Archive for December, 2009

20
Dec
09

The new blog

When I woke up yesterday morning I was alarmed to find the slight headache that had been bothering me the night before was still there. “I hope I’m not sick,” I thought, and I went about my daily business. Today I was stuck down hard. I have a really terrible cold. I don’t think it’s anything more than that, but I guess we’ll see tomorrow morning.

The reason I bring this up is that I want you to appreciate the effort I put into getting the final touch and first post of my new blog out of the way. It almost killed me. If you’re interested you’ll find it here:
http://asiasticfantastic.wordpress.com/
I’m hoping to make it a news blog from Asia, but we’ll see where it takes (providing I’m still among the living tomorrow morning).

I’m also hoping to get a new film blog sorted by the end of the week, but we’ll see.

19
Dec
09

Rand Illusion

“If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders – what would you tell him to do?”

“I…don’t know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?”

“To shrug.”

Regardless of how much you may revere the writings of Ayn Rand, it cannot be denied she made one definite mistake with Atlas Shrugged. To be fair, it’s a mistake so commonly made that it would be irrelevant anywhere else, but with Rand it takes on a unique significance. The purpose of citing Atlas, as we see above, was to serve as a metaphor for the rich and powerful whose strength, hard work and moral clarity are what support our society as we know it, and how state interference in their businesses and profits causes the world to “shrug”. However, in the original Greek myth, Atlas didn’t hold up the world. This is a misnomer that has somehow been accepted as his defining trait. In the myth, Atlas was the titan who held up the heavens. Now, if we instead apply this as a metaphor to Rand’s work, it suddenly takes on a new meaning, not terribly unlike that of another literary giant, Chicken Little. Instead of a tribute to “those who produce the most”, it becomes a tale about a bunch of gullible sycophants running around in a panic because the sky is falling.
Continue reading ‘Rand Illusion’

18
Dec
09

Eye for an eye, is it?

It’s a story so horrifying that you almost have to will yourself to believe it. Approximately 50 people, including the parish priest who gave a positive character reference, walked passed a woman in court to offer sympathies to the man convicted of sexually assaulting her, a man who was proven to have lied about the incident. There is no grey area here. It was an attack, and those who shook the attacker’s hand compounded his crime. It’s understandable that we’re angered by this, but Jesus, that’s not an excuse to let our anger run free.
Continue reading ‘Eye for an eye, is it?’

15
Dec
09

The McCreevy generation

I’ve been posting here a lot recently, considering I said I won’t be updating much longer. It’s just that occasionally something occurs that just can’t be ignored. This is one of those times

There’s an article in yesterday’s Irish Times about Charlie McCreevy. It seems he was on Miriam O’Callaghan’s radio show on the weekend defending his role of finance minister until 2004, when he was booted out to Europe. On the property bubble he claimed: “There were property bubbles in a number of other countries.” It’s amazing. They’re still trying to pretend there isn’t something unique about Ireland’s economic crash, that we’re simply victims of a global downturn. This is infuriating on its own, but it’s made so much worse when we consider that, arguably, there is nobody in government who shares as much blame for Ireland’s recession as Charlie McCreevy.
Continue reading ‘The McCreevy generation’

09
Dec
09

Dog meat

It was going to happen eventually, I suppose. Today I was offered dog. Not a dog, you understand. I wasn’t being given a pet. Somebody thought that I might actually enjoy scoffing on flesh that had been pulled off the carcass of a dead dog.

I’ve been given a couple of days off as my fellow lecturers have to go to some conference. With nothing to do, the one lecturer who didn’t go to this thing offered to take me to lunch, and he suggested dog meat. I was previously aware of a penchant for dog meat in Korea, but I figured nobody would expect me to eat it. So this was a surprise. Thinking it best to immediately rule out the possibility, I calmly said, “I don’t think I’d like that, to be honest.” Unfortunately, I failed to appreciate this was beyond my companion’s level of English, and it seems he interpreted this as enthusiasm for the idea. Five minutes later we were parked beside a dog meat restaurant.

I honestly can’t say why I knew it was a dog meat restaurant – it wasn’t as if there were cartoon dogs on the sign – but somehow I knew it was not a place I wanted to be. And in that moment I thought it might be better just to do it. Was it worth the risk of offending a colleague by saying I didn’t want to eat here? Yesterday, this same guy congratulated me for assimilating into the Korean culture so well. It seems most Westerners have huge problems with food here, so the locals find it impressive that I horse it down without qualm. It’s not that impressive really, I genuinely love Korean food, but I have always prided myself on being able to assimilate well with foreign cultures. For instance, if I were teaching in Japan and someone offered me whale meat, I’d eat it. I wouldn’t feel good about it, but I’d suck it up and do it. And so, I rationalised that eating dog is pretty much the same deal.

Of course I didn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get the image of our Frank back home out of my head, looking up at me with his big sad face. I spluttered out, “Oh, dog meat. Sorry, I’ve had that before and I didn’t like it,” and so he took me to a Chinese place where I had battered pork and seafood noodles instead. I was embarrassed at my squeamishness. I mean, I’ve always had a problem with our national mores over meat, and how we find the foods of foreign cultures repulsive. If we have little problem with chewing on the flesh of cow or pig, then is eating dog or horse or whathaveyou really any different? The way I see it, the only people who can be legitimately repulsed by such customs are vegetarians (this should not be read as an endorsement of vegetarianism, as I downright dislike vegetarians). And so, I will try just about anything that’s offered to me.

Still, there are two animals I just can’t bring myself to eat: dogs and donkeys. Donkeys because they have it hard enough as it is, and dogs because, well, just because they’re dogs. What other creature in the animal kingdom strives to align with humankind the way dogs do? And we’re going to repay that by eating them? Fuck that shit.

04
Dec
09

They made me play sports

Hello friends. I realise I previously said here that I’m not interested in any more personal blogging, but I figured one or two posts are justified, just to let you know what’s going on.

First of all, the new blogs are coming (two, at the moment). I’m working the format and on a couple of initial posts. When I first moved here there was no internet access in my apartment, but this has been sorted now so things should be moving along swiftly.

As for Korea, it’s all working out rather nicely. It will surely not have escaped notice that I’ve been very vague about the job I’m doing here. This is because I wasn’t entirely sure myself. Of course it’s teaching English. Let’s face it, it’s is the only skill an Asian company would look to the West for. However, I wasn’t being hired by any kind of school or college, but a power plant, and I wasn’t certain what they’d be doing with an English teacher. As it turns out, this particular plant has an in-house academy for teaching new recruits, and this is where I fit in. My fellow teachers (or “instructors”) are all engineering and energy geniuses, and then there’s me. I feel like Homer Simpson. They gave me my own office, which I’ve dubbed Sector 7-G.

Anyway, you might be aware of the value many Asian companies place in recreational activities in the workplace. This is not like the beanbags and game-consoles that places like Google and Pixar are known for. They like to organise team activities that encourage physical development and teamwork skills. And so yesterday we were given the afternoon off to partake in some sporting activities together.

For those of you unaware, I hate sports. To me its little more than effort wasted on activities that solve nothing and that nobody should really care about. Why kick a football when you could be figuring out how to change the oil in your car? It’s an attitude I’ve found to be problematic here. When I’m being introduced to people, they tend to ask what sports I like. No one even thinks to ask if I like sports to begin with, that’s just assumed, and because I’m terrified of offending my host culture I have to lie and name some game I haven’t even thought about since I was fifteen.

And so yesterday I found myself forced onto the playing fields. I honestly wouldn’t have minded as much if I was playing soccer or something that normal people play (and would also allow me to hang around in full-back doing nothing). But no, we had to tennis. TENNIS, for fuck sake! I’ve already pointed out that I hate all sports so it’s probably redundant to mention my hatred of tennis, yet there’s something particularly loathsome about this game. Whenever an ardent sports fan takes offence to my prejudice, I simply make reference to tennis and somehow my stance feels justified. Since golf was largely democratised, tennis remains the last pursuit of smug, upper-middle class twits. It’s also the only sport that can be legitimately described as creepy. I mean, what’s with those cultish white uniforms professional players always wear, like they’re all shooting a boyband video or something? You can’t tell me that’s right. After tennis, the only ignominy left is cricket.

Needless to say, I didn’t do very well. The only thing I could hope for was that I’d be so bad that they’d never ask me to play again. No such luck. Comments afterwards centred my potential and how much better I’ll do next time, platitudes I hope are bullshit. I really don’t want to be good at tennis.

So that’s my new job. I’m polluting the environment and playing tennis. It’s a good thing the PDs broke up our I’d joining them next.

01
Dec
09

We should all be “examing our position”

I’ve been following the publication of the Dublin Archdiocese report from Asia. This may sound insensitive, but I find it somewhat refreshing the Irish media is discussing actual news (Christ, I was glad to be out of the country for the Thierry Henry affair).

As for the report itself, it’s of course horrifying. Much has been said about it by men and women more learned than I, so I’m not going to pretend I have some insight to the affair. However, I would like to express my alarm at my own reaction. The most shocking aspect for me is how unshocked I remain. It’s not that I don’t find the details revealed by the report disgusting, because I do, but I find that I’m as disgusted this week as I was last week, or last year, or the first time I heard the phrase “a few bad apples”.

I wasn’t even shocked when I read this on Twenty’s blog, and after thinking about it for a while I realised my indifference is informed by the same idiocy that lead 98FM to use that picture. Whereas the church’s omnipotence was once a constant presence in the back of the minds of Irish people, it has now simply been replaced by the abuses perpetrated by that church. We know it without acknowledging it. We tut to ourselves while reading our papers, thinking how awful the whole thing was. We moan that bishops should resign, but that’s not going to atone for our own complicities.

There’s a silver lining to 98FM’s horrifying insensitivity, in that highlights a general absence of the one response to the report that’s needed the most, a recognition that real people were affected and remain affected by this abuse. This is not an attack against anyone. As I say, I’m as guilty of this as anyone. The horror we think we feel today is largely just a self-serving excuse we dreamt up to tell ourselves it can never happen again, but is this really true? Have we really learned anything? As much as I hate hypothetical comparisons, I think this one is apt. Imagine if a private company with access to children were guilty of the cover-ups that the church is charged with. Would we be satisfied with weedy calls for CEOs to resign? The fuck we would. These people, these guardians of moral authority, are directly complicit in possibly the most heinous crime that can be visited on children. I normally wouldn’t support Twenty’s tabloid proclamations, but he’s right on this one. These people should be prosecuted. Resignation isn’t good enough.

Then again, prosecution isn’t good enough either. That’s not going to sooth our own conscience.