Saturday, February 6, 2016

Not All Men

I have been trying to get my head around the concept of 'consent.' I don't mean to imply it's difficult to understand. More, I'm perturbed I've managed to get past 40 without having to give it much thought. I could probably go the rest of my life without thinking about it. But I live in the twitterverse, I like to read, I like to write and I like to reflect. Even then I might have avoided consent if my wife hadn't made me read a book called 'Asking For It' by Louise O'Neill.

A man, on reading that book, has but two options. He can either get to his feet and declaim in a clear steady voice, 'Not All Men.' Or he can reflect on the almost improbably large gaps in his education. Gaps that are searingly addressed in this heartbreaking book.

I chose the latter simply because I am a middle-aged man who is gradually getting better at being wrong about a lot of things.

But I retain a certain empathy for the Not All Men merchants. Not sympathy, empathy. Ignorance is as much a special kind of not knowing as it is an almost impenetrable suit of armour. It is an armour I donned for large periods of my life. I wasn't aware of it, of course, because it is a special kind of not knowing. When I was in college, at 19, I'm certain I'd have railed against compulsory consent classes. If the technology had been as prevalent would I have taken pictures and shared them too? I don't know. Would I have called a friend on it?

I received next to no sex-education in school or at home, but I knew right from wrong. Rape was wrong, always wrong, it was an evil act. My parents and teachers at least got that part right. Don't commit rape. In my day it was also don't wear a condom and if you get pregnant there's the door, but don't rape was easy. Of course no one explained what rape meant, so one tended to assume rape was some degenerate dragging a woman down a dark alley and having his way with her. And no one explained consent.

I had begun to think myself some sort of antediluvian artefact, who had been thrust into the world, denied the most basic understanding of sex and the inherent role consent had in sex. No one had thought to explain sex as being at once exciting, overwhelming, joyous, possibly fraught but always an ongoing negotiation. And by the time I got to college sure I knew everything. Ignorance is a special kind of not knowing.

I could dismiss my ignorance as a sign of the times, but no matter how hard I try I can't see the 80s and 90s as that long ago. And when I look back and try to excuse my parents and teachers for their neglect of my education, I find myself thinking, what the fuck, it wasn't the bloody Dark Ages. But I also know, that not having it explained to me in primary school and then again in secondary school, meant it would have required an especially thick stick to beat that knowledge into my head once I'd arrived in college.

But I appear to not be a relic. It is increasingly apparent that I am, typical. Boy and girls, this century, are managing to get to college wholly unprepared for that ongoing negotiation that would temper their mad rush into each other's beds and smartphones.

It appears many of us think it unnecessary to explain to a teenage boy why it is wrong to share nude pictures of someone they've been intimate with. So why wouldn't a boy or indeed a man share a nude picture? Without parents and teachers explaining, in detail, over many years, why it's akin to a sexual assault, we are left to hope he'll work it out for himself. And some do. Yet we don't allow children to work out for themselves where to piss, what to eat, how to brush their teeth or even to speak with their mouths full. But why a private intimate moment doesn't imply consent to further intimacy or a right to broadcast pictures of that moment over the Internet, well that is something they'll just have to work out for themselves.

And sure why wouldn't a horny fella have sex with his passed out girlfriend, when he hasn't been bored to tears by parents and teachers with increasingly complex discussions about consent, that include diagrams, piecharts, case studies and Louise O'Neill's wonderful book?

I thought I was a relic. I ought to be a relic. I used to think the worst part of my inadequate education was a 'Father Trendy' type priest telling a class of sixteen year olds to never use condoms. In retrospect that was the least stupid thing about my time in school, because even then his special kind of not knowing was treated with the contempt it deserved. But we were also immersed in our own ignorance. I hadn't realised how little has changed.

Ignorance is a suit of armour and a special kind of not knowing. Thus we have grown men, still boys in my eyes, but adults nonetheless, sharing pictures they should not be sharing or being insulted by the idea they have still so much to learn.

I feel sorry for them because words may no longer be enough. Hard consequences; permanent records and careers ruined before they've even begun, might have to be deployed to pierce the ignorance bestowed on them by their parents and teachers. Parents and teachers who neglected and who appear to be continuing to neglect their responsibility to understand consent enough to be able to teach it to a five year old.

Rape and sexual assault are rarely that degenerate dragging someone down a dark alley. But that is the only story told. Not all men are degenerate, but all men are subject to the values they've been imbued with and the understanding they've been taught. Not all men manage to escape causing harm if that education has been deficient.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Arwen at the Vet

I had quite the unpleasant experience today. Arwen, my dog, was at the vet's for an X-ray of her right foreleg. She has been experiencing lameness and I wanted to get a definitive answer as to why. Based on a previous X-ray, the vet suspected a bone chip in one of her toes was the cause. So it was expected that a simple X-ray followed by amputating the toe, would have Arwen back to her mad cap self.

This is one of her X-rays.

As I was eating, a delicious curry as it happens, he rang with the results. It turns out that Arwen has rather bad arthritis in the both of her elbows. I was shocked, but then, dogs do get arthritis. Surely this was not an insurmountable problem? According to the vet however, elbows present a particular problem as does Arwen's relatively young age. She is approximately six years old. This is a guesstimate as she was an abandoned little thing.

Medications that are usually used to treat joints are not as efficacious with elbows. I think I began to cry at this point. It was likely that she'd require long term anti-inflammatories, which would shorten her life. And eventually she'd need very strong pain killers. Her quality of life would be so reduced that I'd be faced with a difficult decision, sooner rather than later.

I had thought it was going to be all so straightforward.

It became difficult for me to speak. My curry began to disgust me. Had I perhaps over-exercised her? No. This stems from the first few months of her life, when diet and exercise have to be carefully managed to ensure the correct development of her joints. Apparently dogs aren't born with their joints fully formed. They are mostly cartilage, which over time ossifies into joint bone, joining with the surrounding legs bones.

In desperation I asked about surgery, mentioning Arwen was insured. There was an abrupt change of tone. In that case, if the therapies failed to solve the issue, she could see a specialist in Cork and have elbow replacement surgery. It would cost in excess of €1000, but she'd be almost as good as new.

I should have mentioned the insurance when I dropped her for the X-ray. I would have avoided feeling shattered for those few minutes. On the other hand, I am now more relaxed than I have a right to be about the possibly of her having both her elbows replaced with metal joints. Now there is still a possibility that drugs, therapies and losing a bit of weight will do the trick and she won't need to have two major surgeries, followed by difficult recuperation, but I'm fortunate enough to not have to make any decisions based on affordability.

Now, I have thrown away her ball and her treats. So has my mother, who delighted in spoiling her. She'll need more running but no more chasing. Her diet will be strict and perhaps that'll be enough. But if it isn't, I know she will be taken care of.

Monday, January 18, 2016

That Charlie Hebdo Cartoon

What can I say about that latest controversy provoked by the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo? Further comment seems futile. So many have spoken on the topic already. Nothing new or exceptional has been said. It has been a case of the usual suspects saying the usual things. Every ideologue has made their case entirely in keeping with their ideology. 

I will not deviate from that pattern. I am (despite a recent wobble) a free-speech absolutist so I maintain the ideologue's belief in Charlie Hebdo's right to say whatever it wishes about whomever it wishes. I am not however in any position to say if that particular cartoon was racist or not. I'm a straight, white, European male. The only privilege I don't have is the right to say if something is racist or not. 

I did have a visceral reaction to the cartoon. I thought it brilliant, searing and piercing. Perhaps some context. I first saw the cartoon (with a translation) a few days after I had listened to Brenda Power speak on the radio about the threat to women's rights that may be posed by the influx of so many refugees (Muslim men to be precise) from the Middle East. 

The interview made me uncomfortable because I felt some sympathy for her argument. It's a discomfort caused by a clash of principles. I am happy (well not happy, more prepared) to pay extra taxes to allow however many millions of refugees need asylum in Europe, to be allowed in. (And if you notice, in the previous paragraph I said influx. I cringe at it, being in a country that will only accept a pathetic few thousand refugees.) I justify this stance because I regard it as common human decency, to save the life of another. 

Taking in five or ten million refugees should be our first action. Then we deal with all the problems that this will entail. And those troubles should not be downplayed. It will cause social tension, it will inspire a rise in the far-right, there will be incidents. This is inevitable. But lives will have been saved and in time, Europe will be all the richer for the experience. 

Germany has taken in about a million refugees. It is now dealing with the consequences. If it mismanages this opportunity then whatever remaining enthusiasm there exists in Europe for welcoming refugees will disappear entirely. And that is where the cartoon comes in.   

European public opinion is disgustingly fickle. By purest chance, I was vaguely aware of the tragedy unfolding in the Mediterranean a few years ago. A particular blog I read, mentioned it, but it piqued my interest only peripherally. Then Pope Francis visited Lampedusa, a landing spot for many refugees and where the bodies of many of those who died on the trip are brought ashore. He managed to generate some publicity, but few people were moved. The walls of Fortress Europe remained standing, with the wholehearted support and/or indifference of public opinion. Then that little boy's body washed ashore just where a camera was conveniently present. Everything changed. The wall was breached and we (some of us) cheered the refugees in. 

Syrian passports were discovered on some of the men who perpetuated the Paris massacre. On New Year's Eve, in Cologne, several women were sexually assaulted.

I love that cartoon because in a single image, with a tiny amount of text, it perfectly encapsulates European public opinion. Thousands of people dying doesn't matter. A pope pointing at the dying doesn't matter. A good picture of a dead child, ooh let's help. Oh no it's complicated, fuck them. 

And that's probably the saddest thing about the cartoon. Those who are its target, people very much like me, mostly don't realise they are its target. As brutal and accurate as the cartoon is, it has failed to penetrate the armour of ignorance most Europeans wear. I care not one jot for those who have chosen to be offended by the cartoon. I care only that the lumpen masses whose dimwitted opinions and feelings can be so easily manipulated are too stupid to realise they are being mocked. 

And Ireland is patting itself on the back for taking a paltry few thousand people. I despair. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

My Ambitions For 2016

It is already a bit late to be writing an 'end of year-looking forward to the next year' post but I can't help it. I had convinced myself I didn't need to bother but I am about to go back to work and the urge to mark the passage of time, is irresistible. Due to the weird hours I work, my Christmas was about a week after everyone else's and my return to work similarly so. Today feels very much like the beginning of 2016, thus this belated post. 

2015 was very much a mixed year for me. I self published my first novel. It went nowhere. And while that stung a bit, I did appreciate the positive feedback and all the learning involved. Unfortunately since then I have been stuck. I could not focus on a new project. To that end I jumped into the namowrimo experience. It was brilliant and gave me 24000 words of a new novel but I couldn't get beyond those 24000 words. I also completed 25000 words of another novel. I like this novel, though I fear I may be entertaining myself and no one else with it. Combining rural living, hurling and science fiction may be pushing the envelope a tad too far. These two incomplete projects will however form the basis for my most fervent ambition for 2016 i.e. completing two new novels. If I fail, (and by fail I mean not complete them rather than commercial and critical acclaim) then 2016 will have been a bit of a disaster for me.

My blogging fell off a cliff in 2015. I can use the excuse that I was busy failing to write other things, but blogging, for all its self-indulgence, is where I first found myself. I owe a great deal to blogging. It is through blogging, much more so than in my creative writing, that I discover what I think. In 2015 I didn't get take the opportunity to reflect and as a result, I now feel uncomfortable in my own skin. Ideologically I am aware I've shifted to the left. For the first time in my life I could possibly be described as left of centre in the political spectrum. That is rather momentous for me but I haven't explored it, put words to it and owned it. I determined a few months ago to leave Fine Gael, but I've dithered as I don't know how to describe what and where I am. 

My second ambition for 2016 (early February(ish)) is to begin a new blog. I intend beginning afresh (well, I'll be importing some older blog posts, but still pretty afresh) and being more systematic in my blogging. It will be part commentary on my own politics (which is where I think my real strength is), part commentary on the world of politics, part update on my noveling, the odd nerd post and finally links to things I have read that week that I found insightful or just interesting. 

2015 was also the year I discovered I am now actually middle aged. I hate it. I really hates it. My third ambition in 2016 is start looking after my ageing, slowing and increasingly cantankerous body. That means losing a lot of weight and eating a lot of stuff that never breathed. Ick. 

I have to mention what was wonderful about 2015. I got married. Last March, about 20 friends and family witnessed my marriage to Paula, in a registry office in Dublin. Nearly half the guests were people we'd met on Twitter. Appropriate considering my wife and I also met on Twitter (Possible fourth ambition, be on Twitter less). I can safely say that it was the happiest day of my life and an amazingly stress free experience. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Can't believe it has been almost a year. 

The second thing I have to mention about 2015 was the Marriage Equality referendum. The result was glorious, that everywhere I canvassed voted yes, was the cherry on top, but I am still holding onto a knot of anger about the lack of support and/or numbers we had down here. Anger too that people had to go door to door begging for equality. Fifth ambition will be to get over it. All that matters is that it passed and that it passed with the overwhelming support of voters. I really need to let it go. 

That referendum leads me to my sixth and final ambition for 2016, repealing the Eighth Amendment. I don't know how involved I will be in that campaign in Kerry, but I know I have to be. Though I mostly just want to stick my head in the sand and let other people face the hate, and worse, the lack of interest, at the doors of strangers. 

So that's it. Have a great, productive and active 2016. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Marriage Equality (some people still haven't gotten over it)

As appeared in Letters - The Kerryman - 25 2015 edition

As I read Frank O'Meara's (Letters to the Editor, November 18) attack on marriage equality, I must admit to some confusion. He seems to be saying the government is changing the Roman Catholic Church's definition of marriage. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Roman Catholic Church retains the right to define marriage in whatever way it chooses. 

The greater part of the Irish people on the other hand, have decided to define marriage as something more inclusive and instructed the government to open this institution to same sex couples. 

The argument is over, all that remains, is for Mr O'Meara to show a little more dignity and move on.  

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Few Thoughts on Burton and Murphy

I've spent a long time getting my head around the incident involving Joan Burton in Jobstown last year. She and her staff were accosted by a large group of people who were protesting against the introduction of water charges. This culminated in her being trapped in her car for a considerable amount of time. One of the protesters was Paul Murphy TD. Charges have now been brought against Murphy and several other protestors. 

Full disclosure, I'm a member of Fine Gael. I support water charges and have paid mine. Also, I have little time for the far left. On the other hand, I hope my party loses at least twenty seats because of how the introduction of the water charges was handled. Spectacular incompetence merits a spectacular punishment.  Further, I have little respect for Burton herself, who seems to relish appeasing the right wing of my party more than her own voters. 

All that being said, my initial response to that incident was to name it an attack and hope the law would come down like a ton of bricks on those who attacked her. It was an emotional response and is revealing of who I am and what my values and prejudices are.

What are those values and prejudices? 

-I dislike Paul Murphy intensely, but it is an emotion I don't have for the far left in general. I have no illusions about my party being in the van of those tackling fascism if that disease ever infects this country. It'll be the far left, kicking ass and taking names. And the far left do have a habit of pointing out that capitalism is absurd. It is important for those of us who defend capitalism to hear that, because capitalism is indeed absurd and cruel and wasteful. It is incumbent upon us then, to ameliorate that intrinsic absurdity and have good arguments for why this awful thing is better than the utopia promised by the far left.

-I dislike and fear mobs, whatever their ideology. I have certain ideas about what constitutes an appropriate protest. It should not have to resort to violence to make the point that pure numbers should. Yes, that might contradict my previous point and it opens me up to accusations of conservatism. Both are true, but only to a degree.

-If Big Phil Hogan had been in the car, and not Joan Burton, would my emotional response have been different? Unfortunately I think it would have. I fear I am not as free from sexism as I'd assumed I was. That's something I have to own and work on. 

-Then there's my hypocrisy. Would I have cared as much if the person attacked was Gerry Adams or Nigel Farage. Almost certainly not. Well actually, no 'almost' about it. I would now be using the same euphemisms currently used by Murphy's supporters; disruption, inconvenienced, blockade, sit-down protest etc.  

-Fear and confusion. That attack scared me. I wasn't even there and it scared me. And it confused me because a citizen should not be impeded by a mob, but the last thing I want to see is the Gardai wading into a situation with jolly abandon. Yes, I'm a woolly-headed liberal as well. 

-And finally disgust at the government I voted for and support, being so incompetent and tone deaf regarding the introduction of water charges. I on the one hand, want this Fine Gael and Labour government reelected at the next election, but I want them also to pay a huge price for how poorly they've dealt with this issue. 

That is the emotional part. It doesn't even touch on my cynicism. I don't want the protesters jailed purely because it might hurt FG and Labour electorally.    

In the end, I fear this issue comes down to a clash of opinions. I can say what I like about what happened in Jobstown, but it won't influence a single person. Because I suspect I am not alone in reacting emotionally to it. And then convinced ourselves that our emotional response is both rational and correct. So I've gotten my head around it, but the rest of me still isn't sure. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Happy Tolkien Week

As it’s Tolkien Week, and inspired by my favourite Tolkien blogger, James Moffett and my friend Candi, I am completing this Tolkien questionnaire. I shall endeavour not to ramble. But I can't promise anything.

1. What draws you to Tolkien’s stories? (The characters, the quests, the themes, the worlds, etc.)

How to avoid an essay answer? First, it is the grandeur and breadth of Tolkien's creation.

Secondly, it is the layers. Anytime I read any of the Middle Earth books (and to Jackson's eternal credit, when I watch the films) I am struck by the gaps. I am aware of things missing. It reads as a history, but a necessarily incomplete history. It makes me sometimes wish that Tolkien would get out of the way so a team of archeologists, anthropologists and scientists with carbon dating equipment can take over. I want them to discover what parts of his tale are true, what parts are embellished and what parts are pure fiction.

Thirdly, it is the story of Lord of the Rings. It is a relatively straightforward quest. Return the One Ring to where it had been forged and thus unmake it. These are the good guys and those are the bad guys. Here are the people we trust to carry the Ring. Well, this is the person who can carry it and these are his companions, who are mostly trustworthy. This is the current political situation. These are the personality, familial, racial, internal, external, dynastic and military tensions that have to be negotiated. Then there's the overwhelming numbers, the presence of magic, immortal beings and shedloads of geography. And what is the Ring exactly and what do you mean there are other Rings of Power. Gandalf is a what now? Simple.

And finally there are the characters. So many of them and so wonderfully realised.

2. What was the first Middle Earth book you read and/or movie you saw? What did you think of it?

I read Lord of the Rings, for the first time, in my mid-teens. I was blown away by it. I adored it. Have read fantasy ever since. I even write it now.

3. Name three of your favourite characters and tell us why you like them.

Galadriel - I like that she is so hauntingly majestic. I was always drawn to the elves and she represents the most complete Elf on Middle Earth.

Boromir - He stumbled. Badly. But he did his duty. What more can be asked of anyone?

Éoywn - A warrior who had to fight for the right to prove her valour. A true hero.

4. Are there any secondary characters you think deserve more attention?

Does King Theoden count as secondary? He probably doesn't but the previous question only allowed three favourites. Then there's Beren and Luthien. You just don’t get bigger or more epic romances than theirs. And I know Treebeard may be a controversial choice, but book Treebeard had a mournful quality and a majesty that I really liked.

5. What Middle Earth character do you relate to the most?

Faramir. Definitely Faramir.

6. If you could ask Professor Tolkien one Middle Earth-related question, what would you like to ask him?

Do you regret that your vision is now cast in stone? Your work is regarded as so sacrosanct that it is treated as if it is complete? Would you prefer the gaps to be filled in with new stories or with scholarly speculation? (That's one question in three parts. Honestly.)

7. Are there any pieces of Middle Earth merchandise you would particularly like to own, but don’t?

I would kill any number of friends and relations to have either Theoden's sword or helm.

8. What battle would you absolutely not want to be part of?

The Kinslaying at Alqualondë. 

9. Would you rather eat a meal at the Rivendell or Bag End?

Rivendell of course. There are elves there.

10. List up to ten of your favorite lines/quotes from the books or movies.

"I go to my fathers in whose mighty company I shall not now feel ashamed."

"My Brother, My Captain, My King."

"Death. Death. Death."

“I am old, Gandalf. I don't look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts. Well-preserved indeed! Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can't be right. I need a change, or something.”

"Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!" Then Merry heard of all sounds in that hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. "But no living man am I!”

"He will come to death an image of the splendour of the kings of Men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world. But you, my daughter, you will linger on in darkness and in doubt as nightfall in winter that comes without a star. Here you will dwell bound to your grief under the fading trees until all the world is changed and the long years of your life are utterly spent."

Gimli: "I have taken my worst wound at this parting, having looked my last upon that which is fairest. Henceforth I will call nothing fair unless it be her gift to me."
Legolas: "What was it?"
Gimli: "I asked her for one hair from her golden head. She gave me three."

"We set out to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me."

“I will not say, do not weep, for not all tears are an evil.”

Have some fun and answer the questions yourself and have a very Happy Tolkien Week everybody.