Less about the world, more about me.

Year: 2015 (Page 1 of 2)

Marriage Equality (some people still haven’t gotten over it)

As appeared in Letters – The Kerryman – 25 November, 2015 edition

As I read Frank O’Meara’s (Letters to the Editor, November 18) attack on marriage equality, I must admit to some confusion. He seems to be saying the government is changing the Roman Catholic Church’s definition of marriage. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Roman Catholic Church retains the right to define marriage in whatever way it chooses.

The greater part of the Irish people on the other hand, have decided to define marriage as something more inclusive and instructed the government to open this institution to same sex couples.

The argument is over, all that remains, is for Mr O’Meara to show a little more dignity and move on.

Kerryman 25-11-15

A Few Thoughts on Burton and Murphy

I’ve spent a long time getting my head around the incident involving Joan Burton in Jobstown last year. She and her staff were accosted by a large group of people who were protesting against the introduction of water charges. This culminated in her being trapped in her car for a considerable amount of time. One of the protesters was Paul Murphy TD. Charges have now been brought against Murphy and several other protestors.

Full disclosure, I’m a member of Fine Gael. I support water charges and have paid mine. Also, I have little time for the far left. On the other hand, I hope my party loses at least twenty seats because of how the introduction of the water charges was handled. Spectacular incompetence merits a spectacular punishment.  Further, I have little respect for Burton herself, who seems to relish appeasing the right wing of my party more than her own voters.

All that being said, my initial response to that incident was to name it an attack and hope the law would come down like a ton of bricks on those who attacked her. It was an emotional response and is revealing of who I am and what my values and prejudices are.

What are those values and prejudices?

-I dislike Paul Murphy intensely, but it is an emotion I don’t have for the far left in general. I have no illusions about my party being in the van of those tackling fascism if that disease ever infects this country. It’ll be the far left, kicking ass and taking names. And the far left do have a habit of pointing out that capitalism is absurd. It is important for those of us who defend capitalism to hear that, because capitalism is indeed absurd and cruel and wasteful. It is incumbent upon us then, to ameliorate that intrinsic absurdity and have good arguments for why this awful thing is better than the utopia promised by the far left.

-I dislike and fear mobs, whatever their ideology. I have certain ideas about what constitutes an appropriate protest. It should not have to resort to violence to make the point that pure numbers should. Yes, that might contradict my previous point and it opens me up to accusations of conservatism. Both are true, but only to a degree.

-If Big Phil Hogan had been in the car, and not Joan Burton, would my emotional response have been different? Unfortunately I think it would have. I fear I am not as free from sexism as I’d assumed I was. That’s something I have to own and work on.

-Then there’s my hypocrisy. Would I have cared as much if the person attacked was Gerry Adams or Nigel Farage. Almost certainly not. Well actually, no ‘almost’ about it. I would now be using the same euphemisms currently used by Murphy’s supporters; disruption, inconvenienced, blockade, sit-down protest etc.

-Fear and confusion. That attack scared me. I wasn’t even there and it scared me. And it confused me because a citizen should not be impeded by a mob, but the last thing I want to see is the Gardai wading into a situation with jolly abandon. Yes, I’m a woolly-headed liberal as well.

-And finally disgust at the government I voted for and support, being so incompetent and tone deaf regarding the introduction of water charges. I on the one hand, want this Fine Gael and Labour government reelected at the next election, but I want them also to pay a huge price for how poorly they’ve dealt with this issue.

That is the emotional part. It doesn’t even touch on my cynicism. I don’t want the protesters jailed purely because it might hurt FG and Labour electorally.

In the end, I fear this issue comes down to a clash of opinions. I can say what I like about what happened in Jobstown, but it won’t influence a single person. Because I suspect I am not alone in reacting emotionally to it. And then convinced ourselves that our emotional response is both rational and correct. So I’ve gotten my head around it, but the rest of me still isn’t sure.

Happy Tolkien Week

As it’s Tolkien Week, and inspired by my favourite Tolkien blogger, James Moffett and my friend Candi, I am completing this Tolkien questionnaire. I shall endeavour not to ramble. But I can’t promise anything.

1. What draws you to Tolkien’s stories? (The characters, the quests, the themes, the worlds, etc.)
How to avoid an essay answer? First, it is the grandeur and breadth of Tolkien’s creation.
Secondly, it is the layers. Anytime I read any of the Middle Earth books (and to Jackson’s eternal credit, when I watch the films) I am struck by the gaps. I am aware of things missing. It reads as a history, but a necessarily incomplete history. It makes me sometimes wish that Tolkien would get out of the way so a team of archeologists, anthropologists and scientists with carbon dating equipment can take over. I want them to discover what parts of his tale are true, what parts are embellished and what parts are pure fiction.
Thirdly, it is the story of Lord of the Rings. It is a relatively straightforward quest. Return the One Ring to where it had been forged and thus unmake it. These are the good guys and those are the bad guys. Here are the people we trust to carry the Ring. Well, this is the person who can carry it and these are his companions, who are mostly trustworthy. This is the current political situation. These are the personality, familial, racial, internal, external, dynastic and military tensions that have to be negotiated. Then there’s the overwhelming numbers, the presence of magic, immortal beings and shedloads of geography. And what is the Ring exactly and what do you mean there are other Rings of Power. Gandalf is a what now? Simple.
And finally there are the characters. So many of them and so wonderfully realised.
2. What was the first Middle Earth book you read and/or movie you saw? What did you think of it?
I read Lord of the Rings, for the first time, in my mid-teens. I was blown away by it. I adored it. Have read fantasy ever since. I even write it now.
3. Name three of your favourite characters and tell us why you like them.
Galadriel – I like that she is so hauntingly majestic. I was always drawn to the elves and she represents the most complete Elf on Middle Earth.
Boromir – He stumbled. Badly. But he did his duty. What more can be asked of anyone?
Éoywn – A warrior who had to fight for the right to prove her valour. A true hero.
4. Are there any secondary characters you think deserve more attention?
Does King Theoden count as secondary? He probably doesn’t but the previous question only allowed three favourites. Then there’s Beren and Luthien. You just don’t get bigger or more epic romances than theirs. And I know Treebeard may be a controversial choice, but book Treebeard had a mournful quality and a majesty that I really liked.
5. What Middle Earth character do you relate to the most?
Faramir. Definitely Faramir.
6. If you could ask Professor Tolkien one Middle Earth-related question, what would you like to ask him?
Do you regret that your vision is now cast in stone? Your work is regarded as so sacrosanct that it is treated as if it is complete? Would you prefer the gaps to be filled in with new stories or with scholarly speculation? (That’s one question in three parts. Honestly.)
7. Are there any pieces of Middle Earth merchandise you would particularly like to own, but don’t?
I would kill any number of friends and relations to have either Theoden’s sword or helm.
8. What battle would you absolutely not want to be part of?
The Kinslaying at Alqualondë. 
9. Would you rather eat a meal at the Rivendell or Bag End?
Rivendell of course. There are elves there.
10. List up to ten of your favorite lines/quotes from the books or movies.
“I go to my fathers in whose mighty company I shall not now feel ashamed.”

“My Brother, My Captain, My King.”
“Death. Death. Death.”
“I am old, Gandalf. I don’t look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts. Well-preserved indeed! Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. I need a change, or something.”
“Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!” Then Merry heard of all sounds in that hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. “But no living man am I!”
“He will come to death an image of the splendour of the kings of Men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world. But you, my daughter, you will linger on in darkness and in doubt as nightfall in winter that comes without a star. Here you will dwell bound to your grief under the fading trees until all the world is changed and the long years of your life are utterly spent.”
Gimli: “I have taken my worst wound at this parting, having looked my last upon that which is fairest. Henceforth I will call nothing fair unless it be her gift to me.”
Legolas: “What was it?”
Gimli: “I asked her for one hair from her golden head. She gave me three.”
“We set out to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me.”
“I will not say, do not weep, for not all tears are an evil.”
Have some fun and answer the questions yourself and have a very Happy Tolkien Week everybody. 

Kerryman Letter re Syrian Refugees

As appeared in Letters – The Kerryman – 9 September 2015 edition

I remember when I was in school, being taught about the horror that was The Great Famine. A million dead, millions more fleeing and a British government that simply stood by and let it happen. At the time I didn’t have as much access to world news as children have today. So I didn’t really know how bad things were for other people.

It makes me wonder if these tech savvy students look at their teachers and think: how is our government different to those terrible Brits back in 1847? What are we doing to help the Syrian refugees?

The population of Ireland halved. Half the population of Syria has been reduced to refugee status. A small portion of these people have sought haven in Europe. We sent our millions on Coffin Ships to the US. Now we bolt our doors against drowning children.

Do we require teachers to instil hypocrisy in our children? To tell them that what happened in 1847 was wrong but refusing to help the Syrians is different because, well just because.

Do we need to teach our children that ambition, sacrifice and solidarity only exist in books? That in the real world, we watch people suffer and die without offering aid, because it has nothing to do with us.

The centenary of The 1916 Rising is fast approaching. What are we teaching our children about what it means to be Irish, when we turn our back on our duty as humans?

Kerryman 09-09-15

Moving a Nation

The genius of oratory is that it uses mere words, to inspire. It uses words to bypass the intellectual and moral sensibilities of the audience, to tap directly into its emotions. It is an art because it recognises that where an audience’s ‘feelings’ go, their minds and bodies must surely follow. It is a daunting power; the ability to move people to action, often against their better judgement.

Pearse, Churchill, O’Connell, King, Parnell, Lincoln, rare men. For they had that power, to hold the small enraptured, and once in thrall, set them to the task of being giants.

I distrust these demagogues. Moulding the mob is not just the preserve of the great. From Caesar to Hitler, appealing to the petty prejudices of the populace, can see the small inspired to be monsters.

Throughout Ireland’s most recent economic and social malaise, I have been gratified by the failure of anyone to emerge, who might seek to galvanise the citizens. Rather we should muddle through and trust, to blind hope, that those we elevate, don’t reflect our foibles too closely.

Then a country, a continent away, implodes. A catastrophe measured in millions. A devastation depicted with drowned babies. Military might, discredited. Economic power, diminished. Moral courage, gone. Leadership, reflecting our foibles all too well.

How does one move a nation to shame, once shame has been too long forgotten? How does one preach responsibility, solidarity and charity, to those who wear the mask of victimhood with such surly enthusiasm?

Pictures of dead babies no longer work, even when the babies have pale skin. Remembering history does not work, as we have been taught only to blame. A call for humanity, presumes a humanity.

Who can move a nation that shrugs its shoulders at the sight of dead babies? Who now has the power to communicate with the better angels of our nature?

Kerryman Letter re The Angelus

As appeared in Letters – The Kerryman – 1 July 2015 edition

There has been talk about RTE changing or indeed replacing the Angelus. This has caused some upset and, surprisingly that upset is shared by those most attached to the Angelus and those most keen to see it changed.

It may seem a strange issue to be concerned by. The Angelus, on RTE, is a decades old tradition. It has become a part of the fabric of Irish culture. It harms no one and is dearly loved by many. What sort of joyless character would demand it ends? Those of us who are irked by RTE broadcasting, twice daily, a Roman Catholic call to prayer, must come across as arrogant barbarians.

Most atheists and secularists in my experience, however, do not give the Angelus a second thought. Any concerns we may have on the subject are simply resolved by switching the channel. Out of sight, out of mind.

Within the atheist and secularist communities, there are two ways of looking at this issue. There are those who see the Angelus as ‘low hanging fruit’ on the road to a more inclusive Ireland. Then there are those who see this as an unnecessary and potentially harmful distraction on the road to a more inclusive Ireland.

What does unite the atheist and secularist communities, is our segregated education system. A problem most keenly felt by those of us in rural counties like Kerry. That our children’s access to education is hampered by religious segregation is something we will not stop highlighting and campaigning about.

Personally, I don’t care about the Angelus. If it changes or stays the same, it will not impact on me. What I do care about is our Constitution, our education system and our health system, continuing to discriminate against anyone who isn’t a Roman Catholic.

Kerryman 04-07-15

Kerryman Letter re Liberalism

As appeared in Letters – The Kerryman – 17 June 2015 edition

It was with some amusement that I read J. O’Donaghue’s (June 3) attack on liberalism.

Mr O’Donaghue appears to have missed the irony of his position. That he was allowed to write to a newspaper, with the expectation that his opinions would be published, is a gift of liberalism. That he (or any of us) is even able to write is again, another advancement that can be credited to liberalism.

Of course we could return to the pre-Enlightenment utopia of Judeo-Christian ‘humanism.’ Those were the days of burning uppity women at the stake, the Divine Right of Kings to rule, slavery and torture. Liberal progress towards universal health care, education and suffrage came later.

The passing of the Marriage Equality Referendum was not a victory for the LGBT Community or unsupported feelings. It was more a realisation that our enmity towards that community was based on ideas not backed by facts. It was an enmity that was illogical. It was nothing more than a prejudice, maintained by emotion and tradition.

Yes, liberalism is messy. It lacks a holy book of instruction. And it has a lot of blood on its hands. Some of that blood being members of the LGBT Community.

But it is an ideology that learns. Slowly, often painfully slowly, but it does, by freeing the individual, encourage and promote progress. Though the greatest strength of liberalism, is that beyond a firm belief in personal freedom, you can’t get two liberals to agree on anything. That’s probably why conservatives, Roman Catholics and Marxists hate it so much. It is a very human idealism.

Kerryman 19-06-15


Still Angry

I’ve been angry for about a month. It is anger I’ve tried hard to contain, even convert it into energy. But it remains, despite this wonderful victory. Despite my own village saying yes, despite seeing the tears of joy at the Count Centre in Tralee, I’m still angry.

I would have liked to vent some of that anger on Twitter, but social media was part of the campaign. We had to be somewhat circumspect. Instead I had to squash that anger into a little ball, push it down into my stomach and knock on strangers’ doors. I had to smile and say sir or ma’am and apologise for disturbing them, but would they ever consider letting some people get married.

And if they said no, no matter how they said no, no matter the look of appalled horror on their faces or in their voices, I had to smile, thank them for their time and apologise for wasting that precious time. Then I had to knock on the next door, smile, apologise, ask and then smile again when their eyes glazed over with utter boredom. I had to smile and knock and walk away when these strangers offered abuse. I had to smile and smile because the homophobes these days are terribly thin skinned, lawyered up and endlessly cynical.

But my anger isn’t just reserved for the anti-equality side. My side, my supposed side, were as provoking. In my part of the world, politicians were conspicuous by their absence, both TDs and councillors. We got reports that they canvassed in Dublin and in Carlow- Kilkenny. The tiny few of us, in our tiny team, who are political, won’t forget that.

I’m angry that our team was so small. Yes, we achieved 55%, in our Kerry North/West Limerick constituency, but with more people knocking on doors, handing out leaflets, having conversations, we could’ve got 60%, maybe even 65%. None of us could go to West Limerick, and the tallies showed that failure. I could only do one day in my own village. We carried it by 40 votes. A second day might have doubled that.

On the day of the vote, I’d have settled for mid 40s, with the hope that the cities would carry us over the line. Despite the positive responses I was getting on the doors of Listowel, I didn’t believe for a second Kerry would say yes and I was terrified that the cities might not vote in large enough numbers to make up the difference. I was scared every day, and that made me angry.

I was so angry at the lies, treated as truth, that I had to stop watching the debates. Again and again, I had to explain to people that we don’t have surrogacy laws to change. That gay people are successfully raising children and will continue to do so, whatever the result. I had to explain the adoption process. I had to explain why Civil Partnership isn’t a Marriage. And I had to smile.

I’m angry that my wife, who is bisexual, had to spend weeks in the rain, begging equality for gays and lesbians, while having her own sexuality virtually erased. I can see why the campaign went for gay and lesbian rather than LGBT, but fuck me, it angered me to watch her pretend be okay with that.

There is nothing useful I can do with this anger. I cried when every box in Listowel went yes. There is ego in that I know, but fuck it, it helped. I cried when Lixnaw went yes, but not for pride, but because then and only then, I knew there was no way this referendum was going to be lost.

I have a bad habit of holding onto grudges and while this anger will eventually dissipate, the grudge will remain. That the LGBT community in general, my friends in particular, but especially Paula, had to politely smile as they were lied about and insulted, or simply sidelined, is something I will never let go of. I expected nothing but the spite dished out by the homophobes, but I had not expected the media to facilitate them or for so many politicians to sit on the fence, doing nothing to counter them. There can be no forgiveness for those who chose to look away.

Kerryman Letter re Marriage Equality

As appeared in Letters – The Kerryman – 29 April 2015 edition

It’s difficult to steer any conversation about Marriage Equality away from a discussion about children. This can be frustrating for those of us who support Marriage Equality, as it’s obvious only adults can get married. Truth be told however, those of us who support equality, have more than a passing concern for children and how they will be affected by this referendum.

We are concerned about those thousands of gay and lesbian children watching this campaign unfold. Watching as their desires and aspirations to one day marry and perhaps have children, are compared with incest, child abuse and bestiality. Hearing calls that they submit to a life of pitiful chastity. Being further reminded, that to many they are, and should remain, second class citizens.

We are concerned about the thousands of children who are being raised by a gay parent or parents. As they hear their parents described as unworthy and unsuitable for marriage. As they hear their families described as inferior. As they hear themselves described as disadvantaged. This, despite all the scientific evidence available, which shows their families to be the equal of all others.

We are concerned about all those gay children who are being raised in a nation that stigmatises homosexuality to the extent that gay and lesbian children experience self-harm, suicide, mental-illness, homelessness, poor education, substance abuse and unemployment to a much higher degree than their straight brothers and sisters.

We are concerned about all the straight children being brought up to see their gay and lesbian peers as deviant and lesser. All those straight teens experiencing the confusion of puberty, who are given licence to shield their fears by attacking anyone different.

We are very concerned about children. We would see them shielded from the ugliness of this campaign. But we know, and it breaks our hearts that we know, the vile things being said in opposition to Marriage Equality, are the daily experiences of many gay and lesbian children. So yes, Marriage Equality is about children. It is but a small step towards the creation of a country that values gay and lesbian children as much as it does straight children.

Kerryman 29-04-15

Kerryman Letter re Marriage Equality

As appeared in Letters – The Kerryman – 15 April 2015 edition
We are being asked to decide if gay and lesbian citizens should have the same right to marry as the rest of us. It’s remarkable we’ve got to this point. Homosexual acts were illegal in this country up to 1993. And now, a few short decades later, the LGBT community is on the cusp of equality. In the US, slaves were freed in 1863 but it took a full century for the government to begin passing legislation that granted African-Americans actual equality. Here, criminal class to near equality, in twenty years. Remarkable.
Off course, equality will be denied, unless a lot of straight people make the effort to get out and vote on May 22. And getting people to vote in referendums is becoming increasingly difficult. The country is in the state it’s in and we’ve lost faith in our politicians, so fewer of us feel any enthusiasm for the political process. And it’s hard to feel sympathy for others when paying bills, missing relatives who’ve emigrated and struggling to find a job is the overwhelming reality for so many of us now.
Add that to the distaste generations of us have been taught to feel towards gay people, especially gay men, and the temptation is certainly to sit this one out. Sure no one will be harmed. It’s not my fight. And aren’t there plenty of them in the Dáil now anyway.
It’s a strong temptation. How do I convince a middle aged man, his daughter having gone to Australia to find work, and him dodging phone calls from his Bank Manager because he can’t pay his mortgage, that his vote matters to a bunch of people he’s never met?
There are no magic words. I have no way of making his life better. So all I can do, is ask him to  consider the opportunity this referendum affords him and so many people like him. By simply voting yes, he will, with no more cost than a bit of time, help make the lives of thousands of men, women and children, that bit better. It’s an opportunity I hope we all grasp.
Kerryman 15-04-15
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