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30
Sep 2007

Psychoanalytic Studies

I’ve been admitted to the M.Phil course at Trinity and will be starting in a week or so. My first lecture is — I think — Tuesday 9th October, and will be on “Existentialism and psychoanalysis”. It appears that my disastrous interview didn’t sink me after all.

This is good news.

6 comments  |  Posted in: Announcements


30
Sep 2007

Guide to Spectator Sports (Part 1)

I’m not a sports fan.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as impressed as anyone by people doing incredibly skilful or difficult things. I will sit, wide-eyed and uttering little “oohs” and “aahs”, as an archive reel of the best goals ever scored in football gets shown on TV. I will “whoaaa!” along with the rest of them as a basketball player launches himself from halfway down the court and slam dunks. I’ll applaud like a trained seal as a hurling player catches the sliotar, rounds two defenders faster than you can blink and rifles it into the top corner of the goal. And I’ll shake my head in disbelief as Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe perform apparently superhuman feats of acrobatics as they cover every inch of the tennis court in a spectacular rally.

So I do get the idea of spectator sports. But let’s be brutally honest here… 99% of a sports fans time is spent anticipating those magical moments… waiting for them. The only exception to this (in my rarely humble opinion) is – bizarrely – golf. But more about that another time.

Anyways, given that people clearly don’t watch sports simply for the few transcendant moments, there’s obviously something else at work. Psychological identification and emotional transference mostly. Hardly a secret. The sports fan invests part of themself in the team or individual they are rooting for.

Why a particular team is chosen is often down to geography. A team of eleven men wearing the colours of your nation becomes “us”. We are playing Germany. Everyone in Chicago wants The Bulls to win. In Chicago, The Bulls are “us”.

Here in Ireland, when it comes to hurling or gaelic football, it’s completely unheard-of to support any county other than the one you were born in. But other times it’s more abstract… what percentage of Bjorn Borg fans were Swedish I wonder? And Manchester United apparently have millions of fans in China.

Football (soccer)

The world’s sport. Everyone loves football. Well, except the Americans. They hate it so much they invented a bastardised form of rugby which involves next to no ball-foot contact and called that football. I think they hoped it would mess with everyone’s heads, but everyone just ignored them and went on playing proper football. Actually, it’s wrong to say “the Americans”. Most Americans are fanatical about football as it happens, just not the United Statians (though I hear a certain Mr. Posh Spice is changing all that). I spent a while in Brazil. None more fanatical, let me tell you. The president of Bolivia recently had his nose broken playing football. And remember that South American goalkeeper who was shot dead upon his return from the world cup? Now that’s taking your sports seriously.

The trouble with football though is it’s just not very interesting to watch. A three-minute highlight reel from a 90-minute game is generally the best you’re going to get. As a neutral observer of last year’s world cup (Ireland failed to qualify) I tried to watch a few of the games. Two billion people can’t be wrong, right? Wrong. Waves of existential nausea crashed over me as I sat there, terrifyingly conscious of 2 billion souls enjoying what was – to me – a spectacle devoid of any value whatsoever. Rarely have I felt so alone.

I admit I only managed to sit through one full game and rarely even made it to half time in the others. So perhaps I coincidentally missed all the good bits. But those precious minutes of my life spent watching 11 overpaid French primadonnas faffing around with 11 overpaid Italian primadonnas can never be recovered. That hour and a half have gone forever. And out there, somewhere, was some paint I could have been watching dry.

Cricket

Popular in England and a few ex-colonies, this peculiar activity is not so much a sport as it is a bout of abstract gittery. It’s only worthwhile function is to provide ambience for villages in Sussex. Y’know… it’s a warm summer day, you’re lying by the river and enjoying the stillness. There’s a wonderful insect hum in the air that seems to focus the silence rather than disturb it. And off in the far distance the sound of cricket bat on ball and a smattering of applause punctuates that silence every few minutes.

But aside from playing a small part in an English summer soundscape, cricket is otherwise devoid of any real value and is actually extremely irritating if one is accidentally exposed to it. In that sense it’s the sports equivalent of a cloud of midges.

Carrying bluetongue.

Basketball

I lived in Chicago for a while, right when Michael Jordan was leading The Bulls to their nine thousandth consecutive national title. The entire city would come to a stand-still when the Bulls were playing and even a disinterested foreigner like myself couldn’t help but be impressed by the fervour with which the locals followed their team.

Then I watched a game on TV. What a waste of time! Each team is expected to score during an attack. Your team takes the ball, passes and dribbles it to the opposition end, puts it through the hoop and then rushes back to defend. The opposition team then passes and dribbles the ball to your team’s end whereupon they put it through the hoop. Repeat for 48 minutes. So the excitement isn’t focussed on your team scoring points, but on the opposition missing them. The winner is the team that doesn’t screw up as often. How underwhelming is that?

Rugby

Ireland have just been knocked out of the World Cup by Argentina. According to the media prior to the competition, this Irish squad is the best the country has ever had. They were genuine contenders to win a first World Cup for our small island. They would go all the way and carry the entire nation with them. Turns out they weren’t so great after all. Turns out they struggled against the weak teams in their group and were comprehensively outplayed by the strong ones.

Anyways, I don’t have much to say about rugby as I don’t know much about it. Except that Ireland aren’t as good as they thought. Argentina are better than the Irish thought. And there’s not a single product available to the Irish consumer that can’t be sold with a rugby-world-cup-themed advert. There’s an official soft-drink of the Irish World Cup Squad of course. But there’s also an official snack food, an official beer, an official water, an official airline, and official bank… all we were short of was “Anusol: The official hemorrhoid treatment of the Irish World Cup Squad”. Spectator sports are becoming little more than marketing opportunities.

Football (American)

Ha. A-ha ha ha ha. As Giles once remarked… “I think it’s rather odd that a nation that prides itself on its virility should feel compelled to strap on forty pounds of protective gear just in order to play rugby.” Wise words indeed.

Tune in to Part 2 where I will discuss football (Gaelic), motorsports, cycling and golf among others.

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Opinion


30
Sep 2007

Vote Green. Get a random colour.

The Irish Green Party have lost any shred of whatever credibility they once had. It’s possible they could still emerge with a political future if they pulled out of the coalition right now and admitted they’d made a huge mistake for which they would work ceaselessly in opposition to atone for. The longer they remain as part of this government, the less likely is that political future.

But that’s not what concerns me. The moment they gave their tacit support to the destruction of the Tara valley (a scheme they’d previously described as “an act of cultural and historic vandalism“) in clear defiance of their pre-election promises, was the moment they ceased being worthy of the electorate’s trust. It’s unlikely this Green Party will ever get my vote again (back to spoilt papers for me it appears), and frankly I hope they fade into bitter memory… as I hope does every politician who trades their principles and promises for a brief stint at the top table.

No, what worries me is that they will tarnish the entire environmental movement. By sending out the clear message that they’re just another bunch of career politicians willing to do almost anything for power, so they send out the message that the environment is just another political issue. It’s not life and death. It’s not something we urgently need to get right or we’ll end up damning future generations. It’s just another issue. Which means it’s negotiable. If there are more votes in addressing the crime problem, or building more schools, then that’s what will be done.

Which isn’t to say that we don’t need more and better schools. And it’s not to say that crime should be ignored. Simply that the environment is a different category of problem. If we don’t safeguard the environment, then zero crime and wonderful schools for every child are irrelevant. “Little Timmy got such a great education before he was killed in the water riots. Thank heavens for the Greens, eh?”

But it’s not just Tara. I gave the Greens my vote this time round because I read their manifesto and it was filled with positions that I felt desperately needed representation in The Dáil. But I was lied to. And those positions have no representation. When I voted for them, it was partly because they promised “When in government, the Green Party will introduce legislation to end blood sports” (paragraph 7.1). I mean, there’s very little room for interpretation on that one, right?

Wrong. As Minister for the Environment, Green Party leader John Gormley is responsible for issuing hunting licences. And he has gone ahead and issued a number of hare-coursing licences for this year. I can’t be the only person who sees this as a clear betrayal. Not only is a man who pledged to end blood-sports in Ireland issuing licences to those who organise blood-sports rather than taking a stand on an unambiguous manifesto promise, but by doing so he — and the other Greens — are ensuring that the anti-blood-sports position simply isn’t represented in The Dáil. No other party, or independent, made the same pledge. So a large number of people will have voted for the Greens on that issue.

They — like those who felt that the preservation of the Tara valley needed a voice in The Dáil — have been royally screwed over. When I vote, I vote for the policies and not the person. I vote because I want those policies represented at the highest possible level, even if that means the opposition benches. Paul Gogarty, my local Green TD, is supposed to be representing me. I voted for him based upon the beliefs he claimed to subscribe to in the manifesto. Abandoning those beliefs in exchange for a government job is sticking two fingers up to me and everyone else who gave him their voice. When the history of this age is told, I hope Paul Gogarty’s name — along with the other five Green TDs — is forever linked to that act of “cultural and historic vandalism” he is now party to.

Climate Change

The excuse. According to some in the media who claim to know about these things, John Gormley — as leader of the Greens — made a decision when Bertie approached him to be part of the coalition. Every Green policy was up for negotiation, for abandonment even, in return for a chance to shape policy on Climate Change.

Now, when I first heard that rumour it gave me pause for thought. Climate change may well be the most important single issue facing the planet, and it clearly requires urgent action. So perhaps there’s method to the Green madness. Perhaps all of these compromises can be justified. Perhaps Gormley’s decision to focus all of his party’s effort and expend all of their political capital on this single, vital issue, is a shrewd political move.

Except it isn’t.

Per capita, Ireland’s carbon emissions are extremely high. We’re up there at number 17 in the world and in Europe’s top five. And there’s no question that needs to be addressed.

But when it comes to overall total carbon emissions, we’re way down the list. We’re number 56. Between Serbia & Montenegro and Libya. That’s not to say that Ireland’s carbon emissions are irrelevant. That’s not the point I’m making. I’m just highlighting the cold, hard fact that no Irish Environment Minister can make a significant impact on solving this global problem, when the very best he or she could do would be to eliminate less than one fifth of one percent of global emissions.

That would be a great thing, don’t get me wrong, and we in Ireland should indeed be working towards that goal. But even if we succeed, we just don’t produce enough of the problematic carbon dioxide to make a significant impact on a global scale.

And that’s the reason Gormley’s decision isn’t a shrewd one. The Irish Green Party — even in opposition — have a degree of control over whether or not the Tara valley is vandalised in the name of the private car (looks like Peak Oil is going to be a half-decade too late for Ireland’s most important heritage site). They have a degree of control over blood-sports policy in Ireland. They have a degree of control over a number of significant issues… whether we expand Dublin airport, whether we invest more in public transport or road-building, how much we tax waste, how much we tax flights, and plenty more.

But the Greens have relinquished their control over these issues (not a single voice in Dáil Éireann opposed the granting of the hare-coursing licences) in return for a chance to shape policy on an issue they — realistically speaking — have no control over. Still, if nothing else, we can expect to see Ireland slide down those nationmaster lists. This year we are 17th in per capita carbon emissions and 56th overall. Let’s see how we stand next year, and the year after. I hope the Tara valley was worth it.

3 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


4
Sep 2007

Two To Avoid. One To See.

Last night I sat through The Contract starring John Cusack and Morgan Freeman. Even if it’s a dull Sunday afternoon and it’s on TV for free. Even then, do not watch this film. Instead spend 90 minutes scrubbing your bathroom. You’ll get more out of it in the long term and, crucially, it’ll be a more enjoyable experience at the time.

Also in the “to avoid” pile. And what a steaming pile it is. Also in the “to avoid” pile is The Number 23. Of course it’s not like I didn’t know what I was getting into. Jim Carrey in a Joel Schumacher film? Let’s face it, it’ll struggle to be ground-breaking. In fact it doesn’t even put up a struggle.

Right at the other end of the scale, and thanks to a friend wanting to borrow the DVD from me, I got around to rewatching The Seven Samurai again a few weeks ago. And then again the following night. Seriously. It really is that good. If it’s one of those films you “keep meaning to see”, then might I suggest you use this reminder to actually get round to doing so. It’s recognised as one of the best films ever, because it is.

5 comments  |  Posted in: Reviews » Film reviews