Monday, October 31, 2005

Wake Up Dead Man

This is going to be all over the place, because that's how I am today...

I'm pretty sure I should have the day off today. I still work for my department in Ireland and I'm getting Irish wages (i.e. a lot less than my equivalents here; but more than my Singaporean equivalent on this job with me and Lenny). Having said that it would mean I'd have to work for Thanksgiving but I'd be willing to, no problem. It's not my fault I won't be let when the time comes!

I need sleep - my eyes are hanging out of my head. I realised this morning that I haven't had more than seven hours sleep one single day since I got here four weeks ago; and only about five the last four days in a row. I know that's nothing too trying, but it's finally affecting my concentration. I usually need one complete crash out lie-in a fortnight to feel recharged.

I also look ridiculous. I figured I'd let my hair grow for a laugh (I've been buzzing myself a 2 blade for at least ten years) and now I look like a God-damned, tree-huggin' hippy. My hair is at least an inch long all over my head. The Po-lice are bound to start beating me one of these days. I'm like a cross between a microphone and a muck savage. It's also growing in a spiral from my crown (which I'd never realised 'til now). Still, I'll persevere until Christmas and see how I am then.

I've been in America enough times to think that nothing would really shock me. But the amount of drink-driving in this neck of the woods has me stunned. Outside the cities, public transport and taxis are non-existant and so people are getting gee-eyed and driving 20 miles home or more, not a bother on them.

I took this picture in Greenwich village:


Then read this story. I thought the Halloween stuff would be more in-your-face but it hasn't been anywhere I've been this weekend.


I also took this picture outside the IRS in New York:

I have a video clip that shows the clock increase by about $10,100 in 9 seconds. It's quite prominent and striking, but does it make anyone here wonder about how their economy works?

I decided not to go see anything in particular (I'll be back in New York in three weeks anyway) so I just walked, and walked and walked. From about 1pm until about 9pm we were off our feet for maybe 30 minutes in total. All over Midtown, down Broadway and west into Greenwich then across to the East Village and back up Fifth Avenue. Just trying to absorb it all. Unsurprisingly I've already decided I love the place.

The Giants v Redskins was unexpectedly and ridiculously one-sided. I'm actually a 'skins 'fan', going back to the late 80's when American Football became popular on Channel 4. I was surprised at myself - I had great seats, the fans around us were fantastic, the atmosphere was electric, the Giants themselves were immense yet, all the while, I kept rooting for the Redskins inside and was genuinely disappointed at how it turned out (they were incredibly crap on the day).


Complete Control

Every now and then I'll read a newspaper op-ed piece that manages to articulate, in a way I never could, the nature of things that I have a general feeling of unease about myself. Today John Waters pens an excellent article on the misuse of the term perception...

"To perceive something was to be aware of it. If it didn't exist, you couldn't perceive it: a false impression is not a perception. Nowadays, to perceive something is to believe it to exist, even if it doesn't. What we call perception is actually misperception."

If you work for a corporation, like I do you'll know just how much the word 'perception' is abused. There's no such thing as a "right way" and a "wrong way" just different perceptions of reality that deserve equal... blah, blah, fecking blah.

I digress. Waters goes on to state that...

"[A] startling indicator of the gap between what is going on and what we think is going on is the recent study of the level of conflict in the world in the past 60 years. The Human Security Report, published by a team from the University of British Columbia, debunks the conventional belief that the world is becoming less safe.

The impressions, to be gleaned from even a cursory reading of any daily newspaper, that war is more prevalent than ever, that genocide is on the rise and that terrorism represents the greatest threat to humanity, are all, the authors declare, either suspect or 'demonstrably false'."

He comes to the conclusion that the media (or the hand that feeds him?) is largely responsible for the general public's increased perception of a more corrupt Ireland, a more dangerous world, a likelihood of pandemic...

"Once, the media traded in facts, opinion and analysis. Nowadays, competing with one another at an ever more ferocious rate, media seek to sell us material to provoke an emotional reaction. They urge us to mistrust or despise political leaders, to live in fear of fatal disease, to become incandescent about how corrupt we are becoming. Fear and anger sell newspapers and make us turn on our TVs."

Amen, brother!

Friday, October 28, 2005

Wolf Parade

The Ticket reviews Wolf Parade's (the crowd I went to see last Saturday) debut album...

WOLF PARADE Apologies to the Queen Mary Sub Pop *****

Given the many connections between Wolf Parade and fellow Montreal residents Arcade Fire, comparisons are inevitable. Yet one listen to the soaring, dramatic, attractively ramshackle I'll Believe in Anything, and you can understand why Apologies to the Queen Mary is every jot the equal of Arcade Fire's Funeral. There are few pauses for breath on this energetic, loose-limbed, often gloriously unfocused outing, as both frontmen Dan Boeckner (the one who yelps a little like Kurt Cobain) and Spencer King (the one who doesn't) throw themselves into songs that shake, rattle and resonate with the kind of emotional noise which is often easy to create but difficult to sustain. Yet this splendid, spirited buzz is here at every turn, dominating the driving Shine a Light, spotlighting the breathtaking scope of Dear Sons & Daughters of Hungry Ghosts, and pushing the astonishing I'll Believe in Anything towards the finishing line. Get ready for some more big music. www.subpop.com

Jim Carroll

If Music Could Talk

When you read something like this these days, especially coming from musicians, don't you just groan with boredom and want to turn the page...

He's one of the greatest hitmakers in pop history, but Burt Bacharach doesn't care if his new album attacking the Bush administration loses him fans. He just had to make it, he tells Brian Boyd.

You read this crap over and over again from Manic Street Preachers to Green Day and now to Burt Bacharach. Just because they're successful musicians, why are we asked to take their political views seriously? Maybe if they had something new or insightful to say, but it's nearly always juvenile guff.

Sample lyric: Who are these people that keep telling us lies? And how did these people get control of our lives? Well, Burtie, assuming you mean your government, how much they lied is still open to debate and it was your fellow citizens who voted for them. Twice.

"I am crying on that song [Where did it go?, where Bacharach softly croons about how changed the world is, about how he could once "ride the subway and never be afraid" - the fact that crime in New York and America in general is nowhere near what it was in the '70s and '80s obviously passing him by]. We recorded it live, in front of an orchestra, and I was really moved. That's the whole album there, the whole betrayal of everything we once stood for. You know we expected something after the changes in the 1960s - expected a better place - and now look what's happening. That song is a real lament."

How bloody precious can you get?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Pride

These Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen-alikes are beginning to make waves here. Still it's the classic chick-and-egg situation - "Look! Everybody! Over here at my story! I've found cute little blonde racist twins!" If the media didn't report this stuff then surely their career would stall before it ever got going. Now, however, a cute 13 year old blonde girl gets to say "We're proud of being white, we want to keep being white. We want our people to stay white … we don't want to just be, you know, a big muddle. We just want to preserve our race." to an infinitely wider audience.

Obviously the media-types are well aware of this - it's not rocket science after all - so they become complicit in exposing people to this crud. They'll say "Don't shoot the messenger", of course, but if you ask the question of who is more guilty of spreading this racist propaganda - the girls and their publishers to their small and already receptive audience or the press to a nationwide and previously ignorant audience - then the answer is pretty clear. Simply ignoring and not publicising this sort of nonsense is not the same thing as censorship.

Their mother sounds like a right silly bitch, though. If you're going to be a parent you should be made go on a course!

...................
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So last night we went to some bar to watch what turned out to be the World Series decider (I've made up my mind - American Football is just more consistently exciting and is infinitely better than egg-chasing, a point I'll be making regularly during Munster's annual "best fans in the world" glorious defeat). Lenny decided to play pool and tried to win the table off the locals. It turns out that Lenny is very handy at the pool (and, modest chap that he is, felt the need to spend most of the night telling me this) and soon he was on a seven game winning streak.
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Some kind of alarm call must have gone out cos the locals were soon getting reinforcements and the local shark was eventually up against Lenny. The local boy had Lenny on the rack soon enough - Lenny had three balls to pot and the other guy only had an easy enough black waiting for him when Lenny fecked up. So what does Lenny do? He plays dirt. He plays bad dirt. He snookers the guy by rolling up behind two of his own balls. Dirty, dirty bastard.
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I went pale - this is not a gentle middle class area - and nowhere in the world is dirt acceptable behaviour (except where Lenny went to college, obviously). A verbal altercation ensued with Lenny insisting that his tactics were perfectly legal "where I come from". Brilliant. Now I'm just as guilty on the grounds of nationality.
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Me: "Lenny, we're not from round here, offer to retake the shot and say you'll go for a pot".
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He refused: "Aww, why should I? I haven't broken the rules...".
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Me (whispered): "You're not playing to the spirit of the game, we're outnumbered and there's no way I'm taking a punch for a lemon like you, NOW FUCKING DO IT."
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So he did. And he lost. It turns out we were both right. The English rules Lenny played to say nothing against rolling up behind a ball, but they've since been superseded by the World Rules, which do.
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Lenny was quiet going home before saying: "Aww, if it was the other way around, I'd stick up for you, d'y'know". "Shut up you muttonhead", I said.
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So last night Lenny hacked me off by trying to get me into a bar brawl.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

In God's Country

This item made the news here on Monday night. Apparently US diplomats are insisting that the rules of the Vienna Convention be vigorously applied. Of course the rules of the Geneva Convention are also being vigorously applied, except to criminals who aren't lawful combatants. So they get charged with crimes rather than be held as Prisoners of War. Except they don't.

Last night a PBS Frontline World documentary was shown about the Yanacocha Goldmine in Peru. It was originally a joint venture between two of its current owners - Newmont and Buenaventura and a French State owned company. To cut a long story short a row over ownership ended up in Peru's notoriously corrupt courts.

The American company suspected the French of bribing officials and they, in turn, enlisted the help of the US State Dept. to help, eh, look after their interests. The man they dealt with, Peru's secret police chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, was videoed bribing the judge into reaching a favourable decision and this tape, along with others, helped bring down the government of Alberto Fujimori.

The State Dept. official who dealt with Montesinos now works as a consultant for Newmont. Today's New York Times runs a print article containing all the detail and intrigue of a fascinating story. For the tree-huggin' hippy view on the gold mining industry go to No Dirty Gold.

.............
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The simmering resentment between me and Lenny finally blew up today. Part of the reason for my documenting the facts / online bitching (whichever you prefer) has been that it has been pretty Mick Mc-Cathartic and has mostly stopped me flying off the handle. Well we're going to New York on Friday night for the weekend, taking in the Giants v Redskins game on Sunday.
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Now I don't want to plan ahead too much because I've never been to New York and I just want to breathe it all in and take it at my own pace. I'm also sure that doing all the things the damn guidebook says will take a helluva long time. Lenny, on the other hand, is talking about 5th Avenue, Central Park, The Empire State Building, The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, shopping and going to a Comedy Club on Saturday night. I'm pretty sure we'll do well to manage two of those things in the time we have.
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So when he said "Awww, we must get to Growwwwnd Zeeerohhhh and get some good photos, d'y'know", and I replied (in an admittedly exasperated tone) that I'd rather not be the Ultimate Rubbernecker and treat the scene of a mass murder as a tourist attraction, he flipped. Then I flipped back. So now he's not talking to me, just looking at more golf clubs on 'eee-bay' (he only got irons y'see). It's heaven really.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Deny

I intended mentioning this before now, but Johann Hari's article in the Independent today has finally prompted me and given me a good link to reference. The nailing line "... there was a darker, less obvious trend revealed by the anti-MMR scandal: a populist contempt for basic science and evidence."

There is a battle in progress, where ready access to all the information and dis-information in the world is arming the ignorant and the anti-scientists in their assault on the Enlightenment. Suspicion of an elusive 'establishment' encourages people to fill the gaps in their knowledge and understanding with ad hoc beliefs, anecdotal evidence, hearsay and coincidence.

This winter there will be people who will stand facing you and insist they have 'flu. Many will also claim they are taking antibiotics for the 'flu. In both cases they'll be talking guff. In the current and rising clamour for vaccines and anti-virals in the event of a bird flu pandemic, attention is turning to evil big-Pharma (this time Roche) and their Tamiflu patents. Maybe Roche should tell people that they'll be grand with Homeopathy and herbal remedies like Ginseng.

Daddy's Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car

A Slate journo writes about learning to drive a 'stick-shift' car (aka a 'proper car'). While I've taken to driving an automatic handily enough, I still don't like it. It feels like you're less in control or something. Then again I don't like the cars here full stop - they're cumbersome, corner badly and I seem to be perpetually in fear of running out of petrol.

Lenny got his golf clubs from 'eee-bay' last night, thus finally putting an end to the "where are the clubs?, why do I not have the clubs?, when am I going to get the clubs?..." and so on, that I've been subjected to recently. He took a day off to go golfing. It's raining now. A lot.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Until The End Of The World


















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If I dig a hole from my house in Dundalk I won't end up in HMP Australia after all. I must go visit my hole sometime. When I get there I can tell people to stay away from my hole. Just like when I was in San Francisco then.

Here, via here.

Google Maps and Google local are very, very cool. I used to live here in San Fran, close to the start of the famous California coastal Route 101. It's because of Google Local that I have the balls to drive to upstate New York to find Schenectady train station to take me to Montreal.

You'll Never Walk Alone

It's a great city, but maybe Boris Johnson was right after all...

Complete Control

Liam Lawlor was a crook and now he's a dead crook. But his family did not, and the Ukrainian woman in the car certainly did not, deserve to see the smear job that was inflicted by the greatest rag in Irish print journalism - the Sunday Independent. I'd use it as bog roll only the ink runs so easily.

Daddy's Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car

When I got over here, I looked up the websites of pretty much every band I've linked to over. It was amazing how many of them had played the US East Coast in late September and early October and that I had just missed, but I still had a few options.

During the summer an Irish Times Ticket article mentioned a Montreal band called Wolf Parade. As I was already a huge fan of The Arcade Fire and Stars, I figured I'd like these as well and I did love their EP, which I bought off iTunes. Anyway, for $7 in, they were playing in Cafe 9 in New Haven - the dump of a town seemingly built around Yale University (alma mater of Mr Burns!). New Haven actually has an Irish bar called the Playwright that is, supposedly, an Irish Church dismantled and carted over to this part of New England.

Well they were excellent and I bought their album at the gig and listened to it all the way home in the car. The gig was listed as doors 9.30 and we were in before 8 cos it was pissing rain (again) and we were bored walking around getting drowned. The place was full by 9:30 when the support act came on - some dude who fancied himself as a Bob Dylan type, boring me with Dylan-esque "listen to those lyrics and ignore the fact that the guy can't sing and the tunes suck".

Then, at 10:30, three freaks of nature whose sound seemed to consist of a drum-kit and various takes on car alarms annoyed the crap out of me for about an hour. Must have been influenced by Radiohead. Then ANOTHER support act kicked off at 11:30 and played the most depressing turgid guff (even worse than The Frames) for another hour. Example "This next song is about not being dead but everyone treats you like you're dead and you see your headstone and you see a birth date but no death date after the dash and you feel buried alive". People were nearly asleep by the end, but amazingly polite. I dunno how they got away with it.

Anyway Wolf Parade didn't start til nearly 1am, so it was a good thing they were excellent otherwise I would have gone nuts. You can download Shine A Light and You Are A Runner.

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Lenny thinks he's an excellent driver, like most people do. Lenny is a shit driver, like most people are. I know I'm not great myself. I go too fast (though I'm better now) and I'm a bit aggressive. But I religiously avoid all of these, which makes me better than most, I think. I've done most of the distance driving here, being content to let Lenny drive us to work while I sip my coffee. But, sort of like a child being denied a go on a new toy, he insisted he drive us to Hartford (state capital) yesterday.
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Well good Jebus it was excruciating stuff. Crawling along a 3-lane Highway at 55 mph, then speeding up, driving too close to slower vehicles and then braking (repeated ad nauseum). Lenny would regularly get caught in an exit lane, slow down to change and then call everybody else forced to pass on both sides idiots! I just sat there gritting my teeth.
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Then we hit a pretty hard rain shower. Now Lenny was already struggling to stay in his lane: "Aww, y'know they should have cats eyes like we do, d'y'know", and this finished him off. He allowed the inside of the car run out of the lane and onto the hard shoulder. The change in surface under the car made him panic and he hammered on the brakes, aqua-planing us into the hard-shoulder. Somehow he managed not to wreck the car on the barriers. Thank Christ we weren't in an outside lane or he would probably have drifted in front of a juggernaut.
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"Lenny", I said, "I'm driving".
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So this weekend Lenny hacked me off by trying to get me killed.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Stay Free

Rory Carroll has been released, thank God. I wonder if he even knows himself how things worked out - we'll know soon enough. I wonder if the Irish delegation even had time to pack their bags before heading over to stress how not-British he is.

Deny

If ever proof was needed that the people opposing the siting of an incinerator in Ringaskiddy in Cork haven't a notion what they're talking about, then this is it...

"The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday insisted that an increase in the level of dioxins revealed by a survey of the Ringaskiddy area of Cork harbour was well within EU safety guidelines and that the dioxin level in the general harbour area had improved.

The survey by the EPA was carried out in the summer of 2004 and involved the agency taking milk samples from 17 sites around the country and analysing these for dioxins, which are deposited on grass and ingested by cattle and transferred into milk yields.

According to the report, the level of dioxins in milk fat taken from a sample in the Ringaskiddy area rose to 0.226 picogrammes per gram of milk fat in contrast to reductions in 10 of another eleven sites where comparisons could be made between 2000 and 2004.

Dr Colman Concannon of the EPA said it was not possible to draw clear conclusions from the 2000 and 2004 Ringaskiddy tests as they were not necessarily based on samples from the same farms but from milk pools made up from possibly different farms.

Ringaskiddy is the site chosen by Indaver Ireland for its proposed toxic waste incinerator.Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment said the report and the Ringaskiddy findings highlighted the need for a moratorium on mass incineration until proper baseline health studies have been carried out.

However, Dr Concannon said the 2004 Ringaskiddy figure was still some 10 times less than the EU safe limit."

Just to be clear, there are 1,000,000,000,000 (1 thousand billion in the modern understanding) picogrammes in one gram so the concentration of dioxins in the milk fat is 1 part per 4,424,778,761,061. These numbers are so small as to be totally meaningless. To put it in context, there are the same number of litres (1,000,000,000,000) in 1 Kilometer cubed. So the dilution factor we're considering is the equivalent of roughly the contents of two road petrol tankers dropped into the Caspian Sea! I like those odds, bring it on dioxins!!

And how these figures even come close to "highlighting the need for a moratorium on mass incineration" is beyond me... unless one wants to frame the discussion in terms of house prices.

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Lenny has taken the day off. However he did ring my room last night to enquire if he needed to put "Europe" on the bottom of a letter he was sending back to Ireland.

I said "no".

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Colleague

We usually sit in silence in our windowless office (save for the regular noises that I alluded to before). It's a long time since I've had to share an office, the one I have has ten foot windows from wall to wall, looking across bay in Cork. That information is irrelevant to this story, but I hope someone in a cubicle somewhere is jealous. Anyway, Lenny likes to pipe up every now and then and come out with some crap straight out of leftfield. I can be just sitting here, working away, and Lenny will say, as he did 15 minutes ago, "Awww, y'know, I think a better approach on eee-bay is to get your bid in early and flush the spoofers out, d'y'know. What do you think, hey?...". And I'll sit here, baffled, trying to retune my brain from what I was mulling over to this new, and vital, information.

However I suppose that kind of thing is pretty bearable - a lot of us think out loud after all. What becomes unbearable is the amateur psychology, or bolloxology as I like to call it...

*silence* (me mulling over computer models of processes I've never run, mild trance)

Lenny: "Awww, so how's that girl you were seeing there, the one doing the PhDeee?"

Me: "Wha'?... Who?... Oh, eh, grand I think... At least she was the last... Why the feck do you wanna know?"

Lenny: "Awww, y'know, nothing. I just heard you were still in touch with her... d'y'know."

Me: "Yeah. So? What's it to you?"

Lenny: "Well, y'know, she was a nice girl, d'y'know. I was just wondering if there was anything... there, y'know."

Me: "Where in Christ's name is this shit coming from?"

Lenny: "Awww Hawww! Touchy subject so! Hawww, hawww, hawww!!"

Me (getting thick): "NO. I'm just wondering why, after being over here for over two weeks, you've suddenly started wondering about a girl I broke up with nearly three years ago and who I haven't seen since the middle of the summer."

Lenny: "Well... awww, I always thought you made a nice couple, d'y'know."

Me: "Lenny, you've met her twice. Ever. And the last time was over a year ago and you were locked. So what the fuck are you on about?"

Lenny: "Awww it's just that my girlfriend thinks..."

Me: "I've never met your bleedin' girlfriend!"

Lenny: "Awww, I know, hey, but I be telling her what the lads be getting up to, d'y'know, and I was telling her that I think you let a good one pass there, y'know, and she was saying that you should get that girl to visit you the same week as she is over and we can go to Bawwwston as two couples. We could book a nice hotel! You could show her a good time!!, AWWW, HAWWW, H..."

Me: *explosion of expletives, profanity and a promise to shove each and every golf club he's trying to buy on 'eee-bay' up his hole if he ever even broaches the subject of my past relationships again*

Lenny (cowed): "We were only looking out for you, d'y'know..."

So, today, Lenny has hacked me off by making an issue of my private life prior to the delivery of said golf clubs.

Hate And War

The Guardian's Rory Carroll has been kidnapped in Iraq. I wonder what the Irish Times Letter writers will make of this. Clearly it's the government's fault for breaching our long-standing, internationally respecteded neutrality by siding with those imperialistic Americans and letting US troops stretch their legs in Shannon before they go carpet bombing the Eye-Rakis.

Who'll be the first to demand he gets released on the grounds that he's Irish and not actually British at all? If we could just get those poor oppressed Islamic fundamentalists to listen to our radio phone-ins they'd realise we're all just as opposed to the occupation as they are. Who'll also be the first to demand that the Dept. of Foreign Affairs "do something"? As if they're in a position to do squat.

This is Carroll's last filed story. He's been a good reporter thus far (if a little bit too keen to lead the reader to believe unsubstantiated 'eye-witness' accounts). His kidnapping is, like every single other one, totally unjustified. Hopefully his fate won't be that of so many others at the hands of cold-blooded nutcases.

Career Opportunities

Interesting temping-job for someone with the, er, right qualifications (and in West London too)...

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Somebody Got Murdered

Or, to put it another way, Brian Kerr got the bullet. I feel sorry for him. He's a good football man, he's a good Irish football man and he cares about the development of the grassroots game in Ireland (and we need that at a time of increasingly pork-tastic, pudding box kids not running around our schoolyards).

If you don't cheat by grouping hurling and gaelic football under the heading "Gaelic Games" then football is the most popular male participation sport in Ireland and the Ireland manager's job is possibly the single most important and high pressure job in Irish sport (I would have said President of the GAA is, only he can barely choose which type of bogroll he's allowed wipe his hole with without a special session of Congress).

A week ago I wanted the guy out but all that seems to be in the running for the job are spoofers, chancers, assorted mockeryologists and Martin O'Neill. If we don't get Martin O'Neill then this has been a bad, bad move.

Tryin' To Throw Your Arms Around The World

I'm very fond of Henry McDonald's opinion columns in the Observer. It's lucky for him, though, that taking the Irish down a peg or two can be quite an easy task for any half competent writer. On Sunday he once again hit the nail on the head when congratulating Booker-winner John Banville for, as he puts it, his "refusal to allow himself to be portrayed as the literary version of a Eurovision winner."

McDonald satirically defines the 'Irish Conceit' as "the belief that 'we' are the most special, gifted, talented, put-down and oppressed people to walk upright on this planet." The context of his piece is the ridiculous exchange of views between Father Alec "I believe the IRA when they say..." Reid and Willie "I had loads of Catholic friends when I was a wee lad, which gives my opinions so much more validity" Frazer of FAIR.

It's all very true, of course. For a country our size we seem to command an awful lot of column inches across the world. I suppose that this is because we are the one 'conflict' zone in the world that speaks English; and maybe it is also because our large numbers of English speaking emigrants made it to the other, globally influential, English speaking nations. I note my use of the word 'world' above. It probably ought to be prefixed 'English-speaking'.

We do seem to feel special. How many times have you heard someone say "They love the Irish" (with an added "... and they hate the English" for good measure) when talking about people in foreign lands? We seem to feel the collective need for everyone to love us. I remember meeting an American girl, who was half Vietnamese, in Belgium about seven years ago and being stunned when she told me she didn't like Ireland at all! Do you remember how personally the nation seemed to take the lack of Oscar nominations for Michael Collins? Or how we were stunned that someone could believe an Irish Olympian might be a drug cheat? Or how there were nearly street protests when Eastenders introduced a fictional family from Kildare that were a bunch of knackers? Also, more recently, how we seem to forget that other football teams don't actually stand to one side to allow the Boys in Green saunter to another major tournament and prove, once more, that we're the Best Fans in the World (C).

The truth is that without America's Irish heritage (in particular) ,and the fact we speak English, our existence would barely register on the global stage. We would be as anonymous as Benin or Guinea or Tajikistan (each of which have populations roughly double ours). The other truth is that nobody would give a damn about our nasty, grubby little conflict and its never-ending peace process, when there are far worse, and more-ignored, examples of inter-tribal murder in many corners of the world.

If our (few) successful musicians didn't sing in English, our (few) successful actors didn't act in English language shows and our (few) successful literary people didn't write in English then there would be no Grammys, no Oscars and no Booker prizes. There would be no room for our conceit and, perhaps, a very different national character. And maybe we would get on with our Slavic levels of alcohol consumption without resorting to playing the fool to live up to our international stereotype for others' amusement.

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Speaking of stereotypes, the guy in the company looking after our training is a muslim - a Texan about my age who is the son of Pakistani immigrants. Apropos of nothing, he was telling us this lunchtime that he's on the verge of completing flight training and getting his pilot's licence...
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Lenny: "And will you have any issues with getting your licence?"
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Ali: "No, once I've completed the hours and the training, that's it."
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Lenny: "Awww... no issues with the police then?"
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Ali: "No, why...?"
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Lenny: "It's just... awww... ..."
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...and then it dawns on me what the muttonhead is getting at. An awkward silence ensues before I wade in and say "he's looking for a pilot to fly him in some drugs from Mexico" (hey, it was the best I could do in a pressure situation). I don't really think he got away with it. So, today, Lenny has hacked me off by implying to our host that all muslim pilots are a threat to America's national security.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Wanderer

So it finally stopped raining. The average rainfall around here for October is about 4 inches but, from Friday 8th to Saturday just gone about 11 inches of rain has fallen. Ridiculous really.

So, anyway, I saw Franz Ferdinand in Boston on Saturday night. As expected they put on an excellent show, mixing up the two albums fairly evenly. Two of the roadies started playing the drum kit as well as the drummer (sort of one simble and one drum each) during the encore, which was gimmicky but kinda class. The Orpheum Theatre is very similar to Dublin's Olympia. I was right at the back on the top level, but that meant I could stand on my seat and get a great view - so it worked out well.

Because of the weather, the train we had booked to Boston got cancelled so we ended up driving. The Amtrak from New London to Boston is $80 return, and we're only talking about a 90-odd mile journey (and I thought Iarnrod Eireann prices were bad). Car parking in the city was $26 for the two days so no wonder people looked puzzled when we said we were going by train.

Of course going by car leads to certain hazards one wouldn't expect to come across when travelling by train. There is the Lenny factor for a start. We sort of got split up on Saturday night and I... eh... had to make my way back on Sunday morning to where I was supposed to have stayed (tall buildings in city centres make it very easy to figure out the direction you're supposed to head, don't you think?) So, when I got back, I found Lenny standing beside the car. Good stuff, I thought, I'll grab my stuff, have a shower and change. Alas things weren't so simple. A hungover and generally disconnected Lenny had locked the keys of the car in the boot.

For some reason he seemed to think I should take pity on him and sort it all out with the rental company. So, in the nicest possible way, I told him to take a running jump. I wandered off for the day to take in the sights and sounds while Lenny was restricted to a 100 yard radius while waiting for the Sunday callout guy, who didn't arrive til after 5pm. Hah! He's lucky there was a Starbucks and a Wendys within the 100 yard radius. Boston is a nice city to take in at your own pace... So, this weekend, Lenny hacked me off by trying to get me stranded.

Friday, October 14, 2005

This Is Fucking Ridiculous

I didn't bother mentoning this before, but I got myself a T-Mobile pay-as-you go mobile phone to cover me while I was in the States. However, when I went to top up, the website stated that it could only take US issued credit cards. I got the same thing when I tried over the phone.

Now my order for that camera has been cancelled. The webstore rang me and informed me they couldn't take non-US issued credit cards either. I have both Visa and American Express credit cards but apparently being issued in Ireland somehow makes them different. What a pile of bullshit. I have used my credit card all over Europe, in Asian based webstores and in Brazil. My sister has used my credit card in Australia and New Zealand. I have never heard this bullshit before. What the fuck is wrong with them?

And another thing, I've been to three banks since I got here and the tellers have all been brain dead morons. What's the point in being all friendly and giving the illusion of caring about quality customer service if you're a bloody incompetent? I have some post I need to send but I'm now afraid to go near a Post Office.

Ivan Meets G.I. Joe

I just made a huge decision in my life - I purchased a digital camera. "What?", you say, "That's not much of a decision." "Aha!", I say, "You don't know my history with mobile phones, which I will now enlighten you with". I got my first mobile phone when I was in 4th year of college (1998) - a big chunky Phillips Diga. Only one other person in my class of 70 odd had one at the time (those were the days...) - a popular lass by the name of Gen C. Rangey. Since then I have made my way through, no word of a lie, three phone numbers, the Phillips phone, two Panasonics and eight (I think) Nokias.

I have managed to drop a phone into a pint of water on the ground beside my armchair. I have managed to reverse my car over one (it still worked but the screen was fecked). I have dropped one into the Danube; lost another one somewhere else in Budapest; dropped and broke one of those tough Nokia jobbies (within a week of getting it) in the jacks while... er... trying to answer it while taking a whizz a the same time; and I've simply walked out of a pub having left one on the table. Three of these incidents took place in the space of nine months, leading me to switch to Meteor because I was too embarrassed to go back to the Vodafone insurance for a fourth time in a year.

The camera really doesn't have a chance.

If you're interested, I went for this after a few days of humming and hawwing. Photography is just a nostalgia trip for me, so I really don't give a crap that it's autofocus only and has no optical zoom. I stick to disposables normally, but after I got a pile of woeful shots in Italy I figured it was time I got a proper camera.

.........................................

So last night me and Lenny went to a bar in New London. I was driving and on the fizzy water. Anyway the cops raided the place looking for id and started checking everyone. I flashed my passport, as I've learned that an Irish driving licence doesn't cut the mustard here, and sat back and watched horror descend over Lenny's face...

"Awww, officer, I didn't realise I had to carry id here."

"Son, what age are you?"

"Awww, I'm... 30, so I am."

"You don't look 30, son."

"Awww HAW, HAW, HAW, HAW! Thanks very much, hey! I'm actually with that guy there (points at me) and I'm older than him. We're working here."

*horror* (me this time) then a few seconds of silence as the cop absorbs this info.

"Son, are you British?"

Me: "No, I'm Irish." (you just looked at my passport, gobshite)

"Do you have your immigration papers?"

Me "Weeeeelll (sweat on my brow, half the bar looking at us, Lenny still hasn't worked out why we now have a major problem) y'see, we're not actually working. We were sent here for eleven weeks training by our company and we're going home before Christmas. We're not being paid here, or anything, and we're not carrying out any productive work in the States. We were allowed in by immigration on the 90 day rule."

"Your friend says you are working here."

"Yes, he's wrong, he should have said training."

"Boys, we'll have to sort this out..."

So into the cop car (first time ever, I swear) and down the station. To cut a long story short, our passports were surgically examined, we had to make statements and, when we presented our tickets for our flights home and evidence that we were still working off Irish bank accounts, we were let go.

Lenny: "Awww, that was ridiculous, hey, you'd think we were Russian spies..." followed by a long rant about how the entire US law enforcement community were in the wrong and not him. So, today (or last night to be precise), Lenny hacked me off by trying to get me deported.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Love Is Blindness

I almost forgot.

If I ever get married I will permit Shay Given a go on my wife.

All I Want Is U2

Well that was depressing - the incessant rain that has fallen here since last Friday suits my mood following those two games of "football". Kerr out, O'Neill in - it's the only answer I can see...

To lift my mood a bit, though, I secured a floor ticket this morning to see U2 and Arcade Fire in Montreal the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I won't say how much I paid for it. I've also nabbed tickets to see Franz Ferdinand in Boston this Saturday; Wolf Parade (more indie Montreal types) in New Haven next Saturday; the Giants v Redskins NFL match at the end of the month, the Boston Celtics v San Antonio NBA match in mid-November; and to see Stars (yet more indie Montreal types) in New York in late November. All that, plus plans to visit mates Dermo and Stiff in Philly and Seattle, respectively, before I get home. If this rain keeps up I might go to Florida too, just to see the sun again. Oh, and I'm working as well!

.................................

As you may or may not know, I'm single. This, coupled with a job that pays well and that I'm good at, means that I am very used to my own space and doing what I want, when I want. Because there are two of us here, me and Lenny, I'm finding we have to do stuff as a pair, sort of as a couple, as it were. This is not least because the company has us sharing a hire car - and Lenny's driving is a WHOLE other story...

Anyway Lenny wants to do different things to me. Lenny doesn't like going to live music (as the Dire Straits episode might testify). That should suit me, only Lenny doesn't see why I should get the car to go to said concerts either. Lenny also likes to have great plans of his own, only he never follows through on any of them. Lenny wants to invite half of Ireland to come visit us, for example; wants us to go to Buffalo to visit his cousin and seems to think he's getting the car for the week his teacher girlfriend is visiting here. He also seems to have a veto on when and where we eat (always together) and when and where we shop (again, always together). So today Lenny is hacking me off by seriously cramping my style.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

C'mon the country

Oi, bâtards suisses ! Où est le Nazi de l'or ?
Oi, schweizer bastard! Wo ist der Nazi Gold?
Oi, bastardi svizzeri! Dove è il Nazi oro?

I think that covers just about all of them...

Yes, it seems to be that time of year again where we play a bunch of gold-hording gits who you would imagine should be relatively inoffensive (and relatively easy to beat) yet manage to make your blood boil by beating us while simultaneously being blatantly crap.

Our manager (whom, as a League of Ireland product, I would dearly love to see do well) is in last chance saloon and I'm fairly sure he doesn't know how to get out of it. His meticulous attention to detail just seems to be failing to inspire our boys to consistently raise their mediocre abilities to achieve the results too many of us have become accustomed to.

He is a cautious manager by nature and this fact, coupled with an inability to drop players who are playing badly for their clubs and a coaching system that seems to completely ignore planning for set-pieces, may lead to a frustrating, fruitless night followed by the loss of his job.

But then we're really due a big performance so who knows?...

.................................
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Speaking of football, Lenny knows Sweet FA about football. There's nothing wrong with this normally, of course, but Lenny seems to believe he's an authority on the sport and, in general, I despise people who pretend to know what they're talking about (especially things I care about). The fact is the guy has never heard of some of the game's top players and doesn't know who plays for which clubs. Yet some of the language he uses to describe the goings on would put even Vincent Hogan (Class A charlatan and gobshite) to shame.
.
As far as I knew Lenny was an Arsenal fan. However, last season, he revealed that he was, in fact, and always had been, an Everton fan. Now I've known the guy nearly five years, but I did not know that. You don't mind kids growing up supporting any team, in any sport, because of success - after geography it's the natural basis for following a team. In general, most Leeds fans are in their forties, for example, 'pool fans tend to be in their late twenties / thirties while Man Yoo fans were either brought up in the '90s or their dads were fans in the '50s and '60s. But you do mind grown men switching their allegiances to rival clubs to follow success. Needless to say Lenny has been fairly quiet about the toffee's lack of form, and the Gunners' for that matter, this season.
.
Anyway today Lenny is discussing the forthcoming match. Apparently Liam Miller should play. That's Liam Miller the Man Yoo midfelder that's hardly seen a game of football for 18 months. Lenny thinks he did well for Celtic. I'm trying to point out that this was in 2003. It turns out he meant Aidan McGeady. He's hardly played all season either. Today Lenny is hacking me off by talking bollox.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Colleague

Lenny makes noises. Lenny makes lots of noises. Lenny talks to himself and emits a fairly constant dull sound from the back of his throat that is somehwere between "Ehhh..." and "Awww..." when he's considering something. Lenny likes to inhale deeply every now and then and let out a big "AHHHH...". Lenny likes to clap his hands and congratulate himself. Lenny also has one of those strange nasal whistles some people have when breathing through their nose. And Lenny has a stomach problem, or so he seems to need to tell me regularly. This seems to involve him doing those strange gassy belches (the ones that people who eat rich food too quickly seem to make) on an almost constant basis. Me and Lenny share an office. Today Lenny hacked me off by making me want to beat my head off the keyboard with his inability to keep f#cking quiet...

Monday, October 10, 2005

Some Days Are Better Than Others

I went to a beer tasting night with people from work on Friday. Beers from all over the world and all over the States. The Guinness importer had Harp (don't laugh, it's one of the most expensive imports here) so I get ready for the whole "It's brewed in my home town" bit when I read the label and see it's brewed under licence in bleedin Canada! Gits.

I drove for 90 minutes and payed $20 into an Irish bar in New Haven, Connecticut to watch that pitiful excuse for a football match on Saturday. I have supported Kerr thus far but it's an insult to people's intelligence to say "In the second half we were better. We used it quite well at times and we were more composed and comfortable." and "I think it's a fair result". Bollox, Brian. Kilbane is a shadow of the player he was this time last year, he does not deserve to start Wednesday, but he will and we will get overrun in midfield. Again.

I lost $90 in about 5 minutes playing roulette at the Mohegan Sun casino yesterday. Generalisations may be wrong, but the Chinese and South East Asians have gambling issues like the Irish have drinking issues. With roulette you should break even over time if you're smart, but you have to be willing to double up to cover your losses. And at $15 minimum stake I just don't have the balls.

I sat down and resolved to watch my first full ball game yesterday and, nearly 6 hours later, the Astros had defeated the Braves 7-6 after 18 innings. Yep, the game I picked had to be the longest playoff game in baseball history. I was able to read most of a book and iron my five work-shirts in between all the innings.

........................

There are actually two of us from work on the project over here. I'll refer to the other fella as Lenny. I used to enjoy his company but, over time, he's turned into more than a bit of a head-wrecker. So I figure someone, somewhere felt that I needed a test of patience or something. Anyway, in homage to a sadly defunct blog I used to read, I will henceforth post one item per day detailing how Lenny has hacked me off so as to get it off my chest.

Today Lenny hacked me off by playing Dire Straits' Money for Nothing loudly in our (shared) hire car all the way to work while shouting over it at me insisting how "class" it is. As a result I've now got crappy '80s guitar ringing in my head...

Friday, October 07, 2005

I'm So Bored With The USA

Well, actually I'm not, not yet anyway. However, because I'm a guest in this country (and because my work colleagues, despite being completely stereotypical American corpo types, have been sound so far) I have no intention of criticising what I see as being odd, daft or just plain wrong in front of them. But that won't stop me doing it here.

Book shops here are just a bit strange. I mean, they have all the titles you'd expect to see in a Waterstones or Easons back home but they also have a whole pile of frankly odd and/or disturbing book titles, particularly in the Politics sections. Book titles all seem to sound the same after a while, in a way. One that was prominently displayed in the shop I was in was How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must). Another was Millionaire Republican : Why Rich Republicans Get Rich--and How You Can Too!. Do you see what I mean?

Anyway I was chuckling away to myself at all this, in an admittedly condescending way, when I came across Help! Mom! There are Liberals Under My Bed!. I thought this was another jokey book, the sort of thing that seems to pass for satire here. (Although considering satire in Ireland was once considered to be Don't Feed the Gondolas and the writing of that fat prick Brendan O'Connor, I probably have no right to judge). But it isn't.

This book is supposed to be for children or, more correctly, a book parents can use to teach their children the evils of Liberalism or the benefits of conservatism or whatever the fuck. Maybe I shouldn't take it seriously but it nagged at me. The gist of it is that Tommy and Lou, a pair of all-American kids trying to live the dream, open a lemonade shop, only to be thwarted by those damn Liberals who take down their picture of Jesus and insist that they sell broccoli with their lemonade. This is a book for kids who have barely learned to read. I mean, what kind of soulless bastard do you have to be?

I thought political indoctrination was reserved for the Nazis or Soviet Russia. And no one scream "moral equivalence" at me!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

If God Will Send His Angels

Well done you muttonheads, way to piss off a nation that was beginning to tolerate you again.

It's even worse that "abstinence" has come into the debate. Church teaching on abstinence before marriage and fidelity to your spouse, as an effective protection against HIV infection, has a certain validity (if the whole population choose to live that way and you pretend that blood transfusions don't happen). But preaching abstinence to avoid pregnancy, so that a chemo drug won't harm the unborn child the woman/patient doesn't even have yet, is just so, so wrong.

The church can preach its ethics and morals, it has as much of a right to an opinion as any group or individual. But it has NO right to impose its morality on others, which is what it's doing in this case. If the issue is that the Mater Hospital in Dublin is the church's hospital and it, therefore, has a "right" to impose its own ideas of ethics on prospective patients, then the state should take whatever steps are necessary to wrest control of that hospital from the church.

Allowing the State to interfere with individual freedoms is debatable, allowing the Church to do it is intolerable. The witholding of medical treatment on any non-medical grounds should be outlawed.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

In God's Country

A long day, made 2 hours longer by that extremely daft Shannon stopover, but at least I got a long lie in as far as my body clock is concerned. I saw a planeload of US troops in fatigues in Shannon. The Americans on our flight applauded them back to their plane. All I could think was that I'd be shitting concrete blocks myself if I was one of them. Yesterday was my 4th or 5th time in Shannon since the war began but it was the first time I'd seen any troops.

The movie on the flight (on my personal, business class tv...) was Batman Begins. What a steaming pile of turd that was. If I was pedantic I'd complain that it doesn't even come close to tying in properly with the rest of the franchise (a different guy altogether kills Bruce Wayne's parents for a start) but really, considering the subject matter, the problem was that it took itself far too seriously - as a film its head was up its own hole.

I picked up my car, a Ford Taurus (what a piece of shit) in Boston Logan and made the ~3 hour journey into Connecticut. The radio was set to Boston 104.1 FM and the VERY first thing I heard was "Hey, guy, come on, answer the question. Gay or retarded?" "Gay. At least you'd be enjoying yourself!" That was then followed by a long rant blaming the Boston Herald for the Red Sox defeat to the White Sox that was then in progress. The Herald ran a piece comparing Reds to Whites, including comparing Fenway Franks favourably to Chicago Hot Dogs, nonsense that thus jinxed Boston, apparently.

So I'm at work now and have bashed that out because, at the moment, the locals aren't sure what to do with me. I have to watch myself because, although every paddy is convinced that all Americans "love the Irish", 'round here they see us as job robbers. This factory is smaller than mine, employs more people and manufactures something like 5% the value of drugs we do. All to do with tax of course. I'll be a lot happier when my shit is sorted and I know exactly what I'm doing when I come in each day.

Monday, October 03, 2005

48 Hours

Decided to leave Cork with a bang and I'm still suffering the consequences of forgetting what damage bangs can do. It started gently enough - going to see Jason Byrne in the Comedy Club - but it then turned into staying up the entire night talking shite (although I had the, er, sense to stop boozing 'round 3am). The problem then was it was now 9am, I still hadn't been home, I had to drive back to Dundalk and I didn't want to miss the Liverpool v Bigger Bunch of Cnuts than Man Yoo match.

Cue savage amounts of coffee and a fry-up in town, a bus back to my gaff, shit, shower 'n' shave and I'm on the road by 11. Amazingly, I got home relatively easy in one piece by just after three, and went straight out for the game. Really, why did I bother? Even if Man Yoo and Toffee fans would loathe to admit it, Liverpool are England's last bastion of football as it used to be and as most supporters prefer it. The Gooners push them close but Liverpool are the epitome of a family owned club supported by the sons of the city. Man Yoo have been slaves to the stock market for years (despite recent protestations) and the market has been good to them, even if it looks like it may hinder them now. And Chelsea? Well, what can I say that no one else hasn't?

So by now I'm up about 33 hours and heading home for dinner with the folks. I'm blessed - both my parents are excellent cooks. My mind is starting to wander though. I go to put on a new jumper but the tag is one of those little rope and cardboard things that's tied way too tight on the label. I struggle with it for about ten minutes (getting scissors doesn't occur to me) and wonder how they get the damn things on. I assume some sort of machine does it automatically but then I wonder what kind of freak invents a machine to tie bits of rope to people's clothes...

I want to go to bed but I feel guilty, my folks would understand, of course, but last weekend when I was doing my round of goodbyes they hardly saw me. So I stay up and watch the outstandingly crap Shaft (new version) on RTE. I head for the leaba at about midnight and... can't fucking sleep. Wtf. I try reading, then get up and watch more TV (a full episode of Sharpe on UK Gold, the battle scenes are so shit!) I eventually get to sleep at 5am and am up by 10 this morning. Today's my last day before I'm Connecticut bound and I've things to sort out. Not quite 48 hours, but about 42.

I'm flying business class tomorrow - Dublin to Boston. I like flying business class. I'm normally on my own and am flying on my own time. The suit beside me, therefore, will regard me with slight puzzlement in my "stressed" denims and Clash t-shirt (a nice big print of Paul Simonon smashing his bass in Madison Square Garden, I think it was). My mind is still acting up. I've taken two notions this morning - one to give up drink 'til Christmas (but I'll make an exception when I meet Dermo) and, two, to let my hair grow (I normally buzz myself a No. 2 every weekend). I'm going to look like a microphone.

Was any of that coherent? Feel free to wonder what, exactly, the point of all that was.

Quote Of The Weekend - "There was an empty seat next to me, Kilbane could've been sitting in it" - An unfortunately anonymous Toffee on MotD2.
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