The Whining of Otters in Nettlebeds at Evening

Feb 08

The internet is killing journalism

Or: Ireland wakes up to arguments the rest of the world has been having since 2003.

I do quite a lot of editing for online publication, and reading Conor Brady’s piece in today’s Irish Times on the failings of online news outlets I was struck by his (and his editor’s) failure to substantiate many of the claims he makes in the piece. Indeed, some of the claims he makes are unsubstantiable, though they masquerade as factual assertions thanks to some wily sentence construction. On my lunchbreak today I thought I’d take his piece and treat it as I would a submission to the site I edit for. Just for the craic, like. Having gone through it, I reckon that even if he did make all the changes I suggest, I’m not sure I’d publish it anyway, because, even with the addition of substantiating facts and figures, it’d still be too general to be worthwhile. 

By all means, debate the problems within and facing journalism, and the role of the internet in that, but please, please, if you’re doing so, don’t do it as Brady has done below. And if you’re publishing something like that in an online edition that has just recently equipped itself to link out - well, maybe try and do that.

Conor Brady

Dec 14

Oct 15

So you’re not gonna occupy?

You’re not going to occupy, even for an hour, because:

-fucking crusties

-I don’t understand what they want

-I hate politics

-I disagree with what they stand for

-the whole thing is just stoopid and pointless

I’ll mince my words: those are all rubbish reasons (see, I didn’t say fucking rubbish; that’s good mincing). And why? Because there is no ‘they’; there’s only you, and that other fella over there, and yer one, and that lady with the bag, and him, and her, and her and her and him, and…on and on. The whole point of the #Occupy movement is that it’s everyone’s. If you’ve read a tentative manifesto and disagree with it - get down to a camp and say why! Explain why you disagree, argue about it, propose your own amendments, even brandish a copy of Atlas Shrugged if that’s what moves you. Because you are part of this, whether you like it or not. You don’t have an obligation; a responsibility; there is no onus on you to take part: you’re part of it already. You got dragged into it by being born. So if  you want to participate, if it really fucking pisses you off when other people say they’re speaking for you but say things you really, dementedly disagree with - then here’s your chance to talk back. So do. Even for just an hour. They won’t let you in the Dáil, like.

And read this chap, he even makes it sound like *fun*.

Oct 13

It’s just all take take take

Drivetime’s Philip Boucher Hayes reported yesterday that Seán Gallagher got €20,000 seed capital from Louth County Enterprise Board to set up a business (Home Wiring Systems), changed the name of his business to Smarthomes, and then told Louth CC to get stuffed when they came looking for their money back because his finance and legal advisers told him that the liabilities of the first company weren’t the new company’s problem. 

Sean Gallagher: The funding from the enterprise board was for working capital to buy, to buy products, to buy materials, to do market, to do market testing but to do mostly to do product-type testing. And that worked quite effectively.So I guess much of the learning was taking place at that stage which is, you know, standard with most companies starting off.

Boucher-Hayes: And was that investment of benefit to Home Wiring Systems?

Gallagher: Yes, I mean in terms of working capital to buy prototype materials and to install the products and test them, it was certainly helpful.

In 2005, the enterprise board asked if they could thank you please have their money back. Gallagher’s finance and legal advisers told him to chill: that debt had disappeared when he performed the herculean entrepreneurial feat of writing the word ‘Smarthomes’ down on a bit of paper in the Companies Registration Office.

Asked if he felt he had a moral obligation to pay the money back because the company at that time had €650,000 on hand, he said:

Gallagher: ”Well we were in a very aggressive growth stage at the time trying to keep up and to grow, to grow the business but, as I say, I met with my finance and legal advisers and I asked them to give me their view on it. As professionals, they felt that it wasn’t a liability of a new company.”

But it gets better. In 2004 Gallagher received €100,000 from the State funded InterTrade Ireland when Smarthomes won its Seedcorn competition. (Gallagher was appointed to the board of InterTrade in 2007 and subsequently became chair of its equity network. He resigned from the body in order to contest the presidential election. He received €30,150 from the State over four years as remuneration for his role.)

So, in 2005 - when Louth County Enterprise Board came looking for their money - Gallagher was a few months on from having been given €100,000 more of State money, but still he felt no moral obligation to repay that €20,000. 

He was probably just blinded by his deep, passionate love for the State and wasn’t thinking straight. 

Oct 12

Thoughts on the 1%

It might be useful to conceive of the ‘We are the 99%!’ trope in terms less of a mass of individuals set against a tiny minority of individuals and more in terms of an – admittedly incoherent and vague – sense of a broad mass of people set against a small group of structures. Thus far, talk of the 99% as against the 1% has focused on the vast disparity not just in wealth between these two groupings, but on the rate at which wealth is flowing to the top group. Indubitably, a tiny minority of people are accruing more and more wealth faster and faster than ever in history, but, more importantly, how quickly is a tiny group of corporations accruing more and more wealth faster and faster than ever in history? Very quickly indeed.

Through mergers and acquisitions the size and power of corporations has burgeoned. And the significance of these structures lies as much in their absolute unaccountability as it does in their size or their power.

When I say absolute unaccountability I don’t mean unaccountability in the face of the law – whether national or international. That’s another issue, and largely irrelevant in the context of entities as big as they are (there’s no fine big enough to hurt them). What I mean is that no person is accountable. In a bureaucracy (for that is what they are) nobody is fully accountable for anything. And one of the biggest problems of contemporary politics is the insistence on individualising structural problems.

Enda Kenny is to blame for austerity.

The bank bailout was Brian Lenihan’s fault.

Lloyd Blankfein is a greedy prick.

Focusing anger at persons in this way is flawed in two important ways. First, it is misdirected. No one individual is wholly responsible for any decision in a bureaucratic structure (one could go further and say that no one individual is wholly responsible for any decision in any social structure, but we’ll leave that aside for now). Second, by imputing to these individuals evil motivations and evil behaviours, we effectively make them strange. The ‘fat cats’ of the 1% must be psychopathic monsters; they are evil; they do not think or act like us; they are not driven by the imperatives which govern our lives. This is bullshit. By populating the ‘1%’ with monsters in our imagination we fail to see how people’s behaviour is dictated by the environments in which they operate. Put it this way: if Lloyd Blankfein had gone into social work he probably wouldn’t be such a hard-nosed bastard.

The problem is not the ‘1%’ at the top. The problem is a system that allows a small number of people wield enormous power. Those people are not monsters. They are driven by much the same things as drive all of us: a need for approval, creativity, curiosity, fear. They are compromised by the same things that compromise all of us: cowardice, greed, self-protective impulses, pride. It’s just that when they give in to perfectly normal and understandable human failings, they fuck an awful lot of shit up for everyone else.

But their ‘fault’ in doing so is no bigger than yours is when you dissemble or act like a weasel to protect yourself. The ‘fault’ lies in the structure that allows normal weasel-like behaviour have ramifications far far beyond the original environment in which it was enacted. The fault lies in a structure in which the progenitor of those ramifications does not have to confront them – instead, some poor mook in costumer service gets shouted at. That poor mook says they are sorry, but that they are not responsible for decisions taken higher up. Higher up say they are not responsible for the complex of market factors that led to their decisions. The markets say ‘…’ because they aren’t people.

So stop thinking of the 1% as a tiny cabal of individuals at the top. For sure, some of the richest people in the world are absolute cunts who throw coins from their penthouse balconies at homeless people’s heads. For sure some of them are thick enough to think that poverty is as a result of a failure of will. But lots of people in the 99% are cunts too. And they would throw…; and they do think…That’s not the point. The point is to stop thinking in terms of heroes and villains. The point is to start thinking about the way the world is structured, and how it needs to be restructured to put a brake on the cunt inside all of us.

May 25

Why don’t you do pilates?

Why don’t you do pilates?

Eating his words

In the dressing room, the men of Madron FC sat dejected. It had been a terrible season. The previous week they’d lost 22-0 to St Buryan. Morale was at an all-time low.

As they quietly, disconsolately, pulled on boots and jerseys, the door was flung open. It rebounded against the wall; the door handle carved a neat hole in the plaster.

Alex Ferguson stormed into the room, jaw furiously working on a Wrigley’s Extra (peppermint). He glared at the team for a moment, then spoke:

'Yes you fucking can, lads!'

Turning on his heel, he stormed out as he had stormed in, and slammed the door behind him with a force that made the walls shake. A few flakes of plaster fluttered to the floor from the newly minted hole.

They looked at each other in astonishment. Astonishment turned to joy, joy turned to jubilation. 

'Yes we fucking can!' they bellowed as one, high-fiving and chest-bumping. They finished togging out at speed, and raced down the tunnel to face their opponents, Illogan RBL Reserves.

May 13

I may have been wrong about there being no feral children in Dublin.

I may have been wrong about there being no feral children in Dublin.

Yes, we can save Dublin from the grip of the thugs

As Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth prepare to visit our capital, two events which are largely irrelevant to the day-to-day lives of the vast majority of its residents, John Meagher meets the people who say that the city can still be rescued.

It is a setting that’s a world away from the grim, worn-out Dublin of businessmen, rugby fans, Ugg-booted adolescents and braying after-work drinkers. In a room in a House — one of the capital’s buildings — inner city resident Gerry Breen is refusing to pull punches as he describes his own city.

“The inner city of Dublin, especially the north side, has been left to decay over generations because there aren’t many votes to be had there,” he says. “Politicians from all parties just haven’t cared enough about their capital city and they stood by in the Celtic Tiger years and allowed it to deteriorate.

“A lot of Dublin residents don’t want to go into the city centre because, in fairness, the Spars in the suburbs are just as good as the ones in the city centre. I mean, I wouldn’t travel out to Raheny for a sliced pan and a few teabags. I’m always a bit concerned when my daughters go in to the shops, but you’re probably not that interested in their spending habits. Other cities have managed to convert their centres into tourist theme parks, and made them unpleasant and overpriced for locals and tourists alike. Dublin has a long way to go on that score, thank fuck.”

It’s a view shared by Tom Coffey, manager of the Five Lamps pub on Amiens St, who goes on to talk about other things. “The inner-city of Dublin has been the victim of apartheid for a long time. It’s falling apart at the seams and the visibility of people who work in the IFSC and live around Dublin 1 but don’t bother their holes trying to integrate into its existing communities is increasing all the time.

“It’s stupid and reckless to put so many overpriced, two beds for transients just waiting to move out to the suburbs in the heart of the capital’s communities. It is very tough for businesses to survive in that kind of environment and it makes Dubliners feel that the state wants them to get out of the area as quickly as possible.

“When you see businessmen and women everywhere and all kinds of anti-social behaviour, is it any wonder why the families move out to the suburbs?”

Frank Magee is especially concerned about the proliferation of large office blocks in Dublin 1.

And he should know. The former CEO of Dublin Tourism — who held the role for 21 years until his retirement in December — believes it has “a hugely detrimental effect” on tourism in Dublin.

“It beggars belief that you have three thousand offices within a short distance of the Custom House, one of our greatest buildings. You have tourists wandering in that area — a place that should be leaving lasting memories for them — and instead they’re seeing people strung out after working a 14 hour day or glumly eating a damp sandwich on their five minute lunchbreak in broad daylight. Those are not the kind of images they should be leaving the city with.

“The problem stems from the fact that we don’t feel ownership of our capital. Residents’ taxes aren’t redirected to Dublin City Council and that leads to a lack of local governance. You see the kind of money invested in the upkeep of public areas in places like Howth and Monkstown. That’s because the people there are the people who matter. People in the media keep talking about feral children in the inner-city, which I think leads to the idea in the corridors of power that it is largely populated by some kind of new human-animal hybrid species. They reason that, well, you don’t see hanging baskets on the savannah, do you?”

But it would be unfair to blame all the problems on office workers. Tony Duffin, director of one of the best regarded “low quality, quick service” sandwich shops in the city, O’Brien’s on Abbey Street, says he understands why there’s such widespread concern about the number of office workers in the inner city.

“Of course there are problems, no-one’s going to deny that, but the offices are based where they are needed most. Historically, Dublin 1 has been one of the poorest parts of the country so it’s no surprise why there are so many offices here. Who was going to complain about the destruction of their local communities – the residents? Sher who’d listen to them? What do we do — ship the problem elsewhere? I can’t see the people in Blackrock standing for it.”

For Tom Coffey, that’s exactly what should be done. “We have to follow the Dutch model where offices are sited well away from tourist zones, in industrial estates for instance. The load should be shared throughout the city and not just in the centre.”

The importance of Dublin and the surrounding counties is evidenced by the fact that almost two in every three holidaymakers spent at least one night in this region last year but, as Ciara Sugrue, a sensible lady we met in a bakery, points out, the city’s attraction is slipping. “In 2006, Dublin was the sixthmost- visited European capital,” she says. “Four years later, and it’s slipped to 11th. We’re up against very strong competition.

“That’s why we need to forget about tourism in the capital, starting with the obsession with tourism as an economic model. Other cities have worked out how to actually produce things, rather than just services. We simply haven’t done that.”

Cathal O’Connell, who runs the Good Bits pub on Beresford Place, says it is difficult to run a business in an environment where anti-social problems are so prevalent.

“It’s not just the Friday night after-work crowd,” he says, “It’s middle-aged men over for the rugby who aren’t at work and are coming into our pub and trying to snort lines of coke or falling over the bags they’ve left lying around. It’s endemic in this area.

“I just don’t think the area is policed as well as it should be — although I’m seeing more guards on the streets in recent weeks. Might it be something to do with Elizabeth and Obama coming here?”

Chief Supt Pat Leahy rejects such suggestions outright. A self described hardliner, he has been charged with bringing order to the north-inner city.

“The situation has improved greatly in 18 months,” he says. “There have been 5,000 less crimes in that period because we are cracking down hard on any anti-social behaviour.

“Our officers are constantly on the streets and we work closely with businesses to reduce crime. Every incident, no matter how small, is investigated. We take a zero-tolerance approach to public order offences, whether it’s drinking on the street, harassing passers-by, public urination — you name it.”

Leahy, based in Store Street, is adamant that the situation has improved: “We have worked very hard to greatly improve a very challenging situation. There is a high proportion of offices and tourist hotels and hostels in this part of Dublin and that can lead to problems when you get people congregating at street corners, but we have certainly made our presence felt over the past year and a half and you find fewer people with social problems loitering than before.

“Ask any householder in the area — they’ll have noticed the improvement.”

As if to prove his point, several backpackers on Talbot Street recognise him as he walks by and respectfully greet him as “Chief ” in a variety of languages. The policeman is also well regarded by those such as local resident Breen who believe his hardline approach is essential for Dublin’s recovery.

***This is an edited version of a piece that originally featured in the Irish Independent, May 11, 2011. Some names, places, and prejudices have been changed***