Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cultural choices

The Superbowl, baby. That's right. I said baby.

To properly immerse oneself in a culture, whatever that may be, it helps to take on board its quirks and twitches.

In Superbowl week, you get more than your fair share of cultural oddities hurled at you from beyond the sea. You can't help but let one or two of them stick. In this case, it's the word baby.

Deal with it.

Nevertheless, American Football is the new Mariah Carey. No one really knows how it works or where all those noises are coming from, but it's the kind of thing you'd pay to go see with your mates, provided you are allowed to shout and drink.

The Chalkboard, for one, owes a lot to its time spent in UL in the company of the all conquering, get-naked-at-the-drop-of-a-hat UL Vikings for its now relatively buoyant knowledge of all things gridiron. Lines of scrimmage. Pass rushing. Gatorade - we know it all. Huzzah!

But in keeping with the Sports Editor, who's done a bit of soul-searching in looking for his football team of choice, I've decided to hoist my flag of allegiance up a mast of ambiguity.

I've sided with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Why? Well firstly, they win a lot. But not in a condescending Patriots way, or through self-important poxiness like last year's champs, the Giants (whose quarter back, Eli Manning, is a tool). They win hard, ugly and often.

Plus, after weeks of watching America's Game (probably the finest sports documentary series of all time), the characters of the dominant Steelers side of the 70s have earned my admiration: Mean Joe Greene, Franco Harris, the flaky and prodigious QB Terry Bradshaw. True sportsmen.

Plus, as you can clearly see from the picture above, yellow and black can work very well.

The decision has been made. Go Steelers.

P.S. The fact that Pittsburgh are in the Superbowl this weekend is inconsequential to this decision. No, really, it is. Honestly.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Infernal Affairs on Kildare Street

Hard times in the halls of power. Who'd swap places with the Taoiseach? Not I.
It's like that scene in Infernal Affairs, you know, Andy Lau's Hong Kong crime thriller that spawned the not-as-good The Departed.
Yan (think Leo DiCaprio) is leaving the police academy in pseudo-disgrace and the sergeant fella asks the rest of the cadets which one of them would like to swap places with him.
Yan's expulsion, of course, is a charade. Because he's the brightest and the best, he's been given the task by the police hierarchy to become a triad undercover and live a life of hardship and danger, driven by a duty to law and what is right.
Who would swap places with him? The fact that he and several others end up quite dead (very very dead, in fact) is irrespective for this particular point.
Public service - and I mean true public service now, not working as a traffic warden - should be considered the preserve of the brightest, the driven, the best.
Brian Cowen, since taking office, has presided over an economy that has for the past nine months resembled the last minutes of the Yamato.
Yet he can still count on a reservoir of public good will that the Opposition would be very careful not to underestimate. His support is different from that which Bertie Ahern cultivated, which was built on little but smiles, cunning and folksy populism.
The Irish people appreciate the Brian Cowen is a man of intelligence, understatement and integrity, much like Lemass. We can belittle him and dismiss him in cheap conversation, but deep down we appreciate that he is driven by responsibility - not a desire for fame or popularity like so many of his peers and predecessors. He is, in the end, a true public servant.
After a decade of excess and squandered plenty, what this country needs is a pragmatist. Brian Cowen is that.
That is not to say he is the best man for the job. Who can pass judgement on such a thing? Who can really claim that Enda Kenny or Richard Bruton or Michael Martin would do any better? Perhaps they might. Perhaps they would not. What matters now is that the job is Cowen's, and will be for the foreseeable future.
The gravity of the economic crisis straddles so many borders and is tangled in so many spheres that replacing one man with another will have no effect.
What we must be grateful for, ultimately, is that a man of intelligence and not a hollow superstar has been tasked with our leadership at this time. That is not a party political statement. The Chalkboard's views on Fianna Fail can be quite unkind at the best of times.
It is an observation on reality; the same reality that is claiming Irish jobs by the hour.
For those who would criticise, for those who would deride, I have one question.
Who would swap places with him? Not I, not you. But such is Cowen's clear pride in public service, I suspect he would not swap with them either.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Just when he thought he was out

George Mitchell fights fires. He's quite good at it, actually. Someone could slap around a few waiters or stomp on a few picnic hampers and he'd be there, stretching out terms of peace in those quiet tones of his.
The Chalkboard's support for practical, centrist leanings of the new Obama Administration is well stated. When you're not constantly straining to look left or right, your peripheral vision is left intact.
As such, it's like women's Christmas to hear that Mitchell - the man who brokered the Good Friday Agreement and showed up Major League Baseball for the saucy chemical factory that it is - has been appointed as US special envoy to the Middle East.
And not a moment too soon.
Israel has used up the last of its credit in Washington in deciding to reduce Gaza City to a pile of twisted steel and dust. Iran is close to reaching critical mass in its push for a nuclear weapon. Syria and Egypt have signalled their willingness to work more extensively under a new regional detente. Iraq's provinces are calmer and a sizeable African Union peacekeeping force is willing to take the strain of domestic security.
The window to act is open. It may not stay so for much longer.
Of course, some stark compromises will have to be made across the board. Hamas needs to recognise Israel and agree to a prolonged, workable ceasefire. Israel needs to cede the Golan Heights back to Syria, in exchange for assurances that the Assad government will cease its interference in the Lebanon. And Iran, foremost of all, needs to be fed enough carrots to entice it to stop uranium enrichment, and shown enough sticks to force it to do so.
Mitchell's remit may be blurred and priorities unclear, but significant confidence must be placed in his ability to at least set things in motion in probably the most complex and troubled region of our planet.
As we here on this island have seen, his ability to put in place the wheels of previously improbable peace is uncanny.
If Barack Obama's regional vision is to marry hard and soft power, he has chosen the right man to stand at the tip of the spear.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A just kind of war

Only a matter of hours after The Chalkboard made a clear threat against his life, Bingo Owens has had his music and ents blog On The Beat nominated for the 2009 Irish Blog Awards.

Clearly the threat of Holy War brings the best out of him. He's still going to learn eighteen new kinds of dead, mind you.

Crimes against humanity

Heard the Corrigan Brothers' song for the first time this morning.

Oh. Sweet. Lord.

I honestly have no clue; no rational sense as to why various different counties have all been trying to annex these boys and their witty brand of gombeen-shlop rock.

Before you say anything, I know it's harmless fun. I know they're just playing up the whole knee-slapping silly Irish folk shtick.

But it's unclean. Unclean I say.

Yet it was the Limerick Leader that unleashed these boys onto the Western world, and now thanks to our intrepid music correspondent Alan 'Bingo' Owens, the whole world thinks there's no one as Irish as Barack O'Bama.

The Chalkboard would like to extend apologies to that effect, and also assures its readers that if you, too, despise the track, I am more than willing to declare a jihad on Alan Owens.

Off to watch the inauguration in a bit.

Still living in hope that fresh from playing to the Irish-American dinner and the inauguration parade, the Corrigan's guitars may protrude from behind some barrier and are mistaken for contraband by some jumpy secret service agent, who promptly empties eight rounds into each, sparing us that bloody song for nine to ten hours.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Proof of Life

Shoo, all of you. I saw him first.
Even the tabloids are all over him this week, when after he won the Iowa caucuses he was brushed off as an upstart by the likes of Niall O'Dowd, who hadn't the gumption to read the bloody polls.
But America belongs to the world. It is the mirror on to which we reflect our brightest and darkest senses of self. From Tuesday, he's going to be their leader, so that means he's going to be our leader too.
But it's the Kings of Leon principle. It's easy to like him now. I liked him when he was just forming exploratory committees, and having a crack at the White House was just a fleeting vision. I was wearing my Obama 08 t-shirt back when he was ephemeral and uncool.
But enough about The Chalkboard's recalcitrant, selfish ways.
The world will be looking to Washington this Tuesday, and for a brief moment our faith in democracy will be massaged just a little bit.
Government by the people for the people isn't a perfect system, but as the 20th century showed us, it's better than the alternatives. Call it a form of civic compromise.
But on Wednesday, we'll have to fix our gaze back on the quagmire of our own politics, with back biting and ideological emptiness and nay-saying standing in the place of vision, rhetoric and leadership.
What we require now is more than just the belittling of Brian Cowen and Enda Kenny. As a society we can't replace a call to be responsibly governed with a collective shrug of apathy.
No doubt the question will be asked in the days and weeks to come: Where is our Obama?
But the question should be: If Obama was Irish (easy now, Corrigan Brothers), would he have been allowed to succeed?
The answer is no. A young back bencher in Dail Eireann, spouting hope and change and finding the highest vestiges of ourselves would be buried under a junior ministry at the Department of Health for ten years to beat a bit of order into him.
To lead this country, you have to become wedded to the system, so much so that when the Taoiseach's office is yours your only desire is to preserve the status quo.
Barack Obama brazenly by-passed the machinery of the Democratic Party and took his message directly to the people. By the time Hillary Clinton and the apparatus of power had copped on to how great a threat he was, it was too late.
But why should we accept that our system won't allow youth and ideas to flourish? Acceptance of the inevitable makes it so, and we always, always get the politicians we deserve.
As flawed as the electoral college system in the United States can be, the election of Barack Obama represented the mobilisation of a people to demand something better, something more from their leaders. The cold reality of now may scupper that in the years ahead, but for today at least it exists - hard and pure.
The proof that the citizens of a democratic society can shape the future as they see fit is the true legacy of Obama's election. It is a lesson that should be allowed to resonate here and everywhere else.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

No country for old men

One week after Dell announced that it didn't want to make things in Limerick anymore, the true ramifications are starting to sink in.
In particular, it's starting to emerge that the company isn't offering as "generous" a redundancy package to workers as management and members of the Government first said they would.
They threw their numbers around last week, (six weeks pay for every year, capped at 52 weeks) and to be honest no one bothered to work it out. We reporters who had camped outside Dell all morning having the feet frozen off us heard a collection of numbers and assumed the sums would add up well.
They don't.
One disgruntled worker leaked details of her redundancy offer to the Limerick Leader this week, and the reality is almost stomach turning. (Read about the full breakdown here)
Dell are essentially paying their longest serving employees less out of their own pockets, because these workers are entitled to higher statutory redundancy from the Government.
To almost cut and run in this manner, after making billions from the efforts of the workforce Raheen over the past two decades and provide those same workers with such a paltry parting gift is disgraceful.
Dell are fully entitled under law to do so, of course. But this, coupled with alleged threats to sack workers who speak out, has severely tarnished how this company will be remembered in these parts.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore

What good is The Chalkboard if it can't give you all a squiz into how the bog standard regional newspaper is put together?

Not much good at all. No no.

Usual practice is to keep stum when asked how we do what we do. The first rule of Fight Club, etc.

The mystique of it all is part of the allure. People think this is glamorous; that perks and freebies have to be beaten away with feather trilbys dotted with press cards. They teach you all that in journalism school.

The heartbreaking truth lies somewhere in the middle. You do have to do a bit of swatting, but this is only to knock away the missiles that 'The Hogespot' feels compelled to hurl at you from three feet away.

Wednesdays, in particular, are fun.

The hours before the county edition goes to print are interesting.

"I'm going to murder you" Gets said a lot.

But not today. The Chalkboard plans to duck out at ten, claiming to be 'chasing leads' or some other romantic nonsense.

I'll actually be back with Francie and the lads in Southill. It's the only place where I can feel whole.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Left leg, right leg, the body will follow

The place is abuzz with rumour that Mary Coughlan will be visiting Limerick this week for discussions with Dell staff and management about how no one will have a job there anymore.
I assume someone is planning to throw a chair at her.
No politician has been able to cover themself in glory in all this, which is natural enough, given the holy state of ruin it's going to make of the place.
But few have been as inept as the Tanaiste.
I'm sure she's a nice person and all. I appreciate that she's been handed a prickly brief at a precarious time. I know that outside of the big portfolios, being in cabinet is generally a thankless job. And people are smart enough to recognise genuine feeling and endeavour on the part of our public representatives.
But the Tanaiste is losing political capital at a rate of knots through her actions in all this.
Did you see her performance on Primetime?
This woman isn't just tasked with spearheading inward investment and job creation in this country. She is our deputy leader.
For a person in that position to show such pithy disregard for the plight of hundreds of workers facing into such a chasm of uncertainty is appalling.

Arrest watch: Day 1

- In which the Chalkboard hides behind a baker's van to evade gardai on Catherine Street

The noose is tightening on the Southill shebeen, it would seem.

As the Chalkboard has been reminded on a near daily basis by his "friends" and colleagues in the local media, (and as the above, incriminating picture only slightly highlights) I too am in danger of arrest for availing of the facilities at Lilac Court.

I am resigned to my fate. But if the po-lice want me, they'll have to catch me.

As such, the Chalkboard is going to ground, taking on the persona of a one-man flying column.

But as the Board cannot so much as fold a t-shirt without burning something, he will be relying on the people of Limerick to take him in, shelter him from Armed Gardai and cook him spicy broth when the mood suits.
Those interested in harbouring this wretch of the night should e-mail:

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Pot, meet kettle. Kettle, pot

I am a vessel of apathy. Have I ever told you that? The official reason is that I'm a paid scribe, and in the interest of journalistic integrity I must treat both sides of any argument with equal credence.

The real reason is I'm too lazy to keep track of things. I pass off my lack of opinions as some kind of high-minded neutrality. So far, it's worked. But don't tell anyone.

That lot up there don't have the luxury of apathy. Members of the Palestinian community living in Limerick held a demonstration outside Penneys on Saturday in protest at the shenanigans in Gaza. Few can doubt the cocktail of grief and anger they must feel as they watch their homes and families blasted into the Mediterranean.

Once upon a time, in a more barbaric yet wonderfully simply age, crises in the Middle East would be resolved by a murderous, apocalyptic battle that would wipe out anyone with any cause for grievance. Lepanto in 1571 springs to mind.

Today, we don't have that luxury either.

I've never carried strong feelings on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Studying a Politics degree in UL, I was naturally surrounded by unkempt men of the earth who wore friendship beads, cursed Israel and had tattoos of Robert Fisk on their faces. Forgive me for not wanting to share the sentiments of such people.

Hypothetically, Israel has a right to defend itself. That has been the core principle of Statehood since the Treaty of Westphalia. No one can deny that Hamas, the self-proclaimed protectors of Gaza, have been behaving like spoilt children since the end of the six month ceasefire, throwing stones (in this case rockets) at Israel and running away, doing whatever it can to provoke its ire.

They have got their wish.

But nothing - no level of grievance, no measure of hurt pride, no matter how far behind Tzipi Livni may be in the polls - can excuse the barbaric and random assault on the people of Gaza we are currently witnessing.

With the Troubles in the North, an end was achieved only after the harder edges of Sinn Fein and the DUP (and by proxy their militant arms) had been dulled and people sought peace. If a two-state solution is to be achieved, Hamas cannot be allowed to retain power.

But the removal of Hamas is the prerogative of the Palestinian people, not the IDF. Israel will most likely cripple the group's leadership and infrastructure by its actions in Gaza. They feel that act is necessary for the protection of their sovereignty in the short term, and perhaps they're right.

But by doing so through military force, they have given the extremism that Hamas feed off of a raison d'etre for another generation.

We're going to see this cycle again and again over the next 20 years, as we have over the last 50.

Now you see why it's hard to keep caring.