Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kerryman letter re atheism.

As appeared in Letters - The Kerryman - 14 October 2014 edition.

Reading Father Brian Whelan (October 1) I was amazed by how defensive he seems. One would think we weren't living in a country with a sectarian constitution that bars atheists from high office; a country with a church dominated education system. How scared he seems to be of a noisy minority, despite the many privileges afforded his church.

To me his complaints and concerns about atheists seem bizarre given that a prince of his church, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, suggests that atheists are not fully human.

Father Whelan is free to believe in the unseen and is supported by the laws and institutions of his country in that decision. Let him try not being a part of the majority tradition for a while, then he might have something to complain about.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Stand-up Comedy

I should be writing and rehearsing a seven minute stand-up set right now. Instead I am going to write about what I'm supposed to be writing. On Tuesday 4 November, 2014, I am going to realise an ambition of mine, I'm going to pretend to be a stand-up comedian for seven whole minutes.

From 9.30pm till 9.37pm I am going to have (hopefully) an audience, eager to laugh and expecting me to supply those laughs. To say I'm terrified would be an understatement. I've been to open mic nights and watching bad comedy is possibly the most excruciating experience there is. I've had a root-canal done, so I know of which I speak.   

The performance will be taking place in the Ha'penny Bridge Inn. It's €7 at the door, €5 if you mention my name. I really hope that's not the best thing I do for you that night. 

This is one of the more outrageously self-indulgent and ridiculous items on my 'oh my god I've turned 40 I'm going to die and yet I've nothing done' Bucket List. 

I can't promise you quality entertainment, but I will be putting my heart  into it, so if I die on the stage, it'll be with all guns firing. 

And at worst, it will be an opportunity for a comedy themed tweet-up. (I will also be sporting a truly stupendous moustache, that I've been carefully cultivating these last few months. It alone should attract some titters)

So please, even though it's a school night, I hope you can attend. 

See you there.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Rifle

Sam, Sammy to his friends, watched Jess delicately arrange the large bone between her paws, to gnaw in comfort. He watched her grey flecked snout curl back, as her yellow worn teeth scored the grey treat. Sprawled mere metres from the roaring fire, Sammy knew she was settled. The anger at having medication forced down her throat, forgiven and forgotten. Though the livid marks on his wrinkled hands, throbbed. He reached down to scratch under her ear. Chewing paused to fully enjoy.

Satisfied, he stood. Slowly working his seventy-three year old body upright. Greeting and countering each of the several aches and pains and tiny rebellions his body now insisted were his due, if he dared called upon it to act. Jess returned to her glee.

Shuffling as best he could, Sammy reached the bedroom. His bedroom now. Only his. He closed the door. He contemplated the photograph. A much faded, black and white, mired in dust and dirt, picture of a smiling couple from another time. He reached for it. The years of neglect shamed him. With handkerchief and spit, he restored the little window as best as he could.

The safe drew his eyes before ever turning to it. With a sigh and the written scrap, he tapped the code. The safe gave up its charge of a rifle, carefully wrapped, diligently cleaned, but long unfired and the box of .22s. 

Bared and placed on the bed, it lay in waiting. Reassembled. Loaded. Ready.

There was scratching at the door. Sammy's shoulders slumped. He knew what needed to be done. He let her in. Arthritic hips and arthritic back did not stop her reaching up to lick his hand. Her big wet tongue gliding over the damage she’d caused. Sammy dropped to the bed and then to the floor. Resting his back against the wall, he hugged her close and hard. 

Cancer had once left him bereft, the prospect of it doing so again, left him empty with terror. Rheumy eye, met rheumy eye. The dread shivered him. Not again he spoke into the enthusiastic licking. He playfully pushed her away, wiping saliva from his face with his much stained sleeve.

Months of agony lay in store, death and bereavement. Sammy knew his measure of strength. It no longer extended to hope after loss. Jess rested her large head on his knees, drool soaking through the fabric. With careful slowness, he reached his right hand to the rifle. His left hand never leaving the centre of his being.

Jess whined and in her curtailed state, climbed uncomfortably to a sitting position. Her face quested his. Her tongue tasted his tears. Her licks more frantic. She started at the sound of the bolt sliding the round into place. She pushed onto his lap. His aged knees rebelling at the weight. Her whines more desperate. Her paws looking for purchase in his chest. 

He didn’t resist, his heart already broken. He’d thought it through. He knew to the brain would be instant, but the mess of spatter horrified. Feeling for the heart he looked Jess straight in the face. Their ancient eyes made more opaque with tears. He pressed the barrel against the heart. Jess pushed harder against him, pushing it away.

He hummed soothingly to her, rubbing his head against hers. His left hand held the barrel back in place and his right hand reached and just found the trigger. Jess became more distressed. Her paws now ripping the tissue delicate skin of his chest. The pain didn’t reach him, couldn't move him. 

He pulled the trigger and she howled. The rifle dropped from lifeless hands as her licking now frantic, desperate to save.

the end

all rights reserved

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Am I islamophobic?

Am I islamophobic? I’m not sure. As I’m not sure, I should try unpacking the term a little. Does islamophobic speak to an irrational fear, much the same as my fear of spiders? A fear that even makes me a little suspicious of people who are not afraid of spiders. A fear that makes me vacuum my ceilings more assiduously than my floors. Actually I’m not beginning at right place. First is islamophobia primarily a fear of Muslims or is it more concerned with Islam? 

Or is islamophobia more akin to homophobia? The term homophobia (no matter the lies of homophobes) has evolved to mean an attitude toward gay people, that is similar to the view racists have towards people of colour and misogynists and sexists have towards women. 

So am I islamophobic? I still don’t know. 

I know that Islam scares me a bit as it has illiberalism sown into its very fabric. Then again, Roman Catholicism is similarly inimical to liberalism yet I am not scared of Roman Catholicism. More than that, I have no problem attacking the horrible nonsense that Roman Catholicism professes as truth. 

There are people who think Islam is a particularly violent and dangerous religion. That it inculcates its adherents from any regard for reason or compromise. It’s not a difficult conclusion to reach if one watches the news. The ‘Muslimy’ parts of the world are always providing us with terror, destruction and all things awful. 

How could one not be scared by the wanton death and destruction? 

Is islamophobia really that irrational then? Am I islamophobic?

I recently listened to Dr Ali Selim, extoll the virtue of increased inclusivity in Irish schools i.e. more should be done to cater to the religious prejudices of Islam. It’s not an outrageous request. Especially if one takes one’s religion seriously and when one is a minority in a sectarian country (as Ireland constitutionally and institutionally is). In this situation demanding space for one’s own religion is entirely correct.

Of course all I heard was his Islamic prejudices about girls, music and sex. The homophobia was unstated. I am after all a liberal so his words irked, perhaps even scared me a little. Islamophobic? 

I am terribly vain, so vain that I like to think of myself, (vain and pretentious) as a tiny player in the somewhat inchoate campaign to counter the misogynist, homophobic and anti-secularist tendencies that already exist in Ireland’s institutions and culture. 

So I get a little freaked when I see the other side joined by a growing and very self-confident interest group, which has at its core an irredentist religiosity that would make even the Iona ‘Institute’ blush. OK, maybe not them, but many other Roman Catholic interest groups. 

And of course the horror we see on the news and the words opinions of Dr Ali Selim are entirely representative of Islam. They represent the thoughts, aspirations, prejudices and hopes of every man, woman and child in Ireland who adheres to whatever version of Islam they adhere to. Don’t they? Is that islamophobic? 

Not being an expert on Islam, I have to ask if it is inherently violent or is Islam merely the religion of the majority of people unfortunate enough to find themselves residing in a region, where despots are kept in power by governments from my liberal part of the world? 

I don’t know the answer to that. I do know that I can’t think of any religion without an ocean of blood occupying the space their consciences should be. Nor can I think of any time in history where oppressing people didn’t require overwhelming violence and the judicious use of idealism/religion. 

But what of Dr Ali Selim and his call for girls to be separated and/or to be allowed hide themselves in religious garb. He pushed my buttons. Am I islamophobic? 

Our education system is, for the most part, predicated on the concept of religious indoctrination. It’s built into the daily timetable. It’s just that it’s not his religion being poured down the throats of children, so his demands are perfectly reasonable. Well, perfectly reasonable if the aim is to separate our children from as early an age as possible. 

His words irked, even scared me, because their intent is to increase exclusion, but more, his words made me uncomfortable because well I forgot something important, two things actually. First, Dr Ali Selim was hawking a book and second, being on the radio does not equal representation. 

I know this because I have been on the radio several times speaking about atheism and will be again. I’ve even had a weekly newspaper column where I got to extoll the virtues of atheism. And of course both these platforms are perfectly meaningless. 

Am I representative of Irish Atheism? Of Kerry Atheism? Of any atheists? I figure about a dozen atheists know me by name and most of them think I’m a bit of a dick. So who or what do I represent? 

I represent the men (it’s mostly men) who love the sound of their own voices so much that they call radio stations and write to newspaper editors. I am, in fact, a loudmouth with a surfeit of opinions. I may firmly believe that I would feel more comfortable living in a secular republic, but I have no proof anyone else would. 

Radio stations don’t go out onto the street and ask random people, ‘are you an ordinary atheist’ or ‘are you an ordinary Muslim‘ and then invite them to speak about their concerns. What they get are the loudmouths. And it doesn’t matter how sincere the loudmouths are, we are outliers. So I can dismiss Dr Ali Selim.

But an emotion was provoked, does that mean I am islamophobic? 

I don’t know. I don’t get to say some of my best friends are Muslims because none of my friends are Muslim. But I can surmise, based on my opinion of my friends who profess a faith in Roman Catholicism, that I am not entirely without prejudice. 

I do have Roman Catholic friends, but I struggle to imagine sharing my life with one. I just can’t imagine the coming together of such disparate world views. 

I’ve seen it done, yet it still seems too unlikely to me. I’d feel the same about someone who believed in homeopathy or paganism or someone who thinks nationalism is anything more than a hobby to be indulged in on weekends.

Is it naive or cynical to think love does not conquer all? 

So am I islamophobic? I’m not sure I cam say without a shadow of a doubt that I’m not.

I do know for a certainty that I fear the addition of even more religiosity in an already overwhelmingly religious nation. I know I fear certain aspects of Islam and I fear the energy Muslims may give to the Roman Catholic conservatives who already have their feet on the throats of women and LGBTQ people. 

I am also subject to my own values, and those values do not allow for prejudice against minorities. And in my world, Muslims do constitute a minority. In my world Muslims should be as loud, proud, pushy and obnoxious as any culchie atheist shouting for more secularism in this god ridden country. 

So yes, I think I may be islamophobic, perhaps a little less than I was yesterday, but the prejudice is there. It’s there, living right beside an obligation to do something about it. 

Eighth Amendment? Women deserve better.

As appeared in Letters - The Kerryman - 10 September 2014 edition.

Over the past few decades an unknown number of Chinese women have been forced to have abortions. This is because the Chinese government has a strict one-child policy. It is rightly condemned as a barbaric practice. We all agree women deserve better than this. 

When the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act passed last year, I imagined Ireland was going to treat women better. I was wrong. Women can now be forced to continue with pregnancies they wish to end. They can be threatened with force-feeding and pressured into consenting to major surgery. Don’t women deserve better than this? 

Why do some women in Ireland now face forced births? Is it simply the result of bad legislation? Is it because our politicians are too cowardly to offend the people who favour forced births? Or is it because they don’t think women deserve any better?

All law concerning women’s reproductive health has since 1983, been subject to the Eighth Amendment. No one under 49 years old has been offered the opportunity to remove that Amendment. Not a single woman of reproductive age has been able to vote on the Constitutional Amendment which limits their access to reproductive care. Surely those women deserve better? 

If our politicians remain steadfast in their cowardly refusal to address the Eighth Amendment they could at least seek to reduce the harm caused by the resultant legislation. We now know that only girls and women in poverty or in the care of the State are unable to travel to the UK for abortions. The government has it within its power to ensure no woman is denied an abortion because of financial straits or citizenship issues. 

It is the very least that women deserve from a government who refuses to offer them a genuine choice. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

If not the Eighth, then perhaps this?

I don’t yet fully know how I feel about a rape victim being forced to continue with a pregnancy until a caesarean birth was imposed. That this victim of rape, pregnancy and birth was abused by legislation I supported, makes sorting out my feelings that bit more difficult. 

During the fraught passage of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, I opined that no one with suicidal thoughts should go near this legislation. What I failed to understand, was that poor women, girls in the care of the State and those mired in the asylum-seeking system, would have no choice but subject themselves to the vicious clauses of this law. A law I supported. 

Now that this glaring inadequacy has been revealed in its nasty imposition, I am left hoping that this government, this government which I support, will do something. I am left hoping that a class of men and women, defined by cowardice and an aversion to controversy, will ameliorate the fully realised implications of this law. 

It is not that this law denies choice, it is that this law only denies choice to the poorest and most vulnerable. A law I supported. Does this mean that I'm urging our politicians to finally grasp the nettle of the Eight Amendment?

No. I may as well urge a leopard to change its spots. The government I support will not risk the ire of those who now applaud forced pregnancies. I can understand why. It will only lose votes in this. Principles are of no use in opposition or worse, when one is without a seat. 

But there is a way to demonstrate some kind of recognisable morality, while maintaining the sick practice of out-sourcing Irish abortions to the UK, but that also keeps the forced births brigade almost quiescent. All this government must do, this government I support, is pass legislation which recognises and ensures all women, whatever their circumstances, financial, legal, nationality, mental state or age, have an equal right to access reproductive services in the UK.

There will be dramatic consequences to this I know. Children accompanied by carers, women in handcuffs, women being means-tested, all accessing abortion paid for by Irish taxpayers. It’ll mean expediting all requests by asylum-seekers to prevent the risk of forced births. It might even go as far as requiring the State to purchase a clinic in the UK, for the sole purpose of providing abortions for women being supported by this State. 

I would prefer living in a reality where our politicians thought to ask the people their opinion on the Eighth Amendment. I would support asking that question. I just don’t see it happening before more women are forced to continue with unwanted pregnancies for no other reason than a lack of funds or the freedom travel routinely between EU States. 

In the absence of principle and backbone, I would be more than happy to support our politicians throwing money at this problem. It is a temporary solution (though politicians may think otherwise), but it is at least more realistic, for now.

Monday, August 18, 2014

It is a sandal, no it is a shoe, follow the gourd...

What is true for religion is true for nationalism. Example, the recent controversy (well one of the controversies anyway) sparked by the fabulously pensioned, John Bruton. He suggested that the Rising of 1916 may have been ill-advised. Further, he expressed a wish to see the centenary of the passage of the Third Home Rule Bill commemorated. 

He was attacked by idealists of all hues. Even historians tried to suggest that they know what would have happened if the Rising hadn’t occurred.

Let’s deal with the historians first. No one knows what would’ve happened if the Rising hadn’t occurred. We can be certain of one thing only, in the short term, many innocent civilians would not have lost their lives in the cross fire. Would a future conflagration have engulfed Dublin, even more destructive than the Rising? Your guess is as good as that of any historian. The amount of variables involved make speculation nothing more than an idle past time. Any claim to certainty is a nonsense, a nonsense motivated by idealism.

As for idealism. This is all about people saying who did Irishing better back then and who is doing Irishing better today. Or bollox for short.  

Full disclosure, my position on the 1916 Rising. I would have preferred it hadn’t taken place, but for no other reason than a curiosity to see if the subsequent history would have been less mediocre than the current reality.

I am not a nationalist, I regard nationalism as an intellectual disease, but I do think a government in Dublin was necessary. Not for any ideological reasons or cultural chauvinism, but because if there’s one thing we can be certain of, London governments are not great at governing areas outside London.  

Despite our Dublin governments having been spectacularly disappointing, it is at least reasonable to guess, that having so greedily imbibed the poison of nationalism, we are a more content country as it is Irish people misruling us rather than English people.  

So I am, at most, a separatist (and even then, not an enthusiastic one).

What would I have been a century ago? That is a stupid question. But it is a question that gets to the heart of why John Bruton’s words provoked such a backlash, from both other nationalists and idealists. 

All sides claim to be the best at Irishing and to understand Irishing the best and they think themselves best able to lead everyone in that Irishing. 

To some, being a Redmonite is the best form of Irishing, to others Redmond was a treacherous representative of exploitative capitalism. He could have been a Martian, but all that really matters is what we choose to project onto him.

So I call myself a Redmonite. I do so for no other reason than he currently represents a parliamentary tradition of debate and compromise and spreading the disappointment around. That may change but I will always choose the label means I’m on the side that is the least rabidly nationalistic. Even if that means I must share a label with someone as odious as John Bruton.