Losing my religion, my Caitlin Moran and my Frankie Boyle

I struggle with many things. I ponder the existence of God. How can I square what worked once for me spiritually, but now no longer does, with the future? I wonder frequently about what I can give my children, that will be as decent and formative as doctrinaire Catholicism once was for me, yet never can be again. I knew a succession of priests throughout my education, and each of them was a decent, giving human being, but I’ve come to realise that this was not the case for many people of my generation, and, more shockingly, many since.

Yet they taught me, those priests of the 70s and 80s, and I think they mostly did a fine job of it. Paradoxically, they gave me enough rope to hang them with, and now that I’ve seen so many other men of the cloth swing, at least metaphorically, for the grave crimes they committed under cover of The Cloth, I feel cheated. Not necessarily by the decent men who taught me, but by the nonsense they themselves peddled, and allowed themselves to believe and pass on. Bad merchandise. The scandal of my religion teacher (Fr Lynch we’ll call him), leaving the priesthood for a woman is now, seventeen years later, one of the most honourable outcomes imaginable from that era. At least to me.

They burned something into me nonetheless, those fine and wasted men, and my mind’s eye wanders back now to every Sunday morning growing up in rural Cavan. To Henny Maguire, bouncing along the bog road morning at half past nine, en route to mass at the chapel. Mrs Henny sat on the wheelguard of the Massey Ferguson Twenty, shaken but immovable, while four or five or nine of the kids stood behind, swaying in the transport box towards another unheard sermon.

What drove them, beyond God’s diesel, to congregate so? Peer pressure? Was this just to be The Done Thing? The 1940s Catholic Ireland of Eamon de Valera and Archbishop John Charles McQuaid was a powerful regulator in the lives of most Irish people, rural and urban. My friend Rosita Boland wrote recently in the Irish Times about the simplicity and deception of our religious education. I say religious education, but I might as well say education on its own, so complete and pervasive was the extent of Catholic dogma in everything that we were taught. The cyphers of Catholicism demystified something ethereal, and built it into a national identity that was as much a statement of resistance to the oppressor and godless British as it was about anything connected to affairs of the spirit and life everlasting beyond the grave. My hero, the poet Patrick Kavanagh, railed against it at a time when to do so would cost you dearly, and he got neither respect nor reward for it until he was long gone to meet his maker. I take far more comfort from his confusion now than I do from going to a church to listen to a sermon I can give no credibility to.

And there is a generation of people like me. We came along at an unremarkable time, but by the closing of the 80s we were in new territory, both materially and spiritually. Confidence in ourselves was growing and we weren’t just going to transplant our way of life into the major Irish population centres of New York and Boston, London, Manchester and Birmingham. We were going to look outside our own. And when we were done, and the unexpected confusion of having money in our pockets awoke something unknown in us, things would never be quite the same. Mother Church, meantime (and never was the epithet Mother so damningly misapplied to a misogynistic monolith), was undergoing cataclysms of her own, and faith – and those who managed to hold on to it – took on an entirely new perspective, as trust lay in ruins and banks of expensive lawyers lined up to pay hush money to the people who had been most cruelly conned and abused by those we were taught to trust. All change.

From Rosita Boland's found catechism

And yet. And yet. I may be on a road to Damascus of my own, yet the eternal duality of all things remains unchallenged in my mind. Light must have its darkness, rain must have its drought, Jedi must have Sith and, it seems, our all-powerful Lord must, inexplicably, have this Devil that remains beyond His control. I come to believe now that duality is within all of us. If we remove the certainty, what is left is just life. And we must choose sides, as surely as Darth Vader and Lucifer and Judas did, and people will judge us for it without recourse to evidence or circumstance. That is the human way.

I still want to believe in the better natures of people, that we all strive towards the light, despite all the evidence that points to an untidy Manichean duality of balance. I am reminded of this necessity to choose sides on two counts on this beautiful, exultant June weekend in Dublin.

One is somewhat minor. A woman called Caitlin Moran, a journalist with The Times, has just published a book. About feminism. Quite good, judging by the opinions of some people I’d respect. But yet she sideswiped me, and possibly some of you, with casual cruelty. Anna Carey, reviewing her book, How to Be a Woman, says ‘It’s not all good, of course. Her description of her 13-year-old self as possessing “the ebullience of a retard” is ill advised, to say to the least (though she has since said she regrets using the word).’

Oh well. Long as she regrets it. I just thought, y’know, that Caitlin might have a small degree of that there wider view, seeing as she was writing from the perspective of a put-upon subset within society. But that’s my stupid fault, for still expecting some establishment, be it church or architecture of information like The Times, to act in a trustworthy way. You are welcome, Ms Moran, to come along and comment. I do not rush lightly to judgement, and if I do so incorrectly I am man enough to own up.

It pales into insignificance beside the other example however. That idiot Frankie Boyle, already on the most gobshite list, has been offensively bullying people with special needs again. This time it’s the son of Katie Price, a woman of sufficient backbone and public profile to give him what for, but why he should continue to reveal conversely just how spineless he is plain mystifies me. Katie Price’s son Harvey has Prader Willi syndrome. Here’s your starters on Prader Willi, plenty enough to be getting on with.

It causes poor muscle tone, low levels of sex hormones and a constant feeling of hunger. The part of the brain that controls feelings of fullness or hunger does not work properly in people with PWS. They overeat, leading to obesity.

Babies with PWS are usually floppy, with poor muscle tone, and have trouble sucking. Boys may have undescended testicles. Later, other signs appear. These include

  • Short stature
  • Poor motor skills
  • Weight gain
  • Underdeveloped sex organs
  • Mild mental retardation and learning disabilities

There is no cure for PWS. Growth hormone and exercise can help build muscle mass and control weight.

So why would a ‘comedian’ feel it a good idea to pick apart someone’s personal life in order to abuse her nine year old son, who has plenty enough to deal with? One of the less nasty things he said was that she and her ex-husband Peter André would fight over custody of Harvey.  ‘Eventually one of them will lose and have to keep him.’ He said worse. She outlines them here.

Frankie Boyle, to go for the cheap shot, is as his name suggests. An inflamed and pustulating swelling on the skin, causing massive irritation. He has angered me before, not because I am an easy mark, but because those he targets specifically are. He is a weakness in the human DNA chain, and I do not ever wish to meet the spineless excuse for a man, because if I do it will involve a day in court.

In the meantime, I shall ponder the existence of a just God, one who would allow such patent uselessness to exist in a realm of infinite possibility. And apologies to you all for such a meandering and incoherent post. Next time I’ll just smack the ugly bastard in his ugly bastard mouth.

What’s so funny about Sarah Palin’s vagina?

It’s easy to be shocking. Some people make a life’s habit of it. We’re taught in my business (advertising) that if you shock people, you’d better have a good, justifiable reason. If you don’t, you lose your potential customers’ trust pretty quickly.

The woman who produced the line about the retarded things produced by Sarah Palin's vagina

The headline applies to an American comedian called Whitney Cummings. (I must thank Kimberly for pointing out the link to me. Sorry for omitting it on first draft) Catholic upbringing, magna cum laude graduate from the University of Pennsylvania. On the face of it, a young woman with intelligence. Her own network show on NBC. (For those of us outside the US, that translates as Quite A Big Deal.) Beautiful too, paying her way through college with modelling jobs. Success, fame and all that stuff you get when you’re part of the MTV generation.

That’s the bit that kicks me in the nuts. All this going for her, and she can ‘jokingly’ tell movie director Quentin Tarantino that he’s ‘produced more retarded things than Sarah Palin’s vagina.’

Did you think this was a joke without victims, other than Tarantino, Whitney? Truly?

The Roast, as it’s called, is an American convention where terribly successful and famous people are publicly shredded, mocked and humiliated by their friends, with their compliance, in the name of comedy and entertainment. And flawed as that sounds, the usually rude results, if you want to YouTube any, can be quite hilarious.

Not the beautiful Ms Cummings’ contribution however. It happened towards the end of 2010 at a roast for Tarantino. Personally, I feel that Sarah Palin can expect to get harpoons thrown at her. She’s a public figure with her own politics in a nation that’s sharply divided on left/right grounds. It will happen. But what should not be allowed to go unanswered is the deliberate targetting of her son – and her whole family, essentially – as if the hollow laughter was somehow a right that free speech confers on idiots like Whitney Cummings. There is a price, you cheap-laughs-barrel-scraper. For you it’s a dipping in the minds of decent people. Not prudes or unsophisticated types. Just decent people who stand a bit closer to fairness than you do, clearly.

For our special needs family and friends, it’s inevitably another target painted on their backs that makes them somehow, ridiculously, fair game for the spite and cruelty of others, you beautiful, senseless fool. And I hope to God you’re a senseless fool, because otherwise you’re a cruel and intelligent doll who sees no merit in our wonderful children, other than as a handy punchline in a mockery of all that drags us, even one miserable half inch, up from the dirt where conscience or respect or feeling for our fellow creatures plays no part. This life is already hard enough without your outstandingly ill-conceived dig at people who, on the face of it, are less fortunate than you.

But you know what, Whitney? On the face of it means nothing. On the face of it means Whatever Happened To Baby Jane and Sunset Boulevard and every other intelligent analysis of skin-deep shallowness. You have no concept of the love those ‘retarded things’ bring to the people whose lives are graced by them. To me Sarah Palin lives an unimaginably alien life, except for the bit where Trig puts his arms around her neck and loves her. I know that. And it is clear as thundering fuck that you do not.

Down syndrome: an inconvenient truth

Here is a reference for those damn statistics.
Here is some information on the music, by a group called The Unthanks.

And a thank you never made often enough to the McGivney family, for being who you are and keeping things real.

Miles from home

Look at the beam of orange light towards the right side of the picture. A tiny bit further than halfway down, there’s a speck. Don’t try to brush it off. That’s home, when you point your camera at Earth from 3, 762,136,324 miles away. It was taken by Voyager 1 just before it travelled beyond the edge of our system, sometime in 1990. Carl Sagan, genius astronomer and astrophysicist, wrote about it with much more penetrating elegance than I could.

‘From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Look again at that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.’

It seems foolish to hate someone because of the colour of their skin, or how they get on their knees to pray, or who they want to love, or whether they’re going to need more time to catch up because they’re slower at some things. Yet we continue to do all these things, these things that sap the tiny battery that we each are given, and are beyond fortunate to get.

When I grow up I want to be like Kerry Hincka

I’m an advertising copywriter. I write ads. Radio ads. Posters. TV ads. Stuff on websites. Cars. Lawnmowers. Toothpaste. Tomato ketchup. It’s a very self-absorbed world most of the time. Sometimes we fool ourselves that what we do isn’t just selling stuff: it’s art.

It’s never art.

Or let me say almost never. Sometimes, some incredibly rare, uncynical times, people like me can actually transcend the grubby little sales messages behind most of what we do and reach our fingertips just a bit higher, to touch the place where the fairy dust gathers on the highest shelf. The people who put the ad below together did that. They had outstanding material to work with, granted, but they did their homework and they put together an advertisement, on behalf of one of the biggest companies in the world, that reflects something good and true, and for this one time only I do not feel like I can see the sales message behind it.

I’ve woven myself a little tale, that the better natures of everyone involved with the advert slipped free from the boardroom and the creative department in the ad agency when they were touched by the pure, driven love of Kerry Hincka, Molly’s mother.

Ellen, Twitter and that retard word.

Ellen is Max’s mother and she wrote an absolutely great post about interactions on Twitter where the word retard comes up with regrettable frequency. It’s very carefully reasoned, but nonetheless it kicked off predictably enormous howls of righteous indignation and it’s-my-freedom-of-speech/this-is-pc-gone-mad type recriminations. And some thoughtfully argued counterpoints too, plus some illuminated new viewpoints.

Anyway, I sent it on its way via my own Twitter account. For those of you who don’t know Twitter so well, it’s like a very slimmed down Facebook. For those of us who use it, it’s more like the crack cocaine to Facebook’s chicken soup, if you will. There are over 1,700 people following me on Twitter. Sizeable, but not enormous. Interestingly, what happened is that my message about Ellen’s post, once I’d set it on its way, was retweeted – or re-sent – by over a hundred other people. So alongside my potential 1,700 followers, all the followers of another 116 people would also have potentially seen this great piece about the use of the word retard. Twitter is a very powerful medium for this kind of message spread, and that’s one reason why I like it so much.

There is a site (again, for Twitter nerds like me) which maps the use of the R word in real time, and allows you to challenge the people using it. Not sure how much I’d use it myself, but it’s interesting to see the tools that are available now to promote positivity in this way. It’s called The Social Challenge.

Go check out Ellen’s post. It’s brave and rollercoastery and worth it.

I hate bragging about my endless charity work…

The Aran Islands are beautiful. Air doesn’t come fresher than on these three islands sitting in Galway Bay. The scenery is spectacular.

Sea level is the bit at the bottom. The road will be rising to meet us.

Now I know I left my reading glasses on a ledge here somewhere...

Water. With a hole in it.

All that nadural beaudy will count for sweet fa when I’m grunting and wheezing my way around Inis Mór on Saturday April 9th. I’ll be running a half marathon (that’s 13.1 miles, or 21 km, metric fans) in aid of Temple Street Children’s Hospital.

See how I said running? As in athletically, purposefully, lithely pounding the course as if it’s a canter along a beach to an ice cream van. And anybody who’s picturing my several wobbling bellies and the outline of a manbra beneath my teeshirt can bloody well go and donate twice as much as everyone else. Go on, off with you!

I’ve set up a donor page here.

It goes directly to the hospital from your credit card and is completely secure. There are many good causes in this world, of course, but if you can donate anything at all, the people at Temple Street will put it to work where it’ll do some powerful stuff for sick children. We here at Our Jacob know all about that, because the angels of Temple Street saved our man’s life when he was a month-old titch.

I’m more than happy to do this, and have you donate to see me suffer. What’s that? You’re thinking of doing it instead of donating personally? Why, I’d be delighted to have you run with me instead of just whipping out the old credit card and donating a fiver/tenner/life’s savings/deeds to that investment home in Moldova. I mean, I agree, it seems somehow too easy to do that. Great. So it’s settled. I shall drop round and pick you up on Saturday morning for a quick five mile break-in session. Brilliant. I was hoping you’d say that you wanted in on it. After all, who wants to just donate?

BTW, to the lovely people who already did give, you’re lovely people. xx