Author Archive

Aim of Human Endeavour in 2015 is to Avoid Other Humans.

April 15th, 2015 Comments off


Social media? You’ve got to be kidding. Are we all one big happy human family? (Setting aside ISIS and the Tea Party). The emptiness of the craze strikes me again.

I’ve just been to the local library to collect a book I ordered. Now this library is something – very fancy, modern, loads of space, big picture windows, students all along one wall, grandparents introducing their children’s children to picture books in the centre, and, if you are very lucky, a staff member here or there who may or may not answer your question.

It struck me how bloodless and person-avoiding was the whole procedure. I had ordered the book via the library’s website, that was fine. Previously you would walk up to the staff desk, mention the name of the book, and the librarian would find it, stamp it out and hand it over to you – maybe even with a smile.

At the glamorous new library, the staff desk featured a large paper sign: “This desk is not manned. Please go to the 4th floor.” At the fourth floor desk a tall young man had his head down, concentrating so hard on what he was doing that it hurt to look. You certainly wouldn’t disturb him. Wandering around, I noticed some lovely blond wood shelves with a clutter of books, all bearing a small handwritten name tag. The man at the desk was gazing fixedly at his screen, another staff member was looking furiously at her screen, and it seemed OK to take the book and proceed with it to the the electronic check-out terminal.

Ah well. All very simple and easy. Personal-interaction free. Just like online shopping, Massive Online Open Courses, LinkedIn. And I should have earned my lesson from this library’s staff in the past, when I innocently inquired if they kept a list of clients wishing to read all the titles on the Booker Prize short list (which some places do). “What?!” sneered the librarian, before turning to roll his eyes and exchange smirks with the colleague sitting beside him. “No, we’ve never done that!”

Imagine going to a library and showing an interest in literature.

Anyway, this is just one example of the de-personalisation of our great digital landscape.

People might be forever on Facebook and Twitter, snapping everything that moves, or doesn’t, so they can send the world its picture on Instagram or Snapchat.

But all of this amounts to representations of self, not real interaction. It’s virtual – an adjective that has made the journey from connotations of shallowness to trendiness to, now, an indispensable quality.

Sit down and talk to someone? Hard, because you have to listen in real time, and maybe watch what you say. Whereas “watching what you say” on digital platforms refers to admiring your own banalities or infelicities – and for some people, much worse.

One of the many analysts of the internet from Korea, Hyejin Song, had some interesting things to say about the importance of the flatness of digital images, in a 2012 paper. She argued that the one-dimensionality of so many posted images had implications for the information conveyed, and absorbed.

Or, from the old master himself, Marshall McLuhan, himself riffing on William Blake: “We become what we behold. We shape our tools, thereafter our tools shape us.”

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Women are disposable – still

April 10th, 2015 Comments off

IF you haven’t read recently about an Irish architect called Graham Dwyer, count yourself lucky. If you haven’t, you’re also probably living in another country, as the Dwyer trial was big news in Ireland for the first three months of 2015.

And if you haven’t perhaps you should – not only because it is a fascinating if repulsive story, but also because it, sadly, suggests at the underlying attitude to women in the human race.

And that is: disposable.

Dwyer, while to all appearances a respectable if somewhat smug member of the middle class, upwardly mobile, with a lovely blonde wife and two small children, was living another life as an enthusiastic member of the BDSM (bondage/domination/sado-masochism) community in Ireland. The internet is a global village and he also interacted with people in other countries. Some of them he offered to kill (vulnerable young girls.)

The Bandon-born architect especially liked fantasies of stabbing women, fantasies which he longed to turn into reality. And it seems he did, through his acquisition online of a single woman in her thirties with a history of mental illness and a desperate desire to have a relationship, any relationship, with a man.

That woman was the unfortunate Elaine O’Hara, whose remains were found in the Wicklow mountains in the late summer of 2013. A jury, which had heard some horrifying and sickening evidence of Dwyer’s tastes and proclivities, found him guilty of her murder after a nine-week trial. The mandatory sentence is life.

Dwyer is a frighteningly extreme example of those to whom a woman can exist only for a their gratification. This sentiment runs through society like a vein of pure toxin. Even on the day I’m writing these words I only have to glance at The Irish Times website to see that a 47-year-old woman has been found murdered in County Wicklow, while a New York banker accused of raping a young Irish woman at a party is going on trial. (He claims, as is the standard defence, that the sex was consensual.)

These are the extreme, age-old crimes against women. Sure, women are capable of violence and some men are killed by women. If you want to look at the statistics, in just about any country, women are beaten or killed by men at a far greater rate. See Karen Ingala Smith’s website for the body count in the UK.

The backlash against the enthusiastic feminists of the late 1960s has taken the form in some men of lip-service to gender equality while at the same time seeking every opportunity to disrespect and reduce women. Read more…

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Tips for non-English speakers

January 9th, 2015 Comments off


Tip your hat. Give me a tip for the 5.20. I’m taking this load of rubbish to the tip.

It was the subject of cow-tipping (sneaking up on the unfortunate animals when they are asleep and pushing them over) that inspired a late night mental ramble through the many, many uses of this small word – and a reflection on how difficult such small steps can be for students learning English.

Here’s a list, without even consulting dictionaries:

Tip out – to throw something away, “I tipped out all that soup that’s  been in the fridge for three months”


Tip out – to eject: “Ma tipped me out of bed and it was only two in the afternoon”

Tip your hat, as above – “A gentleman tips his hat when meeting a lady.”

Or a synomym for “dump” as in a place to leave large amounts of refuse: “This old mattress has to go to the tip.”

You can give someone a tip, and depending on your intonation it can be sarcastic: “Let me give you a tip about the best way to wash dishes.”

Or you could give someone else a tip for a likely winner in a betting race – as in Guys and Dolls, “I got the horse right here, the name is Paul Revere…”

That’s before we even get to the main noun meaning of tip – the summit, highest point. “We got to the tip of Everest and collapsed.” And there’s the tip of a finger, or a table, or a collapsing bridge – “AAAArgh! The cars are right on the tip of it!” (See the ending of  The Italian Job.)


Italian Job ending


The Oxford Dictionary says there are three main meanings of tip. By my reckoning there’s about 10 everyday meanings, noun or verb, without going to the compounds such as “tip-top”. Then there’s expressions such as “the tip of my tongue”.

No doubt others can think of similar words that are so versatile, all-purpose and user-friendly that they can pop up in a profusion of situations.

!Ay Caramba!


(Pic from

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Best films of the year by A Long chalk

December 29th, 2014 Comments off

Everyone’s doing it, ’tis the season to be listing, cinephiles abounding – so here’s my pick of the flicks for the year that lies expiring.

The rider is that I haven’t seen either Mr Turner or The Imitation Game, which I suspect might have made the AL-List. The controversy is that I HATED Calvary, sorry to be disloyal to the Irish industry but it was a soggy pudding of cliches with the cherry of Brendan Gleeson’s ever-reliable performance skill on top. And you won’t see much-hailed Boyhood here, either. It was nice. But nice is not great, and the film’s main distinction seemed to be that it took 12 years to make.

So, taking it from first place…

  1. Jake Gyllenhaal brilliant, creepy, unsettling. Director Dan Gilroy.

  2. Under The Skin. Scarlett drives around Glasgow picking up men who end up in ooze (spoiler alert). Genuine art.
  3. Locke. Tom Hardy in a car. Yet you are riveted for 85 minutes. Respect for writer/director Stephen Knight.
  4. Two Days One Night. Belgian everyday excellence.
  5. Maps to the Stars. Julianne Moore sticks in the memory most from Cronenberg’s latest.
  6. What We Do In the Shadows. Silly, perhaps, but very funny. You expect that from Jemaine Clement, but the main vampire, Taika Waititi, was new to me and utterly enchanting.
  7. Frank. Not as mad about it as some, but it was different and well-done.
  8. Mystery Road. This Aussie movie starring Aaron Pedersen was perhaps not as widely seen as it deserved.
  9. Grand Budapest Hotel. Enjoyable whimsy from Wes Anderson with fine performance from Ralph Fiennes.
  10. My 10 was going to be Despues de Lucia, a Mexican film about bullying among teenagers – but although I saw it this year it came out in 2012. Highly recommended. Don’t be put off by what sounds like an unoriginal idea, for it’s masterly execution by Michel Franco.
  11. A substitute 10 would be Her, Spike Jonze’s movie about a man who falls in love with Scarlett Johansson’s voice. The Irish Times has it on its list, but does it qualify as a 2014 film?

Other lists…

Vanity Fair

Sydney Morning Herald:

BBC Culture:

Irish Times:

And the most popular, from IMDB:,2014&title_type=feature&sort=moviemeter,asc

Tee-hee, The Interview comes in at number 3!

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On Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat – the ‘asocial media’ emerge

November 21st, 2014 Comments off

It’s good to see the Irish authorities have reached the stage of public consultation on fine-tuning changes to existing laws so they cover bad behaviour on digital platforms.

But why not a whole new law, even a suite of laws? As netizens [ugh], or rather people who overwhelmingly both work and play via the internet, we should have controls that refer specifically to this environment. It’s no longer possible to pretend that the wonderful freedom and openness of the web can be a highway without road-signs and restrictions.

More and more, the unlovely side of the internet comes into view. And that’s without discussing the Dark Web, hard-core porn and its trade, ditto for drugs and weapons.

Up in the sunny, noisy, hillsides of ‘social media’ it’s becoming ever more clear, to anyone with sensitivity and clear sight, that the term ‘social’ denoting a big open party is a misnomer. Even the implication that social implies a concern and regard for one another is often inaccurate.

More often it should be ‘asocial media’. ‘Asocial’ means ‘without society’. And individuals such as those who threatened athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill with sexual violence after she stated she would not support the re-employment of a convicted rapist at Sheffield football club should not be welcome in any society. They have no regard from others, except for those who confront them in the flesh. Read more…