datbeardyman

Less about the world, more about me.

Month: November 2013

Column: Supporting gender quotas

My column in The Kerryman. 27 November, 2013

Mayor of Tralee Pat Hussey has served this county for decades. He can look any Kerry person in the eye and say with pride and honesty, that he’s given back to his county. He’s done what we should all aspire to, he‘s tried to make the world he was born into, that little bit better. It grieves me then, that I have to disagree with his stance on gender quotas. His criticism of Fine Gael, a party he has been a member of for over 30 years, for trying to increase the level of participation by women in our political system, is most unfortunate.

I don’t believe for a second that Mayor Hussey is speaking out because of sour grapes, nor is it a fit of pique. I only wish it was a sulk, then he could be easily dismissed. Instead, I believe he’s motivated by a principal. He believes that it is wrong and discriminatory to engineer a situation, where regardless of talent, a certain minimum number of women candidates must be put forward for an election.

There’s nothing wrong with thinking this. It’s perfectly acceptable to view the candidate selection process as sacred. I myself think it a vital part of our democracy. I also happen to hold to the principal that the under representation of women in Irish politics, needs to be immediately addressed. In this, these two principals clash. Some think the purity of the selection process must win out, others think female participation is more important right now.

There has been extensive research into why women are so woefully under represented in our political system. This research shows five basic reasons for the present situation; childcare, cash, confidence, culture and candidate selection. The 5 Cs.

It may be 2013, but women are still overwhelmingly responsible for rearing children and even caring for relations who may need extra attention.

Women still make significantly less money than men and have less access to the wealth that does exist here.

With relatively few roles models and limited opportunities for participation, it’s been more difficult for women to acquire the confidence, both personal and professional, that men take as their due.

Politics can be a cutthroat business and is no respecter of time or any other commitments a politician may have. Parties have also been run by men, for men, since the beginning. They have become boys clubs with boys’ manners and boyish decorum.

Finally the most important C, candidate selection. Without time, money, inspiration and confidence, it’s far more difficult for women to develop the networks or acquire the resources necessary to just get onto bottom rung of the political process, selection to run in an election.

We cannot change the culture of Ireland, we can’t even change the culture of our politics, at the stroke of a pen. We can however get more women onto the bottom rung, we can at least get them onto the ballot paper. That’s all gender quotas will do, ensure women are selected as candidates. After that it’ll be up to them to get the votes and only then can they change the system which was designed for men, by men and that only benefits men, to one that benefits all.

I just wish Mayor Hussey could lend his considerable talents to that worthy cause.

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Column: Teaching atheism


My column in The Kerryman. 20 November, 2013

A few years ago I had the privilege of speaking at the Educate Together school in Tralee about atheism. There were three of us invited to speak, a Muslim, a born-again Christian and me the atheist. The children were very young and to my surprise, very polite. I would’ve been bored silly at their age and made sure everyone knew it.

As I prepared for the talk, I had to fight the urge to turn my presentation into a sales pitch. I like being an atheist and it is a common thing for people to confuse contentment with having all of the truth. It’s a problem one sees a lot in couples. Once two people become a couple, they suddenly become fanatical about pairing off their single friends. They have ‘seen the light’ of coupledom and are certain our salvation is to be found ‘in the light’ of a romantic relationship exactly like theirs.

So I had to dial it down, keep it factual and speak mostly about me. It was a fun experience and I think I managed to avoid lecturing and evangelising. It was also heartening to know that a school was exposing its students to as many different traditions and ways of thinking as possible. I went to Roman Catholic schools, they did not teach about the many possibilities.

My only criticism of my talk was that it was written and delivered by an amateur. I’m neither sufficiently well read, nor qualified enough to offer children a comprehensive understanding of atheism. The well meaning amateur has a contribution to make, but children deserve better than amateurism. An ordinary atheist, like an ordinary Muslim or an ordinary Christian, are useful as examples of lives lived in certain ways, but they do not offer the breadths of history, philosophy and inherent tensions, which lay behind those chosen paths.

Most importantly, the well meaning amateur cannot always be relied on to stick to educating instead of convincing. Convincing someone of anything is easy. Look at the sort of people we vote for, or homeopathy.  Educating someone on the other hand is mind bogglingly difficult.

Fortunately, this gap, which willing amateurs have tried to fill, is finally being addressed by the professionals. Atheist Ireland is a body which seeks to promote atheism and tackle the legal discriminations against Irish atheists. It has begun the process of creating a primary school course about atheism.

It’s an expensive and time consuming project. They want to create a course of ten, 30 to 40 minute classes, for a yet to be decided Primary School age cohort. It will be trialled and then amended where necessary. The aim is to teach these children of many faiths and none what atheism is.

If successful, it’ll mean that the small (though growing) minority of children who attend nondenominational schools, will be able to speak knowledgeably about a whole host of our planet’s philosophical traditions and faiths.

While this course will not be taught in the 90% or so of schools controlled by the Roman Catholic Church, the plan is to make the information available online. It will become a useful tool for parents in parts of the country without an Educate Together School.

Kerry Column 10

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Column: Keeping hurling alive

My column in The Kerryman. 13 November, 2013

Sports fans can be divided into two types, those who prefer the best and those who prefer the underdog. I love the best, so despite this being the best All Ireland Hurling Championship ever, I still feel a little let down as Kilkenny were beaten. I also feel privileged to have been alive during the pomp of the greatest team to have ever hurled, so I’m not too disheartened.

In fact I’ve been spoiled by these last ten years and what’s amazing is that I can look forward to being even more spoiled for the next ten years. In this post-Kilkenny era, there are now eight counties (including Kilkenny) who harbour realistic ambitions of winning the McCarthy Cup. Eight counties! Never has hurling been so competitive.

So when my father taps me on the shoulder for my annual lotto and membership money for Lixnaw Hurling Club, I’ll be even more enthusiastic than usual. It’s like a tax, but a tax I don’t mind paying as it goes to hurling. It means that as I watched Lixnaw in the County Championship this year and Clare win the All Ireland, I knew that in my tiny way, I helped. I helped fund the joyous spectacle that is hurling played on stages, small and large.

It’s a very tiny contribution when compared to the countless volunteers who keep hurling going. Tiny compared to the boys and girls, men and women, who commit themselves to training regimes of unrelenting toughness. All to play a game where the only guaranteed return is abuse from fat men like me and being rained on. Not that I hold with the idea of hurling being better than soccer. One may as well argue that blue is better than red.

The only real difference, a vital difference, is that hurling requires nurturing in a way soccer doesn’t. Soccer’s strength is it’s simplicity. Hurling requires an investment of time, expertise and money and again time. It’s too complex and too rare to ever be left to survive organically.

So when we celebrate the new openness of the Championship we must still think of those teams outside the top eight. There’s Wexford and Offaly. They teeter on the brink of being cut adrift, but they’ve a culture of hurling that makes their return to the elite, realistic.

Behind them are Carlow, Antrim, Laois and Westmeath, who are doing so much to try bridging that gulf between them and the very best. Then there’s Christy Ring Cup holders Kerry. I fear the big-ball game has such a strangle hold on this county, that adding to our 1891 title is getting less, rather than more likely.
That’s why it’s important that the top eight don’t circle their wagons. Without regular contact with the best players the game has to offer, second tier teams will be forever condemned to the second tier.

That’s beyond disheartening, it’s wrong. The attempt to keep hurling alive and make it thrive outside the heartlands of the game is being made by people who love the game in a way that can only be deflated and defeated by the game itself turning its back on them. An eighth team elite is tempting, but a top 14 helps guarantee the game’s future. Nothing is more important than that.

Kerry Column 11

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Column: A Consistent Health System

My column in The Kerryman. 6 November, 2013

I’m rather fond of politics, that’s why I write this column. The things that politicians do, why they do them and the results of those actions fascinate me. In certain company that makes me very dull indeed. Though if you want boredom, you should hear me go on about Lord of the Rings.

My dullness extends as far as political philosophy and the really interesting thing about political philosophy, is that there’s so little of it here. Take for example the Government’s decision to provide free GP care to all children under five years of age. If a political philosopher was told about this provision, but didn’t know anything else about Ireland, the philosopher would react in one of two ways.

If the philosopher was right wing, he or she would wail about the destruction of society. If the philosopher was from the left, then the wailing would be about the citizens still denied free GP care. Then they’d both argue about how this care should be paid for and how a health system is best organised.

This left versus right argument happens in most democracies, but not here.

The use of the terms left and right to describe political beliefs, originated during the French Revolution. In their Assembly the moderates would sit to the right of the Speaker and the radicals to the left. After every purge, the radicals would move to the right, replacing the beheaded moderates. The radicals themselves would be replaced by even more radical radicals.

Broadly speaking today, those on the left prefer higher taxes to pay for services provided to citizens. The right prefer low taxes and citizens paying their own way.

In Ireland this left right way of looking at the world never really caught on, as things like nationalism, Catholicism and mass emigration got in the way. Meaning that in 2013 we still can’t even decide on how to decide about what kind of health system we want.

Let’s for example examine my wish list for the health system. I want to always be able to access the best care available. I don’t want to die just because I’m poor. If I can afford health insurance, I don’t want to pay the high taxes needed to make sure the poor don’t die just because they’re poor. I want old people to have a choice between home help, full time care in their own home and access to affordable quality residential care, and I want that to happen in time for my old age. And I think the health system is best run by the private sector, but their profit motive has to be muzzled.

Now imagine being the politician who has to try making sense out of that kind of contradictory and self-serving bullshit. I’m smart enough to know that if a politician agrees with me on this, they’re not worth voting for.

We need to start at the very beginning. Ask this one question; should everyone, without exception, be entitled to the best health care this country has to offer? It’s the ‘without exception’ principal which will define the system. It’s the left right divide boiled down to its most simple parts. Answer this question then all else will become mere detail.

Kerry Column 12

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Lord of the Rings Nerdgasm

LOTR 1

I love this John Green quote. It’s the only way I can explain how cool this last week has been for me. On October 27 I attended the O2 to watch the RTE Concert Orchestra and Choir perform the sound-track from Lord of the Rings; Return of the King.

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On October 31 I visited the Newbridge Museum of Style Icons to see props and costumes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

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This mad love caused me to travel over 12 hours, spend a lot of money, desert my sick partner and have to ask my mother to walk my dog in the rain, but I’ve no regrets. The concert was as wonderful as the previous two had been.

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The exhibition, though small, had some very choice pieces. The exhibition lasts till November 17. If you can make it, then I can’t recommend it highly enough.

LOTR 5

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