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

What is secluarism?

What is secularism? It is at once an easy and difficult question to answer. Easy, because there are so many examples. Difficult, because it involves a mind set.

Last year I had the privilege and chore of being called for jury duty. I wasn't thrilled, but just like voting for the least bad candidate, I considered it a duty I should not try to get out of. And sure what were the odds I'd actually have to sit?

As it happens, the odds were shorter than expected.

When all the perspective jurors were assembled, the judge welcomed us and gave a brief explanation as to what was expected of us. Included in his remarks was a reference to the oath every juror would have to take. He also reminded us that there was an alternative to the oath, an affirmation. I was glad of that, as I didn't want to stick out like a sore thumb if called.

The draw was made and Kerry being Kerry, many of those called, had to excuse themselves as they knew the accused. Thus my name was pulled from the box. What surprised me was I went from put upon citizen to scared shitless citizen in about ten seconds flat. The case involved an assault and I'd have to assess the evidence given. Me? I've met me, I'm irredeemably trivial. My philosophy doesn't extend far beyond "What would Picard do" and I'm not even sure he was a real person.

The twelve members sat in the jury box for the oath. To my dismay, a man handed each person a bible and they repeated the oath. Swearing to a god was the default, not just an option. When my time came I had to wave away the bible and wait for the registrar to go through her notes so she could find the obviously weird and little used, affirmation wording.

What a strange system of contradictions our courts are. The judge, can only be a judge, if he or she swears an oath to a god. Jurors and witnesses are also expected to swear an oath to a god to do their duty and to tell the truth. Yet if any of theses actors fails to adhere to their holy promise, they are not handed over to a religious authority for punishment. It is the secular authorities, with their oaths to their gods, who will administer retribution.

The affirmation I gave, which made me look like a bit peculiar and inconvenienced the officials, carries the same weight as the holy promises, and carries with it, the same consequences if I'd failed in my duty.

Why continue to single people out, why allow people to be prejudged, when an affirmation is equal in law and consequence, to a holy promise?

A mind set that values oaths over affirmations, that privileges the holy over the secular, is where things get difficult. It is the place where feelings, tradition, inertia, identity and prejudice are allowed subvert our institutions.

Many High Offices, in this country, can only be attained with a holy promise. The Presidency, the Council of State and the judiciary are barred to those who wish to affirm rather than take an oath. This is in the Constitution and thus cannot be changed without a referendum or even a series of referendums.

It is difficult to imagine a situation where a government would feel inclined to give a damn about conscientious secularists. Especially when no secularist to date, at the point of gaining high office has had the backbone to risk their juicy new position by objecting to taking a holy promise.

It is particularly strange that our Constitution continues to privilege religious values over secularist neutrality, when we are facing into a referendum on marriage equality. Some Roman Catholic figures have muttered threats about refusing to take part in the secular aspects of a wedding, if the referendum is passed. Only religious organisation get to conduct weddings and play at politics at the same time. Yet their right to do so is unquestioned. And the right of others to have the same powers, is denied.

If not true secularism, I'd settle for secularist adjacent. As we stand on the cusp of marriage equality, why is it still beyond the wit of our politicians to simply have jurors asked, if they would prefer to affirm or take an oath?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Anti-choicers and the Eighth Amendment

I haven't gotten excited by Clare Daly's latest attempt to make our abortion laws less barbaric. I haven't bothered to contact my local TDs, as I feel little hope that things will improve during the life of this Dáil. The main opposition parties, Sinn Fein and Fianna Fáil, won't support her legislation. Sinn Fein have sniffed the wind and decided to sit on its hands. Fianna Fáil have decided to sniff all the local winds and vote both ways. As for the government parties. Labour will self-inflict another humiliation by voting no. And my party will definitely vote no because it's too scared to take on the anti-choicers inside and outside the party. 

Granted, the legislation might be unconstitutional, but that is a question we employ very expensive judges to decide. At least if the legislation failed at the Supreme Court, we’d have some momentum for a referendum. And once our politicians agree a referendum on abortion is necessary, sure we'd hardly feel the ten years pass before they finally held one.

I don't agree with Clare Daly on many things, but she is brave and honest. Two qualities one doesn't usually associate with TDs. For taking on the Gardai, I'd feel obliged to give her my first preference, if she was standing in my constituency. Though I doubt she'd appreciate a vote from a blueshirt.

I also think her championing of women who experience fatal foetal abnormalities during their pregnancies, is exactly the right road to take towards the ultimate goal of repealing the Eighth Amendment.

Those of us who wish to see the Eighth Amendment repealed are a disparate bunch. There are those, like me, who wish women to have control over their bodies in all circumstances. That is not necessarily a popular position. There are others among us who see women carrying foetuses with life ending conditions as a special case, meriting a particular dispensation. It's not an unpopular position.

The women who’ve experienced these tragic pregnancies and are now campaigning to help other women in similar situations, are accomplished activists. They are an admirable group and they hold some considerable sway. They represent the best opportunity we have at finally addressing the Eighth Amendment. Of course, if the Eighth does go, this loose coalition will end.

The inescapable logic of repealing the Eighth is that abortion will become legal. It will prove impossible to legislate for choice on the basis that it's only for women who deserve it.

The anti-choicers are well aware of this. They know they have nothing to fear from me. My opinions on abortion are far too liberal. Women who have experienced the diagnosis of a 'fatal foetal abnormality' and have been told their foetus is 'incompatible with life' scare the shit out of the fanatics. So much so they even want the terms, fatal foetal abnormality and incompatible with life, banned. Think on that one. They want to change language so that women will no longer be able to accurately describe their own experience of a tragedy. Denying women language, denying women control of their own bodies, denying women choice.

They say they genuinely believe a foetus is a fully fledged human being, deserving of all the rights and protections afforded the already born. In essence they see themselves as trying to save lives and protect women from trauma.

Let's look at that. What are the anti-choicers doing to prevent abortions and help women?

An abortion is one of the safest medical procedures a women can have. Well, in countries where it is legal. In countries where it is illegal, back street abortions are dangerous and sometimes fatal. Fortunately, in Ireland, despite the illegality of abortions, many women can access the service in the UK or smuggle in the appropriate medication, sparing us a proliferation of back street abortions and death. That is the status quo. A status quo where abortions are ubiquitous, but carried out at a slight remove. A status quo where women are made to needlessly suffer and are driven to unnecessary expense. Yet thousands of Irish women continue to have abortions.

And what are the anti-choicers doing about this? As far as I can tell, nothing. This is difficult to understand, as there is so much they could do, to reduce the number of abortions that Irish women have, while remaining respectful of women and their choices.

If the anti-choicers were to adopt the maxim of 'safe, legal and rare' they would probably prevent more abortions than they do now. (Not that I'd advocate, safe, legal and rare, as it's a bit judgemental)

Within the framework of ‘safe, legal and rare,’ there are several useful strategies the anti-choicers could pursue to reduce the number of abortions that Irish women have and indeed women have, worldwide.

They could begin in the schools. Compressive, age appropriate and ongoing sex education would go a long way to preventing unwanted pregnancies. Everything from educating children about their bodies, appropriate touch, respect, where to get advice, all the way up to extensive instruction on contraception. Imagine the number of abortions this might prevent.

Further to contraception, it continues to amaze me that our species split the atom, landed a human on the moon and put a computer/phone/camera/clock/torch into my pocket, yet contraception is still not 100% reliable, still causes side-effects and requires humans to use their brains when other parts of their anatomies are vying for attention. Instead of paying for protest marches and lobbying, why not throw money at scientists. More reliable contraception? How many abortions prevented?

Poverty. If the anti-choicers directed some of their efforts towards eliminating poverty, they might find the number of abortions simultaneously falling.

And let's not forget those terrible women who are ambitious. Children can still hinder a woman's progress in those parts of the world that lauds unhindered capitalism. Might a few letters to the rich white men who control that world, help address this?

The anti-choicers could redirect their efforts from banning the term 'fatal foetal abnormality' to instead, aggressively funding the kind of research that might make the term 'fatal foetal abnormality' obsolete.

Then there's tackling cultures, so patriarchal, that female foetuses are aborted in favour of male ones. You know, take on ingrained conservatism. How many fewer abortions there?

This is not an exhaustive list of strategies that the anti-choicers could employ to reduce the number of abortions in Ireland, but it's start. It just strikes me that these strategies are somewhat obvious. And if they are obvious, why aren't the anti-choicers taking any positive steps to make abortions rarer?

Is it because this really isn't about women and the so called 'lives' they may be carrying? The evidence suggests that anti-choicers don't care all that much about abortions. Instead, all they appear to care about, is control. Controlling women, controlling their bodies, controlling their choices. For that is the very essence of the Eighth Amendment, control. Repeal the Eighth and the fanatics will lose their control of women. No wonder threats to that amendment terrify them so much.