Category Archives: Society

The Hat is back!

Man in hat
Hats are back!

Only fools make predictions – which is why Historians leave such risky ventures to economists.

Usually.

Breaking with established wisdom and any modicum of good sense I might have, I’m going to make a prediction, right here, right now.

Hats for men are back!

From being an exceptionally rare sight on our streets, and worn only by men of a certain age shall we say, hats are back on male heads of all ages.

Hipsters have adopted/usurped the Irish farmers go-to statement fascinator – the cloth cap beloved of generations of mountain men everywhere. Grafton Street sometimes looks like a band of Richard Harris lookalikes are trying to recreate ‘The Field’ – without the muck and soggy sandwiches.

richard-harris
Hipsters? I’ll give you hipsters…

 

Slightly more stately/less hairy men have taken to the old classic – a Panama hat, as well as slightly wider brimmed variations. These gentlemen are generally rather well-heeled, blazer or suit wearing, and invariably for some reason carrying a bag.

Panama-Sean-Connery
A hard-working civil servant takes a break in St Stephens Green (reconstruction with some Scottish dude).

Further along the spectrum are those brave souls who try to rock a pork pie hat – the type made famous, depending on your age and viewing habits, by either Gene Hackman in The French Connection or Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad – or indeed both, if you’re having none of this categorisation and stratification nonsense. Wanna-be wearers of this crown-topper bear in mind that things didn’t work out all that well for either of the two fictional aficionados….

Heisnebergpopeye doyle

And then last but not least, well actually it probably is least – the choice of those whose heads seem afflicted by a cold that even the hottest summer sun cannot effect: beanie hats. What’s there to say really? Only that, honestly, those successful musicians and singers you’re trying to ape are successful in spite of the silly headgear and not because of it. Seriously, it doesn’t matter how long you wear it, even if you never take it off between now and Doomsday, success will not come tripping from inside the murky confines of a mystical beanie, fleas yes, outlandish world fame, no – you’d be better off actually practicing. Or washing. Or both.

beanie.jpeg

 

Like or loathe hats on men, keep a weather eye open in the next wee while and I think you’ll see that the trend is evident – and growing.

Mark my words, you heard it here first – hats for men are back!

A web of woe: this could be London or could it?

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Manchester and then London. And London before. And Paris and Brussels. And Stockholm. And Berlin. And Damascus. And Kabul and Mosul. And Istanbul.

Terrible tragedies and awful, senseless loss of life.

No one place is more worthy of expressions of sorrow and condolence than any other, none is more human, nowhere is life less valuable.

That being said, when something dreadful happens in London or Manchester I think it’s understandable that it resonates and reverberates more in Ireland. It’s close, only a few hundred miles away in London’s case, while Manchester is closer to Dublin than Killarney. Many of us have been to both cities, many of us too have family and friends there. And, sooner or later, many things that happen in the UK happen in Ireland. We’re entangled, whether we like it or not.

So, should we be afraid on this side of the Irish Sea?

Maybe that’s the wrong question. The geography that matters today is that of the internet cable and broadband access, the satellite signal and mobile phone reception. Physical remoteness may not save us.

Our creaky infrastructure just might slow things down. However, it would be too easy to dismiss the possibility entirely.

Many of the people who carry out these attacks are broken and disillusioned, with nothing to lose. They seek easy targets, presenting as little a challenge as possible. Almost anywhere can be chosen to be a ‘legitimate target’ when logic and reason are entirely absent – and anybody: it is well to remember that vast majority of the victims of ISIS, Al Qaeda and the many other loosely affiliated groups plying these mass slaughters are Muslims going about their everyday lives in Damascus or Kabul or Istanbul – though we hear far less about those killings.

The grim fact is that the people who carry out these attacks can be ‘radicalised’ anywhere and can decide to attack anywhere – willing to shed their own (often, in their own eyes, burdensome and worthless) lives for their cause, they have no compunction about who else or where else they kill.

Realistically, the next attack could be anywhere; it’s not possible to protect everywhere.

The best response would be to try to understand why these attacks happen – it’s a far from simple task. The reasons are complex and many – and different in each specific case, though with commonalities. A matrix of rage, and despair, and arrogance, and resentment, and hatred, and hopelessness, and dreams, and longed for meaning – the gospel of the lost and the lonely, determined to draw others into their nightmare with one final dreadful act to give their existence purpose.

How to combat that? You can’t bomb, shoot or imprison a sentiment.

Perhaps a starting point might be a book by anthropologist Scott Atran – Talking to the Enemy: Sacred Values, Violent Extremism, and What it Means to be Human Penguin, 2011.

No easy solutions, but maybe somewhere to start grappling with the web of woe ensnaring us all.

When is a train not a train?

Navan view railway station

Have you ever been truely bamboozled by something? Brought up short by an incongruity your senses just cannot reconcile?

Let me give you an example and see if you know what I mean.

Navan in Co Meath is the fifth largest town in Ireland (according to Wikipedia anyways). 25,000 people live there.

It’s an hour or so from Dublin by road. Thousands of commuters travel everyday to work in the city.

Now, you might be thinking that such a large sized town would have a rail link with the capital. But no – you can’t get from Navan to Dublin by train.

Here’s the astounding thing though. Navan does actually have a railway station. And train tracks. And level crossings. All working and operational. Everything you need for trains to run. And trains do run from the town.

The rub though is that they don’t carry people. Only lead/zinc ore from Tara mines to Drogheda port.

So here’s the situation that flummoxes me.

One of the largest towns in Ireland and main dormitory centres for Dublin has a working railway line. But it doesn’t transport passengers. And the situation has been like this for over twenty years. Yet all the way through the Celtic Tiger years very little was done.

Is there a context where this makes sense? Is there a logic I’m missing?

Surely the investment would have been worth it to remove cars from the road?

And still is?

Yours in befuddlement.

The 1950s: the mental Jurassic Park of David Quinn

Childcare Costs

The Irish Times reports a proposal being considered by the Irish Government to implement a limited subsidised childcare scheme.

It might be surprising to realise this doesn’t exist already; maybe even more surprising that there is opposition; and perhaps most surprising that those opposed to caring for children consider themselves ‘pro-life’.

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/subsidised-childcare-unfair-and-unjust-on-stay-at-home-parents-1.2793608

Does David Quinn know it’s not 1950 any more?

And the same point as with abortion, applies to this scheme – if you don’t want to avail of it,  fine,  but don’t set your own personal perspective as the inflexible arbitrary norm for everyone else.

And has he seen the costs of living recently?  Does he know how much the average person earns?  And that in the vast majority of cases one income is not going to keep a family fed,  clothed and housed?

I’m guessing most of the people he knows are rather well to do,  upper middle class,  as comfortable financially as they are conservative socially.

But his little world is a fantasyland,  a mental Jurassic Park of an imagined society that never actually existed,  except for a tiny number of very privileged people.

For everyone else, life isn’t and never has been as Quinn imagines – it’s rather more demanding and at times desperate,  with worries about making pennies stretch and holding everything together day by day.

A little subsidised childcare might go a ways to making things a bit easier. I can’t for the life of me see what’s wrong with that – I don’t have any kids, I won’t benefit,  but I think it’s a really good idea,  and not unfair or unjust to me in the least. I’m fairly certain a lot of people think the same way.

I can’t fathom how or why Mr Quinn views the world as he does,  but his outlook seems to lack,  or expressly deny, understanding,  empathy, and basic humanity.

I suppose we live in hope,  and one of these days,  like Mr Scrooge,  he might yet develop a heart…..

A Man Called Ove

image

I heard a lot about this book and have to confess I was a bit skeptical.

How wrong is it possible to be be?

If you’ve read The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out A Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson you’ll love this too – it has a very similar style.

Not a word is wasted. There’s very little flowery exposition, just lean spare evocative writing that shows much much more than it tells – the author respects his readers and relies on their intelligence to pick up the nuances and commonalties of human experience and feeling.

Without being in the least saccharin or mawkish, it’s both funny and positive – and surprisingly affecting.

You’ll be sorry to reach the end but exceedingly glad you read it!

Earth as a goldfish bowl?

I’ve just been reading the excellent Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.

In just 400 pages or so he traces the history of humanity from our African origins to today – and indeed beyond – it’s truly fascinating, exceptionally written and a trove of interesting information and thought-provoking perspectives on what we are and what makes us what we are; and what we might become.

One of his key concepts – perhaps the overall theme of the book – is that after a period of divergence across the face of the globe, the different branches of humanity are fast reconverging into a single whole. In future the different divisions that we employ today to differentiate between groups of Sapiens will diminish steadily in meaning until it makes no sense to think or speak of anything but a single human society.

Yet Harari also points out that a strong motor and facet of almost all human societies and cultures throughout history has been a strong ‘them’ and ‘us’ distinction. At our origins we there no shortage of others – different species of humans, as well as dangerous animals. Then came migration out of Africa over thousands of years and separation of different human bands across continents.

For thousands of years now though this process has been in reverse, ever more comprehensive and ever faster, with previously distant ‘peoples’ reintegrated into one society. Today only tiny numbers of humans in the remotest of areas remain beyond this renewed shared space – and arguably even they are in truth not detached entirely from the impact of our own world.

The fascinating question perhaps now is what happens when there is no more readily discernible ‘them’ and ‘us’? Harari sees a future where religion and ‘race’ no longer mean very much, and where standards of living are relatively harmonised in a single unified global space.

Who then are the ‘others’? Do we need others?  Will we develop some new divisions? What or whom do we measure ourselves against? Where will the spirit of competition lie? Do we need that? Will there be a fundamental shift in human nature and motivation? Or shall we seek friends and neighbour and yes even enemies beyond Planet Earth? Will homogeneity spur a search for new opportunities for exploration, travel and ‘experience’?

What will historians write of in the (utterly welcome) absence of wars, famine and pestilence? If our dearest dreams come through, what then for humanity? If we live in a world with Star Trek-like harmony and tolerance – but nowhere to go and nothing to do that isn’t already ‘here’? What happens if a species which has been constantly moving and adapting for all its existence arrives at a stage where it can do neither?

What happens if ‘here’ is everywhere? And everywhere is here????

 

The Salt Of The Earth

The Salt of the Earth
The Salt of the Earth

 

How long does it take to plant 2,000,000 trees?

Why would someone give up a safe and lucrative job as an economist with a global institution for the uncertain livelihood of a photographer?

What keeps a person who is steeped in the aftermath of brutal atrocities – and witnesses human savagery up close – sane?

We get an insight into all of these questions in this mesmerising documentary. The range and depth to be found in the experience of the life that Sebastiao Salgado has lived is just hinted at by the variety and profoundness displayed in the previous questions.

 

Serra Pelada Mines - one of Sebastiao Salgado's most iconic images
Serra Pelada Mines – one of Sebastiao Salgado’s most iconic images

Born on a Brazilian farm in Minas Gerais state in 1944, Sebastiao led a conventional life until the age of thirty – earning a Masters in Economics, moving to live in Paris and working on assignment in Africa for the World Bank studying the coffee industry.

He also met and married his wife Lélia Wanick (Salgado) a fellow Brazilian. So far, so usual.

Then one day he picked up a camera Lélia had bought for her studies – and his life changed utterly.

Fascinated and increasingly enthralled, we might even say bewitched, by the world of images, Sebastiao – fully supported by Lélia – made a very radical decision: he gave up his safe, secure and extremely well-paid job as an economist to begin work on a long-term photography project.

If this had failed we might say he was unhinged to take such a step, but with the benefit of hindsight we can say now that it was inspired.

Never an easy path – Sebastiao spent long periods away from his family, which now included children, two boys, along with isolation in remote and difficult, and often dangerous, terrain – his perseverance, dedication and rare talent eventually made Sebastiao one of the world’s most successful photographers.

Ironically, many of his signature photographs came to be taken on the same ground as he had previously trodden as an economist – capturing stills of workers where he had poured over statistics before. Some of his most renowned photos came from coffee plantations; a revolution complete.

A coffee plantation and its workers
A coffee plantation and its workers
A coffee plantation and its workers
A coffee plantation and its workers

This documentary by German film maker Wim Wender (with the help of Sebastiao’s and Lélia’s son Juliano Ribeiro Salgado) delves with empathy and incisiveness into Sebastiao and Lélia’s lives since that momentous change in direction, the highs and the lows, the various projects – including some truly horrendous experiences in Rwanda and Yugoslavia as both were dissolved by the acid of human hate – and their return to Brazil to begin their new project, the Instituto Terra.

If you can see this film, it will be an enjoyable and enlightening experience, tinged with some sadness of course – a bit like life and a fitting testament to a living lens on humanity’s positive and negative elements.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cops and Robbers – The Seven Five Precinct

New York City's Police Precinct Seven Five
New York City’s Police Precinct Seven Five

In the early 1990s one Brooklyn gangster, Adam Diaz, sold a kilo of cocaine for $34,000. He sold roughly 300 kilos a week.

Despite operating in a crime-ridden chronically poor neighbourhood, despite the temptation presented by the vast sums of money involved, Diaz never feared his key shipments of drugs would be intercepted.

He had bought his own police escort.

Precinct Seven Five is a documentary telling the story of Michael Dowd, ‘New York’s Most Corrupt Cop’, whom Diaz paid $4000 a week for his services. And what services they were for a serving New York City police officer to provide to one of his precinct’s biggest criminals.

It’s a truly remarkable tale. Almost literally incredible. The truth seems so far-fetched that it would be almost impossible to get anyone to believe the events recounted over these 106 minutes if this was a summer action blockbuster.

Director Tiller Russell uses interwoven interviews with the real-life people to let them tell their own stories in their own words. Explanatory voice-overs are kept to a bare minimum and this makes for a hugely engaging experience for the viewer.

Russell is thoroughly blessed in that the cops and the robbers that form his cast of characters at the heart of the story are all larger than life, almost manically voluble and only rescued from verging into Soprano-esque stereotypes by virtue of the fact that we know they are all real people.

The result is riveting. By times funny, shocking and horrifying, it makes movies like ‘The Departed’ appear understated and restrained – yet these are real people and real events you’re forced to remind yourself every so often, not fictional caricatures.

Michael Dowd
Michael Dowd

Michael Dowd is the hinge on which everything else turns. He joined the NYPD almost straight after high school in the early 1980s. He had no great interest in the NYPD, he just happened to get his result from the Police Department before the Fire Department. The FDNY should thank its lucky stars it never secured the services of Mikey Dowd.

Charming, unscrupulous, up-for-anything ‘Mad Mikey’ cared mostly about being a good cop. He explains this as not being about good policing, about solving crime and catching criminals, but about always, absolutely always, backing up your fellow cops – no matter what.

As Dowd later explained to the Mollen Commission, which investigated corruption in the NYPD, cops who were not regarded as ‘good’ by their colleagues might find help slow in arriving when they needed it. In a precinct like the Seven Five in the 1980s and 1990s – described by cops and criminal alike as a ‘warzone’ with hundreds of reported incidents every day –  slow or no backup could be a death sentence.

This unbreakable code of silence, a blue omerta,  led many of the officers of the Seven Five precinct to serve and protect themselves, with Dowd as their exemplar.

He recalls on camera how he first left the straight and narrow by taking a few hundred dollars to look the other way during a routine traffic stop of a suspected drug dealer. Dowd was short on cash and a long way from pay-day.

Once he’d cottoned on to this new lucrative scheme, things soon escalated and expanded. Other cops refused to work with him until he struck up a connection with relative newcomer Kenny Eurell.

Eurell’s initial idealism soon faded as he was drawn into the murky world of Mike Dowd. Taking a one-off $100 dollars from one of Dowd’s schemes quickly gave way to fully fledged involvement in burglaries, then robbing drug dealers, and eventually working for them – principally Adam Diaz.

Dowd grew so comfortable in the criminal world and so far from his police oath that he set up his own drug dealing racket on Long Island.

Eventually that came led to his ultimate downfall. But that’s an outcome best and ably described on-screen by those who brought it about first-hand.

If you can at all get a chance to see this documentary, do.

It leaves fictional TV and movies in the halfpenny place by a country mile. Truth is not only stranger than fiction but far more dangerous.

Finding the angle of attack

True Detective returned last weekend for season 2 with an all-new cast: Rachel McAdam, Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughan and Taylor Kitsch.

The first series attracted rave reviews, nearly universally. And good it was, if weird in places.

The second season opener followed the same pattern very closely – a troubled moody cop in an interview room, followed by initially disconnected flashbacks. We don’t know nor understand much of what’s going on but it definitely holds the attention with no shortage of dramatic moments.

It’s almost a carbon copy of last year’s episode 1 in structural terms, and last year plaudits followed, to an almost hysterical level.

This year the reviews are more mixed though the story and the actors are if anything better.

It seems almost as if some critics and some publications have decided to adopt a contrarian view as a strategy to stand out from the crowd. Except that many other outfits had the same idea and the pack have ended up in largely the same place. Again. But on the negative side of the argument.

Is it because True Detective is no longer niche? Or new? Or is just uncool to like it when almost everybody seems to?

Is the way to attract attention, readers and web clicks to find an angle of attack whether it’s deserved or not and rain on the parade long and hard, irrespective of what’s actually happening on-screen? Of how good or bad what we’re actually watching is?

A cynical approach surely but increasingly common, online at least. If the Easter Bunny and Unicorns turned out to be real tomorrow, or world hunger and poverty alleviated,  you can bet someone would find a negative perspective in order to chase the viral wave and elbow themselves to the front of the optic queue.

It’s a cheap and tawdry tactic and hopefully one that falls flat.

Nuanced reality is much more interesting if harder to produce and lets hope it wins out. Or at least survives.

Kamikaze Crazy

Someone  mistook me for a tourist in Dublin yesterday.

Not because I looked lost but because I waited at traffic lights for the signal to cross.

‘Only tourists do that’

Most days and hours in Dublin people and machines move in a kind of fretful manic anarchy, where the general will often prevails against logic and law.

Cars bullet through red lights, and far too often through the ‘green man’ for pedestrians at the next crossing, since the timing is linked in sequence on traffic lights. The drivers appear oblivious or if they are aware or notice as they rocket past, they turn a blind eye, obey translucent blinkers and stare straight ahead fiercely – determined to convince you and probably themselves that they’re invisible and immaterial.

Cyclists do exactly the same, sweeping in from every direction under the sun like Ben Hur without the horses but the same zeal to scythe obstacles from their path.

Pedestrians blithely zip into traffic, anxious to save the precious two minutes that seemingly are worth more than the rest of their lives. Large enough herds of walkers, in true zombie fashion, can be emboldened to face down buses and trucks.

Ignore something and it doesn’t exist – lights, laws, lives.

To hell with logic.

Usually no-one gets hurt; sometimes they do; occasionally there are deaths.

It’s all rather pointless.

Everyone gets frustrated at times with waiting.

But the ‘anything goes’ free-for-all at the moment is actually causing chaos for everybody – and delays for everyone.

Many of the more frantic speedsters who jump lights are reacting to knock effects from earlier jousts, and the vicious -and potentially deadly – cycle continues as frustrations and anger flare and flourish.

A little patience and a lot more common-sense could be a lifesaver.

Literally.