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There's been a fair bit of comment over the past week about more revelations of how exactly the Top People (it's top women as well as top men) in my green little island manage to scrape the few bob to keep body and soul together.

Like this fella.

God help the poor man, €110,000 (that's $135,470 U.S. dollars per annum, $142, 362 Canadian dollars and £83,571 sterling by current exchange rates) will hardly keep a roof over his head, so he has to take the money from the hospital sweetie shop as a top-up.

People of Ireland, we know where our duty lies: purchase more chocolate for the sick (but only from the hospital shops) so we can keep the management in shoes on their feet and clothes on their back!

Or this wan.

Now, she's pulling in more dosh on €236,000 than yer man in Crumlin (which presumably goes to show why he needs the extra from the Mars bars and Cadbury's flakes to put food on the table), but she is also getting perfectly legal earnings from her private practice - while in the public hospital.

Many's the health minister has come a cropper (including the Progressive Democrat Mary Harney, who went in declaring she would put the health service on a business basis) when taking on the consultants.

Given that our current health minister, Dr. James Reilly, (a)is widely regarded as a lame duck and for the chop in the next cabinet reshuffle (b) has pulled some strokes himself, e.g. he added five locations on his own initiative and with no consultation or explanation of the criteria used onto a list of 30 new primary care centres to be built under government private/public partnership; two of these were towns in his own constituency - fancy that!, there is very little likelihood that the 'outrage' and 'tough tactics' being spouted by our Taoiseach are going to have any effect whatsoever.

But remember: every packet of Rolos, every bag of Tayto's crisps, every bar of Dairy Milk that you selflessly eat yourself or give to a patient to consume means another hospital boss can continue to sleep in his or her own bed tonight!
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speed limit sign

Can you tell, from the above sign, what the speed limit on this road may be?

Congratulations, you're in the same boat as Irish drivers will be from next summer!

You see, the current Irish speed limits are "silly", because people on narrow, twisty, country roads (we call 'em boreens and they are generally one step up from a sheep track - main difference is if the grass isn't growing in the centre of the road) are booting it at 80 km per hour (at a minimum), which is technically legal, but dangerous:

irish speed limits

So in order to make our roads safer and help our drivers (especially young male drivers, the ones who most love putting the pedal to the metal, although they're not exclusively at fault here), our Minister for Transport (that's Leo Varadkar, in case anyone wants to know to whom they should send the bill for the funeral) has come up with this wizard wheeze.

Thousands of 80kmh speed signs across the country are to be replaced with a black and white alternative which does not contain a numeral.

The signs signify that motorists will be expected to use their own judgment in relation to speed without exceeding a limit of 80kmh.

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said the decision is being taken because the 80kmh signs can send out the "wrong message".


So now, if you're on an Irish road and you're wondering "At what speed should I be travelling, and what is the legal limit, and what speeds are any oncoming drivers I encounter likely to be going?", why, it is all up to you, dear driver, to estimate a safe and sensible limit for yourself! And so will all the other drivers be doing! Though there's no guarantee that your estimation and their estimation will match!

Feck it, I knew the Blueshirts were a free enterprise/free market party, but I didn't think it extended to the national roads!

I must admit, I was amused by this suggestion:

* Motorists will be given the option of having an in-car speed warning from their satnav

Looks like we (or rather you, the drivers of Ireland, unlike myself) will be installing the JohnJoe!

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Warning: definitely Too Much Information ahead. If you don't want to go "I really didn't need to know that about you", skip this one.

Some stuff in here I've only told my sister. Some stuff I've not told anyone ever, either in Real Life or online, partly because I would have died of embarrassment and partly because I didn't have the vocabulary, knowledge or context with which, and in which, to express it.

I get the greatest links (she said sarcastically) from the various places I hang around on, am active in, or just innocently wander across. Here's one of them.

I know nothing about the FCKH8 campaign, its founder or founders, its purpose, or whoever runs the Facebook page linked above. I do have an opinion on this particular comment, however (I have an opinion on something I know little to nothing about? There's a surprise!)

I asked you to educate us. How are asexual people oppressed under the law? HOW is it an identity. I usually jack off with my right hand and not my left. Does that count as an “identity?” Are asexual people bullied, harassed and rejected by their friends and family because they don’t get hard ons or something? confused. Educate or quit whining. LGBT people had to do it, now it’s time for A people to step up to the plate and explain because it seems like an emo fad and a way to be different without being gay and to have a chip on your shoulder. So put on your activist hat here and teach us all so we get where you are coming from :)


Quite aside from the charming analogy used, I don’t owe these clowns an explanation for anything. But I’ll do this much, and reveal this much of my privacy, in reply to the question posed:

Are asexual people bullied, harassed and rejected by their friends and family because they don’t get hard ons or something?

Short answer? Yes.

Longer answer: Has any LGBT person ever been told “It’s a phase”, “You don’t know your own mind”, “You’re confused”, “You’ll grow out of it”, and the kicker “But I don’t want you to be lonely and alone when you get older”? It’s just as much denial and ignoring our decisions, our choices, our orientation, when it happens to asexuals.

We get the “Oh, you don’t really mean that”, when we’re younger, the “Isn’t it cute - just wait till he/she gets older and discovers boys/girls, then he/she will change his/her mind!” when we say we’re not interested in marriage and kids, then as we get older it develops into the “So, when are you getting a boyfriend/girlfriend?” questions, that keep on for years. ”When are you getting married?” ”You know, you really should be thinking of settling down now”. ”Any news?” (meaning, ‘Have you succeeded in becoming part of a couple?’). ”I’d like grandkids while I’m still able to enjoy them!”

Seeing all your friends, your age cohort, getting married or settling into relationships. Everyone saying “It’s your turn next!”

Then the earnest “Look, if you’re gay/lesbian, I don’t mind, really; you know you can tell me anything?” phase of questions kicks in.

Finally the questions peter out and stop, not because it’s been accepted that no, you’re not interested in being part of a couple, but because it’s too sad and desperate to keep on arguing over it.

If you’re lucky, you don’t get the awkward “Em - this doesn’t mean you like weird stuff like animals or little kids, does it?” attempts to understand why you’re not interested in ‘normal’ love, romance, sex or any combination of them. If you're lucky. If you're not, you may get it said to your face, or it may be whispered behind your back. But the notion that 'there's something wrong with him or her/that one is a weirdo/what a creep/loser' hangs about you.

In the Bad Old Days, not being interested in sex meant that women were labelled as frigid (which was a psychological problem, and probably even meant they were secretly lesbian or suffering from penis envy), and men were labelled as impotent (and therefore less than men, or even effeminate/possibly homosexual). However it was, the aim was to medically treat you so you would be ‘normal’, you would fit in.

Modern society isn’t all that much better. Modern society is saturated in sex, and whether you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing, it’s unavoidable. That means there are no places for those not interested in sex.

Valentine’s Day - a whole official celebration of ‘tonight is the one night you are sure to be gitting sahm!’ and ‘today is the day for love and romance and coupledom!’

If you’re single and want to be part of a couple but haven’t managed it, you’re a failure. If you’re single and not looking to be paired off, this is unthinkable, unimaginable.

Yes, there is bias and prejudice in society against LGBT people. But imagine an official day in the calendar that exists to rub your nose in your pariah status. Imagine all the novels, songs, movies, TV shows, that make the single person the outsider, the weirdo, the failure until he or she achieves success by finally getting that guy or girl.

I don’t want to reveal my age, so I’m not going to tell it here. But I’m considerably over the age of twenty, let’s put it at that. Here’s more fun experiences from the life of an asexual: going for the first appointment with a new gynaecologist. Doctor takes medical history (so far, so normal). Asks about any kids, ever been pregnant, what birth control used, etc.

Gets a “no” to all of the above. Repeatedly, because doctor keeps trying to get sexual history that does not exist, because doctor does not accept that adult female has no sexual history to recount.

(1) Doctor asks if I have ever had penetrative sex, with helpful accompanying hand gestures* because it seems I must, even at my advanced age, not know what that means. Obviously, it’s perfectly possible I have had sex and not known I was having sex, even though I am of average intelligence and not suffering any developmental or cognitive impairment so that I would not know what ‘sex’ means.
(2) Doctor then tries to find tactful way to ask if I am lesbian.

Because an adult female, in this society, cannot possibly not be having sex with someone. Cannot possibly never have had a sexual partner. What are we, Victorians?

So for you to say that asexuality is not a real thing, that it’s no more of a distinction than which hand you use to masturbate with (and how would you like someone telling a young guy first identifying as gay that being sexually attracted to men rather than women is no more a ‘real’ distinction than “jack(ing) off with my right hand and not my left”?), that asexuals do not get bullied, harassed and rejected -

- you and your campaign are full of shit.

Note: yes, there isn’t ‘one size fits all’ for asexuals: some of us are sexual but not romantic, some are romantic but not sexual, some are neither, others are in varying proportions of both at varying times. Being asexual doesn’t mean we don’t have sexual feelings (we have ordinary physical bodies, of course biological influences affect us), it doesn’t mean we don’t like people, it doesn’t mean we don’t have sexual fantasies, it doesn’t mean we don’t masturbate, it doesn't mean we don't have a sexual or romantic orientation: for instance, I've known I'm heterosexual, ever since the age of twelve when I started making lists of cute boys I saw on the telly/in magazines/in movies. But I've known since the age of nine that I wasn't interested in marriage and a family, and no, that didn't mean I wanted a partner but no kids, it meant I didn't want a spouse or a lover. I may not have had the words to express what I meant, but I knew it.

But primarily it does not mean we’re only going through an emo, attention-seeking phase trying to be as cool as the gay kids without incurring the stigma of being gay or lesbian. It is genuinely only in the last couple of years that I have become aware of asexuality as a "thing", that I received enough information to go "Yeah, you know what? I think that's me." It explained so much to me: why I had the feelings I had, more importantly why I didn't have the feelings I didn't have, why I could experience sexual arousal, have sexual fantasies, find men sexually attractive and yet still not want a relationship, either physical or emotional.

Saying "You lot are just emo kids wanting to be cool without paying the price" is peddling the old Freudian pop-psychology line from the early 20th century of "You're just a frigid woman or impotent man who needs therapy". It's telling me "No, it's religious guilt about sex that indoctrinated you that it's dirty is what's the matter!" Ironically, religion rather than Modern Sexual Liberation has been the most helpful to me in this; Matthew 19:11-12 where Jesus is giving the teaching on divorce:

11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”


That let me feel "So, I'm one of the 'eunuchs who have been so from birth', and this is also is part of the natural order. I'm not a problem, I'm as valid as the rest of it."

It's telling me "You're repressed" and nowadays, to be sexually repressed is the worst sin possible. A little pink pill for the girls, like the little blue pill for the boys, will fix me right up.

It's telling me that I need to be 'normal', that what I am now is not 'normal'. It's telling me I don't know my own feelings, that I can't trust my own reasoning.

It's telling me all the things that a campaign about homophobic bullying should know better than to say, because they've heard it in their context, but seem perfectly happy to repeat it in another's context.

*Yes, a gesture along these lines. I had a moment of staring in disbelief and mentally going "This is my life now?"
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So. Ahem. This popped up on my Tumblr dash and I sort of, maybe, a bit, went off on it.

Obligatory disclaimers: Don't know the person what wrote this. Don't know nothing 'bout nothing. Just fed-up to the back teeth with smarmy self-justification in the name of 'romance' *loud spitting noise here*

What if, in another universe, you are not a dickhead? (And yes, even if you're a girl, you can still be a dickhead).

Never, in any universe of the multiverse, in any conceiveable or inconceiveable universe, will I love where I do not will to love.

Never will I “imagine a universe where we’re happy”. This is the universe we get to be happy in; if we’re not, then we’re not.

There is no “deserve”. There is no “meant to be”. There is our yes, our no. My yes, my no. Your yes, your no.

And if you say “Yes” while I say “No”, then that is the way it is. If you say "No" while I say "Yes", then that is the way it is. There is what happened. There is now. There is what will come next. There are no fifty billion other places where you did not fuck it up.

Tell me to imagine countless universes together where we might have been, then tell me those universes are the ones where we were, and I will tell you “No” and “No” again, and once again “No”.

Because what you tell me is not “Maybe I screwed up this time.” Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t, maybe it was my fault, maybe it was both our faults, maybe it wasn’t anyone’s fault in particular, it just did not work.

But that is not what you are saying. What you are saying is that in this universe, our universe, our one universe, you don't “deserve” me and that I am guilty, I am to blame, it is my fault. I'm just too good for you, you had to resent me. I make you feel bad for not being good enough, so really, isn't it all my fault you couldn't stay?

After all, you are the one saying “yes, if only”, are you not? So what if in this universe you’re a jerk, in a gazillion other universes you condescended to say “yes”, not “no”.

So all I can do against your feeling of ownership is say my “No” again and again and again.

Because why, by the Seven Gates of that realm Ereškigal rules, do you imagine a multiverse where my only answer is "Yes"? Do I never say "No" in any of these other universes? Is there no world where my pride, my coldness, my distance, my desire do not break us apart? Where I do not take off without a word to anyone, like a migratory bird driven by the desperation of instinct? Where I refuse love and children?

How nice for you.

Because in no conceiveable or inconceiveable universe of the multiverse do you or anyone “deserve” me or anyone else.

I don’t need the consolatory pat on the head of “Sorry, champ, win some, lose some”. I don’t need you to patronise me. In this universe, you didn’t want love/home/family/me. Fine. Don’t insult me by saying “It’s not you, it’s me”.

If you can’t or don’t want this, that’s your choice. But choose this or reject this, it’s not about “deserving”. I’m not a saint. I’m not a martyr. I’m not a prize. Don’t talk down to me about how humble and meek you are, Uriah Heep.

Because in this universe, our one universe, you’re not humble. You’re proud of your flaws - oh, look how special you are, your suffering is such you can’t be ordinary like the mundanes who settle down with a lover and a child! Oh, how sensitive you are, that you know my life is ruined (but why is it ruined? Just because you don't love me? How fragile do you think my life is, that that would ruin it?) when you reject me! Oh, how you make it all okay by telling me somewhere else you are “good” enough to “deserve” me because I’m such a trophy to be won.

Go to Japan if you want to: who's stopping you? I'll go to Greece, or Atlantis, or Khazad-dûm.

And if Japan isn't what you wanted, that's the way it is. Don't console yourself at my expense that hey, you can dream about second chances.

Because you don't want a second chance. You want me to say "I'm letting you off the hook for being a selfish jerk".

Sorry. I own my anger as you own your resentment. Mine is the cold, slow, grinding anger of the Ice Age that turned mountains to rubble, increment by unstoppable, unceasing increment. My grudges last as long as granite. Match your security fence, that you can "turn on and off", against my battlements? My barriers have no off-switch.

You talk of coldness? I'll match the glacier in my heart against anyone's. My heart is a cold grey stone from the bottom of a river over which the sloe-black water has flowed.

You speak of pride? I have the pride of a dragon. I have the pride that caused the greatest of all created beings to fall in a ruin of thunderstorm and meteor strike so that the land rushed away appalled from the impact site.

How dare you think that this cotton-candy bribe for a crying toddler will slake my appetite?

No, you don’t deserve me. You can never deserve me. And simply saying “yes” isn’t deserving. (A "yes" that is "yes, if I could have my own way in everything and you fit in with me" is not even a "yes". A "yes" that is "yes, elsewhere in impossibilities but not here, because I am too much else for here" is your contempt, not your love).

I am myself; I am my own. This is my universe. Go to your own, if you don’t like it.
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Remember the storm in a teacup over the two Roma children removed from their families because they "didn't look like them" - in other words, there were suspicions that "Gypsies are stealing our White kids"?

Well, the more information that comes out, the better the story gets. And by "better", I mean "worse".

According to this brief news report, in at least one of the cases, the police didn't even contact local social services.

It has emerged that Gardaí did not contact local social workers when they removed a two-year-old Roma boy from his family in Co Westmeath.

A report carried out by the HSE into the case, and the removal of a Roma girl from her family in Dublin, has been handed to the Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

The report has found a breakdown in communication between the Gardaí and the HSE was a contributing factor in the wrongful removal of the toddler.

According to the Sunday Times, officers involved used an emergency helpline to arrange accommodation for the young boy and the HSE was not made aware of his removal until the following morning.

The report, along with a Garda report, will be handed to the Children's Ombudsman who will now carry out her own investigation into both cases.


A breakdown in communication. Yeah, that's one way to describe it. No checking about was this family clients of social services, were there problems identified, was there any report of abuse, nothing - just run in the door and grab the kid because somebody rang up and said "I think that child doesn't look like the alleged parents".

But we can trust Big Brother not to abuse the powers they were given with the 2012 amendment to the Constitution!

Well - as long as you're White, Western, and middle-class, that is. Foreign, native-born but 'underclass' or simply a darker shade of skin than the average - sorry, rights, what rights?
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Just saw literally two minutes of this as I was passing by into the kitchen, and I’m laughing.

First of all, it looks great. The money is all up there on the screen, as they say. I can’t speak for Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ performance as Dracula, as the snippet I saw mainly involved him standing there looking gobsmacked because he’s just clocked the woman who, I am guessing, is meant to be the reincarnation of his Lost Love.

But what makes me laugh is that it couldn’t be more pitched to appeal to an American audience if Dracula had come out dressed as George Washington, waving Old Glory and shouting “Remember the Fourth of July!” while an orchestra dressed in Revolutionary Army uniform played “Yankee Doodle Dandy”.

Dracula (for reasons I haven’t watched enough to learn) is posing as an American, you see. And the occasion is a grand ball he is giving in London, to which he has invited all the great and the important of society.

Who, to a man and woman (except the Lost Love lassie, I imagine) are the snottiest, snobbiest, most stuck-up, toffee-nosed gits you could ever have the misfortune to meet. They pass sneering remarks about him being a parvenu, a nouveau-riche, a vulgarian and - worst of all! - an American.

The only reason they turned up, as a pair of ‘em freely admit, is so they could get a good look at the guy they were going to mock.

Honestly, if Dracula summoned a pack of wolves to rip out their throats in a frenzy of blood-letting, you’d cheer him on. I certainly felt like going out and tipping a cargo of tea into the harbour, I can tell you.

So, America, I think you can tell who are the Bad Guys and who is the Tortured Misunderstood Romantic Anti-Hero in this one.

Oh, and looking up the thing on Wikipedia, I see that Dracula is meant to be an American entrepreneur bringing the benefits of science and technology to Victorian Britain.

Because Britain had no inventors or scientists of its own at the time, of course. Industrial Revolution? James Watt? Sir Isaac Newton? Charles Babbage? Charles Darwin? Never heard of ‘em round here, mate! (Never mind the fact that the novel is set in the late Victorian, almost early Edwardian era, and is chock-full to the brim of the latest up-to-date tech of the day: Dr Seward doesn't write up notes with a fountain pen, oh no: he dictates them on his phonograph wax cylinders! Mina studies shorthand and typewriting so she can work in her husband's law practice when they're married! There are telegrams and newspaper clippings and all manner of communications flying backwards and forwards! The very point of the novel is that it's the equivalent of 'This is the 20th/21st century, who believes in those crazy old mediaeval pre-scientific legends anymore?').

I am genuinely surprised the soundtrack wasn’t a choir ululating softly to “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “America The Beautiful”. I am somehow not at all surprised to learn this was commissioned and made by an American TV network.

(The irony of an Irish actor playing a Transylvanian count posing as an American businessman has not escaped me, by the bye). I doubt I'll be watching it myself, because I have no taste at all for the shoved-in romance element (i.e. Dracula and his Lost Love) that comes, so far as I can see, mainly from the Francis Ford Coppola movie (you know, the invention of Dracula's wife who killed herself and that's why our fella became a vampire - in a fit of the sulks at the Church or God or something) and is not present in the original novel, the source legends based around Vlad Țepeș, or the folklore. Also, again from Wikipedia, they've made the character of Jonathan Harker into a journalist(?) who is desperate to advance in society and up the ranks of the aristocracy(??)

Now, I'm very fond of my poor little innocent Jonathan, who is an orphan and a respectable, middle-class, solicitor's clerk and who wouldn't even dream of having anything to do with the aristocracy except draw up their wills and handle their property deeds for them, and who plays the part of the Virginal Damsel in Distress (quite unlike his fiancée, Mina Murray) in the original novel. Anything that turns him into a toadying prat is not likely to win my approval, though I suppose they had to come up with some reason for Mina to dump the man she is engaged to marry within five seconds of meeting Dracula ,without making her look like a heartless jilt or a total "What the hell are you thinking, girl, can't you see this guy is Bad News?" bimbo. Sorry, NBC. Stick with the blatant "U!S!A!" and "The Brits are all stuck-up hypocrites in a repressive society that needs to be shaken up by Dracula and Mina's epic love, it's so tragic, nobody understands them, TRU LUV NEVER DIES11111!!!!" instead.

However, I am certainly not saying it's not worth a look. At least (if they continue on in the vein of the pilot, heh heh did you see what I did there), it will look lush and lovely, and there may be some eyecandy of both the masculine and feminine persuasion to while away the time on these dark winter evenings in front of the telly.
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Remember the case of the Greek Roma couple with the "blonde angel" child that kicked the whole tawdry affair in Ireland off?

Well, news to hand indicates that no, the Greek couple aren't the biological parents.

But it turns out the girl is not a White Christian possibly Eastern European, possibly Northern European child stolen by Gypsies.

Yes, another blue-eyed, blonde-haired, fair-skinned child is ethnically Roma. According to this story, her mother is a Bulgarian Roma woman who was working in Greece as itinerant farm labour (olive picking), and gave over her baby to the couple when it was born because she was too poor to look after it herself.

Which is the story the original couple have been telling all along: they informally 'adopted' the child who was given to them by the mother.

Well, the Bulgarian authorities are trying to charge the birth mother with "child selling" (even though there's no evidence to date that I am aware of that she received any money for her baby) and the Greek authorities have charged the Greek couple with abduction (how well that charge will hold up when all parties claim it was voluntary and consensual exchange, I don't know) and document fraud.

Ah, that last is the kicker. Now we've moved on from "Gypsies stealing our White children" (when the child isn't one of our White children, she's fair-skinned Roma) to "Welfare cheats, dole scroungers, benefit fraud" and Gypsies, tramps and thieves as the Cher song had it.

They have been jailed pending trial, and are also suspected of fraudulently obtaining birth certificates for 14 children.

Greek authorities are trying to work out whether the children all exist, or whether the alleged document fraud was part of a welfare scam.

The couple allegedly received more than €2,500 a month in family benefits.

They insist they were looking after Maria with their own five children after an informally arranged adoption.


Now, maybe there was a scam going on. Maybe they were gaming the system. I have no idea. But at the moment, given the amount of confusion, hysteria, and resurrection of old stereotypes, old canards, and blatant racism as demonstrated in the Greek case and in the two children temporarily taken into care in my own country - I'm taking everything with a sack-full of salt.
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When the investigations have been completed, the reports finally issued, and the press conferences held, here is what I do NOT want to happen:

- Junior or lower-level members of the police and/or health services carrying the can for this

- Scapegoat thrown to the wolves to appease public disquiet

- After the showtrial, move along folks, business as usual

What I DO want:

- An in-depth look at this legislation and any forthcoming legislation, and some concrete definitions on what the hell is a reasonable belief or grounds for suspicion; when can you take children away; when do you leave them with parents; nail it down and don't leave the people working at the coalface dangling in the wind when they have to make decisions on wording that has Supreme Court judges doing fine hair-splitting as to what it means

- Newspapers and television all taking a good hard look at themselves and their responsibility in this (and all of them, not the broadsheets being sniffy about the redtops: they all in their various manners spread around the story of the Greek Roma alleged child abduction)

- Serious consideration of racism in Ireland, not the same old head in the sand approach. This means also recognising that some complaints about certain members of minority groups are valid and not motivated by racism or discrimination. Sometimes person X is a criminal or a risk to the neighbourhood. We need to get a balance between "All X are cheats and thieves!" and "Any X is blamed unfairly because of generations of prejudice!"

- That is going to be one hell of a tough conversation and there will be bad blood on both sides. But we need to have it

- Government and politicians looking at their own part. If you're peddling the notion of "We're pro-business, pro-employment; we want to help you help yourself" and that means making budget cuts, which you then justify as "We're only clearing out the false claimants and the cheats - did you know, by the way, most fraud is carried out by immigrants?" in order to attract the votes of the middle-class/white working-class - then you are part of the problem. You don't get away with dismissing it as over-zealous police when you're the guy or gal with the power of making policy
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So our Minister for Justice has been speaking about the cases of the two children who were taken from immigrant Roma families on the basis of concerns that they were not the biological children of those families (with the implication that the children were stolen or kidnapped).

"Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland Shatter said that the “international backdrop” of the case in Greece “that has been under the spotlight for sometime may have had possibly some undue influence in the decisions that were made” in two cases in Ireland this week."

The fuck you say, Alan! Who would have thought it? How did at least one of the cases happen? Why, a public-spirited citizen contacted (by leaving a message on Facebook, as some accounts have it) a TV crime show, who then got the police involved. In the second case, a member of the public got onto the cops directly.

Now, let's have a look at the legislation under which the children were taken out of their homes and put in temporary care:


PART III

Protection of Children in Emergencies


Power of Garda Síochána to take a child to safety.

12.—(1) Where a member of the Garda Síochána has reasonable grounds for believing that —


(a) there is an immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of a child, and

(b) it would not be sufficient for the protection of the child from such immediate and serious risk to await the making of an application for an emergency care order by a health board under section 13,

the member, accompanied by such other persons as may be necessary, may, without warrant, enter (if need be by force) any house or other place (including any building or part of a building, tent, caravan or other temporary or moveable structure, vehicle, vessel, aircraft or hovercraft) and remove the child to safety.

(2) The provisions of subsection (1) are without prejudice to any other powers exercisable by a member of the Garda Síochána.

(3) Where a child is removed by a member of the Garda Síochána in accordance with subsection (1), the child shall as soon as possible be delivered up to the custody of the health board for the area in which the child is for the time being.

(4) Where a child is delivered up to the custody of a health board in accordance with subsection (3), the health board shall, unless it returns the child to the parent having custody of him or a person acting in loco parentis, make application for an emergency care order at the next sitting of the District Court held in the same district court district or, in the event that the next such sitting is not due to be held within three days of the date on which the child is delivered up to the custody of the health board, at a sitting of the District Court, which has been specially arranged under section 13 (4), held within the said three days, and it shall be lawful for the health board to retain custody of the child pending the hearing of that application.


So what was this "immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of a child" that meant the police and the health services had to remove the children?

(1) The seven year old girl in Dublin:

The message that prompted the case was with the Paul Connolly Investigates programme on TV3 on Monday.

It read: “Hi Paul. Today was on the news that blond child found in (named ethnic group) camp in Greece. There is also a little girl living in a… house in (named suburb) and she is blond and blue eyes.”


(2) The two year old boy in Athlone:

In the second case, a two-year-old boy was removed by gardaí from his family home on Tuesday evening in the Midlands.

His father was invited down to the local Garda station and on arrival was informed his son was being taken from him after concerns had been expressed, by a member of the public, that the boy was not the biological child of the man and his wife as they insisted.


Yep. That's it. Nobody said "These children are being beaten by their parents". So far as we know (we'll have to wait for the reports from the Guards and the Health Service Executive for the details), when the guards arrived on the doorstep, nobody said "Aha! Evidence of neglect and abuse!" So far as we know, there were no previous reports or concerns about children at risk in these households.

So why did the police use what the Minister for Children has described as exceptional powers for exceptional cases to remove two children from their families? And why, if there was an abuse/neglect risk, did they not take the other children in the houses as well from a place of endangerment?

The ugly fact of the matter appears to be this: the sole basis for reporting these suspicions in the first place and acting upon them in the second appears to be based on nothing more than "The parents are dark, the children are fair" (and with the overtones of "Not alone are the parents dark, they're foreign and not alone are they foreign, they're Gypsies").

Tabloid coverage and sensationalism about the case in Greece (and we still don't even know what exactly is going on there: the girl in the Greek case is not related to the couple raising her, but they claim she was handed over in an informal adoption), coupled with generations of stories about Gypsies stealing children, acted upon the simmering prejudices and blatant racism in Irish society, stoked by politicians (including members of the present government) being willing to use vote-catching mantras about "welfare cheats" and "dole scroungers" and petty criminality (all those foreigners coming in here living off welfare at our expense is why the social welfare bill is so high and why we, the hard-working Irish, are being taxed and charged out of existence and have our benefits and allowances cut).

The police in Dublin obviously reacted as they did because of the involvement of the TV journalist. Faced with the possibility of negative publicity if they did not do the maximum, the fear of a big splashy story by a tabloid journalist and lowest-common-denominator broadcasting TV station panting for a juicy scandal "We reveal shocking truth about child trafficking!" special broadcast, hanging the police out to dry if they did not investigate and remove the child, of course they decided to take the story seriously, question the family, and take the child into care.

Their colleagues in Athlone probably were motivated by the same concerns: being pilloried in the press and on TV for falling down on the job where children were at risk.

So the blue-eyed blond(e) children were removed from these shady characters - while the dark-eyed brunette children were left in their care. There might be some fig leaf of rationale if all children in the houses had been taken into temporary care on the grounds of suspected risk, but to take the 'white' child and leave the Roma-looking one - that's pretty damn blatant.

These parents were lucky that DNA testing proved they were telling the truth. The trouble is, what happens next? Are we going to have a serious debate about racism and prejudice in Ireland, and the role that the media (all of them) have to play in stoking these kinds of scares? Or are we going to retreat from facing these questions and leave it so that people are afraid to report genuine suspicions for fear of scaremongering, the police and social services are seen as agents of oppression not of support, and children at risk will be left to sink or swim depending on if they're lucky enough to catch the eye of someone who will do something about it?
underthewillows: (Default)
I've mentioned several times a referendum held in 2012 in Ireland to introduce an amendment to the Constitution.

It was touted as recognising, for the first times, the rights of children as individuals in their own right and not as secondary to their parents. Everyone who was anyone in children's advocacy bodies, from voluntary to the state sector, was all over the place pushing for this.

Some people were not so enthusiastic. I was one of them. Because I'm a bitter old hag who wants to force children to remain in bad homes where drunken, violent adults beat, starve and rape them.

(I mean, that's the only reason anyone could not want the sunshine-and-puppies amendment passed, right?)

Here's what was passed, as a result of the majority "Yes" vote on the referendum:

Article 42A

1 The State recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children and shall, as far as practicable, by its laws protect and vindicate those rights.

2 1° In exceptional cases, where the parents, regardless of their marital status, fail in their duty towards their children to such an extent that the safety or welfare of any of their children is likely to be prejudicially affected, the State as guardian of the common good shall, by proportionate means as provided by law, endeavour to supply the place of the parents, but always with due regard for the natural and imprescriptible rights of the child.

2° Provision shall be made by law for the adoption of any child where the parents have failed for such a period of time as may be prescribed by law in their duty towards the child and where the best interests of the child so require.

3 Provision shall be made by law for the voluntary placement for adoption and the adoption of any child.

4 1° Provision shall be made by law that in the resolution of all proceedings—
i brought by the State, as guardian of the common good, for the purpose of preventing the safety and welfare of any child from being prejudicially affected, or
ii concerning the adoption, guardianship or custody of, or access to, any child, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.

2° Provision shall be made by law for securing, as far as practicable, that in all proceedings referred to in subsection 1° of this section in respect of any child who is capable of forming his or her own views, the views of the child shall be ascertained and given due weight having regard to the age and maturity of the child.


Call me old-fashioned, but the language about the "natural and imprescriptible rights of the child" seemed rather vague. Just imagine two sets of lawyers duking it out over what that means in a nasty custody fight!

And I didn't quite like the notion that the State could put a child up for adoption without the consent of the parents after a "period of time" to be defined by the State. How long? Six months? Three years? Some families need help and support to get things back to normal. There are plenty of condemnations of the Bad Old Days where when a woman died and a father was left to raise a family, the Authorities (Church and State) swooped in to put the kids in an orphanage or industrial school if they judged he wasn't up to the task. How is this any better?

The rationale was that there were loads of kids in care and foster situations where families wanted to adopt them but couldn't due to the parents not giving consent, yet they would realistically never go back to their natural families. I was sceptical about that, firstly because we never got any actual numbers of these alleged potential adoptions and secondly, I wonder how many foster families do end up adopting one or more of the children in their care?

But mostly I was opposed to expanding the powers of the State in this area based on my experiences with the social workers, health boards, and other state agencies that I underwent in my time working as clerical support in a school.

Now there are a lot of hard-working people out there trying to do their best, but the system as it is set up is not one bit helpful. I know that "anecdotes are not data", but one example may help you see where I'm coming from.

A particular girl in the school had a social worker appointed to her case. Over the five years, it went like this:

Social Worker A phones up or calls to school. Hi, I'm X's social worker, tell me all about her. Deputy Principal (who interested herself in X's case and did the lion's share of looking out for her) would give me all the notes to date to type up in confidence and hand them over.

If needs be, we would ring up Social Worker A for any problems/discussions involving X. Always a crapshoot as to whether A was available; often the Deputy Principal ended up making the decisions about X for want of anyone else around.

Six months or so down the line, when X had finally established some kind of relationship with Social Worker A, trusted them, had a rapport - we might need to ring A, or ask A to call into the school, or A would write to notify us.

Hi, I'm not on X's case anymore, that's been handed over to Social Worker B.

We might not even find that out until we rang up looking for A and were told "No, it's B dealing with X now."

Social Worker B phones up or calls to school. Hi, I'm X's new social worker, tell me all about her. Entirely new set of notes gets typed up because apparently old set weren't handed on. Rinse and repeat as above over five years.

For a child in a vulnerable situation, without a stable home life, how is he or she to develop any trust or expectation that the adult in charge of making decisions about them is going to be there to take care of them with that kind of carry-on?

And this is why I voted "No" in the Rainbows and Kitties Referendum. And as we see from the two recent cases, the existing amendment to the Child Care Act

"Where a member of the Garda Síochána has reasonable grounds for believing that—

(a) there is an immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of a child, and

(b) it would not be sufficient for the protection of the child from such immediate and serious risk


would seem to be saying that "reasonable grounds for believing" means "you have blue eyes and your parents have brown eyes".
underthewillows: (Default)
So you can have your children taken away from you in Ireland if, on the judgement of a neighbour or random passer-by, they don't look sufficiently like you?

Of course not! What kind of banana republic do you think we're running here? That only happens if you are dark and the kid is fair!

There are to my certain knowledge at least three families in my town and surrounding areas where one child looks nothing like the rest of the family. This is because the child is Chinese and the parents are native Irish (foreign adoptions).

Do you think the child protection services were called in on them? Do you think it was even dreamed of happening in such cases?

Tell me again about how modern Ireland is so progressive. Here is where I start insulting everyone.

We have a coalition government at the moment. It consists of a centrist-right party (not as right-wing as a former, now defunct party but slightly more right-wing than the other main opposition party) and an allegedly left-wing party (insert for yourself the eyerolling, gagging noises, and casting hands up to Heaven regarding the modern Irish Labour party).

Two of the minority party ministers are out and admitted atheists. One of them holds the position analogous to Deputy Prime Minister, the other is our Minister for Education. They have been tripping over themselves rushing to fearlessly take on the power of the Catholic Church in Irish public life.

Our Minister for Justice (the boss of the police and the one setting the tone for policing strategy and policy) is Jewish.

Our Prime Minister (to use an analogous term) is Catholic, but he's been proudly and bravely standing up to reactionary Catholic fanaticism (even allegedly going so far as condemnations that he will burn in Hell!) over the recent Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act (which everyone calls the abortion act, because it permits a limited form of legal abortion in Ireland for the first time).

Why do I mention this? Because this can't be pinned on the Bad Old Days or the Bad Old Church. The same newspapers and TV stations that were plastering 'shock, horror' stories about the Magdalen Laundries and how in the dark days of the 50s children could be taken away from their families at the whim of the nuns and priests with the State as a complacent lapdog, are the ones who whipped up the hysteria about "welfare scroungers" and "Gypsies stealing white babies".

The same government, that is committed to a secular, progressive, inclusive social agenda, the same government that campaigned for a "Yes" vote (to a referendum on children's rights which would amend our Constitution) in such a fashion that the Supreme Court judged the information campaign had not been "fair, impartial or unbiased"; the same government which assured us that the extended powers of social services to take children into care would not be abused - this is the same government presiding over these two scandalous cases.

They're going to try to push the blame off on the cops and the social workers, and there is certainly a case to answer there, but our Minister for Justice and our Minister for Children (a spiffy new post only created in the wake of the 2012 amendment) should be out there making statements explaining the whys and the wherefores.

And not them alone. The great and the good of charitable causes were all pushing for the amendment, all claiming that it would finally give children a voice and recognise their rights.

One of the rights is this:

The views of the child mean that the voice of the child must be heard and respected in all matters concerning his or her rights. For example, those in power should consult with children before making decisions that will affect them.

How much consulting went on with the girl taken from her family home, I wonder? The various secular saints of good causes, especially children's rights, are very silent on this point. The websites for the Children's Rights Alliance and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children have posts up about the defeat in court of the challenge to the referendum. They have nothing about two children from a specific ethnic group being taken out of their homes by the forces of the state on anonymous tips - not about cruelty or abuse or neglect, but nebulous fears based on phenotypic appearance.

The chief executive of Barnados, whose face I got heartily sick of seeing placarded on billboards and in the papers and on the telly when he was looking for a nomination to run for the Presidency of Ireland back in 2011, and who trumpeted his involvement in children's affairs as a reason why he'd be a good servant of the public interest, hasn't uttered a word on the topic that I'm aware of.

These are not the rosary-rattling, puritanical, repressive, priest-ridden Catholic hypocrite politicians of the Bad Old Days. These are the Good Guys, as they're never tired of reminding us.

And yet, in modern Ireland of 2013, a tabloid hack ginning up publicity for his TV show can set in motion the police force and health authority to stage a raid based on a naked appeal to public prejudice and fear, on the part of the authorities, of bad publicity.

We're left with a couple of conclusions that are depressing, to say the least. First, either there were no complaints of abuse or neglect prior to these raids (I can't think of a better way to describe them) and they were carried out purely, as I have said, as a prophylactic against bad PR. Or there were abuse concerns, but nobody was bothered to get involved (or the usual inefficiency and muddle that I observed was the rule) until the journalist sniffed out a juicy story - that's not much better, since in both cases, the other children of the families were left in the homes. No fears for their safety?

Secondly, my late father had brown eyes. I have blue eyes. Should I have been removed by the health board on the grounds that I didn't look like my parent? My younger brother was blond as a child, while all the rest of us had mid to dark brown hair. Should he have been taken away because he didn't resemble the rest of his family? My brown-haired sister is married to a brown-haired man. Their younger son is blond. Does that mean she should have to produce evidence at the drop of a hat that he really is their son? How about the local families with obviously foreign children - are they exploiting them by sending them out to beg and steal?

You can all guess why I'm not seriously worried about these instances. Because all of us in the above examples are WHITE.

Ah, isn't it grand to be alive at this day and hour in (w)holy (liberated from repression), no-longer Catholic, Ireland!
underthewillows: (Default)
Backing up a minute: Ireland has its own indigenous population of what are not exactly gypsies in the classical sense - they're called Travellers (formerly Itinerants, back in the old days, Tinkers). Like everyone else, there are decent, great people among them and some not so great. Like everyone else, there are people prejudiced about them amongst the Settled community (that's the non-Travellers). They've had the traditional reputation of misconduct attributed to gypsies: theft, begging, vagrancy, neglect/mistreatment of their children and animals, etc.

Then in the 90s we got the authentic Roma coming to live amongst us, after the general collapse of the Eastern Bloc regimes and specially with the influx of immigration from Romania after the fall of Ceaușescu. They got all the normal prejudice about Travellers with added "bloody foreigners" and bonus "bloody dark-skinned foreigners" to boot.

Were there a lot of suddenly visible Roma begging on our streets? Yes, even in my own town. Did we never before have beggars in Ireland? What do you think?

Anyhow, since we've even had prejudice against the Poles (fellow white-skinned Roman Catholics) expressed by some bandwagon-jumping politicians and some seriously nuts zealots in the balmy days of the Celtic Tiger (when instead of us going Over There for work, as we're back to doing, suddenly Them from Over There were coming to us for work), how do you think really foreign foreigners get treated, particularly when they're linked with the Travellers?

If we really wanted to know, we've had ample evidence in the past three days.

(1) Seven-year old girl taken into care from her family in Dublin
(2) Two-year old boy taken into care from his family in Athlone

Please note the photos used to illustrate the story by the newspaper in the first case: the blue-eyed, blonde girl taken from the Greek Roma family, who has been proven by DNA testing not to be their child.

That's the engine driving the story as far as the papers and so-called journalists are concerned (yes, Paul Connolly, I'm saying you're a hack and a self-publicist, not a journalist or a brave crusader against crime).

What was the reason the children were taken? The police (An Garda Síochána, the Civic Guard, in popular parlance the Guards)said it was under Section 12 of the Child Care Act. Let's have a gander at the wording of that section:


PART III

Protection of Children in Emergencies


Power of Garda Síochána to take a child to safety.

12.—(1) Where a member of the Garda Síochána has reasonable grounds for believing that—


(a) there is an immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of a child, and


(b) it would not be sufficient for the protection of the child from such immediate and serious risk to await the making of an application for an emergency care order by a health board under section 13 ,


the member, accompanied by such other persons as may be necessary, may, without warrant, enter (if need be by force) any house or other place (including any building or part of a building, tent, caravan or other temporary or moveable structure, vehicle, vessel, aircraft or hovercraft) and remove the child to safety.


(2) The provisions of subsection (1) are without prejudice to any other powers exercisable by a member of the Garda Síochána.


(3) Where a child is removed by a member of the Garda Síochána in accordance with subsection (1), the child shall as soon as possible be delivered up to the custody of the health board for the area in which the child is for the time being.


(4) Where a child is delivered up to the custody of a health board in accordance with subsection (3), the health board shall, unless it returns the child to the parent having custody of him or a person acting in loco parentis, make application for an emergency care order at the next sitting of the District Court held in the same district court district or, in the event that the next such sitting is not due to be held within three days of the date on which the child is delivered up to the custody of the health board, at a sitting of the District Court, which has been specially arranged under section 13 (4), held within the said three days, and it shall be lawful for the health board to retain custody of the child pending the hearing of that application.


Now, here's where I start flipping the metaphorical table and kicking the metaphorical cat. Did the police and social services have suspicions of abuse? Apparently, no. Did the police and social services remove the other children of those families? NO.

Isn't that crazy? You think parents/guardians are endangering a child by neglect or active abuse, but you leave other at-risk children in the home? Why would you do that?

Why, if the other kids look like their parents!

Yes, THAT is the reason the forces of the State swooped in to take away the Dublin girl and Athlone boy. They didn't look like the rest of the family.

You still think this is an elaborate joke, don't you? What kind of crazy story is that? This is one of those "Dumb Paddy" jokes only with a really elaborate set-up, isn't it?

Oh no, my friends. Welcome to secular, liberal, progressive, integrated Ireland of 2013. Where your kids can be taken away from you if someone rings up the police that they don't look exactly like you. Or even if they don't ring the police, they ring a "scare the punters" true crime show on a down-market TV station, and the 'journalist' presenter of said show then rings the cops and asks "Whaddya gonna do about this?"

Possible bad publicity from a tabloid journalist salivating for a story about public neglect and child endangerment garnished with appeals to lowest-common-denominator prejudice about foreign Gypsy beggars and thieves and welfare spongers, with a salacious suggestion of paedophile/child pornography sex trafficking sprinkled on top?

Why, that might make us (and more importantly, our political masters) look bad! Quick, to the Batmobile!
underthewillows: (Default)
Warning: possible swearing ahead. Also, I'll be venting steam and doing a lot of foam-flecked ranting, in which I may or may not say things about individuals and institutions that could be construed as slanderous, libellous, or both. To which I reply: (a) if you don't expect vulgar abuse from the general public as part of the job, you shouldn't be in public life and (b) bite me, you tossers.


Double warning: Ireland is a racist country. I've been more or less denying this all my life, but over the past couple of days I've been smacked in the face with it. Evidence to follow.


Most of you probably aren't aware of the latest news from my green little island. Most of you probably aren't aware of the most recent tabloid hysteria case roiling Europe, for that matter. And there's no reason you should be particularly aware; you all have your own problems and your own countries' scandals, difficulties and 'who's on the front page of the redtops/scandal sheets today?' to occupy you.


But I'm angry, and I don't have a platform to express myself (I've left some angry comments on a newspaper's Facebook page - oh, the social activisim!) so you are going to bear the brunt of it. If you want to stop reading now, I cannot blame you.

We've just had a beautiful case - no, I correct myself, two beautiful cases - of the forces of the State intervening on behalf of the welfare of children. So why the scorn, contumely, and hollow laughter on my part?


Because the Irish childcare system - and I include voluntary organisations, registered charities, and the organs of the State in this opinion, no fear or favour to anyone - is fucking shit. From my very limited exposure to it in a five-year period in local education, I was and remain as unimpressed as I can possibly be. If I had a mangy cat, I would not be confident in relying on the system to take best care of it, let alone vulnerable children.


But underthewillows, just last year we had a brand new shiny Referendum on Children's Rights! We had the Children's Rights Alliance all over it! We had it passed! (We've even had complaints about, and court cases challenging, the unfair representation and lobbying by the government to push a "Yes" vote for the amendment to the Child Care Act, they were so eager to see it passed!) Is not everything now tickety-boo with children's protection in Ireland?


*sound of hollow laughter* *possibly slanderous opinion* I didn't trust any of the feckers involved, not even the secular saints such as Fergus Finlay, chairman of Barnados, or Colm O'Gorman, founder of One in Four.


Let me step back here, and give you some necessary background which may seem tangential, but it's relevant, I promise you.


(1) Currently, there is the gorgeous spectacle of a case in Greece that pushes all the buttons about "Gypsies stealing white children", that perennial favourite of yore going back centuries, combined with modern fears of trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation, forced labour, and selling of children for fake adoptions. You can read the bones of it here.


(2) Also current, but dragging on for years since 2007, is the Madeleine McCann case. It's something along the lines of the Australian Lindy Chamberlain ("Dingoes ate my baby", as the tabloids so sensitively headlined it) case in Australia or the JonBenét Ramsay case in the U.S.A.


Both cases are catnip to the British and Irish media; they love the McCann case because it includes all the tropes: heart-string tugging disappearance of a child (is she alive? is she dead?); British/Irish family (the McCanns come from Northern Ireland so, depending on which side of the Border you come from, you will or won't include them as One Of Ours) dealing with foreigners; alleged incompetence of the foreign police (because they're foreigners, of course, not like our good old British bobbies and courts!); wringing every last drop of tears and blood out of the parents and their desperate campaigns to find their child; then the old tabloid trick of keeping the story fresh by attacking those you previously supported - in this case, going from 'grieving parents mistreated by dastardly foreigners' to 'neglectful parents leave vulnerable child alone while they party' to the guaranteed headline-grabber 'did parents kill child and cook up fake abduction?'; and of course the White Slavery sex and trafficking angle. The case has been re-opened by the British police due to alleged incompetence and errors by the Portuguese police and it's all over the papers once again.


Put these two together and you get a hack's wet dream. And that's what I'm coming to: we've got the hack's wet dream in the two Irish cases.


Gypsies kidnapping our white children! Read all about it! Live at six!


I wish I were joking. I'm not. It's literally "Gypsies kidnapping our white children" because the two children in the cases were blue-eyed, blond/blonde children and they didn't look like their dark-haired, dark-eyed, dark-skinned families. That's why the police and social services took them away from their families: someone rang up and said "That kid doesn't look like the rest of them".


You still think I'm pulling your legs, don't you? Part II to follow.
underthewillows: (Default)
There's the story of a rumour going around about the possibility of a new "Star Trek" television series. I was going “Yay!” right up until I read the words “Bob Orci” and then my immediate reaction was “F**k, no!”

Guy whose actual reaction (not alleged, rumoured or imputed to him, but typed out by his own fair hands) to criticism from people who’ve been in the fandom longer than he’s been involved with the franchise is to call them “shitty fans”?

Yeah, that fills me with confidence they won’t make a dog’s dinner of it! I can see it now:

Opening scene of new “Star Trek We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Rules of Grammar” series:

Note: Important that this is to be NEW, original material and characters that is not in any way copying original series or anything that has been done before!!!!

TIM CORK, sexy young blond tearaway but with hidden emotional depths of MANPAIN is gunning his vintage hoverbike (they have hoverbikes in Trek, right? Whatever, it’s all SF!) through the desert, glugging down a (note to continuity: find out what soft drink company will pay the most for product placement here) and blasting out (hmm - what do kids these days listen to? Yeah, some Run DMC, that’s cool!) while a green (nah, done that already) blue (nah, those are the what's their names, starts with an "A", the Andrex? Anyway, we’re not copying the original series JJ says so!) orange with pink spots (oh, yeah, now we’re being original!) sexy alien chick no, twins no, triplets!!! in their skimpiest underwear (note to continuity: find out exactly how much nudity the network will let us get away with on TV) are all over him.

CORK tosses them off the hoverbike and leaves them behind in the sand, calling plaintively after him “Tim, take me with you!” and “You’re the best I’ve ever been with!” and “We’ll never be able to settle for another man again after you!” (note to continuity: will network let us get away with lesbian make-out shot here, if it’s done tastefully and is artistically necessary of course?)

CORK rides his bike up to secure government military base where they’re building the latest, most advanced, one-of-a-kind starship (yeah, he just drives up even though it’s a military base and top-secret project, no-one stops him, we don’t see any security) (yes, they’re building a starship on the ground even though in this universe at this date we should be seeing off-planet bases and orbital space docks because it’s a lot easier to launch your ship once it’s already been built in space rather than try and achieve escape velocity from a planet) and we get shot of him on his hoverbike outside the fence gazing up at the ship that is going to be his one day:

CORK (with intensity and determination and palpable sense of fate and ultimate conviction in his own destiny): That ship is going to be mine one day

CHANGE TO: Interior, sleazy bar/niteclub (you know the type, the cantina on Mos Eisley, for example). CORK hits on snooty chick who’s wearing some kind of uniform (note to continuity: does it have to be recognisably a uniform or can’t we just have a guy standing with her to tell everyone she’s a Starfleet officer-in-training? That way we can get her to wear sexy tight fitting backless dress in some kind of sparkly material - ask Kaplan about what kind is clingiest - with short hem and no sleeves and showing off her cleavage: you know, the kind of conservative buttoned-up gear you’d expect a prudish chick like her to wear). Snooty chick turns him down but this is only because her boyfriend is standing there (also, she’s probably frigid and maybe even a lesbian, because otherwise she would never be able to resist CORK).

Boyfriend is the guy standing beside her telling everyone she’s a Starfleet officer-in-training. He’s an alien, from the planet Bulkan. His name is SPARK and he and CORK get into a fight over snooty chick (note to continuity: remind me to think up appropriate name for her later; after all, she is our main female character! Actually, she's probably going to be our only main female character, but hey - we don't want to confuse audiences with too many women on screen all talking at the one time, do we?)

Interior of bar gets trashed (copy reuse pay homage to bar fight scenes from classic movies, use light touches of humour in scene like guy drinking at table that gets smashed who continues to drink as fight rages around him, guy getting tossed through window, etc.)

CORK and SPARK fight one another to a standstill until they’re the only pair left standing in the wreckage. They are only standing upright because they’re holding each other up, and you can tell it’s been a tough, rough, hard, manly, no-holds-barred fight because CORK has bruising, contusions, blood all over face, fractured ribs and possible concussion, while SPARK has mussed hair. They gaze deeply into one another’s eyes and you can sense the beginnings of a deep, once in a lifetime friendship, the kind of friendship that leads to a legendary partnership that will make history and be renowned in the annals of the Federation, the kind of pairing that not alone makes history, it changes the fate of the galaxy.

(Oh, yeah: the snooty chick is still hanging around as well. Better give her something to do since we’ll have to pay the actress anyway just for showing up on set).

SNOOTY CHICK: Spark, are you okay, baby? I was so worried that even though you have superior strength, faster reflexes, and higher pain tolerance plus advanced martial arts secret techniques from your home world on top of your Starfleet self-defence training, this guy might hurt you when he broke the chair over your head! Oh honey, let me kiss you to show that we are indeed in a relationship and although you’ve just spent the last five minutes gazing silently and intensely into the eyes of another man, both of you clutching on to one another and breathing heavily after rolling around on the floor on top of one another while that blond twink was making his O-face when you were choking him, there is nothing remotely homoerotic in this scene and you are both completely heterosexual!

SPARK: Lieutenant (note to continuity: remind me to insert name for snooty chick here when I think of one), please curb your Human propensity to unseemly displays of emotional indulgence in public.

(Oh yeah, going great so far! Just what this clapped-out old franchise needs: a complete fresh look at its very beginnings, an overhaul and a new angle with all original material and revamped characters!)
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Just got off the phone with the bank regarding my credit card, which was bounced when I tried to pay for an online transaction.

I'm in credit and up-to-date with all my payments, so I wondered at this.

Turns out a "cardwatch" was put on my card because my recent transactions have all been for small amounts, and apparently that's how thieves operate: they try a few small purchases first, then go for the big one if those go through.

So Auntie Underthewillows' advice for you all today is: if you're going to charge something on your credit card, buy the most expensive item you can think of, otherwise you will look dishonest.

(Inculcating prudence seems to be a lost art, does it not?)

And they wonder why Ireland had a problem with over-spending beyond one's means...
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Original radio broadcast 1994, “The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes”. Have just listened to the audiobooks version of “The Lion’s Mane” and can’t stop laughing.

Bert Coules (God preserve the man) takes the plot skeleton of the story (basically ‘X is dead, who killed X?’) and throws the entire rest of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s version away.

Instead, we get Holmes and Watson being delightful :-) It’s set post-retirement, so Holmes is bee-keeping in his cottage on the Sussex Downs while Watson has re-married and is still in practice up in London. This adaptation would have them in their mid- to late-fifties.

Back when I was first reading the stories at age fifteen, fifty seemed ancient to me, so I could accept that Holmes was retired but why then wasn’t Watson living in the cottage with him? Now that I’m *ahem* nearer the age range myself, I quite see why Watson is still working and why he wonders at Holmes taking early retirement.

Never mind the plot (it’s a very thin one and depends on a twist ending); Coules certainly doesn’t bother with it anymore than he can help. Instead, he gives us:

• A “Star Trek” reference!
• A “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” reference! (I nearly spontaneously combusted when Holmes said "Open Channel D")
• A reference to “The Shadow”! (pulp detective and radio show character in the 1930s, made into a movie with Alec Baldwin in 1994)
• The William Gillette play!
• The actors playing Holmes and Watson acting as Holmes and Watson acting as Holmes and Watson! (see the context of the William Gillette play)
• The Llama/Lama joke!
• Re-enactment of a witness questioning scene with Watson in the part of Holmes and Holmes in the part of the lady!
• Holmes (not so) slightly sulking because Watson only comes down on the odd weekend, so he makes sure Watson knows he’s got heaps of new friends now, you know!
• Watson (not so) slightly jealous of all these alleged new friends and oh yeah, well, you don’t need me anymore, do you, so?
• A possible hint as to where Anderson (the name and the character) came from in “Sherlock” the BBC television version, which if so, is really commendable research as this is one of the very minor late stories!
• Meta about fiction versus reality (works whether you’re a Watsonian or a Doylist!)

This episode is pure fanservice. Clive Merrison and the late Michael Williams are plainly having loads of fun and they really do get across the impression of a friendship and partnership that has lasted, grown and developed over a quarter of a century.

So, if you don’t want to think of “His Last Bow” as the very end of our dear friends’ association and you do want to imagine Holmes and Watson post-retirement, Holmes pottering around with his bees and Watson coming down for weekend sleepovers, this is the one for you!

And somebody get Bert Coules on the Honours List because the man deserves at least a CBE for this episode alone!
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Ireland is in dire straits when it comes to the economy, and the trigger for the collapse was the over-inflated bubble of the property market which finally burst in 2008.

Now, the American banks and investment companies collapse had a knock-on effect globally, but our own little treasures didn't improve matters by basically lying to the government financial regulators, extorting taxpayers' money out of them, and all the time they knew their institutions were dead on their feet.

"The Irish Independent" newspaper has actually turned from celebrity Z-list gossip to doing some real journalism and they've released tapes of Anglo-Irish Bank executives, back in 2008, discussing amongst themselves what was going on and what they were telling the Central Bank and the Minister for Finance (two separate things).

Anglo-Irish was the first domino to fall; it pulled in the government at the time to give them €7 billion in a "loan" - this was, as you will hear, half the total amount the Central Bank had in assets. You can begin to see why the economy crumbled under the burden of propping up all the banks which then fell, one after another.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFArNyjerTY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tp9n9N2UCb8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xz1ebUg9Img

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4Dn-ocfSRA

These are the bastards that broke the country; five years on, we're still in a trough with high unemployment, emigration up once again, and we owe our souls to the Germans. But these lads won't see a day in jail, plus they get to keep their pensions and perks as negotiated!
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By which I mean to say that, although he wouldn't recognise the term if he fell over it and that he was bound by his upbringing and cultural assumptions of a particular time and place, Tolkien was not a gender essentialist.

Arising out of a question I saw online about female Elves as warriors and participating in battle, and seeing as how the next instalment of "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" is going to introduce a female Silvan Elf, Captain of the Guard in Mirkwood, let me quote from “Laws and Customs among the Eldar”:


There are, however, no matters which among the Eldar only a nér [male] can think or do, or others with which only a nís [female] is concerned.


Tolkien is not anti-female or a misogynist when he doesn’t have women warriors. What is not sufficiently appreciated is that he is vehemently anti-militarist. Look at his description of Faramir, look at the words he puts into Faramir’s mouth. Look at what he says about the Rohirrim - that they are less wise because they glorify battle and warriors and the military caste as the ideal. Tolkien is not punishing or demeaning Eowyn by having her stay behind instead of ride out with Théoden’s army, or treating her as “only” a woman.

Tolkien, unlike many of his peers, did not rush out to enlist in the Army straight out of school or university during the First World War - and there was a lot of social pressure on men to enlist; you may or may not have heard about the white feathers women would hand out to men not wearing uniform - take it away, Wikipedia:

"In August 1914, at the start of the First World War, Admiral Charles Fitzgerald founded the Order of the White Feather with support from the prominent author Mrs Humphrey Ward. The organization aimed to shame men into enlisting in the British Army by persuading women to present them with a white feather if they were not wearing a uniform."

A white feather is a symbol of cowardice, that's why the author A.E. Mason called his Edwardian adventure novel about a man redeeming his honour when his friends and fiancée mistakenly think he's a coward and each send him a feather as a sign of scorn and mockery The Four Feathers .

C.S. Lewis joined up in 1917 when he was nineteen precisely because, when he won a scholarship to university, the Master of the college he was going to attend informed him that that, with the exception of one boy with health problems, everyone who had won a scholarship had joined the British Army in order to fight in the First World War. Even though as an Irishman, he was not subject to conscription since Ireland had been excluded from the Military Service Bill of 1916, the expectation was that of course every man would voluntarily enlist without needing to be forced.

Tolkien didn't do this. He deferred enlisting (to the shock of his relatives) until 1915 when he was twenty-three and had finished his degree and only joined up when he was satisfied he could provide for his newly-married wife. He hated his time in the army, and twenty-odd years later when his sons were serving during the Second World War, he hated that this had happened to them as well. It’s not because he wasn’t a patriot or because he didn’t value the work of the armed services; it’s because he didn’t think that war in itself was particularly great. An army may be a necessary evil, but the idea of glorification of military prowess in itself and for itself was something he was opposed to.

That’s why Galadriel says (emphasis mine) “But do not think that only by singing amid the trees, nor even by the slender arrows of elven-bows, is this land of Lothlórien maintained and defended against its Enemy”. That’s why Elrond is the greatest healer: because he has given up riding out to war and battle and killing, even as a hunter.

If you think about it, it’s really a much more sophisticated view of what constitutes a strong character (male or female) - not the sword-wielding warrior or shieldmaiden galloping around on a horse, but the ones who pick up the pieces after the battles - the healers, the people who make sure there are enough beds and food for the refugees displaced by war, the peacemakers.


Again, from “Laws and Customs among the Eldar”:


And the Eldar deemed that the dealing of death, even when lawful or under necessity, diminished the power of healing, and that the virtue of the nissi in this matter was due rather to their abstaining from hunting or war than to any special power that went with their womanhood.


Which is to say, it’s not because women are specially “nurturing” or because of any typical feminine or female characteristics that they are good healers, it’s because they refrain from killing. A male Elf who does the same is as good a healer. Contrariwise, a female Elf who hunts or fights is not as good a healer. I've seen too many wish-fulfilment pronouncements by women who should know better about how if only women were in charge, there would be no more war/inequality/poverty/what have you - come on, was Margaret Thatcher a fluffy bunny lady? No woman or girl has ever bullied, harassed, been cruel to or used her power against another woman or girl? This is the equal and opposite error to putting women on pedestals: if the male mistake is to idealise "the angel in the home" (and its concomitant, that a woman's - generally sexual - 'fall' or sin is worse than the same deed by a man because women have 'so much further to fall'), then the female mistake along this line is to sink into a dream of a matriarchal never-never land where women by virtue of their femaleness have sparkly fairy princess magical powers and only nasty, brutish males are violent and self-seeking. We're all of us trying to work our ways through this fallen world.

Females are not special precious snowflakes who are too soft and gentle for this cruel world and are more fitted for the “womanly arts”, because there aren’t any specific “womanly arts”, although there are natural inclinations and customs where one sex does certain tasks or follows certain trades; it's more likely that female Elves are weavers, for instance (and don't forget, Athena is the goddess of weaving as well as wisdom and war, and weaving has connotations of magic) while male Elves are smiths and craftsmen, but that's not because "women are genetically predisposed to the softer arts".

Male Elves do the cooking, for instance, because they like it - “Yet the cooking and preparing of other food [food other than lembas, which is a sacred or ‘magical’ food, the making of which is reserved by ancient law to women] is generally a task and pleasure of men” - so Celeborn rather than Galadriel is going to be the one overseeing the kitchens in Lothlorien when it comes to preparing banquets and the like.

I also like the idea that, after a hard day in the forge, Fëanor still had to put the dinner on the table for seven kids plus the missus. And that Nerdanel often went to her parents' home, after a row with him, for a bit of fussing over her and a good home-cooked meal like Dad used to make. And Finwe spoiling Fëanor rotten after he had yet another fight with his half-brothers by cooking all his favourite meals for him. And the seven grandsons all swore nobody made an apple tart as good as Grandad's (because in Valinor, it wasn't "Mom and apple pie" but "Atya (Dad) and apple tart"). And Galadriel can burn water, which is yet another reason why Celeborn's courtship was successful, because he's got a light hand with pastry and he made the fluffiest, airiest sponge cakes for tea-time treats in Doriath: the exiled Noldor gossiping about "How the heck did a backwoods hick like him manage to end up with her?" "Are you joking? Have you tasted his Bakewell tarts? I'd marry him myself!"
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Just watched Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" now that it's for rent online. He gets the look of a 70s spaghetti western spot-on, and the opening credits are pitch-perfect for the mood - I saw a few of these in the cinema back in the 70s so I can tell :-)

Incredibly violent, going up to Itchy and Scratchy levels of mayhem. Also, I see the problem about this being the "Great White Saviour" trope all over again. Plus, there is usually some kind of redemption arc going on in a Tarantino film (hush, no, I'm serious) but the only thing approaching that is for the character of Dr. King Schultz, which - in a film supposed to be about a black protagonist - is problematic again. We know by the timeline that the Civil War is two years down the line, so what Django's part in that or how it will affect him is going to be interesting. I realise that the theme of this film is purely about revenge so yeah.

Anyway! Things at random: Don Johnson's suit. It is gorgeous. I coveted that suit. Leonardo DiCaprio - I can't tell you if he was good, bad or indifferent. I can never judge his performance in any film because he looks the spitting image of my youngest brother (save for eye colour and being fairer in skin and hair tones usually) and you would not believe how distracting it is trying to watch an actor when in every scene where he appears, your brain is telling you "That's *name of baby brother*!"

Kind of hoping for a Director's Cut or Extended Edition because there are definitely a lot more stories in this film than we got to see, e.g. the woman tracker on the Candyland estate with the bandana and the prostitute(?) with the crutch in the first town Django and Schultz rode into and what is the story behind Brünnhilde having a rosary beads wrapped around her wrist when she is being flogged? Particularly as the man doing the flogging has pages of the Bible pinned all over him, carries a Bible, and seems to rev himself up for flogging slaves by reciting verses from it? A Protestant-Catholic dichotomy, or Tarantino just wholesale copying and recreating scenes down to the least detail from the aforementioned spaghetti westerns without caring about what may appear to be the meaning?

Would I recommend it? With caveats - you would want to be in the mood to watch it, don't expect a great movie (it's good, but it's not great), but if you want to see a spaghetti western remade with the bloodshed ramped up to eleven, then this is the film for you!
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This is a mini-rant about American versus British English usage as I've encountered it in the wilds of fanfiction, particularly that produced by non-Brits writing stories based on British television shows. Warning: all opinions my own personal ones, don’t take them as gospel, open to correction by the more knowledgeable (e.g. anyone who actually lives in London, or England, for that matter).

Now, this is going to apply to writing about British TV shows like “Sherlock”, and not American versus British usage in general. Yes, somebody gored my ox, and you lot have to suffer for it. This isn’t a rant about modern fanfic either, since a lot of older Brit telly has been written about and the same errors have been made. But when they’re still being made - that’s where the irritation factor scales up dramatically.

Talking about “Sherlock”, I’ve read one too many fanfics where:

A character is going to walk a couple of blocks to the precinct.

No, they’re not. Not on this side of the Atlantic. We don’t measure distance in “blocks” since street layout and urban planning doesn’t admit of that handy division, unlike the U.S.A. where - since you lot were building from scratch - urban architects decided a grid system would be rational.

And we don’t have precincts (unless there’s been a change in usage); it’s the police station. I’m not quite sure what the proper term is in regard to Sherlock strolling on down to New Scotland Yard, but that’s the point - I don’t know, so if I were going to write a story set there, I would look up the proper term.

John goes to make the tea, so he turns on the stove and puts the kettle on top of it.

Not unless you’re writing in the Victorian verse, he wouldn’t. And we don’t generally call them “stoves”, we call ‘em “cookers”.

Tea is important, damn it! And boiling a kettle of water on top of a gas, old-style electric ring or ceramic hob is too slow. That’s why we have fast-boiling electric kettles that plug in to the mains and boil between 1 and 2 litres of water quickly so we can get that all-important cuppa first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and in-between all day.

We’re bad at coffee making, though. If you do have coffee drinking or making going on in your story, it’s much more likely to be (if it’s not bought from a chain) a mug of instant coffee powder with the choice of milk and/or sugar. Only posher/poncier/foodie types would do the whole ‘making real coffee’ bit.

Speaking of doing the shopping…

So you have John going down to Tesco’s, which is all well and good, where he picks up a gallon of milk. Which is not so well and good. Milk is usually sold by the litre, though people may still talk about the old-fashioned measure of a pint of milk. To make it even more confusing, people may say “I’m just going down the shops for a pint of milk” and come back with a litre measure. Again, check the difference between American measures and English when talking about grocery shopping, plus the way groceries are bagged (still the tendency to use light-weight plastic bags, although here in Ireland we have a tax on these, which means most people have switched to using proper long-life grocery bags) and the way till operators work (we don’t tend to have “checkout baggers” as in the U.S., unless people are bagging groceries to raise money for charity, in which case they’ll be volunteers from the school, charity or whatever and collecting money as well).

Cops and guns.

Oh, boy, this is a minefield. In general, the police are not armed. Certain squads are, and detectives may be (again, I’m not clear on it, so Look. It. Up.) It’s possible that Lestrade et al. are tooled up, but shooting by the police is not as casual over here as it is in American-set shows. Reflect that in your fiction, and don’t have the police burst in the door all guns blazing.

Cops and cops. And other legal stuff.

We don’t have deputies over here because there isn’t the same division between sheriff’s department and state police. So don’t use that term (again, yes, read it in a fic). Also, remember that barristers and solicitors are not the same thing, one can plead in court while the other can't, and while attorney is a recognised term, it's not quite the same thing as in the U.S.A.; over here, it's more used in the context of the "Attorney General", who is a law officer of the crown and gives legal advice to the government. And petty offences (such as John's ASBO) will come up before a magistrate's court. So make sure you work out if that diamond geezer needs a dock brief before being had up before the beak, okay?

Speaking of slang…

This is a tough one. There’s always the Scylla of, on the one hand, having your characters speak like Americans (for example, we wouldn’t say “projects”, we’d say “council estates” or “tower blocks”) and the Charybdis of, on the other, using outdated slang (cheerio, toodle-pip, blighter, etc.)

And don’t get me started on Cockney/Mockney. Gratuitous dropping of the letter “h” does not make it authentic, and writing dialect is tricky. ‘E gimme a bash on the lug’ole, dinnae 'ee, aye aye guv'nor? Maybe he did, but unless your character is half-Cockney and half-Scots by way of Yorkshire, they won’t talk like that.

But I’m an American, writing for Americans! I naturally use the terms I’m familiar with!

Then write a story set in the “Elementary” verse, which is pre-Americanised for your convenience. Or listen to the lines in the actual television programme itself. If the characters don’t say it, then don’t write it.

Think of it like this - suppose you were reading a “Dexter” fanfic, where one of the characters says “Hey, turn on Radio 4, I want to know the Test match score!”

Would that convince you this was an American talking to other Americans about an American radio station broadcasting an American sport? No? Then don’t make John Watson a baseball fan, with a favourite team and an old-time player he admires (yes, I’ve read this. Some fudged explanations about he was introduced to baseball by the Yanks he met serving in Afghanistan. Yeah - no.) Canonically, Watson played rugby; modern-day John might equally well have played it at university, or follow a team (oh, and don't confuse rugby league with rugby union!) - at least the national side in tournaments such as the Six Nations cup - and may very well have a football team he supports (don't have a Brit character call it soccer unless you're specifically mentioning other games like rugby football, Australian rules football, Gaelic football and American football, where a distinction needs to be made between various games under the same term).

So basically - when in doubt, leave it out. Or look it up. And check, check, check what you’ve just put down - if you have Sherlock and John walking three blocks from the subway munching on hotdogs they bought from a vending cart while they discuss last night’s baseball game and the batting average of their favourite players as they head on over to the precinct where the beat cops are putting on their holsters, then maybe re-think what ‘verse you want to write in or watch another episode of the show to catch any little slip-ups you might be making.

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