Monday, July 28, 2014

Have we really learned?

Louvain, Belguim, 1914

Gaza, 2014.

Today marks 100 years since World War 1 began. In November we will mark 100 years since it ended, which is set to be a much bigger affair. I have refrained from logging into my social media accounts for the day to avoid the inevitable posts from friends and family marking the occasion. My reason for this is that I disagree, in general, with how these events are marked. I see a lot of parallels of today with pre-World War 1 Europe. There is growing militarization and a growing support for armed conflicts. Eleven years ago over a million people marched in London against the war in Iraq and today war is increasingly glorified across that same country.  Being in Ireland, we receive a lot of British advertisements on TV including their army recruitment adverts. They have become more subtle and insidious in their nature. It's now difficult to tell whether or not you watching an advert for the army, or an advert for a computer game. They are targeting a market of teenagers who play war games and present real armed conflicts as being the same. They mislead and tell people they will train you and shape you as an individual, but armies don't want individuals. They want people who follow orders, people they can train to more effectively kill the enemy. That's the bottom line. They don't care about your future prospects once you leave the army. You are of more use to them dead. When you are dead they can label you a hero and lay wreaths to glorify you in order to further romanticize and wash over the grim realities of war. To my mind, there's nothing heroic about returning home in a box. Nothing at all. It makes that person a victim. 

Today we will see the further romanticization of war. Politicians who send young men and women to their deaths will stand up and cry crocodile tears over the war dead and people in military uniform will further the propaganda and brainwashing that comes with such days. It's designed to garner further support for the military and further push them in the echelons of being super-heroes. Labeling the war dead as heroes obscures the reality of war. I'm not saying that heroism didn't happen, it definitely did and that needs to be recognized but we also need to recognize the horrors that soldiers committed. The massacres, the rapes and the murder of civilians. It needs to be recognized that once you train a person to kill, it removes the last taboo of humankind. Once this has been removed, it changes a person so that others horrors don't seem as hard to commit. We learned that in Ireland with the Black and Tans. Men came back from the war hardened and unable to fit back into society, they were brutal and cruel so they sent them to Ireland and let them loose. Of course, I'm not saying that that is what happened to all. Absolutely not, but it contributed to a culture in which war becomes normal and something to revel in and those who go to fight are turned into heroic figures. Governments and armies should be the last people to lead commemorations of the war dead. It was them, afterall, that sent them to their deaths. Most didn't want to go, they were conscripted and dragged to a war that was not their own. It was a war of greedy governments bound by misguided treaties of alliances from the 19th century. Millions died because of governments and eager military regimes and these millions have become their selling piece, their opportunity to recruit more people who naively believe they are doing their duty and march to their deaths, all for the interests of the rich who don't want to get their hands dirty. Few modern conflicts are actually about defense, few about doing the right thing and helping people. Most are about money and greed disguised as honor, duty and patriotism. 

So today, when the hypocrites let loose the propaganda machine to indoctrinate the next generation of 'heroes', just remember that the war dead are mostly victims. Letting governments and armies lead these commemorations is the equivalent of letting fascists lead Holocaust commemorations. It is people who need to remember those who have died and remember the reality of war that isn't heroic, noble or glorious but cruel, horrific and most of all un-necessary. War remembrance needs to be taken away from those who continue war and only then will the wheels of change begin to move. As long as this fundamentally loathsome romanticization continues those wheels will be stuck - unable to move. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Big Book of Conservative Bollocks...

Over the past few years I've become increasingly frustrated with conservatism and the growing swing towards the Right in politics which is really a knee-jerk reaction to the world-wide financial crisis. This is not to say that the Left is always right, most countries had Left wing parties in government when the mistakes were make. There are severe problems on the left but I still believe that it is only on the Left that society can progress to become more inclusive and less discriminatory in nature. I am firmly on the left and closely aligned with socialism but not anarchism or communism which have shown themselves to be easily exploited and utter failures as political theories, although not without their merits. The form of socialism I advocate is the social ownership of production and services. Under such a system there would be free health and education for all permanent residents regardless of country of origin and cheaper access to public travel. Obviously there's more to it than that but that's not what I'm ranting about. It's just a small piece of background.

I have clashed with various people, friends, family and others about things posted on Facebook and Twitter (possibly the worst place to debate anything). The people I'm clashing with are firmly on the Right and they seem to be a very defensive bunch. For example, if an article called 'Tougher Immigration Laws to be Introduced' appears, the Right people will immediately and unprovoked begin with 'great, but the bleeding heart liberals will try to stop it'! It makes me laugh every time I read the term 'bleeding heart liberal' and it comes right from what I have termed 'The Big Book of Conservative Bollocks'. There are certain mantras and cliches that the Right peddle out as much as they can. Before any objection has been raised they have predicted it, labelled it with a pejorative term so they can turn around say 'told you so'.  There are others which I might blog about at some point. This term has been leveled at me occasionally and I'm not your traditional 'bleeding heart liberal'. I'm liberal on many things but only as far as equality is concerned. I can't see what is 'bleeding heart' about wanting a society where your race, gender, sexual orientation or religion/non-religion don't single you out for separate treatment by any institution, law or state body. That's not bleeding heart, that's common sense. Traditionally a bleeding heart liberal is someone who would for example, hand out lenient terms to rapists out of a sense that the offender can be rehabilitated and reintroduced to society. Such views (and that's a very specific hypothetical scenario) I do not share but yet the label gets thrown around as increasingly it is becoming a negative thing to show any form of liberalism. Any show of being on the Left can see you get labeled this way. And it comes down to ignorance. Ignorance of the issues at play. Because many of these people can't argue the point they instead try to discredit the person by attaching a pejorative label which they can then use to dismiss anything that person says. Of course, I'm here being a hypocrite. I've labeled such language as coming from my pejorative 'Big Book of Conservative Bollocks.' Another label, but I'm not using it to dismiss and would argue the point with a person no matter how ill-equipped I may be to do so.

But I'm sure I can think of more things to go into the Big Book of Conservative Bollocks...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Chicago Art Institute #9: Box in the Grand Tier: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: 1897...

Artist: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901).
Title: Box in the Grand Tier.
Year: 1897.

While I've become quite enamored with post-impressionism I am still lukewarm to Toulouse-Lautrec and find it hard to get overly excited about him. The colours are less than vibrant, which while not always a bad thing, it give Toulouse-Lautrec's work a washed out feel. Saying that there are some fine pieces in his body of work. This piece is one that I can't see the 'masterpiece' in. It's a lithograph on paper carried out with crayon, brush and spatter. It looks like the skeleton of a painting never fully realised.

I've resurrected this section after many months because I'm still interested in the artwork I saw in Chicago nearly three years ago now. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Abortion for Medical Reasons in Ireland...

Ireland can be a fantastic place to live. It really can be. But sometimes it can be a difficult and uncomprehending place and somewhat terrifying. Abortion laws in Ireland remain one of those reminders that the Catholic theocracy is still clinging on with bloody claws to the uterus of every woman in the country, whether the women want them to or not. It doesn't matter if you're Catholic, the church wants control over it nonetheless. There has been progress and a threat to the life of the mother during pregnancy is now grounds for an abortion. There are a small group of people with powerful foreign investors that would like women to have absolutely no rights whatsoever over their reproductive system. Because of these people abortion for fatal foetal abnormalities and other medical reasons remains illegal and something for which a women and a doctor could find themselves in court for should this occur. The only option then, go to Britain! So the law doesn't really stop people it just means that that portion of our healthcare is outsourced. We dump the problem onto Britain because we won't deal with it ourselves. 

I thought I'd share a little personal experience to show the effect that these laws can have. Now, before I start I should say that Giolacha and I are very lucky people. We have a beautiful boy who is happy and healthy, but circumstances are such that we probably won't have any further children and the abortion laws in Ireland have factored into our decision.  

Giolacha has known since she was a child that her family has had cases of Duchenne's Muscular Dystrophy. For anyone who doesn't know, Duchenne's Muscular Dystrophy is a sever muscular wasting disease. It is carried by females and presents itself in males. It is carried through females in a defective X chromosome which means that any child has a 50/50 chance of inheriting the gene. For a female child it means that they have a 50/50 chance of being a carrier. For a male child it means a 50/50 chance of having the disease. If they have it, it means that they will be late developing basic motor skills and may not walk until the age of 2. They will always be behind their peers in development and their muscles will begin to waste away around the age of 6 or 7. They will be wheelchair bound by age 10 and will pass away probably before their 20th birthday being totally paralysed and using breathing apparatus. It's not a good death - most drown on their own saliva that accumulates in the lungs or their heart just gives up. Most of their lives are without a significant quality of life. 

Giolacha was not sure if she was a carrier or not. To find out a genetic test was required which compared DNA with a living relative who had the disease. There were none left alive with the disease in Giolacha's family by the time she needed the test. Therefore, she wasn't sure. Obviously we were unsure about having children because of this. However, she spoke to her doctor in Spain who went through her family history and based on that assured her that she couldn't be a carrier. We decided to proceed and The Boy was born in March 2012. Near the end of 2012 we were told that there was a new genetic test available that could check for the chromosome without the need for a comparison with a living relative. While we didn't think it was necessary Giolacha took the test and on 12th March 2013 we were told in a doctor's office in Limerick that the test was positive and Giolacha was a carrier. For that brief moment the bottom fell out of our world. Immediately we could both see what this meant, The Boy had a 50/50 chance of having the disease. Needless to say we were crushed by this possibility. A nerve-wracking three months passed as we waited for more test results from a genetic blood test on The Boy. On 4th June were got the phone call to say he was fine. I've never cried as much in my life with the relief. Absolute tears of joy after the three hardest months of our lives. For Giolacha it was worse because she was dealing with the guilt of possibly having passed this disease on to our child. I felt no anger towards her. It is just an accident of genetics that she has this chromosome. I will never feel angry towards her over this. She doesn't deserve it and she doesn't need to heap guilt onto herself, but I understand why. 

Months passed and we enjoyed the relief of having a healthy child. But of course there comes a time when you have to make the decision of whether or not to have more children. We'd been lucky once but we didn't want to proceed without being fully informed. We scheduled an appointment with Giolacha's genetic counsellor to discuss the matter. We were told that if Giolacha became pregnant we need to contact them immediately. They would to a test on the foetus at 11 weeks gestation to determine the sex. It's an invasive test where they would need to take fluid from the amniotic sack. As with all such procedures there's chance of miscarriage. If the tests show a girl we would proceed with the pregnancy as there would be no life threatening consequences. If the tests show a boy we would have a further tests in week 14 to determine whether the foetus has the defective X chromosome. It's another invasive test with the accompanying dangers. Now, here's where it gets difficult. Under Irish law there is no difference what the tests show as we cannot legally terminate if the tests show the foetus has the disease. It would be worse for other parents who are told their child has a fatal foetal abnormality and that they can do nothing about it apart from to wait for the child to be born only to suffer and die in their arms. How moral is it to inflict such suffering on people? Why is that morally superior to alleviating suffering? For us the option would be to either continue with the pregnancy or get referred to Britain and go for a termination. Making the decision to abort is not an easy one to make but it is made all the more stressful by having to travel to another country to do it. It's shameful part of Ireland that we dump our women in another country rather than look after them ourselves. Of course, there are people, ourselves included, who cannot drop everything and travel. We simply couldn't afford it. So then, people are forced into continuing with such pregnancies. Because of this we are currently thinking that we are not going to have more children. Choosing to abort is not easy and either way there are negative consequences that have to be lived with. It is made all the more difficult by the fact that our own healthcare system doesn't support your right to choose which path to take. It only furthers the guilt that Giolacha feels and all I can do is stand by and watch. Yet there are people out there who call themselves 'pro-life' who would inflict such suffering with a happy heart - what's pro-life about that?