Thursday, April 30, 2009
This is Una Hardester. She works as a human rights activist. But for most of her short life, she didn't give a crap about the human rights of a life she did her best to destroy.
She has admitted that she wrongly accused her neighbour Michael Feichin Hannon of sexually assaulting her when she was ten years old, even though she had never met the man.
As a result, he has spent over a decade living in the shadow of public approbrium, with the world assuming he was a child-abusing scumbag.
In reality, Una made up the allegations to assist her father who was having an ongoing spat with his neighbours, the Hannons.
Her father is a successful American bit-part actor who left Ireland in 2000 with his family after scoring a payday in 'Saving Private Ryan'. Michael Feichin Hannon, on the other hand received a criminal sentence for his troubles and is, in his own words, 'a shadow' of the person he used to be.
Una Hardester finally admitted to her lies in 2006, claiming that her father had prevented her from doing so earlier. She has not explained how her father was able to do so. Michael Feichin Hannon had his case declared a miscarriage of justice and is now expected to gain up to one million euro in compensation from the state.
I want to know why we, the Irish taxpayers, are shelling out for Una Hardester's lies. I want to know why she is not, as she expects, facing jail for perjury and for her false accusations.
Her father is an affluent man and by all accounts appears to have been a major influence both in this case coming about and in delaying its resolution. Why isn't he shelling out the compo to Michael Feichin Hannon?
We've had this with the banks already. Why is the Irish taxpayer underwriting the mistakes of private entities and individuals?
And why is it apparently okay to accuse an innocent man of child sex abuse?
Una Hardester has spent recent years as a human rights activist. It's such a terrible pity that she didn't give more thought to the human rights of Michael Feichin Hannon, which she herself so egregiously destroyed.
She should be jailed.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
It's the combustion engine - specifically a two-stroke motorbike, often adapted into a three-wheeler tuk-tuk. And by goodness do some people work those little engines hard.
When I was in India earlier this month, I used to play a little mental game to ease my nerves while being propelled through the mass deathwish that is Indian traffic.
Basically, I couldn't shut my eyes to the perpetually imminent risk of horrific accident, so instead I'd try to distract myself by counting the people perched on the back of motorbikes or in the seat of a three-wheel tuk-tuk.
I soon developed a mathematic theorem to describe the maximum number of people per vehicle by reference to the number of wheels. Basically, 2 to the power of the number of wheels is the maximum.
For the innumerate, that means 2 X 2 (4) on a motorbike, 2 X 2 X 2 (8) in a tuk tuk, and 2 X 2 X 2 X 2 (16) in a car.
However, I was soon proved wrong. Within days, in Jaipur, I saw a tuk-tuk (which is built to carry three people, including driver) carrying TEN people in total. And five on a motorbike became a regular sight. And I never saw more than four or five in a car (because cars in India are for the rich and they don't like to be crowded out.)
I was in Cambodia in the past too, and they're also big fans of overcrowding their metallic beasts of burden. But I can honestly say I never saw eight people on the back of a bike before.
But there you go. Four adults and four kids (plus a bag of shopping and large tin of something heavy looking) all on one little motorbike. If you squint you might see some of it between their many legs.
It's a chastening thought for anyone sat alone in their car in Ireland, giving out about the traffic.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
It's important to cut through the shrill 'Sky News' breathless scaremongering and establish some facts about Swine Flu.
Let me endeavour to do just that, because once the facts are known, it is likely that many people might join me in hoping that Swine Flu breaks out globally and becomes a dreaded pandemic.
Firstly, you should know how influenza works. It's a vast family of viruses, constantly changing, some of which affect birds, some pigs and some us.
Because it's always changing, and because there are literally hundreds of strains out there at any given time, it's not possible to create a perfect flu vaccine.
So Swine Flu is basically a pig flu that has jumped species to humans and is now being passed from person to person. So, no, eating Irish bacon is not a risk (unless they've filled it with dioxin again, of course.)
Every year, tens of thousands of people die from some version of the flu. They tend to be older, frailer people. But every now and again, a strain of flu comes along which most people have little or no immunity to.
Basically, it comes out of nowhere and is so different to the previous strains that no one's body has ever seen anything like it.
When that happens, a pandemic (global epidemic) can happen. And often with pandemics, it's mostly young, healthy people who die.
The last pandemic was in 1968, over four decades ago. That means that one is WAY overdue. But, the world, and especially our part of it, has never been better prepared for a pandemic.
We've got loads of anti-viral drugs that seem on first impression to be a bit effective against the Mexican Swine Flu strain.
And last year's flu jab contained a quite similar strain, so it might offer some protection to anyone who got the jab last Autumn.
But the best news is that this particular strain doesn't seem particularly fatal. When you consider that the Spanish flu of 1918 killed more people than World War I, then you can imagine what very fatal flus could do in this age of modern air travel and the global village.
But while many people have died in Mexico, it seems that for the most part they had delayed some time in getting medical help.
In other countries where travellers have returned with the illness, so far no one has died because they got medical help in time.
Since we're overdue a flu pandemic, I'd rather we had one that wasn't particularly fatal. And perhaps a successful global response to fighting a common enemy, like an epidemic, might be the catalyst the world requires to snap out of the recession slump.
In short, don't lose any sleep over Swine Flu. Equally, don't go holidaying on Mexican pig farms either.
This has been a JC Skinner public health announcement.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
In a parliamentary question, Deputy PJ Sheehan asked the Minister to explain why unmarried fathers are still forced to go and queue with junkies in order to get their names on their child's birth certificate, and why they are still required, unlike married fathers, to apply to courts to be guardians of their own children.
Inevitably, the answer from the powers-that-be, petrified as they are of the single mummy mafia, is that no change is forthcoming.
In fact, according to our esteemed minister, the current situation is a 'comprehensive' solution, based on 'the welfare of the child'. Which is nonsense, clearly.
It is prehistoric to discriminate between fathers on the basis of their marital status in this manner, and I look forward to the day when someone challenges this in court or via equality legislation.
But I have little or no faith in the Irish legislature, which has a lengthy track record of ignoring the needs of fathers and their children for each other, in reforming itself.
Given the latest reiteration of hardened attitudes and ignorance from the Justice Minister, one can only conclude that they still hate fathers, and still fear the mommy mafia, who are entrenched in opposing rights for fathers despite their odious rhetoric about equality when it comes to demanding ever more state funding for child care, single mommy allowances, free education and back to work allowances and so on.
One day, likely at the insistence of the EU, we will eventually concede in Ireland the fact that fathers are immeasurably beneficial to the development of their children and that the status quo we have espoused for so long amounts to nothing short of human rights violations and child abuse.
In the meantime, we still have to put up with crap like lesbian lovers being granted parental rights over fathers, like fathers being accused slanderously of various crimes by bitter mothers in closed courts, and like children being denied equitable parenting from the moment of birth on the basis of their parents' marital status.
In the meantime, because Dermot Ahern and his cohort are so lazy and fearful of a feminist backlash, fathers will have to continue to queue up with the junkies to get on the birth cert, plead with courts to know how their children's health and education is proceeding and face ongoing denial of their and their children's rights to justice.
Fuck you, Dermot Ahern. I genuinely hope that you find yourself in a family law court one day, slackjawed with shock because the other half has accused you of sexually abusing your kids in order to get back at you for divorcing her, or because she simply doesn't want to have to deal with you at all.
I hope you enjoy the endless months of expensive legal applications, the monitored visits with social workers in tow, and then ultimately the success of paying half your wages in maintenance to live in a rented bedsit and see your kids in McDonalds every other Saturday.
It's not normally a prospect I'd wish on my worst enemy. But I wish it upon you, Minister for Injustice, because it is exactly that fate that you, in your ongoing refusal to reform Irish family laws, have condemned other fathers to indefinitely.
PQ and answer below:
Under the law as it stands - section 6A of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964, as inserted by section 12 of the Status of Children Act 1987 - an unmarried father may apply to the court to be appointed a guardian of his child. Alternatively, where there is agreement between the parents, they can make a statutory declaration under section 2(4) of the Guardianship of Infants Act, as inserted by section 4 of the Children Act 1997, conferring on the father the status of guardian.
Under section 11 of the 1964 Act, a guardian may apply to the court for its direction on any question affecting the welfare of the child, including directions as to custody and access. In addition, the section provides that the unmarried father of a child, even if he is not a guardian, may apply to the court for orders on custody and access. Section 3 of the Act provides that, in deciding on an application relating to the custody, guardianship or upbringing of a child, the court shall regard the welfare of the child as the first and paramount consideration.
These legislative provisions are comprehensive. They permit the court in cases of disagreement to decide on arrangements for the child’s care and upbringing having regard to the child’s best interests. The vast majority of applications by unmarried fathers for guardianship are granted by the court.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
How many nightly headaches are required for a diagnosis of brain tumour or loss of libido?
In a time of rising prices and recession, is installing a bar in the house a shockingly unnecessary luxury or a money-saving scheme?
Does food you buy in IKEA have to be assembled before eaten?
If you can't control your own currency, can you be said to manage your economy? And is that as relevant for people as countries?
Why does Coca-Cola need to take eight litres of water to make each litre of their toxic waste sugar drink? And why do they keep locating their bottling plants in drought regions of the Third World? And why do people still drink the stuff, anyway?
Where will they put all the unused aircraft currently parked in Nevada if it starts raining there?
Can whiskey ever really be considered an investment?
Would it be better to be spectacularly successful early in life and then spend the rest of your existence in a sort of afterlife, or would it be better to be moderately successful late in life, when you might appreciate it better and go out on a high?
Why doesn't democracy work? Would more work, or less? Do we really get the governments we deserve?
Why are the worst recreational drugs legal and the least addicting, least socially hurtful, least personally damaging ones prohibited?
What are we here for? What if we're not here for anything?
Jetlag makes me pensive. Time to crack open the duty-free, perhaps.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Fair enough, a lot of people like Chinese food, even in India. But I cannot fathom how it could be cost-effective for employers to take on migrant workers ahead of one of the lowest- paid workforces there is.
Perhaps the Chinese government is subsidising this as part of some sort of training programme? Does anyone out there know if there is method behind this madness?
Surely when Chinese staff are populating the rosters of hotels in a place like India, we've already exceeded even the flimsy economic purpose for mass migration?
And how can the Indian authorities justify these jobs going to non-Indians, given the poverty and deprivation in the country?
And have they foreseen the negative effects on their tourist industry?
After all, it wasn't that long ago that they were hiring hotel staff for Connemara in Newfoundland because so many complaints were coming in to Bord Failte from American tourists about non-English speaking staff in Irish establishments.
And with no Irish forthcoming for the jobs, they looked for staff in the one other place where people sounded and looked Irish. There is, it appears, a premium of authenticity that tourists attach to visiting places like Ireland or India that involves interacting with locals and not with imported Chinese labour.
So why are Indian hotels hiring from China? Does anyone know?
Monday, April 20, 2009
Though it can be hard to remember that while being ferried by taxi to a five star hotel.
Now, global rich list might say otherwise. But I don't feel like one of the priveliged people, even if I am in the lucky-enough position of being able to say 'fuck it' when accommodation somewhere like New Delhi goes belly up late at night, and can buy my way out of trouble temporarily.
There may be air-conditioning, and all-night net access and a fresh water swimming pool and special slippers. But I'm just visiting, and paying a large price for the privilege. I don't get to live here.
But some do, and it is worth remembering that. People would like you to forget. I see them in their chosen environment on my rare visits, though. I see them, in their suits, with their expense accounts picking up the tab, and they're relaxed, off the hook, among friends.
Over a few drinks in the hotel bar, they look almost human.
But you can't forget that these people are the ones running the world for their own personal benefit, so that they can have the air-con on full blast while Delhi swelters, and their pick of Scotches from the bar.
All over the world, especially in the developing world, your prospects in life are closely defined by one perameter only - your proximity to the superclass.
I've been reading David Rothkopf's fascinating eagle-eye account of the superclass in his book that came out last year. I've been meaning to read it for some time. Another benefit of time off is catching up on the reading.
Rothkopf was a regular attendee at Davos. He rubbed shoulders with the extremely small coterie of people exercising nearly all the power and managing most of the money on the planet for decades.
And even though he is utterly an insider with an unjaundiced degree of admiration and affection for them, he is enough of a journalist and writer to point out the simple fact that the whole planet is run by a very small number of extremely connected people.
In a very real sense, we're currently in a re-run of the late Nineteenth century, when most of the most powerful people in Europe were all related to Queen Victoria. Late imperial battles where invariably also family squabbles writ large.
At the top of investment banks, major economies, trans-national industrial entities and diplomatic circles runs the same small number of people in tight little circles encompassing each other's boards of directors, advisory councils, Bilderberg and Carlyle, Halliburton and Davos.
Rothkopf reckons that the large bulk of wealth and power on the planet inhabits a little over 6,000 people, most of whom he has at some point or other met.
They all know each other, is Rothkopf's point, and they know and like each other a lot better and have much more in common with each other than they have with the rest of us, the untermenschen.
Rothkopf's qualifying criteria for his chosen few is admittedly somewhat arbitrary. But power is not a simply transparent thing to measure, any more than wealth is.
But it works out at an exceptional few, almost entirely male, mostly white, each one a one in a million compared to the number of us who aren't part of the party.
It's also a shifting feast, with some in and some out each season in keeping with current policies and fashions.
So Bono and Peter Sutherland are in, Mary Robinson and John Bruton are too, Bertie was until recently, but McAleese and Cowen never were and likely never will be.
Whether you accept this tiny coterie of the superclass as a beneficent oligarchy or not, that's what they amount to. Democracy is little more than tokenism and the methodology for ensuring a small crack open to permit new blood.
Their loyalties, ultimately, are to ensuring they can have the air-con on full blast while Delhi swelters. Their interest in the underbelly is only to make sure they stay above it.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
"I selling, making ten rupee per gram profit, thinking I am rich man!" His hands thrust up into the air.
"Now, I have this shop, two hotels. I am one kilometre from Mama Ganga. Everyone know me. Baksheesh is high for me. When I lending to friends and sister, they not giving back."
He rummages in a drawer under the table and unwraps what looks like a shiny, semi-solid molasses, with a sharp, pungent, soil-like scent.
"Opium was only for the foreigners. India men not like. India men sell to foreigners, then drinking!" He grins a gappy grin, waving an imaginary glass between us.
"Then people start taking, enjoy the happy dreams. Now everything is possible, and for India men also. MDMA, heroin for snorting, ecstacy..."
The bhang-wallah is permitted by the government to sell a mild form of cannabis, known as bhang, to devout Hindus. Some Sanskrit on my back suffices as qualification in this regard.
Bhang comes in a smoking form, for use in pipes, and is also served in a lassi, a sort of curd milkshake.
However, the bhang-wallah appears to have expanded his product range beyond the entirely legal.
He picks up a brown tola, like a thick crayon a child might use, and hands it to me. I sniff it momentarily, run my thumbnail along its surface and then bang it, hard, off the side of the table.
"This is last year's crop," he chuckles. "Already stale. But good enough. I keep for the Japanese. They come to see Sarnath, where holy Buddha made his first prayers."
He hands me another tola, but this is flat and malleable.
"This year, this year," he trills. "Have whatever you want, sir. You name it."
"Cocaine?" I asked.
"No, sir," he shook his head sadly. "No cocaine. Too far from the source here. But I have opium from Lao, good Chandu, India man loving this Chandu, not normally for foreigners. And heroin, very good, from Taliban man."
I cut to the chase and ask for what I came for.
"Ah sir, this also is not possible," he sighs. "Today is festival day. Nothing is open. All shut. No curd delivery this morning. So I cannot make you a lassi."
Thursday, April 16, 2009
He had no reason for embarrassment. It's a good story, about a woman waiting patiently for a visa outside the British embassy in Delhi.
Patience is an Indian virtue. The heat, the land, the sheer density of population demands it. In the seeming chaos of Indian road traffic, where cows really do wander down the street blocking the flow of vehicles, each takes his turn, with a cautionary honk of the horn to let others know he's there.
Patience is required in the gem market of the pink city also. These wily men, with their habitual squints from holding stones to the fierce sunlight to examine clarity, are slow and cautious negotiators. Everything has a series of prices, some notional, some wildly optimistic, some for the passing tourist, some for the fellow dealer.
Like the accretion of rock on a dank cave floor, a slow drip-drip of perusals and refusals eventually leads to upward progress. After an age, stones are chosen, scarlet rubies, blood red in hew and the size of a child's thumbnail.
More back and forth, over masala chai, about settings, metals, the cost of handiwork, the time it will take.
But in the end the negotiations with this squint-eyed, pot-bellied man run almost longer than the work takes. He rolls up his white cotton gemsacks carefully, and I agree to return.
In the interim, the Marxist and I jump into a tuk-tuk and head for the relative cool of the mountains - Rajasthan is, after all, a desert.
After the sun sets, we drink cold beers and watch the lights of Jaipur come alive, twinkling like a glittering salwar kameez below us as we stare down, struck dumb, from the cool, dark seclusion of the Nahargarh fort.
When we return, bumping down the mountain, the squint-eyed man is repeatedly apologetic for the unnoticed delay. He hands me the pendant and ear rings, and I turn them slowly in my hand.
The rubies twinkle like the lights of the city from the mountain.
Thursday, April 09, 2009
They're waiting for the monsoon, but they'll be waiting a few weeks yet.
"I hope we get a great big monsoon this year," says Andy, who's been living in India for the past 24 years. "It was only a week last year. I hope we get a big bloody monsoon that rains for weeks, to sort out the farmers."
"But you're stuck here," reminds Nilesh, kindly. "You have to mind the dogs."
Andy has 20 dogs, rescued from the street or beach by him and his wife. Almost all of them owned by Western residents of Goa who got a dog on arrival to copperfasten their resolve to stay, then found it inconvenient when they decided it wasn't working out and they had to move on.
"I don't know why they get the dogs," says Andy in between the inking and the colouring. "It's more cruel to get an animal and treat it well then dump it than it is not to give it any care at all."
I think he's right.
Andy is the person I came to Anjuna, the 70s hippy hangout in North Goa, to see. Andy is the king of the fractals. No one tattoos fractals like Andy does. He's been doing them for fifteen years, and he's the only person who can do what I have in mind.
You see a lot of ink in Goa. It's the sort of place that can resemble an ethnic tattoo convention on a bad day. But despite the upsurge in popularity of tattoos among morons in the past decade or more, I'm still an advocate.
I don't approve of piercing or branding, though. Punching holes or melting the skin is not my idea of improving something. But putting colour into the skin is a different kind of act.
In one sense, it's the expression of individuality the drop-out clones desperately want it to be. The ink is permanent, and the skin permanently altered with the pigments. No one else will ever have that tat.
But in another sense, it's a personal possession. You could be stripped of everything, down to your birthday suit, and the one thing that cannot be taken from you is your skin and the colours it bears.
I came to get my fractal done by Andy, and he did an absolutely splendid job. You'll have to trust me on that, but it was an even better job than the one legendary Thai tattooist Jimmy Wong did for me before.
However, a warning for anyone who's never been tattooed on their back before. It does hurt, no messing. There are few things likely to inspire a desire to be elsewhere than a tattoo needle going up and down the spine.
I took a bit of bruising on the kidneys too, which made my trip up to meet the Rani of Sawantwadi a painful experience. Mr Gupta was happy to get the 3 hour round trip to Maharashtra over as quickly as possible and so drove on the wrong side of sanity, even by Indian standards.
Hence, the bumping of my back again and again on hot fake leather of the back seat.
But once we made it to the small city, and after some false starts trying to find the palace, eventually (for the sum of 50 rupees) I was ushered into a cool courtyard where artists traditionally hand paint decks of Ganjifa playing cards.
As a former croupier, playing cards hold a certain fascination. I have a number of Tarot decks at home, like Salvador Dali's deck, solely for the beauty of the unique interpretation of the imagery.
But I have long wanted to get a Ganjifa deck, and today there is only one place where they are still handpainted, in the palace courtyard of Sawantwadi's palace.
I was delighted to pick up a full deck from them, before braving the Kidanpani ferry en route back to Goa. I was the first tourist to visit in four days. The palace drips with photos and memories of past glories.
You wonder how they survive in this half-life of former potency, and wonder how long this ancient tradition can be maintained into the future. Maybe my Ganjifa deck might tragically become one of the last?
Anyhow, tomorrow is Good Friday and this was once a Catholic, Portuguese colony. In honour of those facts, I'm off to look at the ruined churches of Old Goa tomorrow en route to the airport, to remind myself that all things must pass, even Empire, even traditions, even religions, even one far away day, the colours shining brightly from my back.
UPDATE: A reader has been in touch by email to correct me on the scarcity of Ganjifa cards. Apparently, there are a few other places than Sawantwadi where Ganjifa cards are produced. If anyone wants to know more, please mail me and I'll pass on Kishor's contact details. Here's the mail:
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
So, I've heard nothing about the budget and now I'm afraid to look.
Could someone break the news to me gently?
(I'm assuming it's bad.)
Sunday, April 05, 2009
I'm off to India for a couple of weeks or so instead.
Firstly to remind myself what real poverty looks like, after having been affected by the weeping and gnashing of teeth from the buy-to-let 09 beemer class in Dublin.
But also because I want to see what an economy on the up, built on actual industry and not on bubbles or bullshit looks like.
By the time you read this, I'll be en route or there already. I may or may not post while I'm away. I will try to pop in and read any comments, though.
So happy Easter, y'all. See you on the other side.
Friday, April 03, 2009
The current titles of our Government departments are almost meaningless. They certainly are bearing increasingly little relevance to their actual tasks.
The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, for example. Seriously? There is no enterprise in Ireland worth talking about, trade's gone down the shitter with the sterling and dollar exchange rates and employment is a distant dream.
So I propose that we start renaming the departments to reflect what the Government is actually doing.
Department of Health and Children:
Department of Privatising and Outsourcing Health
Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform:
Department of Enabling Nigerian Asylum Scammers and letting Scumbags out on Bail
Department of Foreign Affairs:
Department of Letting Britain run the North and letting Europe run the rest of the country
Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food:
Department of Paying Farmers to do Nothing
Department of Social and Family Affairs:
Department of Welfare Tourism for Eastern Europeans
Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs:
Department of Unjustifiable Grants for Pretending to Speak Irish at Home
Department of Transport:
Department of Repeatedly Taxing Motorists
Department of Defence:
Department of the Ministerial Helicopter Taxi Service
Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government:
Department of Putting Motorways through National Historic Monuments
Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism:
Department of Subsidising Bono and Gerry Ryan, and Begging rich Yanks to Visit
Department of Education and Science:
Department of Subjecting Kids to Squalor and Overcrowding
Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources:
Department of Suppressing Broadband and Giving Ireland's Oil and Gas Away for Free
But I imagine you could do better?