Sunday, April 25, 2010

Midnight in Dublin

“Loneliness is a desire for what is not there with you. You can be lonely for an infinite number of things, people, feelings – whatever creates a void in your life with its absence. Sometimes your loneliness has nothing to attach itself to. You’re just lonely, flat out ... Loneliness is energy. Powerful as hell. People make themselves sick on loneliness. They drink themselves into the floorboards. They do all kind of damaging things to themselves to combat their loneliness ... Life is capable of driving you out of your mind.” (Henry Rollins)

[Note: The deliberately shaky photo above was taken at the St Stephen's Green Luas stop at midnight, facing towards Grafton Street. And I must point out that I have no idea what the song I've included below is actually about, but I like the melody, and I feel that the combination of image/text/song work together nicely...]

Friday, April 23, 2010

An Amusement (XXII)

Like, I would imagine, a lot of people, I'm familiar with the animated character Betty Boop without actually seeing any of the cartoons in which she appeared. They're very much of their time (some shockingly so; 1935's 'Making Stars' is a reminder of early Hollywood's racist stereotyping), but what surprised me is just how strange and imaginative they are (the very surreal 'Bimbo's Initiation' is like a Disney version of Jan Svankmajer's 'The Flat' (the first half of which I've also included)). I'm off to watch some more, but I'll leave you these three to enjoy (they're each about seven minutes' long.) 'Ha! Ha! Ha!' dates from 1934, 'Betty Boop MD' from 1932, and 'Bimbo's Initiation' (Bimbo's a male character, by the way) from 1931.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Some Random Pictures...

The sunset, as viewed through the trees across from my house; weed growing in a stream by the sea at Morriscastle; and the hound expressing himself (he was fed up because I'd spent the whole day tiling our bathroom rather than bringing him for a walk). While I was cutting tiles outside a guy pulled up and offered to tarmac our (admittedly weed-strewn and potholed) driveway for E2,500 (reduced from E4,500!). Sadly, I don't have a spare E2,500 lying about. (Times must be hard, not to say desperate, if building contractors are going door-to-door to drum up business!) And because I'm too tired and lazy to write anything interesting, here's some fine music (it's Part 1 & 2 of the same performance, and if you want more, there's lots of footage from the same concert on YouTube):

Friday, April 16, 2010

I Haven't Felt This Way Since "Funky Town"! (XI)

Here are several versions of what might be one of the best songs ever written, Cole Porter's haunting (and slightly unsettling) 'Night and Day', ranging from the inspired to the downright odd. I had no idea Ringo Starr recorded it, nor do I know anything about the Japanese girl-group version except that it has a very weird video. If it weren't for a slightly messy ending, the version by Everything But The Girl would definitely get my vote, as its pared-down approach and Tracey Thorn's wonderful voice really allows the song's melody to shine. And I love the ukelele version!

Sister Q - Night and Day by ChibiLune

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wexford Sights (X)

Johnstown Castle, near Wexford Town, is noted for (among other things) the several peacocks that wander its ground, calling hoarsely in their melancholic way and largely ignoring the slack-jawed yokels like me gawping at them. The above photos completely fail to capture the astonishing, iridescent ultramarine of their throats, a glorious colour that I could stare at all day. The bottom photo is of the comparatively duller female (which still has that extraordinary green in its neck). An amusing anecdote relating to these noble birds: a few years back, when Wexford's opera house was being renovated, the opera festival was held in Johnstown Castle; some of the performances were enlivened when the peacocks decided to join in, adding their own plaintive squawks to the proceedings and no doubt annoying the more serious opera lovers! Considering the ego and vanity of the average opera singer, it was a match made in (comedy) heaven. And, unrelated to all that but suggested by the name, here's an interesting song:

Friday, April 9, 2010

Happy Birthday, Charles...

Whatever you think of his poetry (not reading French, I must make do with translations) or his views on life in general, the greatness of Charles Baudelaire (born 189 years ago today) cannot be denied. And I find the above photo is absolutely mesmerising; a face that has peered into the abyss and reported back what it saw.

Tristesses de la Lune [Sorrows of the Moon]

The moon tonight dreams vacantly, as if
She were a beauty cushioned at her rest
Who strokes with wandering hand her lifting
Nipples, and the contours of her breast;

Lying as if for love, glazed by the soft
Luxurious avalanche, dying in swoons,
She turns her eyes to visions - clouds aloft
Billowing hugely, blossoming in blue.

When sometimes from her stupefying calm
Onto this earth she drops a furtive tear
Pale as an opal, iridescent, rare,

The poet, sleepless watchmen, is the one
To take it up within his hollowed palm
And in his heart to hide it from the sun.

[From Les Fleurs Du Mal (first published in 1857), translated by James McGowan and published by Spoon River Poetry Press in 1985. McGowan's edition is well worth seeking out; his translations are quite free in regard to the originals, I believe, but capture wonderfully what I understand to be Baudelaire's spirit.]

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Rant

[The following is a rant brought on by some of the more disgraceful comments of the Vatican recently (referring to the attacks on the Pope as 'petty gossip', equating such (entirely justified) attacks as 'anti-semitism', and so on; see here). There's probably nothing here that hasn't been said better elsewhere, but these are my opinions, and I stand over them.]

There was once a well written and entertaining TV series called Absolute Power about a PR firm, starring Stephen Fry. In one episode, the firm is employed by a group who turn out to be fanatical neo-Nazis, and before sanity prevails one of the PR men is carried away by the possibilities of trying to ‘spin’ the Nazis. “It’s the ultimate PR challenge!” he exclaims (or something along those lines). (Later he says: "What the hell was I thinking?") This is, of course, presented as satire; what is interesting is that something very similar is happening right now. The Catholic Church is currently involved in a deliberate and utterly cynical attempt to ‘spin’ decades of covering up clerical sex abuse. The only alternative is mass resignations (do you believe that there is a single person over the age of forty in the church who’s not implicated in the scandal in some way?) and criminal investigations, which would profoundly weaken the church’s political power and influence. It is not, of course, that the ruthless, intelligent men who head the church actually believe the horse-crap they’re peddling; it is more to provide the deluded faithful with ways to justify to themselves the status quo as exists in the Catholic Church, and to give them fuel for argument when inevitably they are presented with the sheer horror of what the church, the supposed guardian of morality, has actually done. It is also on the principle that if you tell a lie often enough, people will begin to believe it. There are several basic lies the church is telling:

The priests who covered up abuse at the time were only following orders (usually used by the priest themselves; the most notable exponent of this line is Cardinal Sean Brady). (Also known as The Nuremberg Defence).

[This didn’t work in Nuremberg, and it doesn’t work now; especially as child abuse, and its cover-up, is an absolute wrong that cannot be justified under any circumstances. Human beings have the moral obligation to refuse to carry out acts they know to be abhorrent and against humanity, especially if they are already illegal under civil law.]

The priests at the time who covered up abuse didn’t understand the gravity of what they were dealing with. (The “It Was A Different Time” Defence).

[Nonsense. Most priests are well-educated, intelligent men; the aforementioned Sean Brady, for example, was possessed a doctorate in canon law. And there has never been a time, outside of the most depraved and barbarous societies, when it was considered appropriate behaviour to rape a small child, or to beat them to a pulp!]

Abuse occurred in other sections of the community, so why is the church being singled out by the media? (The “We’re Victims Too” Defence, also known as the “It’s The Liberal Meedya’s Fault” Defence, also known as the “Let He Who Is Without Sin” Defence.)

[This defence can hardly hold water considering the power and global extent of the Catholic Church. That an organisation this large, and one whose primary focus is morality, should commit such an appalling cover-up of such foul crimes means that it should be investigated until the entire truth is known, for the good of humanity. The church has never shied away from publicity when it thundered against divorce and contraception in Ireland, so it can hardly complain when its own crimes mean the spotlight is turned back on it!]

Even if clergymen made mistakes, they shouldn’t resign now, as it would have no purpose, and they are merely being pursued out of a spirit of vengeance. We should forgive them. (The “Head On A Plate” Defence).

[Since when is demanding that someone in a position of power be held accountable for a crime “vengeance”? And a system of justice based solely on “forgiveness” would destroy society as we know it.]

The church has recognised its past faults, and has changed now, so no further action is required. (The “We Are Where We Are” Defence).

[The church's actions show that it is still more interested in protecting itself than standing up and being held accountable for its crimes. I see no change in the church’s basic attitude than hasn’t been forced upon it.]

There are good people in the church, including those who may have covered up the abuse many years ago, so by attacking the church you’re undermining their good works (the “If There Is One Righteous Man” Defence, also known as the “Good Nazi” Defence).

[Firstly, morality is not a matter of double-entry bookkeeping, as PJ O’Rourke once said. You don’t get one bad act permitted for every good one (unless that good act involves taking immediate action on the bad one, so as to reverse its effects and prevent it ever happening again). Besides, having such a moral obscenity festering at the heart of the church invalidates any good work the church has done or will do in the future. As a cynic, I think it’s fair to say that much of the good work done by the church, like helping the poor in the Third World, has been done with as much of an eye to consolidating the church’s power and influence as it has been through sheer altruism. The church has always been enthusiastic about helping the poor in poverty-stricken ghettos; it has been noticeably reluctant to enquire as to why those people are so poor, or how their poverty could be alleviated, while at the same times snuggling up with murderous and brutal dictators.]

As I’ve tried to demonstrate, none of these pathetic excuses can stand up to even the most simple logical examination. But it’s worth repeating the facts that everyone knows at this case, just to remind ourselves of what the church actually did. For upwards of fifty years the institution of the church in Ireland (and a certain number of the laity involved with the church) knew that there were horrendous and widespread physical and sexual abuses being perpetrated upon children by its members, both in industrial schools and in the wider community. Not only did the clergy do nothing, but they engaged in a deliberate cover-up to prevent knowledge of these activities coming to light, by moving offending priests from diocese to diocese without informing anyone of their predilections (thus allowing them to abuse again and again), by forcing victims to sign oaths of secrecy, and so on. When information about the true scale of abuse first began to appear in the media, the church fought both victims and investigators every step of the way, often using bullying legal tactics to try and silence the traumatised victims of abuse, while putting in place measures designed to protect its assets in the event of compensation claims. Its first and only consideration has always been to protect itself above all else, and it has no compunction about destroying life after life to do so. These are not assertions; these are hard facts that can be backed up by volumes of documents. And now that it cannot hide any more behind lies and evasions – now that the facts are indisputable – it is seeking to spin its way out of accepting the only course compatible with honour: mass resignations, including the Pope himself; removal (in Ireland) of schools from church control; and handing themselves and all relevant documents over to the authorities for the immediate instigation of criminal proceedings.

Let us also not forget, and I remember very well, being a child of the seventies, just how the church dominated Irish life, and used its influence to force its own twisted, puritanical sexual morality onto everyone in the country. A homosexual? A single mother? An unmarried couple? A woman who wished to use contraception to avoid being continually pregnant? A person who questioned the church’s authority? A couple whose marriage had broken down irreconcilably, and who wanted a divorce? The Catholic Church in Ireland did everything in its power, which was practically unlimited, to ensure that your life was absolutely intolerable. It thundered from the pulpit every week about sin and guilt, lecturing people on how they should live their lives according to the church’s teaching. It used its power in the schools to enforce religion; seeing as the church controlled the schools and the local bishop, as patron of the school, could refuse a child’s entry, very few people with children could publicly challenge the church’s teachings if they wanted their child to be educated at all. Yet all the time that we were being lectured and bullied by priests, by the men who stood up and said “We are the very epitome of morality. We set the standards that everyone should follow!”, they were covering up the most monstrous, despicable crimes, in a conspiracy that went right from the Vatican down to the diocesan bishop. They all knew. And they did nothing. Nothing, that is, until they were forced by events to do so, in which case, rather than admit their culpability and beg forgiveness, they went on the attack. If one wants to see the true face of the church, see it in this action: in 1987 the diocese of Dublin took out insurance to protect itself against compensation claims from victims, but didn’t bother to put any rules in place to protect children from predatory priests, or report its concerns to the civil authorities. Yet this was the institution that would claim to be our moral guardians! And I see no evidence that they has changed in any meaningful way between then and now, except with extreme reluctance.

Reading the Murphy Report and the Ryan Report, one is reminded of the words of Primo Levi: “[One feels the shame] that the just man feels at another man’s crime; the feeling of guilt that such a crime should exist, that it should have been introduced irrevocably into the world of things that exist, and that his will for good should have proved too weak or null, and should not have availed in defence.” That men like Cardinal Sean Brady and Desmond Connell do not admit to this shame, but instead seek to weasel their way out of their responsibility towards justice, should utterly destroy in the eyes of the right-thinking person any shred of moral authority which the church claims to possess. Until the church openly says: “It was us, and us alone, and we are sorry, and therefore we resign all offices and hand ourselves over to face the full rigours of the law”, there can be no forgiveness for them. To quote from a man who knew a thing or two about religion, Jesus Christ himself (gettin' all Biblical on yo' ass!): "Do not do what [the teachers of the law and the Pharisees] do, for they do not practise what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them ... Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and things unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." (Matthew 23, 2-4 and 27-28)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

An Update

The national embarrassment that is RTE's Greatest Irish Person Ever list (which I wrote about here) continues to baffle and enrage. The voting has closed, and the five who will have TV programmes made about them have been selected, but RTE have put up the top ten names to maintain a certain level of mystery. And here are the luminaries (in alphabetical order): Bono (a pompous rock star who lectures governments on donating some of their tax revenue towards poorer countries, while his wealthy rock group is based in Holland to avoid paying Irish tax); Noel Browne (an interesting politician who was very controversial but didn't actually achieve a whole lot in comparison to, say, Daniel O'Connell, Charles Stuart Parnell, or Eamonn de Valera); Michael Collins (one of the founders of the modern Irish state and a man who actually deserves to be on the list); James Connolly (a Marxist revolutionary whose importance cannot be denied, whether you agree or not as to the morality of his actions); Stephen Gately (a vapid and inconsequential figure of no importance whatsoever); John Hume (a Nobel Prize winning Northern politician who deserves a place on this list); Phil Lynott (an entertaining but inconsequential rock musician); Padraig Pearse (an ultra-Catholic revolutionary whose importance cannot be denied, whether you agree or not as to the morality of his actions); Mary Robinson (an interesting politician who did achieve a lot for women in Ireland, but who is not as significant as, say, Daniel O'Connell, Charles Stuart Parnell, or Eamonn de Valera); Adi Roche (a token woman included in an attempt to avoid the charge of gross sexism, and a figure of no major importance in the greater scheme of things, commendable though her Chernobyl work is. The fact that a wealthy philanthropist is chosen over all other female candidates bar one (a brief selection: revolutionaries Maud Gonne, Mary McSwiney and Constance Markievicz, cultural icon Lady Augusta Gregory, writer Kate O'Brien, actress Maureen O'Hara, opera singers Catherine Hayes or Margaret Burke Sheridan, peace activists Mairead Corrigan and Betty William, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976, or Rosemary Nelson, a human rights lawyer killed by loyalist paramilitaries in 1999) says something about our priorities). So that's Ireland's greatest figures from nearly 2,000 tears of recorded history, as presented by our national broadcaster. No writers, artists, or scientists. Some of our most significant historical figures absent. Not a single figure that died before 1900. Only two women. Only four figures that actually deserve to be on it. Here's a really good song (one of my favourites, actually) whose title just sums it all up.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Doggies At Play!

There's so much depressing stuff happening in Ireland at the moment that I felt the need to post something that may bring a smile to your face. Earlier today I was over at my parents-in-laws' house with our demented hound. They have two young Jack Russells, one of whom is a little scamp who had absolutely no fear of this huge boisterous dog chasing him around the garden (the other was a lot more timid, and rarely got involved in the action). It was extremely hard to get good photographs of them at play; they moved so fast, careering around the grass wrestling and playing and mock-biting each other, that getting them in shot was always a challenge (I must have at least two dozen pictures of empty patches of grass with a blurred tail in the top corner!) I tried to choose the pictures that were most representative of the action, rather than the most technically correct. What was interesting to watch was that in the beginning our hound was trying to use his size to dominate the little terrier, but the latter was not to be cowed and towards the end was giving as good as he was getting. All in all, it was a great afternoon's entertainment, and I hope you find the pictures amusing!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Recommendation

To borrow a phrase from fellow blogger and friend McSeanigall: if you own two pairs of shoes, sell one and buy the 3-DVD set of Bela Tarr's Sátántangó (1994). My partner and I watched all seven hours last night (rather apt for Good Friday, although I'm no Catholic) and were left in awed silence at the audacious brilliance of Tarr's vision. Glacially slow, bleak, and breathtakingly beautiful, this film, using the fall of communism as an allegory for the human experience, is the absolute negation of everything that Hollywood stands for and an epic testament to the power of cinema to be about more than just storytelling. I haven't seen Tarr's earlier films, but his Werckmeister Harmóniák (2000) is a very remarkable (and shorter) introduction to his work, if a little obscure and confusing (I recommend avoiding The Man from London (2007), which I thought was very poor, a clear mismatch of form and content). I don't often say this, but I think Sátántangó is a masterpiece, as well as being the best film I've seen in absolute ages (and definitely one to be watched in a single sitting!). You may not like it, but it's one of a kind. (I dithered over whether to include a clip or not, as with this film the context is everything - besides, how can a single excerpt sum up a seven-hour film? - but the following shot is characteristic of Tarr's style. Do remember that such a brief snippet will never recreate the cumulative effect of his extremely long, often very static, single takes.)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Wexford Sights (IX)

I was reluctantly awoken on this chilly morning by an awful hullabulloo coming from the sun room. I could hear the hound clambering about and barking, so I made my sleepy way to the source of the noise. In one of the corners of the ceiling was a tiny, terrified bird, clinging to the exposed wooden beam while the hound danced and barked with delight. The sun room door was open to the garden, and the bird must have flown in by accident. I grabbed the hound's collar and dragged him into the kitchen. As I did so, the bird launched itself from its perch, flying the whole length of the room at full speed and slamming into the large window at the end with a loud thump. I saw it fall, and ran down to where it lay on the floor, its little tongue protruding as it gasped for breath. Then it was dead. The impact must have broken its neck. I took it outside (so light in my hand) and placed it gently on the windowsill, then got my camera. Das vedanya, little birdie...