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?

Doctor Who Series 8 full trailer...

Monday, July 14, 2014

Retrospective Album Review: Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin, 1969...

Since going to see Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters last month I've been delving into his solo archives and the Led Zeppelin back catalogue and I've been getting a new appreciation for certain material that had never overly appealed to me before. In particular I have been listening to Led Zeppelin's eponymous first album on a near repeat basis for the past week or so. Why this album? Well, Robert Plant opened his set with 'Babe I'm Going to Leave You' which was never a song I particularly liked. But hearing it live blew me away and its brilliance became apparent to me. Therefore, I thought I'd do a retrospective review of the entire album. It was never my favourite, just like Led Zeppelin weren't. I would play them every now and again with the albums Led Zeppelin III (my personal favourite) and their fourth untitled album getting most of the play time with a few other scattered songs. For some reason their first album never really did anything for me. However, that has changed now and I find myself really drawn to it. I think this is partly to do with my current passion for early American blues music along the lines of Muddy Waters which really influenced Led Zeppelin. This can be heard best on this first album.

The album open with 'Good Times, Bad Times', which is one of my least favourite songs on the album along with 'Communication Breakdown'. It's ironic that the two most well known songs from the album are the two I like the least. I think it's because they reek of 1960s production. It just has that generic 60s pop-rock feel to it that I don't particularly like. I'm not a total hater of these songs, however, the Page solos on these songs show the direction of the band into being pioneers of heavy metal. Few have done it better. For me, the really good stuff begins with the second song 'Babe I'm Going to Leave You' which is a cover of Joan Baez recording written by Anne Bredon in the late 1950s. The mixture of acoustic ballad, Plant's haunting vocals and the sudden forays into hard rock make this song an absolute roller-coaster.

'You Shook Me' is pure twelve-bar blues. Yet another cover, the original was written by Muddy Waters, and Jeff Beck also covered it. Zeppelin's version is very similar to Beck's and they have been accused of stealing elements of Beck's version without crediting him. Plagiarism and Led Zeppelin is a cloudy issue. Jimmy Page, for all his talents, seems to think he can borrow with out crediting. Robert Plant on the other hand just seems lazy over crediting back in these early days. He's never one to shy away from linking lyrics to other artists that he admires and he regularly heaps praise on these people today. Back then, however, he didn't seem to realise he had to credit his influences and it got him in trouble. Page is arrogant enough to stick to his guns even though everyone knows he's lying.

'Dazed and Confused' is another song where there's an issue over influence. The song was originally written and recorded by Jake Holmes in 1967 and it was covered by the Yardbirds of which Jimmy Page was a member. It was recorded again by Led Zeppelin. Page wrote new lyrics and altered the melody. It does, however, sound very similar and on current releases of the album it now says 'inspired by Jake Holmes. Regardless of inspiration this is one of the highlights of the album. It foreshadows, to me, songs like Stairway to Heaven which range from mid-tempo ballads to fast and heavy rock. Live performances of this song were something to behold and could last up to 45 minutes.

'Your Time is Gonna Come' feels like a folk tune that turns into a epic gospel song but about infidelity. The song also has an interesting sound with both an organ and a ten string steel guitar. The song them transforms into the instrumental 'Black Mountain Side', a piece inspired by the traditional Irish song 'Down by Blackwaterside'. Page creates an Eastern feel to the song, altering the tempo and tuning of his guitar to create a sitar effect. A tabla is also played. The unusual tuning is fascinating here and provides a great contrast to the previous folk/gospel song.

'Communication Breakdown' is one of the more straight forward rock n roll songs on the album and as I've said, one of my least favourites on the album. That's not to say it's bad, however. The influence of Willie Dixon emerges again on 'I Can't Quit You Baby' which was penned by Dixon. Again, it's a standard blues song and I really think nobody did it better than Zeppelin. The combination if classic blues with a heavier rock sound and the technical skill of the entire band make it a highlight of the album. The album closes with 'How Many More Times'. This is a great song that flits between smaller segments which move from blues to hard rock and back again. It's yet another song that had a cloud hanging over the writing credits and since 1993 it has been co-credited to Chester Burnett (Howlin' Wolf) who recorded 'How Many More Years' in 1951 with many similarities. Zeppelin's version, however, is significant expanded and it can be said to be influence at best in my opinion.

Overall, this album has no low points, it never gets flat and in terms of production value and technical ability it far outweighs anything from the late 60s and even into the early 70s to a point. While Pink Floyd would become the kings of production with 'Dark Side of the Moon' four years later, Led Zeppelin can be said to be the kings at this point. Now, production does not necessarily mean manicured, it's the clarity of the sound, the levels of the instruments and vocals and it's general crispness. Production values of the 60s were plagued with that 'recorded in a box' sound. That sound is absent here but it retains a rawness. It could almost be a live recording. It feels fresh and organic and not something overly rehearsed. There are even points where you can hear parts of the scratch vocals from the drum tracks bleeding through. Yet is sounds fantastic! I like rawness on music and particularly dislike over productions which seems to sap the music of any soul whatsoever. This album will remain a favourite of mine for quite some time. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Charge struck out against Brother...

This is from this week's Leinster Express:

"A Mountrath man at last week’s district court had a charge of speeding struck out, after Judge John Coughlan learned the man was a Patrician Brother.

Before the court was Matthew Hayes, with an address at the Patrician Brothers, Cavansheath, Mountrath.

He was charged with exceeding the speed limit at the R639 Durrow, Townparks, Durrow, on December 8 last year.

When Mr Hayes stepped forward, Judge Coughlan asked him was he a Patrician Brother.

Mr Hayes replied he was.

Judge Coughlan then struck out the charge.

A number of other people before the court on speeding charges received fines."

It seems that the only reason that the charge was struck out was because he was a Patrician Brother. I can not comment on the character of the man because I do not know him but in no way should be a Patrician Brother be grounds for striking out a charge. As the last line implies other people didn't have their cases struck out. I have heard of the so-called witch-hunt against Catholicism in the Irish media as of late and people complaining that they feel persecuted in Ireland because they're Christians but this goes to show that the old theocracy is still in place. "Ah sure he's a priest, it wouldn't be right to charge him." The law should be equal, but when a particular religion is enshrined as being above the law, as has happened again and again, then this will continue to happen. When Christianity is enshrined in the constitution, the law, the judicial system, the education system and the health care system there is absolutely no valid ground for claims of persecution whatsoever. It's grounds for a privileged position. Now, this case has little to do with this rant but it's symptomatic of a larger problem that gives pride of place to one position with the result that others are oppressed by it.