Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Gandhi Policy is Thankfully Ignored in Cork But Sadly Missing in Listowel

May 24, 2010

A few months back an extraordinary situation unfolded in a far from extraordinary town in a rural part of Ireland. The situation punctuated the conviction of a man for the sexual assault of a young lady. Just before and after the sentencing took place a crowd emerged. When I originally read this story I assumed that I was about to be told about the convict being attacked by an angry mob. Far from it.

The crowd was there in support with the convict. This might be considered loyalty for a dear friend or relative, I guess? I don’t approve of what you did but you’ve shown remorse for this horrendous mistake and I shall stand by you? They hugged and back-slapped, shook hands and shared words of support.

This was a man who has not shown remorse. Who denied the incident to the end. Whom a court decided drugged a young lady, took her to a secluded place and sexually assaulted her. Sexual assault is one of most horrendous of crimes. Let’s not understate this.

I’m not interested in this convict. I’m interested in the action of his supporters and the people of Listowel.

Now catholic priests don’t have a leg to stand on in the Ireland of 2010. And the guy who went to the court to embrace this convict led down every catholic in the world. I somehow don’t remember that part in the bible. Counselling a man who feels he was perfectly right to sexually assault a young lady in the dead of night.

What emerged during and after this case was that a large proportion of the Listowel community had hounded and harassed this lady. This poor victim. From the moment she reported the crime this continued. Our country was divided once again. People in Listowel in support of the convict. Every other person outside of that town in support of that victim. I mailed the rape crisis centre in Kerry to pass on my support to this young lady and was joined in thousands of Irish people, the vast majority of whom were from outside Listowel.

And so the situation calmed. Or so we thought.

Today’s Irish Independent reported that this victim continues to be harassed in her home in Listowel. Several incidents have taken place, involving the door of her home being kicked down and her side entrance being forcibly opened. It took some time but the council have now provided her with extra security locks and flood lights. Gardai, the Irish police force, are reportedly supportive and I hope they bide their time and take those responsible down.

The Gardai get an awful lot of slack when they make mistakes. I guess that’s true of all police forces? Well this week I shall be mailing the Garda Ombudsman and the head office of the Gardai to congratulate them on a wonderful job last Friday evening.

In the county bordering Listowel, an armed man walked into a bar and threatened staff and customers with deadly force. A newly formed, armed wing of the Garda happened to be in the area and were quickly on the scene. They entered and were threatened by the gun-wielder. The Garda made the decision to shoot this man and did so without placing his life in danger. The man is in a stable condition in hospital.

In the Ireland of 2010, a police officer shooting a criminal remains an extraordinary event. These brilliant Gardai handled this situation with control and due care for the assailant, the customers and themselves. They are a credit to the force and should be commended for their work. In my opinion we have no right to say No when No should be said if we do not say Yes when Yes needs to be said.

And then a parallel stuck me.

Should the harassers in Listowel be allowed to inflict this undeserved punishment upon the young lady that was sexually assaulted? If someone kicked in your door? If this continued? If this was reported to the authorities and they were unable to collect enough evidence for a conviction?

A gentle Indian man once wrote a letter to the government of the British Empire. It explained that violence should not be met with violence. His reasoning? ‘An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind’.

Gandhi showed the world the power or an unarmed group or peaceful protesters who stand up and say No! The Listowel situation shouldn’t be met with vigilantism, in my opinion. But there are other options. There must be decent people in Listowel, lots of them. People who can stand up and say No!


Malawi Solidarity With the HomoHatred of the Catholic Church

May 22, 2010

I feel powerless and I despair. How is it that so many injustices populate the twenty-first century? And how is it that so many of us feel that no action we could take could make any difference? We see activists around us making valiant efforts to change the world for the better. Often to little immediate effect. But we can inform ourselves. And we can say no when no needs to be said.

Ireland, my home, was a theocracy for many years. In the 1930s our leader, An Taoiseach, Eamon deValera wrote a new constitution for a nascent nation. This was proofed by the head of the catholic church in Ireland, a fact that astonishes many Irish people today. But in the Ireland of the 1930s, sales to the Irish people had to be wrapped with a Vatican Shroud and topped with the bow of Sunday homily support.

In the last twenty years this has changed. In 1991 we were first allowed to purchase barrier contraception without a prescription from a general practitioner. And today our government is moving towards the legal recognition of same sex marriages. This is supported by many people in Ireland, but perhaps not the majority of voters? No matter. One of the wonderful aspects of European legislation is human rights law. It doesn’t matter whether you dislike homosexuality. We Europeans recognise the right for any two adults to be have a relationship. To receive the same legal rights, regardless of the gender of those involved. It may not be utopian yet, but we’re getting there.

I was astonished this Wednesday! An article on the bbc website reported that a judge in Malawi had jailed two men due to their homosexuality. I was stunned to read that the judge had imposed a 14 year hard labour sentence! I was further amazed to hear the basis for this sentence: to keep these men away from Malawian society and to place fear in the hearts of all. I was finally saddened to silence by the HomoHating taunting of ordinary Malawians as these men were taken away to prison.

Thankfully, I was heartened to read the response of the United States and United Kingdom governments, though the Irish response is noticeably absent to date. Both governments reacted with astonishment. However, one can be certain that no action will be taken against Malawi for this despicable act.

Interestingly, many of the HomoHaters in the world believe they are going to heaven. One religion professes that same sex relationships are the basis for paedophilia. Yes, it would be hilarious if not so bigoted. Another professes that a camp person should be beaten with a stick day after day until they come back one day de-gayed and thank you for curing them. It appears that HomoHatred is their way to heaven.

This week was also defined by several articles relating to the Pope. I held up such hope for this guy. He once stood in the site of the World Trade Centre in New York City and apologised to the victims of child abuse committed by members of the catholic church in the United States. I held out such hope.

This week also embraced the one year anniversary of the Ryan report. This publication detailed an astonishing collection of abuses committed by members of the catholic church upon children in Ireland. Some of us protested by signing the book of support for the victims of this abuse. Some of us protested by refusing to go to church. Some of us protest by letting no pro-church comment go unchallenged. I just don’t understand. The vast majority of people who attended catholic mass one year ago continue to do so today. In doing so they applaud and legitimise the churches’ response to this holocaust, as I believe it will one day be recognised. Perhaps I’m being very naive, but I believe that many of these assailants will be successfully prosecuted in the Ireland of the twenty-first century. We’re not prefect but we’re not Malawi.

Of course this is about money. If the church admits responsibility then it will have to financially compensate each and every victim. So from the Pope to the person who still attends church without protesting, money is placed before justice for abused children. The irony of the next newspaper article was not lost on me. A Bishop in Northern Ireland is reported to have spent a week visiting different parishes to perform confirmation ceremonies for catholic children. This guy is reported to have asked each set of these children to donate some of the money that is traditionally received though confirmation gifts to the church! No protest of any kind is reported to have taken place in the church. No doubt upset parents felt they should not ruin their child’s special day any further. This is totally understandable. But yet will they return to church next weekend without a word of protest?

In Portugal this week the Pope stood up and pronounced that same sex marriage is a threat to the very existence of the Universe or something. It was typically HomoHating, the man is consistent. I think your organised protection of multiple child abusers might be more of a threat Sir. Shame on you.

The Pope no doubt sleeps soundly in his bed tonight, secure in the knowledge that his system of HomoHatred is being fully supported in Malawi. Perhaps he’ll pay them a visit some day soon to celebrate the incarceration of those without sin.

The words of the enlightened are so often ignored by those who profess to support them the most. There is one religious text that can be summarised in one line: Love one another as I have loved you. There’s another text too, which can be summarised in one sentence and should be adhered to by anyone who proclaims that they work in God’s name: God is always watching.

Footnote: On May 29th 2010 international pressure resulted in the pardon of the two Malawians convicted for homosexuality. Please see the post related to this, which will be entered shortly. Mic

Credit Card Kid

April 19, 2010

I had a really nice time last night. When I was a boy my Dad took me to so many football games, which are many of the fondest memories from my childhood. So when I get to take him to a game these days I jump at the opportunity.

Last night was a tight four-point win by Leinster over The Ospreys at the RDS. Jamie Heaslip was again a warrior: tireless and bullet-proof in the tackle exemplified by an astonishing double-tackle in the dying seconds.

I remember seeing football games at the RDS when I was a wee boy. The RDS is a different place now. The transformation that Leinster rugby has managed is a credit to their organisation. The RDS is now a wonderful place to attend a game. Good facilities, easy access and a wonderful approach to making the spectacle child and family-friendly.

One of the mysteries of the big Croke Park games of my childhood was the turnstile. Inexplicably, my Dad could arrange for me to be lifted over the turnstile to attend the game for free. This was never explained to me. I was at one stage on one side of the barrier, then being lifted high and finally placed for a safe landing. We know now that every child was the recipient of such generosity from the GAA but at the time it was novel and magical.

Half-time was another moment of great excitement. Having watched the game with real emotion for thirty-five minutes you had a big decision to make. Which packet of sweets or chocolate bar would you choose today….. It was understood that this was not a time for gluttony. This was a wonderful treat for a Sunday. One to be pondered deeply. One to be respected. My Dad was straight as an arrow consistent in his choice of a single chocolate bar, much in contrast with the whims of my choices in sweets. One bag or one bar, what a treat!

Back to the game we went! There was genuine emotion now as it crept into the last quarter. Dublin football was our usual love. I knew not only every player on our team but most of the opposition. Meath were a particular nemesis at the time. Hayes, O’Rourke, Flynn, Coyle, Stafford, Dowd and so on. The rivalry and emotion was unparalleled in my tiny collection of experiences at the time.

About ten minutes into the second half last night and Leinster were on the attack. My Dad and I were stunned into a stare by the sight of a Leinster-supporting ten/twelve year old boy returning to his Dad, whose hand was outstretched for his change. A wonderful memory from my childhood, the change from the sweets money returned as part of the deal. This kid hands back a platinum credit card……My Dad and I looked at each other in astonishment. Had the kid popped across the road to pick up a new toy from the Volkswagen or Mercedes showrooms that adorn one of the main arteries to the stadium? The child sits down, gets comfortable and reaches for the platinum purchase….My Dad and I are on the edge of our seats. Would Charlie Redmond score the penalty or would Mick Lyons put him off…..We held our breath a second…..The treasure emerged and glistened in the setting sun…..A small bottle of Pepsi…..Different world

The Other Nine

January 13, 2010

I spend an awful lot of time listening to podcasts while out for the walks that keep me on the leanish side of powerlifting. I choose to listen to one particular interviewer who specialises in speaking with Irish citizens who have been successful, very successful, in their chosen careers. Only some of these were successful as human beings, spouses or parents in my opinion. Yet each and every one of their tales is one that teems with lessons. Lessons for the person who’s trying to figure it all out. When to make that strategic move. To foresee when there is an opportunity for success or, more importantly, no dice. I listen and learn from them as best I can and I ponder what decisions I should make and when.

Eddie O’Sullivan is the former Irish rugby coach. He uttered the sentence that I felt most enlightened in this respect upon hearing. I approached every job as the interview for the next position. Suddenly it became so clear. You don’t start behaving like the best in the world when you reach the world championships. You begin now. You behave and act like the best. Learn your trade. Pay attention. Develop. The obvious inference from Eddie is that you will reach your plateau as soon as you stop thinking about being better. It’s one thing being happy with one’s lot but one can still continue one’s personal and professional development at this point.

Michael O’Leary is the man responsible for making Ryanair the most used and profitable airline in the world, though criticised for his poor treatment of employee and customer rights. He talked about his childhood. He spoke about how he had an affluent upbringing but that at times money had been tight. His primary motivation was never being poor. He talked about how his career changed one day when he phoned up a client and suggested he did something dodgy with respect to his tax returns….he definitely wasn’t telling fibs then! Still, he is the CEO of the most profitable airline in the world and a man who revolutionised air travel, making it affordable to the average punter.

Bill Cullen is an Irish business man most famous for buying the rights to Renault cars in Ireland for one pound, his book about his upbringing in inner city Dublin and his role as the boss on the Irish franchise of ‘The Apprentice’. Bill talked about working very hard as a core value. If you work hard you will be the last person to be let go should redundancies be necessary and the first to be promoted when a position becomes available. He says that one should be up at four in the morning and on the phones soon thereafter, though many have ridiculed this in pondering whom Bill might talk to at this hour. Bill’s point though is well made. If you work hard you will often be successful. Bill is happy with his partner, Jackie, but admits that the numbers of hours he spent in work likely lead of the break-up of his earlier marriage. It’s impossible to argue with Bill’s monetary success but I found myself wondering about success and work-life balance. So there might be a bit more to it than just working hard…

We’ve all made decisions that altered the direction of our lives for better or worse. Some people play it safe. Others take chances. When we look at these chancers they seem almost reckless. But the truth, I suspect, is quite different. Rather than being afraid of making the change, successful people are afraid of the consequences of not making that decision. Of staying in the dead-end gig. Of that being their lot. Their family’s lot. Whereas one person might see this as a gamble, the successful see these times as the greatest of opportunities. If not taken, how could one live with oneself?

The list goes on and on. There seems to be at least one consensus sequence in their tales. Each made what appears to have been that very brave and profound decision at one point or, in most cases, continuously during their careers. Many of these involved moving to another country. In this there was a profound difference to the world I find myself in. In their earlier careers, they were almost all in the financial position to start a family and thus had this support when they arrived in this new location. I wonder if the science world would be better if they paid just a wee bit more. If they gave tuppance for a weekend of overtime. A few pennies bonus for publishing. Or just enough to live on as a basic salary. Simple gestures that might make a big difference…

A wise friend once said to me that only one in ten PhD graduates will do a post-doc. One in ten post-docs will become a PI and one in ten PIs will be successful enough to avoid struggling.

I sat last weekend with my best friend in Neil Connolly’s Lighthouse cinema in Smithfield Dublin. We drank tea and I contemplated the genius of moving this beautiful cinema from its previous location. The world didn’t make sense but somehow I felt surrounded by the dream of someone who understood. And as we talked it out, my dear friend and I thought little of the one in ten and wondered about the other nine and if they knew exactly what they were doing…..

Decisions: Decisions & Luck

October 4, 2009

When I look back at my life there were countless times in which particular happenstances defined where I am today, either positively, negatively or in a negative taken positively fashion. I wondered why these things happened. Was there a pattern? If so, could I understand it? Could I take the world on in a different way resulting in different outcomes? I guess we’ll see….

In pondering this I choose to use two models that involve only me. With these understood I can perhaps escalate to appreciate what happened with something as dense as a relationship, with two such individuals’ happenings to consider.

I compete in a sport at a reasonable level. I’ve had the same injury in each shoulder that required surgery each time. The first time this was not covered by health insurance for a variety of reasons. The second was. The first took two years to diagnose and treat, the second took a week. The first took two years to rehabilitate while six months after the second I no longer felt injured and continue to get strong every day. All of these improvements in time were a direct results of my trusted physiotherapist and I taking what happened with the first rehab, learning from it and making the second rehab perfect.

It would be difficult to describe the negative impact that the first injury had on my life. The frustration was endless. You wake up everyday and once again live with the fact that you are mentally ready to train, ready to go! But you can’t. If you train a little you’ll make it worse. We have work and hobbies for a reason. Our hobbies keep us sane. For me the hobby was a sport that allowed me to see daily, weekly, monthly and yearly how I progressing through micro, macro and mega goals. The frustration of not being able to address these tasks challenged my happiness constantly.

Where did this injury come from? I know for certain it came from a decision. A decision based on two factors. First, cash. Second, wanting to train around an injury. It started as a niggle. At the time I was not in a financial position to pay a sports doctor to assess the severity or each strain. I decided to avoid that range of movement to allow the niggle to rest. The niggle progressed through other ranges movement. Then I stopped using the shoulder completely and while training something else I tore both deltoids slightly. When the swelling went down it was clear that I had a serious problem. I was eventually diagnosed as having torn the biceps tendon from the inside of the shoulder. I gave myself a career-threatening injury because of a poor decision.

Some years later I met a girl and fell in love with her and her favourite sport, snowboarding. I enjoyed the week or two a year that I got away from the world and just boarded. I was now at the point where I could board and was learning to do more complex tricks. I spent some time in the park. I took a jump on the last day of the trip and crashed, tearing the other shoulder in the same way. When I think back now I remember several conversations about how many people hurt themselves on the last day of s boarding trip, due to tiredness and knowing there was no opportunity to make an attempt the next day. I also remember hiking down to the jump to take a look at the potential problems. That I was even thinking this way, on the last day, meant it was not the trick to do that day. Once again, I gave myself a career-threatening injury because of a poor decision.

Contrasting this, the best decision I have made in my life was to walk away. I had been offered a full scholarship to a top school for graduate work. Accepting this, I left home and moved away from all my loved ones to be alone in a new country. I immediately realised that for a collection of reasons I needed to leave. A purely professional decision, staying would have damaged my career incalculably. The upset was something I hadn’t experienced in my young life. Not that I was making the decision but the consequences of the decision. I returned home. The shame, the failure, the home-sick child. But my career grew on from this excellent decision. Having succeeded and lived away from home for several years I can conclude that I was correct. I still consider leaving this once in a lifetime chance my best decision.

I extrapolate this onwards through the various decisions of my life. I find that every circumstance I can recall culminated from an individual decision that I made at some point in my life. Work. Love. Friendships. Sport. Life.

Luck. I hear a lot of people talk about luck. Luck definitely exists. I occasionally play the lottery. The decision is that the insane odds against winning are worth a couple of bucks to me. But if I win a substantial sum it is due to chance. However, life is not a lottery. Each and every day we are faced with choices that allow us to make decisions. We can place ourselves in an environment where we are more likely to meet a compatible partner. We can place ourselves in an environment that can further our career. We can train not just hard but smart. Training hard, resting soft and taking out time.

My life is not as governed by luck as I might have thought. It is controlled to an infinitely greater extent by the decisions I make. To this end there is no point in my making the same mistakes repeatedly. The same decisions repeatedly. And then complaining repeatedly about the consequences. Blaming the world. Blaming other people. Blaming luck.

So how can I understand the decisions I have made? Sean O’Casey wrote a character whose eyes had a haunting way of looking in instead of looking out. In order to understand my decisions I’ve had to become self-analytical. I’ve had to be become self-critical. This is not an easy thing to do. No one likes to see themselves in a negative way. We will still make mistakes. But in doing so one can identify ones’ own mistakes. Once identified, one can endeavour not to make them again.

The world I live in is filled with randomness that we can not even attempt to control. But punctuating this are the aspects of the world that I have absolute control over. When I consider them more I come to the conclusion that I am an infinitely more determining factor in my world than luck. It takes courage to be introspective and self-critical. But in doing so we can perhaps move to a place where the decisions we make are more often the correct ones, the consequences more often those we desire and our world a resultant happier place.