You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2009.

Under the collar

For me, one of the most memorable moments in the movie “Schindler’s List” is when well dressed officials began to set up tables, open up their journals, prepare their inkwells and process the lives of human beings as if they were just commodities to be dispensed with like jam, cake and toilet rolls. All that mattered was the system. Everyone involved was a cog, with a defined role, and dare you not deviate from the actions assigned to you.

This image has come into my mind as we in Ireland learn about the atrocities committed on children by members of the Catholic Church during the 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s inside “Industrial Schools” – special institutions set up to deal with poor children. And “deal with them” they did, through a regime of mental, physical, emotional and sexual abuse. 

We have been hearing about clerical child abuse for nearly two decades now in Ireland, but what is truly shocking from the Ryan report is the sheer scale of the problem. It’s a cast of thousands, if not tens of thousands. At the core were the abusers, running into the hundreds. But it didn’t stop there. Many people in high places kept quiet while these thugs did whatever they wished. What were the colleagues, the managers, the principals, the school inspectors, the civil servants, the police, the priests, the judges, the bishops and the politicians doing during this time? What did they know? What did they try to hide? This is the scandal.

There was a system in place. Clinical, effective, and unconscionably evil. This system sought to protect its own integrity above everything else, with little thought to those in its charge. This system resolutely defended the very antithesis of what it set itself up to achieve. They talked about love, but they dealt in cruelty. They talked about hope, but they only brought despair. They talked about caring, but they left a trail of broken people in their wake.

In the case of the Christian Brothers or the Sisters of Mercy, although the time for real accountability has long gone, it’s time they sold all their properties to the state to compensate the abuse victims and got off the stage. They leave behind a shameful legacy and thousands of damaged lives. They should forego their role in the education of the young, or the treatment of the sick. That’s the state’s job, not the job of the religious, who preach love and caring while keeping their dark criminal secrets under lock and key. It’s sickening that any institution, having committed so much evil during their tenure, could have any remaining authority in Irish public life. 

But by and large, it’s all a footnote. These orders started hemorrhaging staff forty years ago. Even when I was in school, you would have been considered half-mad to even contemplate joining the Christian Brothers or the nuns.  What remains, by and large, is a handful of septuagenarians and octogenarians in retirement homes. Most of the real criminals are long dead – saved from the debt they clearly should have repaid in their lifetimes. The bigger issue is the degree to which the authorities collaborated together, and how such collaborations should be identified, exposed and struck down whenever they occur.

For markets to work, there are strict anti-collaboration laws between suppliers, enforceable by harsh penalties. A similar situation applies to the management of the vulnerable. The managers and the regulators must never collaborate. They must never make allowances for each other. Where power rests with just one group, abuses will happen.We need to ensure that all systems of for managing the young, the sick, the elderly and the disabled are more transparent and accountable. We need systems whereby wrongdoing can be corrected quickly for the sake of those who depend on the services of that system. Bad teachers can still get protection from management and from Trade Unions, and from lax inspection regimes. So too can bad nurses, bad doctors, bad police, bad managers and bad civil servants. Even when you take the Catholic Church out of the equation, there is plenty of reason to believe that this generational disease in Irish public life will go on and on.

This link on Paddy Doyle’s website will tell you all you need to know about how much the Church and the State colluded together. It’s shameful and disgusting. 

Advertisements

Over the weekend, I went on a trip to the Aran Islands off the coast of Co. Clare. The trip back was quite an experience.. As the video below shows, the ocean was a tad rough and the boat trip turned into a festival of international vomiting. All continents were represented, I am sure.

For those of a sensitive disposition, there is NO vomiting in the attached video, just enormous waves crashing off very high cliffs. Pretty darn impressive, if I say so myself..

TAM London

I’m going! Or at least I think I am…

TAM (“The Amazing Meeting”) is the brainchild of James Randi, a magician who has spent his life debunking psychics, UFOlogists, quacks and all sort of random frauds and charlatans. He is one of the main drivers of the modern skeptics movement, and an all round good guy.

I first came across him, wow, years ago, when the world was still in black and white and when a row of houses cost thruppence haypenny. Well, about 1995 to be more exact . Randi is pretty outspoken when it comes to people who make money by pretending that they have real psychic powers. Uri Geller and Sylvia Browne are some of his more high profile targets. He has even put up a prize of 1 million dollars to anyone who can prove a supernatural occurrence (ESP, clairvoyance, dowsing etc, etc) in a controlled scientific test. Needless to say, the prize has never been claimed.

TAM is THE event for skeptics and to date it has only been held in the US. No more. In October it comes to London. Attending it will be Richard Dawkins, Simon Singh, Adam Savage and Phil Plait, the author of the Bad Astronomy blog. It’s fantastic!

Access to the website yesterday was a bit of a joke. First of all, the order told me that the fee was 175 pounds, but shipping and handling would be 999.99 pounds. Oops. Then when that issue was fixed it wouldn’t allow me to enter my order because I live outside the UK. My sister’s address in the UK was promptly used and eventually my order went through. I still haven’t seen a confirmation coming through as yet though. Nevertheless the demand was extreme. The whole event sold out in an hour or so, much to the amazement of the organisers and to the intense disappointment of those who failed to get a ticket in time.

I’m lucky I persevered, I think.

Matthias Rath is the kind of person you want to punch in the face.

goldacre-rathOver the past two decades, Rath has made it his business to play down the importance of anti-viral medication used in the treatment of HIV and AIDS and to promote the sale of his own vitamin pills instead. 

He has been very successful pushing this view. The government of South Africa listened to him and his ilk, and as a result, hundreds of thousands of people died because they did not get access to the right drugs. Hundreds of thousands of entirely preventable deaths. It’s sickening. 

Not only that, but this guy went after everyone who might think of criticising him: AIDS researchers, grassroots healthcare organisations in South Africa and, most recently, Ben Goldacre, the journalist behind the “Bad Science” column in the Guardian newspaper in the UK. 

Goldacre’s eponymous book “Bad Science” could not be published in full until the legal proceedings against him were out of the way. Now that the case has been settled with Rath withdrawing all charges, Goldacre has published the missing chapter, in full, for free, on the Internet. Have a read. It will make you sick to your stomach at what these people were up to.

As if the situation in Ireland wasn’t bad enough, we are also now a global laughing stock. Thanks a lot, Dermot Ahern.

The idea of a blasphemy law is mindboggling in this day and age. Who decides what is “grossly abusive or insulting”? A simple drawing of a man’s face is enough to cause major offence in some sections of society, particularly if the two words “Prophet Mohammed” are written underneath it, so if this is the case, ANYTHING is fair game for a law outlawing blasphemy.

What might be art or fair comment to one person might be grossly insulting to another. If the offendee gets to decide, then all free expression is in danger. Let’s remember that some people find a woman’s bare legs an offense against their religious morality.

Because the law makes it an offence to disparage any religion we could be back to book banning in this country again very soon. Up to the 1960’s, the government of Ireland zealously prohibited a wide range of publications in order to protect Catholic Ireland from mortal sin. This new bill is potentially more wide-ranging as it applies to every religion, and it impinges on all forms of expression: film, podcast, music, canvas, you name it.

Any group, including the Raelians and the Church of Scientology will be entitled to call in the lawyers if this bill is passed. Think about it: we are at risk of being sued if we were to scoff at the idea that humans are descended from inhabitants of the planet Venus..

Most religious beliefs come from a time when we knew much less about the world than we do now. Religious beliefs are often highly discriminatory, they are sometimes dangerous and they present a distorted view of reality that often contradicts the available scientific evidence. To my mind, the most serious claim against religions is that they block critical thinking, which is the main purpose of a good education. Our government seriously wants to protect this state of affairs?

So, in the spirit of Mr Ahern’s bill, I would like to propose 3 things to be outlawed forthwith.

1) Father Ted. Did Fr. Dougal not say some awful things about God? In fact, wasn’t the whole series not a piss-take on Catholic Ireland?

2) The Life of Brian. Worshipping sandals, singing while crucified, saying “Jehovah”. We’ve been there before, I seem to remember. It wasn’t very bright then, and it isn’t very bright now either.

3) Tommy Tiernan has been saying awful things about religion for years. Actually, while you are at it, lock all of those bloody comedians up. They are always making jokes about religion…

Ahern and his cabal would do well to realise that this is 2009, not 1979. If this is the standard of thinking in operation by the government, they need to leave office forthwith, lest they embarrass themselves even more.

This is the last of my 2019 time capsule postings, where I look at how the stories of 2009 might pan out in the next decade. This entry looks at two successful companies, and asks if they will still be around in 10 years time.

Google

From out of nowhere, Google became one of the great corporate success stories of the noughties. Originating as the first search engine that actually worked properly, it went on to corner internet advertising and to deliver such gems as YouTube and GMail free of charge to the rest of us. In the process it became a very rich company indeed. The first of it’s kind to profit hugely from the new economics of the Internet. The word “google” is even a verb, for heaven’s sake! But will they be so powerful ten years from now? Will they end up fighting endless court battles over privacy or copyright or abuse of a dominant position like Microsoft? Or might new technology from left-field beat them at their own game? It’s really hard at this remove to see any threats to their reign, but monopolies (even the good ones) rarely live forever.

Ryanair

Ryanair is the airline we Europeans all love to hate, and yet despite it all, we keep flying with them. Originating in Ireland in the 1980’s it has since gone on to become one of the biggest airlines in the world by passenger numbers. The secret? An obsessive attention to low airfares resulting in full flights all the time. To their credit, they shook up a stagnant airline industry and brought huge efficiencies into air travel. More people than ever are flying routinely thanks to the likes of Ryanair. However the branding and advertising stinks of the brash Celtic Tiger “up yours” mentality, and customer service is a joke. And it’s not such a cheap way to travel anymore, with extra costs being charged for everything except breathing and going to the bathroom (no, wait)… So what is the prognosis? Will they go from strength to strength, or is there a possibility that passengers will abandon them en-masse should a half-decent alternative jump onto the stage? Well, it hasn’t happened yet despite numerous predictions to the contrary. One thing is for sure: Ryanair is lead by some very clever people and they will not give up their position readily.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 48 other followers

Categories

May 2009
M T W T F S S
« Apr   Jun »
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031

Twitter Updates

Cork Skeptics

Be Honest in the Census

365 Days of Astronomy

Advertisements