RESEARCH CONTRIBUTES TO IGNORANCE

Whenever the average Joe Soap thinks about researchers as a breed, he likely visualizes serious faced blokes in white coats milling reverently around a laboratory of gleaming steel and glass, clipboard in hand. In the mind's eye, it must take years of tedious and painstaking hard work but important life-changing discoveries are made sometimes. In reality though, nothing could be further from the truth.

Today's researchers have a PC at home instead of a laboratory and use statistics instead of microscopes and chemicals. Real world conditions and scenarios are dumped and computer statistical models are used instead. It is the study of populations or Public Health, as it is better known. The new science is called epidemiology and I had a go at that in an earlier article.

One of yesterday's headlines read, "School dinners contribute to obesity." The latest buzzword in research is obesity as it tends to draw research funding like pins to a magnet. The lead researcher from the obesity project was on the radio yesterday morning and she was in her element. Hers, was the voice of concern and caring as she skimmed over the methodology of her work in favour of words like, risk, danger, fatal disease and estimates. All this wishy washy drivel was facilitated by a fawning presenter trying  frantically for some scary soundbite that, "You heard here first folks." Like most of her ilk, she was peddling fear as a tool of profit.

Inconsequential findings such as yesterday's nonsense should never see air-time because they are pure speculative crap spewed out of a computer, as pre-arranged results before the research ever begins. It's a case of, "Here's the answer, now how did we get it?" Epidemiology is plagued with all sorts of failings not least of which are 'confounding factors,' and 'bias.' Psychology teaches us that any question can be carefully manipulated to illicit the preferred response for the questioner and this is vital to know when epidemiology is based on the answers given by a selected group to a selected set of questions. A bias in one direction or another can shape the questions to get the desired answers. A pre-disposal to personally believe a conclusion you have not yet proved, but have to prove, can lead to tinkering with the imputed information until the statistical model gives you the right overall answer. Not only can this be done but it is done routinely these days. 

But the biggest bias in all epidemiological research is known as "The funding bias." Real science poses a question and then sets about getting a viable answer to it. If it works in one condition then it is tested in multiple other conditions for validity. After exhaustive testing by the scientist in question, his new theory is made available to his peer group with the expressed wish that any of them can disprove it. If the theory stands this most rigorous examination then it can be called a discovery or a new breakthrough of some kind. Even then, the possibility always exists that years down the road, the theory may be disproved. This is honest, open, real science that makes a difference. Epidemiology though is so flexible and open to manipulation, that it attracts funding like bees to honey. In plain english, epidemiology can prove whatever you'd like it to prove for the right fee. 

So back to the lady on the radio yesterday and how I would have handled the interview if I were the presenter. My first question would have been, "Who funded the project?" I would have pursued this line of questioning for quite a while until the full picture emerged. It is vital to ask how much was paid, over what period of time and to who. Then  there is the question as to whether this lady had funding coming in before she was tasked with exploring obesity. Was the awarding of this contract a God-send for her and her team? Indeed, is there anything further on the horizon for them now that they've completed this one. If I sensed any reticence in answering any of those questions then I'd persist by  demanding that the listeners had a right to know. The slimming industry is big business and they would have a vested interest in shaming the obese into buying their products, would they not? An official sounding report on some university's letterhead would represent valuable sales literature for such companies and university researchers are just crying out for money.

I would ask intensely about how the research project was presented to them, (by the funders), and what objectives they were given before they began. How were the questions to the participants phrased and how were the participants chosen in the first place. How many were there, (how large and representative was the research), and over what period of time? What confounding factors were taken into account and which ones were discarded and why? Then I'd get really sticky and ask if we are looking at cause or merely some speculative relationship that may or may not be true like correlation. I would want to know a hell of a lot more about the statistical computer model used like who wrote it, in what computer language, what is it called and how much did it cost for the software? Computers don't think for themselves they just calculate figures faster than you do. I would ask if she might have got a different answer is she'd also asked the participants about their levels of stress or earning potential. Were they home owners or renters. gay or straight, christian or atheist, young or old, male or female, fit or lazy, intelligent or stupid and a whole myriad of other possible confounders. Indeed did the lady take her base mark from the now maligned body mass index? There are hundreds of questions that should have been asked before her findings are even mentioned.

I would consider it my job to tear the story her shreds and rubbish her findings because that is precisely what they do in real science. If I couldn't then the listener would know that the woman and her team might be on to something. But yesterday's interview didn't do any of that and they never do. The woman had the carte blanche of fawning respect hurled at her by the presenter and accredited an almost God-like status for the duration. She could have been lying through her teeth to make a comfortable living and we'll never know. But the worst part of it is that our legislation is deeply informed by such junk science and the airwaves are the open platform to soften up the public for an attack on the overweight population in order to increase taxation. It's not science, but it is coercsion by means of propaganda. 

It disgusts me!

PEACE, PROSPERITY, FREEDOM AND THE EU

"The leaders of Italy, France and Germany have insisted that Britain’s shock decision to leave the European Union (EU) will not kill the bloc," according to the journal this morning. The EU “is the answer” to Europe’s problems, for it cemented “peace, prosperity and freedom,” Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said.

So, there you have it. The reason we in Ireland are so peaceful, so prosperous and free is because we're in the EU. I think that bears closer scrutiny. The warring factions in our country were never approached by anyone from the European Continent. To my certain memory, Britain was told to sort it out and the Irish officials were told to shag off. Peace came about through the tenuous and painstaking work of people on the ground in Northern Ireland, the British and Irish Prime Ministers and the Yanks were dragged into it finally to get it over the line. The EU had nothing to do with peace in Ireland.

From 1973, when we joined the EU to about 1996, we had high unemployment, joblessness and emigration as an almost accepted fact of life here. Farmers were proportionally better off but that's about it. The Celtic Tiger of the 'noughties' was a home grown phenomenon based on a 60-hour weeks as almost standard and a huge influx of American capital through the multinationals citing themselves on the island. EU projects such as roadbuilding were co-financed by the EU and our local gombeens. It was during this time too that we became net contributors to the EU. Our biggest trading partners remained as the UK and the USA though we did buy big German cars in the good times.

And as for freedom, I have lost count now of the number of times our Government Ministers have stood up sheepishly to announce some unpopular law or tax only to throw up their arms in mild apology before explaining it was an EU directive. Far from freeing the Irish, the EU began to look like enslavement by a thousand cuts. When the worldwide meltdown came in 2008, the paddies were picked as the stooges. Under EU insistence, the Irish Nation of 4.5m people was saddled with 46 per cent of all the bank debt across the EU while 60m Germans were given a mere 12 per cent of it. That alone took away our personal freedom overnight.

I've said it before here, the EU itself never had anything to do with peace and security on the continent. NATO on one side was counter-balanced by Russia on the other and this alone kept ambitions in check. As before, the individual countries of the EU protected their own citizens their own way. What the EU is good at it though is meddling in our personal lives and chipping away at those freedoms we hold dear. They are good at stealing money from our pockets while paying themselves huge salaries and benefits. The EU is expert at waste and bureaucracy. The unease of the British public leading up to BREXIT was totally mis-handled by the EU and the aftermath of it is also being fucked up by the unelected Brussels brigade. They sent Cameron home empty-handed when he needed their help and now they appear to believe that sneering at the British for opting out is the best coarse of action.

So the Italian Prime Minister has it wrong on all three counts. To re-phrase his speech, the EU is out to take away our freedoms one by one, it is happy to sit back and let the Yanks bank-roll world peace, such as it is, and prosperity is an illusion as long as we are paying back the extraordinary bank debts accrued around Europe. Our grandchildren will still be struggling with that one when I'm long gone.

An hour after writing this I read a new article on the same topic by Ian O'Doherty in the Irish Independent. He fills in a lot of my blanks for me.

"EU's big boys look out for themselves – without a thought for the rest of us."

 

 

BRAZILIAN SHIT HITS THE IRISH FAN

It would be hilarious were it not for the genuine efforts of so many amateur Olympic athletes here.

In a country of 4.5 million souls with a strong pub culture and a laid back attitude to life, there is low expectations when it comes to international sporting events. We went ape-shit when we were dumped out of the Euros several years ago and went off out rockers when our quest for World Cup stardom ended after that. We paddies are up for a good time and a laugh and both competitions provided both for weeks at a time.

Put simply, we are just grateful to see the green shirt with the shamrock, even getting to the world stage. So when it comes to the Olympics, we are not really betting on gold in any competition. Indeed our recent history at these events is mired in controversy. The ghastly specter of drugs raised its ugly head when one of our show-jumpers was fucked out over it several years ago now. Subsequently there was great craic here when the official report of that incident showed that it was, in fact, the horse who was bouncing around with the aid of something, ah! illicit. 

Then to our consternation and absolute glee, a bird we'd never heard of before, showed up poolside wearing a fetching green swimsuit and won three golds and a silver. It was license to go on the piss for a month at the time. Who knew we had a superhuman in our ranks? Of course poor old Michelle was rumbled for some illicit carry-on before diving in and had the medals promptly stripped. A national hangover was called for with the inevitable hair of the dog to go with it. Gas-lads here speculated that she must have been so high on the good stuff, the only wonder was that when she dived into the water, she didn't dissolve. We're a good-natured lot over here, aren't we?

Anyway, this time around, we first had a medal hope in boxing discovered to have been at the good stuff too and duly sent home. The pallor of cheats hung over the green section of the village as a result of the lad. Then just as a couple of likely lads from West Cork were restoring our faith in Olympic sport in a rowing boat, up pops a guy called Kevin Mallon, (no relation), and our Kev has event tickets for sale on the black market, six hundred and fifty of the fucking things actually. He was duly nabbed by the Brazilian Gestapo with the smoking gun and the latest is that he's, "Helping them with their enquiries," – 'ahem.' 

Cue our squeaky-clean new Minister for Sport, Shane Ross, as he rented his garments on live radio about the absolute scandal of it all. The pompous bastard flapped around almost lost for words as he assured the fearful Irish Nation that'd he'd be hot-foot onto the Government jet for a jolly, I mean a serious of come-to-Jesus meeting with the Irish Olympic Council down Rio way pronto. Shane was on a mission to get to the bottom of it but the President of the IOC gave him the cold shoulder when he showed up. We did not hear whether he told Ross to 'fuck-off,' but from the expressed outrage of the Minister afterwards, it wasn't too far off that. We Irish love the circus of it all and the place was abuzz with the humour of it. Effectively, our Minister for Sport met an even bigger pompous ego than his own and was staggered there was even such a thing.

Overseas readers should know that the sitting Minister for Sport signs off on the public funding for the IOC annually so arrogant President Pat Hickey was on shaky ground to say the least. The smart money is on the theory that the lad is in his seventies now, has seen several of these empty wind-bag Ministers come and go in his time and with retirement merely yards away, he just didn't give a shit. What the old smoothie didn't think of though was he wasn't at home where a Garda wouldn't risk his career arresting such a stately figure as the IOC President.

The Brazilian Gestapo though had no such qualms. They raided his hotel room last night and although his wife plainly lied and said he was out, they nabbed the lad a few doors down in his son's room. He was led away in his dressing gown to the clink but he pleaded a heart condition in the, ahem, taxi and they stopped off at the hospital instead. Ever with an eye on favorable PR, the bold Pat knew that images of him in his night attire but with chains on, would not play well at home. A cute old whore then.

In his absence however, the local uniforms called a press conference during which they displayed his travel details, outlined the correct protocol for ticket distribution and topped the whole thing off with charging him on three counts. Apparently, they found some phones, an iPad and some tickets in the rooms they raided and are satisfied that "El Presidente," had a case to answer based on his e-mail exchanges. The politico's here are in crisis while the rest of us laugh our holes off at it all.

After all, we're sport-mad in Ireland and this is what we call real sport!

“WORLD REPORT” (according to this guy).

The United States have long waged proxy wars against countries whose leaders they don't like. This fact is reported all over the public domain with instances in South America, Central America, Asia and North Africa over the last sixty years or more. 

These proxy wars involve CIA men on the ground allying themselves secretly with violent opposition to whatever regime is in power and then funding, training and arming the hard men to cause a bloody revolution in that country, (think Nicaragua). The popular leader is usually assassinated and his followers either butchered or cowed. Though expensive, it is far cheaper than involving the American armed forces directly. When the trouble inevitably begins then, they condemn the leaders of the country at both the UN and at diplomatic levels. They tend not to rest until the country in question descends into chaos. Then via the World Bank and the IMF, they rush money in while also awarding the re-building contracts to those American Companies in favour. 

Usually a new Washington-friendly leader is appointed and has his pockets quickly stuffed with money for his personal use making sure the real poor get fuck-all. A couple of years later, in comes the IMF demanding their money back and that's when the natural resources or wherever is valuable, gets grabbed by the American interests in part payment for the loans. It is simply an act of national rape by the most powerful nation on earth because they can, as Obama might say. They have done this to the former republics of the old Soviet Union with Ukraine being the latest casualty.

In the Middle-East, they pulled their trick in Libya with success and also in Egypt, though the latter was less bloody. In the eighties, they armed the rebels against a Soviet Kabul before finally invading that country to take control of the opium trail, (and that is where they recruited Osama Bin Laden too). Unable to stir up enough trouble for Saddam Hussain, they had no other choice but to invade Iraq to control the oil in that country. The United Sates now has military bases in 160 countries around the world, projecting American power everywhere and always acting in its interests.

Proxy wars offer plausible deniablity and far from owning up to their involvement, the US refers to the new entity they created as a democratic country. Indeed, they refer to any and all of their aggressive illegal actions as, "Giving democracy to the people." This is utter bullshit. In another breath you will hear them defending anything they do by saying that, "America always acts in its own interests." Now that bit is absolutely true but what's different since the second world war is that acting in its own interests has become doing as they please in the world because nobody credible stands in their way, or so they think. They have come to believe that any resource or land-grab they wish to pull off is justifiable because they are the greatest nation on earth. What they have become though is the greatest, most inscrutable bully in the yard. 

Lest my few American readers are getting annoyed at this point, allow me to make the distinction between the American people and those in charge over there. Having said that however, it is all being done in your name so you are being blamed for doing nothing about it at home. Unless the American people stop their leaders then this state of affairs will continue until we finally have a third world war. At the moment, America is positioning tactical nuclear weapons across Eastern Europe on the Russian border. This had drawn a predictable response from the Ruskies. In an op-ed in the New York Times recently, former acting CIA director Michael Morell said, "We Need to Kill Russians and Iranians." The piece he wrote is a chilling read.

The Obama Administration has not disguised its desire to invade Iran and the Saudis are urging them to do just that. In the South China Sea, there are two American Navy carrier groups facing down a resurgent Chinese Navy and a couple of near misses have been reported there in the last four months. Would the USA sit idly by if two Chinese carrier groups were patrolling the Gulf of Mexico? Indeed what would they do if the Russia were to position tactical nuclear weapons across the Canadian border? Imagine Warsaw Pact troops running exercises in Mexico as another example. Then ask yourself, who is the belligerent nation today? 

In my opinion, the Americans ignored a great opportunity with the fall of the Soviet Union. For a few years then, there was the chance to ally the other great nuclear power in return for an updated Marshall Plan for Russia. The willingness to do so was apparent on the Russian side at the time and if it had happened, you could have ended up with an alliance of the USA, Russia and Europe. Imagine the effect on the world of those three power blocs singing off the same hymn sheet. Instead the Americans choose the confrontational route and now both Russia and China are tooling up to defend themselves against American aggression.  Some of America's allies in Europe are also getting uncomfortable as well. I think it was Einstein who said, "I don't know what weapons will be used in the third world war but in the fourth one, they will be throwing stones at each other."

I've had sixty good years on earth so if a big fiery ball in the sky ends it for me then I'm ready to meet my maker. But I have two kids just kicking off and for their sake, I wish the Yanks would just tone it down. A nation of 300 million people will not subjugate 7 billion others no matter what they do. Russia and China have already signed bi-lateral pacts in their mutual interests as an offset to the growing American threat to their territory. India is negotiating joining that also while in Europe, many are beginning to question the need for NATO in the absence of the cold war, the reason NATO was set up. America has destabilized the Middle-East, invaded Iraq and Afganistan, bombed the shit out of Islam and supported the Saudi occupation of Yemen. They are destroying Syria, have turned Libya into a basket-case of gangster gangs and there is evidence they set up, armed and trained ISIS as well via the CIA. You will not hear this in the mainstream media but you'll find the information on the 'yet to be controlled' internet. 

So on a personal level, this is not meant to be a rant against the United States. Rather it is a plea for some sanity and clear thinking. I hear the drums of war beating across the globe and I am pointing the finger at the nation responsible. But there will be no winners if some obscure incident somewhere lights the fuse. The bullets that killed an Austrian Archduke on a Serbian street 102 years ago started the first global war and that war begat the second one too. Despite mainstream media claims that America is under attack, it plainly isn't in any military sense. Instead it is the aggressor not the defender. 

For all of our sakes, that can't go on.

LIFE TAXES

Two little snippets caught my eyes and ears this week.

In the hysteria of climate change and the alledged heightened CO2 levels in the atmosphere, (with the resultant €€€billions yielded for the scammers), a sane voice came on the radio here.

Connor Faughtnon is the spokesperson for AA road watch, The AA is the 'automobile association, (for my American readers). Anyway, the scandal is about falling revenue from the annual car tax in Ireland. Apparently at a time of rocketing car sales, the taxman is receiving less money. This is serious because the car taxes we pay are keeping Irish Water going, believe it or not. Don't ask, that's just how we do things here.

By way of explanation then, the bold Connor told us that car tax is calculated on the resultant CO2 emissions from the car and as all of the motor manufacturers have been reducing these emissions for the last several years, the tax costs less. There is a smidgeon of truth in that I suppose. The programme presenter though was a bit slow on the uptake and asked for an example of this. That's when Connor dropped the bombshell.

According to the one man who's business it is to know, "If a family of four buy a mid-sized car and run up 15,000 miles in a single year, then the human occupants will emit more CO2 than the machine itself." Well, fuck me! You could have knocked me over with half a feather. We're paying a climate tax for the car when the real culprits are the polluters inside it.

I touched on the human respiratory pollutants in an earlier piece entitled, "Climate Conundrum." Of course, I would like you all to keep this amazing revelation to yourselves and don't breathe a word of it to another living soul. Loose lips sink ships and a casual anecdote in the pub some night could be overheard by a zealous taxman. The next thing you know we'd all be hit with a new tax bill for breathing, on the principle that the polluter pays. 

And speaking of tongue-in-cheek taxes, it looks like us smokers have got everyone into trouble. You see, when the ban came in, a lot of business owners dabbled in the continental idea of tables and chairs outside. No proof anywhere exists to condemn smoking in the outdoors, whether you like it or not. Indeed, while I'm on the subject, the link to risk from indoor smoking is both tenuous and marginal. Some readers won't like to hear that either. But the smokers flocked outside with their coffees or pints and sat brazenly on the street watching life go by. On a hot sunny day here now, our city centers resemble anywhere in Spain. 

So the taxman, spotting this trend worked through the local authorities to screw some more from us. The enterprising business owner was penalized for providing outdoor facilities for his patrons. "Along with a current €635 fee for footpath signage and a €100 charge for licensing, businesses face an annual payment of €125 for every table and four chairs," according to the Irish Examiner this morningThe article's heading though tells you all you need to know about future plans. It reads, "Businesses face ‘sun tax’ rule for outdoor seating." I'm not kidding, read it yourself.

Now, if you've ever read a tax form of any kind then you'll know that's where the term, 'small print,' comes from. They are detailed and written in semi-legalise. So I'm wondering about rebates if the sun doesn't shine. Do you pay a reduced rate if you have skin cancer perhaps? What about if you were seated under an awning or indeed, were covered head to toe in factor 50? The other issue is that when it is sunny, we all avail of it so what about the mother with her three kids in the park? Surely they'd be hit with the sun tax? And best of all, how will it be policed? But no! It will be the business owner who takes the hit first and then his prices will go up so that in the end, we pay for it. Just another stealth tax then?

We are subject to death taxes for having the temerity to die, sunlight will soon be subject to taxation and if word gets out about us breathing out CO2, we'll be taxed on life itself. 

Any word yet about what time the bloody revolution kicks off lads?

SECOND THOUGHTS.

It's ironic that so soon after writing a nostalgic piece about Irish pubs and their place in society, that I should now be penning the following. Perhaps the threads of these ideas were just floating around un-connected for a while. 

Wearing my "Forest Ireland" hat over the years I have spoken to many publicans about the smoking ban in Ireland and the effect it had on their business. There seemed to be pretty uniform agreement that it was devastating and it started the rot. With the closures we have seen, then it's a no-brainer that it was a deadly blow to the pub industry.

But the devil is always in the detail so when I asked more closely about what action they took to fight the ban pre-2004, things become a bit more evasive and hazy. I heard talk of meetings with their representative body and representations to local politicians but it was all very muted and gentlemanly. Closer probing on my part always met the brick wall of, "Well it's in now so we just have to get on with it."

I never put two and two together at the time but it is becoming apparent to me now that what really was happening is quite different to what we have been told. Far from fighting the ban, the publicans fought among themselves. It seems that the major issue for pub-owners was that there could not be any exceptions to the ban when, and if it came in. If smoking in the boozer was to be banned then it had to banned in all boozers. One owner called it a level playing pitch.

In 2012 I did a media tour around the Country under the headline, "Why can't we have comfortable smoking rooms?" In the course of this trip I visited a huge pub in Galway and the barman there showed me not one, but two massive smoking rooms INSIDE the place. They had a nightclub license for late-night drinking and the guy told me it was wall-to-wall every weekend in the smoking rooms. He went so far as to say that they'd have to close down if they didn't have them. 

So I ambled across the street to a smaller pub and the owner was behind the bar. He was morose and told me his business was on its last legs. I asked if it would help him to have a smoking room and he snapped at me that of course it would but he explained that he was land-locked. This meant that he had buildings attached either side and no back yard he could cover. A smoking room has to be separate from the bar just in case a wisp of smoke escapes and all of the innocent non-smokers, (who aren't there anyway), will suddenly fall off their perches. The council charged a fortune for tables and chairs on the street outside so he just could not facilitate the smoking clientele and off they went. As a result, he wanted the smoking ban more heavily policed, specifically nodding in the direction of the place I'd just seen opposite him. 

It led me to pose the question to all the other publicans I met on the tour. I asked directly, "If you were permitted to do so, would you open a smoking room?" Even I was surprised by the answers. About a third would jump at the chance, a third were like the other guy and didn't have the appropriate space for one and the final third hadn't the finance necessary. From that, admittedly unscientific poll, you could deduce that two-thirds of publicans would o't support smoking rooms. Isn't that amazing?

On that tour I debated on live radio and TV with many of the big-wigs in the Anti-smoking Racket," and unsurprisingly all were adamantly against comfortable smoking rooms. But I never suspected the publicans themselves would also be because I assumed their unspoken support for their lost customers. I had forgotten the golden rule about vested interests and the competition for business between the publicans themselves. Apparently they were prepared to have their cash take drop by a half to there-quarters on the basis that they were all in the same boat. I find that self-defeating and short-sighted.

The publicans were the only group in society who could have successfully opposed the ban itself and stopped it happening in the way it did but I am now coming around to the opinion that instead, they were happy to fuck the smokers out onto the streets and to hell with them. I'd truly hate to believe that but I confess to tending in that direction. Should I settle on that view then I will have to review my own unwavering support for the pub industry, even if that is as stupid as their stance. Loyalty works both ways, doesn't it? Meanwhile should the 800,000 smokers have doubts about the motives of the 3,000 publicans and vice versa, the Anti-smoking Racket will be ensuring that the smokers drink at home with cheap alcohol bought from the supermarkets. They look like they want the vapors to stay at home also.

It's all just so impractical!

THE STUBBING OUT OF THE PUB INDUSTRY

An old friend and I were reminiscing about our youthful  adventures and discoveries we'd made back then. He remembered things I had forgotten and vice versa. The time covered was from 1970 to 1980 when we went from our teens to our twenties. What was fascinating about it was the culture in those days and the routines we followed naturally.

The first thing I remember was the shortage of money. Paying nearly sixty per cent in combined taxes, I took home £62.00-a-week in my first full-time job. As against that though, my tiny Dublin bedsit cost £6.00-a-week, just ten per cent of what I had to put a roof over my head. Twenty cigarettes cost 25p, (or a quarter of a pound), and the pint of beer cost 25p also. With a company car under my ass, my transport was free. A Big Mac and fries was £1.00 and my weekly shopping basket came to about £7.00. 

I remember working long hours but having plenty of free time also. In that seventies and eighties Ireland, free time meant meeting friends in the pub after work. The atmosphere of carefree fun was what we enjoyed so much. Anybody could say anything and nobody took offense. We spoke in jest and we laughed together. The beer simply fueled the light mood but deeper down, we were communicating with each other. It would have been miserable if we'd found ourselves in an empty pub with nothing to do but skull down the pints. Drinking for its own sake was and is pointless and self-defeating. The object was to loosen up not get drunk and stupid.

So the pub was the venue, the beer became the fuel and the whole point of the exercise was the chat. To my mind, that is the reason the pub was the institution it was. Ideas were exchanged, public speaking was learned with the help of hecklers and simple words strung out in well-formed sentences became an exchangeable currency. It formed opinions while also informing opinions. The infamous "craic" was the patter and hum of multiple conversations all over the place. Piped music was rare and television screens mostly blank, if they were there at all. We entertained ourselves and each other in those days without the many props around today. 

What brought this to mind again was a letter to the Irish Examiner by a guy called Damien back in June. He developed an uneasy and lingering thought that many of us share and in deference to him, I re-publish it here fully.

http://www.irishexaminer.com/viewpoints/yourview/dear-sirreaders-views-0162016-402538.html

Friday night pints a loss to our culture
Finian McGrath’s plea for leniency to smokers made me reflect on the pub scene prior to introduction of the smoking ban on February 29th 2004.

On a Friday around 5.30pm there were a number of us who regularly met up at a particular pub. It was no all-night session, just a couple of pints. It was our chance to unwind and to chat about the events of the week. There was also a great buzz among those present as the pub was normally fairly full.

After the ban something happened to the atmosphere, particularly as people were continually leaving the table to go outside for a smoke, and we all slowly stopped meeting on a Friday. Of course when the random breath testing arrived, we found ourselves not going out as much and mostly drinking at home. It is the conversation and the craic in the pub which has been lost.

Although I don’t agree with smoking in pubs or indeed drinking and driving, there is a part of the Irish culture that has gone forever, and sadly a part which I dearly miss.

Damien Carroll
Kingswood
Dublin 24

Though vigorously denied by professional anti-smokers at the time, the smoking ban had an instant effect on Irish pubs. The ban came into effect on Monday, 29th March, 2004 from opening time onwards. On the following Monday I went to the Ashburton Bar and spoke with Gerry, the owner. He counted the weekly takings on Monday mornings and told me directly that they were down a whopping seventy per cent in a single week. Prior to that over a twenty year period, his takings varied by plus or minus five per cent with predictable regularity. The story was the same at my other local the Cotton Ball with takings down by a half. It was devastating for the pub trade and no-one saw it coming. At that time in this country, our drink-driving laws were strict in principle but not in practice. The breath test was not in evidence and instead, if stopped, the Garda used his common sense to determine if you were fit to drive. About two pints was the legal limit but three or four were tolerated as long as you weren't acting the fool in the car. A couple of years after the ban these laws were strengthened. This action saw the end of the after-work pint and was another nail in the coffin of free association and communication. The culture wasn't changing as much as being forcibly changed through the blunt use of legislation. 

The dictionary definition of drunk is, "Affected by alcohol to the extent of losing control of one's faculties or behavior." We all understand drunk in its extremes and agree it is not an attractive proposition. But as I have stated here before, the effects of alcohol are gradual. There are pleasant stages to be reached long before becoming technically drunk, as per the definition of the word. Each stage could have its own name and designation. At present, you are technically drunk after a single glass of wine or one pint but factually, you are most certainly not drunk at all. Tolerances vary from person to person but I have never known anybody in my life to be drunk after one drink. Chatty? yes! loose? certainly! but having lost control of their faculties or behavior, definitely not. The average person is not even tipsy after one. In the real world even the tee-totaler would need a few to begin slurring their words. 

What always concerns me is that laws are supposed to there to protect us, not inhibit our freedoms but more and more we are seeing laws drafted that will have little effect on our safety but a huge effect on our ability to do what we enjoy. I tend to characterise these as bad laws. For a law to mean anything it should be beneficial and  have majority support. By that I mean real support and not politically correct platitudes or the loud voices of vested interests who welcome the law. Before the smoking ban if the Government had been honest and polled its citizens with the question, "Do you want to see one pub a day closing in Ireland?" they would have gotten a flat no to that idea. Since then though a third of the pubs in Ireland were just stubbed out by bad laws that were unnecessary and unwanted. The pubs across the country could have easily facilitated both smokers and non-smokers but there were not allowed to do so. Sold to us as a measure to make barmen safe it had the effect of putting a third of them out of a job and another third on reduced hours. How's that for health and safety? 

The tighter clamp down on drink driving and the lowering of the limit all but killed the rural pub and that was the one place that needed it as a social centre. Defenders of that law point to the drop in deaths on the roads since then and while I acknowledge that it must have had some effect, there were other factors at work. In the ten years the new limits were invoked, the motor car itself has become much safer and the roads have been drastically improved. Speed limits too have been vigorously enforced and the fines increased and penalty points have been introduced also. The drop in collisions is not all down to dink driving laws by any means but the pub and a way of life were definite casualties.

We simply do not communicate like we used to do and as a result, there is a whole generation coming up who struggle to make a viable sentence, never mind conveying an actual idea in verbal format. It's not the absence of the great story tellers I bemoan here but the incredible difficulty today when negotiating the most simple of situations due to an almost unbelievable lack of comprehension. If your easiest of queries does not have an FAQ page accompanying it then you might lose the will to live as you re-word your query several times. You see, people are not used to listening either and the enforced loneliness associated with drinking at home with a cigarette in hand is not conducive to being a communicator of any kind. 

Does Public Health ever consider mental health I wonder?

 

 

 

GRUMPY ABOUT SPORT

It is a fact that SKY Sport have forty TV cameras at every Premiership match in the UK so every single game gets filmed from start to finish. All forty of them are lined up down one side of the pitches with a couple at either end behind the goal to film kick-outs and goals from a different angles. Then on match day, one, two or even three games are shown on the SKY channels. These include studio build-ups to the games themselves and interviews afterwards. Even "Match of the Day," on BBC gets its footage from SKY that night.

SKY then gets its subscriptions from you and I, the punters, and that part-funds their company. Their other funding source is advertising and that is the biggie that pays SKY, the competing football clubs and their over paid prima donnas. The advertising rates charged are based on the viewing figures and that is back to you and me again. Betfair, Carlsberg and all the rest of them are depending on catching us at half-time and hammering their varied messages into our sub-conscious in return for a bucket of money per second from the advertiser. 

That whole charade kicks off again next weekend and for nine months afterwards, twenty UK teams will vie for the league title, playing each other at least twice over the period. Add to that the various domestic cups and two European titles and that's a lot of football matches. Nearly fifty years ago I took an interest in Liverpool FC and over the years I saw highlights of some of their games from time to time. Then in 1992 SKY Sport arrived and the possibility to view almost all of their games week after week. I confess to have fallen into this trap and becoming an avid viewer.

I recall the SKY subscription started at about €25.00 a month and for that we got hundreds of new channels with fuck-all on any of them. But we did get SKY Sport and for my soccer-mad son, it was a little heaven in a hellish school week. Sunday lunch was served in the sitting room in front of the TV all winter and Christmas dinner each year gave way to a phenomenon called "Boxing Day Football." The subscription crept suspiciously up as time went by but it was deemed worth it. But all of that has gone to hell in a handcart now.

A couple of years ago along came BT Sport and the necessity for another subscription. There was a third one called Setanta Sport too but I just didn't opt to get in either of them. Many of the games I would have liked to have seen were shown on these maddening new channels and I either went to the boozer to watch or I missed them. Then Liverpool FC set up its own TV station, (as did Chelsea, United and some others too). They too want a subscription from you so now, if you want to follow a single team remotely on the goggle-box, it costs a fortune. 

The same happened with Rugby and the Heineken Cup as well. In true tribal fashion I began to support Munster but the games now are all over the place. My point therefore is that this punter has been priced out of the supporter's game completely. I could afford the pleasure still and have several different subscriptions but do you know what, it's not worth it anymore. The fun has gone out of it and instead, it has become like so much else in our lives. It's all about the money and to hell with competitive sport. Greed has taken over and big corporates are fighting for a slice of the action. It's rats fighting over the same piece of cheese and for me at least, they've spoiled the cheese. 

I am mentally struggling with a sports-free winter ahead and I think if I lived alone, I might even get rid of the telly altogether and buy a really good radio, perhaps putting up a professional ariel on the roof for flawless reception. When supporting your chosen team becomes a hassle and requires changing your free time around to even get see them play a bloody match then you are better off without it. So I have begun to consider what life would be like without something I have enjoyed for years. Take for example a Liverpool/Man Utd game with a Sunday kick-off at 3.00pm. Coverage begins at 1.30pm and it gives you team news, club rumours, Manger's opinions and pundits debates on the relative merits of both sides. During the ad-breaks I hop up and check on the progress of the Sunday roast. The game typically takes 90 minutes with an added 15 for half-time so that's 4,45pm then and after that there is further hour of chat and playbacks to enjoy taking me all the way to six o'clock on Sunday evening, and darkness has fallen. That is only one single match remember and a whole day gone because of it.

Somehow with the prospect of such a day ahead of me I have always mentally written off that Sunday as a non-day. Now it will have to become extra free time and that's a big upside. The more I think about it the more it is beginning to appeal to me. One aspect that really appeals is that these greedy television company bastards with their exciting flickering screens aren't going to earn a single penny from this eejit. They cannot count me among their viewing figures because I won't be there. My son somehow watches any match he wants on the large computer screen in his room via fibre-optic so he wouldn't miss the SKY subscription downstairs. Herself though has fallen in love with tennis, of all things, (some guy called Novac or something), and I suspect that she'd prefer to see me go than her blessed SKY. So the telly and the basic subscription will remain but I've resigned as a viewer. 

I confess that I will miss the red shirts kicking a ball around and all of the other things Liverpool and Munster have meant to me over the years. Even Ferrari have had my undivided attention in Formula One down the years and once, I won over three hundred quid on a treble-red victorious weekend of action with only a fiver placed. But I have no interest in betting as a rule so I won't miss that angle. But it's all just turned into a money-making racket and for the last few years I have been paying into it without thinking so I intend to bring that all to an end this season.

And with all the extra time that it will afford me, I will need to do something else instead. This made me wonder if there are loads of other grumpy maggots like myself out there who have lost their patience with televised sport. I'm talking lads and lassies who have always been die-hard supporters of some club or other, it doesn't matter which color or flavor and in fact the sport doesn't matter either. You see, my idea is to set up on-line a new grouping called, "The Ex-Supporters Club." I envisage a place where disillusioned ex-supporters like me can go to when games/races/competitions are on pay-TV. Think of it as a rescue space for grumpy ex-supporters to meet their own kind and moan and bitch for the duration. The 'support' in ex-supporters could take on a new meaning as we support each other through the withdrawal period. There could be 'forms' or talking workshops with names like, "What did I ever see in that shite?" or "Graduating from the mundane," etc. 

It's work in progress right now but I'd welcome suggestions, (and encouragement of course).

WHO OWNS WHAT?

I recently read a thought-provoking account of a court case held in the States in the 1970's. I will be returning to the topic of fractional banking later but this case was around a home repossession by a major bank.

The guy in the dock that day had done his homework. He took the judge through the various steps involved in his getting his mortgage, right up to signing on the dotted line. I was vaguely aware that such a document was covered under contract law but the guy filled in the gaps for me. Apparently, for a contract to be valid, something of value must be exchanged for something else of value. The relative values need not be exactly the same but you get the gist because any kind of value is nominal and subjective.

So our man scribbled his name and off he went. We are left to presume that he had an, ahem, change of circumstances and his repayments stopped. The bank was quick to jump on him but he wasn't prepared to hand them back the keys and walk away, hence the court case. So our lad gets Council for Banks to agree that definition of contract law and to further agree that indeed, it covered all mortgages too. Then it got interesting.

In terms of exchange of values he reasonably pointed out that there were three elements in the equation. There was the house and land he was buying, there was the amount of the loan granted and then there was his labour over years to pay for it. In theory the bank agreed to give him the money in return for his repaying it with interest. Isn't that all our understanding of the event we went through as well. But it isn't and it wasn't. 

The bank did not have any actual money to give him so they conjured it up out of thin air and registered its existence as a line item on a computer. This phantom money was electronically transferred to his account and magically appeared as a positive there until he transferred it electronically to the account of the seller. Are you still with me? The deeds of the property were exchanged between the seller's bank and the new owner's bank and the schedule of real money repayments began. The deeds of ownership never left the banking system.

I can't remember how many years the guy was paying but when the time arrived that he couldn't, the trouble began. Then he argued brilliantly that firstly, the money he was supposed to have received was not existing money. It was in fact debt created at the tap of a keyboard and the bank had simply nominally transferred a portion of that debt to the seller's account. What the plaintiff got was a debt without any money attached to it. Even worse than that, the bank still owned the property and as proof of that he pointed out to the judge that they, the bank, were in court that day as the legal owners, simply trying to put him out of it. He then added that no account was taken of the hard years he'd put in to give them real money for nothing, and at big interest as well. In case you don't know, the banking system calculates your full interest over the life of the mortgage and applies it all from the start, divided evenly over the months it takes until the interest is all paid first. You don't get near the capital sum until after mid-way through your mortgage normally. His repayments would not be refundable so in summary he showed how he was screwed three ways. Noticing that he had convinced the judge on all three counts, the Council for the Bank asked for a recess while they convened with their client. 

Guess what? They didn't come back. Instead they sent a note to the court to the effect that they were dropping the case and the guy kept the house. No more repayments were made on it so you can only suspect that the bank wrote it off as a bad debt. The article I read about it in was from some remote outpost of the Union but it never made the nationals. I wonder why that is? A debt write-off like that could cause an avalanche if it ever came out. I can only suspect that during the recess, our man found himself having a discreet conversation with representatives of the other side. In return for keeping his trap shut for life, he got the house. Doubtless dark threats were made if he broke his promise and that's why it fizzled away into the darkness of collective amnesia. 

As I said, thought-provoking isn't it?

THE HIDDEN ARABS.

I was reading accounts from contributors to 'Quora' about the culture shocks they encountered in the Middle East.

The Middle East being in the news right now, whenever I think about the place I think of guys with guns out burning flags of other nations in public. OK, it's a stereotype but these are the images drifting lazily around in the vacuum that is my head.

But one contributor really made me think. His experience was of working in a mixed office in one of those countries and he was quick to advise readers that you do not, under any circumstances, talk to the local female workers. They are shrouded in the bee-keepers outfits in fetching black and though their eyes are visible, they will never make eye contact with a male.

Whenever my mind idly drifts to images of women from other countries I visualise tall blonde Swedes, dark alluring French, healthy naive Americans and weird sounding Aussie birds, (more stereotypes). My mind's eye hears the accents and my imagination fills in the blanks on what they would likely be saying. I enjoy female company from time to time and even at my age, I still find them interesting and fascinating.

But the contributor I read mentioned that he treated the Arab women as if they weren't there. He wrote that he just saw them collectively as inhuman. This was not an active thought but rather something passive that just was. I sat back shocked because actually, that is how I've always thought about it without ever verbalising it. I have to confess that when images of a Middle-Eastern City comes on the screen, the women are just background props for me. There may as well be little metal robots hovering around under the black gear.

Don't get me wrong though. When I rationalise it, I know they must be human beings. It's just that you never see any evidence of it so you are not invited to think about them at all. A mate of mine reckoned they must be there to give birth to all the terrorists but even he admitted it was easier to see them as non-beings. Neither of us would consider ourselves to be particularily racist by the way.

I wonder how many of you out there ever think about Middle Eastern women? We are certainly invited to think about Middle Eastern men quite a lot these days, aren't we? But what about the Mothers, Daughters and Sisters? What do they think about? What do they like and dislike? What is their average day like? Are they interested in sport or music? What do they do for the craic or are they even allowed to have a laugh? You'd have to think they would be but how are we to know? 

But it did concern me that I never wondered about these millions of women and had therefore subconsciously filed them under the heading, "Not there." It means when I see them in film footage I do not register other human beings. Naturally I've never talked to one of them, never mind met one of them. It upsets me now on reflexion because there is no other race on earth that I view in this light. The human face registers expressions so even the inscrutable Asian visage tells a story. Years ago Punch magazine ran a cartoon of a passport photo booth with one of the Arab women inside staring at the camera through the little slit in her headdress and five more exactly the same queueing up outside. It didn't need a caption.

Like I say, it bothers me that I should think that way about millions of women that I don't know so I asked myself, is it my fault? From all that I have read, it seems it is the Arab lads who demand that the women hide themselves, so is out of sight also out of mind? Is the Arab male responsible for my inhuman perceptions  or is it down to my own unconscious dismissal of their women-folk for some odd reason? 

What do you think?