Six of the Best

5 September, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m currently making good progress in my challenge to read the entire Man Booker Prize longlist. So far I have finished six of the thirteen books.

The Sisters Brothers by Canadian author Patrick deWitt,  is a western, darkly humorous in tone. The eponymous brothers are Charlie, who loves the violent life the brothers share as hired killers, and the narrator, Eli, who longs for a more peaceful existence. The novel follows what Eli hopes will be their last job. Often amusing, sometimes thrilling, occasionally moving, this is a solid novel and well worth a read.

Pigeon English is the tale of Harrison Opoku, an eleven-year-old Ghanaian boy, recently arrived in the UK, and his response to the violent murder of a boy from his school. Narrated by Harrison, its attempts to get inside the mind of a child didn’t quite work for me, the supporting characters sometimes seem stereotyped, while the parts narrated by a pigeon just came across as gimmicky. That said, it had its moments, and was ultimately quite touching, if a little depressing. A decent first-time novel, just not my thing. Read more…

Booking the Trend

29 July, 2011 1 comment

Yesterday I was reading about the longlist for the 2011 Man Booker Prize. A number of the selected books looked interesting, and I reflected that I hadn’t read much literary fiction recently, and that I almost never read contemporary works in this genre. I decided to read at least some of what are presumably this year’s best novels. Then, in a moment of inspiration – or insanity – I wondered whether it would be feasible to read them all before the winner was announced. Read more…

A Gloriously Godless Weekend – Part 3

11 June, 2011 1 comment

(Part 1) (Part 2)

Saturday’s afternoon session began with a panel entitled “Women Atheist Activists” although it was unclear whether that was to be the subject of the discussion or simply a description of the panelists. It seemed to serve as both.

Paula Kirby spoke first and made it clear that she was an atheist activist but not particularly active in the area of women’s rights and had never really experienced or noticed any sexism in the movement, so wasn’t really sure why she was there. I have to admit to being a little unsure myself. Kirby has plenty to offer but seemed to be on this panel only because she was a woman, ironically an apparent example of the kind of sexism she hasn’t noticed.

Read more…

A Gloriously Godless Weekend – Part 2

10 June, 2011 3 comments

(Part 1)

Less than eight hours after getting to bed I was on my way back to the Alexander for Saturday’s session. Tired and mildly hung over, I was a little apprehensive about the length of the program. Even had my eyes been at their brightest and my tail at its bushiest, I would have been concerned that at some point in the day my brain would simply refuse to take in any more information. But I needn’t have worried. As packed as the day was, I never found myself losing interest. The talks were without exception informative and engrossing, and there was plenty of entertainment to be had outside. Read more…

A Gloriously Godless Weekend – Part 1

8 June, 2011 4 comments

Last weekend saw Dublin’s Alexander Hotel host the World Atheist Conference (or Convention, nobody seemed to be quite sure). Over 300 atheists – and a few theists –  from all over the world gathered to hear some of the world’s best-known atheists speak on subjects such as secular education, blasphemy laws, communicating atheism and the rise of Islamism, as well as to meet and discuss these and other topics with like-minded people. As a “militant” atheist (i.e one who goes to “Atheists in the pub” on a regular basis) living in Dublin, I bought my ticket early.

The weekend began – as all weekends should – on Thursday. “Atheists in the Church” was a pre-conference gathering held in a nicely ironic setting, a bar that used to be a church. As a fairly active member of Atheist Ireland I was invited to have dinner first with a few other AI members and some of the speakers.  I had a great chat with Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and also met some of the other speakers including Rebecca Watson, Tom Melchiorre and Bobbie Kirkhart.

There was a good mix at the bar: regular AI members, people who’d travelled from far and wide and locals who couldn’t make the conference but wanted to be part of things anyway. I reluctantly but sensibly bowed out early enough to catch a bus home, as I expected the rest of the weekend to be hard on the wallet, not to mention the liver. Read more…

The Mostly True Guide to the Irish General Election

8 February, 2011 Leave a comment

With General Election 2011 almost upon us, here’s a quick look at the options we will have on polling day.

Fianna Fáil

Fianna Fáil (Irish for “Soldiers of Density”) has been the largest party in Dáil Éireann since 1932 but has recently taken huge steps towards abandoning this tradition. As the senior party in government, it has been blamed for the recent economic collapse. This is no doubt due to the party’s long-standing practice of appointing finance ministers with no background in economics. One of them, Bertie Ahern, famously had such a bad grasp of figures that he not only had no bank account, but kept finding substantial sums of money and couldn’t remember where they came from. His memory became so bad that he could no longer serve as finance minister and was eventually appointed Taoiseach, a post he held for almost 11 years before the economy collapsed and he remembered he had somewhere else to be. Ironically, his successor Brian Cowen is just a bad memory.

The newly appointed leader Micheál Martin has promised that under his leadership things will be very different from the government of which he was a senior member and unequivocal supporter for 13 years.

Read more…

Room With A Restricted Worldview

21 January, 2011 1 comment

People have different standards for what’s morally acceptable. I get that. And many people find it difficult to accept that the moral standards and societal norms they grew up with have changed. I get that too. That’s why I sympathise somewhat with Peter and Hazelmary Bull, the Cornwall B&B owners who this week were forced to pay compensation to a gay couple whose holidays they ruined by discriminating against them and refusing to honour their reservation.

The Bulls are no doubt sincere in their beliefs as they were willing to risk legal sanction rather than violate them. But while they’re entitled to their private views, a judge has quite sensibly ruled that they’re not entitled to run a business that interferes with the rights of others to be treated equally. The Bulls will now be free to decide whether they wish to run a business from their home or to refuse to allow gay couples to stay there. They are free to do either but not both. Read more…

Off with her head? Not likely!

11 January, 2011 Leave a comment

Arnold Machin’s iconic image of Queen Elizabeth II has graced every British postage stamp since 1967 and is believed to be the most reproduced image in history. Recently, it began appearing in British newspapers reporting fears that it was soon to disappear.

It appeared that if the government  sold off Royal Mail as they are desperate to do, there was a danger that the queen’s head would no longer appear on stamps. To a certain type of English person (think Al Murray‘s pub landlord character), that would amount to someone defecating on everything it means to be English.

Luckily, the government stepped in and announced that they would be amending the postal services bill to ensure that Her Majesty’s likeness would forever remain on stamps. Hurrah!

This seems to me like the sort of governmental subterfuge perfected by Sir Humphrey Appleby. Create a false issue that will spark concern and protests and then resolve it, appearing to be patriotic heroes while hoping nobody notices that there’s something much bigger and more important going on.

Of all the possible concerns that our British cousins should have about the selling off of another national asset, it seems to me that what future stamps will look like should be near the bottom of the list. Issues like potential increases in costs and decreases in efficiency and accountability should probably rate higher. And I’m sure they do with most people. But you wouldn’t know it from reading the newspapers.

New Year’s Revolutions

4 January, 2011 1 comment

Ah, what better time to re-evaluate one’s life than when the year is brand spanking new and full of possibilities? Well, if you ask me, a few days later, as it’s probably counter-productive to attempt difficult lifestyle changes in the middle of a long weekend.

So now that the new year has properly started and normal service has been resumed, here are some of the things I intend to accomplish over the next twelve months:

(And yes, I mean revolutions. I’m not just resolving, I’m revolving. Or revolting.)

Read more…

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What a piece of work is a man

24 October, 2010 Leave a comment

Via a rather weak connection with one of the film’s producers, I came into possession of a free ticket for the première of Man Made Men, a low-budget Irish film. [This film had originally been shown at the Galway Film Festival in 2009 but had been significantly re-edited before its Dublin première in October 2010.]  It’s the brainchild of solicitor Alex Fegan who as well as writing, directing and producing is also credited with the cinematography and film editing. His co-producer Helen Sheridan wore most of the remaining hats.

The ambitious but rather muddled plot concerns what happens when a student with the unlikely name of Benjamin Ezekiel (Rory Doherty) creates some sort of artificial “life forms” with the intention of proving that God doesn’t exist. It’s never quite clear whether these life forms are supposed to be biological or virtual, although they seem to have a real physical presence inside a box. Despite the apparently impressive achievement of creating beings who live and reproduce, Ezekiel is unable to produce a convincing simulacrum of human society, and turns to the Bible as a guide. Read more…

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