Wednesday, May 6, 2015

I want to be a Celebrity Blogger

I wish the referendum, to lower the age one can be President, was a stand alone event. It's not that it's important or even distracting from the much more relevant Marriage Equality referendum, but it could've been interesting. 

Now I'm voting, yes. I think a 21 year old has as much right to be the Head of State as a 91 year old does. And because I want to be a celebrity blogger I'd have really enjoyed the opportunity to go on TV and explain why I'm right and why the No side is oppressing me. Or at least oppressing the 21 year old me, of 19 years ago. Which is still me, so by the transitive property, I'm actually being oppressed. Not that I'd want to be the President, it's a nonsense job. 

But anyway, ageism is a real thing. It's why we don't allow children to vote, get married or have sex and why we don't allow old people on television. It's why a government will not cut the Old Age Pension, but will cut the Social Welfare of young people and tell them to fuck off to Australia, you lazy non-voting shits.   

As hard as I try, I can't think of a downside to voting yes. Well, except perhaps one day a 21 year becoming President. Though I say downside, I couldn't care less. Especially as the chance of a 21 year old, not only getting nominated, but actually getting elected, is as unlikely as me becoming President. More oppression there. 

If however, some likely Irish lad or lass wins the Eurovison Factor Or Britain's Got X Voice, and decides retiring to the Aras could shift some product, we might have a problem. If by problem one means, a young person spending an inordinate amount of time speaking to selfie taking Councillors and still failing to get nominated. 

But what if those publicity whores do give our erstwhile wanna be semi-retired starlet a nomination? His or her publicity firm will have to spend untold amounts of money on posters and leaflets. And worse, allow their client be interviewed by a sneering Vinny Browne et al. 

Come Election Day, our karaoke aficionado will discover that the demographic that thinks he or she is like so hot and relevant, don't actually vote. Some because they are children (ageism) and others because they simply don't vote (so have their dole and college grants cut (ageism and smart politics)). Democracy will have won. We'll have recognised the right of smelly yoots to apply for a Public Office, but ensured they go no further than stand (ageism and god given good sense. Here Here)

But what kind of constitutional crisis would a 21 year old President cause? If we can't ensure the President is some ancient receptacle of gravitas, what use is the Presidency? Might we be forced to consider abolishing this largely ceremonial nonsense? We have a Dáil, a Seanad (fuck me that thing still exist), a Council of State (no honest atheists allowed), a Supreme Court (no honest atheists allowed) and a Constitution. Why retain the Office of Chief Ribbon Cutter and Welcomer of Foreign Types? 

In Kerry we have our own way of choosing a Ceremonial Head of State. We go up a mountain and capture an unsuspecting goat and suspend him (sexist) from a crane. He doesn't even get a say in his own coronation (not sure what ism that is). And all he costs is a bit of hay. 

But seriously, vote yes and put me on TV, if you don't, you're definitely guilty of some sort of ism. Also, I can change my views or exaggerate them, if the TV viewers require it.   


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Kerryman Letter re Marriage Equality

As appeared in Letters - The Kerryman - 29 April 2015 edition

It’s difficult to steer any conversation about Marriage Equality away from a discussion about children. This can be frustrating for those of us who support Marriage Equality, as it’s obvious only adults can get married. Truth be told however, those of us who support equality, have more than a passing concern for children and how they will be affected by this referendum.

We are concerned about those thousands of gay and lesbian children watching this campaign unfold. Watching as their desires and aspirations to one day marry and perhaps have children, are compared with incest, child abuse and bestiality. Hearing calls that they submit to a life of pitiful chastity. Being further reminded, that to many they are, and should remain, second class citizens.

We are concerned about the thousands of children who are being raised by a gay parent or parents. As they hear their parents described as unworthy and unsuitable for marriage. As they hear their families described as inferior. As they hear themselves described as disadvantaged. This, despite all the scientific evidence available, which shows their families to be the equal of all others.

We are concerned about all those gay children who are being raised in a nation that stigmatises homosexuality to the extent that gay and lesbian children experience self-harm, suicide, mental-illness, homelessness, poor education, substance abuse and unemployment to a much higher degree than their straight brothers and sisters.

We are concerned about all the straight children being brought up to see their gay and lesbian peers as deviant and lesser. All those straight teens experiencing the confusion of puberty, who are given licence to shield their fears by attacking anyone different.

We are very concerned about children. We would see them shielded from the ugliness of this campaign. But we know, and it breaks our hearts that we know, the vile things being said in opposition to Marriage Equality, are the daily experiences of many gay and lesbian children. So yes, Marriage Equality is about children. It is but a small step towards the creation of a country that values gay and lesbian children as much as it does straight children.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Kerryman Letter re Marriage Equality

As appeared in Letters - The Kerryman - 15 April 2015 edition

We are being asked to decide if gay and lesbian citizens should have the same right to marry as the rest of us. It's remarkable we've got to this point. Homosexual acts were illegal in this country up to 1993. And now, a few short decades later, the LGBT community is on the cusp of equality. In the US, slaves were freed in 1863 but it took a full century for the government to begin passing legislation that granted African-Americans actual equality. Here, criminal class to near equality, in twenty years. Remarkable.

Off course, equality will be denied, unless a lot of straight people make the effort to get out and vote on May 22. And getting people to vote in referendums is becoming increasingly difficult. The country is in the state it's in and we've lost faith in our politicians, so fewer of us feel any enthusiasm for the political process. And it's hard to feel sympathy for others when paying bills, missing relatives who've emigrated and struggling to find a job is the overwhelming reality for so many of us now.

Add that to the distaste generations of us have been taught to feel towards gay people, especially gay men, and the temptation is certainly to sit this one out. Sure no one will be harmed. It's not my fight. And aren't there plenty of them in the Dáil now anyway.

It's a strong temptation. How do I convince a middle aged man, his daughter having gone to Australia to find work, and him dodging phone calls from his Bank Manager because he can't pay his mortgage, that his vote matters to a bunch of people he's never met?

There are no magic words. I have no way of making his life better. So all I can do, is ask him to  consider the opportunity this referendum affords him and so many people like him. By simply voting yes, he will, with no more cost than a bit of time, help make the lives of thousands of men, women and children, that bit better. It's an opportunity I hope we all grasp.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Kerryman letter re Marriage Equality

As appeared in Letters - The Kerryman - 25 March 2015 edition 

The first picture is of the letter I responded to. I could not find a link to it. This is a link to my letter

I write in response to John Doyle's (March 18) impressively crafted letter attacking marriage equality. While I'm certain Mr Doyle's concerns regarding the LGBT community are genuinely felt, it's important to consider just how little LGBT people are asking for in this referendum.

They are merely asking to have the same rights as my wife and I enjoy. What are those rights exactly? Well, my wife and I got married in a Registry Office. That's it. That is all there is in the marriage equality referendum.

And while children are not mentioned in the referendum, sure let's discuss them anyway.

My wife and I are free to choose whether or not to have children, but this right was not granted to us on marrying. We were always free to have children. Gay people are having children and they will continue to do so, regardless of the result of this referendum.

Will anything change? Well, the families of gay people will be afforded the same respect as mine. I think my marriage will survive that. And if my wife and I look to adopt a child? We'll be in competition with single people, gay and straight, and other couples, gay and straight. The tiny number of children who are put up for adoption are most fortunate to have so many adults, ready and able to love them.

As for some LGBT activists being a tad impolite to their opponents. I would suggest Mr Doyle try a bit of Christian charity. No opponent of marriage equality encounters the violence and withering scorn that gay people experience from childhood. This referendum will not end the violence that gay adults and children endure, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.

Football and why I love it so.

I like most team sports. I'm from a hurling district and that sport has a special place in my heart. But soccer is the game I love most. I love it for many reasons. It is the one truly global sport. The best of the game is easily accessible on TV. It is simple to play. So simple, even I play it, despite being old and rubbish. It can be beautiful. And even when it isn't beautiful it is often provoking. It inspires passion of heart stopping intensity. And it provides endless topics of discussion. 

One of the best nights of my life was when Liverpool came from three down to beat Milan in the European Champion's League Final. I still get butterflies when I remember that particular emotional roller coaster. I'm a Liverpool fan, obviously. My grandfather was Scouse and his ashes were interred in Anfield, such was his devotion. My mother is a fan and so am I. My father emigrated to Birmingham in the 60s and became a West Brom fan. Because of that I check their results after I check for Liverpool's. I had a girlfriend who supported Norwich, so I also keep an eye on them. 

I look out for Man United's results too, because part of supporting Liverpool, is hating Man U. For a time I referred to Man U as The Scum. I was an adult when I did that. Still a bit embarrassed by it to be honest. I'm still comfortable enough saying I hate Man U. I also hate broccoli and queuing. It is not the hate that is the opposite of love. It is merely an emotionally self-indulgent aspect of loving Liverpool. The pleasure is seeing them lose does come with a price. They play Liverpool at least twice a year, as we play in the same league. This means the possibility of four profound disappointments every year. We can lose to them, twice, finish below them in the league and they could win the league. All horrible prospects, only justified by the hope that we will do this to them instead. 

This emotionalism, sentimentalism and parochialism is the bedrock on which club football rests. People spend huge amounts of money supporting their team. No matter how bad their team is, no matter what league they play in and even if they cannot aspire to European glory, your team is your team. That loyalty and bond is lifelong. It is that faith (rarely blind however) that gets people into tiny stadiums, on cold and wet nights, to watch mediocre teams play drab games, with very little chance of quality. 

There is another side to football though. A different type of emotionalism. An emotionalism that could almost be described as a cerebral appreciation for the game, on the game's merits alone. One the greatest pleasures I've had over the last five years, is Barcelona. I regularly go to my parents' house, as they have Sky Sports, to watch Barcelona play. 

How do I describe the difference between watching Liverpool and Barcelona play? When Liverpool play, Arwen, my dog, won't be in the same room as me. I shout a lot. I get angry or I gloat. I worry, I gesticulate and I jump to my feet on occasion. (Doesn't sound like fun, but it's a brilliant experience. Honestly.) When I watch Barcelona play, more often than not I'm struck dumb. Messi or Zavi or Iniesta will do something and I will point to the TV in amazed joy. 

Now that I play football again, I have a better understanding of what they are doing, of what's involved in making a ball do what they make it do. I see why a particular pass was chosen, or why they pause, or why they might run off the ball in a particular direction. I can see it all there on the TV. I can watch replays of a passage of play if I don't understand it at first. I have all this insight, but I still can't do what they do. It is an art form. I can delve into its constituent parts, but I can never hope to emulate it. I must be satisfied with awe. I must be satisfied with the joy. For joy is what it is. The purest of joys. A joy in a beautiful thing, well made. 

Perhaps the use of the word 'pure' is a tad inappropriate. Who doesn't look at top level football these days and not feel a certain unease? Is it right that a player can be paid over a quarter of a million euro a week? I'll be honest here, I just don't allow myself think about it much. Without this crazy money would we have a Barcelona, a Real Madrid or a Bayern Munich? Do we get to see better football because we have a tiny super elite, of crazy rich clubs? I usually switch my brain off at this point. I wish Liverpool was as rich as these clubs, but I'm also aware that Liverpool is still richer that the vast majority of clubs worldwide. 

One thing I can't get away from though, is the cheating. It's rampant. Diving is ubiquitous and it does gnaw away at one's love for the game. Cynicism is present in all field games. But as football is the global game, its flaws are the most apparent. 

It could be reduced. If TV evidence was allowed, it could make diving, feigning injury and off the ball tackles much rarer. But I won't hold my breath. FIFA, the world governing body for football, is as conservative as it is allegedly corrupt. 

In the absence of change, I've made my peace with the cheating. A game of football is simply about winning. Or if your philosophy goes in a different direction, it's about not losing. It isn't about honour or anything so Corinthian. It is a beautiful game, animated by an all encompassing cynicism.

I take comfort in the fact that with a lot of time and effort, many players could master some of skills Messi displays on an almost weekly basis. They could develop a wondrous first touch. They could work on making sudden darting runs. With some training, they may learn an appreciation for space. They could learn a great deal. But no one could combine all these skills and deploy them in front of 100,000 baying fans, with such speed, while worrying about the world's best defenders trying to clip their ankles. 

In the past, a Messi would have to worry about defenders trying to hurt him. He still has to endure some rough tackling, but nothing like the violent attention he'd have received twenty years ago. 

The cynicism was always there. Now, it's just a less violent, I mean manly, cynicism. I'm ok with that. If diving is the price I must pay to watch Messi not have his legs destroyed, then I'll pay it. Of course, now that this particular type of cheating permeates all levels of the game, I can understand why some people think the price has been too high.   

Saturday, March 28, 2015

To discriminate or not to discriminate?

I try, very hard, to look at both sides of a debate. I find it very hard, because it doesn't come naturally to me. I prefer easy answers and like defending those easy answers to all and sundry. Through blogging I discovered I couldn't really defend a lot of what I thought of as fact, because with writing, one doesn't have an opponent to bully. I think, if I'd known I'd end up having to reevaluate so much of what I'd taken for granted, I probably would never have begun blogging. 

Blogging has also led to me to realise that sometimes I just don't have good answers. Again, for a vain and arrogant person, that's a terrible thing. If I don't have an opinion to defend then there'll be debates without me. And I simply can't have that. 

For example; should businesses be allowed discriminate against certain classes of customer?

For many people, the answer to this is easy. Many think yes and many think no. Yet I'm torn. I abhor legally sanctioned discrimination. I also believe in a maximalist definition of free speech. And while I no longer think of capitalism as some sort of supernaturally self-correcting entity, I still think it must enjoy a certain freedom, if it is to realise its full potential. 

So three principles, legal equality, freedom of speech and the free market. Why must I delve into values instead of simply saying whether I think a thing is right or wrong? Back to discriminating against customers. A bakery in Northern Ireland refused to bake a particular type of cake for a gay customer. I think this is wrong. I don't even have to think about it. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. And ugly. But there are those who genuinely believe that the bakery owners are the true victims. Leading me to think that perhaps recourse to simple questions of right and wrong are not useful to this dispute. 

I hope you find that conclusion as unsettling as I do. 

So back to principles, or if you wish, my particular prejudices. Because if we strip away right and wrong, we are faced with a choice between imposing our will on others or finding a way to accommodate difference, even (or especially) difference, we find distasteful. 

Should a company be allowed to discriminate against particular classes of customer? Yes, I think they should be allowed. While I am not a Roman Catholic I would happily accept First Communion, Confirmation and Ordination business. There's good money in that. But I would not take money from someone, who was looking to have a cake made or flyers printed that carried an anti LGBT message. I don't know how the State can endorse my right to discriminate against homophobes without it also affirming the right of homophobes to be homophobes. 

I know it's a weak argument I'm making. Where do we draw the line with homophobia? Must we then allow employers to discriminate (as we already do in some cases)? If homophobes have a right to their disgusting beliefs, what about racists and misogynists? And are you even thinking about the ongoing damage homophobia has on children? All valid points. All predicated on the conviction, a conviction I share, that homophobia is wrong. But, do we want right and wrong, decided by 166 winners of a popularity contest? 

If pressed, I think the greatest weakness of my equality for homophobes argument is that while homophobes are more or less free to be homophobes, we don't have the right to call them homophobes. That is galling. That we cannot label the opponents of LGBT equality, homophobes, demonstrates just how far away we are from freedom of speech in this country. And that freedom should extend to businesses who wish to discriminate against certain customers. If they believe black people are inferior, or that Jews are Christ killers, or that all Muslims are terrorists, then they must be allowed come out and say these things. Then those of us who find these beliefs abhorrent can explain why they are wrong headed. (I have to acknowledge my privileges when I make that argument. I'm a straight, white man)

We can do more than argue. We can use market forces. I don't mean picket (though sometimes that would be necessary) or boycott (sometimes perhaps) or even insist these hateful places identity themselves with a sign indicating which hateful genuinely held beliefs they have. Rather that businesses that do not treat certain customers as lesser human beings, should advertise as such. Make hate, unprofitable. 

This seems all so obvious to me, but I know it really isn't. Principles and convictions are easy on paper but would I press this argument with a victim or potential victim of hateful ideologies? I doubt it. Could I bring myself to stand up and defend the right of homophobes to be homophobes? I don't know. 

All I am certain about is that when faced with an individual or group who's conception of the world is so different to be almost alien, we are faced with some difficult choices. Do we seek to eradicate or accommodate? My illiberal gut says eradicate, my liberal head says accommodate. And if accommodation, how? If accommodation, where do we draw the line? If accommodation, how do we protect the more vulnerable among us? If accommodation, will that effort be reciprocated? 

Oh how I miss the simplicity of right and wrong.    

Amended 8 April 2015

I was watching an episode of The Daily Show last night and something occurred to me. John Stewart was discussing 'religious freedom' legislation in Indiana and he showed footage of conservatives making pretty much the same arguments I've just made. Then he took that argument to its natural conclusion. Something I failed to do. 

He didn't use the term, transitive property, but it was heavily implied. Essentially, if one equates Christian bigots being made to serve members of the LGBT community to Jews serving Nazis or black people serving members of the KKK, then one is equating gay people to Nazis and the KKK. Or one is admitting that a Christian bigot cannot or will not distinguish between a gay person, a Nazi or a Klan member.  

So you know, fuck Christian bigots. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Self-publishing, my experience so far

Cover by Robyn Morton

When one self-publishes, one is supposed to blog about it first, not a month later. But as I was so eager to get it out into the world, I neglected to follow this simple rule. I'm ok with that. I needed it out there and it's out there.

I can now reflect on the process.

In the deeper recesses of my mind, I had allowed myself to contemplate how I would judge the relative success of this project. I wondered what would have to happen for me to feel justified in changing my Twitter profile from 'wannabe writer' to simply, writer. Well, not even my most realistic expectations were met, so I won't be changing my profile anytime soon.

On one level, the novel has been a failure. It has failed to generate anything more than the minutest of interest. I am disappointed by this. My pride, my vanity and my faith in my abilities as a writer are wounded. I wanted success. I crave it.

That wound is not deep though. For all my vanity, I was realistic enough to expect failure. Blue Eyeshadow is a first novel and I think it reads as such. It has flaws. And its flaws meant that it was up to me and me alone to push it out into the world. I am vain, but not so vain as to expect to turn a flawed product into a commercial and artistic success.

I do not wish to denigrate the novel. Those who have read it, see its merits. Vanity notwithstanding, it does have something. And I dedicated a great deal of time and effort to its creation. My partner dedicated an extraordinary amount of time and effort to it. Friends read it and contributed time that could've been more enjoyably spent reading better books.

It remains precious to me. But I know I am going to have to let it go very soon. Like Rincewind with that one spell in his mind, blocking entry to all other spells, I need to make space for the next novel. And I already know so much about the next novel. But dedicating myself to it, does involve a process of moving on. At the moment I'm just not sure how to do that.

I am strangely attached to the characters. In my short stories, I discovered people I liked and was drawn to, but I was never too long in their company. The characters in Blue Eyeshadow occupied my mind for years. Which might be a symptom of taking too long to finish the thing. They are fully formed in my imagination, if not entirely so on the page.

They are characters I want people to meet. I want people to feel for them as I feel for them. It is an unrealistic expectation, but it's there and it's really quite annoying to be honest. It seems so inconsistent to create these people and to make them suffer just so that I can convey a story, then get all sentimental about them.

But I must purge myself of them and of the vanity of wanting to be read, because I need to write another and then another. So forgive me if I continue to go on about Blue Eyeshadow a little longer. I know I must move on, but it won't be today.

Blue Eyeshadow may be purchased here and here