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The Scheming Clown

The London Mayor had funny hair,
And pretended to be the fool.

He helped his friends build corporate dens,
At the expense of objective rule.

With rising rent he didn’t repent,
Over growing numbers on the streets.

Instead he schemed against the PM esteemed,
“Exit the EU!”, is what he bleats.

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Handling Images in the Digital Age.

Legal representatives of the British Royal family have pursued action in French courts due to the publishing of naked images of one of the most recent people brought into their fold. The first steps of this legal move resulted in (as reported by the BBC News website):

  • A court in Paris ruled the publishers of Closer must hand over the original photographs within 24 hours or face a daily fine of 10,000 euros (£8,000).

Before actually taking on board the above statement I think a necessary digression is in order.

Since the horrific chain of events which ultimately led to the death of Diana Spencer there is, understandably,  an obvious sensitivity surrounding paparazzi and her surviving children. However, gradually the media have gone to great lengths to attempt to recapture the public obsession surrounding Diana with her son William and more importantly his wife Kate Middleton. The media frenzy surrounding their wedding is evidence enough. The machine grinds on.

True to form, the peddlers of celebrity snap shots (and what a service they provide the world) have yet again crossed the line – thankfully nothing like the aforementioned tragedy – which separates mutually beneficial publicity from what is deemed inappropriate and boy is that a fine line. The recent ‘topless’ images of Kate Middleton have caused all sorts of outcry from Royalists and the like. I won’t delve into why the backlash is so much more severe when it comes to images of a princess – I even shudder at typing the word –  when compared to a ‘regular’ celebrity. That’s a whole other topic of discussion which ultimately revolves around class in society. However, I’ll go on the record and suggest that no one deserves the unwanted attention of paparazzi, and it is indeed distasteful for them to be harassing the family of a woman who died indirectly due to their pursuit, but I also think that this reaction to a topless image of someone who benefits from media attention in the same way as other celebrities who are victims of this extreme voyeurism is certainly disproportionate. Either condemn all voyeuristic, opportunistic pictures of celebrities equally or keep schtum. Kate Middleton is not deserving of special treatment in this regard. It should be one rule for all. She should have no more or less rights than the average Joe.

Getting back on topic. The quote above clearly states that the publishers of the image have to hand over the ‘original photographs’ . Consider that instruction. Assuming the images were digital – which I think is a fair assumption to make in 2012 – you have to wonder what exactly qualifies as the ‘original photographs’? Was it the first digital files saved on the camera? The transferred files from the camera to the computer? The first email with the images attached to it that was sent to Closer? The one of doubtless many emails circulated within the confines of Closer headquarters? Also, how does one go about handing over these originals? Forward an email to the legal team? I think I’ve made my point. This seems like an exercise in futility. If they were printed images with negatives attached this order would make sense but in the digital age it’s almost laughable.

I’m sure all of this will rumble on with continued cries of outrage at the nerve of a French magazine to publish such images of a royal for the foreseeable few days – maybe weeks – but I don’t think this court ruling can be considered a victory since it makes little sense and will have virtually no impact. After all, the images are only a Google click away now and I doubt they fall under the definition of being the originals.

When drink is in, sense is out.

“Inside or outside” the barmaid barked in her soft lilting Cork accent. The befuddled customer unsure at the consequences of choosing either of these options instead resorted to a deer in the headlights reaction. “Outside it is so” was the response from the barmaid, her patience withered away as Galway lurched towards the end of another festival season and her mind was focused on her yet unfinished thesis.

It has since been completed and celebrated in that inimitable Irish style of several days of drinking until the world outside is a place to be both feared and loathed.

Drink and Ireland’s relationship to it, is a hot topic at any time; just listen to Lifeline and Galway is a buzz at the minute.

I first heard it in the pub one night; it started out as a whisper met with incredulous reactions such as. ‘Feck off’ and ‘Ah they can’t do that’. Galway has a new superintendent, yes folks there’s a new sheriff in town and she (“Wouldn’t you know it’s a woman” I heard a beery sage impart at the bar) has the intention of enforcing the existing licensing laws. I will give you a moment to consider this outrageous affront to the drinkers of Galway.

This has caused such a commotion that a poorly written petition has been slung together by a pickled activist citing the poor put-upon publicans and club owners as people we should have sympathy for.

We are known and even celebrated as a nation of drinkers. We get this where ever we go and no doubt there are many of us who revel in living up to this stereotype when overseas. The year out in Australia as a year of debauchery had become a rite of passage before the economic collapse. Should we look across to the continent for a better way of dealing with our drinking culture? France has long been held up as having a responsible attitude to alcohol but anecdotal evidence from friends, – and journalists – who have recently visited there, has seen a rise in the binge drinking culture which blights Britain and Ireland.

In Sweden off licenses are state controlled, is that the road we need to go down? In Ireland the issue is so deep-rooted in our culture that a mass moment of introspection is required. I don’t profess to have any answers but we have got a lot more going for us than our ability to consume alcohol.

Drink is something that has permeated every aspect of Irish culture. It has been the pub that has long been the epicentre of Irish social life. It is where sporting teams go to celebrate and commiserate. It is the first port of call when lives enter, leave or join together in this world. The very image of a pint of the black stuff is an iconic brand, which immediately associated with this country. Even though Porter is an English invention.

It has for many years sponsored our national games and there are countless apologists when our national leaders are being photographed and recorded in inebriated states. Darren Clarke downs a pint cheered on by the crowd after winning the Ryder Cup whereas Colm Cooper cracks a can of cider on his way up pick up the Sam Maguire. These events happened within weeks of each other and resulted in a hilarious exercise in hypocrisy as doctors lined up to slam Colm Cooper conveniently ignoring Clarke’s indiscretion. This may have something to do with amount of doctor’s cars found in golf club car parks.

I found myself in a heated drink fuelled discussion with the aforementioned barmaid and a fellow Hubris administrator during the Volvo Ocean Race festival here in Galway. I took the side of drink in this argument purely because no one else was and it is in my nature to be contrary and found it a pretty difficult position to defend. It is such a destructive influence on every level of society, one would have to question if this substance had been only just invented would it be legalized. Is there any accounting for our attitude to alcohol or even hope for it changing in the future? Is this a changing in the attitude of the city authorities or merely a PR exercise in anticipation of the return to Galway of its student population? I would imagine it is the latter and that all of this closing time clamp down will blow over in a matter of a few weeks.

What could be done to address this issue? Certainly the banning of sports sponsorship by alcohol companies and pubs would be a step in the right direction. Breaking up the lobbying influence of the Vinters Association, who famously scuppered the ‘Cafe Culture’ legislation a few years ago, would be another positive step. Alternatives to the alcohol dominated pub as a place to celebrate – which the cafe culture legislation may have produced had it got off the ground – is a must. Many will say it is up to the individual to make the changes to their own life but strong leadership from the very top is essential.

I think that all pubs should close at 10pm on the dot whereupon a klaxon would sound 4 times. At 10:15 the klaxon would sound 3 times, at 10:30 it would sound twice and then at 10:45 it would sound just once. If anyone were found wandering the streets from 11pm onwards they would be spirited away to a re-education camp run by Young Fine Gael and The Youth Defence for 2 weeks.

I have to declare a conflict of interest as this proposed change to the law would mean I wouldn’t have to put up with drunken arses outside my window all hours of the night.

On Writing a Book.

Draft 1 of the Novel.

Ireland, circa 2007, I had undergone many upheavals in my life. The end of a long-term relationship and the death of my grandmother who raised me alongside my mother and grandfather. Life seemed cruel and unfair. Having recently returned from a short stint in San Francisco, where I worked for a wonderful Irish man in a furniture and antique removal company, I was unsure what to do with my future. I was the lowest I had ever been in my life up until that point and the weight of loss and grief stemming from the aforementioned incidents crippled me mentally. I became reckless in my behaviour, angry at the world, myself and my friends around me. Reckless turned to destructive. I was no stranger to locking myself away in my room for hours on end and only leaving the house to go drinking once or twice a week with anyone I knew who’d join me. I started to become the go-to-guy when people in my life wanted a night out. Things seemed grim and continued to escalate until I eventually lashed out at the very people who had been important in my life, my friends. They were drawn into a ridiculous and juvenile spat between myself and the person, whom for many years, had been the most important person to me. Regret doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel towards that particular drama. It all came to a head and I knew that something had to change or I might not be able to turn back.

Like the fabled Atlas sometimes it feels like the weight of the world weighs on our shoulders. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/25482815@N08/2432040894/

It all sounds very dark and dramatic, I know, but if anything I’m playing down the despair and turmoil of those days.

One of the few bright lights in the darkness was my brother. He would have been around 8 years old at the time and he brought me great joy since I’d been an only child for the first 18 years of my life. That’s not to say I didn’t have surrogate siblings in cousins I grew up with but my brother was something different. An instant bond had formed when we met for the first time a couple of years before.

While all this was going on I found myself obsessing over the past and as a result memories of my youth flooded my mind. During my primary school years I was taught by a headmaster who had a passion for all things Greek mythology and history in general. The more I thought about this the more stories from Greek mythology, Irish mythology and Irish history came to mind that my headmaster had recited. I sought out an encyclopaedia on Greek mythology – that my ex-partner had bought me as a gift a few years previously, knowing my interests well- and began refreshing myself on the deluge of characters therein. An idea began to form in my mind about mythology and how to retell some of these stories for children of today. I made the decision to write a short book for my kid brother and have it ready for his 10th birthday and started drawing up notes and a structure for a tale. All this occurred before that fateful night where I knew something had to change.

Before making the decision to change things in my life I first secured an apprenticeship in carpentry – the stint in San Francisco and the love of the work there pushed me towards a more hands on line of work – but not long after that applied for and received a position in the Arts course in NUIG to keep my options open. I reluctantly gave up my offer of the apprenticeship since, fairly enough, my boss wasn’t willing to invest 10 months into training me only to lose me come September 2008. It turned out it may have been a lucky break choosing Galway since it was in 2008 that the bottom fell out of the housing market in Ireland and it still hasn’t fully recovered.

Just after the aforementioned turning point I decided, in order to save some money for the move to Galway, I should spend 3 months living at home. This was the first time since leaving at 18 and would now only be my mother and I without the presence of my grandmother. This is when I really turned my attention to the idea of the book. I wrote a prologue – which is one of the few things that survived in its almost original form – and the first chapter of the book. All the while I was writing out rules of the universe I was creating and coming up with names that I felt would suit the role of each character and their respective journeys. I became immersed in the process and increasingly excited at the prospect of telling this story to my brother. An old friend gave me much appreciated support on the outset of writing the book and also helped with applying to NUIG when I did. It’s doubtful she realises just how much those early words of support propped me up enough to follow through. The dust having settled after the juvenile spat, my other friends continued to support me in this venture as well as my new move to Galway also. It still amazes me the capacity of some people to forgive. Lucky for me.

By the time I had made the move to Galway – again with help from some long suffering friends who lived there – I had a few chapters of the book written. After a few weeks into the new course at NUIG I soon realised that my aim of finishing the book by my brother’s 10th birthday may have been ambitious for two reasons. Firstly, I was again a full-time student with little time for writing outside of assignments and secondly, the book had taken on a life of its own and was becoming something more than a short book. In fact, it was beginning to look more like the first of a trilogy of novels. This realisation forced some changes to the book, which were ultimately better for it. The book was never going to be ready for my brother’s 10th birthday so I had to up the age of the main characters with a more realistic end date in mind. This was the first of many changes to the book.

Not long into my first year I met someone who would become my new partner and we were together for the the full 3 years at NUIG and the majority of the writing of the book. She provided the support and encouragement only a partner can and many times pulled me back from the brink of abandoning the book completely out of frustration when finding out certain aspects of it had been done before, for example. She convinced me to come back at it from a different angle and to figure something new out. Which I did.

I worked hard at NUIG and after first year specialised in psychology. Every summer holidays I’d work on the book. Granted the first summer I spent more time partying with my partner and friends and only occasionally turning my attention to the story. However, the second and third summer I worked on the book like a demon typing away into the early hours of the morning. The third summer was the one and the same where I had completed my undergrad and was seeking a PhD candidacy. Things were tough then and this is where I put most of the work into the book to distract myself from an uncertain future regarding work.

By the time I was successfully awarded a PhD studentship I was a couple of chapters from completion. True to form I stopped writing until the first available holiday which was Christmas. At this stage I was yet again recently partner-less but having learned from my past mistakes handled things a lot better. I took one or two weeks of self wallowing alone accompanied by a few nights of drinking a bit too much and things started to seem not so bad. Unlike in 2007 I had direction in my life and was on the cusp of completing my book.

Once the Christmas holidays started I endeavoured to complete the tale. At approximately 7am on a December morning in 2011 I typed up the last words of the first draft in the same house I had begun it, my family home, and as a single man again. Things had almost come full-circle but thankfully minus the more negative aspects.

I gave the unedited draft to my brother around February 2012 – who was 12, nearly 13, at the time incidentally – and he adored it. Mission accomplished. In January I corrected a few niggles and my old friend who supported me early on is almost finished the grammatical edit as I type and I’ll soon be submitting to agents. I might as well make a go of it. Now that my brother – and a few friends – expressed enjoyment anything else will be a bonus.

I’m sorry if when reading the title the reader was expecting a guide to writing. I’m afraid I wouldn’t know where to begin with that. The one thing I would say however is that when bad shit happens take that and try and use it. Exploit it for something positive. It can act as a source of creativity. It can act as a chance to make the changes in your life you’ve always wanted to. People can change and experiencing the bad is strangely a wonderful experience in and of itself. In order to experience we must be alive and we are fortunate that we can experience negative emotions at all since many do not have that privilege. Sometimes things are not easy but this is life and life is everything.

Long Walk Home (but it could be worse).

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“Right we can do this” was the call from Brian as he bobbed and weaved his way through the throngs making their way out of the Phoenix Park after The Stone Roses gig. He was like a whippet in a foot race with zombies. The spectre of work loomed heavy on his mind no doubt. “We’ll make this bus” I was not sure if he was trying to convince himself or us at this stage but on we went only pausing briefly to shoot our hands in the air in an effort to maintain contact.

The speed at which we were travelling meant that the crowd had melded into one generic slightly paunchy 36 year old stoned Stone Roses fan. As the pain, which I can only equate to someone trying to whittle shards of bone from my shins, throbbed and pulsed; my mind flashed back to early that day when in a discussion about whether or not we would get back to Georges Quay in time for our bus I jokingly remarked “Of course we will, it’s not like the gig is in the biggest enclosed city park in Europe”. Such brevity was in short supply right now.

Wait, what’s that, it’s the shuttle bus, we had made it. The pain in my shins was now replaced with a warm sense of relief. Unfortunately this was short lived as the dilettante stood by the bus informed us that the buses were reserved for people with return tickets firstly. This of course is plainly ridiculous; it wasn’t our problem that people had chosen to shuffle out of the gig at their leisure. Our argument that we needed to get to our bus to Galway by 12:15 fell on deaf ears.

We swallowed our anger and our pragmatism kicked in as we set off in an effort to catch a taxi to Georges Quay. Eventually we got a taxi but we were never going to make the bus so instead we decided to hedge our bets and attempt to flag down the bus at Heuston Station. There we met fellow attendees of the gig hoping to flag down the same bus. So as the bus turned the corner this intrepid 6 mud flecked and exhausted but now with a modicum of hope; stood with our A4 size printouts of our return tickets aloft. Now we knew that this was not an actual stop but we all had return tickets and so we knew that the bus driver would be aware he was missing at least 6 passengers. That allied with the fact that there was this massive gig on in the park gave us reasonable hope that the driver may use his discretion and pick us up. This is not a bus to the suburbs we missed, which can be fixed by hopping in a taxi, rather it was a bus to the other side of the country. Instead we got a bus driver to beep his horn and wave at us with a shit eating grin which seemed to say “Tough shit losers”.  He may well have filled his bus with people who had open ended tickets but a short stop and explanation would have cleared that up.

So about two hours marching the streets of Dublin throwing out Hail Mary text messages saw Paddy and Darren come to the rescue, lodgings were secured for the night and we made it back in the morning. It was not until Monday morning that I heard how lightly we had gotten off. The Saturday night gig featuring Swedish House Mafia had been marred by 3 drug related deaths, 9 stabbings and 1 missing person who has since been returned to her family. Reports suggest that it was a very unpleasant event and the national airwaves are alive with people, who were not at the gig, ringing up to explain what a disgrace it was and how the whole fabric of society is being pulled apart.

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It may well be the case that, as a disaffected youth continues to see their life options steadily decrease instances of violence at large public gatherings like this will continue. The promoters of these gigs also have a lot to answer for. MCD were the promoters of the Oxegen festival which had steadily become a dangerous and unpleasant experience. This was their replacement, a series of concerts in the Pheonix Park which after last weekend’s debacle will surely not happen again. The park is far too large an area to properly control. There are over 1700 acres in which people can get up to all kinds of mischief before and after the concerts. The pursuit of profit has meant that there is a disproportionate number of security guards to patrons which not only means that regular concert goers, there for the shared experience of enjoying the live music of their heroes, have not only their enjoyment spoiled but also their safety compromised. It is time that whatever regulatory body that over sees the granting of licenses to promoters take MCD aside and get them to justify their business practices.

Blasphemy and the Impotence of Deities.

Hamza Kashgari awaits his fate at the hands of blood thirsty zealots.

In February of this year Hamza Kashgari was one of the first people in the Muslim world to be held accountable for ‘blasphemous’ tweets. Only a few months later Alex Aan was arrested for tweets deemed blasphemous also.

Kashgari wisely promptly fled Saudi Arabia only to be detained in Malaysia by authorities and deported back to the embrace of the blood thirsty Saudi authorities. There he faces the prospect of execution for his tweets. So, what were these tweets that were so offensive that death is the only reasonable retribution?

  • On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.
  • On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more.
  • On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you’ve always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you.

Clearly unreasonable and vulgar stuff! The most obvious questions that spring to mind are these. Suppose Mohammed was a prophet and not a charlatan and that Allah exists and is all powerful, then is Mohammed really that insecure about what one random person tweets in a virtual realm and is Allah so impotent that he needs people to carry out his ‘justice’ for him? Why are the authorities and many followers of Islam calling for the death penalty? Do they not think Kashgari will be sufficiently punished by Allah in this life or the next? Why do they empower themselves with the responsibility of carrying out the gruesome task of murder? – which is what we’re really talking about here.

Obviously one might think that it is the writings from the Qur’an that inform the overzealous decision making process here. You would be wrong. In fact it was the meek and weak mortal humans who decided the punishment for blasphemy. Again, over ruling the supposed all powerful Allah’s ability to enforce justice as he sees fit. Here is a nice brief history of laws that punish blasphemy from a follower of Islam.

Laws to punish blasphemy are inventions of the human mind – whatever about gods and demons there is no doubt or room for debate on this one – and as such have no need for existence other than to control what people say. This is a very transparent attempt to ensure that no one openly questions religious dogma. When one considers that the Republic of Ireland – republic indeed – passed an anti-blasphemy law only a few short years ago (July 2009) it really strikes the reasonable mind like a sledgehammer. Granted the death penalty is not on the table as a punishment and rather a monetary fine is instead (€25,000 no less) it is a poor reflection on a Western state that has long enough been scandalised by organised religion and its demands. What are the supporters of these laws afraid of? Well, I think that is obvious when considering the clear hypocrisy of humans thinking they need to interfere in the affairs of their deity when they claim he is all knowing, all powerful and has a plan for each and everyone of us.

What is arguably most concerning about Kashgari’s predicament – outside of what has been outlined above – is that there are accusations that Interpol allowed Saudi authorities to use their red notice system to detain and arrest him. Interpol reject the accusations. I truly hope that they are not involved in the perpetuation of barbarism otherwise no one will ever truly be safe to take refuge from a dangerous and, in this case, murderous regime. This story like many others has been under reported since its initial breaking point back in February but Kashgari is still waiting to find out his future for his heinous crimes. As I type he awaits the outcome of not only facing blasphemy charges but charges of apostasy which is certain to lead to death if found guilty. Please follow this link and add your name to the petition for his release. It is unlikely to have any real impact but in the event that it may sway someone, somewhere in a position of influence it is worth the expenditure of a few seconds of your time.

Democracy or Theocracy: What Does Egypt’s Future Hold?

The election of Egypt’s first freely elected President has not brought the relief or sense of closure many hoped for after nearly a year and half of uncertainty. Many questions are left unanswered and Egypt’s future is still quite fragile and tentative. The citizens of Egypt fought to overthrow an autocracy but are now on the precipice between a democracy and a theocracy. Morsi, Egypt’s President-elect was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation which resists western influence and seeks to enforce Sharia law. So how can the citizens of Egypt overthrow an autocracy in an effort to attain liberty only to have the freedom limiting laws of Sharia imposed upon them?

Well Egyptian citizens were not seeking freedom when they revolted. Western media simply romanticized the Egyptians’ motives and portrayed our idealised notion of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ as their motivation.  Those revolting were more concerned with economic and social issues, such as high unemployment, corruption, and inflation. Of course free elections and democracy were a part of the revolt but it was the former that occupied the thoughts of the voters and it was for these reasons that Morsi was elected. His Muslim Brotherhood background is not important to most voters providing the economy gets fixed. Another reason he was elected is due to the fact that he is the lesser of two evils. His election rival, Shafik, was Prime Minister under Mubarak so his campaign was tainted by this association. The fear of Sharia was also allayed by the military. During the transitional period the military, The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), commandeered many Presidential powers. The state budget, the legislature, and the promulgation of the constitution are now all under the control of SCAF. Many still fear Sharia may grip the nation, especially given Morsi’s comments, ‘the Qu’ran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader, jihad is our path and death in the name of Allah is our goal’, which is almost identical to the Brotherhood’s creed. This statement, however, was blown out of proportion by the media due its Brotherhood implications and our interpretation of ‘jihad’. Firstly, jihad is merely a struggle for a cause which the Egypt revolt was and secondly the mention of the Qu’ran and Mohammad could just be a nationalistic affirmation; a statement that Egypt will no longer be under the control of the West, which Mubarak was.

I find it difficult to believe that Morsi will continue with strong links to the Brotherhood. Egypt is still quite volatile and has a high Christian population (10%) and a developed middle class which will not accept Sharia. The most important factor, however, is the military. They are notoriously against the Brotherhood and hold all the power. Morsi is only the President-elect and there is every chance that there will be another election in nine months. So it is my prediction that Morsi will distance himself from the Brotherhood over the next nine months and cosy up with the military in an attempt to remain President or the military will call another election in nine months and a stronger candidate with no links to Mubarak will oppose Morsi. Either way, although some Islamic laws may be enacted, I do not think Sharia will be implemented because to stay in power the Brotherhood has to contend with the Christians, the middle class, and most importantly the military. A bigger issue will be if the Military fail to surrender their powers back to the President and Parliament, which will plant Egypt back into the realm of revolution.

Peter Ferguson is a classicist at the National University of Ireland, Galway. He is a member of  Atheist Ireland and the Humanist Association of Ireland. Read more of Peter’s work at his website: www.humanisticus.com