There is a broadcaster in Cork, Neil Prendeville, who has no problem promoting pseudoscience and instilling fear into people during his radio programme. He regularly invites a guest, Michael O’Doherty, whom he calls a healthcare professional, onto his show to expound on vaccines and antibiotics. O’Doherty has no medical qualifications. He is a quack healer whose shtick seems to be that natural is good, that the body is capable of healing itself without the need for modern medicine. 

This stuff is dangerous. It is simply not true to say that our bodies are able to deal with every illness that comes along. The flu, a common disease, kills millions of people every year. Before modern medicine, deaths from smallpox, measles and TB were common. They are much less so now because of vaccines, antibiotics and antivirals. Where is the evidence for the great natural panaceas they keep talking about? In the face of an invader, eating berries and taking exercise won’t always cut it. That’s not how human physiology works. 

Another pernicious lie that’s promoted is that when you get sick, it’s your fault. If only you had been thinking properly, or meditating the right way, or drinking the correct drinks, or eating the right foods, you wouldn’t have fallen ill. Sure, some lifestyles are decidedly unhealthy, but healthy people still get sick, all the time, through no fault of their own. Telling people that they are responsible creates unnecessary guilt while scaring them away from treatment options that might save their lives. It’s awful.

Prendeville says he is not anti-vaccinatipn, yet he regularly promotes anti-vaccination views. He promotes a culture of suspicion around medicine and medical practitioners. On a regular basis, he lays into the medical profession while promoting some of the worst pseudoscience imaginable. Not to put too fine a point on it, but he’s endangering people’s health. 

Sure, if you are fool enough to believe him, the argument could be made that it’s your fault. But what of your children or elderly and incapacitated adults that might depend on you? What of innocent bystanders whose kids you might be putting at risk because you won’t vaccinate your children?

But what to do about it? 

Write a strongly worded letter to Red FM? Send a complaint to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland? What will that do, exactly?

Complain to my local TDs? What will that achieve, exactly?

Blog away like I am doing, to the 20 or so people who read this blog?

Write to the Irish Medical council and other healthcare agencies to let them know what he’s up to?

Is it a free speech issue, so better off being left alone? Do I keep quiet and suck it up?

I don’t know. All I do know is that a radio personality is abusing his power and influence to scare people away from practical healthcare, and it feels like nobody cares about it, except for me and my army of one.

Update: here is a link to the show in question.

Update 2: I have amended a statement that Prendeville tells people not to vaccinate their kids, which is not correct. I have also had feedback that he introduces O’Doherty as a healthcare professional. I have corrected this also.

Another day, another speech by a cleric, frustrated that all their historic entitlements are fading away.

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/dismantling-catholic-ethos-of-schools-would-leave-moral-vacuum-1.2628509?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

“The alternative is a vacuum that can express itself in nihilism and the growing phenomenon in our schools of self harm,” he said.

Fuck nihilism. It’s a trope used against atheists for so long, you would think it should be given an honorary peerage at this stage.

As an atheist for over 25 years, I feel about as un-nihilistic as it’s possible to be. I find meaning in so much: my friends, my children, my thoughts and my many different enthusiasms. The idea that this life is meaningless to me is laughable.

The truth is that meaning is not exclusive to the pious. There is so much wonder and fascination in this world that it would be impossible to get through it all in a lifetime, nay, twenty lifetimes. Finding meaning in things is what we all do, whether that be helping kids, building Lego towers, watching football or blogging random thoughts. 

The non-religious life can be as rich in thoughts, emotion and meaningful achievement as anyone wearing the sunglasses of a faith. It just comforts some people to think otherwise.

The diminishment of religion in our schools will not herald in a life without meaning. The doors to a life of curiosity, fascination, purpose and love have always been open to us. You don’t have to believe in a deity to appreciate this fully.

A conversation this evening with my daughter as we drove through yet another rain storm.

“Dad? What’s a hundred year flood?”

“It’s a flooding event that is meant to take place every 100 years, but nowadays we experience it about every 10 years.”

“Why is that?”

“Because the climate is changing. The world is warming up. It’s making our climate wetter and windier. And this is only the start. Some day soon, all this place may well be under water.”

“Why is the climate changing?”

“Because we’ve been busy over the past 100 years pumping more and more fossilized carbon into the atmosphere. Stuff that’s been in the ground for millions of years, it’s all being burned off in an instant. We’ve known for decades that this is a bad thing, but instead of trying to deal with it, to invent and perfect technologies that would have maintained our standards of living while reducing the carbon levels, a powerful group of influential idiots decided that the best course of action was to pretend it wasn’t happening at all. Their obstinate refusal to listen to the scientists will result in deaths and dispossession on an unimaginable scale.”

“What are we going to do about it?”

“More like what are you going to do about it. Our generation, and the ones that came before us have screwed everything up. We have left behind a mess that you, your children and their children will be faced with cleaning up. When you are my age, schoolchildren will be amazed at how we drove around in filthy fume creating vehicles, and how we were so careless with our environment. Mark my words: we’ll be cursed, and deservedly so.”

“Is it hopeless?”

“I don’t think so. You’ll have your work cut out for you for sure, but you are going to be better people than we ever were. You won’t be plagued by these insane false arguments that we constantly had to deal with. Instead of talking about change, you’ll make it happen. That gives me a lot of hope.”

Today marks the centenary celebrations of the 1916 Rising, when a small group of Irish people occupied prominent locations across Dublin; declaring Ireland a free country, independent of Britain. Within days, the centre of Dublin was bombed to smithereens, hundreds were dead and many of the leaders of the Rising were executed by firing squad. Militarily, it was a disaster; but it set in motion a chain of events that lead to de facto independence for most of the country within six years, and actual independence somewhat later. It is credited with being the spark that lighted the torch of Irish freedom.

It’s a big day, worthy of commemoration, but I’m conflicted about it. It happened in the middle of World War I, when thousands of Irishmen were fighting and dying in Gallipoli and the Western Front; when Ireland had already won Home Rule from Britain: its implementation delayed until the war was over. It’s hard to see the Rising as anything less than a deliberate act of treason; given its declared overtures to Imperial Germany and its opportunism while the British government’s energies were focused elsewhere. 

There’s clear evidence that some of the leaders of the Rising saw it in romantic terms: a futile struggle that would inspire future Irish people. I’m conflicted because what I see here is the glorification of violence; the idea that violence is noble and beautiful. Patrick Pearce never fought in the trenches, so he never experienced the horror of war: the death, the screaming, the suffering and terror. I wonder would he have been so wrapped up in noble ideas seeing his comrades while shitting in his trousers as his comrades were pulped by artillery shells? The glorification of war is still here today, as if it was all worthwhile. It may have lead to the Irish Republic, but it also inspired the Troubles and the IRA.

War is an obscenity. It should never be glorified. It destroys lives, creates unacceptable pain and suffering, leaves a legacy of hatred, fear and damage that can take generations to undo. We lose a part of our humanity when we think of it as a viable option to be used on non-combatants. After the Brussels bombings this week, we had people talking about bombing Muslims. I honestly despair when I hear this. People who say this are deliberately ignorant of what such actions might mean. I make no apologies when I say that warmongers should be treated like child abusers. 

But I’m conflicted because, so long as there are people willing to resort to war to achieve their political ends, we need men and women to stand up to them. We need soldiers and police and armed forces. These are people who put themselves in harm’s way so that our hard won freedoms can be maintained, so that peace can be enforced and bloodshed stopped. They have my undying respect.

So on the day where we commemorate 1916, I have little thought for the instigators of the Rebellion. To me, they were fanatics who fetishised violence and set Ireland down the path of militarism – the effects of which we have yet to fully dispel. However, I also see men and women in uniform, who have opted to face danger and death in Lebanon and other parts of the world. I am thankful that they exist. I wish they didn’t have to do what they do, but I recognise their necessity; their importance in an unstable world.

Today makes me feel old. Really old.

When I was growing up we had this low level terrorist war going on. Awful stuff. Every day, more bombs, more killings, more coffins. Every day, more excuses, more whatabouts, evasions, mistruths. And hatred. We Irish were hated. Just for being Irish, having that funny accent, suspected of supporting the people who committed these atrocities, even if nothing could be further from the truth. Despite this, and barring a few exceptions, it did not descend into indiscriminate bombings of civilian areas, of mass deportations of civilians, of detention or execution without trial. 
We need to remember this today. How it felt to be despised and feared. Just for being born in the wrong place, having a strange accent or the wrong surname. How targeting us for these things would have made a bad situation immeasurably worse.
You don’t crack such problems with a sledgehammer when what’s needed is a scalpel and a longer strategy. Blaming and targeting a whole group of people might make you feel better, but it doesn’t solve anything at all. We Irish, of all people, aught to remember this today.

Against my better judgement (as tomorrow is an incredibly busy day for me) – I heard there might be auroras around, so I ventured out to my favourite place and.. I was not disappointed.

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It was a subtle enough effect. With the naked eye you might not have seen much, but with a camera set to 40 seconds exposure, the sky came to life.

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I was expecting to see green, but not red.

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Our atmosphere clearly got hit by something big tonight! A big explosion on the sun is usually the reason for such beauty.

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Most of the time, Cork is too far south to see anything of value. Not tonight.

With the rise and rise of Donald Trump (and his pal Cruz) in some parts of the US, it seems that an amnesia has settled over conservative America about what conservatism means. 

Conservatives prefer the old order, the existing order of things. They want to conserve this, thus the meaning of the word. It implies that the current situation has value, whether that be law and order, economic order, education, healthcare, administration, whatever. Progressive moves to change these things are seen as dangerously experimental. This is not such a silly thing: look before you leap, etc. Boiled down, it’s an avoidance of unnecessary risk, lest it create more problems than it solves. I sometimes think that if the existing order were more secular, more tolerant of diversity and more evidence-based, I might tend towards conservatism myself.

Trump and Cruz, the darlings of the non-establishment right, are dangerously radical. They are not about maintaining an old order, unless that order is some sort of mythic 1950s amalgam that never existed. Trying to turn the clock back 60 years, in a networked age of global trade, greater equality, fluid labor and international competition, is not something you can just push back in a box. It is not conservatism. Bringing back white male dominance, fanning discord, creating barriers and fomenting war, is not conservatism. Setting aside the US Constitution, to do to their enemies what they badly want to do, is not conservatism. Pushing the poor to extremes is not conservatism, lest you wish to hark back to middle ages feudalism.

Meanwhile, the hated Democrats have stolen the middle ground. Obama, with his focus on improving the economy, better international cooperation and sensible changes to a broken healthcare system, made few great risks during his presidency. He was no radical progressive. History might see him as a conservative politician in the true sense of the word. I expect that Hillary Clinton might appeal to conservatives in much the same way. If you are risk averse and you have to select someone to lead your country into the next decade, who are you going to vote for? Donald Trump? Ted Cruz? Seriously?

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I had the morning free, so my daughter and I took a walk around the city to see what was going on. The election count was in full flow in the City Hall but we didn’t stay there too long. The city was waking up, getting ready for the day.

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We headed down to the footbridge by the Grand Parade. In the distance were the limestone towers of Finbarr’s Cathedral, looking out over the city.

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And in the other direction, Father Matthew Church, flanked by the river Lee, modern architecture competing with the buildings of earlier years.

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The English Market was already in full swing. It’s one of Cork’s main attractions – the variety of food stalls and coffee houses is wonderful.

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Close by, a small arcade selling coffee and Middle Eastern food. Cork is full of little alleys and side streets.

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Pembroke Street, joining Oliver Plunkett Street to the South Mall, and home to some great bars and restaurants.

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St. Paul’s Avenue, with a view of Shandon in the distance.

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Finally, we made our way back to the City Hall and out of the city. The muddy river Lee continuing its march towards the sea.

A few days ago, during the General Election, I tweeted this:

It got a lot of retweets because the politicians I mentioned represent the extreme cases of those who are less interested in national politics than they are about pandering to the needs of their own local community. They are caricatures, easily lampooned and despised. To them, it’s all about Kerry and Tipperary, and the rest of the country can take a running jump.

But, honestly, I’m somewhat conflicted about all this. While I despise the gombeen image, I think the local nature of politics in this country serves us very well.

It’s important, I think, that we know the people we are voting for. If someone is effective on a local level, then we get to see through the slogans. We get an insight into the people themselves. We derive something about their character. The voting process can winnow the best of these from the less able. In the main, good people are sent to Leinster House.

Another thing to celebrate is that our political process is rooted in the life and history of our country.  We are never more than 10 feet away from a local politician here. This helps to mitigate the sense of disenfranchisement so keenly felt across the Western world. In Knocknaheeney, a deprived suburb of Cork I drive through almost every day, there was a palpable sense of energy in the run-up to the election. The next Dáil will contain many people who will represent the voices of the deprived, and this is a good thing.

The system can result in narrow-minded councillors topping the polls, but what’s amazing is that, more often than not, it delivers quite good people too. Michael Lowry, Mattie McGrath and the Healy-Raes represent the extreme of our local system, but that doesn’t mean that the system in general is dreadfully wrong. It might actually be the best thing to come from 1916 – something that makes us who we are: democrats by instinct and nature.

Even though the next government is still uncertain, I am quite optimistic about the outcome. Ireland is not built for grand overthrows but evolutionary change is quite possible. Our local system of politics, with its abundant compromises and contact with the struggles of real people, makes such change possible.

 

In the beginning, we were Important.

God made a whole Universe, just for us.

He spent a few days at it, then we arrived.

Us, the pinnacle of his creation.

 

He told us not to fuck around

And not to fuck with Him

Do that, and we could live forever,

Because we were Important.

 

Life was simple with God.

Somewhat shit,

And somewhat short,

But uncomplicated.

Anyway, Important people shouldn’t ask questions.

 

Then a Polish priest asked a question.

What if?

What if we were not Centre of the Universe,

But off a bit, to the side?

Ever since, that’s been the story.

More questions,  more sidelining.

Turns out we’re not that Important after all.

 

This made a lot of people Very Angry.

But what about Creation?

And what about the Rules?

And Life after Death?

And what about God?

Good questions,

From people not supposed to ask them.

 

So here we are, not Important,

Life’s not so simple anymore

But better,

And full of hope.

We’re important to each other

And that’s what counts.

 

 

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