Monday, October 15, 2007

Do we want to hear about the warm human side of major criminals?

I watched Pat Kenny's TV interview on Friday with Frances Cahill - daughter of the late notorious Dublin criminal Martin Cahill who was also known as The General. Frances has written a book about her father. From what I can gather she has written it from the perspective of a child's view of her father as she was growing up.

Seemingly Martin Cahill was a loving father and Frances' has very good memories of him as she growing up. So the book was an attempt I suppose to show another side of the much hated criminal. Predictably, the messages sent into the show were almost entirely very negative about giving any airtime to a book that showed a warm side to this nasty criminal.

I'm not in a position to offer any useful specific comments on this new book as I have not read it. However, the barrage of negative comments coming in (presumably from people who had not read the book - as it is just published) set me thinking a little of how society view people who do evil. I think we often view criminals as inhuman monsters who have no right to respect for any positive human qualities. We do not want to hear about the side of an evil criminal who loves his daughter and reads her a bedtime story. We fear that by airing such notions that the criminal could be wrongly made to look humane and therefore lessen the evil of their crimes.

Life is never black and white the way we would like it to be. People are never pure 100% evil. But if my own life had been ruined by somebody like the General then I'll admit that my initial tendency would be to winch at the thought of listening to his kind human qualities.

On a bigger scale this attitude also applies in dealing with political dictators and terrorist leaders. Very often democratic leaders cannot accept that such people are anything but psychotic lunatics. No point at all in negotiating, listening and learning how to work such people around to more sensible ways. But like it or not, evil dictators are often lovers of art and music and are tender with children and families. At fundamental levels they are not as different to you and I as we like to believe. They become obsessed on a particular negative track and correcting inputs get ignored or dismissed. But there are many examples of people being persuaded to turn their back completely on violence and evil and leading normal productive lives.

A big subject and I'm not a psychologist, but certainly food for thought. By understanding people better at all levels maybe we have some of the ingredients to approach correction. Closing our ears to the full person seems wrong.

Friday, October 12, 2007

What were you doing when President John F Kennedy was shot?

Without even checking a calendar I can recall that 22nd November 1963 fell on a Friday. I was eight years old. My parents did not yet have television at the time. However my Uncle Paddy and his wife Sheila did have a television and at the end of the school week on a Friday night I was often allowed to watch some TV with them. Their house was right behind ours and accessed from our back garden into their back garden. So that evening I was merrily enjoying some interesting movie on RTE (Telifis Eireann as it was called then) in the inglorious days of snowy black and white reception. The movie was interrupted and a newsflash came up. A rather stunned looking news presenter - the famous Charles Mitchel - came on the screen to say that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas and had been rushed to hospital. Even as an eight year old I was more than a little shocked. Kennedy was adored in our household and had only been over to Ireland in summer of the same year.

My Aunt Sheila's mother Mrs O'Brien was watching the newsflash with me and she was quite upset about it. She carefully told me to rush home and tell my parents about this shocking news.

I ran out the back door and across to our house. I told my mother that President Kennedy had been shot. To my surprise she just laughed and told me that I was confused. Mum knew I'd gone over to watch a movie and she announced to my Dad and I that I must have been watching the movie "PT109" which was about the young JFK and his adventures in the US navy during the Pacific war with Japan. It took me quite a bit of explaining to convince her to turn on the wireless. Our old valve radio seemed to take longer that usual to warm up. Eventually the radio confirmed my version of events and the household went into turmoil. I recall that initially there was hope that Kennedy might live but they speculated that the head wound could render him useless. Not long afterwards the death was confirmed.

I've written before on how important a figure Kennedy was to Irish people. It was almost as if a family member had died and the mood in the house descended into a deep sadness. I remember Mrs Farrell next door coming into our house and bawling her eyes out. Most households had Kennedy photographs on the walls and mantelpieces at the time which had equal status to religious pictures.

The death of Kennedy was really like a personal loss to Irish households in a way that I have never since witnessed in my long life by the death of any public figure. To us he was our proud son who reached the pinnacle. He had pure Irish lineage on his mother and father's side all the way back to the dark days of famine emigration. He was the leader of the most powerful nation on earth and he was ours! People in Ireland in the 1960s were still very introverted in looking out at our status in the World. But Kennedy gave us - myself very much included - the belief in ourselves that anything we dream was possible.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Dublin can be Heaven.

Enjoying Autumn
Originally uploaded by John of Dublin.

I had an opportunity to pop briefly into St. Stephens Green yesterday in early afternoon while on business. It was a lovely sunny Autumn afternoon and the place was like a paradise of nature within the busy city. I'm sure so many city workers de-stress briefly in this wonderful park on a daily basis.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Country road..take me home!

Goodbye Mountain!
Originally uploaded by John of Dublin.

Dublin's M50 orbital motorway encloses a warm womb within which I am nurtured. Inside these castle walls I am spoiled with good straight roads, lights at night, slow traffic and low speed limits. Considering the volume of cars, bad car crashes are infrequent and fatalities very rare. I drive down straight wide roads where speed limits of 50kph are enforced with vigour and I feel I am driving at pedestrian pace.

I venture outside the safe womb on to secondary country roads and the feeling changes. Winding narrow roads, blind bends, pitch dark at night. But the speed limit says 80kph or even 100kph. I barely feel safe doing 50kph winding these roads. A representative and well known example to many on the eastern side of Ireland is the very winding road by the river leading from Enniskerry village in Wicklow to the N11 dual carriageway near Bray. Technically it is feasible to weave enthusiastically down this rally driver's paradise at the designated 80kph speed limit. But by golly it is not a safe exercise. If anything unusual happens you are a goner. And of course speed checks never seem to happen on such roads...ironically the police probably feel it too dangerous to attempt.

Something is seriously wrong with this logic. Predictably, most of the almost daily rituals of road deaths seem to be on secondary country roads. Very often it is a single vehicle accident where the driver crashes into a tree or goes off the road at a bend. Young drivers probably feel like wimps if they can't keep up with the message on the ridiculous speed limit signs.

It would seem to me like a no-brainer decision to reduce the speed limit on secondary country roads and enforce it properly.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Famine Statues

As with many Irish people, there is one view in Dublin which never fails to emotionally affect me. It is the vista of the iron Famine Statues along the river Liffey quays when seen against the backdrop of the modern glass pyramid shapes on the Ulster Bank HQ. My heart races from commingled emotions of pain and pride. If ever there was a single place which crystalizes Ireland's emergence on many levels then this is surely it.

The mid 19th century famine was a huge event in more ways than we Irish today even consider at a fully conscious level. It is still Freudianly lingering in our subconscious like a genetic imprint. Yes, I know it wasn't a famine in the clinical sense. The rural Irish were over-dependant on the potato with it's big food value per acre for poor families with small fields. I'm not getting into the blame game here as it is possible to throw shots at the British authorities, landlords and the Irish farmers...this is a separate debate. But over a modest period the event contributed to unbelievable misery and the population of Ireland was more than halved through death and emigration.

Many of us have stories in our families which are passed down from the famine. Stories of death and disease and loss of dignity abounded. My father came from a rural background and I always noticed that his family had an irrational fear of hunger. They had enough food of course but they did worry about the potential of going hungry. My mother was from a city background in Derry but they also had memories of the great hunger through Donegal connections. I know other intermediate factors played a bigger part such as shortages in the war years, generally poor pay, etc. But I'm absolutely convinced that the famine was still imprinted in the dark corridors of their brains. They passed similar irrational fears on to my generation. It manifests itself in subtle ways. Have we enough food in the house? What happens if we run out of something? Ilogical hoarding is still present in small ways and we don't even realise it. We hate to see people hungry. The Irish give more generously to Worldwide famine relief per capita than almost any nation on Earth. Even mention the word famine and it still hurts Irish people.

Volumes have been written on Irish emigration from famine times and beyond. It still amazes me how many people Worldwide have Irish roots and who have since then given something back in so many diverse ways. From careful study of the finer points in history it also touches me how many poor nations from various parts of the World were generous with contributions to Ireland during a time of bad communication in the mid 1800s famine years. Even native American Indians and Mexicans for instance. Little to give...but gave a lot.

The famine statues...surrounded by prosperity...a time gate...a tangible reminder of what we came from and where we are. Go there...reflect.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Rocky IV

Okay, following on from the last two posts, we had the tennis championship finals on Saturday. My main physical preparation was a medium 350 calories treadmill run on Friday followed by some sit ups. Oh, and plenty of deep heat for my poor tennis elbow before the match!

So the finals match took place in good conditions for tennis - cloudy, no wind and around 15C. My opponent at 6'2" was 4 inches taller, as well as younger, thinner and faster. He likes to sneak into the net and use his long arms to play volleys or hit overhead smashes. Not a massive hitter in terms of power and a very average server. So my plan was to put him under pressure right from the serve with power shots. As we got going my plan was working like a dream. I got to 3-0 and then he got better but I still managed to get to 5-3 up. I was rifling shots past him as he came to the net - which was part of my plan. However he eventually read this situation well and started to stay back at the baseline much more. I found it increasingly harder to put him under enough pressure and I even started to make more unforced errors. He played a bit better himself and pulled off the first set 7-5.

This was rather frustrating having been ahead by so much. It had been a long one hour first set. My tennis elbow was getter sore, my muscles were tiring. But I just gritted it out and again went off into a 3-0 lead and then continued to a 5-2 lead. After this he creeped back into the match. I can't fully put my finger on it, I think it was a combination of him slightly improving, me slowing slightly and either not hitting hard enough or making too many unforced errors. Either way we ended up at a tiebreak at 6-6. I went ahead in the tiebreak as well but I got a bit sloppy in my shots and ended up losing the set and the match. So he won the finals 7-5; 7-6. It was over two hours long and we were told it was a great match for the spectators. I guess I should be happy that I gave this talented guy a great fight and in truth I certainly had all the chances to have won it. But c'est la vie!

Well it was fun and we had a great spirited party afterwards in the clubhouse. As my youngest daughter wisely said to me later...there are always people better than you in sport...all you can do is keep improving your personal best. It's certainly nice to feel an ability to be competitive in sport when older. Fun and fitness can't be a bad combination!