minutes than he would have had all his life to that date, even having been born in Ireland. He is a soldier though, so he sensibilities would not be overwhelmed. He might even begin to laugh, understanding the fun there can be in undirected and scatological bile. Understanding how much stress relief there can be in laughing at things one shouldn’t laugh at. Then Boyle would tell a joke about Miles and Keiko losing their daughter, Molly, through an energy vortex. It would take weeks for the holosuite repairs to be completed.

And when repaired, Quark ever the trier, would take one last punt at finding a comedy programme O’Brien would enjoy. He would try Sarah Silverman. An understandably cautious O’Brien would not like what he was hearing. Again, many of the same words and phrases used by Manning and Boyle would litter Silverman’s routine. And O’Brien would be distracted by the sound of Jadzia Dax laughing so hard, she must lean on a grimacing Worf for support.

Why Silverman and not Manning or Boyle, he would be forced to ask? Silverman would tell the following joke; she imagined having to tell her parents she had married Worf. How would she tell them he was Klingon? It’s not that her parents are racist, they are, but why couldn’t she pick an alien from an honourable house? So she decides to emphasise his blackness instead, because he at least has a job.

Worf would storm out and Dax would be laughing too hard to follow him. It would only be then that it would dawn on O’Brien, why Silverman is a true genius and not someone peddling the reheated dregs of Manning’s imagination or the deliberately shocking humour of Boyle. O’Brien would see that Silverman takes on the persona of a cute, coquettish Manning, tells Manningesque jokes, but makes the real target, her persona.

Every racist, sectarian, sexist, homophobic joke she tells, has at its target, the type of person who misses Manning. Misses his ‘brave‘ attacks on the powerless. Misses being able to tall ‘paki‘ jokes without threat from the PC Brigade. Misses having Page Three girls plastered all over the walls at work. Misses being able to hate the ‘queers‘ openly and loudly. Silverman takes on the persona of a vacuous monster, because only a vacuous monster can hold to the views espoused by Manning and his knuckle dragging fans.

O’Brien would also have to appreciate that Silverman, provides the shocks that Boyle does, but in a context that is useful, rather than merely amusing. Yes she says terrible things that make one wonder if laughing is right, but the target is never a victim, the target is always a perpetrator of hatred. Boyle is not a racist, but he is a purveyor of empty calories.

O’Brien would appreciate this. He mightn’t enjoy it, but he wouldn’t ask for his Latinum back. He would however ask Quark to try getting him a John Bishop programme for the next time.

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How we vote

As appeared in Letters – The Kerryman –  14 November 2012 edition

It’s amazing how simple it is to access information these days. I sat at my computer for less than five minutes and with the calculator on my phone, I was able to work out some interesting facts. For example, in 1997, 2002 and 2007, the years we gave Fianna Fáil the power to destroy our nation, they never received more than 30% of the first preference votes, of the entire electorate. They were the preferred Party of less than 1 in 3 of those eligible to vote.

It took less than a third of us, to enable Fianna Fáil ruin this country. In 2004 we voted in a referendum which sought to prevent, as many black babies as possible, becoming Irish Citizens. Nearly half of us came out to pass that proposition. Last week, less than one in five of us voted to ensure that children had a voice, a legal and a real voice, in their own destinies.

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As appeared in Letters – The Kerryman –  21 November 2012 edition

It costs a lot, to stop people rocking the boat. So much, that the people running the boat cannot keep an eye on everyone, yet the boat seldom gets rocked. Why? The people who think they own the boat, use shame. What is shame? It is that invisible policeman, convincing victims they are the guilty ones, condemning them to silence.

Shame is what prevents the victim of a rape from reporting their attacker. It is the reason a parent will feed their child cornflakes for dinner, so they can continue paying the mortgage. It is the reason young men kill themselves, rather than seek help. It’s the reason a spouse will continue to endure abusive fists and slurs.

Can this shame be defeated? Yes. Our mothers and grandmothers demanded access to birth-control. They got on a train to Belfast and returned with condoms. The were supposed to be ashamed. They weren’t and the power to oppress them was broken.

Our mothers and grandmothers were consigned to prisons, if they got pregnant out of marriage. They were expected to feel shame and we ashamed of them. We grew to see their jailing as more shameful. The power to imprison was lost.

Our relations, our friends, our neighbours were abused in too many unimaginable ways by our vicious institutions. They were expected to stay silent about their torture, they were to be shamed into silence. They raised their heads and faced those who took them to hell, breaking the power of the abusers.

How many of us were trapped in marriages of crippling loneliness, but expected to endure? Too ashamed to escape? The shame faltered and we found our release.

How many of our children were born less than perfect and were whipped off to live behind locked doors? Never spoken of, never referred to, never embraced. But that shame turned to love and their prisons emptied.

Today and every single day, 12 women are forced to flee these shores so that they might retain control of their bodies. They do so, as their mothers and grandmothers did so, in silence and in shame. Keeping their heads down, voices silent, needs unmet and freedom denied.

Those who deny them choice, are content for our neighbours to provide the services Irish women require. Content that shame will keep Irish women cowed and bowed. Content for 4000 Irish abortions to take place every year, as long as they occur on foreign soil. Content that Irish doctors are unsure about what treatments are legal or illegal. Content that being the loudest means, they are the ones in charge. Ever hungry to keep things as they are.

Will they succeed? The women of today are learning the lesson their mothers and grandmothers learned. To defeat the shamers, the finger-pointers, the condemners and the moralisers, one just has to remember one thing, who the shame rightfully belongs to. When the oppressed look the oppressors in the eye, the bullies will be defeated. The boat is being rocked.

Some related articles; Things I learned todayTo debate or not to debateGood Abortions?My thoughts on abortion (In Ireland)

Kerryman 21-11-12

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A Bigot, is a Bigot, is a Bigot

I have a Scottish uncle who delights in calling my dad, Paddy. My father enjoys calling my Scottish uncle, Jock. One gets the sense that they’ve been at this since before I was born. My father, like so many of his contemporaries, fled the poverty of rural Ireland, to find work on the building-sites of England. Thus the non-Irish relations. He returned to Ireland in 1979 and it took me many years to realise, that returning was obviously a mad thing for him to have done.

There was still little or nothing for him in rural Kerry. What possessed him to leave good money and a house in the UK, to come back to live in this backward dump? “In England, he would always be Paddy.” Growing up in a virulently anti-English place, as Ireland was in the 80s (slightly less anti in the 90s and slightly less again in the noughties) it was more than beneficial for me to hear that it doesn’t matter where one lives, there is always someone hating and always someone being hated.

Not that Paddy is necessarily a bad word. It’s not. Many of us refer to Saint Patrick’s Day, as Paddy’s Day. It’s more colloquial, shorter and secular. I’ve told Paddy Man jokes, both those that belittle the Irish man and those that depict him as superior. And despite my British Passport, I am a Paddy, so if you are an Australian or are French or a member of a yet to be discovered tribe in the deepest part of the Amazon Jungle, please feel free to call me Paddy. If however you have an English accent and cannot lay claim to plastic-Paddyhood, then you don’t get to use the word.

That’s what Political Correctness is all about, robbing the powerful of a tool they once used to oppress i.e. specific words and phrases. Some rail against this imposition, claiming it is inconsistent for a word to be allowed for some, but not for others. And it is inconsistent, but why should those who were the victims of abuse, suffer the same restrictions as the perpetrators?

I don’t think a white person should ever use the N-word. It can never be anything but hateful in the mouth of a white person. Not that there are any legal strictures, which prevent me from using the word. All that prevents me from using it is my comprehension of common decency, which is again, another essential aspect of Political Correctness.

Common decency and an understanding that language matters. Words matter and the context in which they are used matter. If a white person uses the N-word, I am going to assume they are ignorant, until proven they are merely stupid or are bigoted. If they desist from using the N-word, once it is explained that the word is offensive and implies an aggressive disdain for black people and that the person using the word is presuming a position of superiority over black people, then fine. A misunderstanding had been dealt with.

If that isn’t enough, then one is dealing with a bigot. A bigot who is wielding the word as a weapon and is aiming to wound, is aiming to impose their reality on others. And it is not a very subtle attack. It is similar to what gay people daily endure. There are several epitaphs specially designed to belittle and harm and destroy gay people. Trouble is, a bigot is never going to wake up one day and discover their child is African. Gay however, is a possibility. This has led to a more insidious form of bigotry.

The language has evolved. Those with power, no longer use the language of street abuse. No, they prefer terms like ‘intrinsically disordered’ and ‘harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual well-being.’ Not Fags, not Queers, no Benders here, no, instead big words and ideas are wielded, to convey hate as reasonable comment.

This is where Political Correctness is at its weakest, when it is battling people with large vocabularies. When the enemy are not grotesques who can be ‘othered’ for their coarse ignorance. The young men who delight in ‘queer bashing’ and toothless rural types who can put centuries of hateful inflection into the term ‘boy.’ Those are easy to point fingers at and even silence.

It is the men with Doctorates and power and respectability, with their thoughtful and carefully edited hate, that are the most important enemies now facing Political Correctness. Not only do they seek to oppress, they do so, while attempting to wear the mantle of the oppressed. No one is better at this gross hypocrisy than the Roman Catholic Church and its fellow Christian cults who continue to oppose equality for gay people.

The bleating of this inhumane campaign grew to an astonishingly ‘offended‘ pitch recently, when a high-ranking member of this anti-equality coalition, was named as a bigot, by those he seeks to discriminate against. When Cardinal Keith O’Brien, was named as the Bigot of the Year, by a gay rights group called Stonewall, there was apoplexy, for daring to call this powerful man, his discriminatory beliefs and his anti-equality campaigning, bigoted. It’s as if Political Correctness has been turned on it’s head. Instead of denying the powerful, the use of words they have used to abuse, it seems now we are to see Political Correctness as just not being mean to anyone. Well anyone who is a high-ranking member of a powerful institution that is.

Let’s look at this poor misfortune’s words.

“Those of us who were not in favour of civil partnership, believing that such relationships are harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of those involved…”

“…but rather is an attempt to redefine marriage for the whole of society at the behest of a small minority of activists.”

“…victims of the tyranny of tolerance, heretics, whose dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy must be crushed at all costs?”

“…marriage is defined as a relationship between men and women. But when our politicians suggest jettisoning the established understanding of marriage and subverting its meaning they aren’t derided. Instead, their attempt to redefine reality is given a polite hearing, their madness is indulged. Their proposal represents a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right.”

“ All children deserve to begin life with a mother and father; the evidence in favour of the stability and well-being which this provides is overwhelming and unequivocal. It cannot be provided by a same-sex couple, however well-intentioned they may be.”

“It would create a society which deliberately chooses to deprive a child of either a mother or a father. Other dangers exist. If marriage can be redefined so that it no longer means a man and a woman but two men or two women, why stop there? Why not allow three men or a woman and two men to constitute a marriage, if they pledge their fidelity to one another?”

“Education suddenly had to comply with what was now deemed, normal.”

“Imagine for a moment that the Government had decided to legalise slavery but assured us that, no one will be forced to keep a slave.”

“If the Government attempts to demolish a universally recognised human right, they will have forfeited the trust which society has placed in them and their intolerance will shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world.”

All quotes taken from one depraved rant. But we must not call this Prince of the Roman Catholic Church a bigot? We would not want to offend him? Laughable, if it wasn’t for the fact that this Christian bigotry is killing peopleChildren and adults are dying because it is still acceptable to publicly denounce homosexuality as wrong. Denounce it because an ancient prejudice got written down and must now be accorded a level of respect we don’t give to slave owners, human sacrificers and those who would stone people to death. No, this prejudice is give a special dispensation.

The Roman Catholic Church can envisage an eternity of torment for gay people, but we must be polite in our rejection of that monstrous hate. Well no thanks. I may not be gay, but if a friend, a neighbour, or just a fellow citizen is attacked by people spouting irrational hatred, then politeness is not what is called for. No. If a section of our society is bullied, attacked, maligned and discriminated against, because a group of hateful men, think their god demands it, then Human Decency demands that I and everyone else, that is free of this ancient bile, must point the finger of shame and say bigot, bigot, bigot. To do ought else, is to affirm the bigots in their bigotry.

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(This is an article that the good people over on ramp.ie were kind enough to publish on their site)

We love unique characters on our TVs, those quirky and singular and likely to be routinely beaten up in real life. Think Jessica Day (Zooey Deschanel) from New Girl, Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow) from Friends, Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik) from The Big Bang Theory and Sue Heck (Eden Sher) from The Middle. All can be filed under ‘kooky’, a term our dictionary defines as ‘strange or eccentric’. In TV land, it is an archetype, usually female, and usually one which inspires strong feelings of either anger or devotion in the viewer.

That’s the thing about TV land; it can and does pigeonhole uniqueness. It doesn’t set out to undermine individuality. It’s just that in an industry which annually churns out many thousands of hours of product, every single character and characteristic has already been done. The fecundity of modern TV is not solely to blame; we have been inventing characters for thousands of years and let’s be honest, we’ve been repeating ourselves quite liberally for some time now.

One of the most enduring archetypes is a partnership rather than an individual character. A partnership of two contrasting, even conflicting personality types, who ,when combined, make a world-conquering team. It’s the archetype of the Warrior and the Intellect, and one which we would suggest began with Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and Commander Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in Star Trek.

It is an absorbing and enthralling relationship: the super-intellectual Spock and Kirk, the emotionally intelligent warrior. Time and again, death is defied and the universe is saved, as Kirk, with his über-manliness and all round awesome humanity, leads Spock, a character who seems to know more, but in reality only knows more facts, and not how to live and love. Influenced by Kirk’s emotional intelligence, Spock grows in humanity.

The attractiveness of this dynamic has led to its attempted replication in many other TV programmes. Even the Star Trek franchise had another pop at it; think Enterprise, with Captain Archer (Scott Bakula) and T’Pol (Jolene Blalock).

There’s the relationship between Special Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) and Doctor Temperance ‘Bones’ Brennan (Emily Deschanel) in Bones. Super geek and amateur human being, Brennan wishes to see the world outside of her laboratory. She is partnered with the emotionally intelligent warrior, Seeley Booth. They conquer the world and she becomes more human.

In Eureka, Sheriff Jack Carter (Colin Ferguson) plays the emotionally intelligent warrior to an entire town of slightly off-kilter egg-heads. He repeatedly saves this community of effeminate super scientists from disaster after disaster.

In Stargate SG1, there is a twist. There are two warriors and two brainiacs. The undoubted leader – the special one, the supreme warrior, the all-round, fully fledged human –  is Jack O’Neill. Even the Asgard recognised his specialness, and they stopped having sex thousands of years ago, so you know they have to be very focused on what they are doing and saying and thinking.

More recently, in Rizzoli and Isles, we have come full circle. Both character types are played by women: a tomboy warrior and her shoe-loving, brainy side-kick.

What’s remarkable about this archetypal partnership is that the warrior is always the more level-headed one, and the leader. In contrast, in the Sherlock Holmes tales, the eccentric genius is the leader. His many human failings do not disqualify him from leadership. He is clearly the more intelligent, thus is in charge. Doctor Watson, with his Military Service and his ability to interact with people, is relegated to a subservient role.

They toyed with this more old-fashioned value in the Star Trek movie in 2009. In this version, Spock (Zachary Quinto) is Kirk’s (Chris Pine) superior officer. This is treated as potentially disastrous. World-endingly bad, in fact. This inverted relationship, twisting the roles whilst essentially staying true to the archetype, is curious.

So to what can we attribute the enduring success of the Warrior/Intellect archetype? Is it an American value? Or is it more primal? Is it patriarchal? Is the archetype a somewhat peculiar view of the relationship between a husband and his wife, the solid and mature warrior and his book-smart, hysterical woman?

Perhaps we are doing this archetype a disservice by not describing the relationships as partnerships. But let’s be honest; Kirk does not play second fiddle to anyone. And it’s strange that even though there’s a fetishisation of technology in the genres in which we most often identify this archetype – science fiction, crime/forensics drama – the manly warriors are in charge an awful lot.

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Fouling in Football

An article I wrote about Fouling in Football, which the good people over at balls.ie were kind enough to publish.

Not many people may be aware of this, but actuarially speaking, hurling is a safer game than football. Seems counter-intuitive doesn’t it? But think about it for a bit. We assume that just because hurling involves sticks, it must mean more injuries are incurred. The thing is, the players are not allowed to hit each other with the sticks. It happens, but it is a rare thing indeed to see a player get a debilitating injury from a hurley.

Hurling might be a contact sport, but the object of the game i.e. possession of the sliotar, does not lend itself to the kind of full-on collisions, which are part and parcel of Gaelic Football. The rules of hurling are also clearer on what constitutes a legitimate tackle. Football unfortunately, has evolved to the point, where the game and the amazingly fit men and women who play it, have moved beyond the rules.

No longer the simple game of catch and kick, but a torrid 70 minute drag-fest, where every single blade of grass is covered and almost every attempt at self-expression is smothered, if not actively discouraged by one’s coach. Yes, I know you’re now asking; is this to be another lament by a Kerryman for a game, Kerry used to win, by just showing up? I’ll admit, there’s an element of that to this, but the deterioration I see in football is more than just a matter of self-centered aesthetics.

The problem you see, is that players are now fit enough to be as cynical as any professional player in any sport. We idolise sport, but we know that at the highest levels, team-games are amazingly cynical. Soccer, Rugby, Australian-Rules, American Football, Hurling and Gaelic Football, it doesn’t matter, the will and desire to win, far out-strips any of our quaint notions of Corinthian values, fairness and honour.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve noticed that when friends meet to play and there are no referees, the participants tend to police themselves and keep the cynicism to a minimum. In saying that, when I’ve played five-a-side with my friends, I will take that extra second to return a ball for a free, just to make sure I am in the correct position. And I do take a certain unfortunate delight, in ‘accidentally‘ obstructing an opposing player. We laugh about it of course, but we both know it’s a form of cheating.

If I wasn’t fat and old, I am certain I would not only have more opportunities to cheat, I would take a portion of those opportunities. Now imagine if I was playing for my County, there are thousands of baying fans, TV cameras and an All-Ireland at stake. Well you don’t have to imagine it. Just watch a Gaelic Football game from the last ten years. They’re a dreadful mess.

Again, this is not because we have suddenly become nasty people, no, we were always nasty. Look at the some of the old games on TG4. No, the difference is, the less skillful can now keep up with the skillful and foul them when necessary. A situation made worse by the fact that it is very difficult to get sent off in Gaelic Football and there are so many players to share the fouls between.

Taking substitutes into account, a team can commit up to 40 fouls (depending on the nature of the fouls of course) before a player need be sent off. 40 fouls! More than one foul every two minutes. That’s 40 fouls, by just one team!

Players are free to foul, players are fit enough to foul, the rules are ambiguous enough that sometimes a foul tackle is not a foul tackle, depending on the referee and most importantly, there is a belief that sending a player off is almost always too harsh. It spoils the game is the refrain. I assume this is cited as a defence, because the All-Ireland series, even with the innovation of the ‘back-door‘ is terribly short. Too few people seem to want to see players pay a high price for fouling, as there are so few important games.

This is destroying the game as a spectacle. Soccer is possibly the most obscenely cynical profession on the planet. Players kiss their badges in May and then happily move to a rival club in August. And they will chop a player down, dive, intimidate a ref, cheat and cheat and cheat, but the ruling body of Soccer knows that to attract people to the sport, it must be an attractive sport. So when a player brings down Messi, that player knows he is going to pay a price.

Attacking players are afforded as much protection as possible. Could a team as short in stature as Barcelona, have thrived in any other era? No chance, they would have been kicked from pillar to post and be expected to get on with it. Players get sent off more frequently and get suspended for longer. Is soccer now purer than Gaelic Football? No, but it does have a better idea of human nature. People will cheat, so let there be a price and make that price sufficiently high, that more often than not, cheating isn’t worth it. Sometimes you are gong to have to let Messi get by you, without trying to kick him.

In Gaelic Football it is almost always worth bringing down a player who is in a scoring position. Imagine a game of Gaelic Football with less than a dozen personal fouls committed over the 70 minutes. Imagine that type of football. Even Hurling would benefit from that change. The problem though, is that people like me are in a minority. It appears to me that most people are content with their 70 minute drag-fests, where fitness can overcome skill. It’s no wonder then I now wouldn’t cross the road to watch a game of football. Why would I when I can access so many more attractive alternatives?

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