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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Michael likes Thomas

This is possibly the saddest story I've ever heard.

A pal told it to me tonight. He was walking through a leafy affluent South Dublin suburb yesterday, passing a very expensive and prestigious boys school as they were letting out at the end of the school day.

He noticed one lad, slightly taller than another, torturing the second boy. He had him in a grip around his neck and was wrestling him to the ground. Other boys were watching. None of these boys were older than ten, apparently. All small children really.

As he wrestled his prey to the ground, the taller lad was jeering at the one he was persecuting. "Michael likes Thomas! Michael likes Thomas!" The gathered crowd of lads joined in with the chant. Soon, the poor lad on the ground was surrounded by his classmates all chanting 'Michael likes Thomas!"

My pal, passing by, was struck initially at how early homophobia appears to emerge among kids these days. But then he suddenly noticed a third lad, hanging back behind a tree away from the pack. This lad was completely dishevelled, as if he'd been assaulted himself, and was sobbing his heart out as he watched the proceedings.

Suddenly it dawned on my pal that this was Thomas. With a chill running down his spine, he realised it wasn't a case of homophobia at all. He suddenly saw that the bullying at this expensive, prestigious prep school was so appalling that not only was Thomas being bullied, but another boy Michael was being bullied solely on the basis of being friendly to Thomas.

That level of personal targetting is almost too appalling to contemplate. How isolated, how fearful must that young lad Thomas be on a daily basis? But at least, in a good expensive prep school, you'd expect the staff to jump on top of it, wouldn't you? Well, think on.

A teacher emerged from the school and walked straight past the debacle with only an over-the-shoulder comment. As she headed on, the bullying continued uninterrupted.

Is it any wonder that suicides are getting younger and younger?

Bullying is getting more serious in nature too. It's no longer name calling and the odd dig in the head.

Last week in Galway, a young girl was grabbed by a gang of boys, bound with tape, her mouth stuffed with a scarf and was sexually assaulted while others watched, laughed and filmed the assault. The school's response? Three day suspensions for the cowardly little rapist-wannabes involved.

Three days home from school as 'punishment' for aggravated sexual assault on a young, vulnerable girl? Those boys ought to be doing six months in a Borstal right now, not lounging at home watching daytime telly.

It emerged this week that my own nipper has been suffering ongoing bullying at the hands of a gang of teen boys too.

What sort of spineless, weak, cowardly morons gang up on a girl? There's only two possible answers. The first is in response to those who excuse bullying on the grounds that the bullies don't realise the effects of their actions and were only 'having a bit of fun.'

There's a word for people whose idea of fun is to inflict pain on others. That word is 'sadist.' Research demonstrates that male children who express sadistic impulses are those most likely to go on in adult life to commit murder. So if a bully really is 'having a bit of fun', what they urgently require is constant monitoring and long-term counselling if they are to avoid a lifetime behind bars.

For the vast majority of bullies, sadism is not the motivating factor. For these boys, and perhaps the boys in Galway, I believe the motivating factor is their own crippling inadequacies as individuals. As stunted, weak, immature young males, they are driven by their own sense of insecurity to seek security in the comfort of a pack, just like immature male lions and other animals do.

Lacking the self-confidence to be fully rounded individuals, they shore up their sense of inadequacy by hiding in the herd. Without intervention or somehow becoming self-enlightened, these boys will be permanently trapped in their cycle of inadequacy, their lives capped and stunted by their overwhelming need to remain in scenarios where they are not challenged as individuals, where they can hide in a herd.

I've reported the abuse to the school of course, but I'm concerned that they'll respond like the teacher at that Southside prep school, with some cursory warnings that fail to prevent anything.

I don't mean to sound like a doddery old fascist, but this would not have happened in my day. Any boy, never mind a gang of boys, who so much as picked on a girl would themselves have been beaten to within an inch of their lives by their own peers for being so pathetic.

I reserve the right to deal with this my way too. The school has anti-bullying procedures, so they get first go at resolving this.

But if they don't succeed, I intend to get 'North Belfast' on the spotty, sweaty, pathetic little rugger buggers who require to gather in a gang to pick on a lone girl in order to shore up their stunted masculinity.

And by 'North Belfast', I mean I am entirely prepared to hospitalise each and every one of them, and go to prison if necessary.

It's win-win-win as I see it. My child is no longer bullied. These amoeba get to learn that there's always a bigger bully, a lesson that just might set them on the right path in life.

And I'd get a few weeks in Thornton Hall, where I hear the cells are going to be 'apartment-style' with flat-screen TVs. Nice.

Monday, February 25, 2008


Well done to all the Irish Oscar winners yesterday.

Even though I thought 'Once' was a load of twee tripe, I'm delighted for the Irish film industry to see another accolade coming in this direction. The local film industry desperately needs a shot in the arm like this, so congratulations to all involved.

Now, I know this is going to come across as some sort of begrudgery or whatever, but that can't be helped. I am genuinely happy for those involved in the film. Even if I didn't like it, clearly a lot of other people did.

But seriously, is no one else even a teensy bit disturbed by the fact that Glenn Hansard and Marketa Irglova (above) first met when he was 31 and she was 13?

I mean, fair enough, they didn't hook up until a couple of years back (during filming of 'Once', when she was 17), but he's on record saying that he'd 'been falling in love with her for a long time, but I kept telling myself she's just a kid.'

No one else is a little grossed out by that? Okay, must just be me then.

Well done again to all concerned.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Keeping track of the dig outs

30 December 1993: Bertie Ahern lodges IR£22,500:
of which IR£15,000 cash,
IR£5,000 from Padraic O'Connor of NCB
and IR£2,500 from Des Richardson.

25 April 1994 Bertie Ahern lodges IR£30,000,
of which IR£27,164.44 to special savings account
and IR£2,835.26 to current account.

8 August 1994 Bertie Ahern lodges IR£20,000
to account in names of daughters

11 October 1994 Foreign Exchange.
Bertie Ahern lodges IR£24,838.49 to deposit account
(equates to £25,000 stg)

5 December 1994 IR£50,000
(in two amounts-28,000 and 22,000)
is transferred from Bertie Ahern's account to Celia Larkin account (CL1)

5 December 1994 Foreign Exchange.
IR£28,772.90 lodged to Celia Larkin account (CL2)
(equates to $45,000)

19 January 2005 IR£50,000 transferred from Celia Larkin deposit account to cash save account

27 January 1995 IR£50,000 withdrawn from Celia Larkin Deposit Account and given to Bertie Ahern

15 May 1995 IR£8,442 withdrawn from CL2

19 June 1995 IR£20,050.91 withdrawn from CL2 for work on house

22 June 1995 Foreign Exchange
IR£9,684.71 balance from CL2 used to open a new Larkin account - CL3
Also lodged to this account on this day was IR£11,743.74,
comprising IR£2,000 and £10,000 stg (£IR 9742.74)

24 July 1995 IR£9,655 lodged into CL3 account

1 December 1995 Foreign Exchange
IR£19,142.92 lodged to Bertie Ahern's deposit account
(equates to £20,000 stg)

New A/Cs Feb '08
IPBS a/c £38,000
BT a/c £52,000
That's half a million euro worth of dig outs in total.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Pervert Poet

Pervert poet Cathal O'Searcaigh has apologised for sexually exploiting young boys in Nepal.

Only he hasn't.

What he actually did was apologise 'if his gay lifestyle and relationships had offended anyone.'

Now, the Rape Crisis Centre isn't buying that for a minute. They are rightly still highly concerned about a middle-aged self-styled bohemian who flies to third world countries and plies teens with large amounts of money, first for their sexual favours and secondly in an attempt to buy their silence.

And Colm O'Gorman, spokesman for the One In Four organisation which represents victims of clerical abuse in this country, isn't buying it either. He spoke out strongly this week about how these Nepali boys were exploited and how O'Searcaigh has a case to answer.

What I'm looking forward to, in this week that the gay lobby started officially demanding the right to use the term marriage, is for that self-same lobby to come out in protest at O'Searcaigh defining his abuse of third world boys as a 'gay lifestyle.'

After all, we have heard them condemn from the rooftops for decades any suggestion that homosexuality and sexual exploitation of children are fellow travellers. Paedophiles are paedophiles, whether they prey on girls or boys, we have been told. Homosexuality is nothing to do with it, and men who prey on boys are paedophiles and not gay.

Fair enough. Will the gay lobby in Ireland now take a minute out from their campaign to commandeer the title of a religious sacrament to dignify their own unions, which in any case already have been granted equal rights as heterosexual marriages in Irish law, and condemn this pervert poet?

Let me be clear. I believe in equal rights for all citizens. I firmly support equality under Irish law for gay couples and always have done. However, I see no need for them to be so provocative as to demand a title that has for centuries been reserved for a heterosexual union performed under religious auspices which they do not accept. Civil unions offer equality under Irish law to both religious heterosexual marriages and civil heterosexual unions. Anything else is beyond equality and simply provocation of Irish religious conservatives.

I look forward to seeing some consistency from the gay lobby this time, but I won't hold my breath. The likelihood of them continuing to stand by their former favourite son is as high as the mountains in Nepal amid which pervert poet O'Searcaigh spent his time abusing third world teens.

But if we are to accept, and I do, that paedophiles are paedophiles and not homosexuals when they abuse young boys, then O'Searcaigh is a paedophile and not simply enjoying a 'gay lifestyle.' Does the Irish gay lobby agree?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Is medical tourism the only answer to Ireland's health famine?

After years of fulminating against the Irish health service, I finally put my money where my mouth is.

For a long time, I have headed across the border to the North anytime I needed a check up, some primary care, or some minor emergency treatment. Who wouldn't, given the opportunity, since the British NHS is actually free? No fifty quid to see a doc, no fifty quid to get into A+E. Free to those who need it.

Not to mention shorter A+E queues, cleaner hospitals, more English-speaking staff, fewer flesh-eating bugs, etc, etc.

But I have needed a small operation on my toe for some years now. It wasn't the sort of thing you would get done quickly in the Irish health service, as I wasn't actually bleeding to death and don't have a VHI Plan E insurance card.

But increasingly, it was impeding my ability to walk. It's been years since I could kick a football. And because it is an existing complaint, even if I did sign up for private health insurance that I can't afford, the VHI or their corporate rivals wouldn't pay for the op.

I costed the operation in Ireland, and was quoted a significant four figure sum from a very well known private hospital in the greater Dublin area. This is a lot of money to me. So I decided to keep on suffering.

But the pain got progressively worse, so I looked further afield. In Britain, a number of private hospitals appeared able to do the minor operation required. They were, however, reticent to quote a price without my actually coming to them to be assessed. I can understand this need to assess first, but it is a very simple operation.

A doctor of my acquaintance warned me that it should be as easy to quote for such an operation as it would to quote for, say, laser eye surgery. He also warned that due to increasing medical tourism from Irish patients, and a perception that Irish patients are all loaded, some UK hospitals might possibly be guilty of inflating prices for Irish patients to the upper end of the scales.

Then I came across the Bumrungrad hospital in Bangkok. Go look at their website. This hospital is as good as anything anywhere on earth. Their doctors are nearly all American or UK trained. The facilities are second to none. Ex-pats living all over Asia flock to it when they need medical treatment.

And they're cheap. My operation took an hour and cost 230 euro. In perfect sterile conditions, by highly qualified staffd, and complete with two follow-up examinations and post-operative medication.

While I was there, I met a lad whose cousin tragically succumbed to a drug overdose and has been in a coma in intensive care at the hospital for seven months. A doctor relative had told the lad I spoke to that he didn't believe the patient would have survived in Britain (or, by extension, Ireland) because the quality of care at Bumrungrad so greatly exceeded what was available back home.

I can believe that.

On the one hand, I feel cheap and tawdry for using what little financial clout I have to fly away from the car crash of the Irish health service to avail of proper world class medical facilities. I feel sad for those who can't afford to do likewise, for all those poor people trapped in squalor on trollies in our crowded and dangerous A+E wards.

On the other hand, I was never going to get my operation if I hadn't flown to Thailand to have it done.

Today, Newstalk Radio are holding a themed broadcast day about the Irish health service, which they've rightly entitled the 'Health Famine.' They've been asking people to call in with their stories. I don't do call ins, so I'm putting my story here instead.

This country is infinitely richer than Thailand, yet we cannot even approach the quality of care available there, at a fraction of the cost of healthcare in Ireland. That fact alone ought to have long since accounted for Mary Harney's political career. Why it hasn't is simply beyond me.

Perhaps the people of Ireland are too complacent and accepting of appalling healthcare to demand better. Or perhaps I should fly back to Bangkok and have my head examined.

God knows, it would be inexpensive and the quality of care would be magnificent.

My toe's grand now, by the way. Thanks for asking.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

It chokes me to say it

But I'm proud of Baby Ian.

Not because he's been diddling the taxpayer over his office expenses (150 seater office, Ian? WTF?) or because he was blatantly lobbying to privatise the Giant's Causeway into the hands of his pal, private developer Seymour Sweeney.

Nope. I'm proud of Ian Junior because he has singlehandedly resurrected a political practice I feared had been abandoned forever on the island of Ireland. That of resigning when you've been caught doing wrong.

Okay, he hasn't (and won't) admit he's done wrong. And he only resigned to protect his da, who also has a series of hard office-related questions to answer.

But it is entirely refreshing to see an Irish politician having the relative decency of falling on their sword when caught out.

I do hope the denizens of Leinster House will take note and learn from this. There is a long queue of wrongdoers in there who by any moral compass ought to have jumped a long time ago.

Top of my personal list are Mary Harney, for crimes against the Irish people by seeking to privatise the health service into her funders' pockets, and Bertie Ahern, for the most eye-wateringly bizarre personal finance practices ever engaged in by an alleged Finance Minister.

Who would you like to see emulate Little Ian and resign, then?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Asia and Africa

I'm currently in Asia, reading about Africa. It's an interesting compare and contrast.

I'm specifically reading Martin Meredith's 'The State of Africa', which chronicles how it all went wrong across Africa in the fifty years since most colonial powers pulled out and the various countries achieved independence.

What a sorry litany of kleptocracy, famine, pointless war and endless tribal conflict it all adds up to.

The irony is that many of those countries, whatever you care to think of the colonial legacy, were in pretty good financial shape when they were handed over to the indigenous 'Big Men' dictators who assumed control after independence.

But after a few decades of nutters like Amin, Mobutu, Bongo and so on, the continent is in worse shape than it ever was.

The contrast with Asia is simply staggering. Here in Bangkok, a city of sixteen million people, the work ethic of the Thais is impossible to ignore. Sure, begging exists, practiced by those with genuine disabilities. But this is a people prepared to better themselves, to try to work their way out of poverty and a people who are proud of their own self-determination.

They are fond of the odd bloodless coup, and corruption is certainly familiar to those at the top of the heap. The latter applies equally well to Ireland, for anyone familiar with our many tribunals. Nowhere's perfect.

In that regard, one could feel disdain for Thailand's sex tourism, the suppression of minorities in the south, and indeed the protectionist nature of its property market and currency.

But when compared with the latest news from Zimbabwe, for example, where what was one of the richest countries on the continent a mere three decades ago is now suffering 66,212.3% annual inflation (official government estimate; others put it closer to 150,000%) and at least 80% unemployment, it becomes clear that the Asian Tigers are, with the possible exception of Burma, infinitely preferable places to live.

Thaksin Shinawatra may or may not have lined his pockets to the tune of millions while in power. But he is wanted by the courts in Thailand who want to hold him to account. That's no different to how Russia has dealt with those oligarchs who have displeased Putin.

And you could contrast it with Charles Haughey's fate, which was to be permitted to live unmolested in a big house visiting his big private island while wearing his Charvet shirts, even though he had been found guilty of corruption.

On the flip side, not one African despot has ever been held to account in a court of law. They've either died in their sleep as preposterously wealthy men, or been dragged from their beds and murdered by their successors.

I'm coming to the conclusion that in the vast majority of African countries, there is little hope of expecting indigenous democracy, indigenous industry free from corruption. Can you imagine any African country recovering from genocide as successfully as Cambodia has? Rwanda may be healing, if you believe the various optimistic news reports. But it's still poorer than a church mouse, even compared to somewhere as poor as Cambodia.

It strikes me that in Asian countries, the people have more self-respect than to permit leaders to stay at the trough for decades upon end, or to expect the West to continue to finance their economic follies via the aid train.

Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia and other Asian countries may well be poor, as poor as much of Africa. But they are determined to succeed on their own merits. They get up in the morning, facing the same heat, the same diseases as afflict Africans. The difference is, they take responsibility for their own lives. They do get up and they do go to work.

The Asian Tiger period may have passed, but there is much to note economically in this region apart from the usual suspects of China, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea and Singapore. Places like Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia are also on the up, and they will drag the slackers like Cambodia and Laos with them.

There is no such similar hope for Africa, I fear. Bulging with natural resources, African countries have been systematically ravaged by their own corrupt elites. When I look at the actions of that syphilitic loon Mugabe, and hear inflation figures that beggar belief, I wonder how long such a man would have lasted in South East Asia.

One day, Africans will have to stop looking to others to blame for their troubles, and start acting in their own self-interest. And that doesn't mean lifting machetes and going on tribal murder sprees as has happened in so many African countries, including Kenya and Sudan at this very moment.

They could usefully learn from Asians the benefit of working together for a common purpose, I believe.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Poison Pens - Irish media nonsense exposed

Obviously every single day you can pick up an Irish newspaper, any of them really, and roll your eyes in horror at the errors, misspellings, pretensions, outrageous opinion masquerading as objectivity, and blatant spin.

So I'm going to reserve this occasional series for serial offenders and major errors of fact.

In the first category is long-time frustrated poet, Irish Independent sports writer Vincent Hogan, whose airbrushed, outdated 'matinee idol' byline picture is only matched by his fondness for prose more purple than a crate of Ribena.

Maybe you were busy Wednesday night, and didn't catch the Ireland V Brazil game? Thought you'd pick up the Indo on Thursday and read all about it? Vince has other plans for you.

From the casual racism of the opening line - 'It was settled by the deftness of a street thief" - you knew this was going to be vintage Hogan balls.

There's the one word sentences, the irrelevant multi-paragraph digressions, and the errors of fact that make you think he wasn't at the game at all. (On this occasion, the suggestion that the Brazilians were singing Ole. Ole is a Spanish word, associated in South America with Brazil's bitter rivals Argentina. It was the Irish fans chanting Ole, Vince.)

Receiving my inaugural 'Liam Lawler's Hooker' award for getting their facts completely wrong in an Irish newspaper is inevitably the Daily Mail, who've never enjoyed the closest relationship with factuality.

In a heavily topspun and overwritten article about the British Embassy employment dispute (with inevitable tired references to Ferrero Rocher and ironing newspapers), the offending scribe Lucie van den Berg manages a whopping error in her opening paragraph. See if you can spot it:

"It had all the appearances of the final days of the Raj. The last bastion of the Perfidious Albion's Imperialism in Ireland - or the British Embassy as we now call it - was the site of outrage among what Edmund Burke called 'the swinish multitude' yesterday."

It's got everything, hasn't it? The ridiculous analogy with the Raj is a nice starter, followed by a main course of ungrammatical factual error. Last bastion of English imperialism in Ireland? Erm, try 70 miles north of Dublin, love. And for desert, a sickly sweet pointless quotation culled no doubt from www.findmeaquotetomakemesoundsmart.com.

The story itself, you ask? There isn't one, really. Some people at the British Embassy were laid off, and their mates took a two hour picket action in sympathy.

Congrats to Vincent and Lucie, penning Irish media drivel at its finest.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Roaming the blogosphere

As a prelude to sitting down and properly looking over the many excellent Irish blogs to be found on the long lists for the Irish Blog Awards, I thought I'd share with you some of the more unusual, but interesting non-Irish blogs I've come across recently.

For Girls Who Can't Do Football - A bit of untruth in advertising here. The splendidly monikered Georgina Best strides that fine, previously unknown, line between gurly life rambling blog (second biggest blog category in the whole 'sphere apart from cat blogs) and footie fanatic blog. Quality result! The girl done well.

- Not strictly a blog, though it has group blog-like qualities. I mentioned them a little while ago, when they were still all new and pink with that lovely baby smell. Now they're already toasting the mainstream media on all things Irish footie-related. Spare yourself the euro and ignore what you read on the red-tops' backpage. Chances are, if it's true they probably nicked it from Chatsoccer.

What Does John Know? - Everything, actually, if what you want to know about is whiskey. John publishes a glossy expensive magazine purely about whiskey - the sort of mag you find in the rack in suites of five star hotels. But go to his blog, and for the price of the internet connection, you get the full inside track on whiskey, whisky, bourbon, rye and that muck that Japanese, New Zealanders and for all I know Martians also claim to be the water of life.

Tattooblog - Does exactly what it says on the skin, sorry, tin. It's not the usual insider 'body adornment' mong banging on about how 'tribal' his studio in some San Diego basement is. Though there is a serious appreciation of skin art expressed herein.
Nope, this blog strikes the tone of a celeb mag, with plenty of pics of new celeb tats and fresh pics of what's hot in tatworld (and not in the half-dressed biker chick kind of way). Wanna see tattoos of Darth Vader crossed with Hello Kitty, or read about braille tattoos for blind people? Or just find out what Amy Winehouse or Jordan's new tattoos are? This is where to go.

Weird Meat - Michael from Weird Meat is the inevitable result of the fetishisation of food and cuisine in modern culture. But writes it all up so well, you have to forgive him his penchant for chowing down on worm fungus, live shrimp and lizard soup in various unsignposted backstreet eateries in Asia.
This is what happens when you cross the food pornography of a Nigella or a Jamie with the backpacker spirit of eating local from a dodgy street stall even when your brain and tummy tell you not to. The lad has balls (sheep's balls, and he ate them in Shanghai).
For proper dodgy meat, however, he really needs to get out of Asia and over to Iceland, where rotten shark, whalemeat and singed sheep heads are traditional fare (I've had one of them and it was fantastic - not saying which one, though!)

There are more, but those are my current faves out there. And yes, I need to get out more, so I'm going to try doing that next week.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Tuesday

It's a little shocking to my ears, having spent my childhood in the bosom of the British NHS, to listen to how Americans are responding to Hilary Clinton's plan for universal health entitlements.

She's been roundly lambasted by the Republicans for her 'Hilaryaid' proposals, which sound nothing more than the mildest, weakest version of what most Western Europeans would consider a fundamental human right.

While Barack continues to witter pointlessly about bringing 'change', without ever specifying what change he's bringing (loose change, perhaps?), at least La Clinton has put an actual concrete proposal on the table for discussion.

And to me, that discussion has been frightening.

If you were to listen to Mitt Romney or Huckabee, you'd think that she was proposing Communist totalitarianism. The idea of any form of universal state supported health care is anathema to these people. And their millions of supporters.

Those views, abhorrent as they are to most people on this side of the pond, are not unknown here, however. You could map our current Health Minister's agenda almost exactly over what Republicans believe is a functioning health system - ie a multi-tier affair based on ability to pay rather than need, bloated with inefficient beaurocracy and outrageously expensive due to rampant litigation against medics, the aforementioned paper-pushing and the need to generate profits for private entities.

There's something to think about, not only on Super Tuesday, but the next time you hear Harney trying to sell you some snake oil about 'co-location'.