The Gurrier Element

Photo by Lennymogwai, June 13, 2014.

Photo by Lennymogwai, June 13, 2014.

It was a thankless Monday morning when McCann committed himself to the annals of history. He had gone about his forty-odd years, say forty, call them odd, walking through Dublin’s various subdivisions of delusion, penury, and haught in relative anonymity, never bothering what passes for journalism with anything to pass off as news. McCann (he has other names but we’ll not need them here) had lived through and out the arse end of the Celtic Tiger: never getting rich, never getting greedy, always paying cash, always lamenting the death of conversation but never initiating one, always seeking to be quieter in the increasingly-loud world around him, and always looking for a high stool with a back (now that the Guinness was homogenised by the vulgarities of health and safety, it was the only reliable way to judge a pub. He was particularly appalled at the use of hygiene as a selling point—a selling point, I ask you—in a recent Guinness campaign). He never hedged; he seldom bet. Neither was he, as they say, Known to the Gardai.

He had alighted his bus a couple of minutes earlier and was heading past the Abbey theatre, bemoaning the unfortunate evening he’d spent there the Christmas before last, when the thought struck him. His route had been altered by progress—now there’s a radical departure—and his trek across O’Connell Bridge and its many variables, both pedestrian and vehicular, had been simplified for him by the construction of the new Rosie Hackett bridge, opened only the month before the month in which this story finds itself set. Now, through a straight line up Marlborough and Hawkins Streets, he could round Trinity College on his way up via Grafton Street to the Green, avoiding the messy trap of O’Connell Street, the bottleneck at the bottom of Westmoreland Street and the tapering dribble of Northside-bound people (not to mention the contemporary and, he hoped, short-to-live construction which made a complete and utter shite of his route past Fleet Street. The Palace and Bowes were impediment enough to his voyage home without fences and holes in the ground).

The straight line was facilitated efficiently by the construction of this new bridge.

Bridges, for McCann, were places of extreme suspicion. Apart from the conventional crossing points, established in Dublin lo these many years and commemorated in song, art, and stories about Hector Grey, McCann looked for the ulterior motive in the construction of any new bridge. The East Link he could accept, with its lifty bit and the whole avoiding-the-city thing, but since then the reasons for bridge building across the Liffey stank like an increasingly-low tide. It seemed now that bridges were confidence tricks, attempts to get people from one part of the city they didn’t need to visit to other parts they needed even less. The Millennium bridge was an ill-fated attempt to convince those who couldn’t get into the Clarence that the Morrison Hotel was really still on the Southside, while the Beckett bridge, named for some obscure, dour expatriate Francophile, was an attempt to revitalise (he would say vitalise) two equally-squalid areas, on one side to concentrate all the 24 year-old bankers in one hectare and on the other to provide them with Tapas restaurants and West End touring companies with whose stirring choruses of Do You Hear the People Sing? they could stoke the ashes of their exhausted hearts.

Come, friendly bombs, indeed, he ruminated provocatively (although not aloud and certainly not on any social networks).

 No, McCann didn’t trust bridges.

This one, though, he had time for. It was a bridge like many others: in fact, it was indistinguishable from any other modern bridge in its functional sweep, brushed steel adornments, and vaguely contemporary flower baskets. It had one Luas line in the centre (about which more anon) and was made up of two bus lanes and two generous pedestrian walkways (for pedestrian, read footfall and annoying Dublin bicycle-schemers) But it wasn’t its construction which set this bridge apart. It was that it was convenient to our protagonist (although he’d retch at the allegation that anything he did advanced someone else’s agon). By walking past the Abbey, crossing at that shop selling snooker balls he knew he’d never, ever need to visit, then by avoiding eye contact with anyone either entering or exiting the Salvation Army and Samaritan premises on the corner in the old Seamans’ Institute building, he could navigate one line of traffic and then cross the Liffey quickly and unencumbered by the chaotic ranks of people scrummaging for the final heave onto the 3 bus ( a bus which, against Nature, had its stop on O’Connell bridge itself, for the sake of Fuck) before crossing two lines of west-heading traffic and reaching the safety of Hawkins Street and the moving statue of Padraig Sheahan. Moving, not just because of its affecting story of the selfless Limerick gendarme, but also because it had gone from its original position on the east side of Hawkins Street outside what was Twohig’s Travel to an island in the centre of the street when they put in the bus lane, then to its current position on the side nearest O’Connell Street. He wondered where the manhole was now that Sheahan had climbed through that fateful day in 1905. It would have had to have been a big one, what with the size of him. This was a hero. Sheahan of the DMP would not have brooked what we now know as the Gurrier Element. McCann loved the story wherein Sheahan brought to book some young Trinity students who stole a flag from the Mansion House in 1900. McCann would have erected a statue to him for that, never mind rescuing dead people from sewers. Sheahan of the DMP. Sounds like a miniseries, he thought. Lots of local colour, sudden violence, and lashings of nudity.

From Hawkins St. it was another one-way crossing, before the noble Protestantism suggested by the foreboding granite wall of Trinity. He would not then know himself before he reached the oasis of Stephen’s Green, where he could eat his lunchtime banana in pieces, at pace, in a peace, of sorts.

The extension of the Luas (named for the Irish for ‘speed’, although there were sections of the Luas Red Line where heroin was a far more prevalent drug) vexed McCann. He hadn’t perused the final plans, secreted as they might well have been in national newspapers and public notices, so he couldn’t figure out how it could function with only a single line going across the river at the bridge he was on. Then someone had told him the line went north across O’Connell Bridge, the very avoidance of which had earned the Rosie Hackett his imprimatur. When the line went live he would have to look at this in some detail before giving it his patronage… maybe his current pedestrian habit might be the easier, especially en route home.

Such an embarrassment of options can tempt to complacency, however, and McCann would have described himself as being in a world of his own if that thought were not too aspirational for a social realist like himself. He was lost in thought once he’d passed the Abbey and banished the memory of The Dead like you would do a remark you’d made at the previous night’s Christmas party to a soon-to-retire boss. He’d moved on, you see, to the length of the strap on his shoulder bag. Now that he had no use for a computer and had invented, like millions of others, sundry uses for an iPad, he had foregone the large black bag he’d sported for years in favour of a khaki-looking thing which cost rather more than he’d anticipated (didn’t everything? Shouldn’t he have raised—or lowered—his expectations by now?), with a broad shoulder strap. It dangled around mid-thigh in a way that he continually meant to do something about, but whenever he did he thought of the Gurrier Element.

Now for someone of his age (indeterminate, irrelevant by ten years each way for any transaction he could think of, either retail, social or vocational) the Gurrier Element didn’t pose a huge problem. He kept his head down and, although he had occasion to stare at someone who dared to litter when his blood sugars were low now and again, he did not involve himself in the lives of others. There’s a certain esprit de l’escalier when something does happen in one’s immediate vicinity, asserting what one would have done if it happened a little closer (in fact, there may be times when one’s involvement, even heroism, is massaged a tad in the telling); that self-knowledge was tested for McCann back in 1999 when, co-incidentally crossing O’Connell Bridge, he was witness to a punch thrown by a young gent and landed on the jaw of his significant other, who screamed what sounded like her last scream before hurrying apologetically along in his indignant wake. What amazed McCann is that he had ever expected more of himself, or of the other dozen or so people who also lowered their gaze and kept moving.

And so the Gurrier Element returned to mind when he thought of the strap of his bag: he thought that only a low-slung gurrier could reach down into it from behind (and he fancied his chances in a donnybrook with anyone under 4’10’’) and that the longer the strap the more purchase he could get if someone absconded with it and a tug-of-war ensued. It was academic anyway: he was tall enough and sober (looking) enough for the Gurrier Element to pass over on their way to an elderly gentleman, a woman with a handbag, or someone foreign trying to take photos with an iPad (an indictment of society; a sad reality; absolutely justified, in that order). He was immune. He sometimes wondered whether anyone would get his phone one day: it seemed to be inevitable, judging from the stories abounding of epidemic theft. McCann would not really care about losing his phone, which was so out-of-date that it rang with the manufacturers’ jingle once so prevalent that it seemed to sing ‘what could possibly shift us from our position as market leader?’, and its battery lasted almost three days. His only care, he reflected, would be that if he were robbed mid-tweet the offender would have the common courtesy to finish his thought for him in 140 characters.

That was good, thought McCann of his witticism. I’ll tweet that.

So he took his phone out of the pocket of his shabby brown cord jacket, picked the red bits of lining off the bottom edge, and crossed the street, head down, onto the Rosie Hackett bridge. Rosie Hackett, the trade unionist and winner of the previous year’s contest to find someone after whom to name the new bridge. McCann was glad it had been named after a woman; gladder still named after one whose credentials put those of the current Labour government to even more shame. Ironic, that: the bridge was opened by the unelected Labour Lord Mayor a week before he, along with many other erstwhile left-leaning Labour councillors, lost his seat on the council. Not that McCann would have picked Hackett if (and this was increasingly unlikely, he had to admit) he was elected God and given such decisions to make on behalf of his Flock. He would have named the bridge after Bertie Ahern, so that nobody could forget him and think of voting Fianna Fail again, ever.

With all of this mincing around in his mind, and with it being a thankless Monday morning (remember?), one could have forgiven McCann for failing to notice the Gurrier Element approach. It (the element), was on one of those Dublin bike scheme bikes, which McCann distrusted for a whole other set of reasons, not least of which was whether riders were as exempt from the regulations governing the wearing of helmets as they seemed to think they were from the Rules of the Road. He had always been told that no insurer worth his or her salt would honour a claim from a cyclist without a helmet. Not that he had a helmet, or a bike; he just knew this to be true. So this was another lapse on which to blame the Government. There would inevitably be scores of people walking around Dublin with head injuries sustained in falls from said bikes, none of whom would have recourse to compensation, further retarding his commute.

It was brazenly, helmetless, and without so much as a warning (which, one must concede, would be unreasonable to demand of a marauding raider) that, mid-tweet, McCann was relieved of his mobile telephone. McCann felt a not-entirely-unpleasant whoosh, a tingle of near-frottage, as the gurrier swept past him and took the phone from his hand, leaving him blank and his tweet unfinished. By a strange enough coincidence, however, McCann’s shoulder strap became hooked on the rear mudguard and yanked backwards the offender, who made unwelcome contact with the steering column of the bike before hitting the ground in what, given the limit of the narrative voice we’re working with today, we can only assume to be pain and disbelief. McCann looked at the phone, looked at the gurrier, looked at the bridge, and did some rapid calculation. He instinctively reached for that which would scupper the gurrier most, and taking the bicycle up in both hands, he moved to the edge of the Rosie Hackett bridge and dropped the vehicle into the raging torrent below.

— — —

 As he sat in John Mulligan’s pub (the increased accessibility of which was another collateral benefit of the increasingly-splendid Hackett bridge) McCann reeled. It was a fantastic feeling for someone who prided himself in doing little to have actually done something. There was exhilaration at how prepared he was to justify himself further, so indemnified was he by righteous indignation. He looked at the phone on the counter in between pint and dry-roasted nuts (protein, he’d learned from science fiction, was essential when shock was involved) and marvelled at how the ne’er do well had relinquished it when McCann had pulled it from his hand. Such people know that their actions are indefensible, and they yield accordingly. He wondered where the word ‘gurrier’ originated. If it was a reference to the soldiers back from the war and begging on the streets, it was a little too noble for this… bowsie, this latchico. Latchico. Had that anything to do with being a latch-key kid? He wasn’t sure, so he decided to go with gurrier. Gurrier suggested an older character than a mere bowsie who could chalk up his malfeasance to youth. A gurrier knows what he’s doing. Sounds good, earthy, vulgar. Latchico is a bit Clockwork Orange-y.


McCann pondered the scenario had the young man, gurrier, in question forced the issue and intruded on his person. He imagined his own body, bedecked with lilies and accompanied by four plumed horses to the train, where it would be returned to his poor mother who waited on the platform. Except that his mother was dead, it would be a Dart and therefore overcrowded, and the four horses wouldn’t be plumed, they’d probably be emaciated and ridden by little skanger kids who had no idea how to care for them. No, he allowed himself to feel a little like a hero, someone who had descended to the sewer and returned, having tolerated nothing less than honour among his fellow Dubliners. And he was a clever hero, too. If he’d have allowed the gurrier to leave on the bike there could have been another attempted snatch, possibly from a victim frailer and less valiant than he. By decommissioning the bike he’d taught this lost soul the error of his ways. McCann was, for about three seconds, absolutely certain that this would be a turning point in the lad’s life. He would doff his hoodie, get a decent pair of shoes, and sign right up for a Jobbridge. That’s a prime example, he concluded shortly before a Garda and a tracksuited man approached him from behind, of the importance of the Means of Production.



So, Gentle Reader, here’s a thing about evolution and education. If you get bored half way through (as I’m sure you will), make sure you click through the link at the end: it’s really impressive and concise in a way I could never be.

In a week where contestants for the Miss USA pageant were asked their views on evolution in schools (via Ben Goldacre, ta), we once again find ourselves baffled by the answers given by otherwise sentient human beings. While we should really feel a little gratified that the eventual winner was the self-confessed ‘huge science geek’ from California who was forthright in her support for evolution and the Big Bang theory, we should also be chastened by the answers given by most of the other empowered, alert women cross examined in the piece. Most declared it to be a choice, that both should be taught in schools, while the women from more conservative states predictably noted that God made them with a purpose (Miss Alaska, presumably refrerring to the swimsuit section) and that evolution was therefore something with which they could not agree, even though ‘you can never have too much knowledge’ (Miss. Kentucky). If you get the chance to see Miss Indiana, about 4.35 in the full video, do: a classic kick to touch that convinces no-one. Big shout out to Miss Minnesota, who might as well have lit up a crack pipe when she references the Pope on the subject. You go, Catholic girl.

The recent debate to find the most right-wing person in America

I have several problems with this issue, not least having to watch the women squirm a little when asked a question they knew had to be answered in a certain way: letting the whiff of success get in the way of one’s beliefs indicts the whole process. Of course the Miss USA pageant is not the place to air one’s leftfield views (or so we thought until the leftie Californian actually won), but it does show how such controversy has a chilling effect on expression. Look at the Republican contenders for next year’s Presidential election and you’ll see a selection of intelligent people all vying to be more extremely right-wing than the others. It’s under this penumbra that mad laws get passed, that ‘progressive’ or ‘liberal’ become terms of abuse. It helps nobody. But look at the premise behind most of these answers: evolution and creationism are posited as rival beliefs. I find this intriguing.

This issue is one which has the potential to rive education in America, an issue that already has. When evolution as a theory is posited alongside creationism, as either a science or a matter of religious faith, I have to draw a line. It’s been said many times and much more eloquently than I can declare it, but evolution is not a matter of faith and should in no way involve one having to compromise one’s belief. It’s science, and we evaluate science based on how the theory stands up to scrutiny, how well evidence supports it and whether exceptions outweigh the rule. It allows us to change our minds, to step back, to step down.

Religion is your own business. If you’re secure in your beliefs I think there’s little I can do to sway you but I wouldn’t want to, so we’re both good to go. On the other hand, there is little to be said for the attempts of those on the fundamentalist side of things to block the teaching of evolution in schools. Evolution is a theory, and a well developed one as theories go. If you look at the evidence of fossils, of embryology and of plant and animal life all around us and can’t see how the theory of evolution actually increases the awe we should feel at the complexity and love of creation then you’re really putting the cart before the horse. Instead of God having created a world where life adapts and develops to meet different challenges offered by other developments, what fundamentalist belief offers is that fossils were left there to test our faith, that scientific progress is not a gift from God but some kind of human imperfection from which true believers will be raptured one of these days. So the implication is that God puts some stuff out there to take the mickey out of us? Shouldn’t the argument for God’s abiding love be strengthened by the theory of evolution? It’s no more provable than denying God’s abiding love so it remains a question of faith, but nobody is offering (well, nobody in science classes, anyway) evolution as a faith. It’s a theory. I keep saying it. Learn about it in Science class and then go across the hall and ponder the metaphysical implications of what you’ve learned.

A great man: Al Panuska, SJ

For years science and religion have gone hand in hand: sometimes, as in the case of Galileo, progress met with opposition from Church elders; sometimes the most prominent proponents of scientific advance were men of the cloth: look at Gregor Mendel, for one. The Jesuits struck me as particularly important in the development of science in the religious context, and when I discovered that the great man who was president of the university I attended was most famous (so famous that he’d been on Oprah, I’ll have you know) for his work in cryogenics I didn’t see it as a conflict, no more than I see medical science as an abberation of God’s will to kill people at His whim. My father’s generation believed the letter of the Bible: the creation theory of the Garden of Eden and the Flood were literally understood. But when I explained to my father how something scientific worked he was genuinely impressed, despite his lack of pretty much any formal education. We were taught about creation theories and flood allegories in different religions, but the message was the same. It now fit in with the understanding progress gave us of how the universe came to being. God didn’t give us fossils to test our faith, he gave us Newton, Einstein and Darwin to explain creation to us, all the better to stand on the shoulders of these giants and bellow out the first verse of How Great Thou Art. Why does science threaten religion now when people used to be able to discriminate between the two, just like Miss Minnesota?

I recently read with interest an article about faith-based schools in Ireland. One of the worries that the Church has with regard to a push towards non-denominational schools by our current Minister for Education is that religious belief is being seen as anti-intellectual, a barrier to educational progress. Perhaps the disgust felt by a generation determined to learn the lessons of clerical abuse is clouding the appreciation of the role ethos plays in education: these views have the effect of (to borrow someone else’s words) ‘mischaracterising religion as inherently or distinctly irrational, divisive, anti-intellectual and a constraint on the development of an individual’s full potential’. For me, working as I do in a Jesuit institution, nothing could be further from the truth. Students are encouraged to develop critical thought and to make value judgements of their own, sometimes at odds with the strict doctrinal line of the denomination supporting the institution. As long as they’re considered, mature and reflective, opinions are respected. The American model, based on the extreme position of some church groups to curricular issues, suggests that the Church offers nothing but interference, a very sad characterisation indeed. When the age-old story of the Texas Board of Education (which approves content for its state schools and, as the largest market in the US, consequently influences curriculum throughout the state system[1]) resurfaces as it did last year, it again posits education as the enemy of religion. To some, that suggests that education threatens our values; to others it suggests that religion likes to keep its followers in the intellectual dark. Nobody wins and, in the vast majority of cases, it’s not accurate anyway.

Anyway, here’s a truly tremendous post from a man so talented he couldn’t have been put here by accident and is consequently proof of the abiding love of a Supreme Being: British artist Darryl Cunningham explains in a comic strip the broad theories of evolution and natural selection. Why can’t this be seen in wonder as evidence of an even more carefully-considered creation? It’s plausible, no?

[1] Although apparently the iPad’s use in State schools has reduced the Texan influence: now content can be changed much more easily in states not controlled by seven mad people. Hurrah for technology.

Kim feels not the cold. Suit: Armani, hair, glasses and wind: model

It seems that in Libya, Yemen and even in Greece you can baton charge all the arts students you wish, close down newspapers and arrest and disappear dissidents to your heart’s content, but when you try to curtail the Internet and stop people tweeting you incur wrath from the entire first world. The trick seems to be how to keep Internet access from your Great Unwashed in the first place. There’s an old vaudeville song from WW1 made famous by Eddie Cantor and favoured by my father, titled How You Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm? and its sentiment is too true to deny. Once people have had freedom you can’t take it back. (I can’t find it by Cantor online, but here’s Judy Garland singing it from the 1942 movie For Me and My Girl). This should break up the text a little:

Anyway, all this chat about social networking being the conduit to freedom in North Africa and the Middle East has got me thinking about places where there is little or no Internet access. I’m fond of a challenge and was thus sent in the direction of North Korea, Powerful and Prosperous Nation and land of few disobediences. Kim Jong-Il likes to keep a lid on things, but (we understand) likes a bit of a surf himself. Although details are scratchy, northkoreatech.net reported on Feb. 22 that “Internet access is available in the DPRK, but is believed to be severely restricted to all but the most-trusted members of the government and related organs”. Interesting, then, that the report from the 22nd was all about how DPRK’s official news agency KCNA (which has its own archive online but unavailable to the Korean people) has been running stories praising China for its filtration of Internet access. Fair and balanced, indeed.

They’re not alone: apparently South Korea also runs limits on Internet access and has a firewall which blocks access to a bunch of North Korean sites (the govt. runs a number for propoganda reasons) and also (less successfully, one would imagine) attempts to block access to online porn. It’s a common restriction outside the US and, given recent developments in America and the UK, one can only surmise that unfettered access will eventually be curtailed in freedom-loving lands, too. S.K. have also begun, quite helpfully I think, to drop leaflets telling their friends to the North all about exciting events in Libya and Yemen. Sort of like dropping marshmallows over the garden fence for your neighbour’s diabetic children.What’s great about North Korea, however (and I use the word ‘great’ liberally, you understand) is the fact that they’ve never had the Internet (the real one–see below). They’re the equivalent in tech terms of a walled-in field far off the beaten track, two days after a heavy fall of snow—you can walk all over it and leave the first set of footprints. Given my link to farming matters earlier, I’ll congratulate myself on th nice metaphor before moving on. Let’s face it: nobody else has read this far.

Imagine sitting in an Internet café—no, not an internet café, the Internet café—in Pyongyang and becoming the Great and Powerful Oz.

Shin Sang Ok: Don

Here’s how it works. First gain favour with the ruling elite. Here’s a tip—tell Kim you like his movies. Apparently he has a huge collection and tales of his interest in film leaked out when South Korean director Shin Sang Ok and his wife, whom he had abducted eight years earlier to help in the production of propaganda films, escaped in 1986[1]. Try not to mention Shin because Kim (I assume) may not be flattered by your discussion, so maybe move on to how cool his armies look on parade, or his hair, or ask him whether his no.2 son has been working out. There’s a bit of initiative needed here, but fortune favours the brave.

Covert surveillance, N. Korea style

Now I’ll admit this first step may well be a challenge, but as a member of Kim’s inner circle you’ll get all the DNS addresses you need to surf merrily, with a contention ratio unrivalled in any non-dictatorship in Asia. The people have access to Kwangmyong (the country’s internal Internet provider, but that’s mostly pictures of Kim and Lolcats, so you can corner the market with anything that can has democracy). You can then advertise your services to the rest of Korea as the Great and Powerful _____ (insert your name here; keep it simple as most of these folks don’t read too good[2]) and pledge to answer all of their barroom bets and arguments in a matter of two minutes. You look up the answer (I dunno, perhaps you’ll know some right out of the blocks; fair play if you do) and call them back with the name of the bloke who played Mannix, the 1962 F.A. Cup winning goalscorer or the largest number of watermelons headbutted in one minute[3]. You can be a god, a man, a ghost, a guru. They’ll whisper your name through the disappearing land and they won’t even know you’ve been just quoting Nick Cave. You’ll become the central repository of intelligence, all because of the sophistication lag. And the beauty is the régime won’t mind because only Kim and the insiders know you’ve been doing on a national level what technologically advanced punters did at pub quizzes before everyone caught on. Here’s the man headbutting the watermelons and I’ll completely understand if you watch it and then do something else. I would.

Kristen, played by Mary Crosby (Bing

Danny Blanchflower of Spurs and N. Ireland, pictured in 1961.

Think this won’t work (the Internet idea, not the headbutting, which of course is no big deal now that Mr. Allwood is Australian Minister for Culture)? Notwithstanding the fact it probably won’t[4], here’s an example closer to home. When in 1980 the US soap opera Dallas ended its second season with the shooting of J.R. Ewing a betting marked developed. Reports unconfirmed by bookies at the time but widely featured in newspapers told of punters who won large sums on the cliffhanger’s resolution, having contacted friends in the U.S. who had seen the season opener a week before its UK/Irish airing. Some remote betting shops in Ireland weren’t aware and paid out, all because of a lag in their knowledge of the TV schedules. This won’t ever happen again, of course (except that it did when Maynooth students took their local Paddy Power betting shop “to the cleaners[5]” when they correctly identified Mr. Burns’ assailant in the Simpsons’ parody of Dallas in 1993. A matter of minutes before this correct identification they had correctly identified a US website which told them what had happened when the show aired the previous night. And not to mention January 2007, when according to the Daily Mail bookies took a bath when they failed to realize that their book on who killed Coronation Street‘s Charlie Stubbs was hoist on the petard of the writers’ decision to reveal the killer’s identity ahead of time). Success and fortune clearly aren’t given away so use your initiative. The gap in technological sophistication is what P.T. Barnum meant when he said there was a sucker born every minute although, as with this type of thing, he probably didn’t actually say it at all. That’s what it would have meant if he had, though, trust me. Oh, and in case you’re reading this on your way to North Korea, the assassin was Kristen, Maggie shot Mr. Burns and of course it was the evil Tracy Barlow who did for Mr. Stubbs.

Talking of suckers, here’s a song which was shameless in its piggybacking on the Who Shot J.R. phenomenon. It’s by T.R. Dallas and is too appaling for words but thankfully only slightly disturbing in the larger context of Youtube:

What the U.S. State Dept. makes of your subsequent attempts to get into their land is a discussion for another day, but rest assured that it may well be irrelevant. If Kim likes your style he may never let you out.

Author’s note: One got a barrage of abuse recently when one used a capital letter to denote the Internet. One doesn’t care.

[1] Report courtesy of www.globalsecurity.org which also reminds us that stories of Kim’s decadent lifestyle are “…possibly circulated by South Korean intelligence”. I’m not sure what to do now, so I’m going to go back to the body text. I suggest you do the same.

[2] I wouldn’t use Oz: Lloyd Weber is notoriously litigious and spent a fortune on the rights for his new musical; I’d imagine he’d chase you all the way to Pyongyang and back.

[3]Mike Connors; Danny Blanchflower’s 81st minute penalty to beat Burnley 3-1 in the so-called Chessboard final; 40, by Queensland’s John Allwood at the Chinchilla Watermelon Festival, February 2007. Well done to all.

[4] Two reasons: one is that foreigners can access Internet in a couple of hotels but not extensively and certainly not for profit; the second is that commercial internet is available to agreeable parties, routed through Germany. The principle of conning rural types remains there, though, so good luck in your endeavours.

[5] Paddy Power’s history site has the details and doesn’t mind because they made it all back on the Grand National.

UpStart answer Yeats.

Here are some little stories from Dublin at the moment which those outside the dear dirty city may not have heard. The first one is about UpStart, an association of artists and designers which began a campaign today to rival the usual slew of meaningless posters erected to influence the public as we roll into a General Election.

Today was the first day of campaigning and, although several of the lesser parties have broken the law by hanging posters before now[1], this is traditionally the day on which lampposts, front windows and gardens are bedecked with smiling sincerity and sloganeering from candidates from all rungs of this evolutionary ladder we call politics[2]. I’m not sure of the effect in such a media-saturated era of print advertising, not to mention repetitive and bland imagery, but someone more qualified than myself to comment might be able to crunch the numbers on name recognition and brand loyalty. We know that old-fashioned is the order of the day when it comes to politicing, we should add, so let’s trudge on like the soldiers of destiny would want us to.

UpStart aims to erect 1000 posters around Dublin to satirise the election process and comment on the hypocrisy thereof. Their website states their aim:

The objectives of UpStart are to encourage a debate on the role of the arts in this state. We hope to highlight the importance of creativity and ingenuity when society is in need of direction and solutions, and to emphasize the value of the arts to public life. We believe that the future development of the country requires a healthy cultivation of the Arts.

Government Buildings, 2-2-11. Photo by James Ward.

They’ve solicited contributions, some of which are outlandish and many of which are creative and funny, all with the aim of promoting the talent available in the creative arts in Dublin. At a time where austerity is actively promoted at the expense of services and help for those less well-off in our society, what hope has the artistic community got? These folks point out the talent and potential that cutbacks and economic stagnation stand to kill in the shell. They also make the salient point that any society needs art to function. They’re not going to sit by and watch three weeks of sloganeering, and they’re to be admired for that. A couple of their posters appear here (thanks James), many more hang around Dublin and their website is www.upstart.ie

RTE’s SixOne News ran a minute or so on this organisation today (2/2) as part of a piece that began with a feature on how much of a boon to the printing industry an election represents. A slow news day, apparently: the three major parties launching general election campaigns and fire in Cairo, but RTE still had time to show a few happy gentlemen with presses rolling. It was a strange juxtaposition, mixing an economic reality with a situationist prank aimed at drawing attention to how transient and meaningless these promotional materials are. The RTE attitude of ‘nice weather for ducks’ is akin to[3] the claim that chip-pan fires have been an absolute godsend in the development of new technologies in rhinoplasty, or that the country’s culture of alcohol abuse[4] is great for someone looking for good Turkish cuisine in the city centre late at night. True, perhaps[5], but a little vulgar to say out loud in the larger context. It’s an ill-wind indeed[6].

Claire Ryan, photographed by David Monahan.

A later item on the news tonight, once they’d finished interviewing three men picking over the corpse of Brian Cowen in Laois-Offaly,[7] showed a sadder reality to life in our failed state. Talk earlier in the broadcast, and in this post, of unemployed creative talent must include reference to emigration, and Irish photographer David Monahan has been documenting the latest Irish diaspora by taking photos of prospective emigrants around Dublin. There were some very striking pictures, not least one of a young family with a four year-old in yellow wellies. The majority looked like young graduates—ambitious and optimistic—but the news that 1000 people are leaving per week is quite sobering. Mr. Monahan commented on the loss of such talent, and in common with the earlier segment (about UpStart, not the printers or Egyptians) one was struck by the quality of worker now fusting unused in (or heading out of) our economy. While the photographs may smack a little of sentimentality, Monahan notes that their purpose is to humanise the issue:

Interestingly when I make contact with a sitter they send me to a location dear to them and in my mind I look for a stage[8].

Numbers of emigrants or percentages of unemployed are easy to process, as a result of which there is a long tradition of reportage to document the human faces of such issues. The RTE bit (which of course used background music from The XX[9]) might have ladled the sentimentality on a tad, but they are portraits, after all[10]. Monahan’s blog is at http://thelillipution.blogspot.com

I’ve never really felt that emigration is a scandal per se: there have been huge numbers of people in and out of Ireland over the years and few of them have lost their Irishness, or their pride in Ireland when someone dares to be negative about it on licensed premises[11]. The demographic with whom this writer is connected sees emigration as well-nigh essential in the financial, legal or creative arenas while retaining, however, a deep-seated urge to return (not to mention the wherewithal to be able to). In years gone by economic reasons were accompanied by reasons of scandal, pregnancy, homosexuality; much has changed. What makes emigration a horrible truth for Irish people though, now and in the past, is the denial of choice: a withdrawal of the potential to improve the country—to return to the country the benefits accrued from a fine education system—and an impotent silence to offers of initiative. We watch talented people move off and contribute to other nations with only a chance that those talents will ever benefit this country. Choice is obviously the issue, and if the only choice is for creative people to go abroad or sit around without any hope of success, it’s an unconscionable one.

UpStart’s iconoclasm reminds us of our indigenous sense of humour and eye for initiative; Monahan uses such creativity and initiative to document what it is we’re throwing away.

And on the subject of emigration here’s the Wolfe Tones‘ take on the issue, featuring the immortal line “So a thousand times adieu/We’ve got Bono and U2”. It’s enough to make you want to leave yourself, so it is, so it is. The audio is off a little but when you hear the song such technical grumbles fade into impalpability.

[1] There is anecdotal evidence, proudly promoted by the outgoing Green Party, that Dublin’s litter wardens have been removing and disposing of illegal early posters; the Greens inexplicably celebrate this as a victory despite the obvious paper wastage and consequent carbon footprint of the litter wardens’ craft.

[2] A new departure for the outgoing Fianna Fáil party is to minimise the name of the party on such posters: the name appears in the same approximate point size as did the Terms and Conditions of a fixed-rate mortgage on a second home in Westmeath on the advertising campaigns of property developers five years ago.

[3] Coded warning of an impending false analogy if I ever heard one.

[4] Can you fucking believe that the Labour Party launched their campaign in the Guinness Storehouse?

[5] …and at least RTE covered the campaign…

[6] Want an ill-wind story? The three-week earlier election will result in three thousand more people voting the government out of office.

[7] where, again for the uninitiated, the Taoiseach has announced his intention to retire from his seat and put his 17,000 first preference votes up for grabs. You should see the three shagsacks trying to call for change while trying not to offend the Friends of the Corpse.

[8] Quote taken from a response by Monahan to a comment on a post on thejournal.ie ( http://www.thejournal.ie/cbs-features-irish-photographers-portraits-of-emigrants-2011-01/#slide-slideshow2 )

[9] What did they use before the XX? Sigur Ros. Before that? Enya. Before that? Clannad. Before that? There was the troubles, so there was lots of news, so they didn’t need colour pieces to fill the 20 minutes before Charles Mitchell returned to the pub.

[10] Using the battered suitcase in every picture doesn’t help this argument….

[11] This is probably a good time to note that the emigrant vote issue is a bit of a red herring: firstly, if you want representation here you might also like to pay some tax, and secondly and more antidemocratically, I’d rather deny votes to emigrants than enfranchise several million pissed-off expats who would doubtlessly put Gerry Adams in the Vatican, let alone the Dáil. And can you imagine what election campaigns would be like if we allowed emigrant votes? It’s hard enough keeping some of our politicians out of the U.S. every Spring as it is.

Someone took a long time to get to this level of abuse. Sometimes I allowed myself to forget that these were the Tories, but then a rightminded Englishman or woman got me back into focus by defacing something or other. Long may it continue into the Jedward prime ministry.

Yesterday it was Gordon Brown resigning and Adam Boulton getting into a strop with Alastair Campbell live on air. Today it was Kay Burley asking her guest to retract a comment about Sky’s glee at the Cameron victory. “You don’t know how I voted”, she protested. I’ve a fair idea Kay.

Their HD helicopter shot was nice, though. Filled in the time it took Gordon to get his kids organised. I had wondered what the benefit of the world’s first HD election coverage was: now I know.