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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Samhain

Happy New Year to all the druids and New Age types out there.

Now could you please stop your kids from knocking on my door dressed as numpties begging for cash? I don't send my nipper round your house on December 31st looking for pocket money.

I saw a load of kids in a shopping centre today walking around overtly begging for spondulicks. They nearly ate the face off some old lady who offered them twix bars instead of cash.

Security only threw them out when I pointed out that if it had been some Roma gypsy begging for cash, they wouldn't even have been let into the centre in the first place.

When did Halloween turn into an American 'trick or treat' session on this side of the Atlantic, and when did it become acceptable to send your kids out begging around shopping centres dressed in witches' hats?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Not exactly Florence Nightingale

It seems that former Naas hospital nurse Noreen Mulholland has been found guilty on at least one charge relating to poisoning patients while working in Kildare in 2003.

As if it wasn't bad enough that people are dying while trying to gain admission to hospitals, then being infected with drug-resistant bugs and dying once they get a bed, do patients now need to worry about the staff killing them too?

This week alone, we've seen a surgeon taking out a patient's stomach by mistake, ten thousand people marching to complain about the continued downgrading of their local hospital, and a record number of complaints against doctors.

Years into the so-called reform of the Irish health service, when are we actually going to see a reversal in the slipping standards, never mind the long-promised improvements?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Posh Spice's knickers and Robbie Keane's girlfriend are not news, or are they?

It seems that everyone is very animated all of a sudden over the recent spate of fatal car crashes in the country. I won't call them accidents - in the vast majority of cases, human error or impairment is to blame.

On top of the media calling for Martin Cullen's head (no bad thing in itself, but in fairness, it's not like he was driving any of the cars), all sorts of Irish bloggers from Sunday Times' Sarah Carey to acerbic smoker Twenty Major to the Swearing Lady appear to be very agitated about the issue.

So, working on the counterintuitive logic that people have heard enough about road safety, and also operating on the basis that as long as we have cars we'll have car crashes, I'm going to discuss something entirely different.

What passes for news in this country?

The front pages of the morning papers make desolate reading sometimes. Whether it's the warmed over Government press releases that dot the Irish Times front page, or the shrill moralising usually found on the front of the Irish Daily Mail, it's hard to discern actual NEWS anywhere.

Today's Daily Mirror - and I'm not picking on them specifically, it was just the only one I bought this morning - was a case in point that actually had me wondering whether the papers in this country would recognise news if it swanned into their offices wearing a T-shirt that read 'I'm news, print me!'

Front cover of today's Mirror had the jawdropping revelation that Robbie Keane is going to marry his long-term girlfriend. Yup, a football millionaire is going to marry the girl he's been with for five years. Sometime. We're not sure when. But they are engaged. Even though she's had a ring on her finger for weeks. And this is FRONT PAGE NEWS.

The other revelation from the same front page? 'POSH - Raunchiest pictures yet.' Accompanied by a snap of Skeletor flashing half a malnourished silicon tit.

Now, were the reader somehow brave enough to get past this smorgasbord of irrelevance and actually open the paper, page two is equally fascinating. Actual news - that we're not going to let the Bulgarians or Romanians in - makes an appearance.

And down the side of the page, between a tale of rabbits in Antarctica and the fact that apparently lots of Japanese people are really old, we get the following story. This is it in full, by the way:

France behind 1994 Genocide
France is being accused of taking part in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. French troops there are believed to have armed the Hutu militants who killed 800,000 Tutsis in a 100 day bloodbath. France has denied officially taking sides.

That's it. That's all you're getting. Yes, I know it's a tabloid. Yes, it's about a massacre long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away from CelticTigerland. But clearly I'm missing something here.

Isn't the suggestion that one of the world's major powers armed and caused the massacre of nearly a million people NEWS? More than a suggestion, in fact. A downright overt allegation from someone who ought to know - the man who was Rwandan ambassador to France at the time.

We get a full page of puff about Posh Spice's new 'fashion guide', and three sentences about how one of our allies and neighbours conducted the devastation of an entire country?

According to Reporters Sans Frontieres today, we have the most free press in the world, along with Finland, Iceland and Holland. This, of course, is an assessment that predates Minister McDowell's plans for a privacy law that will devastate the media's ability to report the news.

So with such press freedoms, why do we get such an appalling news agenda across the board?

Go on, people. Someone please explain this to me before I go mad entirely.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Educate the kids together and they won't grow up to shoot each other

Sometimes the best ideas are the simple ones. Like non-denominational integrated schooling in the North.

In the quarter century since Lagan College first opened its doors, thousands of children have had the opportunity to be educated alongside those from the other community, eliminating the likelihood of those children becoming the latest generation of bigots.

In a climate where living arrangements have become dangerously polarised into a patchwork of single community ghettos, school and the workplace have become almost the only environments in which both communities can encounter each other in the province.

This morning, it has emerged that the Catholic Council for Maintained Schools, which oversees the running of Catholic schooling in the North, is set to shut at least 50 primary schools because of plummetting demographics and lack of interest from parents.

And about time too. The old Jesuitical saying 'Give me a boy for seven years and he'll be ours for life' was never more relevant than in relation to Catholic schooling in the North.

In addition to the standard curriculum, far too often children in CCMS schools were educated in non-official subjects, like bigotry, sectarianism, Republican politics and violence.

Of course, the priests and nuns weren't usually to the fore when it came to politics or endorsing violence and paramilitaries. They were probably too busy with their own unofficial curriculum of Catholic guilt and brutalisation.

They tended to leave the overt bigotry teaching to their lay teachers in my experience. One Irish teacher I had used to hold the metre stick out the window when British army helicopters flew overhead, mimicking firing a rocket propelled grenade at it, and telling us 'That's how you do it, boys.'

It came as no surprise to me when it emerged that he was a member of a paramilitary organisation and he later fled to Spain to avoid arrest.

I've no doubt plenty of people went to Catholic schools and had wonderful times with wonderful teachers. I wasn't one of those. But even for those who were, I'd pose the question, did it do you any good not to be educated alongside Protestants?

The CCMS, or Catholic Council for Maintaining Sectarianism as I prefer to expand it, has bitterly opposed integrated schooling, preferring to maintain their own fiefdom over the hearts and minds of impressionable youths.

It's time they were scrapped, and all schools in Northern Ireland made mandatorily integrated and non-denominational. If you want religion taught to your kids, let them go to a Sunday school, and let the CCMS turn their attentions in that direction.

And if you wish to see religious education taught in schools, let the local clerics handle it, like they would elsewhere.

When I switched schools to attend one which had students of at least five different religions attending, they had no problem accommodating everyone in terms of morning prayer and assemblies, or in terms of what version of the religious knowledge exam paper they had to study.

If we ever really hope to see the end of bigotry and sectarianism in Northern Ireland, the best place to start is with the kids. Let's give them a chance to get to know each other before their elders teach them to hate each other.

The best way to do that is to integrate all schools in the province under a non-denominational banner for at least a generation.

And that involves restricting the Catholic Council for Maintaining Sectarian schooling to Sunday, if not scrapping it altogether.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Scrap the Gardai and start again

It's time to scrap the Gardai and start again. I was thinking this around the time that the Patton reforms in the North were announced years ago. If there is a police force on this island in desperate need of reform, it's the Gardai, not the PSNI.

Now, that's not to suggest that all is well with the Nips. It's not. But they have moved on from the sectarian nature that the RUC once displayed and are continuing to move in the right direction, in a climate which still makes proper community policing extremely difficult.

It's time, as Mairtin O'Muilleoir has pointed out, for Sinn Fein to endorse the PSNI, so that they can help to achieve the final reforms necessary to make the PSNI truly a police force for all in the North.

But what about the keystone cops of the Republic? This week they finally arrested Joe O'Reilly on charges of murdering his wife Rachel. Now, Joe is currently innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. But this development indicates that such a trial is now likely.

Joe himself has previously acknowledged that he was a leading suspect. Newspapers like the Evening Herald all but identified him as the only suspect Gardai were investigating. Yet it has apparently taken over two years and hundreds of thousands of euro spent on investigation to bring Mr O'Reilly to the point of being charged.

This would be the same police force, incidentally, which has been caught fitting up people for non-existent murders in Donegal, planting evidence of bombmaking, and allegedly lying in court in relation to a suspect who was charged with offences relating to the Omagh bombing.

The same force that threatened to go on strike if a reserve force was introduced. The same force who earn spectacular wages and overtime for one of the worst records of serious crime solving in Europe, even after they pretended to solve some of the cases that they hadn't.

I reckon it's time the Gardai were completely overhauled. Let's scrap them and start again.

Incidentally, now that I have the queasy image of the Evening Herald in my head, let's consider a headline from former Murder Squad (that's the disbanded and discredited murder squad) detective Gerry O'Carroll's column, which appears in the Herald each Wednesday.

Commenting on the appearance of radical Islamic speaker Anjem Choudary at Trinity College this week, O'Carroll's article was titled 'Hate-filled rants must be silenced.' This is surely the height of irony, given the bile that he spews weekly.

O'Carroll, as many Herald readers may be unaware, was involved in the Gardai's 'Heavy Gang' in the 1970s, which Amnesty International accused of extracting confessions from suspects using torture. O'Carroll, like others involved, denies the Heavy Gang existed.

He was also the legend who got Joanne Hayes to confess to murder in the 'Kerry Babies' saga, and apparently still maintains that she gave birth to both babies, even though scientific evidence has long since proven otherwise.

O'Carroll has current Evening Herald editor Steven Rea to thank for his elevation from dodgy copper to red-top ranter. Rea, as many people may not recall, was formerly the editor of the Garda Review, so to describe him as having friends in the Garda establishment would be akin to stating that Gary Glitter shows an interest in young ladies.

'Hate-filled rants must be silenced', alright. Let's start by petitioning Mr Rea to remove his discredited pal's column. And then we can move on to dealing with the dodgy cops still practising in the police service.

Two years to bring a single-suspect case to charges? The public deserves better than that.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Chocolates, Sting Rays and Orla Barry

Via SluggerO'Toole, I notice that a Belfast Professor had his building society account emptied by tech-savvy thieves who spent the proceeds on Thornton's chocolates. That's £15,000 worth of Thornton's chocolates.

They also bought £5,000 worth of Tesco vouchers, because every little helps, I guess.

Now, while my usual concerns about online and telephone banking apply once again - ie it's a scam operated by the banks to keep their overheads down and actually makes your money much less safe that it was when they had branches and human beings overseeing it - I am also bamboozled as to why the thieves would need so many chocolates?

And from BBC, news of another stingray attack on a human. When Steve Irwin, the Aussie crocodile worrier, died, we all were told how stingrays were peaceable creatures that never seek to cause harm to humans.

Well, this latest attack involved a stingray leaping on board a boat to stab the 81 year old captain in the chest, just off the Florida coast.

"It was a freak accident," said the local fire chief. Hmmm. Didn't they say the same after Irwin's death? For peaceable creatures, they've got some blood on their stings. Maybe the loopers who went out and chopped the stings off rays after Irwin's 'accident' were right after all.

This morning, I was tuned into 'Life! with Orla Barry' on Newstalk 106. Not my normal morning listening, I'll freely admit. But it was certainly a revealing insight into the concerns of a modern female radio listenership.

We had what seemed to be a 40 minute discussion about childcare in Ireland, during which not once did anyone make the point that if parents find childcare costs too high, they should consider having less kids or staying at home with the brood they've already produced instead of expecting other taxpayers to stump up.

"Even after the thousand euros, parents still have to pay 91% of the cost of childcare," bleated one creche owner. Erm, what were you expecting? That single, gay and childless taxpayers should pay more tax to keep other people's children being raised by third parties?

This was followed by a slot with a sex therapist about married people not having sex. Apparently, loads of married people in Ireland are having no sex because they're living busy lives and have the kids to deal with too. Not because they're turned off each other.

Perhaps this is why they're really seeking ever more money for childcare, it seems to me. What they really want is an extra hour in bed to canoodle.

However, as Orla has now threatened to foist Irish Times hackette Roisin Ingle upon my delicate ears, I'm turning her off. Ingle's pointless self-obsessed column is indicative of all that's gone wrong in Irish journalism these days.

She was once wonderfully satirised on boards.ie, and how she has the gumption to show her face in public after that, never mind keep writing more of the same is beyond me. Her 'column' makes me so angry that I fear listening to her live would be more than I could bear.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Old Hat

So it appears that Bono is so attached to his old hat that he is continuing to pursue his former stylist, Lola Cashman, through the courts to get it.

Some people with long memories may recall the Stetson in question. It was on top of the diminutive one's head when he did the Joshua Tree tour, so is presumably more than a little sweaty now.

Ms Cashman maintains that she was given the hat and other items, which she later put up on E-bay for auction. Bono reckons that she was cashing in, and promptly sued. A court last year decided he was right, and she was ordered to return all the property. The current case followed when Lola appealed.

One would wonder why multi-millionaires like U2 would begrudge a few momentos to a former employee. Especially now that they have their business happily ensconced in Holland to avoid paying Irish tax.

I've no doubt this persecution of Lola has nothing whatsoever to do with her book that she published some years ago, detailing exactly what the lads are like behind the scenes. Bono didn't come across too well in it, as I recall.

Nothing to do with that at all. Oh no.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Dr No returns to form

And so it begins. Two days after signing up to the latest remix 'historic agreement', Dr No returns to form by refusing to meet with the Shinners to discuss what they're going to do together in Government.

Other than bicker and accuse each other of perfidy, of course.

The British Government is gainfully putting the best spin possible on the development, calling it optimistically a 'hitch.'

I'd be more inclined to refer to it as the shape of things to come. Now there is little doubt that there are plenty of people inside the DUP prepared to do the only deal in town and get democracy up and running in the North.

But will we really have to wait for Dr No to release the shackles of control over his party before we can move beyond the ever-shifting goalposts that Ian puts between his consent and the future of Northern Ireland?

Must we wait for the rumoured prostate cancer to take effect before we can experience DUP's long-awaited sequel to Dr No? And will it be, as some people are spinning, 'From Robinson With Love'?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Sex and the Pity

According to 'Colonel' Kevin Myers, in his forthcoming tome about the Troubles, he was barely able to file copy most days due to the amount of women he was boffing in Belfast.

In yesterday's Sunday Times, we got two self-indulgent broadsheet pages of his Belfast bedpost notches, full of glorious detail about how our hero was paramour to Provos and lothario of Loyalists in the early Seventies.

In fairness, the Colonel didn't have his recognisably pendulous jowls back then, and I've little doubt that to the denizens of Belfast back then, a plummy English accent that wasn't accompanied by battle fatigues and a rifle was a real novelty.

But am I the only person to find his account of love across the barricades more than a tad unlikely?

Let me be frank - some of his Don Juantics simply stretch my disbelief suspenders to breaking point. Let me quote a couple of examples. After being taken back to the Falls Road house of a prominent Provo by his missus, Myers is interrupted in his nocturnal adventure when the aforementioned paramilitary returns unexpectedly. Myers assumes the position (hiding under the bed.)

"And so it proceeded, her nagging and his bluster, until finally he went downstairs to make the tea. I rolled out from under the bed, scooped the remains of my clothes from the floor and without kissing my girl of the night farewell, hopped into the only other bedroom, where the sister was drunkenly slumbering. I had no choice but to slip in beside her and hope she didn’t notice."

The Colonel manages to make his excuses and leave in good journalistic fashion of course, albeit his quick exit means he drives home in his pelt with an accidental armful of the cuckolded Provo's undies.

He manages to get caught in flagrante a second time with 'classically Protestant' Trudy on the other side of town. Her rugby playing hubby returns early from the game, while Myers again assumes the position:

"I leapt nimbly over the bed and lay alongside it, in the small gap between it and the wall beneath the curtained window. But it had taken too long. Erskine had grown impatient and had gone to the front of the house, where he was hauling the unlocked sash window open, just inches above me."

Again, using the quick wit for which he is famed, he makes his escape unharmed by husband.

"This was the second time a husband had nearly caught me, but on different sides of the sectarian divide. With such gallant cross-community endeavours as mine, peace was surely at hand."

Surely indeed, Kevin. What did it take in the end, three more decades? You should have put it about a bit more.

Now, I'm not saying he couldn't have got one or two pity shags. After all, Belfast back then was like that line from Pulp's song 'Common People' - "We drink and smoke and screw because there's nothing else to do."

But does he really expect people to believe all this sleeping with the enemies guff? My arse, he does.

I reckon he's just seeking to take the piss out of a place which he seems to have despised for many years. That or desperately trying to flog his book.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Internet Alphabet

Okay, so I was bored. Sue me.

I typed the letter 'S' into my Firefox browser earlier on in order to call up this blog. Like other browsers, the cache remembers sites, so it was my lazy way of getting to the blog in as few moves as possible.

But instead of waiting for the cache to call up anything beginning with 'S', I impatiently hit search, and was gobsmacked to find that the letter 'S' links, for no apparent reason, to this page, which was definitely not what I was looking for.

That got me wondering what the rest of the alphabet links to via Firefox, so being bored, I compiled the entire alphabet for you below. Now perhaps things are different over in Explorer or Opera land, and perhaps things are different where you are, but this is the alphabet I found:

A is for a list of web resources for programmers
B is for academic Physics papers
C is for the programming language C
D is for more Physics papers
E is for Hollywood gossip
F is for businesses going under
G is for Google mail
H is for graphics cards for gamers
I is for a Youtube imitator
J is for Jennifer Lopez
K is for some Linux operating system guff
L is for the Council of Europe!!!
M is for Fritz Lang's classic
N is for teen TV shows
O is for more nerd techie stuff
P is for pop singer Pink
Q is for Q music magazine
R is for statistical computing
S is for McDonald's junkfood???
T is for Local transport in Massachussets
U is for a Canadian University
V is for Warner's movie mangling of 'V for Vendetta'
W is for a business hotel chain
X is for yet more open source, techie nerd stuff
Y is for Yahoo
Z is for dissident US political magazine ZMag

I presume somewhere along the line people are paying to buy up the alphabet online. That would explain the preponderance of entertainment and techie sites.

But can anyone confirm to me how browsers decide on a website based on a single letter?

And even better, can anyone explain why McDonald's bought the letter 'S'?

And do you get anything different in your internet alphabet?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Bogey at St Andrews

I'm still attempting to digest the latest version of the only deal in town presented at St Andrews yesterday evening.

But even if the DUP and Sinn Fein sign up to it, my first impressions leave me with that sinking feeling that we're into yet another round of proposal-vote-assembly-brinksmanship-collapse with no real change of benefit to the people of Northern Ireland.

The text includes a number of bogies, not the least of which is this little gem:
"The great majority of national security agents will be run by the PSNI, under the strategic direction of the Service, mirroring the arrangements the Service has with the police in GB.
This makes sense in NI in particular because of the interface between serious crime and national security; the police also have the advantage of local knowledge.
The Security Service will continue to run directly a small number of agents
who are authorised to obtain information in the interests of national security as distinct from countering criminality, where the circumstances make that appropriate."
So we'll still have MI5 and Special Branch running agents, shall we? Lovely. Sadly, the document makes no mention of whether they'll be running entire paramilitary outfits, authorising murders, infiltrating political parties or simply looking for Al-Qaeda in Magherafelt.

But hey, we'll get a freeze on the current stratospheric house rates and a victims' commissioner, so that's all right then.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Bore-trait of Zizou

Don't bother going to see 'Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait'. Don't bother waiting for it to come out on DVD either. Don't buy it at Christmas for your Dad or brother, with the sly intention of watching it yourself.

Don't wait for cable TV to show it next year. Forget it even exists. It is crap. I know, I went to see it last night. I want my 90 minutes back.

If anyone ever missed a sitter in front of a gaping empty net, it is the makers of this nonsense. What better subject for a fascinating footie documentary than the best player of this generation, Zizou?

In addition to his supreme talent, he is also that supreme rarity in the modern world - a Muslim role model loved by all. Even the armed guards at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem once conceded to me that no player was more gifted, no player more capable of uniting entire audiences in captive appreciation of his abilities.

Zinedine Zidane's history - the Algerian heritage, the upbringing in the tense, dangerous streets of Marseilles, the rise through French teams to Juventus, then to Real Madrid as the best of the famous Galacticos - is only part of what is missing from the nonsense I watched last night.

Let me explain what the filmmakers have done. If you've ever watched a Premiership game on Sky, you're probably familiar with their 'playercam', which trains a camera on one player for 15 minutes. Make that seventeen cameras on Zizou for 90 minutes, and you've got this boreathon of a movie.

Despite what some gullible people might say, this is not some oblique masterpiece, or an art moment to savour. It is 90 minutes of a sweaty man, trudging around the Bernabeu, waiting for his teammates to pass him the ball.

This film, much more than his headbutting Marco Materazzi in the World Cup final, will diminish memories of Zizou's genius. If Zinedine Zidane's magic can be boiled down to pixillated phone camera footage of his boots to the sound of a turgid drone by Mogwai, then there is no magic in football.

This artwank should have been left in whatever pretentious Parisian gallery it emanated from. I hope, now that Zidane has retired, that someone will make a proper documentary and portrait of him.

But this isn't it.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

No Sleep till Breakfast

I notice Cllr Seamus Ryan complaining on his blog about bangers and fireworks being set off by what were once called juvenile delinquents down in Waterford.

Obviously, the staccato of bangs followed by the howling of petrified domestic animals is not restricted to the sunny South-East.

Last night, the little feckers in my neighbourhood kept it going well into the night, through the small hours and into the big ones again, leaving me with no sleep whatsoever.

The good councillor feels that more needs to be done to prevent those illegally importing and selling fireworks. I have an idea myself in relation to that.

A few years back, the Gardai invited me down to a little spot they have between Heuston Station and Kilmainham in Dublin to witness what happens when shoddy fireworks bought (or in the case of the Gardai, siezed) from shifty market stallholders go off.

In their illuminating demonstration, it was mainly fingers that went off, followed by eyes and the skin of the upper torso. Thankfully, the demo was performed on dummies.

I'm a believer in leaving explosives to the experts, like that genius who does the Paddy's Day fireworks along the Liffey, or the Provos. But it amazes me how many people want to play with fireworks without having the slightest idea what safety measures to take.

And what gets me is the gradual lengthening of all holidays these days. Christmas marketing begins in November if you're lucky, we have a week long St Patrick's festival instead of just the one day, and Hallowe'en begins with a bang in early September and goes on and on and on.

Why can't people restrict the fireworks, self-maiming and scaring of animals to the one day it was supposed to be?

Given that in the month before Hallowe'en each year, old people and animals are terrified each evening by the constant noise, that people like me can't get to sleep because of it, and especially because the kids buying and using these things swamp the hospital A+E departments in their dozens, I propose a modest solution to the problem.

Every person caught importing or selling fireworks and bangers illegally should be punished by having one superglued to their hand then lit.

Then perhaps next October, I can get some bloody sleep.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

No Blow Area

The PSNI made the biggest ever drugs bust in Northern Ireland yesterday when they cracked open a lorry in a Newtownards warehouse and found 3.5 tons of cannabis.

This news is likely to be greeted with dismay among the stoners of the island, which like Britain has been suffering a 'drought' for some months, ever since the UDA decided to cease its dealing operations.

In fact, one local paper recently splashed the headline 'No Blow Area' on their front page while reporting the shortage of cannabis locally and throughout the two islands.

Reports of the bust, in which two men in their thirties were arrested, reveal that the police feared that the dope would be distributed quickly throughout the whole island, and possibly to Britain too, such was its scale.

But what those reports do not indicate is why people want to smoke cannabis despite health risks and illegality, nor why this current drought has come about.

There are a number of interesting factors at play here. The first is Loyalist paramilitary involvement in drug dealing. The recent purging of the UDA's Shoukri brothers from North Belfast, curiously coincided with the onset of this drug drought.

Yet PC Plod from the PSNI refused to be drawn on whether paramilitaries were involved in this particular consignment at today's press conference, or on speculation that the drought itself was caused by the UDA moving out of the drugs business.

To get cannabis into an island like Ireland, you need to export it from somewhere (usually Spain or Holland) and have guys on the ground to distribute it when it arrives. Little comment has been passed on the demise of a series of Dublin criminals in Spain and Holland in recent months. It appears likely that their removal from the scene has drastically reduced the availability of drugs to the Irish market.

So at one stage, we had Dubs in the Costas shipping dope to Egyptian UDA men in the North. And now? Well, judging by Newtownards, someone still wants to import a lot of cannabis to the well established market in Ireland. But who?

Either the UDA, or another paramilitary grouping, have decided to cash in on the drought, or else we have a new paradigm for drug dealing in the North, where entrepreneurial gangsters move in on the trade with violent consequences, such as the Westies once were in Dublin before their untimely demise in Spain.

In which case, how long before other gangs of young, gun-toting psychos decide to fill the gap left behind by the paramilitaries in the North? Having put the Troubles in the past for now, is Northern Ireland set for a Dublin-style wave of gangland activity?

The final point is the most obvious of all. A lot of people clearly want to smoke cannabis and are even prepared to break the law to do so. Why? Because they do not respect that law.

There is already plenty of debate elsewhere about the prohibition of cannabis, its rights and wrongs, and of the pros and cons of cannabis from a health perspective. But it would seem to me that one way to eradicate the possibility of a Belfast gangland developing, never mind the financial benefit, is to legalise the cannabis market now.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Planet of the Arabs

This short film from the Sundance festival seems to be doing a lot of viral business across the web right now, and no harm there.

'Planet of the Arabs' is a short movie by Arab-American director and artist Jacqueline Salloum that emulates a Hollywood blockbuster trailer. Its genius is that every single piece of footage in the cleverly edited montage has been taken from a recent and genuine Hollywood movie.

When I went to Egypt for the first time, I was stunned at how widely variant my perception of the Arab world was. But it shouldn't have surprised me how deeply ingrained the prejudices of Hollywood manage to infiltrate the psyche of everyone in the 'West.'

This short film shows why. Jacqui was apparently inspired to do the piece after discovering in Dr Jack Shaheen's book, 'Reel Bad Arabs' that out of 1000 mainstream movie depictions of Arabs in Hollywood in the past 100+ years, only 12 were positive and an astonishing 900 were...

Well, have a look and see for yourself what they were.

Just press the button and the machine does the rest...

Minister for profligacy Martin Cullen is likely tearing through more packs of fags than usual today after hearing the news that European hackers are able to hack his 60 million euro machines effortlessly, detect votes as they are cast and even manipulate the results.

Cullen, who championed the introduction of e-voting in the face of vociferous objection from the public and IT experts, will be wondering if he would have been better off spending that money on another round the world trip with his former PR consultant and serial libel litigant Monica Leech (above after being appointed to her latest sinecure with Waterford Chamber of Commerce).

Even at Monica's rather wallet-lightening rate of 1,200 euro per day, Marty could have swanned around the planet with his trusty media guru to hand for nearly 140 years for the same price he paid for the useless hunks of electronics that are now gathering dust throughout the country.

Every so often, we've seen an idea floated as to what can be done with the machines, other than scrapping them or permitting them to languish in storage at the taxpayers' expense. But whether they end up as game consoles in American bars, as was once suggested, one thing is for sure. No one will be using them to vote in this country any time soon.

According to notorious German hackers, the Computer Chaos Club, the machines give off radio waves that could be intercepted by anyone in a 25 metre vicinity, thereby revealing the 'secret' voting choices of the electorate.

And only last week, it appears that their Dutch colleagues, the
lobby group "Wij vertrouwen stemcomputers niet" (That's "We don't trust e-voting machines" to you and me) demonstrated on TV how the machines can be easily manipulated, using the very manuals that came with the machines Martin Cullen bought.

"Anyone when given brief access to the devices at any time before the election, can gain complete and virtually undetectable control over the election results," they revealed.

Perhaps Marty should dust the machines off, bite the bullet and take the e-voting vision to phase 2 by having the machines decide our government for us next year. We'll just press a few buttons, and the machines can do the rest.

At least that way, we would have something else to blame than ourselves for having people like Cullen in cabinet.

Backing Blair on public transport

Now that Teflon Tony has decided to leave Downing Street some indeterminate time this century, we can all look back in joy at the glorious work done by the lads of www.backingblair.co.uk.

No fans of the man whose legacy will be the death of untold thousands of Iraqi civilians, they have been agitating for his removal for years.

During that time, they managed to create a hilarious, close-to-the-knuckle series of flash animations about the state of British politics as they see it. All of them are worth a gander.
But my personal fave has to be this one.

The lads responsible for the music are two junior doctors from London who ply the UK comedy circuit under the moniker of Amateur Transplants.

If this is what they feel about the London Tube, god only knows what they might have to say about the Luas, Translink or, god forbid, Iarnrod Eireann.

Suicide is painful

It's world mental health day today.

Normally, I'm don't go in for makey-uppy designated days. After all, Mother is mother all year round and not just some random Sunday chosen by greeting card manufacturers. And it's the same with this day. People suffering from mental ill health do so any time of the year, not just today.

Perhaps someone might want to tell Minister Tim O'Malley (pictured right, staring into space as usual.)

But at least it gives wonderful organisations like The Samaritans and Aware the chance to remind the majority of us who teeter just the right side of insanity most of the time that there is a minority out there who aren't coping.

Among the statistics to emerge today is that one in 13 Irish students suffer from clinical depression. Unlucky for some indeed.

You have to wonder what is really going on in a country experiencing unprecedented wealth, affluence and opportunity when the cream of the crop, the educated, intelligent golden youth, are suffering depression in their thousands and taking their own lives by the hundreds annually.

Last month, two brothers took their own lives in Belfast. One killed himself suddenly, without warning to friends or family, causing the inevitable tidal wave of grief, anger and agony that such deaths always do.

Within weeks, a matter of days really, his brother followed his example. This tragedy, one that is played out in hundreds of Irish homes every year, was particularly acute for the Mailey family, as they had lost not one cherished son but two.

Bravely, the boys' parents spoke out in the media about their unimaginable loss and anguish, in the hope that their pain might alert those suffering from depression to reach out and seek help.

But they did not spare their anger in describing how Mark, suffering dreadfully from the loss of his beloved brother, sought help from doctors and hospitals, only to be fobbed off with weeks of waiting and a handful of tranquilisers.

I fear that their words will fall on many deaf ears, including those who most need to listen - the politicians mismanaging mental health services and the disturbed, depressed and isolated young people who are suffering from mental ill health.

Years ago I ran an information and support service for people bereaved by suicide. I did this voluntarily, but it cost me a lot of money I didn't have.

I did it because people who have lost a loved one to suicide are many times more likely to die by their own hands than the general populace. And at that time in Ireland, there was little or no information, no group support meetings, and certainly no state funding for such services.

I was literally deluged. People who had lost brothers, sisters or parents decades earlier contacted me in tears, the pain as vivid and the loss as acute as it was when the suicide occurred. And then there were the people who had only just lost someone, often a child, and didn't know who to turn to.

The priest offered prayers, the doctor pills. The state offered nothing. The community turned away in an embarrassed silence from them. They came to me. It quickly became apparent that I needed to find counsellors, and lots of them, and to organise support groups for the suicide bereaved.

And I needed funds. But back then, over a decade ago, the state wasn't interested. I couldn't get the funding. I ran out of cash and beyond. I had to close the service and get a job to pay off the debts. In the meantime, the suicide rate hit record levels.

The Government might try to tell you that things have changed since, but they haven't. Last year, the Irish Minister with responsibility for Mental Health - that's the dozy looking chap pictured above - told the Dail "
[the] constant reiteration and repetition about the problems in the mental health services is becoming a bit tiresome."

Amazingly, no paranoid schizophrenic unable to access proper care has chosen to kill Minister Tim O'Malley yet. Even more amazingly, he's STILL minister with reponsibility for mental health.

And while we do now have suicide support groups dotted like oases of mental calm around the country, the vast majority of money attached to suicide goes towards medical research. Let me explain something very simply so that even Dim O'Malley will understand:

Suicide is caused by people killing themselves. That's all there is to it. How do you stop people killing themselves? Well, try funding the mental health services for starters.

Mental health funding in the Republic of Ireland has deteriorated to such an extent that disturbed children are held as in-patients in adult psychiatric wards. And they now intend to sell off the grounds of psychiatric hospitals just to pay for the next few years service, such is the demand and the historic lack of investment.

Surely it is now time to divert some of our affluence away from material goods and towards crucial services like these. If you can't get proper help when you need it and reach out for it, like Mark Mailey did in Belfast last month, or if you seek it when young enough only to find yourself in an adult psychiatric ward, what does that say about the morals of the country you are in?

For help or support contact Samaritans call 1850 609090 or email jo@samaritans.org

What is the law for?

I read in the Irish Daily Mirror a heart-rending tale of a Belfast mum who has been separated from her only child.

Her bloke took the child and legged it to his homeland of Algeria, whence there is no chance of his extradition.

Dawn Andrew's helplessness in the face of the fact that her child has been effectively abducted from her makes you wonder - what is the law for if it can't prevent things like this occurring, or at least fix them once they've happened?

Anyone who remembers the Chancery opening of 'Bleak House' by Charles Dickens will recall the physical and metaphorical fog that surrounds it. The Nineteenth Century British law court was a cold, bewildering house for the common man to find himself in.

In those days, there was one law to protect the rich, and no law for the poor except the aforementioned 'Don't fuck with the money people' law.

Divorce, as another Dickens novel depicts it, was unknown for ordinary people. They had to stick together in shitty marriages even though it was hundreds of years since one of their kings had slaughtered his way through a series of wives, divorcing some of them and even founding his own religion accidentally as a result.

Of course, these days we can get a divorce in most civilised countries. It didn't come through some respect for the rights of the individual, though. It came through the feminist movement, which saw divorce, like contraception and the torching of lingerie, as part of the armoury required to establish the liberty of women.

Now, in many places, women are still no more than chattel. Try walking through Mogadishu or Tehran in a bikini and see what happens if you doubt that. But we don't often hear a lot from feminists about the legal rights of the sisterhood when the sisters happen to be dark-skinned, Muslim and from outside the Western World.

Instead, they're keener on tweaking the laws in Western Europe and North America to protect the rights they gained for themselves and to prevent the overhaul of antique laws here that give them an artificial advantage over menfolk.

As a singular example, I offer child custody. Four decades or more since the countercultural wave of feminism, I still hear no outcry from women about why men don't get to look after the children after divorce or separation.

I do hear them demanding ever more state funding for creche and kindergarten places, where working mommy can leave her little one in the care of a third party all day. And I hear them demanding the house from departed Dad to raise the kids in. Not to mention a stipend of his wages from here to eternity, no matter whose fault the separation was.

But I don't hear any calls for the radical overhaul of child custody and family laws from that quarter. Why? Because the old patriarchal assumption that raising kids is women's work suits them on this occasion.

Now, men moved over in the workplace to accommodate women in the last century. Sure, it took a few millennia. Sure, it probably only happened because women got to vote, then were needed to work in factories because men went to war yet again. Men are dumb, they like fighting and they kept women suppressed for a long, long time. We know this already.

But men love their children, and cannot understand why, after four decades, the feminist movement and women in general have decided to fail their kids by refusing to move over in the home and accommodate men who want to look after their kids.

I've met guys who separated from the mothers of their children and had to move into a one room flat or back with their parents in their Forties and even Fifties because Mom got the house in the separation, because they had kids, and well... kids should go with mom, don't they?

Not necessarily true. There are endless statistics to indicate that children raised by single mothers do worse at school, are more likely to become involved in delinquency, drugs, alcohol abuse and get in trouble with the law. This is not to say that there aren't great people raised by brave and steadfast women on their own. But the trends indicate that raising your kids in a one-parent atmosphere can be deleterious to their upbringing.

But it gets more interesting than that. Not many people realise that children are many, many times more likely to be sexually abused by the new partner of their mother than they are by their father. This fact gets lost in screaming tabloid tales of men who preyed on their offspring.

Even more interesting is that when children are raised with their father as sole parent, they tend to do better than average on all of the same indices that their peers raised by Mom do worse at. Like school performance, academic achievement, avoidance of substance abuse or lawbreaking.

Don't believe me? You don't have to. You should dip into Adrienne Burgess' book 'Fatherhood Reclaimed' and read her research for yourself. A lifelong feminist, she set out to do a number on deadbeat Dads who leave their partners and kids in the lurch to go drinking and whoring.

Instead, she happened across the biggest social scandal in our modern times - the inflicted divorce of children from their fathers by women and the antiquated legal system that still assumes Mom knows best.

Her book should have caused an outcry when it was first released a decade ago. Instead, it was ignored, and we raised a generation of ASBO-achieving hoodies.

And those deadbeat Dads - a term incidentally that is way past its sell-by-date now? Well, in Britain and Ireland many of them are trying and failing to get to see their children, unable to force the mother to facilitate their relationship with their kids even with a court order, because no judge wants to be seen in the press sending a Mommy to jail.

But dare he miss a maintenance payment, there's a court order on his property, and the relevant government agency will be docking cash from his payslip.

Other dads are unable to even establish where their children are, after their mothers skipped the country with them in tow. Thousands spent on detectives and trips to foreign countries looking in vain for their children, trying to guess their height, their look now they're older.

But the mainstream media would rather depict endless stories of distraught Mommies like the one above, who stupidly got involved with someone from a fundamentalist Muslim background and a dusty foreign land, then were gobsmacked when he didn't return to their council flat with the kids after a holiday in Dar al-Islam.

We are told that Mommies are the victims, not Daddies. Daddies are cash cows to be milked and ignored. Except when they are morons in superhero outfits getting in tabloid trouble.
And people wonder why the male suicide rate is through the roof.

We need a radical overhaul of our legal system in this regard or we need to rethink what civilisation means. We are involved in a massive and unprecedented experiment involving the mass deprivation of fathers for children. The early results are in, and it is not an experiment that we should continue.

If this mass shortchanging of the next generation is not sufficient to convince the powers that be to change the duplicitous, overbalanced and secretive legal system on the issue of childcare, then perhaps men should start converting to Islam and take their little ones on an extended holiday to Algeria.

If it doesn't rectify injustice, but institutionalises it instead, what's the law for anyway?