Monday, April 08, 2013

Why Thatcher still matters.

A day I've been waiting for since the mid 80's when my teenaged brain started to take an interest in politics is here.  She's dead.  Finally.

I was never a great supporter of the IRA (although I would like to see a unified Ireland) but I must admit there were not many tears in my house when they blew up the Tory Conference in Brighton and Norman Tebbit was carried out on a stretcher with his willy hanging out.

The reason I didn't like the IRA was because they used violence to try and achieve their aim, for some reason however, when they blew up that hotel it felt like they were using violence to fight violent people.

The IRA have laid down their guns now - more or less but that is a different debate - the violence that Maggie Thatcher and the Conservative Party of the 1980's fostered upon us is still here, and it is not just limited to the UK.

Margaret Thatcher, even before she was Prime Minister, was known as "Margaret Thatcher the Milk Snatcher" because as Education secretary in the 1970's she had taken away free milk in schools.  This alone should have been a warning sign as to the kind of personality you were dealing with; cruel and heartless.

She was an admirer of Milton Friedman, the economist who promoted the idea of "Monetarism".  When Thatcher became Prime Minister she implemented monetarism as the weapon in her battle against inflation, and reduced it from 10% to 4.6% by 1983.

This was done by the mass closure of "inefficient" ( really meaning "unionized") factories, shipyards and coal mines, which resulted in in unemployment doubling from around 1,500,000 people to more than 3,000,000..

Everything had to be profit driven - people no longer mattered..  Milton Friedman believed that a certain unemployment rate was acceptable in order to maximize profits - Thatcher put his theories into practice and it got us where we are today - austerity, mass unemployment and decimated manufacturing communities throughout the world where governments followed her example.  Go to Yorkshire, Merseyside or Central Scotland and you'll see the same thing you see in Troy, New York or Detroit, Michigan.

The steelworks went first, followed by the coal mines and the print workers. The greedy quest for profit leaves a long trail of human wreckage.

Not content with destroying communities through mass unemployment, she then went after public sector housing.  She forced local councils to sell off housing dirt cheap to tenants and forbade them from putting the profits back into building new stock.  This led to a housing shortage and for the first time in many years people went homeless.  Not only that, councils lost the income from central government that covered their housing stock and estates became dilapidated and run down.

Now, there were strict rules covering banks and building societies that stood in the way of first time buyers. Banks did not do mortgages, and building societies were not allowed to hold savings accounts or borrow on the money market. Buyers were required to save a substantial portion of the cost of their first home, and then might have to wait in a mortgage queue. The Thatcher government lifted these restrictions, allowing building societies to convert into banks, and banks to become mortgage lenders, setting off a boom in house buying which crashed in 1989, and people were introduced to the concept of ‘negative equity’.

Any of this starting to sound familiar?

By the way, I have a caveat here.  I grew up in a council house that my Mum bought under these regulations.  Would I have done the same thing?  Probably.  The benefit of hindsight to see the destruction the policy wrought is a nice thing but obviously not available at the time.

Also, I mentioned the print worker union before because the Battle of Wapping was the really the beginning of Fox News.  Without the collusion of the British government and their union busting police force, and because of his close personal friendship with Thatcher, Rupert Murdoch might not be half as big as he is today.

Obama said that Thatcher was "one of the great champions of freedom and liberty" and that "she stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered".

In her 11 years as Prime Minister, she hired exactly ONE other woman to be a Cabinet member and promoted no women above junior minister.  The idea of her being a feminist icon is absurd to say the least.  She actually said it herself: "‘The feminists hate me, don’t they? And I don’t blame them. For I hate feminism. It is poison.’

Add to this the fact that she froze child benefit and refused to invest in affordable childcare, instead criticising working mothers for raising a "crèche generation".

Obama's "Champion of Freedom and Liberty" let 10 Irish Hunger Strikers die because they wanted to be treated like the Political Prisoners they were and not common criminals.  To see how cold hearted she was you only have to look at what the demands of the hunger strikers were:

1. the right not to wear a prison uniform;
2. the right not to do prison work;
3. the right of free association with other prisoners, and to organise educational and recreational pursuits;
4. the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week;
5. full restoration of remission lost through the protest.

This is hardly a list unreasonable demands, it is a list that asks that prisoners, all of whom had been detained for troubles related offenses, be treated as the POW's that they were and not as thieves and criminals.  This was not unheard of and indeed they had "Special Catagory Status" up until 1972 when it was withdrawn by Willie Whitelaw, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

From May through August of 1981, 10 men starved to death and Maggie Thatcher said: "Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal. He chose to take his own life".

Anyway, I could go on and on  but I won't (I haven't even mentioned the Falklands War or the Poll Tax - I might add these later).

I'm glad she's dead.  If that makes me heartless then so be it.  Yes, she was human but she was also the Angel of Death to many communities in and around where I grew up and she won't be missed.

Elvis Costello
Tramp The Dirt Down 1989

I saw a newspaper picture from the political campaign
A woman was kissing a child, who was obviously in pain
She spills with compassion, as that young childs
Face in her hands she grips
Can you imagine all that greed and avarice
Coming down on that childs lips

Well I hope I don't die too soon
I pray the lord my soul to save
Oh I'll be a good boy, Im trying so hard to behave
Because there's one thing I know, I'd like to live
Long enough to savour
That's when they finally put you in the ground
Ill stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down

When england was the whore of the world
Margeret was her madam
And the future looked as bright and as clear as
The black tarmacadam
Well I hope that she sleeps well at night, isnt
Haunted by every tiny detail
Cos when she held that lovely face in her hands
All she thought of was betrayal

And now the cynical ones say that it all ends the same in the long run
Try telling that to the desperate father who just squeezed the life from his only son
And how it's only voices in your head and dreams you never dreamt
Try telling him the subtle difference between justice and contempt
Try telling me she isn't angry with this pitiful discontent
When they flaunt it in your face as you line up for punishment
And then expect you to say thank you straighten up, look proud and pleased
Because youve only got the symptoms, you haven't got the whole disease
Just like a schoolboy, whose heads like a tin-can
Filled up with dreams then poured down the drain
Try telling that to the boys on both sides, being blown to bits or beaten and maimed
Who takes all the glory and none of the shame

Well I hope you live long now, I pray the lord your soul to keep
I think I'll be going before we fold our arms and start to weep
I never thought for a moment that human life could be so cheap
Cos when they finally put you in the ground
They'll stand there laughing and tramp the dirt down


Sunday, April 07, 2013

How to completely ruin your post-vacation buzz in 3 hours or less.

I got back into New York City yesterday after a great relaxing week down in the Bayou eating alligators and humming Hank Williams Snr songs.  It was our first family vacation in 3 years and a resounding success.

So today I come back to work.  I am working 16 hours but that's okay,  it's Sunday (therefore quiet), and I am well rested.  I even left half an hour early this morning so I could walk to the PATH train and start my day with some exercise.

I work an uneventful 8 hours then decide to take a break.  I have an ipod that needs a new headphone jack so I'll drop it off at the repair place on 23rd St, a mere 3 subway stops away from where I work.  Should be a doozy, in and out in 20 minutes at the most.

I walk down to the subway stop on Chambers Street.  The 1 train.  I go down the stairs and enter the underground labyrinth of broken lights and discarded metrocards.  I remember that I have no money on my metrocard so I add 20 dollars and then go to the turnstyle.

I swipe the card.  Nothing happens.  I notice that the little screen has a message I've never seen before, it says "No Cards".

"Hmm, okay!".

I go to the next one.

"No Cards".

And the one after that.

"No Cards".

They all say "No cards".

I go towards the attendant who is dealing with 3 other people in front of me.  He is telling them there are no trains at this station.

The guy in front of me say: "Why is the fucking station open then?  Why are there no signs up announcing that fact?".  The attendant is looking at him like he just asked the stupidest question ever and I decide not to get involved.  I am still enjoying my post vacation buzz and the next station is only a couple of blocks away.

I walk up to the A,C,E train and get on one right away.  Roll to 23rd street with no problem, walk 3 blocks to the ipod repair place.  Take a ticket and wait.

I have green ticket number 95.  The counter is at green ticket number 90.  5 people in front of me, should be in and out in no time.

"Green ticket number 91!"

A minute passes

"Green ticket number 92!"

A minute passes

"Green ticket number 93!"

A minute passes

"Green ticket number 94!"

30 minutes pass.

"Green ticket number 95!"

By this point I am frustrated but I am determined not to let my buzz be ruined by New York City on my first day back.  I will prevail over the bitch known as fate!

As soon as my ticket is called I conduct my business and I am out of the store in 5 minutes.  I have to get back to work so I get on the nearest subway which is the 1 train again.  This is the same train I had problems with at the start but I know the downtown direction is running normally.

I pay my $2.50 and push through the turnstile.  Within a minute the announcer comes on the PA and says "Due to an investigation at Canal Street all 1, 2, 3 trains between 42nd street and Chambers Street (where I am headed) have been suspended".

Sigh. Fuck.

I turn and shout back over the turnstile to the attendant.  I can't transfer at this station and I don't want to walk 2 blocks and have to pay again.

He just keeps repeating "No trains!  There are no trains Sir!" over and over again without actually listening to what I am saying.

Just then a train pulls into the station while he is repeating "No trains" like Baghdad Bob standing in front of the advancing American tanks saying "There are no Americans in Baghdad!".

I think about avoiding the train anyway but the ding dong goes and it gets ready to pull out of the station so I jump on board before the doors close.

I think I'm on my way but it goes exactly one stop before "We are being held at the station due to a police investigation".

Fuck this!  I am moving.  I get off the train, go upstairs onto 18th street and start walking back to the E train.  I had intended to walk to 14th street but somehow I became discombobulated and started walking north.

5 minutes later I am standing outside the ipod repair place wondering how the fuck I got there.  It's 2 hours since I left work and I said I'd only be gone 20 minutes.

I walk along 23rd street listening to cajun music in my head and trying to convince myself I am back in New Orleans.  In my head the weather is 80 degrees and my family are chilling with me drinking chichory coffee and eating beignets.  Outside my head I am walking towards the uptown subway and not paying attention.

I walk past the Chelsea Hotel, hang a left, go downstairs into the gates of hell.  Ooh look the train is right there.  My metrocard works first time and I jump right on.  I'm so lucky!

Next stop 34th Street.  The furthest away from my work I have been all day.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuckity Fuck.

And that, my friends, is how to ruin your post-vacation buzz in 3 hours or less.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Connecting the dots.

On Sunday morning I was lying in bed, awake but not awake if you know what I mean.  My brain was buzzing and I was considering getting up but my eyes were closed and I wasn't in a hurry to open them.

I felt a figure lying next to me, a figure that was not there when I went to sleep and was now sticking a pair of freezing cold feet under my pajama jacket. 

It was my 6-year old daughter and she had climbed into our bed in the middle of the night as she  often does. She now lay between me and my wife in her contorted way of sleeping that resembles a body that fell out of the sky from a very great height and splayed limbs in every direction at angles usually only acheivable by ostriches or years of yoga training.

Very often this means I will end up with feet on my face and my wife will end up with fingers up her nose and a heavy head on her stomach.  This time my wife was getting a break and she was right up against me; her feet and knees were up againsts my back and her head was right next to mine.  I could feel her breath on my face once I was able to turn around in her direction (a harder task than you think since I was basically clinging to the edge of the bed with my arse-cheeks by this point).

I lay there with my eyes still closed, feeling happy and protective and warm.  My brain is telling me that this could be the good old days.  This is one of those moments that when I am an old man and she is grown up, I will be to grasp onto this memory and smile and feel that same warmth and protection no matter what the future holds.  It is a feeling I never want to end.  I am like this for a while, just savoring the moment.  I listen to the rythm of her breating and feel the inhale then the exhale on my face.  It is perfect and nothing can spoil it.

A few minutes later something happens and we switch places. A memory rises from the depths of my sub-conciousness and in this memory I am the child and I am lying right next to my Mum.  I can feel HER breath on my face.

It shocks me because it is so vivid and real and I want to open my eyes but I don't want to lose the moment or the connection to my Mum who has been dead for 8 years.  This might sound spooky but it is far from it, I feel the same sense of warmth and protectiveness that I had towards my daughter before except that this time I feel like they are being offered to me.  I have an overwhelming sense that everything is going to be alright.

I now lie there listening to my Mum breathing.  I remember this feeling so strongly that I recall I used to time my own breathing to breathe in when she was doing the same.  I had this idea in my head that when people breathed out they only breathed out the bad air that your body did not want.  Since we were lying so close together I could not breathe in when she was breathing out or I'd only get the bad air.

As I lie there happier than I've been in months I realise that I've discovered something very primal, something which is always there but rarely acknoledged.  A connection between a parent and a child that, no matter what happens in ones life, never goes away, and no matter what I know  I am incredibly lucky to have reached this point.

Long may it last.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013


I come up the stairs from the platform of the 42nd Street subway stop to the bowels of the Port Authority bus station and I am confronted by a highway of humanity moving in two directions at once in front of me.  I feel like I am standing completely still in one of those long-exposure photographs where one thing is in focus and everything else is a blur.

I stand watching for a while, I put my hands on the railing at the top of the stairwell I just emerged from and deposit some skin cells.  It occurs to me in that moment that hundreds of millions of people have deposited skin cells in the same place.  I start thinking about how many people have shed skin cells in the subway and then in the Port Authority bus station.  All of that humanity, all the flakes, all the DNA, melting off you in your effort to get from Point A to Point B.

I'm overwhelmed by the thought and the possibility as my mind's eye sinks down to an atomic level and the walls seem to swim with matter.  I can see every particle and I feel like I could push my hand into it like it was made from jello.  It would be egotistical of me to think I am at one with the world but I am not at one with the world, I am just contributing to it, adding my cells to the millions who were here before me.

Sometimes New York does this to you.  Fear loves this place and sometimes you will find it dragging you by your head and there is a startling moment of clarity when you realise that you are one single pea in a giant concrete pod filled with 12 million peas. 

For some people this makes their brain explode, for me I love it.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

I don't know where last year went.  I started about 4 or 5 posts but never actually published anything.  I'd like to say that they didn't meet some kind of high editorial standard but to be honest all of them were just half formed ideas that never got completed.

I had a good year, just not a very exciting one and I'm not the kind of person who can write about mundane things even though my definition of a mundane thing might slightly different from yours.  I'm not the "A funny thing happened to me on the way to the theater" storyteller, I like the absurd, the surreal and the harmless.

I turned 40 in March and in April ended up in the emergency room with an asthma attack, my first one in 12 years.  This prompted a bit of soul searching as I had not only aged a decade, I was also the heaviest I'd ever been and completely out of shape.

Because of this I then spent a good deal of the summer walking the NYC Greenway and then after that just kept on walking.  By the end of October, and by the reckoning of the little app on my phone that tracks me like a student loan debt collector, I had walked about 370 miles.  I ended the year feeling in slightly better shape than I have in a long time.  I will endeavor to keep this up throughout 2013.

On the current affairs front it was an election year, and although I had plenty of bad things to say about Mitt Romney, I did not have many good things to say about Barak Obama so I generally kept my head down hoping Obama would win but only because I was more afraid of the other guy.  This is not democracy, it's a 2-party card game with a marked deck.

The year ended on a rough note with the 2 Sandy's.  Hurricane Sandy which had me living at work for 5 days and provided me with a few images that I will never forget, and then the Sandy Hook School shooting which was just too unspeakably horrible.  The name Sandy needs to go in the bin with Adolf, no more Sandys please.

And now I think I am up-to-date.  12 months in 6 paragraphs.  Not bad at all.

New Year Resolution.

I have one New Year Resolution.  To get over my writer's block and actually write something this year.  There.  Fucking done!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happy News Year!

Well another year draws to a close and what a year it was. Bin Laden dead, Gaddafi dead, Kim Jong-il dead. Maggie Thatcher still alive.

It's not fair!

"The Devil looks after his own" as my Grandad used to say. Of course he used to say it to my Granny as she went off to Mass and left him to open his first home brew of the day and start his long daily recital of shouting at the telly. He's dead and now it's my turn and I'll do my shouting on here.

I'm glad I got this blog up and running again but as you get older it becomes harder to come up with stuff you want to actually share with people. There is nothing worse than the kind of blog that goes on and on about the life of your kids or how you fixed your toilet, I strive to entertain and the banality of everyday life is only entertaining when you see it going horribly wrong on "[Insert country here] 's Funniest Home Videos".

"Oh look! Grandad's got his willy stuck in the electrical outlet again!"

"That's SHOCKING!".

Cue applaud from cross-eyed brain-dead looking audience.

I've been reading the usual raft of articles looking back over the big events of the year and it struck me that although this has been a momentous year in current affairs it has been a god awful year in journalism. Everyone has been going on about the Arab Spring, Libya, Obama, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Rupert Murdoch (and James), the Occupy movement, economic recession, unemployment, etc. No-one has said anything about the biggest story of the year.

Cheetah died.

And yet Maggie Thatcher still lives!

Again. I say NOT FAIR!

Here's to a happy and prosperous 2012 to all my friends and enemies. Slainte Mhath!


Friday, November 11, 2011

The next evolutionary step.

I was sitting on the PATH train when I think I identified the next evolutionary step. I was minding my own business and staring at people the way blind people do when they realize they can stare at people and people don't think they can see anything. Usually I do this to women with big boobs but this time I was absently staring at a Dad and his teenaged son who were sitting opposite me.

The teenager was playing with a hand-held games console and was disconnected from the outside world by the headphones in his ears. The Dad was on his phone answering emails and typing away furiously. These two people were together but they weren't really together.

It struck me then that I see this everywhere but just don't really pay any attention to it. Actually not only do I see it everywhere, I also DO it everywhere and so does my wife and so does my child. We are also together but not really together as one of us is usually buried into the little screen of some electronic device.

There have been a million articles written on how these things are destroying our attention span and how they are overwhelming us with information so I'm not going to regurgitate any of that, I am more interested in the evolutionary aspect of the phenomenon.

Everyone thinks "evolution" specifically refers to the Ascent of Man and of course it does, but if you'll notice the 4th figure in the Ascent of Man is carrying a spear. Evolution is as much about cultural changes and the tools that cause those cultural changes as it is about the extra vertebra and opposing thumbs.

For example: It is said that early man was lactose intolerant until he learned how to farm cattle and therefore developed the gene that allowed him to drink milk without shooting diarrhea halfway up the cave wall. Based on this it is a fairly safe assumption that loin cloths were not known for their absorbent properties and that early cavemen probably smelled like Charlie Sheen after a week long bender, consequently early man's sense of smell was not nearly as sensitive as ours is today.

It is with these thoughts in mind that I realized that the tools which will help the human race to our next evolutionary step are these little hand held devices.

In 50 generations from now we will communicate via text, email and chatrooms. We will forget how to speak so we will physically evolve in a way where we are born without voice boxes. We will develop languages based around the acronym that would seem alien and gibberish to us if we saw it today.

Our eyes will grow large but our eyesight will grow poor from straining at the little screeens. We will look (and probably move like) those nocturnal sloths that David Attenborough is always chasing through the jungle at very low speeds.

We will go completely deaf due to overuse of headphones and eventually our ears will just seal up and disappear due to lack of use. This will give us an entirely round cranium and we will start to resemble a very large eyed version of Charlie Brown.

We will get fat through lack of exercise to the point where our offspring are just born fat, blind and deaf. On the upside our fingers will grow shorter and move at lightning fast speeds as typing is the only way we can communicate.

In short we will be huge nocturnal eyed blobs with stubby lightning fast fingers, a big round head and no ears!

Personally I can't wait. I'm already halfway there!