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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Barry Clifford: Still This Child Would Not Die

The expectant mother did not want to be pregnant, or her unborn baby, whose tiny heartbeat beat inside of her, to be born. She would try anything to be rid of it and did after doctors were unable to change her mind.

Finally she tried poisoning the fetus with alcohol after everything else did not work in trying to kill it. Still, this child would not die. In the end she accepted that he might just live.

Despair for her lot was more than a state of mind for she knew that her alcoholic husband was more in love with a bottle than his own family. Her poverty was complete and permanent with three children already, and being pregnant again with nowhere to go, no job and little food gave for little optimism either that it would ever change and so she wept alone.

At last she gave birth against all the odds on the 5th of February in the year of 1985 to a boy and it became love at first sight for the both of them.

As her child grew up he was not sure footed in where he wanted to go. As a young teenager, he was less so. By the time he was fourteen years old he was already expelled from school after throwing a chair at a teacher and from that his future was in doubt. By the time he was fifteen years old it was discovered that he had a racing heart and any job that he hoped for was now in crisis.

Before he was sixteen he had found his footing, and his heart had recovered fully too only for it to be discovered later that it was one of the most generous that had ever pumped blood through any arteries in such a young man. It helped too that in the year of 2013 alone he had earned $73 million. 

The man’s name was Cristiano Ronaldo.

By Barry Clifford

Friday, July 18, 2014

UN'S Opinion Of Ireland Hard To Hear

THERE were two hearings last week about one Ireland. Both told plenty about who we are and how we are governed, and, not least of all, how we want to be governed.
                                                                 Michael Clifford

The picture painted of Ireland at a UN human rights committee hearing in Geneva resembles a developing country, where poverty, kleptocrats and despots have arrested moves towards human rights.
The hearing was told that Ireland tolerates legal discrimination of gay people: the Employment Equality Act allows institutions such as the Catholic Church to dismiss employees whose conduct is contrary to their ethos. In particular, this law affects gay teachers, nurses, doctors and other personnel in education and medicine.
Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald assured the hearing that the law would be changed, but that it is exists at all speaks volumes.
For victims of rape or incest, the State also prefers to turn away from its duty, the hearing was told.
Fitzgerald, a woman not without compassion, had to explain that it was the people’s wish that abortion not be permitted for victims of rape or incest, nor for those who had suffered a fatal foetal abnormality.
Then, there was the plight of the 1,500 women whose pelvises had been broken in childbirth, for some religious reasons to do with curtailing their sex lives. Symphysiotomy is a form of butchery practised in rural areas of countries like Kenya, a world away from hyper-developed Ireland.
The committee appeared astonished that this blight on the past was dealt with so cavalierly. Throw money at the survivors that they may shut up and exit the public square, appears to be the policy.
The UN’s special rapporteur on torture, Nigel Rodley, who must encounter some desperately inhumane practices in his work, stated that the details of what Irish women were subjected to “keep me awake at night”.
The committee’s view of this country’s record in dealing with prisoners was nothing to write home about either.
The Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoevsky, noted that “you can judge a society by how well it treats its prisoners”. According to the UN committee, that dictum places Ireland in a holding tank with some of the regimes that American generals regularly dream of overthrowing.
The committee strongly criticised Ireland for “chronic” overcrowding in prisons and the “inhuman” practice of slopping out.
In undemocratic societies, prison is overused to keep the populace in line. The committee found such overuse in Ireland common, with 89% of committals being sentences of a year or less. The obvious question of why there was no alternative to prison was asked, but, as usual, received no proper answer.
These are some of a litany of issues, outlined at the hearing, that are in conflict with the self-regarding picture of Ireland as a happy-clappy liberal democracy. It would be easy to blame it all on those who govern, but that would miss the point.
There has, at most levels of society and the political culture, been a failure to holistically address the dark past.
Instead, governments react to the latest excavation of horror, rather than engage in a cathartic examination of all that went on.
Thus, when headlines flash around the world about mass graves of infants, there is a rush to sort it out. When the plight of victims of symphysiotomy is a little local matter that can be capped, the minimum approach is adopted. Elsewhere, the residual power that the Church still exercises ensures that in areas like sexuality and reproduction there is no stomach to do the right thing.
Through all this, the political culture ensures that the road best travelled is the one of least controversy. Unless somebody kicks up in a manner that is reflected in constituency offices or on the airwaves, it doesn’t get addressed. Unless the outside world inquires as to human rights abuses, it is swept into a dark corner. Only the latest controversy is what really matters.
A specific, if relatively trivial, illustration of this malignant political culture was evident in an Oireachtas hearing last week. Most people had enough of Garth Brooks, but the hearings into the cancellation of the concerts told plenty.
On Tuesday, Dublin City manager, Owen Keegan, and planning officials, came before the Oireachtas committee on transport and tourism. They were grilled about the failure to licence the concerts. The questioning was suitably robust. Some of the comments, however, suggested that Keegan was the villain of the piece. Mary Lou McDonald referenced the repercussions for the nation’s “children, and the children’s children”.
Afterwards, there were media reports that some of the members of the committee wanted to bring Keegan’s suitability to continue in office into question. Keegan’s ‘crime’ is processing the law as he is he charged to do, without fear or favour. That is a highly controversial position to adopt in the land of nods and winks.
The following day, the committee heard from the GAA and the gigs’ promoter, Peter Aiken.
For some reason, these boys weren’t so much grilled as asked some nice ‘let me hold your hand’ questions.
The committee chair, John O’Mahoney, addressed GAA secretary general, Pauric Duffy, and Croke Park chief, Peter McKenna, by their first names. Mary Lou was nowhere to be seen brandishing her truth-seeking verbal missiles. The whole thing descended into a little chit-chat between law-makers and businesspeople about how some goddamn public servant had the audacity to invoke the law and deny everybody a big, lucrative party.
It didn’t occur to the parliamentarians to ask if five concerts, in addition to the agreed three per annum, gave anybody pause for thought. Neither were there any awkward queries about the GAA’s relationship with local residents, which has left a lot to be desired. Naturally, the question screaming out for an answer — were the GAA and the promoter blinded by greed? — wasn’t asked either.
No, this was all about decrying the preposterous notion that the market be subservient to the law.
It was enough to make you pine for the days of the Celtic Bubble, when public servants in areas like financial regulation and planning ensured that the law never interfered with partying. Any neutral observer would have to conclude that the parliamentarians were primarily concerned with surfing a wave of public and media outrage, rather than fulfilling their ostensible duties as tribunes of the common good.
The hearings did illuminate one thing. At grassroots, the GAA is an unrivalled example of the best we have to offer. But it’s as prone to wielding its power with the same arrogance as any other corporation obsessed with the bottom line.

It was not a good week to reflect on how we are. The national obsession with how this country is observed from beyond Irish shores was notably muted when the observations were unpalatable. At home, lawmakers were more concerned with how the law might be broken to snaffle a few floating first-preferences.

Photo Minute: Thunderbolt and lighting

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Barry Clifford: The Elbib

Once upon a time a man suffering from terrible delusions told tall tales and made rules for a few that believed him. These guys handed down the strange stories to others and over several generations the reference book for the fairytales came to be known as The Elbib.’

It was claimed to be the last and final words from the original delusional one who was homophobic and racist among other things, and of course his equally delusional followers did not think that he was in this state of mind at all. He did not care much either for those with tattoos or had a propensity for fortune- tellers, and non-virgins before marriage were positively looked down and it was seen as a good thing just to stone them to death in this exact manner: ‘Then they shall bring out the woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones until she is dead.’

If you have had your private parts cut off by an angry wife or lose them in battle, you are not wanted in this tribe either: ‘He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his private member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation…’  

For the lippy children that curse their parents do not fare much better in this book either I am afraid, or at least they should be: ‘ And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.”

Working on Sunday can be quite fatal as well: ‘Ye shall keep the Sabbath therefore for it is holy unto you. Every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death.’

And not following the rules, which also excludes ham sandwiches, sea food, can be very bad for your health, while speaking in church, consulting physics, getting divorced can also be positively detrimental for it too.

I do not know if just one person reading this is an Elbib thumper who is frustrated in life and too ugly to boot or has actually read it at all, but one thing I do know, that The Elbib book, which is the Bible spelled backwards, has only two facts going for it: that it is an entire work of fiction; the other fact is that all the above rules would frustrate the most benign and righteous among us.

One way or the other, you are damned if you do and definitely damned if you don’t.

Barry Clifford

Photo Minute: A terrible Beauty

Photo Minute: A Bit Crowded Around Here

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Lessons in manliness from Andrew Jackson

“I was born for a storm and a calm does not suit me.”
While his countenance graces our $20 bill, many Americans do not know much about the life of Andrew Jackson. He is often remembered as the hero of the Battle of New Orleans or condemned as the man responsible for the Trail of Tears. He was in truth a man of many contradictions: impetuous and reckless frontiersman and charming gentleman; signer of the Indian Removal Act and devoted father of an adopted Indian orphan; champion of freedom and the preservation of the Union and unrepentant slave holder. He was described as both a quintessential man’s man, “fond of well-cut clothes, racehorses, dueling, newspapers, gambling, whiskey, coffee, a pipe, pretty women, children, and good company,” and a gentleman with a soft side: “there was more of the woman in his nature than in that of any man I ever knew — more of a woman’s tenderness toward children, and sympathy with them.”

He was the first president to come from the common people and break the Virginia aristocracy’s hold on that office. After his inauguration, he threw open the doors of the White House for a public reception; the crowd of drunken well-wishers who attended grew so huge and unruly they had to be lured back out with large tubs of spiked punch placed on the front lawn. He was the first president to see himself as the direct representative of the people and thus to believe that his office should have great power and authority in shaping national affairs.
There is much to find repugnant in Andrew Jackson’s life and career as it pertains to slavery and Native Americans. But that a man is flawed in some ways does not mean that he cannot be inspiring to others. And it would be a shame not to learn from the high points of the life of “The Old Lion”:
Don’t Let Your Circumstances Determine Your Fate

Andrew Jackson’s life story could have been torn straight from a Horatio Alger novel. Jackson’s father died just 2 months before he was born. His mother could not keep the family farm going herself and moved in with her sister. So began a life of dependency for young Andrew. His aunt put his mother to work like a housekeeper, and the boy was always keenly aware of his inferior place in the household. Growing up without a father, he developed a propensity towards anger, recklessness, and defensiveness.
Yet Jackson’s troubles had just begun. The Revolutionary War would grant the country independence, but exact a heavy price on this future president. Hugh, his 16-year-old brother who had gone off to fight, became the first casualty, dying of heat exhaustion at the Battle of Stono Ferry. Andrew, who at age 13 had joined a local militia to serve as a courier, was then captured by British soldiers and imprisoned along with his other brother, Robert. Jackson’s mother successfully pled for the boys to be released, but Robert, who had contracted smallpox while in jail, died two days later. Andrew was also sick, but his mother, assured he was doing well, decided to travel to Charleston to tend to prisoners of war who had become stricken with cholera. Jackson would never see her again; she soon fell ill and passed away. Andrew Jackson, only 14 years old, was now an orphan.
Jackson now had no immediate family and only a few years of education. He lived with a series of relatives, chafed at feeling like an inferior houseguest, squandered an inheritance from his grandfather, and sowed his wild oats. His relatives feared he would become a great embarrassment to his family. He described his situation during this time as “homeless and friendless.”
Jackson felt deeply adrift, but his mother’s last advice to him before she departed for Charleston kept returning to his mind, urging him to turn things around and live a proper and successful life:
“Andrew, if I should not see you again, I wish you to remember and treasure up some things I have already said to you: in this world you will have to make your own way. To do that you must have friends. You can make friends by being honest, and you can keep them by being steadfast. You must keep in mind that friends worth having will in the long run expect as much from you as they give to you. To forget an obligation or be ungrateful for a kindness is a base crime — not merely a fault or a sin, but an actual crime. Men guilty of it sooner or later must suffer the penalty. In personal conduct be always polite but never obsequious. None will respect you more than you respect yourself. Avoid quarrels as long as you can without yielding to imposition. But sustain your manhood always. Never bring a suit in law for assault and battery or for defamation. The law affords no remedy for such outrages that can satisfy the feelings of a true man. Never wound the feelings of others. Never brook wanton outrage upon your own feelings. If you ever have to vindicate your feelings or defend your honor, do it calmly. If angry at first, wait until your wrath cools before you proceed.”
Desiring to honor the memory of his mother, Jackson tried to get back on track and decided to study and apprentice to become a lawyer. He was still living a rowdy life at that point –“I was a raw lad then, but I did my best,” Jackson would later recall — but he began to mark out a path for himself.
He was able to gain admittance to the bar but could not find any clients to represent; he had no clout or experience. So he leveraged the one quality that would help carry him all the way to the White House: his magnetic bearing and charisma. It was a time where connection to great and prosperous families was essential to success, and Jackson used his charm to insinuate himself into these families’ good graces. He was never considered attractive, but his gentlemanly manners, steely, attentive blue eyes, and ability to converse with and warmly engage with people from all walks of life drew others to him. While his rowdy reputation would often precede him, Jackson would instantly disarm those he met and absolutely confound their expectations.
Jackson made the right connections, worked hard, and moved up in the world. With vast stores of personal strength, self-confidence, and perseverance as his only resources, he set out to make a name for himself. His biographer, Jon Meacham, details his astonishing and unexpected rise: “An uneducated boy from the Carolina backwoods, the son of Scots-Irish immigrants…became a practicing lawyer, a public prosecutor, a US attorney, a delegate to the founding Tennessee Constitutional Convention, a US Congressman, a US Senator, a judge of the state Superior Court, and a major general, first of the state militia and then of the US Army.” And then, of course, he would reach the very top of the ladder – attaining the highest office in the land.
Instead of letting adversity break him, Andrew Jackson gathered a gritty strength from his experiences that would enable him to make it through all the tests and trials of his life.
Cultivate Your Leadership

Before he became a politician, Jackson was a great and storied war hero. He was the kind of leader that men would gladly follow to the ends of the earth. Having grown up without a father, Jackson sought to be a father to the men under his command. He treated his men as sons, and in so doing, won their undying loyalty.
When the war with Britain began in the winter of 1812-13, Major General Jackson gathered together 2,000 volunteers and marched them from Tennessee towards New Orleans in anticipation of action. The men had picked up and left behind their professions and families — their entire lives, really — in hopes of being of service to the country. But after journeying for 500 cold miles and reaching Mississippi, the Secretary of War ordered them to disband and return. Jackson refused to leave his volunteers adrift and force the men to find their own way back home. He promised to keep them together, and even use his own money to furnish the supplies necessary for the return trip.
Many of the men had by then fallen ill and could not make the long journey unaided. Yet there were only 11 wagons for the 150 sick men. The regiment’s doctor, Samuel Hogg, asked Jackson what he should do with the sick. “To do sir? You are not to leave a man on the ground.” “But the wagons are full and they will convey not more than half,” Hogg countered. “Then let some of the troops dismount, and the officers must give up their horses to the sick. Not a man, sir, must be left behind,” Jackson declared. The general set the example by immediately turning over his own horses. He walked alongside his men all the way back to Tennessee. By the time the weary troops arrived in Nashville, the men had taken to calling their tender but tough leader “Old Hickory,” a tree whose wood is described thusly: “Very hard, stiff, dense, and shock resistant. There are woods that are stronger than hickory and woods that are harder, but the combination of strength, toughness, hardness, and stiffness found in hickory wood is not found in any other.”
Prize Your Honor and the Honor of Your Loved Ones

One’s honor was a central occupation of all men during this period, but starting from a young age, Andrew Jackson took it even more seriously than most. During the Revolutionary War, when he and his brother were captured by the red coats, a British officer ordered Jackson to polish his boots. The nervy boy refused, declaring, “Sir, I am a prisoner of war and claim to be treated as such.” Enraged, the officer swung his sword at Jackson. Though he tried to block the blow, it left a scar on his hand and a dent in his head.
Jackson was also ferocious in his desire to protect the honor and well-being of his loved ones. The orphan drew his extended family to him and greatly valued their loyalty. Above all, he valued the bond and honor of his wife of 40 years, Rachel. Because their marriage began under a cloud of controversy (Rachel was not yet divorced when their relationship began), she was subject to attack from Jackson’s political opponents. To Jackson, the slanderer was “worse than a murderer. The murderer only takes the life of the parent and leaves his character as a goodly heritage to his children, whilst the slanderer takes away his good reputation and leaves him a living monument to his children’s disgrace.” Defaming his wife was, as a contemporary recalled, “like sinning against the Holy Ghost: unpardonable.” Biographer James Parton claimed that Jackson “kept pistols in perfect condition for thirty-seven years” to use whenever someone “dared breathe her name except in honor.”
They were dueling pistols. For a southern gentleman of this time, dueling was the honorable way to resolve quarrels and insults. Jackson took his mother’s maxim “that the law affords no remedy for such outrages that can satisfy the feelings of a true man” to heart, and involved himself in more than 13 “affairs of honor” These showdowns left his body so filled with lead that people said he “rattled like a bag of marbles.”
Practice Stoic Self-Discipline

Jackson’s anger, born from his troubled youth, constantly threatened his ability to reach his goals. He knew he had to get it under control if he wished to find success. He was never able to entirely subdue his temper, but he was largely able to transform himself from reckless hothead to cool and calculating leader.
During his presidential campaigns, his opponents were constantly trying to provoke Jackson, goading him to lose control and reveal himself as exactly what some voters feared him to be: a knuckle-dragging, unhinged frontiersmen, unfit for the highest office in the land. Though they besmirched the character of his wife, Jackson’s great Achilles’ heel, he would not give them the satisfaction of an embarrassing outburst.
The election of 1824 was a particularly bitter contest. Jackson had won the popular vote, but without a majority from the electoral college, the decision was thrown to the House, which chose John Quincy Adams to be the next president. On the night he lost the election, Jackson attended a party at the White House where he came face-to-face with Adams. The moment was tense as the two men stared at one another. With his wife on his arm, it was Jackson who made the first move, extending his hand to the president-elect and cheerfully inquiring, “How do you do, Mr. Adams? I give you my left hand, for the right, as you see, is devoted to the fair. I hope you are very well, sir.” Answering with what an eyewitness recalled as “chilling coldness” Adams responded: “Very well, sir; I hope General Jackson is well.” A party guest was struck by the irony of the exchange: “It was curious to see the western planter, the Indian fighter, the stern soldier, who had written his country’s glory in the blood of the enemy at New Orleans, genial and gracious in the midst of a court, while the old courtier and diplomat was stiff, rigid, cold as a statue!”
Be a Badass

Andrew Jackson was the first president on which an assassination attempt was made. And he is the only one who gave his would-be assassin a thorough thumping.
In 1835, Jackson was leaving a funeral when a deranged man, Richard Lawrence, approached the president wielding two pistols. Lawrence leveled one of his guns and pulled the trigger. It failed to fire. He pointed at Jackson with the other pistol, but it misfired as well. Without blinking, the 68-year-old president went after Lawrence with his cane, striking him several times before others in the crowd subdued the would-be assassin.
But Jackson’s greatest claim to badass status actually came years earlier. In 1806, in a dispute over a horse race and an insult made about his wife, Charles Dickinson challenged Jackson to a duel. Dickinson was a well-known sharpshooter and Jackson felt his only chance to kill him would be to allow himself enough time to take an accurate shot. So as the two faced off along the banks of the Red River in Kentucky, Jackson purposely allowed Dickinson to shoot him first. He hardly quivered as the bullet lodged in his ribs. Jackson then calmly leveled his pistol, took aim, and knocked Dickinson off. It was only then that he took heed of the fact that blood was dripping into his boot. Dickinson’s musket ball was too close to his heart to be removed and forever remained lodged in Jackson’s chest. The wound would lend him a perpetual hacking cough, cause him persistent pain, and compound the many health problems that would beleaguer him throughout life.

Yet Jackson never regretted the decision, saying, “If he had shot me through the brain, sir, I should still have killed him.”
By Ken and Brett Mc Kay

Photo Minute: Wish you could have taken these?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Babe Ruth, Address: St Mary’s Industrial/ Reformatory Institution Baltimore

Babe Ruth, an American, was born as George Herman Ruth in 1895 in Baltimore, into a poor family that saw six of his eight siblings die in childhood, and his father in a knife fight just after his mother who had passed away from tuberculosis not long before that. It was a certainty back then that a boy who had a background like George, either marginally better or worse, was going to end up in St Marys industrial/reformatory institution in the same city. But this place was different. Not only for its time but it’s ethos in how they viewed children in a place run by Christian Brothers who are more infamous today for abusing children rather than saving them. They would save George and give America and the world one of the greatest baseball players that had ever lived.

How they did it was forward thinking then that many authorites and parents are still trying to grasp the basics that applies even today. The order of the Xaverian Brothers, yet another strand of Christian Brothers, were different at least in this place and time for the most part. Their ethos was simple: Inadequacies of upbringing rather than deficency of character were to blame for a child that grows into a bad man, and that any boy treated with ecouragement and respect would grow into a model citizen.

It was not speculation, but based on their own tried and tested set of ideals rooted in a firm and strong morality based ethos that wrapped itself around the value of respect for any individual no matter where they came from or what was the colour of their skin. With a ninety- five per cent success rate it would have been hard to argue otherwise that they were not one hundred per cent right. What also saved Babe Ruth was that it seemed these Brothers were obsessed with baseball like the rest of the United States.

Finally launched into the world with  a yet un-recognized masters degree in baseball, Babe Ruth had to re-invent himself or at least find that self from the debris of family that for all intents and purposes did not exist anymore. Many little habits died hard though that trailed along with him that were seeded in institutional poverty like sharing toothbrushes, or over eating in case another meal was not on the menu anytime soon, but upon his freedom into the wider community as a teenager, he knew he had just been exposed to the largest candy store in the world with every variety of life on offer. His former impoverishment would become the core reason for his excess. He would not be stopped or wanting in the taking advantage of it all. And he did.

He embraced the chinese philsophy perahaps a little too much that if  ‘Someone has another to love, always something to do and something to look forward to’ then they have a good shot at a happy life. From too much women, food, drink, and smoking, something had to give and he died from cancer at the age of 53 in 1948. It was a wonder that smoke did not come from his casket itself such was the turbo charged life that he had lived. He was the wild bunch of his era and will never be forgotten.

Though it carries its own health warning, the belief of the vikings was that ‘it was better to live a short life like a lion rather than a long life as a sheep’ may carry more than a kernel of truth for without characters like Babe Ruth this world would be a very boring place.

But it was the belief of  the Xavarian Christian Brothers who reared him since he was a child that gave him that roller coaster colourful life, and had there been more like them in character, in or out of uniform in this world, it would have shed a lot less tears.

Barry Clifford