Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Beauty of Joey Barton's Twitter.

Rarely has a website polarised as many people as Twitter. To some people, it is a fascinating way of exchanging information on current events and societal happenings quickly and freely, and of course, keeping track on the goings on of your favourite celebrities. To others, the uninitiated shall we say, it is a pointless tool that is used to exchange pointless information by pointless people. Whatever your opinion is on it, it is hard to ignore. While nigh-on every young and hip celebrity has their own Twitter account, few, if any, have utilised it to such a profound effect as a young Liverpudlian footballer named Joey Barton. Joey Barton's account is to Twitter what the I Ching is to books. In simple English, it is simply a phenomena.

I follow a lot of celebrities, especially footballers, on Twitter so I feel that I am at a good position to comment. I hate celebrities to be honest and err go, most of their Twitter accounts. They write the most banal, irrelevant rubbish and seem to either not know or not care about the concept of grammar. So I like it when I see something different. I like it when I see that a celebrity is actually taking an interest in current events and displaying competent levels of knowledge. With Joey Barton, I get all that and more. I suppose it's quite important we quickly delve into Joey's chequered past just to show how utterly surreal it is that he has become the footballing world's equivalent of Bill Hicks. He is a convicted criminal, has stubbed a cigar in a youth player's eye, broke a pedestrian's leg in Liverpool City Centre and assaulted a fellow team mate. This has led many to condemn him as a thug, a man incapable of abstaining from violence. Even now, in 2012, after spending time in rehab and becoming a father, many people's perception of him remains the same. Those who follow him on Twitter know different.

In what has become the greatest reinvention since Frank Abagnale Jr. joined the FBI, Barton has reinvented himself as a philosophical. insightful and profound individual who forms his own opinions on issues as ponderous as the London Riots to ones as frivolous as the quality (or lack of) of football commentators. He is confrontational but not in a mindless way, he always has a reason for engaging in disputes with his fellow famous Twitter users. Take his recent argument with the cast of the exorbitantly terrible The Only Way Is Essex.  To the naked eye, it would appear Joey was merely picking an easy target. TOWIE are often castigated in the press for portraying Essex in a negative light or just being incredibly stupid so Joey picking on them would obviously garner a lot support. But this was not the reason for his attacks. Joey was attacking their 'fake, pretentious lifestyles' and the 'fame hungry' nature of its characters. Sure, he called them 'retards' and 'helmets' which isn't very profound or deep but in fairness, it's hard to deny that the Towie cast aren't 'mentally deficient' as Joey also put it. 

It hasn't been Joey's vendetta against the glitterati that has been the defining feature of his tweets however. A vast amount of his ire has been reserved for his employers, be they past or present. During his dispute with Newcastle United last Summer, Joey made use of Twitter to voice his disdain of the powers that be at the club. Among his more notable tweets at the time were 'Somewhere in those high echelons of NUFC, they have decided, I am persona non grata', and 'And again it would be left to those magnificent fans to pick up the remnants of their once great club #hadenoughofcertainpeople'. Would any other footballer have the temerity to speak out in such a way? Would any other footballer be aware of the injustices which he sees? And would any other footballer know what 'Persona Non Grata' means? I think not. This episode marked Joey out as a rebel, some would say without a cause, and a thinker. It was the first time that his Twitter account properly impinged on the consciousness of the mainstream media. And from that moment on, I was entranced. 

One of Joey's best moments on Twitter in my opinion came only a few weeks ago. In an almost casual, nonchalant tweet, Joey decided to let it be known that he was off to an AA meeting. It's a taboo subject for a lot of people, alcoholism, and many people felt awkward that Joey should comment on it. They asked him why he would tweet such a thing. It makes people think about their own lives and drinking habits and that is not comfortable for a lot of people. Joey's tweets were sensible and helpful, 'Decided to comment on AA, as its important that people know its ok. That they don't have to struggle through life alone. Am ok with it!'. He talked about how he found AA meetings 'AA = Alcoholics Anonymous.........? Its usually great. Loads to be learned if u have a problem or not. Usually most do......or did! Like moi'. This portrayed Joey in a different light to that which people are used to it. It showed a vulnerable side to him, one which his normally rebellious and controversial tweets do not convey. However I felt it was an incredibly brave and mature thing to do and might even help people in a similar position to the one he was in a few years ago. 

So whether it's quoting The Smiths and Friedrich Nietzsche or having to deny links to the EDL or commenting on the hypocritical nature and corruption of American politics, it's rather safe to say Joey Barton's Twitter account is a bastion of entertainment and enlightenment. If you're sick of Rio Ferdinand's 'bants' or Wayne Rooney's nonsensical and grammatically incorrect ramblings about the X Factor give Joseph Barton a follow. Whether you agree with him or not, you're guaranteed to learn something.

And he looks like Alex Turner so what's not to like?

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Household Tax: Why it is wrong and how it can be beaten.

Good evening and thanks for coming. My name is Conor O’Riordan and I’m representing the Limerick Branch of the Campaign against Household and Property Taxes. The campaign was successfully launched a few weeks ago and we have already held several meetings in areas such as Dooradoyle, Glasgow Park and Corbally. Tonight I’ll explain to you why this is an unfair tax and why with you, the ordinary person of Ireland’s backing we can win this campaign.

This Government, like the Fianna Fáil/Greens one that came before it are determined to make us pay for the financial crisis. People’s living standards have been attacked and social services have been savaged to help service the debts of corrupt and gambling bankers and developers here and abroad. From January, the Government will attempt to impose a new Household Tax on us and will begin installing water meters in homes across the state. Rural households will face an additional sceptic tank charge. While the tax starts at €100 annually, this will rise. It is estimated that by 2014, it will be transformed into a full blown property tax which will cost households €1300. But don’t take my word for it, take the word of John Fitzgerald of the ESRI who in July appeared on the Matt Cooper show. He said he thought €100 was “relatively low” and that it would rise. When Matt Cooper asked him would it be €700-€800, he replied “yeah”. He then said “Water charges would probably be another €500”. So you see, this household tax is merely a precursor for a more brutal and more unjust property tax. 

This €100 tax is testing the waters. This is why we need to stop it now. In defence of the tax, Minister for the environment Phil Hogan claimed “Sure it’s only €100 per year, just €2 a week, everyone can afford that”. But we know this €100 tax is a temporary measure in an attempt to sucker us in. Even then, though €100 a year might seem like pittance to Phil Hogan, he does after all make €169,000 a year plus expenses, it is a further burden on many families already under severe pressure.  A report published by the Irish League of Credit Unions shows that 250,000 people or 7% of the population have no money left after paying their monthly household bills and a further 750,000 people have only €70 left each month after paying their household bills. Furthermore, the charge is a completely unfair tax.  It is a “flat tax” which asks the ordinary couple in the modest home to pay the exact same amount as the millionaire or the billionaire in his mansion.

 This household tax is merely another example of the government’s crippling austerity drive made to make us pay for the banks’ mistakes. €85bn has been paid to bail out the bankers while there has been no bailout for the working man and woman of this country who are being hammered.

So the question is, how can we beat this tax? The solution – non payment. In the mid 90’s in Dublin, The Water Tax Federation organised a non-payment campaign which defeated the water tax. So you see everyone, this tax can be beaten. There are 1.6m households who will be levied under this tax. If even 30% or 40% of these households refused to pay it would strike a hammer blow against the Government. If more refused to pay it would cause the collapse of the tax entirely. This is important as all of the cuts and taxes made hitherto have been out of our control. We can protest against VAT increases or increases in our college registration fees all we like but we can’t simply refuse to pay them. Here is where we have the upper hand. This is the first time where we can actively protest against a tax by simply not paying it. 

The Government have been quick to make their threats regarding non-payments with rumours circulating that fines may be imposed, we may lose our electricity if we refuse to pay, the €100 charge may be docked from our social welfare payments or possibly even imprisonment.  But these are hollow threats. To impose such measures the Government would be forced to take us through the legal system and this is where our campaign comes in. If anyone is ever taken through the legal system, we have a legal team who will fight their case. In the 1990s during the Water Tax campaign, if anyone was taken to court hundreds of fellow non-payers turned up to support them. That campaign’s legal team challenged every case in the courts clogging up the court system and making it impossible to proceed. We can do the same now.

Thank you for your time and patience. I hope what I have told you this evening has struck a chord with you. Remember with your help and the help of ordinary people around this great country, this tax can and will be beaten – Ní  neart go cur le céile. Go raibh maith agaibh.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Fernando Torres.... I feel your pain.

As Juan Mata launched the ball into the penalty area, Fernando Torres knew this was his moment. He studied the flight of the ball meticulously but almost instantly, peeled off his marker and with stupendous technique, scissor-kicked a shot towards the Sunderland goal. Torres' heart must have leapt. He mustn't have hit a ball so sweetly in months. But Torres' joy lasted for only a split-second as his shot rifled off the crossbar and bumped off an oblivious Frank Lampard into the net. Torres let off a wry grin and celebrated with his team mates but you could see deep in then man's soul he was hurting. He was probably considering contacting Mario Balotelli for a loan of his 'Why Always Me' t-shirt because that is just how Torres must have felt, 'Why fucking me?'.

In the split-second between the ball leaving Torres' foot and assailing the crossbar, Torres must have been imagining tomorrow's newspapers. The backpages would be dedicated to him and him only. A return of the Torres of old, a scissor-kick to match Rooney's exocet against City last season, a glimpse of why Abromavich shelled out £50m for him a year ago this month. But no. For this incident is almost a metaphor of Torres' Chelsea career so far. Plenty of effort. Moments of class. But no conviction and ,more pertinently, no luck. It's easy to chastise Torres and point out his failings in a blue shirt while acknowledging the astronomical wages he has received in his 12 months of relative failure at the club but can you really tell me that when you look into those deep, brown, mourning eyes that you don't feel a morsel of pity. Maybe churlishly, I do.

When examining why Torres has become such an abject failure, one must investigate the psychological reasons as well as the physical ones. Many have commented on how after all his hamstring problems, Torres has lost that 'extra yard', that extra gear that used to propel him past feeble defenders. Many say it's a matter of confidence, that once Torres gets on a run, there'll be no stopping him. Others say, rather ambiguously, that Torres simply has lost his 'swagger'. I think that it's a mental thing. And I feel of all the reasons I have listed, that Torres 'losing his swagger' is possibly the most accurate. Even if it is quite a vague way of putting it.

It's impossible not to make parallels between Torres' body language on the pitch now and the way it was two years ago. Back then, this blonde-haired, freckle-peppered Spaniard controlled defenders with such finesse and ease that you would forgive him for displaying an arrogant demeanour. He didn't but what he did display was a confident one. He walked with his head up, shoulders level and chest out. He sent a message to the defenders before matches had even begun, 'No fucking about here lads, I'm on a job'. His hair was tribal. Long blonde locks, clasped together with a thin head band. Some say it might him look like a girl, it didn't, it made him look like a raging barbarian (In a good way Fernando lad ). His movement in those days was phenomenal. He worked the channels, played on the cuff of the last defender and was always willing to receive the ball. His link-up play was supreme and his confidence was such that if one of his flicks or backheels didn't come off at first this would not deter him for he knew next time they would. 

Watching him play for Chelsea these days it is striking how things have changed. Torres walks with his shoulders hunched, head down and eyes firmly fixed on the ground like a child who has just been told off by his principal. Last season his hair was different too. It was short and brown. Boring and common, never going to strike fear into an opponent. He's revived his trademark died blonde look this season, perhaps in an attempt to revive past fortunes. You can see when he does look up that a certain fire still burns in eyes, that he knows how omnipotent he was and that he owes it to himself to show the world that he can still do. But you don't really believe that he believes he can do it. His movement now is slow and lethargic and perhaps this is Chelsea's system that with two wingers with little to no defensive duties required of them that the running is done for them but you get the feeling that he doesn't have the temerity to make the same dashing runs that he once did for fear that it might expose his diminished speed or for fear of offside. Offside never bothered Torres of old. He timed his runs better than Usain Bolt. Perhaps what is most telling is the ease at which defenders seem to be able to push Torres off the ball. He has certainly not grown physically weaker and Premier League defenders haven't all of a sudden grown in strength or stature, it seems to me to be a more mental thing. Torres doesn't believe he'll beat the defender to the ball and defenders, when they pick up on Torres' aforementioned poor body language realise that they have the ability to boss Torres around. The only was defenders could stop Torres of old with strength as simply by fouling him. Just ask Nemanja Vidic. 

Torres has lost his composure and assuredness in front of goal also. I don't mean to sound nostalgic and like I'm wearing rose-tinted spectacles looking at the 'good 'ol days' (I'm really not, I'm a United fan for fuck's sake!) but Torres in his Anfield heyday need not even look at the goal before he finished, he knew where it was without looking. He knew where to put it, where the keeper wouldn't reach it. This is yet another feature sadly lacking from Torres' current play. Of course, the incident which best illustrates this was Torres' anti-glorious, goal-gaping, humdinger of a miss against United in September. In that particular sequence of play, Torres did the proverbial 'everything right but the finish'. Fantastically timed run. Brilliant shimmy away from de Gea. It was a simple finish but he stabbed at the ball and the ball flew into the hoardings.  Torres had more time and had he the right composure, the right thinking he'd have surely thought before prodding at the ball in such a rash way. He fell to the ground, half in despair and half in absolute disgust with himself. 

Opposing fans may laugh and jeer and you wouldn't really blame them seeing as a man as insidious as Abromavich and a club as soulless as Chelsea have seemingly wasted £50m on an apparent has-been. But I won't. I may say this with a dent in my credibility as a United fan but I miss the Torres of old. Football is a beautiful sport when it is played properly and Fernando Torres played it  flawlessly. I feel it is a shame that such a prodigious talent has apparently all but evaporated it. I look into those deep, longing, brown eyes and I wish for the player of old to return. Just if you do return to your ethereal best Fernando, fuck off from United! That 4-1 drubbing still hurts.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Why Barack Obama has failed America and the World.

Never has the election of a leader of any country in modern times been greeted with such euphoria, such fervour as the appointment of Barack Obama in 2008. As the first African-American ever to achieve the highest office in the States, Obama represented change. Indeed, 'Change' was Obama's favourite buzzword throughout his election campaign and his appointment was seen as a sea change in American politics. After eight long years of George W. Bush making America, in amazing synchronicity, the most hated nation in the world and the laughing stock of the world, Barack Obama with his fine oratory skills and slender frame was meant to re-establish America's role as 'the greatest country in the World '. Obama, to be blunt, has been an unmitigated failure. He is no different to George Bush, his persona as a caring beacon of hope is merely a facade. His 4 years in office have exposed him as a liar and a crook. 'Why has he been a failure?' I hear you ask. Right, let's get down to it.

In 2009, a year after winning the presidential election, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Now even back then many were perplexed as to why Obama should receive such a prestigious award that has been bestowed on the likes of Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa in the past. And now, in 2012, it is safe to say that awarding Obama the Nobel Peace Prize is akin to awarding Katie Price the Nobel Prize in Literature. Under Obama, America has now attacked more countries than under Bush thanks to the air strikes and drones, often used against civilians, in Libya, Pakistan, Yemen and probably Somalia. Then of course there is the continued operations in Afghanistan and the only very recently ended presence in Iraq. It is argued that the blame for Iraq and Afghanistan cannot be levelled at Obama as it was Bush who sent troops in and while this is true, Obama has committed more troops to Afghanistan and had the temerity, the audacity, to describe the American occupation of Iraq a 'success'. The murder of over 100,000 civilians does not sound like a 'success' to me. 

And now of course we have the prospect of Obama engineering a strike against Iran in the near future. Iran is thought to be developing nuclear weapons which is not good news obviously. Nuclear weapons are dangerous tools that could eventually lead to the destruction of our world and Iran should be shunned if this is the case. But is it really America or Obama's place to criticise them? Let's just remember which country invented the atomic bomb and which country currently has the second largest arsenal of nuclear warheads (Behind only Russia), Yep, you guessed right. Obama has come out in force against Iran stating "And if they are pursuing nuclear weapons, then I have said very clearly, that is contrary to the national security interests of the United States; it's contrary to the national security interests of our allies, including Israel; and we are going to work with the world community to prevent that," . Iran has not started a war/invaded a country in living memory. They war engaged in a war with Iraq in the early 80's granted, but that was as a result of Iraq invading part of Iran. America on the other hand has invaded two countries illegally in the last decade, killed countless civilians and engaged in acts of torture and depravity of human rights. In essence, I am a lot more afraid of America than I am of Iran so Obama can stick that 'national security' lingo up his arse.

One of Obama's most enduring promises during his election campaign was that he would close down the infamous Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba that the US had been using to house suspected terrorists since 2002. This facility is a bastion of torture and interrogation, a place where human rights are deprived on a grand level. Amnesty International has declared it the 'Gulag of our times'. The men housed here have no legal rights and no access to a fair trial. The infamous torture technique 'water-boarding' is practised here and it has even been revealed that children as young as 13 have been detained in Guantanamo Bay. Even more incredulously, in 2010 Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson who was a former aide to Secretary of State Colin Powell during the Bush administration stated that President Bush and his cabinet knew that most of the detainees were innocent but decided to imprison them in Guantanamo for 'reasons of political expedience'. So why doesn't Obama close the evil place down? I don't know. He might know. But what I do know is that A) He lied about closing it down. B) He does not care one bit about freedom or liberty or human rights that him or his country apparently espouses. 

Domestically, Obama has also fallen short. Obama and The Democratic Party were especially vocal in their oppositions to Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy in the mid-noughties that saved the wealthiest in America around half a trillion dollars in taxes. Again, it appeared that their bark was worse than their bite as in 2011, Obama agreed to extend Bush's tax cuts till 2013. Obama has vowed that he will get rid of them in 2013 if he is still president that is but after him lying so many times before, how are we to know? Obamacare has failed, many Americans still can't afford good healthcare. And just over a week ago on the 2nd of January 2012, Obama signed the NDAA into law, an act which effectively means that the US military can detain US citizens without trial, something which Johnathan Turley in the Guardian described as a 'historic assault on liberty'.

Maybe Obama might get another 4 years in office come November or maybe Mitt Romney or Ron Paul might take his seat. But it doesn't really matter. The Democratic Party and the Republican Party might have differing ideals and attitudes, but they're both friends of big business and the military industrial complex. Obama has conned America and indeed the world with his suave speeches and attractive soundbites but he is still merely a poster boy for Wall Street. He's George W. Bush MK II but just with better oratory skills and a more acceptable face. Nothing has changed and with the system as it is in America, nothing will.