Archive | May 2012

Swansea and the Olympic Flame.

Retiring to bed at the unholy hour of 3am the night before, I was awoken from the heat induced sticky slumber I’ve begun to adjust to in an atypically hot and sunny Swansea by my alarm, even though it was only a mere 3 hours later, at 6am. After readying two litres of water, not wanting to suffer in the steadily rising temperatures, I grabbed my camera and departed for Mumbles Road.

Having not gained much experience with a digital camera outside of a mobile phone, I tinkered with my Canon ‘Power Shot‘ as I strolled through Brynmill Park before traversing Singleton Park, through Swansea University campus and finally arriving at my destination. Not before, might I add, taking a pseudo-artistic picture or two. We can but try.

Sunglasses. I wish I’d have thought of that.

I was among the earliest to arrive and after confirming with a nice lady which direction the torch bearer was bearing the torch from I took up my position across the road. A trickle of people began to join the few already there and soon there was a modest but enthusiastic crowd assembled. I sat and snapped a few pictures in preparation for the purpose of my visit and took in the scene around me. The local police on motorcycles pre-empted the torch bearer by pulling up ahead of the running pack by some 20-30 minutes. They subsequently invited some of the families taking photos to pose with them on the temporarily closed portion of the road. Quite a strange scene to say the least.

Polite policemen posing.

As we all continued waiting with whatever patience we could muster,  I saw siblings antagonising each other with playful slaps to the back, shoving and teasing but all in good spirits, with just the slightest hint of menace it could be said. I also had the slightly irritating experience of having two young men, who were apparently the two local cynics, stand behind me with their recently purchased coffees accompanied by a running commentary. When not ridiculing and laughing at a chap who had parked his car which obstructed the famous Swansea Land Train they were discussing topics as varied as how much tax payers money was spent on organising various aspects of the relay to the NASDAQ and the value of the recently floated Facebook. One, in a somewhat bizarre moment, expressed great annoyance at the fact Facebook didn’t exist 8 years ago. His point was somewhat lost on me as I returned my attention to the rest of the slightly more pleasant scene around me.

The Swansea Land Train.

By now the police had taken their positions further up the road and were followed by the Land Train. The crowd were in jubilant spirits and when not cheering ironically at regular cyclists, unrelated to the event, that went by, were in a joking and laughing mood. A mother was sitting on the grass with her young child on her lap reading a book about dinosaurs with an animated voice and pointing out how big the mouth on the T-Rex was. When the little girl didn’t instantly reply she was put at ease by her mother who reassured her ‘They don’t exist anymore so you have nothing to worry about.’ Apparently this wasn’t reassuring enough as the little girl proceeded to insist on a game of eye-spy where she changed the letter she chose every time something new caught her attention.

A second police motorcycle cavalcade was approaching followed by joggers and large important-looking vehicles. I thought this was the moment we had all assembled for. I was wrong. It was in fact some corporate buses and trucks adorned with staff atop their roofs holding microphones and shouting pleasantries at us.

The Bank Bus.

There were also joggers running ahead and between the vehicles with pain etched on their faces. Not from jogging at the fairly casual pace but rather from having to keep a permanent smile on their faces while waving and saying ‘Hello!’ enthusiastically over and over to the crowd every few steps.  Surreal and a little cringe worthy. I was suddenly caught off guard when from behind one of the trucks appeared, seemingly from thin air, a bus with a young girl inside holding the torch! I clumsily took a quick photo and the bus had past by. There were a few mumbles –  on Mumbles Road no less – of ‘Was that it?’. Surely not. The flame wasn’t even alight.

Number 13. Lucky for some.

One of the microphone laden people atop a truck went on to inform us that the actual torch bearer was 10 minutes behind. Phew. The waiting recommenced. As I continued to tinker with my camera a huge articulated lorry bore down on me, on what I had thought was a closed road. It flashed past and from my seated position, now on a small road island, I got a face full of dust and general dry road scum. Lovely. I dusted myself down, rubbed my eyes and grumbled internally.

At this point even more people and their cameras had arrived and one group even had a large banner with some message for the torch bearer, one of them later chuckling mischievously ‘Shall we go onto the road and embarrass her?’. Perhaps they knew the torch bearer. Finally, around 10 minutes later as promised, the Olympic Torch bearer was spotted in the distance by an excited member of the crowd. As the vehicles, that obscured the torch from where I sat, approached I readied my digital camera and attempted to estimate the appropriate zoom since I knew I’d get just about one chance of a decent picture. If I didn’t come away with at least a clear image of the torch and it’s bearer I’d have been a little peeved. Luckily I managed to shoot an average and acceptable picture.

Megan Jones and the Olympic Torch. That kind of sounds like a missing episode of the Harry Potter Saga.

There we have it. The torch. The crowd reacted with cheers of support and encouragement for Megan Jones as she zipped by in the briefest of moments. It was no sooner there and it was gone and Megan was off running up the hill past the University Hospital. All in all it was a pleasant start to a sunny Sunday and certainly worth the effort of getting up so early. Some may scoff and others, like the two local cynics, may complain about tax payers money but the torch relay brings the community together – look at the wonderful life experience the torch bearers of all ages have for example – and, even if for only a brief moment, puts parts of the UK on the tourist map. With sunshine like they had today the local tourist board must be pretty pleased with how it all turned out. What a great advertisement for Swansea. The fact that this weather is unusual, to say the least, is something I think is better kept to ourselves.

The torch burning off into the distance on its journey to London.

Advertisements

Painting Post Boxes

On Thursday the 31st of May we are going to be asked to vote on the European Fiscal Stability Treaty. I will be perfectly honest, I don’t completely have a firm grasp on what it is we are being asked to do. It would appear that we are being asked to commit to several more years of austerity and pain. Now, not being a masochist – one brief flirtation ended with a Black and Decker power tool, a pineapple and a series of uncomfortable visits to my GP – I have no desire to pursue polices that are going to continue to punish citizens for the sins of others.

What is most worrying is that events seem to be moving so fast in Europe at the minute that we seem to be getting locked into an agreement which will be redundant before we even vote on it. Since our government has announced this referendum, France has had a presidential election that swung to the left and the Greeks are on their 4th election this month (or something close to that anyway), which are flying even further left. It has displayed a remarkable lack of foresight on our government’s part to not spot that there was a potential sea change in Europe. One can imagine how the cabinet meeting went.

 

Enda Lads we’ll have to agree on a date for this referendum or Angela is really going to have my boys in the vice next time I see her”.

NoonanAw yeah Inda sure set any auld date der like a good fella”

Lone dissenting voiceMaybe we should hold off and see how the next few weeks pan out”

Enda Era no, lets push this thing through and find out what they want of us next”

 

Of course that was absurd, the thought of a dissenting voice not toeing the cabinet line is highly unlikely. Is this indicative of a breed of spineless yes men politicians or of a wider deficiency in our national psyche?

There is a theory that countries that have suffered under the yoke of colonialism suffer from a certain degree of emasculation. Post-colonial emasculation is certainly supported by the degree of acquiescence that is evident in our national response to power structures. For a long time it was the British Empire that wielded control; they were then replaced by the strangling control of the Catholic Church whose influence permeated through every level of Irish society and now it would appear that we are the willing recipients of the dictates of the EU, ECB and the IMF.

So, it does warm the heart to see the recent civil disobedience over our government’s ham-fisted attempts to introduce household charges and water charges. Interestingly both policies were at the behest of the IMF. Although not on the scale of protest that our European cousins have exhibited it is a marked improvement. Even when faced with the option to remove the political party whose policies added to our woes we chose to replace them with a party from the same ideological school. But hey, baby steps I guess.

So how far are we prepared to go? This economic crisis is going to necessitate a serious overhaul of how we allow people to do business. This is an opportunity for the leaders of Europe to establish a much fairer system and society. Unfortunately the IMF playbook of how to fix a country consists of opening up every possible area to the will of market principles. The skewed morality of the market is what got us into this bother in the first place.

The Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel was on the BBC politics show yesterday speaking about the sale of death bonds on the New York stock exchange. This is where you buy bonds in someone’s life insurance policy, in effect gambling on when they will die. The reigns really do need to be tightened on the worst money grabbing characteristics of our species. Mixing my metaphors as is my want, the social democratic cornerstones of altruism and solidarity need to be re-established as the anchors of public policy.

The truth is that unless we make our wishes clear to our government, there will be little or no significant change where it matters. To echo and paraphrase the words of James Connolly nearly a hundred years ago, unless there is serious change we may as well just change the colour of the post boxes.

Mason Messiah?

In the beautiful Glenveagh National Park, in the most north-westerly county in the Republic of Ireland, Donegal, excitement is stirring. It seems that Pat Vaughan – the park manager – has found Jesus. Not in the spiritual, he’s turned to Jesus from the wilderness, sense but more of a literal discovery. Mr. Vaughan has found what he believes to be the image of the Christian messiah in a rock. See for yourself.

Hello? Is it me you’re looking for?

Don’t see it? Well, neither did I for the first twenty minutes. In all honesty I initially thought I saw the image of a deer or maybe lioness. It was only after guidance from ryanyllek – one of our fellow contributors here at Hubris – that I finally saw what Mr. Vaughan and “everyone”, as he put it, else was seeing. The interesting thing here is that Mr. Vaughan has been quoted as saying “No matter how many times I look at it I see the same thing.” This isn’t really surprising. In the interest of fair representation Mr. Vaughan has also stated “The last thing I want is to create another stampede for people looking for religious icons”.

The fact that Mr. Vaughan saw Jesus instead of a deer – as I did – is a textbook example of confirmation bias. The fact either of us saw anything at all other than a random collection of shapes on a rock is down to apophenia. Essentially people have a tendency to see what they want to see, or rather evidence that supports their own beliefs in the case of confirmation bias and people also tend to see meaningful patterns where there are none in the case of apophenia. Like the fabled image of Jesus in the slice of toast or more recently, and certainly more humorously, the image of Jesus – warning; those easily offended may not want to click on the following video, but I’d urge you to anyway! – on the anatomy of a dog this is simply another case of seeing something in random colours and shapes via the aforementioned mechanisms.

In fact, there is growing evidence that people process faces differently to other images and have a tendency to ‘see’ faces when stimuli are arranged in specific ways – ever look at the front of a car or the designs in an old multicoloured carpet and see a rudimentary face?

With all this in mind I think it is safe to draw the conclusion that there really is nothing special about the rock that the current discussion is revolving around. If you follow this link you will see the same rock with two different outlines on it. The first is the deer/lioness I ‘spotted’ initially and the second is my rough estimation as to the image of Jesus that ‘everyone’ is seeing. As a side note, isn’t it coincidental how the image of Jesus in the rock coincides with the Westernised version we’re all used to and doesn’t resemble the arguably more accurate estimate of a man in the region where Jesus supposedly lived at that time?

Whether you see the messiah, a lioness, something altogether different – feel free to highlight in the comments section – or just a plain old rock, some of us can take comfort in that Mr. Vaughan is not planning on disclosing the exact location of the rock thereby not subjecting future children to a hike to worship a rock as so many are subjected to other such bizarre rituals in Ireland, and I speak from experience! Then again Mr. Vaughan has also been quoted as saying that he is open to the idea of arranging guides to the rock if there is a large enough demand for it…

The integrity of Ray D’Arcy

Ray D’Arcy (centre), Zig and Zag

Irish radio host Ray D’Arcy came under intense public scrutiny last week when he said on his morning radio show that the Catholic church had “in many ways…fucked up [Ireland]”. Unsurprisingly, the loudest cries of objection spired from the Catholic church itself, with Catholic communications chief, Martin Long making stern demands that the affable veteran broadcaster issue an apology and a retraction of his rather frank assessment. Long, who interestingly claimed to speak for “all those who hold the Catholic faith dear”, said that the language was deeply insulting and appalling, while the statement was fallacious. D’Arcy, however, remained defiantly steadfast in his conviction and immediately refused to conform to the demands of Mr Long. The silver-haired Kildare native insisted that, while he regretted his use of profane language, no apology for or retraction of his statement would be forthcoming.

 

A few things stand out about Mr Long’s criticism of D’Arcy’s comments and they raise interesting questions as to the position of the Catholic church in Ireland as the 21st century trundles onwards. Firstly, Mr Long, objecting as a communications chief of the institution of the Catholic church, claims to be a spokesperson for “all those who hold the Catholic faith dear”. Who are all of these people, one asks? Where are they? Where is their outrage? He cannot, surely, be lumping all of those who mark an “X” in the box which defines them as being of the Catholic faith – anecdotal evidence alone shows us that these individuals do not necessarily hold the Catholic faith dear. No, in reality, Mr Long is nothing more than a privately appointed mouthpiece of the Catholic church in Ireland. His criticism of D’Arcy’s comments simply reveal the reactionary nature of a church that has been rightly exposed as one of the most disturbingly corrupt institutions in the history of Ireland.

 

Interestingly, Mr Long argues that his gripe is not with criticism of the church per se (believe that at your peril), but with irrational criticism of the church, which he describes D’Arcy’s observation to be. Let’s look at D’Arcy’s criticism, then. It is fair to say that the sentiment behind D’Arcy’s comment was that the Catholic church has had a negative impact on Irish society. Far from being irrational, it is a truthful and brutally honest observation – one need only look at the malign legacy of their interference with state affairs: the banning of literature, strident censorship, the banning of contraception and that list is not exhaustive. Such a legacy has undoubtedly had a negative impact on Irish society, or to borrow D’Arcy parlance, it certainly has fucked up this country. The revolting actions and attitudes of certain priests and the Catholic hierarchy towards the children of the nation has also, to put it mildly, left its mark. In this sense, it is Mr Long, then, who is displaying a lack of rationality. By holding up the positive work of the church and brazenly comparing it to the inexcusable legacy of fear and abuse that it has, Mr Long is moving into the realm of the apologist, seeing what he wants to see.

 

So fair play to Ray D’Arcy for having the integrity to express a truth and bravo for standing up to the fascist intimidation of a reactionary group that is desperately clawing to what remnants of influence it thinks it still possesses.