The Liberation Of Wall Street

The corner of Wall Street and Broadway, showin...
Stop Protesting - If You Know What's Good For You

So Wall Street is no longer occupied; not by protesters at least. The encampment has been swept away on the – quite specious – grounds of health and safety. I’m a strong supporter of laws to protect innocent people, so it always angers me to see them abused. Taking something enacted for public benefit and repurposing it to oppress undermines the rule of law and draws democracy into disrepute.

To compound the dishonesty they were told that, this being nothing more than a cleaning, they would of course be welcome to return as soon as it was over.

Only… Don’t bring camping gear.

Whose health and safety anyway? The order cites that of local residents, the emergency services, and the protesters themselves. The former two you could understand if the encampment did present some sort of hazard. (It didn’t.) Those groups have little choice but to be in its proximity. But the protesters themselves? They’re being ordered to leave on the grounds that by assembling peacefully, they pose a health hazard to themselves.

One wonders what form of protest couldn’t be suppressed on such grounds. Leave the powers that be to get on with it. Resistance is bad for you.

Dial C for Panic

A 1999 Ford Transit Ice Cream Van at Heath Vil...
The Chimes of Nemesis

Should you be worried by the WHO’s warning on mobile phones? Well don’t let me stop you. On current evidence you’re more likely to be run over by a taxi – hell, you’re more likely to be run over by an ice cream van playing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. But the World Health Organization has decided that they are a ‘possible cause’ of cancer. So if worrying is your thing, knock yourself out.

I know what you’re going to say. All this ‘putting things in perspective’ stuff is well and good, but getting cancer in your brain is f***ing scary. I am forced to agree. But if we take precautions in proportion not to how likely a threat is but to how frightening, we’ll all go around with crash helmets over our crotches in case we ever meet that Amazonian fish that swims up you. That’s the scariest thing in the world.

So how can we properly calibrate our fear with only ‘possible cause’ to go on – are phones extremely deadly, or only slightly deadly? With billions using mobiles, the prospect of them all getting cancer would make any previous threat to human life seem laughable. Perhaps everyone has a time bomb in their head right now. It could be. Many years may pass before cellular genetic damage manifests itself detectably. With little more than ten years’ real-world evidence, how can we know?

Well of course they have been around longer, it was just that they were rare until prices plummeted at the turn of the century. Indeed in the form of carphones and briefcase-sized portables, mobiles of a sort have been with us since the 70s at least. These were different from ours though. They were on different frequencies, they were analogue rather than digital, they didn’t use a cellular system. Most saliently of all perhaps, they created far stronger electromagnetic fields. So it is entirely possible that while the phones used by the red-suspendered bond traders of the 80s were deadly, the modern kind is not.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

The question for the rest of us is, should this extremely vague pronouncement change our lives? Well speaking for myself I suspect that, pursuant of very many poor lifestyle choices, I am already too raddled with incipient tumours for this to make any measurable difference. But while the jury is still out I think it would be wrong to let kids use phones unnecessarily.

Which is to say, at all. Let the pristine little buggers text.

Daytrip to Damascus

I began to suspect that this was no ordinary stroll

So as I write I’m taking a walk, trying to work yesterday’s mountain out of my bones. That was… something. An eye-opener. You can fool yourself into thinking you’re a lot more fit than you really are. When you have to lie on the rocks every ten minutes just to get oxygen back into your brain, while boisterous schoolgirls, families with children, and sprightly old gentlemen in brown suits are ploughing on past, you eventually come to accept that you’re not in peak condition.

 

If you survive the climb, you get a very pretty view

But is it so surprising, when up until a few years ago I was a heavy smoker, until a year ago this week I was a heavy drinker, and even now live an almost heroically sedentary lifestyle? That I am alive at all is really the puzzle here. But it is time to be nicer to my body. And there’s no better way to start being nice to your body than with the meatgrinder of a six-hour trek up a pile of loose rubble. Or so my girlfriend believes.

It's all your fault, you Welsh bastard

I don’t know, she might be right. As I walk here – typing as I go, thanks to my curious phone – I begin to feel a lot better. The knots are coming out, and I have a sense of somatic integrity I haven’t felt in a long time.

You begin to understand the pilgrimage, and why it was so vital to go up such a difficult and dangerous hill. It reminds you to appreciate the little things in life. Standing. Breathing. Moving around. Being without pain. These are things I value much more today.

Daytrip to Damascus

I began to suspect that this was no ordinary stroll

So as I write I’m taking a walk, trying to work yesterday’s mountain out of my bones. That was… something. An eye-opener. You can fool yourself into thinking you’re a lot more fit than you really are. When you have to lie on the rocks every ten minutes just to get oxygen back into your brain, while boisterous schoolgirls, families with children, and sprightly old gentlemen in brown suits are ploughing on past, you eventually come to accept that you’re not in peak condition.

 

If you survive the climb, you get a very pretty view

But is it so surprising, when up until a few years ago I was a heavy smoker, until a year ago this week I was a heavy drinker, and even now live an almost heroically sedentary lifestyle? That I am alive at all is really the puzzle here. But it is time to be nicer to my body. And there’s no better way to start being nice to your body than with the meatgrinder of a six-hour trek up a pile of loose rubble. Or so my girlfriend believes.

It's all your fault, you Welsh bastard

I don’t know, she might be right. As I walk here – typing as I go, thanks to my curious phone – I begin to feel a lot better. The knots are coming out, and I have a sense of somatic integrity I haven’t felt in a long time.

You begin to understand the pilgrimage, and why it was so vital to go up such a difficult and dangerous hill. It reminds you to appreciate the little things in life. Standing. Breathing. Moving around. Being without pain. These are things I value much more today.

Traffic Circles For The Kill

water
Image by flikr via Flickr

When your mother is on the phone discussing her sister’s medical condition, “jelly-like” is not a phrase you want to overhear.

But anyway, today was my first official driving lesson. I did well – for my first lesson. Unfortunately in my head I was ready to pass. Dammit there is so much crap you have to learn to do – and you have to do your learning while travelling at speed. I lurched in the space of an hour from being fairly confident behind a wheel to feeling like a monkey astronaut. I mean it’s crazy; you’re sailing along while turning a wheel in a circular motion, moving your feet up and down, and looking into mirrors. I’m dizzy just thinking about it.

Oh, that turned out to be what was wrong with my mother’s sister – dizzy spells. It was her legs that felt like jelly. Cool; I have an actual giddy aunt.

Adding One Word Turns Science Into Bullshit

©William Murphy, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license
Met Éireann's headquarters were modelled on the Death Star

I was wondering what Gaddafi was really up to when he declared a ceasefire. Taking a chance to regroup perhaps, or attempting to bargain? In fact it was something a whole lot more audacious: He would continue to kill people, while saying “Stop fighting back, this is a ceasefire”.

Meanwhile for some reason, the Independent thinks it’s clever to publish the headline “Explosion could send contamination to Ireland“, as if there was actually some reason to fear that happening.

The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland said it was “extremely unlikely” that any material being released from the nuclear plant would have health implications here.
But Met Éireann forecaster Pat Clarke warned that if an explosion occurred, Ireland could be affected.
“If there was an explosion of up to 30,000 feet, that (material) would be carried (across the world),” he said.

Let’s leave aside the image of 30,000 exploding feet. If we can read even more into his words that has been already, he presumably means an explosion that ejects radioactive debris to a height of 30,000 feet. This would be possible if a Chernobyl-like explosion and fire does occur. Indeed, debris from Chernobyl was carried to the furthest corners of the globe.

Where it did… pretty much nothing.

While it clearly had deadly effect in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus and probably killed in Western Europe too, the fallout was gradually dispersed as it spread, eventually becoming so diluted as to be insignificant next to normal background radiation. So the probability that the explosion of a reactor as far away as Japan will actually harm anyone in Ireland? To use a round number, zero.

Which is what the story here is actually saying – if you ignore the spin. See that “but” in the second sentence of the part quoted? It suggests that this statement disagrees with the previous, that one national agency is contradicting another. That’s what turns these two rather anodyne statements into a story. Ask two different questions, “Can debris from Fukushima hurt us?” (answer: No) and “Could debris from Fukushima get here?” (answer: Yes), then put the two together so that what is actually a reassuring agreement between experts sounds like a worrying conflict. Voilà, news.

Enda Has A Go

Hibernian CartoonOw. Ow ow ow ow. Look, I wish Enda Kenny well as Taoiseach. He has an unenviable job, I hope he does it well, I have more confidence in his ability to do it than I have in… Ooh, loads of other people. So to be fair I have to say that some really good promises were made today. Particularly, a ban on corporate political donations. I also like single-tier health very much, and a Minister for Children may be a good idea even if it does sound odd.

But he needs to be able to give a speech that doesn’t make me wince like I’m listening to a gas cylinder being whacked with a jack handle. He must get a professional speech writer. I know he doesn’t have one, because no paid writer could be that bad. Please to God.

“The long Hibernian nights on the western edge of Europe” he intoned, alluding to… something, I’m not sure. I was too distracted by the apparent implication that nights get longer the further west you go, by trying to figure out what exactly makes a night Hibernian, and by wondering if I was taking him up wrong entirely and the Long Hibernian Knights were a 70s heavy rock band. Imagery was strewn around the speech like low coffee tables, adding little decorative or useful, mainly just impeding progress.

And then bills or tax demands or something hitting people’s doormats “like stealth bombs”. What the fuck might a stealth bomb be? Enda there are stealth bombers, which are planes that are hard to spot, and there are smart bombs, which can be guided to their targets. Stealth bombs would be bombs that you don’t notice.

No seriously, I’m not listening to five years of this.

You Called That 2010?

You may (perhaps) have wondered why I didn’t do the usual year-end review in this column last week. The truth is, I just wanted one week after Christmas without having to be depressed again. But now, like pretty much everyone else, I have a stinking cold. Being in a foul mood anyway then, I might as well get on with it.

2010, the year the country was taken into receivership. The year we agreed to smash up our health and welfare systems in order pay for the mistakes of bankers. If overcrowding is any measure, our hospitals are now in the worst state that they have ever been. The year in which we found out that we are basically slaves to the whims of a financial market, in which our government became our pimps, offering out our services for the best terms they could get. One easy country, only slightly abused, willing to work into the next generation.

And it’s not going to get better soon. Beware a false dawn, as Fianna Fáil tries desperately to spin anything not immediately disastrous into ‘recovery’. Expect them to make complete asses out of the Green party as they continually put off the election in the desperate hope that some good news will arrive. Or, more depressing but more likely, that we will eventually come to see our current state of oppression as normal.

In the end we may have to hold a general strike or other mass protest to force them to stop harming the country. The fact that they have not already resigned out of sheer embarrassment tells us a lot about the kind of shower they are.

So 2011 is not shaping up to be a good year… The President has asked business to project a dynamic image of Ireland abroad but you know, I think if they could they’d be doing it already. How can they when the people responsible for this mess are still in charge? At best we look forward to a desperate endgame followed by a divisive election, our impossible financial situation growing worse all the while. It will be a year of damage but… Well, at least it won’t be dull.

I can’t finish though without a quick word about Ivan Yates and the collapse of his business. It is a sad situation of course when a company goes under, especially one with many employees. But I cannot find it in myself to feel sorry for the man. Recall what business he was in – gambling. It’s not exactly productive industry. Gambling is something we need a whole lot less of in this country. In the madness of the last few years, Ireland changed from a growing economy into a property casino. And yet, in a complete reversal of the norm in these things, it was the house that lost.

It must be said though, at least Ivan Yates doesn’t expect the rest of us to make good his losses. When banks could learn a lesson in socially responsible business and basic morality from a bookie, you know what they’re worth.

The First Column – Summer ’95

Well that’s enough of summer for another decade. You know it’s the kids I feel sorry for. Not only will it seem like the summers were warmer when they were young, it’ll be true.

On the other hand it might be a trend, in which case it’ll boost tourism no end – and bankrupt the country. That’s right, didn’t you hear? Tourists cost the Western Health Board two million in excess of what it normally forks out. Apparently one of the many things tourists appreciate about Galway is our falling over. They come from all over the world to trip up here. And of course, collide with other vehicles when they forget which side to drive on because we, the British and – bizarrely – the Japanese all persist in going down the other side of the road from everybody else. One Councillor has proposed putting signs up all over the airports and ferry terminals to remind foreign drivers, presumably in all three hundred or so written languages there are in the world apart from English, Irish and Japanese. But I can’t see it making a lot of difference frankly. I mean, if a stream of oncoming traffic isn’t going to make you think, what is?

And it isn’t that the visitor just arrives from Germany say and blithely heads off down the wrong side of the road. At this stage, ‘Links, Links, Links’ is running through the head like a mantra, they’re trembling and sweating at the disorientating new experience, the subconscious is screaming this is all wrong this is a mirror I am actually driving backwards help! But soon they get used to it and begin to relax. After a few days in Ireland, it’s almost  like home.

And a few days after that, they pull out into a road merrily forgetting it isn’t home.

Speaking of causality, a concept from physics and a very common typing error for casualty, I was in there last week and the service was wonderful. Came in an ambulance with my foot all cut up, and they had me hobbling out again in less than an hour. You see I was walking around in the river, just by the Spanish Arch. Because I dropped my keys in. Don’t try it, it’s full of broken glass there. Of course I should have known that – only I hadn’t slept the night before and at the time nothing seemed more natural than to walk in the water. The way I felt, I almost walked on it. Anyway, I sliced a toe open right to the bone. Didn’t hurt much; in fact I was highly amused by the whole thing. “Hey, look at all this blood! Doesn’t it clash with the grass?” A couple of friends were down from Dublin, and I reckon I went to commendable lengths to entertain them. How often do you get a ride in an ambulance? Anyway, in casualty they X-rated my foot – not a typing error, that was on account of the gore – did it up with paper and glue, (yeah, paper and glue) and sent me off in high spirits.

Very high. Thanks to my lower brain’s mistaken idea that lack of sleep in combination with a deep wound meant I was in a war or something and needed all the chemical help I could get, I was feeling no pain. But they gave me painkillers anyway. (Actually, the injection of painkillers in the backside was the only part that did hurt.) So seeing as there was already a party going on in my body I went out, got drunk and stayed up until three in the morning. Did I ever mention that nobody will sell me health insurance?

You go and do something totally stupid, they give you an injection of really nice stuff. It’s no lesson in life, but it’s a great service and an entertaining way to spend the afternoon. No wonder it’s so popular with tourists.