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Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Revolutions

Happy nearly New Year, y'all.

Hopefully, you realise tomorrow is just another day, and you don't need to make lifechanging decisions while drunk tonight that will transform into mid-January bouts of guilt as you fail.

You could stop smoking, lose weight or try to get a new job starting any particular day. Why do it alongside the rest of the herd? Is there camaraderie in failing en masse? I don't know.

What I do know is that I think New Year's Resolutions are about as pointless as those 'Caution: Hot!' warnings on takeaway coffees - they're really only needed for the truly remedial.

So I've decided to go with some New Year's Revolutions instead. Here are the revolutions I'd like to see in 2010:

1. A Chinese counter-revolution. Seriously, fuck the Chinese Communist Party. I'd love to see them overthrown and subjected to a quick round of real people power, the human-abusing thug junta. This same prescription also applies to the scum ruling Belarus, North Korea, Burma, Zimbabwe and a host of other thugocracies.

2. A drugs revolution. The war on drugs is lost. Why are our governments still fighting it? Increasingly, world leaders, health experts, religious minorities and influential commentators have come out in favour of a complete reversal of current failed policies.
I hope that either the lawmakers start listening, or else a proper grassroots movement comes along and makes ongoing prohibition unworkable for good. If the EU reverted to the Portuguese model, we might finally get a handle on drug crime and on harm reduction for addicts.

3. An economic revolution. The return of the gold standard? The end of fractional banking? Back to barter? Jail for banksters?
I'm no economist (and am suspicious of that pseudoscience in any case), so I will refrain from being prescriptive.
But since the current system just went pop for the umpteenth time, you'd like to think we might rebuild with some new method that doesn't unerringly result in a bubble and collapse every decade or two.

4. A democratic revolution in Ireland. Take a look at the Dail. Do those people really represent you? Do they look after your interests? Well, why keep voting for them?
I'd love to see an end to the cronyism, the parochial parish pump politics, the gombeens, the brown envelopes and the nepotism in Irish politics.
But that would require an electorate to grow up and take responsibility for those they elect.

What revolutions would you like to see next year? And are there any that you're prepared to man the barricades to bring about?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tis the season to be clairvoyant

It's that time of the year again, when most people defer cynical normality until the New Year, eschew common sense and start spouting goodwill to fellow men.

But not Skinner, no sirree bob.

For me, it's the season for casting a gloomy, pessimistic, jaundiced eye over the year to come, read the runes, scatter the entrails, gaze into the crystal ball and attempt to predict what the year ahead has to offer.

We'll hold fire on last year's predictions until this year is officially up. (Though nothing's stopping you checking now.) Instead, it's full steam ahead with what's ahead in 2010.

1. I can haz double-dip recession? Sort of inevitable at this stage, really. Credit card debt should do it for Ireland, which is tragically appropriate for what has happened to us as a nation in the mass delusion of the 'Celtic Tiger'.
In America, it will be the ongoing slide in dollar value, while Britain will simply run out of cash. China is hamstrung by its dollar exposure, lack of Western demand for plastic tat made in sweatshops and the fact that the rest of the world will be slow to forget how China stitched up Copenhagen for its own ends.
In short, more red lines on the charts, more capital flight to precious metals, more lost jobs, more housing price decline, more negative equity, more foreclosures, more unemployment and more excuses from those responsible.

2. What does Africa need right now? You were thinking 'major soccer tournament', weren't you? Isn't that top of their list of needs?
Africans agree, of course, which is why they're having two in six months. Never mind the HIV epidemic, the grinding poverty, the neverending wars, famines and disease. I must haz mi football. Right?
South Africa 2010 will see predictions of violence against the occasional drunk affluent visitor sadly fulfilled. Stadia will be full of white people flown in for the occasion. A European team, likely Spain or Italy, will win, though an African team, likely Nigeria, will get to the semis.

3. General election in the Republic of Ireland.
Seriously, this government wouldn't even have lasted this long were it not for the dire standard of political opposition in the Dail, and the utter disorganisation of political opposition outside of it.
Enda Kenny is as effective and reliable as the Billings method, while the beards running the unions have already shot their bolt and allowed their campaign to be cleverly cut in two by a government sneakily talking up public sector V private rivalries.
But to hold together an administration this flimsy, talentless and aimless would require both the cunning of a natural alliancemaker like Bertie Ahern and endless pots of overflowing gold to pay everyone off and keep them all happy.
Cowen has neither Ahern's touch nor any money whatsoever, since Ahern spent it all already. So it's inevitable that sooner rather than later the faeces will fly into the fan.

4. Result of election? Fine Gael and Labour, that unhappily married couple, back in the saddle again, this time minus the self-exploded Greens.
Stasis for the Shinners, though a few new faces in their line-up, including Joe McHugh. A move against Churry as leader of the party finally coalesces around someone other than the unelectable Mary Lou. Toireasa Ferris, perhaps?
Fianna Fail to regroup around a new leader - with Martin facing off against Dermot Ahern for the job and Martin winning. Most of the current cabinet retire to count their ill-gotten gains.

5. A general election is already scheduled for next year in Britain and the North, so they're already in mid-campaign.
The toff Tories to edge it in a surprisingly close-run thing after an initial rally of the British economy in the Spring. But they will claim no seats in the North, leaving their alliance with the UUP in tatters.
Lady Sylvia to win as independent in North Down, taking their last seat, leaving them behind the TUV, for whom Allister will ascend Paisley's old throne in North Antrim.
Alisdair McDonnell to become the next SDLP leader, and subsequently hold South Belfast. A resurgence for this party might then finally be possible, especially if a Shinner generation shift starts to coalesce.

6. Post-Lisbon, the EU will grow ever more important. Initially in Ireland this will either not be noticed or welcomed when spotted, since it will come alongside support for our comatose economy or will be warmly contrasted with our indigenous mismanagement of our political affairs.
But elsewhere, the twin-track Europe does begin to finally emerge. Eager to push on with the long march to federalism, the elites of Brussels will seek to seduce an inner circle to move faster. Welcome to the beginning of a Europe of the centre and the fringes again, just like the Roman Empire.

7. Poor ole spook kid Barack just won't catch an even break in 2010. With the messiah sheen of his election campaign long lost in most memories, Americans will get on with the fact of confronting growing poverty and unemployment, a reduction in international relevance alongside a growth in international danger, not only in current war spots but also in some new ones too.
I'd expect more Islamoterror next year, likely of the old Nineties format of attacks on foreign -based US troops. And that will of course stabilise Pakistan hugely.

8. China realises its dollars are worthless and we don't want their tat anymore, and there's only so much African resources and commodities you can stockpile for future good times, so it belatedly decides to spree its dollar mountain on Western assets.
This overt accumulation of Western trophies, akin to the Japanese intervention into California in the Eighties, will be the first sign for many of the Chinese century everyone was suspecting might come about.

9. Chelsea for the league, Barcelona for the Champions League, Rafa for Real and Mourinho for Anfield after an Arab buyout of the bankrupt Yanks.

10. Russia will play silly buggers with the gas pipeline to the West again as it tries and largely succeeds in splitting both Georgia and the Ukraine in two.
Everyone talks tough, but the Kremlin ain't listening. Once again, decadent old Europe realises too late that the Eastern threat to its stability has never gone away but merely morphed into yet another totalitarian guise, following the Tsarism and Sovietism of the past.

Should be a good year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sinn Fein Unionist Outreach Programme

Churry gets hands on and grapples Unionism at close quarters during a recent visit to Knutts Corner 'international' airport.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I'm no scientist

But I know a good bit of science.

It's the universe's way of punishing me, I think, for all those semi-smug, semi-idiotic moments when I thought in school: I don't need to pay attention to this - I'm going to be an ARTIST.

Hey, we were all arseholes at 15, you know?

Anyway, I know a good bit of science. I don't know when I last read fiction, or even fact that wasn't science-related. I do it for work, I do it for fun too. Right now I'm reading one book about zero-fields and another about medicine, for example. They're the books by my bed.

I've come to realise that this stuff, inexpertly presented to the public, is actually all that we can be assured of in relation to our existence on this planet. Everything else, and I mean everything else, is supposition at best.

That includes art, soul, music, passion, emotions - all the good stuff, in a way. But while those things continue not to be measurable, they continue to be perplexing.

We can be sure about light in a way that we can't about love, for example. But that won't stop most people anguishing about love at some point in their lives, of course, and nor is it any succour to be aware of the fact that you can in recompense understand what photons do, even as your better half pursues pastures new.

So science is no succour, but it's all we've got. And surprisingly, we have more than most people think.

One question is how did the general public become so divorced from the currency of scientific thought to the point today where almost nobody now knows, for example, that we do not see, but imagine, since our optic nerve conveys light information received on the eyeball as information which it sends to the brain where it is recreated?

Is it the media's fault? When Einstein came up with E=MC2 it was quickly popularised, yet today it's still the best known theorem. What happened to the media so that it dumbed down below science?

Or did science become so difficult that it transcended simple translation into concepts that the public can understand? In the West at least, we have a better-educated general public than ever in history. So why the assumption that they can't understand science?

Is it because of the fact that they generally don't, even on the rare occasions in which it is presented to them?

For example, a great nuclear reactor in the sky showers us from close range with radiation, light, heat, solar energy and a number of other things too. It is many, many times larger than this planet, and it provides all of our energy sources. We call it the Sun.

Yet the vast majority of people genuinely believe that burning fossil fuels is the main cause of change in our planet's weather system, even though we have plenty of evidence that the planet has experienced big weather changes in the past.

But even scientists are buying into that one (literally, in many cases, since their research funding so commonly requires them to posit a 'global warming' or 'climate change' thesis to gain grant aid.)

So what about something self-evident, like evolution?

How come a huge proportion of people in the richest country on Earth are able to coherently believe that evolution is wrong and that an imaginary daddy in the sky planted evidence of a vast pre-human history on the planet in order to test the limits of our imagination, or faith, since the two terms are effectively interchangeable?

In short, how come Americans with all their resources, freedom and affluence, believe in 'intelligent design' (itself one of the least appropriate monikers for an idea ever, since there is nothing 'intelligent' about the ideology)?

I wish more people knew more science. That's about the only thing I agree with the government about, actually.

Science has taught me how to tell truth from lies. For example, we have the Greens in government pushing through a 'carbon tax' on carbon-based fuels in this week's budget.

On the surface, to the unscientific layman, this seems like a painful but legitimate response to combating climate change. But even let us assume that climate change is indeed being caused by us burning carbon fuels, science still tells me that this move is nonsense. Why?

Because firstly, there is no alternative. We don't have wind or solar energy feeding the grid yet. We don't have alternatives for driving our cars or heating our homes. Therefore, science tells me that this cannot stop people using fossil fuels. It will only charge them more for them. Therefore, it's a government revenue raiser.

But science also tells me that whether climate change is caused by burning fossil fuels or not, oil is definitely running out. It's a finite resource, and while we may still find quite a bit more, we really have to quickly learn how to use it a lot more sensibly, because we're definitely running out.

And while penalising people for utilising a finite resource could be a disincentive, that can only work when they can avoid the punishment by switching to alternatives.

So a carbon tax is the worst of all worlds - a punitive law designed to raise revenue with no positive benefit to society. It's today's version of the window tax introduced by an English king in the Middle Ages.

If more people knew more science, there'd be a lot more anger about that budget, I reckon. When people cease staring into their wallets and lamenting, they could usefully look at the small print hidden in the budget and see just how bankrupt of ideas this government has become.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

How to ruin places with architecture

I'm fed up of architects ruining perfectly good places with their architecture.

Let's try not to think, for the moment, about the Sixties monstrosities that were erected on the ruins of beautiful old Georgian and Victorian buildings across the cities of Ireland and Britain.

The Sixties really have quite a lot to answer for in retrospect. For more on this argument, feel free to track down BBC 4's splendid documentary on why the Sixties were actually total shit.

No, I'm more animated about contemporary architecture, which despite knowing almost nothing about it I tend to quite like, largely because it so often is used to replace dreadful concrete Stalin-baroque Sixties architecture which I loathe.

However, plonking some cleverly shaped, interestingly lit building on the site of a half-derelict tower block or concrete wall of council flats is one thing.

But erecting preposterous constructions in scenic environments where they totally destroy all of the existing ambience is another entirely.

Examples? It's probably easier to say what's good than what isn't sometimes. The London Gherkin is good - eye-catching yet functional and fits into its environment (the financial city) while still being quirky enough to attract attention.

What else is good? Much of the Dublin docklands, actually. Wandering around that end of town a decade ago was to take your life in your hands.

And when the Flugeltent is in operation, or in the middle of Octoberfest, it probably still is a bit hairy down there.

But few could claim with a straight face that the buildings of the docklands and IFSC area haven't improved immensely what was a rundown and decrepit area.

And what's shit? There's a lot of shit actually. Most of the ghost estates and apartment blocks are empty for more than the simple reason that they were built in the middle of nowhere in a ponzi boom. They're also empty because they look shit and no one sane would want to live in buildings looking like that.

Of course architects will smugly claim that those estates and blocks were actually designed without reference to their stellar professional abilities, and were lashed together by builders with no sense of design.

And they'd be right. But in response, I generally just show them this picture of a winery built by superstar architect Frank Gehry in Spain, and then they go very quiet indeed.

Here is how to ruin places with architecture:

Fucking horrible thing to do to a beautiful landscape, isn't it?

Architects - they've a lot of crimes to answer for, you know.