Archive | March 2012

Spin and stop

Now I have been called a lot of things in my life and as hard as this may be to believe not all of them have been complimentary. Several of my former school teachers, friends, enemies, family members, casual acquaintances and random members of the public have gone to colourful lengths to best verbalise my character. I would like to say that I have a thick skin and those barbs on my character slide off me with such speed and fluidity as to suggest that my muscle, bones and organs are encased in some space age polymer. So, I have a thick skin and those barbs on my characters slide off me with such speed and fluidity to suggest that my muscle, bones and organs are encased in some space age polymer.

One thing I have never minded being called is cynical, whether this is a healthy mindset to have or not is moot; this is how I am. As George Bernard Shaw once said “The power of accurate observation is often mistaken for cynicism by those who do not have it” then again he maintained an interest in eugenics throughout his life which would make anyone cynical about his views.

I was not always like this; there was a time when I marvelled at the trickery of special effects. I remember being wowed by special effects when I was a kid, wondering, how they did that rolling boulder in Indian Jones or the ring shaped space station in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but in truth I really did not want to know. Unfortunately watching a documentary about Kubrick, I learned how he pulled off some of his tricks. This revelation was followed by thinking “oh that was clever” but this was quickly followed by the feeling that I have been cheated out of a sense of wonderment. Now I go to the cinema to see some special effects blockbuster and frankly I am bored and unimpressed because I just think of some programmer sat at a computer punching in code. The last piece of trickery I saw that that made me sit up was the zero gravity fight scene in Inception. We are all so jaded, although the prospect of watching two giant intergalactic robots duke it out should bore anyone over the age of 14. Fear not though there are no shortages of examples of people trying to pull the wool over our eyes on a daily basis.

The phenomenal success of the Kony 2012 campaign by the “invisible children” group is a fascinating example of the power of a piece of slick manipulative propaganda. It has been superbly exposed by Charlie Brooker, as the possibly dangerous meanderings of a quasi fascist evangelical group advocating military action in central Africa.

(www.commondreams.org/video/2012/03/15-1)

Someone might want to run this by the current owners of Central Africa: China. It is an internet phenomenon, although that phrase has been some what tempered by the success of piano playing cats and doped up children, clocking up over 70 million hits at the most recent count. There is no doubt that at this moment there are millions being flooded into the coffers of this organisation with roughly 70% of it being poured into the organisation and 30% heading to Africa.

Perhaps what is more worrying than a private organisation turning out slick propaganda for their own financial and ideological aims, is state sponsored propaganda. During the days of the Soviet Union, Pravda produced reams of propaganda to assure their citizens that the path of communist solidarity was virtuous and successful. State sponsored lies that illuminate a lack of respect of those living the harsh realities on the ground. This proud tradition is continued to Russia today. Only in the past week there is an article in the Guardian about the reality of Vladimir Putin’s encounter with an endangered amur tiger (www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/mar/15/putin-tiger-pr-stunt) .The tiger was driven in from a zoo several hundred kilometres away and told to get into character as an endangered wild animal, for a photo op with the Russian president. During which Vladimir shot the beast with more tranquilizer, fitted him with radio collar and gave the tiger a loving kiss. Tragically the tiger died on the return trip to the zoo due to the fact that it had been administered 3 times the recommended dose of tranquilizer. Vladimir Putin’s seemingly never ending reign, President to Prime Minister to President to Supreme and Gracious Leader, is a veritable cornucopia of highly stylised photo ops. Stripped to the waist arm wrestling a bear or taking down an eagle with a Judo chop, the diminutive former KGB man has done it all in an effort to reinforce his image as the walking embodiment of machismo; but is anybody buying this anymore. The lengths that Putin has gone to recently to steal another election, the amount of imprisoned journalists and political rivals in Russia suggests the many people see through this flimsy charade.

Our own politicians here in Ireland only this week cancelled a photo op where the respective departments would brandish gold stars making their achievements during their brief tenure in power. From a quick glance this seems to amount to doing what they are told by the Troika and blaming the rest of the problems on the last shower of chancers and ne’er do-wellers that sat in power. Our government is at pains to tell us of the drain on the nation’s resources that is benefit fraud and is encouraging us to be vigilant and to report any possible fraud. (www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/frontpage/2012/0216/1224311854911.html) This is what our friends in the political game call a “bait and switch”, you get everyone suspicious of their neighbours and distract them from the people who are really selling us down the river.

It is a worrying trend as we see more and more right wing governments coming to power that it seems to be perfectly acceptable to poke fun and laugh at the lower rungs of society. Whether it is My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, Tallafornia, Geordie Shore or this particularly tasteless number from Paddy Power bookmakers(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yu5Q86V8lT4&oref=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fresults%3Fsearch_query%3Dpaddy%2Bpower%2Bchav), there seems to be a willingness to sneer at cartoonish representations of the lower rungs of society and portray them all so thieving layabouts with an inability to control their base urges. I guess it is supposed to ease our guilt about the savage cuts to public services that will have genuinely tragic consequences on those who rely on them the most.

I firmly believe that a healthy dose of cynicism is essential to getting through this life. Now even more so than ever, the ruling elites have nearly had the rug pulled out from underneath them and the 99% are rumbling. The internet and social media can create and destroy stars and causes in the flash of an eye. Who is to know if someone is being straight with you anymore? (Apart from me of course)

‘Through their own folly they perished – fools’ – A Health Warning to Higher Education

“Yet even so he saved not his comrades, though he desired it sore, for through their own blind folly they perished—fools, who devoured the kine of Helios Hyperion.” – Homer, Odyssey I

If in the event that someone was so desperate as to ask me for just one piece of advice, right now it would be to postpone any prospective plans of going to university to study the arts or social sciences, by-pass it completely if at all possible. The primary reason being, that such a degree has, unsurprisingly, lost so much of its value as to render it practically useless. On the surface, this advice might seem preposterous (just how will one progress in society?), but at the moment I am inclined to believe it to be sound. Why then, do I advise the postponement of a university education?

The Irish Times recently reported that there is an estimated 100,000 unemployed graduates in Ireland, which makes for just over a fifth of the total number of unemployed in Ireland in 2012. In short, graduates are entering a strained and over-subscribed labour market that does not require the expertise, if any, that a university degree provides. A quick perusal of the skill requirements of even
the most menial of jobs will show that ‘real world’ experience trumps a degree every time, and so a vicious circle emerges: one needs experience to get a job, but one cannot get experience without a job. The result is an ‘educated’ sector that is not qualified, is deflated and increasingly aimless. Consequently, if it is not viable to seek a career change, and in many cases it isn’t, the only way to
use one’s degree is to look to post-graduate study, be it through a taught MA, Higher Diploma in Education or structured PhD. Unfortunately, the problem with this is that post-graduate courses are now prone to flooding, in the same way that undergraduate courses have been and continue to be. Sadly however, it appears that the trend is continuing. Of the applicants to higher education this
year, over 42% applied for courses in arts or social science:

‘This year, more than 8,800 students opted for higher-degree science as their first choice while 5,400
opted for engineering and technology. This is still dwarfed by the 15,600 who made arts or social
science their first preference.’ (Irish Times, March 2012)

The ease with which higher education can be accessed, as facilitated by the government, who pays for most if not all of it, along with the relative ease with which people can attain degrees has made going to university a very attractive route for young adults in Ireland, but it is ultimately detrimental to the value of education itself. Many campuses are already over-crowded and lecture halls unfit for
purpose; they are littered with apathetic hordes and faux-revolutionaries. Most are drawn to university not by the noble pursuit of knowledge or even the hope of carving out a decent existence, but by the lurid allure of the disgusting party life-style, which has apparently seized society by the scruff of the neck (see dreadful programmes such as Skins, Jersey Shore and Tallafornia). This is
not socialising, this is sheer, unrestrained mindlessness. To call the modern Irish university a zoo would be an insult to animals.

A recent article in Sin (the student newspaper of the National University of Ireland, Galway) reported that drunken students routinely harass a prominent group of peaceful protesters in Galway, sometimes employing glass bottles as missiles in addition to their ignorant verbal assaults. However, it is during events such as the infamous misnomer ‘RAG Week’ that swathes of students (and admittedly other non-student stragglers) embarrass themselves beyond repair. Youtube videos show mobs of inebriated adults stupidly engaged in primitive chanting, acting in an intimidating and destructive manner. Yet, amazingly, local politicians have implicitly excused these adults for their outrageous behaviour. Labour councillor Billy Cameron, in what must surely be construed as pandering to the student vote (if that even exists any more), said that while he did not condone the actions of drunken students, he thought that the responsibility ultimately lies with pubs and clubs who, as he suggests, ‘facilitate’ such despicable behaviour. In one fell swoop, Cameron granted a licence to grown adults to behave like unmannered, ill-disciplined children. Is it really any wonder that Ireland is where it is with such ludicrous public acceptance of such deplorable convention? Interestingly, and I’m not sure if this was deliberate on the part of the editor, but under the aforementioned article was a piece called ‘Overheard in NUI Galway’ which recounts some of the, perhaps more absurd (perhaps not), overheard conversations on campus. Without quoting them here, rest assured that it will not fill one with confidence for the welfare of future Irish generations.

So, if a lack of clear opportunity at the end of the tunnel isn’t enough to dissuade you from pursuing a degree in the arts or social sciences at present, then the untethered debauchery and the insufferable pseudo-intellectualism of many of your peers should ultimately put you off, that is, unless you happen to be among the wretched yourself, in which case, you will no doubt revel as the proverbial pig in… Does an alternative currently exist? It seems that our newest Elysium is now Canada, which is crying out for skilled tradesmen and labourers, but the images of recent job expos have shown the harsh reality that these positions too will be grossly over subscribed. What, then, is the solution? To my mind, a reform of the manner in which one can enter higher education would be a start. From there, standards within higher education itself can be raised. Put simply, the value of a higher
education must be restored.