Thursday, 2 October 2014

Don't be fooled by the West's 'noble' intentions in stopping Isis.

Barack Obama about to talk a heap of shite, presumably.

Last week, Fox News embroiled themselves in yet another scandal caused by a couple of their presenters being idiotic, discriminatory arseholes. Shocker, I know. The two guilty parties were anchors Greg Gutfeld and Eric Bolling from Fox's afternoon show The Five. The pair made a couple of incredibly sexist jokes about a female bomber pilot from the United Arab Emirates who had taken part in a bombing mission on Isis targets in Syria. Anybody even vaguely familiar with the pair will not be shocked by their latent misogyny. Indeed, it was something else said by their co-host Kimerbly Guilfoyle at the beginning of the video that caught my attention. As she heaps praise on the "remarkable" pilot she pointedly adds, "Very exciting, a woman doing this … I hope that hurt extra bad because in some Arab countries women can’t even drive." 

This astounding display of ignorance forcefully hammered home to me the falsity and the dubiousness of Western government and media's protestations against Isis. Because Guilfoyle is half-correct; there are Arab countries that forbid women from driving. Well, there's one country that does. Saudi Arabia. A country which is one of America's allies in the missions against Isis. Saudi Arabia is also one of only four countries in the world to carry out public executions. Like Isis, they too are fond of the odd beheading with Human Rights Watch claiming that the Saudi state decapitated 19 people last month (August 2014), for crimes ranging from drug trafficking to sorcery.

Some may argue, in attempt to legitamise the US's alliance with Saudi Arabia and other repressive regimes like Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, that to stop a group as obviously barbaric as Isis, you sometimes have to get into bed with the devil. More likely however, is that the US is more concerned with regional hegemony and geopolitical dominance in the Middle East and the countries in this coalition with the US, which also include Qatar and Jordan, are convenient allies and interested parties. It's ludicrous that this even requires repeating. It's ludicrous that Western governments can drop bombs on Middle Eastern countries on the premise of protecting human rights when for the last couple of centuries, successive American and European governments have committed, aided and enabled countless human rights offences in this region. It's ludicrous that the media largely fail to question the motives of the governments, preferring instead to bang the drums of war and spout empty rhetoric about protecting lives and saving cultures. 

These bombing raids are the fourth time in just under 25 years that the US and its allies have attacked Iraq following the Gulf War in 1991, the "Lewinsky Strikes" in 1998 and of course the invasion of Iraq in 2003. An important difference this time that must be noted is that the government of Iraq have given the US and its allies permission to strike against Isis. That however, does not change the overall aim of the bombing raids.

When one is discussing the motives of Western intervention in the Middle East it's easy to stumble into cliche and witless ranting about Exxon Mobil, oil companies and the military-industrial complex. It's a bit more nuanced than all that but the fact remains that the US has sought to control the Middle East since the Second World War due to the enormous significance the oil reserves play in world economics. It's not just about the profits of oil companies. It's about currency as well. Just to give you a quick example; the world's default currency is the dollar and it is the currency oil is bought and sold in. In 1999, Iraq decided to sell its oil in the new euro currency and increased their profits. The US, naturally sensing a rival to the Dollar's dominant position in the world economy, were nonplussed and after the invasion of Iraq, Iraq began selling its oil again in dollars. Mission accomplished. 

I've digressed a small bit from Isis but it's important to discuss the wider context when it comes to the Middle East. Morally, the argument against Western bombing raids against Isis is that these raids, no matter how pin-point or efficient they are, will inevitably result in civilian casualties. In fact, they already have. But, if we're to ignore the moral arguments for a second, and ask whether these raids will achieve their aim - namely to stop the spread of Isis and combat rampant Islamic fundamentalism - is that probable? 

I would argue it is not. Well, let me unpack that. The raids will certainly have a negative effect on Isis's operations. The US have already began striking oil fields Isis controls and operates in southern Syria and northern Iraq which is having a crippling effect on Isis's profits. Isis previously made millions by illegally smuggling oil into Turkey to sell on the black market. They're producing substantially less oil now that the US have begun bombing them. Indeed, the US and its allies may very well succeed in destroying Isis but it will be a Pyrrhic victory. Just like it was often said that the British army were the IRA's best recruiting agent, US intervention in the Middle East has similar effect. It can help radicalise people. Isis are a group who came to prominence during the invasion of Iraq. They launched a counter-insurgency against the Americans. While claims that the US "created" Isis are exaggerated, they certainly created the conditions necessary for their birth. 

Let's look at another recent example of US interventionism. Take Yemen. Since the early noughties, the skies of Yemen have been dotted with US drones. They've killed anywhere between 673 and 1022 people. No one knows the exact figure; armies generally aren't the best at counting their victims. These drone strikes target militants but they've also killed anywhere between 88 and 153 civilians in that space of time. Last year, a young Yemeni named Farea al-Muslimi, whose village had been destroyed in a drone strike, appeared before a senate subcommittee on the impact drone strikes have on the general population. Al-Muslimi claimed that Yemenis once had a positive image of America but, since the drone strikes, that perception has altered radically. He commented, ", however, when they think of America, they think of the terror they feel from the drones that hover over their heads, ready to fire missiles at any time." 

This reaction is fairly typical. While it might be easy for Western politicians to justify collateral damage on the grounds that the overall mission was a success, it's less easy for people who have lost family members, friends or homes to accept. Isis might openly claim that their horrific executions of Western journalists is done to dissuade the US from intervening further in the Arab world but that couldn't be further from the truth. They want the US and its allies to continue with their incendiary policies in the Middle East. That way they can engender more sympathy from the wider Muslim world and recruit more young and disenfranchised Arabs. They want a long, dirty ground war. And the US and its allies just might give it to them. 

Another reason proffered for strikes against Isis is to protect the security of Western countries. David Cameron claims that "Isil pose a direct and deadly threat to Britain." Barack Obama has made similar statements regarding Isis's threat to US security. But this is ráiméis. If Obama and Cameron truly cared about the security of their countries they would terminate their inflammatory policy in the Middle East. Western intervention is an undeniable factor in the radicalisation and indoctrination of young Arabs into poisonous groups like Isis. It gives them a reason for existing and a modus operandi. It alienates young Arabs who rightfully view Western governments as aggressors.

Writing this, I do not aim to downplay the awfulness of Isis. They have committed some truly evil crimes. But it is important to 1) Note the West's role in creating the conditions in which Isis can exist and thrive 2) Note that the West's bombing raids will only create new enemies. When a new conflict emerges in the Middle East, people in the West often shrug their shoulders and make a comment something along the lines of, "Ah, sure they're always at that." But it's important to realise that the West's, and in particular the US's, policy in the Middle East is at least partly to blame for so much of the violence we see. And until the Middle East stops being, as Gordon Merriam of the US State Department said way back in 1945, "a stupendous source of strategic power", we're unlikely to see a meaningful shift in this damaging and dividing strategy.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Will UTV Ireland's arrival mean curtains for TV3?

The vibrant, young face of TV3.

Messi and Ronaldo. Blair and Brown. Kerry and Dublin. Blur and Oasis. People just love rivalries. The bloodier the better. With UTV Ireland set to begin broadcasting next January, there's a new rivalry in town; UTV and TV3. Who will win the coveted prize of being second in the ratings behind RTE? The safe bet seems to be UTV who have money and prestige behind them. So can TV3 survive with a new kid on the block? Let's investigate.

The general consensus, online and among people I've spoken to, is that TV3 faces a grim and uncertain future. Even people in the industry, such as Gay Byrne (who is a totally impartial authority on the matter), have questioned whether TV3 will be able to survive. Quite a few people have speculated on whether they'll even see out the decade.

It's quite a natural conclusion to arrive at when you inspect TV3's programming schedule over the last number of years. They've gorged themselves on a host of shows syndicated from ITV like Coronation Street, Emmerdale, the X Factor and Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway for over a decade. That was never going to be a sustainable model and UTV's move into the Republic, which would inevitably result in TV3 losing the rights to many of those shows, was hardly a massive surprise.

Worryingly for TV3, an area in which the station has miserably performed since its inception in 1998 is homegrown productions. The Vincent Browne Show is the only TV3 production I can think of that could be considered a “trademark” show, like The Late Late Show is to RTE. Their other homegrown productions have largely consisted of half-baked imitations of ITV shows (Ireland AM=GMTV, Midday=Loose Women) and half-baked remakes of actual ITV shows (Take Me Out, All Star Family Fortunes).

While RTE may be up there with the rain, Bono and government ministers at the top of the list of “things Irish people love to complain about”, it has an identity (of sorts) and both RTE 1 and RTE 2 have a target audience which they (at least somewhat) know how to cater for. It helps that they pull in the license fee money obviously, but RTE has some low-budget shows, the type TV3 could conceivably create, which have proved very successful such as Reeling in the Years. To TV3's credit, they seem to have identified this as a major problem. Since 2008 they claim to have made a concerted effort to produce more homegrown productions and their director of content Jeff Ford says they aim to be “delivering over 50% home-produced content” in 2015. Now it's just about picking the right ones.

In addition to TV3's problem with homegrown productions, many people have begun to speculate whether the Irish television market is even big enough for RTE, UTV and TV3 to operate in. While RTE will surely remain kingpin, popular thought seems to suggest that UTV Ireland will dislodge TV3 as the nation's second broadcaster. And can TV3 remain functioning and profitable in 3rd place?

But let's park the bus on that for a minute and see what TV3 can do. It doesn't have to be an inevitability that UTV Ireland will automatically oust TV3 in the ratings. Certainly, with TV3's current schedule, it seems likely but TV3 have released their own contingency plan, in the form of an Autumn Schedule Launch, as a thinly veiled response to UTV Ireland's arrival so let's inspect the viability of that. Let's not all get snooty about this before we begin and lambast TV3's soaps and homegrown productions as low-brow; this isn't about TV3 producing the 21st century's answer to The Ascent of Man but rather them producing and broadcasting commercially viable shows.

The centre-piece of TV3's Autumn schedule is a soap opera named Red Rock that will be set in a Garda Station in a fictional Dublin harbour town. The show will encompass the wider community and plots and stories will emanate from rather than be based around the Garda station, claims producer John Yorke. It's certainly an ambitious project and, in my opinion, TV3's effort at creating a “trademark” show, one which is an instantly recognisible part of the TV3 brand. First and foremost however, it is a replacement for the ratings-magnets Coronation Street and Emmerdale which are two of the shows they're losing to ITV. People are creatures of habit and don't embrace change very quickly so Red Rock may take time and money before (if it ever) succeeds. The premise is certainly more intriguing than the standard street cobbles and bored housewives schtick we've become accustomed to but this is one TV3 will need to stick with and trust their writers if it's to properly get off the ground.

Other home grown productions include; Jason Byrne's Snaptastic Show (the show will see the comedian interview a series of celebrities on their past while trawling through their family photo albums), The Algorithim (a quiz show of sorts hosted by Ray Foley), A TD in my House (poverty porn where a TD will live with a poor family for a week to see how shit it is to be poor), Blind Date (Another ITV remake hosted by Lucy Kennedy) and Islanders (Documentary on people living on islands off the coast of Ireland). Again, you may be tutting and sticking your nose up at some of these low-brow shows but, I must refrain, it doesn't matter if these shows end up making Tallafornia look like an existentialist exploration of modern capitalist society; all that matters is that people watch them. And they might watch some of them.

Moving away from light entertainment, TV3 are also buffing up their home-produced primetime news shows and documentaries. David McWilliams, Donal McIntyre and Anton Savage have all been given primetime slots and will probably host Prime Time-esque shows, i.e. Serious men talking about serious topics in a serious setting. For me, Savage is the most affable of that lot but which of them will provide Pat Kenny on UTV with the most competition is anyone's guess.

For some peculiar reason, TV3 seem quite proud of their track record on documentaries. Judging by what they say in the press release for their Autumn launch, anyway. After all, who could criticise masterpieces of journalistic endeavour like Garth Brooks: What Went Wrong? and The Town Travellers Took Over? They need to change tack when it comes to documentaries as TV3 have gained a reputation for producing trashy and reactionary documentaries in recent years, my two listed examples as cases in point. Islanders, which I mentioned in the previous paragraph, seems like a good start. TV3's most ambitious project in this field this year, however, is The Guarantee, which is a docu-drama that will chronicle the events of the night the Irish Government decided to guarantee the entire domestic banking system. This is a movie and will be shown in cinemas before it's shown on TV3. It's a really bold move from TV3 and if it works out, it could change the way TV3 productions are perceived.

Finally, we'll focus on sport and this where I feel TV3 have actually done quite well. They've made some really shrewd investments for the next year or two and this will guarantee a core viewership. Firstly, they've retained the right to cover UEFA Champions League matches which is a massive boon. TV3's presenters and pundits may not be as endearing as Dunphy and the lads but people would watch Champions League football if Jimmy Savile rose from the grave and began hosting it.

Secondly, they have exclusive rights to the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Again, this is a guaranteed viewers bonanza. They'll be praying for Ireland to do well because if Ireland reach the latter stages, they'll be looking at some serious viewing figures. TG4 hit a mini jackpot when the women's team beat New Zealand and reached the semi-finals of the World Cup earlier in the summer; imagine if the men did something similar.

Thirdly, they've very shrewdly acquired the rights to broadcast UFC Fight Nights which will be broadcast on 3e. Conor McGregor's fight on 3e last June pulled in a whopping 600,000 viewers and while some of that can be attributed to the popularity of the Dublin native, there is definitely a market for oiled-up, semi-clad men grappling and wrestling in steel cages in Ireland.

There's other, small things that TV3 can do. They should finally start broadcasting in HD. It's been a stated promise for three years now but here we are, still with pathetic standard definition. They've promised it will be rolled out for the Rugby World Cup which is important as sport is really where you notice the difference between HD and standard definition. They could also bundle Alan Hughes into the boot of a Renault Megane and abandon it somewhere in the Wicklow Mountains but that's just a personal suggestion.

In all seriousness, it is a fascinating moment in Irish television history and it is actually quite reminiscent of American TV in the 50s. Back then, NBC and CBS were unquestionably the top dogs while ABC and Dumont were left to fight it out for third place in a crowded market. It was a heated battle between the two stations but by 1956, Dumont had folded and ABC, which has produced shows like Modern Family, Desperate Housewives and Lost, had established itself as one of the Big Three in American TV.

Why did Dumont lose? Because ABC started out as a radio station back when radio was king and had a plethora of radio stars who were familiar to the American public to call in. TV3 and UTV Ireland are in a similar-ish position. UTV have got some storied, well-established shows that are in the can. Shows Irish people already love. The onus is on TV3 to produce something new, something fresh. That's a lot more difficult but if the ideas are there and the faith in homegrown production is there, TV3 don't have to go down the route of Dumont 60 years ago.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Roy Keane is the reincarnation of a World War II General plus World Cup 2014 preview.

"Professional football is something like war. Whoever behaves too properly, is lost."

- Rinus Michels

The parallels between football and war have always been striking. Not in a literal sense, of course, but metaphorically and perhaps spiritually. Among the many cliches in the admittedly limited lexicon of football pundits and commentators are war analogies. A player who dominates the centre of the football pitch is often christened a "midfield general". The captain of a football team is often referred to as the manager's "lieutenant" on the pitch. Even language used to describe warfare is used when describing football; a team attacking a goal is said to be "on the offensive", a team reverting quickly from defence to attack is "counter-attacking" and a team hurrying back to their defensive lines is "on the retreat". Of course, this comparison is not exclusive to football. Other sports too are equated with war. But football, perhaps due to its intimate nature, popularity or arbitrarily drawn lines of attack and defence, not unlike a battlefield, is the one which is most frequently compared to war. 

It's something that's always fascinated me. Many people would argue the analogy is now redundant as it's hardly accurate comparing supposedly pampered and overpaid millionaires who kick a ball around a field with soldiers on a battlefield. But I feel, and I'll use a war-related cliche to prove my point, that in the heat of battle, the emotions exuded by footballers are not too dissimilar to those by soldiers in battle. So I regularly think about this comparison. Like last week. I was watching the movie Patton, an excellent film chronicling the exploits of General George S.Patton, commander of the 3rd and 7th United States Armies during WWII. The film follows Patton from his time battling Rommel's troops in North Africa to invading Sicily to freeing the stricken 101st Airborne Regiment from a German siege in the Belgian city of Bastogne. It's a long movie and as I was watching it, it struck me; fuck me, Patton is Roy Keane. 

Yes, Patton's leadership skills, his stubbornness, his disrespect for authority, his idiosyncrasies, his principled approach to discipline, they all reminded me of Cork's favourite son. The football-war analogy never seemed more alive in my mind. It wouldn't shock me if Keane had watched this movie and taken notes such was the likeness between the two. 

I guess I'll have to explain a bit about Patton before we jump headfirst into this Roy Keane comparison. Patton was a WWII commander unlike any other. Hitler called him "that crazy cowboy general". He demanded total respect and obedience from his troops. I guess in that sense he's more like Alex Ferguson than Roy Keane but there's more. Patton was a ruthless disciplinarian. As he himself said, "You cannot be disciplined in great things and undisciplined in small things". In the movie he forces troops to adhere to a very strict timekeeping policy and took a dim view of any distractions, female or otherwise, that may make the soldiers' minds wander from the battle at hand. Though some of the anecdotes provided in the movie may be apocryphal, Patton's lust for discipline and timekeeping was anything but. His style of leadership was very much hands-on and he liked nothing more than being near the thick of the action and commanding from the front. He pushed his men to the limits and was unsympathetic to those he viewed as weak or "yellow-bellied" as he called it. He had very high expectations of himself and also of his men. And he couldn't understand when a man couldn't reach the same high standards which he set for himself. He liked to be in charge and was not the most respectful of authority.

Sound like anyone you know? Patton, like Keane, had a cult of personality. There were various strands to that personality, many of them conflicting, but it seems that he shares some of the most prominent ones with Keane. Keane also is a ruthless disciplinarian. He is also a sucker for timekeeping. He too has a very direct style of leadership. He too sets high standards for himself and for his men. He too is unsympathetic with men who cannot reach those standards. He too often runs into trouble with those above him. Patton's wife once characterised him as a "tough perfectionist" and I think that is a label that would sit rather easily with Roy Keane. 

I know, I know, this all sounds very good but where's the beef? Where are the examples of these rough and ragged personality traits. Ok, let's delve into that. I'll begin with Patton because the one I'm going to use with Keane is rather predictably the Saipan incident and I'm pretty sure we're all well-versed with that. Patton's "Saipan moment", if you will, came during the Sicily Campaign of 1943 when he slapped and verbally abused two privates recovering from battle fatigue (Today commonly known as PTSD) at an evacuation hospital. Patton did not accept battle fatigue as a real affliction and was horrified these cowardly privates, as he saw it, would be sharing a tent with men wounded in battle. He ordered both of the men back to the front line and also ordered his commanders to punish any men complaining of battle fatigue. 

Word of the slapping incidents soon reached the top  and Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered that Patton apologise to the soldiers, the medical personnel who witnessed the incident and all of the divisions under his command. He did so through gritted teeth and later wrote in his private journal, "It is rather a commentary on justice when an Army commander has to soft-soap a skulker to placate the timidity of those above". The incidents eventually leaked to the media and by the end of 1943, a veritable media shitstorm was brewing in the US. Some wanted Patton to be court-martialed. The furore almost cost Patton his dream of commanding an army in the invasion of Europe but he eventually took command of the 3rd Army in France shortly after the D-Day landings. 

Ok, so there are parallels to be drawn between that incident and Saipan though obviously they're not exactly the same. I'm not going to describe Saipan in detail because you all know how that went down. But both incidents share some stark similarities and reveal interesting nuggets about Patton and Keane's respective personalities. In both cases, Patton and Keane were victims of their own high standards. Patton didn't experience battle fatigue so he didn't understand it and viewed it simply as cowardice. Keane was going to the World Cup because he wanted to "win it" and felt the Irish team should have training facilities and the preparation to match this ambition. He was sick of Ireland's lackadaisical approach to preparation which he saw as "happy-camper mode with no real ambition, settling for second best."

Keane's methods and how he expressed this dissatisfaction can best be described as slipshod but his intentions were clear. Similar to Patton though Patton's actions were more reprihensible. In his view, his demands weren't about him but about the whole Irish team and even the structure of Irish professional football. Both of the incidents split opinions, both incidents sparked a media frenzy and both incidents had a man at the centre who was too stubborn to back down from what he saw as what was right. Patton and Keane's single-headed desire for victory seems, to an outside observer, to border on a type of mental illness. 

 As I mentioned above, Patton did command an army in the European Theater, though he did not command the first army nor was he involved in the planning of Operation Overlord as were his ambitions. Those duties werre bestowed upon the sturdy and reliable General Omar Bradley, Patton's junior in rank and experience. Keane's fate was less kind of course and he played no part in Ireland's World Cup campaign. It's ironic that the captaincy of the Ireland team for that World Cup was given to the sturdy and reliable Steve Staunton. Like General Bradley, he was a man who obeyed authority and toed the party line. They were rewarded for their quiescence and loyalty. Keane and Patton were reprimanded for their disobedience. 

There are differences between Patton and Keane, of course. Patton was known to be flashy, flamboyant, a remarkably gifted orator and a devil for a good ol' fashioned soundbite. Keane is more reposed and less theatrical. But both men shared an irresistible thirst for victory, a Champion-level stubbornness and a belief that what they were doing, regardless of how they did it, was right. This belief, though it may have ultimately led to both their downfalls, was vital in their successes. Without it, Keane wouldn't have been half the captain he was and Patton wouldn't have been half the general. 80 years and 5000 miles of sea may have separated them but I can't help but feel that were Patton and Keane to meet, they would enjoy each other's company. Or fucking hate each other's guts, it's hard to know really. Both were men of contradictions. Patton, for instance, was a devout christian but also possessed a strong belief in reincarnation. He believed that he had fought in the Napoleonic Wars in a past life and had defended Carthage from the attacking forces of Rome in another. Maybe we should ask Keane if he has any memory of those battles as it doesn't seem too farfetched to assume that Roy Keane might just be General George S. Patton reincarnated.

World Cup 2014

One things for certain, the birth rate for 9 months time will be incredibly low.

So, the World Cup is upon us once again. It's a month long orgasm for football fans everywhere while for those not too enamoured with the beautiful game, it's a month of moaning, boredom and changing TV schedules. The World Cup in recent years may have descended into a kind of corporate, capitalistic wankfest, replete with "official World Cup beers" and "official World Cup snack providers" and while it may vastly enrich insufferable arseholes such as Sepp Blatter and co, golly gosh we are still so very excited. 

But this is a poignant World Cup for me as I recently realised that this one is the end of an era. This is my last World Cup as a careless, reckless, responsibility-free youth. In four years time I will be 25 and, the Gods of the global economy willing, will have attained some level of paid employment. This means that this is the last World Cup I can conceivably devote the entire month to. This is the last one where I can ignore time zones and stay up till the wee hours watching Japan vs Ivory Coast on a shitty online stream (That, by the way, is something I literally plan on doing this Sunday). I don't feel like I'm "getting old" or anything as unnecessarily melodramatic like that. In four years time I will be 25 and that is still very, very young. It's just, in this modern era of ours, you do basically spend your 20s as a slave to your employers in the hope that you can someday acquire some of kind of financially secure job. And I know that, when the next World Cup rolls around, I won't be able to kindly ask for the afternoon off to watch Spain vs Holland. Which saddens me. 

But anyway, all we can be certain of is the here and now and the here and now is pretty great because THE WORLD CUP is on. Seeing as I am a football fan I may as well shower you with some of my pearls of football wisdom. Ok, here goes; Brazil to win, Belgium to disappoint, England to perform as you'd expect, Messi to outshine Ronaldo, Neymar to outshine Messi, Japan to surprise, Netherlands to surprise and Sepp Blatter to choke to death on caviar. That last one is more in hope than anything really. Truth be told, like everyone else, I have no idea how the World Cup will really pan out. That just seems the most likely scenario in my head. There are too many variables. Heat. Pressure. Injuries. Heat. I do think Brazil will win it but mainly because I know that the players know if they don't win it, they may just incite a civil war that would make Syria look like a playground scrap. Though if you are a betting man, I'm not so I'm willing to share my tips, Spain at 7/1 to retain it is mind-boggingly good value. You heard it here second (I saw it on Twitter).

Enjoy the World Cup anyway. It should prove a useful distraction from the painful tedium of our meaningless lives. And if you are one of those people who actually doesn't like the World Cup or football, here's a few pointers; shut up, pass the remote and shut up! 

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Why do we suffer rich shitheads like Donald Trump so gladly in Ireland?

Donald Trump: A man half toupee, half sack of shit
Donald Trump walks into a tax haven. He's met by a harpist, a fiddler, a singer and a minister for finance. This sounds like the beginning to a horribly convoluted joke but this is what actually happened on Monday. Donald Trump, yes that Donald Trump, a man the rest of the world decided was about as reputable as organised religion sometime in the early 90s, was welcomed into Ireland with the sort of reception worthy of a Teutonic Knight returning to medieval Marienburg. He stepped off the plane and onto a red carpet, zealously shook hands with the aforementioned minister for finance Michael Noonan and a starstruck Mayor of Clare and reviewed the coterie of musicians playing for his amusement and pulled a face which suggested he deemed this ostentatious display appropriate for a man of his standing.

He's a renowned racist, was the leader of that ludicrous "birther" movement a couple of years back which tried to prove that Barack Obama wasn't actually born in the US, an ardent climate change skeptic and a passionate toupee enthusiast. So why were we giving this turnip such a grand welcoming? Because he bought a golf course in Doonbeg in Clare. And he promises to plough loads of money into it. And create "jobs". Which is a word people like Trump employ in lieu of the word "profit" because it's more PR friendly. 

And while Trump might trumpet the possible boons his investment will bring to Doonbeg and the surrounding area, it's worth bearing in mind the adverse effect a similar venture of his in Scotland had. When he purchased the Menie Estate near Aberdeen in 2006 he promised to turn it into the "the world's greatest golf course" though he faced a hostile backlash from environmentalists and locals in nearby Balmedie. 

He carried on with the plans anyway and in 2009, the Trump Organisation requested that Aberdeenshire Council approve his compulsory purchase orders on a number of local homes. The locals understandably protested vigourously and Trump eventually dropped the request and in 2011 brazenly declared his company had never even filed it. In 2012 he protested against the opening of an offshore windfarm to be built in the vicinity of the golf course because they were "ugly". He then, without a hint of irony, claimed that he was against the windfarm not for the good of his investment but "preserve Scotland's beautiful coastline and natural heritage". He later released advertisements equating the construction of the windfarms with terrorism.

Though he only purchased the Doonbeg golf course in February he is already showing his colours. Yesterday, the Irish Examiner published an article showing that the Trump Organisation had advertised a Jobbridge position and was seeking an intern for the resort's store department. Quelle suprise. That lucky intern will earn €10 on top of his/her dole.

But that's ok. Because he's bringing JOBS. These corporate behemoths could shit on our faces and lynch our children though as long as they blurt out, "hnnnnngh JOBS", we'd be satisfied.This sycophancy seems endemic and shows our supposedly democratic society up for what it really is; a sham. They run things. We cannot upset them. The multinational companies and rich guys like Trump are what they call "job creators". We are not allowed to upset them. They pay whatever taxes they like. They can avoid whatever taxes they like. They can contravene as many laws as they want. They can crush as many local business as they like. The end justifies the means and if the end is JOBS then we're all happy, right?

But does it have to be this way? Trump is just one minor example of this ingrained submissiveness. Our quiescence towards multinational companies has become almost entrenched in our national psyche now. It usually manifests itself in questions regarding tax. Ireland has a corporate tax rate of 12.5% that is so low it may as well be wearing apple bottom jeans and boots with the fur (sorry) but many companies don't even pay that. 

A study published earlier this year by Professor Jim Stewart of Trinity College's economics department claimed that US companies based in Ireland paid an effective tax rate of 2.2% in 2011. His work was promoted for a day, disparaged by politicians and financial institutions and quickly forgotten. Which is pretty standard for these kind of stories. The fear is if we prod the companies too much to do something as radical as paying taxes they might up-sticks and leave the country with all those jobs. Then there's the case of Apple which uses Ireland in a complex tax avoidance system which allows it to avoid paying tax all over the world. This tasty little deal helped them pay just $36m tax on $7.11bn profit over four years between 2004 and 2008.

It's understandable that people's main concern is jobs especially in an economy as fragile as today's. But multinational companies' continued violation of rules, regulations and laws seems to put paid to any suggestion that we live in a fair and equitable society. In 2012 a study by the Tax Justice System estimated that the global cost of tax avoidance was $21 trillion. Yes, that trillion is not an error.  We are an accessory to this amoral practice which deprives societies of taxes that could otherwise be used for healthcare, education and social welfare. I understand that it's very difficult to look at the bigger picture in such a way and these are only numbers on pieces of paper so it's quite difficult to relate to or even envisage them but in this age of austerity when vital social services have been slashed by governments across Europe and America it is important to understand what this lost revenue could provide.

Donald Trump, to the best of my knowledge, does not use Ireland as a haven for tax avoidance. Though that is not the point I am making. He is nevertheless a very questionable individual with a track record for bullying local communities and deceit. The reception he received on Monday and the fanfare surrounding his visit are symptomatic of a larger problem; the sycophancy and docile attitude towards any corporation or wealthy individual now matter their compliance with laws or regulation as long as they can offer some vague promises of "jobs" and "investment". If we can make multinational companies and rich capitalists pay their fair share of taxes, respect local communities and act in a responsible manner then we should. If we can't without threats of severe repercussions, then we know we don't really run things. 

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Are football teams just boybands for men?

I suppose very few of you have seen This Is Us, the fly-on-the-wall documentary chronicling One Direction's rise to global superstardom. Well I have, embarrassingly enough (In my defence, it was at my cousin's behest and it was her birthday). It's everything you'd expect it to be; a chirpy, upbeat, well-polished piece of masterful propaganda. But there's this bit at the start that intrigued me. It seemed pretty innocuous but it sparked something in my noggin. It's this 3 minute clip of One Direction fans from all over the world talking about what the band means to them and how they couldn't live without them. Y'know, standard enough for a movie like this. But the way the fans discussed their everlasting love for and unwavering loyalty to One Direction, I couldn't help but be reminded of the devotion football fans pledge to their chosen club. 

Let me explain, properly. I am a football fan. Quite a fervent one too. I've followed the game for the last two decades, read about it every day and support one of the game's most famous clubs, Manchester United. So I think I'm a good authority to discuss this. It's something you never really question; why you support the team you do and what it means to you. It's just de rigeur. We're sort of brainwashed aren't we? I mean, when you really step away from it and view it with a cold, investigative eye. This seems obvious to people who don't like football. Explaining to them why football fans are willing to spend thousands of pounds every year to follow the football team they've decided to like is an exercise in futility. 

But let's get back to the parallels between boybands and football teams. Boybands are carefully marketed, highly airbrushed, uber-commercialised groups of men. As are football teams. Their fans pledge their undying devotion to them. Just like football fans. They produce a product of no real productive value. Again, just like football teams. They are handsomely paid but their shelf life is limited to a few years at the top and then sporadic comebacks and possible appearances on reality TV shows. Footballers' shelf life is probably a tad longer though there is no comeback for them. Though they can forge paths in other football-related careers such as punditry and coaching. And the reality TV show option is open to them. Just ask Lee Sharpe. They are whored out to companies and corporations by their managers and agents for television commercials, merchandise agreements, sponsorships and product placement. Just like footballers. 

The way boybands interact with their fans is also remarkably similar to how footballers do. They know, or at least they're instructed to know, who butters their bread. The fans must be celebrated, glorified and indeed deified. They must be informed of how special they are in regular intervals. They must know how eternally grateful the boyband member is for the fan splurging €50 on a hoodie with their face on it just like the footballer must tell his adoring fans how much it means to him that they were willing to spend €60 on his club's latest home kit.

As much as we'd like to kid ourselves football is a product which is sold to us the "fans" in much the same way music produced by boybands is a product sold to "fans". It's a word football clubs will always be vehemently reluctant to use for fear of alienating their base but we are, essentially, "consumers". Though evidence of this truism often slips out. Usually from the tongue of Richard Scudamore, the Premier League's Chief Executive. He's the man who last month bemoaned Manchester United's recent decline as it was costing the league "interest and audience in some places". He's also the man who, according to the Secret Footballer, told referees "And, remember, you’re not in a sport, you are part of the entertainment business. We don’t want our top players being sent off every week because it’s bad for the brand." It might be hearsay but, if true, it's about as blatant as it gets.

There are some rather salient differences however. Football clubs, or at least the top Premier League clubs, may be giant corporate behemoths today but they all evolved from community groups and workers' teams. Manchester United were originally called Newton Heath L.Y.R (The L.Y.R standing for Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway) and the team was comprised of railway workers. Arsenal were originally called Woolwich Arsenal and were formed by workers at an armaments factory in London. And so on. Boybands are completely artificial and manufactured by record companies and pop moguls like Simon Cowell and Simon Fuller. Whatever it is about Simons. Another difference, though the veracity of this one may depend on which side of the fence you sit, is that footballers have a genuine, unique talent that is quantifiable and undeniable. Perhaps One Direction's fans might claim that Niall Horan is a very proficient guitarist and Justin Bieber's that he is a fantastic singer but they're probably not the standouts in their respective fields. They're where they are because of careful marketing and boyish good looks. 

There are differences however which are more subtle. Football is taken seriously. Boybands are not. If truth be told, and whisper this, football is equally as frivolous as boybands are. There is absolutely no point to it other than to provide millions of people with entertainment and a distraction from the horrible, wallowing shithole of a life they are leading. Same as boybands. Teenage girls are berated and derided for their almost theistic devotion to their idols but football fans' unwavering support for their team is seen as some sort of solemn, sacred practice. Also, football is spoken about by serious men in serious suits in serious studios. Sport gets a healthy chunk of all news bulletins (Except for RTE Radio 1 cos they're too posh) dedicated to it. Sure, popstars often make an appearance on the evening news but sport and football are omnipresent fixtures. 

This point was sort of addressed by fashion writer Hadley Freeman in the Guardian a couple of months back. She wasn't comparing boybands to football but instead the fashion industry. She argued that fashion is dismissed as inconsequential swill as it is predominantly aimed at women and football is seen as an, as she puts it, "essential pastime", as it is overwhelmingly enjoyed by men. It's an interesting theory and one she doesn't really elaborate on further than that. It might be easy to poke holes in but it's worth ruminating on.

I admit I sound a bit conceited and pretentious in my above analysis. Sure, I'm just as bad as the fans I've been dissecting. I'm as beholden to the big, bad corporate giants as they are. And I am, unfortunately. But so are many like-minded people. We know what I've wrote to be true; that the Premier League is a brand, football is a business, players are employees. We know all this and yet we persist with this illusion that football is some noble, natural phenomenon. And you know why? Because we fucking love it. There's no two ways about it. If football wasn't so damn enjoyable we'd all have given up by now. We'd all have stuck our two fingers to Murdoch and the Glazers and Abramovich and the Sheikhs and told them to do one. The way the product is made, polished and presented may be bordering on depraved but, fuck man, what a great product.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

You haven't met dickheads until you've met a Stag Party.

Oh, well they're far too good looking. Though they do seem dickish enough.

You hear them before you see them. Be they shouting, chanting, clapping or belching they make their presence known. Loudly. The locals wince when they pass. The continent is not well-versed in their virile ways. They're crude, obnoxious and at times slightly racist. They are the stag parties on tour in Krakow. 

On Friday morning they are first spotted. They seem a bit lost, a tad confused by their new surroundings.They're a long way from the cobbled streets of Manchester or the high-rise flats of Peckham. You would almost mistake them for ordinary tourists; if it weren't for the ghastly, novelty stag-themed t-shirts they seem to insist on wearing. Then, you can see their pupils dilate and their knees buckle as they spot the first watering hole. "8 zloty fur a pint? That's 1 pound fookin' 50 that. We'll fookin' have that", they exclaim as they inspect the menu. And they finally look like they're home.

They are the bane of my fucking Erasmus life. I live in Krakow. Krakow is a beautiful, cultured city for 4 days of the week. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday it is overridden by herds of macho-dickheads on Stag Parties, mainly from Britain. No, scratch that, entirely from Britain. Krakow has become very popular among revelers on stag nights due to low cost Ryanair flights, cheap alcohol and an abundance of strip clubs. And as I watch them march down alleys and streets, shouting and screaming, I can't help but feel the locals crave for the days of Nazism and Communism. At least back then they didn't have to suffer these drunk, buff dickheads.

I bear no ill-will towards social drinking or English people or partying. It just seems a prerequisite that to attend a stag do you must be A) A complete obnoxious knobhead B) Have an extensive knowledge of imperialistic British chants (Rule Britannia simply will not do, something more vitriolic is required) C) Have a complete disregard for any sense of human decency. Sounds harsh but I have concrete (anecdotal) evidence to back it up.

Irrefutable Evidence 1: An Irish bar. Ireland vs England in the Six Nations. The first few notes of the Irish national anthem bellow out. Irish people in the bar sing along tentatively. Two English men. One (The groom) dressed in a hilarious horse costume. The other, short fat and bald with a complexion and face that only someone of Anglo-Saxon/Hiberno heritage possesses. They both start chanting "UP THE UVF, UP THE UVF" and "TAIGS OUT, TAIGS OUT". The thoroughly decent English chap (Who's not on a stag) next to me with whom I am watching the match shakes his head ruefully and expresses his disdain for the ignorance of his fellow countrymen and apologises on their behalf. No need sir. It's the Stag dickheads that are to blame.

Irrefutable Evidence 2: Another Irish bar. Manchester United vs Liverpool in the Premier League. The bar is silent except for a large group of English men enjoying a stag do and wearing hilarious novelty t-shirts who are chanting, shouting and exclaiming "Aw, she's well fit" and "Ooh, she'd get it" every time the (admittedly attractive) barmaid passes by. Their insolence and latent misogyny is not what annoys me most however. For the whole game one member of their group punctuates the chanting with very, very loud belches. Literally every 2 minutes a burp is audible from that side of the room. After the first 3 burps I crane my neck towards him and leer disdainfully in his direction. He is laughing though. And after every burp he laughs again. He laughs as if he's just told the funniest joke in the world. The game doesn't cheer me up either.

I've mentioned the novelty t-shirts which almost every Stag Party group insist on wearing and, in a trivial way, they are the most fucking infuriating thing about them. Christ, when you've seen one you've really seen them all. "Dave's Stag Do - Insert nickname related to sexual innuendo here" is standard. It's basically The Inbetweeners just 10 years older and much fatter. In many, though not all, Stag Parties the groom is obliged to wear a novelty outfit as I have mentioned in Irrefutable Evidence 1. That sap chose to dress as a horse though he was an exception. Most commonly it is a dress which the groom dons and, as you'd expect, the lads find it fookin' hilarious. 

Ah, I realise I sound like a right dour eejit. You're probably thinking, "Well, I bet he's great craic at parties." But you must understand. Once you've spent 8 weekends surrounded by these noisy, nauseating pillocks you would understand. Because Krakow, especially the centre, is such a peaceful, cultured place during the week that it's like watching the cast of Geordie Shore stomp around Ancient Rome. But at least in that scenario there's a chance they might be enslaved and killed by lions. Such a fate has not befallen any Stag Party in Krakow yet unfortunately. We can but dream. 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Putin and Obama: When they're both bastards you don't have to pick a side.

Ain't no party like a diplomatic party, yo.
Let's clarify a couple of things before we begin. Vladimir Putin is a bastard. He's a gay-bashing, power-hungry, oligarch-funded bastard. Likewise, Barack Obama is a bastard. He's a drone-happy, privacy-invading, Wall Street-funded bastard. We're clear? Good. Because it seems to me certain people have difficulty wrapping their heads around these mutually compatible points. We seem to have this intrinsic need to always pick a side to back, to always label one guy as the "goodie" and the other as the "baddie". When it comes to politics, and particularly foreign politics, we see issues in black and white and never stop to realise the obvious greyness of it all. Because that would probably be too boring for the media. This has been all to evident with regards to the recent crisis in Ukraine. 

The expression "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" springs to mind. There are quite a substantial number of left-leaning people in Europe and here in Ireland who have been bitterly disappointed by Barack Obama's two terms of presidency. Indeed, 2013 is probably Obama's annus horribilis. We've had the revelations of NSA spying, the drone strikes continuing in the Middle-East, the haphazard pursuit of Edward Snowden and the fact that Guantanamo still remains open. He's a giant corporate turd, everyone is very surprised, and we're desperately seeking a new saviour.

Because of this, many of these normally sane, rational people have leapt to Putin's defence after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. I've seen them on threads, on Twitter, on comment boards. They say he's afraid of NATO aggression. They say he's protecting Ethnic Russians from almost certain persecution. They say the toppling of Yanukovich was a neo-nazi coup d'état. They say that 93% of Crimeans voted for joining Russia so their wishes have to be respected. 

Now there is some credence to some of these remarks. NATO are being aggressive and have been for years. They've broken a 1990 promise made to Russia that NATO would not expand eastwards but now, 24 years later, countries like Poland, Czech Republic, Romania and Hungary are all NATO members while Ukraine have applied for membership

There were certain far-right elements involved in the toppling of Yanukovich. The party Svoboda, which has a large presence in the new interim Government (Including providing the current vice Prime Minister Oleksandr Sych) has often been accused of being anti-semitic and fascist. The Right-Sector, which is definitely anti-semitic, played a big role in the clashes with the Birkut and Ukrainian police. But of course, the role of these elements and their significance have been exaggerated by both Putin and the Russian media. 

Then there's that whole Crimea thing. Crimeans probably do want to join Russia. The majority of them are ethnically Russian, they speak the language and the revolution in the West of the country received virtually no support from the region. But that bogus referendum held last week should not be taken seriously. Regardless of whether it violated the Ukrainian constitution, it was too hasty and held in the midst of such tension that its result cannot be accepted. It should have been arranged a few months from now so a proper debate could have formed. 

So Putin and the Russians are not benevolent actors on a crusade to free their fellow countrymen from oppression and despotism. But the hypocritical condemnations from the West are just as appalling. Russia are attempting to exert their dominance over Ukraine. So are they. Just today an IMF bailout package worth between $14bn-$18bn was agreed for Ukraine. We Irish know all to well what that will entail for ordinary Ukrainians, namely austerity, hardship and "liberalisation" of Ukraine's economy (i.e. opening it up for Western Companies to make some serious money). 

Then there's the amazingly barefaced lectures on international law from Western leaders, particularly Obama. The President has "expressed his deep concern over Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is a breach of international law". I mean, it sounds like a bad joke, right? Serial international law transgressor pontificates on the importance of international law. It's like Charles Manson lecturing on the sanctity of life. This is some 1984 shit, man.

The media too are to blame. They castigate Russia Today and other Russian media sources as propaganda tools for Putin and the Kremlin. And they're not wrong. But they too are propaganda tools for The White House. They toe the party line. Very few have pointed out the hypocrisy of Obama's remarks on international law. While the far-right elements of Ukraine's revolution were exaggerated by Russian media, they were whitewashed by Western media. They mightn't define the revolution but they're still worth discussing.

And yet people still feel the urge to choose a horse to back. Just this week in The Irish Times there was this article entitled "If we have to choose a side over Crimea, let it be Russia". This naive and muddled article is symptomatic of what I am talking about, of an affliction affecting many left-leaning people online. Why exactly do we need to pick a side? The stand-off between the US and Russia over Ukraine and Crimea is two power-systems engaging in a game of diplomatic one-upmanship. 

It's not about the importance of Ukraine's democracy or ethnic Russians' right to autonomy. The US has a prolific history of suppressing democracy worldwide when it doesn't work for them (Italy in the 40s, South Vietnam in the 50s, Chile in the 70s and Venezuela in the 00s just to name a few examples). Likewise, Putin does not care a jot for the well-being of Russians in Crimea. It's hard to imagine him waking up in a cold sweat in The Grand Kremlin Palace agonising over the fate of his ethnic brothers. This conflict is being waged for the financiers, the moneymen, the oligarchs and the politicians. Like almost all international conflicts. Neither of them are on our side. They are people in power working for powerful people. 

We're aware of this, or, at least we should be aware of it. And yet we still have to choose a side, we still have to decide who's the least worst, the side responsible for the least grievous crimes. This good-bad narrative is so ingrained in us that we find it hard to shake it off. I don't like to blindly speculate as to why this is the case but, fuck it, this is only a blog so I'm going to. It probably has something to do with TV and movies. There's always a goodie and always a baddie. For every Prince Charming there's always a Wicked Witch; for every Mufasa there's always a Scar; for every Tim Allen in The Santa Clause there's always Tim Allen's annoying ex-wife. And those are movies for kids. This dogma is inculcated into us at an early age. 

This attitude is damaging as it prohibits us from reviewing any alternatives. It's a very broad problem and one which is obviously not exclusive to this particular international crisis. We need to reevaluate how we view people in power. We still, subconsciously if not openly, seem to believe that they work for "us". Propaganda and conditioning from a young age are the causes. But now, in the age of the internet and free information, we need to realise that choosing between politicians is like choosing between chlamydia and syphilis. 

Thursday, 20 March 2014

I'm finding it difficult to care about anything. Does that make me a bad person?

A possible advocate for apathy

"Is it wicked not to care/when they say that you're mistaken/Thinking hopes and lots of dreams that aren't there?" so singeth Glaswegian indie-pop stalwarts Belle & Sebastian. They were onto something with that 1998 composition. Apathy is generally regarded to be one of the great crises of modern youth. Everything's shit and we don't care. The economy's in tatters and we don't care. Politicians are lying parasites and we don't care. Louis Walsh still has a job on TV and we don't care. 

But I would like to extol the the virtues of apathy. Not caring about things may be a very narrow-minded and, indeed, conceited way to approach life but golly it makes things a lot easier. I'm not even talking about political apathy, which is the most popular form of apathy young people are accused of engaging in, I'm discussing more quotidian, everyday apathy. Let me share my own experiences with apathy and you can judge for yourself.

What actually compelled me to write this was yesterday's relative furore surrounding the no-make-up selfie for cancer which was all over Facebook and Twitter. I must admit I found the whole thing rather irksome. 

At first, you had the girls' posting selfies of themselves without make-up to raise awareness for breast cancer charities. An admirable cause though I must admit I wasn't wholly enamoured with the whole concept. "Raising awareness" is a pretty hollow platitude and I just felt it was yet another example of the pseudo-activism, a.k.a feeling-like-you're-doing-something-worthwhile-when-actually-you're-not-doing-much-really, that seems to pervade social media a la Kony 2012. But I resisted the slight urge I had to write a disparaging status/post because I really didn't care. No one was being harmed by this. It may even do some good. I stepped back from the keyboard and decided it was all very harmless.

Then, the whole thing turned into one big slugging match between the selfie posters and the people who sort of agreed with the point I had made above. The problem was that these people turned into sanctimonious pricks as they insisted on posting pictures of them donating money to charity from their phones onto Facebook/Twitter, ostensibly to "raise awareness" in a more efficient way, but really just to show-up the selfish bastards who would only post selfies for cancer.

I thought to myself "Why do you feel the need to show off your donation to the world? Why can you not do it in private? You can still urge others to donate and raise awareness without posting a "LOOK AT ME. I'M A GREAT PERSON" picture. But I did not wish to get involved. It was irrelevant*. 

It happens every week on Facebook/Twitter. I see something I find idiotic or offensive, such as the neknomination craze and the stupid, over-the-top reaction to it, and I take a step back, realise the irrelevancy of it all and ignore it. Another example came just last week. That Fáilte Ireland #IrelandInspires video. It was essentially a piece of masterful propaganda that would have made Josef Goebbels wince and exclaim "Fuck me lads, you've outdone yourselves". It essentially celebrated the bailout and us being a tax haven. And yet it was plastered across my newsfeed for days on end. Yet I bit my lip and didn't say a word. 

It makes life so much easier. Before I would have felt obliged to voice my opinion and/or condemnation like a judgemental prick but now, with the power of apathy, I don't feel the need to. 

This can manifest itself in harmful ways however. Just because one is apathetic does not mean one should lack compassion or love or a sense of justice or any other supposed human emotions. At least it shouldn't in theory. But it actually can. Take last Saturday. I'm in McDonalds here in Krakow and deciding whether to order the new New York Beef Classic Burger or stick to the tried and trusted McRoyal (European version of a quarter pounder. I know, I thought of Jules and Vincent too). 

As I peered at the McDonald's logo hanging above the window-sill I thought of how evil a corporation McDonald's is. I thought of the recent allegations of tax avoidance, I thought of their despicable treatment of their employees worldwide, their egregious record with regards to animal rights and the fact they're basically one of the faces of neo-liberal, globalised, Americanised capitalism. 

But then I thought, "Fuck it. I'm really hungry." And I bought the New York Big Beef Classic. Bad person? Possibly. Satisfied customer. Certainly.

I've noticed this many times before. The apathy which I have ingrained in myself allows me to divorce myself from moral issues which should plague me. It's the same in Penney's. I know about their woeful record with regards to cheap labour in foreign, mostly Asian, countries. I know that that building collapse in Bangladesh which killed 1129 people last year makes clothes for Penney's (Though they did provide a minuscule amount of compensation, unlike some other companies who produced products there). And yet if I need a cheap pair of runners or a bargain t-shirt I will nip into Penney's to buy it. When you spell it out like that it sounds a bit evil, doesn't it? 

I'm not saying I don't find McDonald's or Penney's labour and tax practices repugnant, of course I do, but I can justify using their products in my head with flawed reasoning like "Uh, I'm broke" or "Uh I'm hungry" or "Uh, what difference does one fucking Big Mac make to their global machine anyway?". Of course, this is not a malaise which is exclusive to myself. Everyone's guilty of it. Something to do with Western society, neo-liberalism or something something. 

Though I must admit I still enjoy the relaxation apathy imbues in me. As a result of it, feel I have I become more aware of my own mortality and less concerned with it. One of my favourite TV programmes at the minute is HBO's fantastic, outstanding True Detective. It follows two detectives in Louisiana on a 17 year hunt for a sadistic serial killer.Matthew McConaughey plays Detective Rust Cohle who, while not being totally apathetic, is definitely a bit nihilistic and perhaps a smidgen solipsistic. He's like an existentialist philosopher who's also a hard-drinking homicide detective. Like a mixture of Jimmy McNulty and Sartre. He comes out with some intriguing soliloquies and speeches on subjects as disparate as human life, the universe, love and religion which really help validate my now inherent apathy. 

Take this one for instance - 

"I think human consciousness, is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware, nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself, we are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self; an accretion of sensory, experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody is nobody. Maybe the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal"

Pretty deep, huh? But it sums up the absurdity of human life and emotions quite well in my eyes. It might not be pretty or altruistic or even very nice but apathy is one surefire way to comfort and tranquility. It asks nothing of you but in return you get so much. I urge you to give it a go. Anything that irks you, or perturbs you or downright disgusts you that you see on the internet or anywhere else for that matter, ignore it. It makes it all so much easier. 

*I realise posting my opinions now is, in a sense, getting involved though I feel it is necessary to do so to illustrate where I'm coming from with regards to apathy.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Having a slow laptop in 2014 is an affront to my human rights

My laptop in happier times

I have a slow laptop. This laptop was purchased in the grand summer of 2011. I know, I know, it was many moons ago. The iphone 5 was just a glimmer in the iphone 4's eye, nobody knew what a selfie was and Facebook hadn't even introduced the cover photo yet. Simpler times, yes. It was a well-behaved laptop at first. It zipped from programme to programme with the finesse of a figure skater and its new Windows 7 features were a sight to behold for someone like me who was more accustomed to the banality of Windows XP.

Alas, it seems our honeymoon period is over. It has been for some time, I think I've just been afraid to admit it. Now it seems more like a geriatric chain-smoker; choking its way interminably through the last few breaths of life. It's not just slow, it's glacial slow. 

Turning on my laptop is like trying to start one of those old-style planes you see with the propeller at the front. It's a whole ordeal. It takes no less than 5 minutes. As soon as I press the On button, the fan makes this terrible wheezing noise as if to say, "Kill me you poor bastard and put me and you out of our misery." I actually feel guilty using it as I know whatever nuts, bolts and chips that comprise its insides must feel like sweatshop workers at this stage. 

Then, when I eventually get to the homescreen and key in my details, it takes another few minutes to load the desktop. It vomits out the various features. First comes the taskbar. Then the desktop image decides to amble along. Then the various programmes begin to dot the screen very languidly, in keeping with custom of course. I then have to wait a couple more minutes as I know if I leap right into Google Chrome or my documents folder, my laptop will shit itself into a comatose state. 

And then when I actually get the chance to use it it performs about as well as Wayne Rooney in an England jersey. The programmes begin to not respond at will. If I have the audacity to click a feature too quickly or the cheek to try and multi-task by opening more than one tab, whaddya know, Google Chrome is not responding. And how do you know things are really fucked? The box informing you that the programme is not responding begins not responding. It's a nightmare. There are certain websites that just really get my laptop's goat as well. My laptop dislikes Youtube especially. It dislikes it so much that it panics and freezes as soon as I key the letter Y into the search bar. It knows. It has a similar distaste for Twitter. 

It hinders me. As a human. As a student. I want to be industrious and dilligent. I want to work on my projects and my college work, honest I do. But when I begin working on such work and the pages take their time to load or the programmes begin to not respond, I naturally cast my eye onto other websites. While that article I need for my essay is taking its time loading I might just pop over to Facebook on another tab for a gander and then, whack, I've wasted half an hour trying to work out if that girl with strict privacy settings who liked my profile picture is in a relationship or not. 

Allied to its inherent slowness, my laptop has another major problem. The shift key is busted. Broken. Caput. It does not work. This means I have to use the on-screen keyboard whenever I need to type a question mark or a dollar symbol or an at symbol or an exclamation mark. This is torrid. The on-screen keyboard is constantly on stand-by. The problem with it is that it is a sadistic bastard and likes nothing more than not responding. I can see it chortle as my screen turns pale and my faces turns red. It's a vicious circle.

They say that our generation has the greatest capacity for learning as we have the internet, an infinite encyclopedia of knowledge, while past generations only had libraries and books. That is true but they didn't have 180 petabytes of porn at their finger tips or notebooks that jammed when they began writing their essay. 

My human rights are in violation, I believe. No really. According to the UN, usually a good authority on the whole human rights malark, broadband access is a basic human right up there with "the right to healthcare, shelter and food". My broadband connection is ok but the medium through which I am to receive this broadband, i.e. my laptop, is a crock of shit. It's like receiving top class medical attention in a garden shed. 

The solution? I'm not sure. I'm broke. Student-broke, not proper broke. I cannot afford a new laptop though. Is there an answer? Will I forever be deprived of quality computing? How long more will I have to endure clunky interface and unresponsive programmes? I am Mandela and this laptop is my Robben Island. It's a long walk to freedom from slow computers.