A few weeks ago, myself and some friends decided to go to the Joe Power show when he was in Cork. We were curious to know what went on at such events, so we purchased a cheapo voucher and headed along to his show in the Metropole Hotel last Friday night.

The audience was quite large: maybe as much as 200 people. It was a mixed bag of people, old, young, men and women. Certainly more women than men with more older people in attendance.

Joe started late. One of his first questions to the audience was whether any of them had been to a psychic show before. Very few people in the audience had been to one.

Joe got stuck in straight away, happening on one of the most serious of subjects imaginable: suicide. The manner and some circumstances to do with the death were discussed with family members. A troubling line of questioning, to say the least. When he was done with this, he asked the father if he had been to hospital or had some trouble down below? When the answer was negative, he told him he might need to go.

Joe then went to other members of the audience, some of whom were responsive to his questions, some less so. Here are some brief (low) highlights:

‘Anyone shot down? Planes?’ he asked, possibly forgetting that few enough Irish people were involved in WWII. (He counselled the audience member not to go on a plane).

He discussed divorce problems with another person and what their sex life was like.

A fire in the house? Yes – 40 years ago. ‘We can go back as long as you want’.

‘Why are there 3 people buried next to each other? A young boy or young man? ‘No, just two – mum and dad’ ‘You’ll probably find I’m right by the way. You might need to look back’.

‘Just to let you know he’s around and he can see what’s going on’.

Brought up some private family issue where a family member went to prison for a while.

Told one man he might be getting 18 months in prison in the future.

Told another man he should get tested, maybe for bowel problems. ‘Get the missus to check around’.

What also struck me was how much stuff he just got completely wrong. Lots and lots and lots of questions never hit their mark. If the questioning wasn’t going anywhere he would simply move on as if it didn’t happen. My top marks on the night went to the people who made his life difficult. One woman blanked him completely, so he quickly moved on – indicating that the reading wasn’t for her. There were a few others where his questions went nowhere.

He would leave his questions deliberately vague, so he’d ask if it was father, or father in law. Dates like 26 or 19 were converted into people’s ages if it suited. Wigs (he asked a lot about wigs) became hair extensions. Because many of the subjects were older, he touched on health issues such as cancer, diabetes and hospital visits, or lifestyle issues such as losing weight, pigeons and gardening. As if willing him to succeed, many of his respondents made his life easy. They would try to answer his vague questions on numbers and hair and accidents with something that happened to them, even though this often had nothing to do with the deceased relative. In this way they were able to connect to him despite the fact that the overall narrative was confused, mixing things happening today with something concerning the death.

Almost always, he would simply say vague things about the dead people, like “he’s looking after you” or ‘he misses you a lot and thinks of you’. I’ve written about this before, but grieving is a process which often involves letting go. I don’t think psychics help this process at all, because the underlying message is that they are still there, still watching. Such talk does not help people move on.

This is what passed as Friday night entertainment. Banality, sadness and voyeurism reigned. There were a lot of cheap laughs at the event, but they were often at the expense of the people involved. We are not entitled to be given this kind of window into their lives. People deserve more privacy than this. Professional counsellors, not public psychics, are a far better solution for such problems.

My advice? Next time there’s a psychic in town, save your money or go to the pub. It’s a better use of your time and money.

Without much doubt, the Volkswagen emissions story is one of the greatestl corporate disasters in recent decades. As a proud VW owner, I’m shocked that a company of its size and reputation would have ever allowed itself to get into so much trouble.

The highly abridged story is as follows. An independent test revealed that some VW diesel cars contained software designed to trick emissions testers. If the software noticed that the car was undergoing an emissions test, it would change the engine settings to reduce nitrogen oxide output to the lowest possible level, thus tricking the testers. When the car was allowed back on the road, the engine settings would be reset, allowing emissions – up to 40 times higher than legally permitted – to be released. VW put code into their cars that was deliberately designed to break US environmental laws. It also breaches environmental regulations in many other countries. Up to 11 million cars are affected and we are awaiting news on exactly what these cars are.

It was a monumentally audacious trick. It’s beyond me how, with 11 million affected cars on the road, they didn’t imagine they would eventually be found out. Now that the fraud is in the open, VW face massive lawsuits from a whole raft of countries. They cannot sell any more diesel cars in the US – both for this year and next year. Switzerland has banned the sale of further diesel cars. Presumably more countries will follow. All owners of affected cars may be compelled to return their cars to their dealers, so that a software fix can be applied to the cars. If the cars are not as powerful after the remedial fix or if taxes are increased for these models, VW face massive class action lawsuits from millions of annoyed drivers around the world. VW’s reputation – indeed the reputation of the German motor industry – is badly tarnished, resulting in enormous job losses down the line. This may spell the end of diesel cars. People with breathing difficulties, such as cystic fibrosis or asthma, may well be encouraged to sue Volkwagen for putting their lives in danger.

Given the implications as described above, I cannot understand how VW’s legal team would ever countenance such a thing. Their job is to protect the company under all circumstances. Permitting such a fix to go through would have been idiocy of the highest level. My assumption, at this time, is that they simply didn’t know, which should imply that the CEO did not know either. However the same cannot be said for their head of engineering. To pull off this massive fraud, somebody wrote the code, other people tested the code and yet other people signed off on the code. Testing must have been quite sophisticated to ensure it worked in real world conditions, so we are talking about a lot of engineers and a considerable enough budget to pay for all this.

For this reason, I do not believe this was a massive conspiracy orchestrated from the top of VW. You could of course argue that “everybody is doing it” as an incentive to commit the fraud, but so far it appears that just one engine produced by Volkwagen is affected. It looks like a solo run by someone in engineering – someone far too clever for their own good. Whoever dreamed it up, signed up to this scheme or attempted to cover it up should face criminal charges.

Despite the bad news, there is a silver lining. Ironically this could be the best thing to happen to international business culture in quite a while. The incident means that corporations need to double down on their business conduct policies. No matter how good any corporation perceives itself to be, this story shows that a small number of people can do irreparable damage to the entire enterprise in pursuit of short term profitability objectives. It also perhaps signals a concerted move towards cleaner technologies. In the medium term, testing of diesel cars will be revamped. There have been significant issues with these tests for years, with the industry arguing vociferously against more regulation. They have now lost this argument. In a year or two, all diesel cars will be subjected to a far more stringent regime. This is good for all of us. In the longer term, it is likely that diesel will diminish in importance, though it could be argued that electric vehicles cannot match the power and durability of diesel engines. Either way, it will signal a major change in the industry.

Whatever the outcome, plenty of lessons have been learned.


Skehard Road, near the Mahon Shopping Centre, Cork.

Expected Completion date January 2002?

The only thing this sign is advertising now is copious algae, dirt and graffiti.

Surely it’s about time it was removed?

Lights in the sky shining down on Cork City?

(Click to enlarge)

Lights from the Sky

Yes, but before you contact the UFO hotlines, it was just the sun shining through holes in the clouds. The spotlight / laser effect was quite stunning that evening.

Cognitive Dissonance is described as the mental state a person experiences when their long term beliefs are somehow shown to be completely wrong-headed. It’s not a nice feeling to find out that your beliefs are ridiculous, so typically your brain will work overtime  to reduce this dissonance. The internal dialogue goes something like this: “I am a good, reasonable person, and a good, reasonable person would never indulge themselves in something batshit crazy, so if something is wrong with this picture, it’s got nothing to do with good, reasonable me”.

This line of thinking is, of course, a recipe for total fucking disaster.

There are a few tried and tested strategies that people have used to reduce this cognitive dissonance. Let’s look at them.

The Martyr Syndrome

When the world is agin you, it might be that you are wrong; but of course it’s more likely that you are part of that great tradition of saints and saintesses who went to their deaths for professing their beliefs. We’re thinking Joan of Arc here, who was burned at the stake in the 15th Century; or Saint Sebastian who was turned into a human pin-cushion in the 3rd Century. The issues nowadays might be about refusing marriage licenses to gay people, but look at the trouble you are making for yourself. Surely your willingness to go to jail is strong evidence that you are on the side absolute truth? Except that it isn’t. Jim Jones, Anders Breivik and the nut-jobs who boarded those airliners in 2001 all felt they were great martyrs despite their causes being absolutely fucking evil and insane. Martyrdom is simply an indication of how strongly you feel about your beliefs, not whether those beliefs bear any resemblance to reality.

The Galileo Syndrome

Galileo was a 17th Century scientist who famously went on trial for declaring that the Earth and all the planets travelled around the sun. Since then, Galileo has been cited by all sorts of cranks and nut cases, feeling sore after their crazy ideas were ignored or criticised by scientists and professionals. “Galileo was laughed at too”, they declare, somehow convincing themselves that the ridicule is evidence that their idea is spot on correct. Er, no. It’s just evidence that people are taking the piss out of your ideas. Real evidence of validity requires a hell of a lot more work. All sorts of mad beliefs have been the subject of mockery: Scientology, aura healing, foot reflexology, astrology and creationism, to cite a few examples off the top of my head. And guess what? They still very much merit all the derision they get. University physics professors get it the worst, apparently. Would be geniuses who believe they have out-Einsteined Einstein, regularly send them 800 page manuscripts, demand they read them immediately and then get monumentally upset if the professor passes on the opportunity. Here is a list of crackpot theories that would make your brain melt.

Bad, Bad People

When the flaws in their grand theories have been pointed out, it’s much easier for some people to attack their critics than to defend the merits of their convictions. The critics are mad, bad, in the pay of Big Whats-it, or otherwise compromised or evil intentioned. Never mind that some of their opponents might know what they are talking about, or might be much better acquainted with the literature or practice. This war against their critics can become quite a preoccupation. Anti-fluoridation activists have been known to ring the employers of their critics, demanding they be sacked. Or even worse: a few years ago, climate change deniers hacked into the servers of the University of East Anglia in order to “prove” that climate change researchers were behaving dishonestly. After no less than seven high profile investigations into the affair, the scientists were completely exonerated. Anti-GMO activists are currently using Freedom Of Information Act legislation against food researchers to make a similar case.

It’s All a Big Conspiracy

The extreme situation is where the brave Galileo constructs this elaborate framework of persecution that often goes all the way to the top. Because their beliefs have been demolished, now it’s not that the critics are just bad, but they are also well-organised. This is the default position of many anti-vaxxers, anti-fluoridation protesters and chemtrail fanatics.  The theory goes that if you pay or compromise enough people, they will do your bidding exactly the way you want them to. I sometimes wonder if these people have worked in any organisation – no matter what size – where internal competition, incompetence, misunderstandings, jealousy, favouritism and pettiness completely rule the roost. No human organisation is perfect, and while they might be able to get their shit together for a while, it’s unlikely to last very long. So what is it? A massively organised conspiracy against your crappy pet theory, or something much more mundane: that you haven’t done half enough work to convince people who might actually know what they are talking about?

Those Poor Deluded Souls

A friend of mine was a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses for most of his life. When I asked him how he managed to keep his beliefs together when confronted with the occasional well-informed debater? He told me they didn’t matter, because no matter what they said, he was absolutely certain they were wrong. This is similar to the perspective of an ex-Scientologist I know, who, when he was part of the cult, looked on non-Scientologists as somewhat inferior. When you have beliefs like this, it’s quite a strong inoculation against reality.

Ignore Them and They’ll Go Away

Some people simply pretend that their critics are not there. Even in the face of the worst criticism of their ideas, they simply press on, convinced of their righteousness. The master of this was Peter Popoff, a US faith healer and out-and-out fraud, who is still in the business of taking money from desperate people years after he went bankrupt after being exposed in the most public way possible. James Randi (featured in the video) calls people like Popoff “unsinkable rubber ducks” because they just carry on regardless of what’s thrown at them.

Change the Goalposts

This one is not so much about ignoring your critics as changing your position on specific objections while keeping the main thrust of your beliefs intact. Many commentators have noticed that creationism has evolved (ha!) over the years, first from a strict biblical view that assumed that men had a missing rib and the world was created in seven days, to Creation Science, to a more flexible view of time, to Intelligent Design, to “Teach the Controversy”. There are plenty of other examples of this. When the original ideas are exposed as complete bullshit, a new design comes along with the ability to change shape and better adapt to adversity like that robot in Terminator 2.

Hmm, there must be one more reaction…

Oh yeah.

Admit You Were Wrong

Ha ha! As if.

A contrail from a passing plane casts a shadow high in the sky.

Click on the photo to enlarge.


Here’s a photo I just took a few minutes ago. Perfect light.

Click on the photo to enlarge.

Ballycotton Rainbow

Another photo from Garryvoe, taken a few weeks ago. Despite often inclement summer weather, the clouds in this part of the world can be incredible.

Click on the photo to enlarge.

Look to Seawards

Here’s a photo I took on a day trip to the Big Sur in California.

After arriving in San Francisco, I made my way down south, past Monterey and into the most wonderful coastal scenery imaginable.

Click on the photo for the full view.

Version 2

Posting a few photos from recent weeks that I’m happy with. I’m learning to use Affinity Photo (a Mac version of Photoshop) so it’s something of a learning curve.

This is a photo of my two boys running on the beach in Garryvoe.

Version 2

Some more photos soon.


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