Monday, February 27, 2006

Loyalist Dublin parade...a quick analysis.

Before Saturday's event it was certainly a source of pride to me that we were allowing a type of march which would clearly be provocative in Northern Ireland. Imagine if republicans organised a "Love Ireland" march in Belfast for the victims of loyalist violence and sectarianism. Ouch, I suspect it would have made Saturday's incidents look like tea with the Tellytubbies. Soooo not-on as a march idea.

Let's examine brief components of the parade we were quite rightly happy to take place....

1. It was to commemorate the victims of Irish Republican violence.

2. It was to be held in the heart of Dublin, the capital of the Irish Republic, near both the scene and the 90th anniversary timing of the 1916 Easter Rising.

3. It was to be held by Ulster loyalists. There is still an almost genetic imprint in many nationalists close to the Northern Ireland situation on the history of loyalist marches up there. To some, even the words "parade" and "loyalist" in the same sentence still evokes a provocative image.

So yes, it was possibly a daring idea in the first place and it turns out it was too much to ask that some small elements would not exploit it.

However let's look at some positives which might be worth salvaging from this embarrassing ugly event....

1. We agreed to a march which was a challenge to our inclusiveness and as mentioned above could be argued to have some provocative components to hardcore republicans. The Gardai and 99.9% of Irish people were quite happy for it to go ahead and did not want trouble, nor did most of us expect trouble.

2. The violence was clinical but quick and ended by mid afternoon. This has the characteristics of an organised but tiny unrepresentative dissident group. Ordinary thuggery joined in of course to make it look bigger. Nobody was too seriously injured as I understand. By international standards it was certainly not the worst of riots and was very short in duration. Some Dubliners even managed to see a humourous side to parts of it in describing the thug youngsters looting and indeed poor old Charlie Bird's experiences.

3. Sinn Fein has spoken out strongly against the violence, and they needed to.

4. After the event no elected groups or authorities has denied the rights of loyalists to march in Dublin. Everyone was rightly embarrased and outraged by the attack on democracy.

5. We have concentrated on how the Gardai should have handled the event and more importantly on putting in big efforts to catch those responsible.

6. I'm glad that at least a loyalist band got to march in front of Leinster House, it was nice of the Irish Times to show that picture today. This is the image 99.9% of us in the south wanted from the event. I commend the Irish Times for rightly representing us this way and the good editorial.

7. Of course you expect some loyalists to shout a bit of propaganda over the ugly event, which they predictably did. However, according to today's Irish Times the DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson, while condemning the violence, also drew attention both to the lengths to which Gardai went to keep the visitors safe, and the spontaneous welcome and civility shown by people on the streets before the violence erupted.

Let's not give this short ugly riot the values the perpetrators intended.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Innovative geniuses today...not quite as before!

Sir Clive Sinclair was a modern British inventor. Famous in the late 1970s and early 1980s for bringing affordable micro computers into the home. The Sinclair ZX80, ZX81 and Spectrum. Also the battery powered car. At the height of his fame he was asked if he thought people were becoming more and more innovatively intelligent. He said that he actually thought we were getting more and more stupid as time went on!

Although I don't totally agree, I can relate a little to what he meant. I love the world we live in, I love the capabilities and reliability of all the machinery and electronic systems we use every day. We can get much more done and at a quicker pace. But we understand so little of what we control. For example there was a time a few decades back when many with some DIY and electrical knowledge could understand and repair domestic electrical gadgets and service our own cars etc. Now sub-assemblies and big lumps of electronics are swapped out and thrown away and most gadgets are cheaper to replace than to repair. GUI computer operating systems like Windows and plug-and-play USB interfaces makes controlling PCs somewhat easier. But there is a wider and deeper content to computers at the electronics, BIOS and machine code level which is a mystery even to most good computer literate people. This is natural division of skills at play and largely there is nothing wrong with it. It's just that everything is getting so much more specialised to the extent that we are often losing the old abilities to think in an inventive and wider field of thought and have a reasonable knowledge on a lot of subjects. In pursuing useful progress we can get a bit blinkered and this can often affect good creative lateral thinking.

Innovative genius today in terms of science and technology is based on teams in laboratories unraveling mysteries which the average person no longer relates to. It's probably the exception now for one individual to stand out strongly. Breakthroughs are also often based on exploiting or improving on existing inventions and discoveries which other specialist teams elsewhere know more about.

Individual geniuses in the past had much simpler but wider sensory linked foundations to work with and certainly poorer tools. They had to be so creative and have powerful imaginations. Da Vinci, Copernicus, Gauss, Faraday, Planck, Einstein and many many more. The lateral thinking of Einstein was amazing. It takes a real open minded genius to figure out that the long accepted fixed time factor in an equation of motion is not a constant and depends on relative speeds. He had little to go on to prove his theory living in a pre-space age world of low relative speeds and lack of advanced facilities. Carl Friedrich Gauss was an exceptional individual genius in mathematics and physics. My esteemed 3rd level advanced mathematics lecturer often talked in awe about Gauss who seemed to be his inspirational role model. He once said..."Even on my very best day I would never be one hundredth as good as Gauss on his worst day!"

We live in a time of constant exciting changes and improvements. We have built great foundations and have fantastic tools to go further and further. There are special individuals who are creatively tuned into what's happening around them, who think differently and positively, and who then passionately work hard at what they believe. Not all will succeed, but coming from this pool are the individual innovative geniuses who will always shape the World. In my opinion in today's complex World it is the very special entrepreneur and leader who can bring progress to the masses through visionary and intelligent use of people skills (including technical teams) and resources. Progress is often at big financial risk also.

The right type of visionary entrepreneur would have a good macro view often missed by specialised technical teams. The idea will often involve exploiting existing technologies with some visionary thinking thrown in. Sometimes the spark of gold dust can even be blindingly simple with clever lateral thinking. As a crude micro example you only have to relate to one of Bill Cullen's tales in his autobiography "It's a long way from penny apples". As a child he was doing street selling in the Moore Street area. He had little bags of balloons and was trying to sell individual balloons for 1 penny each. Hard work and not too successful. Then he decided to inflate each balloon and put each on a stick. He sold big quantities of them for 3 pence each! A simple but ingenious lesson from a child in adding value. This type of thinking and more like it can easily apply to bigger projects.

Usually it's the commitment and hard work which is more important than the idea. For example, in the world of novel writing Maeve Binchy was more than once told by ordinary readers she met..."Your novels seem very simple, I could have written those myself and been as successful as you." Maeve's response was..."Yes, indeed you could, but you didn't!" It's a big step from thinking you can do something to making it really happen.

I'm not trying here in any way to play down the vital importance of specialised and systems level teams of scientists and engineers in innovation. Indeed the entrepreneur/leader may even be an engineer/scientist and on one of the teams. I'm just saying that in the complexity of today's wide knowledge base it takes additional skills to create a useful innovation and make it happen. What Sir Clive Sinclair was missing in his statement is that the type of people who are driving real mass progress are changing. A different type of creative intelligent thinking is emerging.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Stardust Anniversary and RTE drama

I watched the RTE drama lastnight and second part is tonight.

Of course I recall the event well from 1981. I was driving home across the city from my fiancee's house in early hours of the morning and wondered why there were many more ambulances than usual flying around.

Watching the drama lastnight I was almost brought to tears. I can only imagine how it affects the families involved to rewatch. The difference for me now 25 years later is that I've three daughters at ages where they go into clubs around the city every week. We worry about them being safe, meeting dangerous people, having trouble coming home in taxis etc. You don't relax fully until they are home. The last thing we would expect is for them to be trapped and burned in the club they attend. In 1981 there weren't even mobile phones and the agony, panic, confusion and waiting by parents for news must have seemed endless that night.

I recall the major enforcements in public places afterwards regarding flammable materials and usable exits. It became standard practice for a host to point out emergency exits. So many of us became extra conscious of learning how to get quickly out of a building. I'm sure lives were saved by the lessons from Stardust. I just hope we never become complacent. For the poor families who either couldn't watch or didn't want this RTE drama to be aired I would just say that if it helps us redouble our efforts never to let it's like happen again and helps save some lives in the future - then surely it must have some value. The families will never forget what happened, we must make sure nobody else does either.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

My Parents - thanks guys!

It's my late Dad's birthday and he would have been 80 today. It's an age more and more people actually reach - Garret Fitzgerald is fit and well and will be 80 tomorrow (9th Feb is my own birthday also).

Both my parents are deceased and I'm their one and only offspring. So I feel if I don't write of them in praise and thanks for how they helped me then nobody ever will.

In hindsight, after my parents married in 1951 they lived for quite some time on the edge of poverty. Mum had been a shirt factory worker from Derry, my Dad a farm hand from Meath. I came along in 1955. At that stage my Dad was a casual labourer in the ESB (not properly staffed) and my Mum had been doing occasional cleaning work for a nuns convent. The three of us were in a rented 10ft x 10ft ground floor room in a house in Clontarf and a toilet was shared with other tenants. On the window of our room there were vertical security bars and my Mum used to say it felt like a prison cell. There was so little space that my parents shared a single bed which was widened fractionally by some cushions. I slept in a cot in the room right up to almost eight years old when we finally moved. There was simply no space in the room for an extra bed. In the final three years I was increasingly sleeping in a kind of foetal position as I was easily outgrowing the cot.

Dad worked in the rural electrification teams out around Wicklow and was away for long hours each day. Working conditions were bad and pay was even worse. His stories of challenges in bringing electricity up to Kippure mountain to the mast for the about-to-come RTE sounded like Napoleonic adventures deep in the Russian winter. The alternative in the 1950s would have been emigration to Britain and I suppose he was lucky to have any work here. Things were tough for them but eventually my Dad became a permanent linesman in the ESB and after a struggle the folks managed to get a mortgage for a new terraced 3 bedroom house in Finglas in late 1962. This was a huge step forward for them but a big financial burden. They were relieved to be able to provide me with a full sized bed and my own room. My mother supplemented the meagre wages by renting the extra few rooms. The third bedroom went to one of my cousins from Donegal who was starting as a 3rd level student in a Dublin college. The front room downstairs went to another cousin who worked in Dublin. It was a full and happy house, my cousins were plenty of fun, almost like older siblings.

My parents had left the education system very early themselves and they did their best to help me to do better. They gently encouraged me through school and every little success I achieved they praised. Thankfully free secondary education came in just in time for us to benefit. I was then gradually taking an interest in science and technology. When the option for third level education came along I had achieved sufficient Leaving Cert results so we got a grant to pay the fees, helped by the family means test. I studied full time for four years towards a degree in electrical engineering. I felt guilty in not pulling in some income to help the folks. I had few part time jobs, but tried to ease their burden by cycling the sixteen miles college round trip each day and taking my Mum's packed lunch and flask to minimise expenses. I was determined not to let them down and studied long hours in the college library on almost every weekday evening. I know it was a sacrifice for them to be carrying me on their backs up to the age of 22. To see their humble smiling faces at the eventual conferring in Trinity College was a big moment for me. Later that evening at home my Dad clowned around posing for photos wearing my gown and holding the degree. I'm delighted to have those photos - he deserved a big share of the credit!

Dad was an intelligent man, a quiet thinker. He could have been anything he wanted with the right breaks. He was a versatile DIY handyman and I picked up many good tips from him in that area. He did progress as much as he could in the ESB and by retirement he was an area supervisor for maintenance crews. Mum was enterprising, always got the best out of any money they had, even made herself a rather good dressing table from bare timber. They were very good people, well known for their kindness and liked by everyone.

My parents lived to see me have a good career and become very happily married. They enjoyed their three grandchildren. By now Dad at last had his own car and the pair of them had fun driving to different parts of Ireland on mini-breaks.

Dad died rather suddenly in 1990 from a heart attack less than a year after retiring. One of my maternal aunts who was widowed had been living with my parents. Incredibly she also died from a heart attack only a month after my Dad, leaving my Mum in the house on her own. Mum stayed on in the house for another 8 years with another elderly lady lodger added for company. I then moved Mum into a nursing home very near where my own family lived in Glenageary and I could visit her much more regularly. She had been in gradual decline and died three years later.

I suppose if the parents were to measure my success in terms of physical wealth then they did not live long enough to witness me moving on to form a very successful telecoms company, a move to a huge house in Killiney with stunning views, quality cars in the driveways etc. How different it all is to the humble start in the tiny rented room in Clontarf. But the folks would know that the real success was how they had taught me good values and gave me the opportunity to be happy, well educated and work for anything I could dream of. They knew they had set me on the right path, given me all the right ingredients. I still sense them all around me and I thank them big time.

Happy Birthday Dad!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Friendship above Fighting

A female journalist, whose name I can't recall, wrote shortly before the US led Afghanistan and Iraqi invasion on the possible benefits of a completely lateral concept. What if we gradually tempted these difficult parts of the World and it's people with all the luxuries we have in the west, tempt them with all sorts of sweeteners and deals and trading. It would drive the leaders crazy but could ultimately win them over!

Don't laugh, this general approach has a tendency to work. Look at China since it took control of wealthy capitalist Hong Kong. Many thought at the time that Hong Kong would be ruined. Quite the opposite is emerging. The Chinese wanted and are getting into the gravy train they saw in Hong Kong. Places like North Korea with their archaic regimes are beginning to look stupid as South Korea and other neighbours prosper. The North Korean leaders are pathetically trying to promote an image that they have a happy educated people. But their wagons are being circled and time is running out.

The blunt stick of war is a very crude weapon in the 21st century. It pisses people off for decades afterwards, creates a horrible mess. The American liking for using military methods to make the World safer even disguises and suppresses to the recipients the improved values and lifestyles we are trying to promote. Military intervention may sometimes be necessary but is rather overrated and should be a very last resort.

The hand of friendship, goodwill and trade can be powerful. I'm not saying it always works. Crazy leaders who incite their people are always a problem. But in today's world with excellent potential for good trade and communications it is possible to use sophisticated methods to influence peoples better than ever.

The most basic thing which all people want is a better life for themselves and their family. To rise from poverty, to enjoy some comforts, lack of hunger, have good shelter and build from there. In the nasty regimes most of their people lack these basics.

Unfortunately religion extremism is still alive and well as a powerful cocktail for the poor and frustrated and is exploited as a weapon by right wing leaders in less developed parts of the World. So it can take time and patience to get people around to doing something tangible to improve their lot. We don't help our cause by over use of military options. Violence begets more violence.

This is a complex subject. But we in the western world must always develop international friendship, communications, partnerships and trade as the prime tool in improving our World. I must say that Ireland for it's small size has not been too bad at promoting this concept. It's the bigger western cats who have to listen more.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Comedy - your views wanted!

Wow, I'm just noticing how long my post on Laughter and Comedy was! I did waffle on quite a bit.

I'm genuinely interested in the psychology of comedy and laughter so I strongly welcome views here on what people do and don't find funny.

What kid of TV/Movie humour is good or pure rubbish?

Is laughter good for us?

Are there any subjects where we can't see some funny side? Religion/terminal illness/abuse?

Satire/Burlesque/Slapstick/Kids they work for everyone?



Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Laughter and Comedy

I've always admired people who can make others laugh. During some of my time growing up we had older cousins lodging and they had an amazing ability in making everyday things very funny. A few of my aunts and uncles had the same gift. When I first met the girl in my life it was our mutual sense of humour which helped us initially hit off. We still make each other laugh every day and I must say our three grown daughters have a wicked sense of humour and have us cracking up laughing at times.

Regarding TV/movie comedy, it has to be witty for me to enjoy it. I'm not a fan of mindless slapstick stuff which normally doesn't relate to realistic situations.

I usually don't like American canned humour but I'm a big Mike Myers fan, enjoyed both the Waynes World and the Austin Powers series. The Arthur movies with Dudley Moore were brilliant. Most of the older Woody Allen movies were very enjoyable and clever but they had moments of too much pure slapstick. I feft Allen lost the opportunity to develop his messages using increasingly more intelligent humour. Manhattan and Annie Hall were the closest I felt he got to going in that direction, but I confess I haven't seen all his more recent works. Love and Death was my personal favourite though. Frazier is a very good series and I thought Friends was just about okay. The latter worked reasonably well as the chemistry between the cast was good.

One of the few old time funny guys I liked was Groucho Marx. He was way before his time. I loved his lines like... "I'd never join a club that would have me as a member". A lot of people liked Bob Hope. I didn't personally, but he wasn't the worst of his era, he did raise a smile from me at times, mainly his facial expressions. George Burns as an old guy wasn't bad too - a gifted exponent of deadpan and not laughing at your own humour. An interviewer said to Burns on about his 93rd birthday something like... "You are amazing, I hope to see you on your 100th birthday" Burns replied without smiling..."I don't see why not, you're a young man!" He did make it to 100 as it turned out.

I loved many British comedians. I thought Peter Sellers was great in the US produced Pink Panther series. He was a very talented comic. Dudley Moore was brilliant in the Arthur movies as mentioned above - again US produced - must be some extra ummph that certain UK comedians bring to the USA. I was never much of a Monty Python fan, it had intelligent humour potential but was too slow and somewhat over stressed it's own humour, which is a mistake. Yes Minister was a good series and Fawlty Towers was very good too. I never rated Tommy Cooper much nor the late Ronnie Barker. I thought Ronnie Corbett was good though. He had a great way of telling yarns and digressing brilliantly into sub-plot stories. I thought Corbett made Barker look better than he was and the same could be said of the Morecombe and Wise combination. Eric Morecombe was superb, great timing and use of silence and body language.

Only Fools and Horses was a very funny and well written series by John Sullivan. It just worked so well with a great range of characters. One of the recognised funniest moments on television was the pub scene where Del Boy is standing talking to his dimwit friend Trigger. Del goes to lean on the bar flap which unknown to him has just been lifted and he collapses from view. Trigger's reaction is priceless as he can't figure out where Del has disappeared to! And who can forget the two chandeliers scene in another episode.

One British mini-series I loved and which is largely forgotten was "The life and loves of a She-Devil" from about 1986. Really brilliant. It was based on a Fay Weldon novel. It was great identifying with Ruth as her revenge on husband Bobbo gets worse and worse. I also thought her husband Bobbo's mad mother was great in it as was Tom Baker as the vicar. I must get it on DVD.

In Ireland there is often a lack of good comedy. We exported some of it. Dave Allen was a great Irish talent in the UK. Dermot Morgan was a genius comedian and Father Ted was a superb series. Pauline Glynn deserves special mention too in this series. Speaking of Irish exports, you might think this strange, but I also rated Terry Wogan when he was running Blanketty Blank. It was a stupid program and Wogan knew it was stupid and he brilliantly exploited this fact to make it funny and witty. He got the most from his celebrity guests. Les Dawson and others were very poor at running this show.

Dermot Morgan mentioned above was probably our best while he worked here. I loved the Scrap Saturday radio satire pieces while they lasted in the late 80s. Brilliant send up on the politicians. I also used to like Kevin MacAleer a lot, but his style has aged a bit. It was his deadpan face and black humour which was effective. He was very good at describing changing life in the 1960s era from a Northern Ireland perspective. For example describing his family getting their first B&W TV. "Oh, the whole family and the granny and grandad all sat in front of the TV and we were glued to it for 20 minutes or more. Then the father said - lets turn it on!"

I've a lot of respect for Tommy Tiernan and Ed Bishop too. Hector is a bit of an idiot, I just about tolerate him. Brendan Grace is not bad too. He works hard at being a comic, I often think he is rather shy and not entirely naturally funny. I've met him once and he is a very nice person.

I think Deirdre O'Kane is an excellent female comic. Very talented in so many ways. One RTE mini series I really enjoyed was "Fergus's Wedding". The guy who played Fergus was brilliantly retro and Deirdre O'Kane was excellent as the wedding planner. Brendan O'Carroll is very talented too, he brings a lot of clever humour into working class situations. I also like RTE's "The Panel". Dara O'Briain and all the regular contributors are very good, especially Colin Murphy. It has good momentum and energy.

Pat Shortt is a very gifted comic but I think Killinaskully portrays an Ireland we no longer want to know and many no longer recognise. The so called old Irish country moronic humour. It grates too many nerve ends for me.

Comedy is a subtle, complex and often subjective form of entertainment. It usually works by just exploring people trying to live or improve their daily lives and highlighting their spectacular human failure in doing so. It is as much about actions, silences and body language as it is about what is said. Comedy is an amazing tonic though. Laughter makes us feel good and it's also said to reduce stress levels and make us healthier. I'm inclined to agree with Tommy Tiernan that there is probably nothing we shouldn't see the funny side of. It just depends on how well it's handled.

Glad to hear what others like, I could rant for hours on this subject!