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Monday, June 23, 2008

Against the odds

The old man's still fighting.

I got back today after 36 hours of Qantas-sponsored travelling hell to hear that the oul lad's had another heart attack. It's not his first or near it. It's not even his first this month.

But he's always been a hard man to put down, and he's still in the game.

He might just beat this one. Again.

But now I'm getting worried about how long until the next? And how many more can he beat? The heart's not like the face. When it bruises it stays bruised, and when it's damaged it stays damaged, and that goes for both physically and metaphorically.

I'll know more when I see him, and that'll be later today.

I don't know who's most fearful of the insecurity to come. It's probably him. But it could also be a few other candidates too. Including me.

I'd feel a little more able if I'd managed to sleep anytime in the past 36 hours, but it doesn't feel appropriate to whinge about jetlag and insomnia and Aussie airlines right now.

Perspective is a pisser, sometimes.

Many belief systems consider death to be simply an extension of this existence in one form or another. Christianity and its sister monotheisms posit a hereafter which offers succour to many.

But I'm personally most persuaded by the Tibetan buddhist position that death, like this existence is simply one of a series of states of existence we cycle through on our way to something greater than we could comprehend.

The Tibetan bardos closely map what little science has uncovered about the phenomenon of near-death experiences, wherein people considered clinically dead manage to recover and subsequently can recall their moment of death.

It's easy I think to take succour from such a concept, which like the monotheist heavens, provides a sense of direction, continuation and enlightenment beyond the moment of death itself.

But perhaps it's easy to take that comfort on behalf of someone else. It's got to be something entirely different if it's your turn to face that reality, the one fate we all as living creatures share.

I don't know how the old man is thinking about this. I know one thing though. Like never before, he's thinking of it now.

But he's still fighting. You have to admire that.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Reason to secretly hate Aussies no. 295

Their winter is better than our summer.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Blog Wars postscript

I came late to the blog wars that erupted in the Irish blogosphere recently, largely because I was doing other things, like getting drunk down under.

For those of you who don't give a shit about such things, which is basically everyone reading this who doesn't have an Irish blog themselves, plus a majority of those who do, one blogger suggested that the happy-clappy community atmosphere of Irish blogging was somewhat incestuous and stultifying.

They named a couple of names, and claimed that the best blogs didn't necessarily win at the Irish blog awards.

Then some of those named, plus some of their pals, took umbrage and lots of people typed angrily on their keyboards for a bit until the letters C, U, N and T were worn down by the efforts.

I can now hear you yawning, so I'll get to the point quickly.

Blogging is what you make of it, and ultimately it only functions as a modern day speaker's corner, expressing the individual opinions of those of us without syndicated newspaper opinion columns.

As such, it is a democratising factor in new media. You can find out what a postman thinks of the Lisbon Treaty, what gig a secretary enjoyed last night, or what small businesses are trying to do for their customers. You can also hear perhaps too much about some people's sex lives or their cats. And in the darkest corners, perhaps some people's sex lives with their cats.


Some people blog for affirmation that their jobs or lives don't provide for them. And that's fine. Often, for me as a reader, those confessional type blogs are quite fascinating. And generally well written too.

Others provide more of a general entertainment purpose. Sometimes more successfully than other times. But again it seems churlish to cavil, especially when it's free to read them and no one is making you do so.

Some people seem to be cynically emulating popular blogs from abroad. Some people use it as an outlet for their writing talent. Some just rant, like me. All of that is fine, to my mind. The weakness of the blogosphere is also its strength - the fact that it permits anyone an audience worldwide.

But I do also feel that the Irish blogosphere has a few teething troubles as it enters its toddlerhood.

I read quite a few Irish blogs, when I get the chance, and have even met one or two of those behind them. I'm pals with the odd blogger too. And of course, I blog too. That probably puts me in the middle of what I'm criticising here.

There is a lot of backslapping, and there are people who are repeatedly credited and applauded among Irish bloggers without necessarily earning it, I feel. I concur that to my mind the best blogs didn't necessarily win in the blog awards. But that's simply my opinion and other people's opinions clearly differ.

I think it is healthy for people to criticise other blogs. Apart from holding people to account for what they write, it also encourages debate, which is never a bad thing.

Good blogs have lived and died in Ireland for want of a readership. It would be nice to see more blogs reaching a wider readership than the same handful that are repeatedly cited in the lazy mainstream media. (Especially when some of those cited are by people working in the mainstream media.)

The music industry model seems to me a viable one for the Irish blogosphere to emulate. U2 will always pack out Croke Park and sell out in 30 seconds. And that's grand. But there needs to be the equivalent of Whelans or Belfast's Rotterdam, or those regional music pubs where a local band can get a break and an audience.

I'm not sure how that can be achieved, but it does seem to me that Mulley's Post of the Month initiative serves that purpose a whole lot better than his calling people cunts.

But I'm glad the row broke out, and well done to the lassie whose post kicked it all off, even if I wouldn't agree with all she said. Because it had to be said by someone, and now it has been we're all better off for it.

It's unfortunate that the resulting debate more resembled schoolyard cliques handbagging each other than a proper adult discussion, but I'd put that down to the size of the Irish blogosphere and the novelty of the medium.

What's important now is that people take away from this the ability to open up to new blogs regularly, and criticise anything they disagree with, and foment debate as often as possible.

Finally, I'd just like to say that the most depressing thing resulting from this storm in a teacup was the desperate efforts of some people to put the genie back in the bottle. (Sorry for mixing metaphors like cocktail ingredients, but you know what I mean.)

The schoolmarm tones of those who basically said: 'I don't care who started it or who called who what. Just stop crying, kiss and make up and let's all get back to class, okay?'

Sorry, but it's better if we retain the right to disagree and criticise each other. I love nothing more than when someone calls me on one of my rants. It's brilliant, because when they shout back, I'm forced to challenge my own opinions, my own preconceptions, and the result is generally that we all learn a little bit.

Here endeth the sermon.

The power of positive thinking

Ten days sampling the Aussie media has left me pondering the power of positive thinking.

I recall how some years ago, ITN news presenter Martyn Lewis was laughed at for suggesting that British news was too negative and could benefit from being lightened up with positive stories. Images of front pages about cats saved from trees filled the heads of his cynical colleagues and they chuckled.

I did too.

But it is true that the British media environment is a profoundly negative and mean-spirited one. The Irish media climate is little different.

I've noticed this especially here in Australia, where they are prepared to put a story about a medical discovery or a community initiative on the front page without apology.

In some other places I've been, the positive news can seem seriously parochial. Israeli papers see little beyond their own siege mentality, as if everything on the planet related to the Middle East or Jewish affairs, even when the story is something light-hearted or positive, for example.

But Australia is a heavyweight country with a large, cosmopolitan, travelled, multicultural society. And if they can make positive news work, both on the airwaves and in print, then why couldn't we?

I'm slightly dreading returning to the land of scandal as substance and negativity news, now. I fear the face of Ireland I'll see in our media will seem scowling and mean in comparison to the optimism - tempered by reality and proper coverage of current events and affairs, of course - that is expressed in Australian media.

And without wanting to seem simplistic, I wonder if the media mentalities of both nations can perhaps be mapped onto the nature of the peoples who read them?

Are Australians outward-looking and positive can-do people inherently and that is expressed through their media? Or does the media perhaps encourage such an outlook in those who view and read it?

And by contrast, what does our own sour, negatively troped news say about us?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Lisbon voted down

Splendid. Truly splendid.

Let the political classes take note that the Irish people will not be bullied.

Let the other peoples of the EU, who were so egregiously denied democracy, take note and thank us.

And let us, as a people, be proud.

We have, for now, prevented what effectively would have amounted to a coup d'etats. But when that sleveen creature Barroso murmurs ominously that other countries should continue ratifying what, under the EU's own rules, is now a dead treaty, then there is reason to remain vigilant and concerned.

Why in the hell would any other country waste their time ratifying this trash now, when it has been rejected? If not, that is, for the reason that Barroso hopes to ignore our democratic voice at some stage in the future?

The EU parliament has already appallingly voted to ignore the Irish vote whichever way it went, and refuse to debate it.

Now we're seeing the petulant EU executive's response, which is no different, but significantly more concerning.

If anything ought to convince the waverers that we've done the right thing, then this response is it. These people do not have the interests of Europeans at heart. They have no inclination to respect the voice of democracy. They only want centralised power and will stop at nothing until they get it.

And because of that lust, I am forced to make a sad prediction here and now. This isn't over. They will be back with this treaty a third time to try to force us where they want us to go again.

But for now, we have given them the slap down they badly deserve in their hubris and arrogance.

Well done, Ireland. I'm feckin proud of yiz.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Uluru - big in Japan

What's wrong with Uluru?

On the one hand, nothing.
It's a big rock in the middle of the desert, just like it has been for hundreds of millions of years.

On the other hand, it's a bit odd when you can go days and not see a single Anangu, or Aboriginal person in the area.

All the hotels seem to be staffed primarily by Koreans. The tour guides are all white Aussies, with the exception of the dozens of Japanese guides who exist to ferry the hundreds of Japanese tourists seeking to climb the rock daily.

Of course the locals don't like people to climb the rock. Not that the Japanese give a shit. They're not interest in Anangu culture (just as well, as the locals and their culture are quite hard to encounter out here), they just want to conquer the big red rock.

Everything is preposterously priced, as you might expect in the middle of four deserts. But that is disappointing given the poor level of service going on.

I'm not like those pampered Yank tourists who go to Third World countries and whinge non-stop about the conditions. Really, I'm not.

But this is Oz, and the prices are eye-watering: $45 just for a lift to go the four kilometres from the accommodation to the rock and back in a bus. And that's the cheapest way to do it. Tours (with 22 year old Sydney born guides reading from scripts) and food (mostly fast) are also four times the price they ought to be.

Continually, I'm hearing and reading the lip-service paid to embettering the Aboriginals of the area with bemusement.

Why isn't there a college out here to teach the locals how to work their own land? How to run accommodation and tours without Whitey as middleman to claim all the profit? Why do they still live off handouts in a place that's clearly minting money?

And why does all the staff in the hotels and tour firms rotate with such frequency that a person here for 12 months is considered a veteran?

Uluru may be big in Japan. But for me, despite its awesome beauty, it has been a disappointment.

Australia could learn a lot from some so-called Third World countries about how to assist indigenous populations rather than simply throwing them a bone like token land ownership then going on to rape their history and culture for tourist bucks.

Photos to follow once I reach Melbourne.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Losing interest in Lisbon

I'm losing interest in Lisbon.

The right answer is so obviously 'no', that at this stage my only real interest in the result is analysing the 'yes' vote as a headcount of how many blindly-led party apparatchiks and buffoons who do what politicians tell them to exist in the country.

Anyone who spent anytime actually reading the Lisbon Treaty (no easy task, let me warn you), or the referendum wording, knows that it's got to be turned down. It's dangerous, impenetrable gibberish we're being ordered to sign or else.

There may well be enough simple followers and easily-bullied people in the country to carry a referendum though, which is a depressing thought.

So I've decided I'm not voting. I'm fecking off to Australia until this craic is over. But if Ireland votes in favour of Lisbon, I might just stay there. (That's not a threat intended to sway your vote in either direction, incidentally.)

Remember, whichever way you vote, make sure to make your voice heard. As we say in the Skinner household: Vote early, Vote often!

Right, anyone seen my hat with the dangly corks?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme Middle East policy

The overtly, embarrassingly pro-Israel Democratic party candidate is dead.

Long live, erm, the other embarrassingly pro-Israel Democratic party candidate?

No sooner has Zion's biggest fan, Clinton II, finally fallen as a candidate for POTUS, than the actual candidate-elect, a black sunnovaMuslim, goes and offers Israel a united Jerusalem as their capital.

Now, for those whose eyes glaze over at the mere thought of the mess that is the Middle East, I'll keep this microscopically brief:

East Jerusalem has been Arab, both Christian and Muslim flavours, for well over a thousand years. Israel conquered it in 1967 and won't give it back even though the whole world keeps telling them too, even America.

Instead, they built a ruddy big wall around it and are building a ring of settlements around East Jerusalem and kicking out the Arab residents of the city with a combination of eviction orders, refusals to permit sales to Arabs or permitting sales only to Jews, and the splitting of families by the wall.

And yup, that is the shortest I could make that.

Anyhow, those Palestinians look like continuing to roll ones in the craps game of life. No matter who was going to win the Democratic nomination, even the black sorta Muslim guy, is overtly, embarrassingly pro-Israel.

It's some state of affairs for Palestinians to know that the best they can hope for in the next half-decade is for a McCain presidency.

But hey, on the plus side for the good guys, a Sandinista got elected next UN general assembly president.



It's a new word I've coined.

It could refer to a couple of different things, perhaps. The chavtastic pop of acts like Scooter, perhaps.

But I think the primary definition of the word 'asbopop' should be the sort of luminous, lurid pink or green sugar infusions of alcohol that scumbags get loaded on.

God knows I've tried to think of any other legitimate reason for the emergence of asbopops as a product type on the market for sale, and I cannot find one that does not involve the simple profit motive of selling drink to unruly minors, without anything other than a token concern made towards the social effects of doing so.

The Government have tried to curtail the adverse effects of alcohol in this country this week by pushing through a bill which will close early houses, require off-licenses to get certificates from the council, and a load of other irrelevant nonsense.

The aim is clearly only to make drinking more irksome for actual grown-ups, rather than preventing kids from loading up on alcoholic sugar water by the truckload and wrecking the neighbourhood.

I'd rather they just took the pisshead lemonades and banned the lot.