volume 115 issue 2 hilary term 2008
A Few Words… 5
Interviews with familiar faces around campus
The truth about inequalities in our college
Just to whet your appetite
Martin Amis and Islam
A twist to the baby name game
A man and his bike
Israel’s current situation and why
The media’s part in the apathy of society
22 Culture Musings on the Luas
Human rights violations in china, with the Olympic Games Looming
Why worry about apathy?
The fanatstical travels of an Irish boy in France
The psychology behind our apathetic nature
Issues with our prison system
The Old Days 34
contents Editorial Team Editor - Sinéad Fortune Layout and Design Amy Fleming, Sinéad Fortune, and Barry Murphy Advertising Natasha Finnerty and Kara Furr Contributors - Jean Acheson, Fionnuala Barrett, Sarah Cantwell, Ciaran Cleary, Dearbhla Crosse, James Dempsey, Alexandra Finnigan, Katie Grant, Andrew Hayden, Shirley Lake, Stephen Lydon, Sarah Maguire, Graham Neary, Rory O’Connor, Joseph Stephen Plowman, Leah Sullivan, Michael Wynne Illustrations - Iwona Pomianowska and Orla Shortall Cover photograph- Rob Donohoe This publication is partially funded by a grant from the Trinity Publications Committee. The opinions expressed in this magazine do not necessarily reflect those of the editor. All serious complaints, questions, or comments should be addressed to
By Sam Kavanagh
Miscellany 2nd Floor, House 6 Trinity College, Dublin 2 (01) 896 2335
Hilary Term, 00 These days it seems society is always berating students for how apathetic they are: students do nothing but eat, drink, and sleep, keeping their heads down and their minds on only themselves. Of course, we all know this is not the truth- we’re wont to catch an occasional ﬁlm or concert between bouts of eating and drinking, and the interim between drinking and sleeping is ﬁlled with engaging activities like procrastinating and bemoaning our plot. With such a schedule, it’s no wonder students ﬁnd it difﬁcult to concern themselves with what is going on outside their own little microcosm. Of course I jest, though the above description may not be far from the way some people perceive us. However, I don’t disagree with the statement that students are apathetic. We are, myself included, generally nonplussed by that which does not directly affect us. That said, I challenge the society that makes such a claim about us to turn the mirror back on itself, and ﬁnd itself guiltless of the same crime. I assert that it cannot; we as students, and we as a greater-encompassing society, are apathetic. While we do ideally care about the marginalised members of society and the sufferings of the world, we do very little about it. The greatest thought the average person gives to charity aid is contemplating how best to avoid a Concern spokesperson on Grafton Street. Why is this? Are we all just cruel, selﬁsh scrooges? Are we evolving into shrewd, self-serving leeches? I don’t think so; we would be more suitably compared to lemmings than leeches. Though we may abhor to admit it, our most basic instincts are still driven by a pack mentality, and the greatest cause for apathy in society is comfort. We’re lulled into submission by a harmonious blend of readily available amenities and the underlying impulse to consume and assimilate. For every one advert you may see for Trocaire, Concern, or Amnesty, you will see dozens more urging you that what you really need is a shiny pair of shoes, a ticket to an exotic locale, and the most technologically advanced ﬁve-function back scratcher that your hardearned money can buy. Money earned, incidentally, in a job where nine to ﬁve you’re encouraged to conform and adhere. The consumerist culture we live in today goes a long way to explaining the apathy rampant in our society, but it does not excuse it. The very fact that we recognise this weakness means we can ﬁght to change it. Although it may be our instinct to conform to the pack and settle down quietly when we’ve reached a certain comfort level, this does not mean it’s inevitable that we must do so. We must constantly push our boundaries, and the boundaries created in the society around us, so that we may be able to keep those issues of such grave importance in the forefront of our consciousness. Perhaps this issue of Miscellany can be a start. Here your peers share their views on the causes and consequences of apathy, as well as the usual titular miscellaneous subject matter. If you’ve been suitably roused out of the soporiﬁc drone of consumerist society, take a look at a few of the links provided on page and learn more about the issues that interest you. Or don’t, the choice is yours. Sinéad Fortune Editor Miscellany Magazine
Photo By Patrick Jefferson
Interview by Jean Acheson
Women’s Interest T
he journalistic hinterland of “women’s interest” magazines holds a special fascination for me. Because I am both an impecunious student and also my father’s daughter, having learnt at his knee the valuable lesson that there is precious little in this life worth breaking a fiver for, I spend more time than most browsing without buying at newsagents’ magazine rails. Too much time spent in one place will inexorably lead one down paths of thought which are best left undisturbed: the magazine is no exception. It begins with the siren call of their covers, with their bright colours and profusion of exclamation marks – and the sheer number of those covers: who reads them all? But that is merely preamble to the extraordinary version of reality to be found therein. Going on the evidence of these curious artefacts, women’s interests consist almost exclusively in shopping in its myriad forms (for clothes predominantly, with shoes, bags and make-up thrown in for variety), baiting celebrities, worshipping celebrities and shopping for things celebrities have bought. There may also be a smattering of harrowing real-life stories and aspirational how-to-please-the-man-in-your-life guides, but these pieces, containing whole sentences, will necessarily take a back seat to the endless pictures of stuff you can buy. These magazines serve a purpose, so we’re told. Sometimes an undemanding glossy is all that the hard-working and high-flying executive wants to relax with, rather than the Booker shortlist. You don’t turn to a glossy magazine for in-depth current affairs discussion; there are other outlets for that, so leave the glossies alone to talk lipsticks and nail polish. I can’t say I’m sold on this. Were such magazines created because of a demand for them, or, as I sneakily suspect, was an audience grudgingly created because they’re pretty much all that’s available? It is not merely their content, or lack of it, that worries me. The pages are littered with breathless and emphatic language, describing “must-have” items and “to-die-for” accessories. This language is insidious, inculcating in their readers a desire to spend and to consume, telling them that one more thing will bring them that bit closer to happiness. Even the Observer newspaper, who should really know better, dipped its toe into these murky waters two years ago. Observer Woman is a supplement issued once a month with the rest of the
By Fionnuala Barrett Sunday Observer. It is unsure of which side to butter its bread. It’s packed to the rafters with clothes and make-up features, yet interspersed with features bewailing the rise of plastic surgery, £5000 handbags and celebrity culture. They only add insult to injury by not having a parallel Observer Man magazine but then, silly me, they have the Sport and Music magazines for them. There are some magazines which cater to women as people with interests beyond the high street. Venus Zine focuses on women in film, music, art and literature and for the more strident reader, there’s the straightforward Bitch magazine, the magazine which describes itself as the “feminist response to pop culture”. Neither of these, though quite hit the mark: Venus is too businesslike, Bitch too humourless. Neither pitch themselves as a real alternative to the traditional women’s magazine, which mixes a little fashion, some star interviews, a bit of culture and a couple of lengthy, thought-provoking pieces together. Even my personal favourite, Bust (an American magazine “for women with something to get off their chests”) is close but no cigar. Bust’s past cover stars include such unusual choices as PJ Harvey, Peaches and Björk; their fashion pages feature plus-size models in ingenious and affordable styles; and they feature weighty articles on women’s rights under the current US administration amongst other issues. But Bust is lazy in other ways – whenever they have a page to fill, they ring up Beth Ditto, tiresome poster girl for the alternative world, and they are overly fond of patting themselves on the back for being “the best women’s magazine on the planet”. So what’s the solution? Are we to take out subscriptions to The Economist and Heat and then, with scissors and Pritt Stick, concoct our own magazine which caters for all our needs? Or is the perfect magazine as likely a prospect as the perfect woman? Just because perfection isn’t possible doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continually reach for it. Women’s magazines do reach for perfection, but of the debilitating kind – perfection of image and of the superficial. I want to see how they fare when they have a go at reaching the intellectual heights. Then that might get women’s interest.
Literary landscape, Trinity-style By Michael Wynne
hether they appeal to you or not - whether they inspire idealism-tinged curiosity or eye-rolling indifference - one thing for which college societies can’t seriously be faulted (certainly not in the multifarious world of Trinity College, at least) is the potential they have for appealing to practically every conceivable kind of taste. So, whether your own personal penchant is for knotty metaphysical abstractions or for gleefully expending yourself on the trampoline, then sign up to the relevant club and immediate gratification is yours. Among this increasingly diverse plethora of on-campus groups and clubs, one which has been especially active when it comes to broadening itself this past academic year is the Trinity Literary Society. Run by Tom Morrison-Bell and Ruhal Bery, who together have been responsible for enticing such luminaries of the written word to partake in highly unpredictable, energetic, and memorable discussions as former Trinity student John Boyne (Boy in the Striped Pyjamas), Mark O’Rowe (Intermission) and, most recently, Booker Prize-winning DBC (“Dirty But Clean”) Pierre (Vernon God Little), who talked before a packed Swift Theatre on the integrity– and identity-corroding apathy which goes hand in hand with the commerce-influenced conformism that is endemic in “privileged,” well-heeled societies like ours. Bringing such writers here so that they can share something of their take on the state of the wider world’s progress, or lack thereof, is an endeavour the society’s helmsmen are keen to prioritise. In addition, they are eager to increase awareness of the importance of creative literature, not least among those who do not study English lit formally. This platform for notable writers forms a key part of the society’s intentions: to generate the most conducive social and mental space for students who wish to express themselves similarly. However grandiose this seems, there can never be too much emphasis placed on the significance of nurturing creative expression. This is especially true in an age where, to echo something of the sentiments of Doris Lessing’s recent Nobel Prize speech, excessive technologisation and consumerism constantly threaten to ruthlessly mute, or neuter altogether, the dangerous living power of the imagination. What the Literary Society provides must be applauded, especially in the light of its facilitators’ commitment to open up the club to every possible angle of the literary landscape, from dis
cussions with young writers who have managed to capture the respectful ear of the public, to twice-a-term open sessions at Chaplins pub. There people meet to read critical passages from the fruits of their own labours or from others’ works which they have been enriched by – an event Morrison-Bell assures me always ends on a note he describes as “fairly merry”. This year, a successful innovation of Morrison-Bell’s comes in the form of a competition where submissions in both poetry and prose were invited from the student body. The society’s forthcoming annual showcase publication, The Attic, will be partly based on this contest, prominently placing the prize-winning entries alongside representative selections of other students’ work. Meanwhile, the society’s Book Club, another twice-a-term event that was also formed recently, brings together students to discuss in detail the merits of a single work. This new enterprise, which had encouraging beginnings, Morrison-Bell expects will gain popularity with next year’s incarnation of the society. What the eye of the creative individual captures ordinarily results in him or her being singled out as something of an eccentric in the eyes of others. It’s heartening to think that this kind of eccentricity - which can effectively shake the complacency and challenge the inertia at the heart of society’s accepted ways - is the raison d’etre of the Trinity Literary Society. Those interested in any aspect of Trinity Literary Society can contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Choice, Choice, and More Choice By Sarah Cantwell Is it just me or does any one else find it stressful to decide what to listen on their MP3 player? Possibly this is due to a slight tendency in my personality towards worry and disquiet, but the daily deliberation over what to listen to has certainly been a fertile breeding ground for some anxious moments of mine. I’ve talked to people who try to stay in control by listening to the songs in alphabetical order. By the time you get to Z, you can just start all over again. But surely, here the first stirrings of anxiety might arise for some of you? An acquaintance of mine admitted that he cannot listen to an album for more than one or two songs, because his mind is always running over the possible alternative albums that he could be listening to and deciding that he should listen to one of these instead. But some lucky souls don’t seem to suffer any agony of deliberation at all. They seem to be able to simply flit and float freely from one album to the next. They just listen to whatever they’re in the mood for listening to. I’m sure that this is the most obviously desirable (and least neurotic) way of making a choice, because it would seem that, following it, you’ll always end up listening to the most current of your heart’s desires. I wish I could do this, but I can’t. The insurmountable obstacle that prevents me from doing so is actually quite scary to acknowledge: I don’t know what I want to listen to. I don’t know what my heart desires. Why should I be so scared by the fact that I don’t really know what I’d prefer to listen to? The answer’s quite simple really: if you don’t know what you want, then you can’t really do anything, can you? You’re stuck and going nowhere - literally. I am just ready to go for a walk, I pick up my MP3 player, but I could spend the whole length of time I’d planned to walk for deliberating over what to listen to – my life at a standstill and me snared in an agonising rut of indecisiveness. So how do I manage to listen to music (if that’s what we’re still talking about here) at all? I have found a species of a solution, but folks, it’s not pretty – at least, not to a certain liberalist mindset that accords a high value to freedom and individual choice… What do I do? I relinquish my chance to choose and switch
the little machine to random. I may not, for the majority of time, be listening to my heart’s desire (whatever this obscurity might be), but at least I’m listening to something. I escape the hellish inertia of indecisiveness by passively abandoning myself to the reels of chance. Am I just being lazy in coming to this solution regarding the agony of indecision? I’m sure I could quite accurately be categorized in this way. But I hope, in this article, to have given you some inkling of a possible motivation for this way of being. And simply put, this motivation is a certain fierce desire of mine to preserve my sanity. I suppose it’s up to each of you good people to make up your own minds whether or not this particular motivation should be regarded as a cop-out. There’s an experiment that I vaguely remember someone describing to me. If you’re faced with twenty different types of yoghurt, you’ll have to do one of two things: either you’ll straightforwardly choose one at random or you’ll arbitrarily (and so, also, in a sense, randomly) narrow the alternatives, so that you have a less monstrous selection from which to make your choice. The liberal democrat might like to reflect upon the many different ways in which the individual person can steer the direction his or her own life. But at the risk of generalizing from my own experience here (that’s a Typical Mind Fallacy for the Bermanites among you), I assert that the reality is that some of us are simply not able to retain peace of mind while coping with that much choice. The liberalist might consider it a perverse and unhinged desire to wish that I lived back in ‘the old days’, where I had a Walkman and quite a limited amount of tapes or where I had approximately two options for my life-path: get married or live the life of a spinster. But surely, when faced with only a very few options, I’d come to know the elusive desires of my heart?
Health Service Shambles By Dearbhla Crosse
I find myself asking why, as one of the wealthiest nations in the European Union, do we continually have an insufferable clamber for hospital beds? We are wading through a cesspit of chaos when it comes to the National Health Care system. On Wednesday, January 16th, up to 400 patients were stuck on trolleys in A and E corridors throughout hospitals in Dublin according to the Sunday Times. The kind of treatment you would expect in war-torn Iraq. The HSE has been severely criticised as a result of Cystic Fibrosis week at the end of January because of the lack of adequate treatment for patients dealing with Cystic Fibrosis. Ireland has one of the lowest CF life expectancies worldwide. From outrageous parking charges in Cork University Hospital to the lack of nursing staff in Dublin hospitals, we have to ask - what is Mary Hearney playing at? When it comes to the battle between private and public healthcare it seems the government is trying to wheedle whatever money they can out of the Irish public at little thought of the cost of life. The Irish government has failed to learn, according to labour party spokeswoman, that they cannot get away with bumping up private patients in public hospitals. So severe is the situation in Ireland that people have died waiting to be diagnosed. Susie Long, a long suffering cancer patient, spoke to the Joe Duffy radio show about the agonising seven months she had to wait in order to be even called for tests to discover if she had bowel cancer. This last plea was all because she had no health insurance and as a result of this negligence she died. In one of her letters to Joe Duffy she described the deplorable state of
Dublin hospitals: ‘My time in the Mater was dreadful. I was terrified I’d pick up MRSA because it was filthy. I was put on a ward with cardiac patients, mostly men, who because of their ill health were unable to aim too well when they went to the toilet. Once when I used the toilet my pyjama bottoms soaked up urine up to my ankles.’ One nurse at Mayo General Hospital described the conditions as being similar to a shantytown with up to 17 people being left on trolleys in A and E overnight on January 7th according to the INO. It has now become a regular occurrence in most Dublin city hospitals that one can hardly weave one’s way through the immovable mass of trolleys in the corridors. This begs the question as to why private patients are being given priority over patients who simply cannot afford the rising cost of healthcare. Why is our government allowing people to die in hospital corridors? An investigation undertaken by the Sunday Tribune highlighted the fact that the GP to patient ratio is gravely inadequate in comparison to other EU countries. Strictly speaking, if the government is not willing give sufficient pay to hospital staff they are going to seek work elsewhere. The seemingly apathetic stance the government has taken on Irish Healthcare cannot go on. The government cannot continue to spend money on aesthetically pleasing objects such as the millennium spike (although the visual gratification one gets from that is debatable at best) at the expense of the critical situation of Irish healthcare.
Amis’ Age of Horrorism Rory O’Connor raises the issue racism in relation to Martin Amis’ attitude towards the Middle East.
ontrary to what cynics say, the worst thing you say in private to your friends isn’t necessarily the thing you truly believe. Martin Amis did us the favour of reminding us of this when the great poet Philip Larkin was called a fascist, or at least old-fashioned, after the posthumous publication of his often vehement letters. But now Amis stands in need of a similar defence, having said some dodgy things about Muslims and “people who look like they’re from the Middle East”. In a newspaper interview a couple of days after the failed bomb plot on transatlantic planes in August of last year (remember that?) Amis said: “There’s a definite urge - don’t you have it? - to say ‘The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order’. What kind of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation - further down the road. Curtailing of freedom. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan.” I remember exhaling deeply and thinking, “My...” when I read the interview. But oddly enough, little fuss was made until Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton pointed out that this was “stomach-churning”. And if it were truly what he believed, it would be the casual, conversational announcement of a staggering moral collapse. As it happens, Amis has rather grudgingly withdrawn from what he said. But he has offered all sorts of weak excuses on the way. He said it was a “mood experiment, or thought experiment”, and his friend Christopher Hitchens has called it Swiftian. But if this is Swiftian, it only suggests that Amis would in fact eat a baby if he was very hungry, or in the mood. And maybe we’d be better off calling it a “fantasy,” clearly one Amis was gaining pleasure from, at least temporarily. In an article from last year entitled “The Age of Horrorism”, Amis discusses a flight he took from Uruguay to New York. At Security, his six-year-old daughter’s bag was searched with the guard “staring shrewdly at each story-tape and crayon, palpating the length of all four limbs of her fluffy duck” for half an hour. I sympathise. But his considered response, in print, is the same as his interview response: “stick to people who look like
they’re from the Middle East.” He prints in quotation marks what he wanted to say then. He should be asked what exactly he believes. So far, it has been very hard to get a straight answer out of him. He is right to be annoyed and bored by the search of his daughter’s teddy, but an indiscriminate policy against olive-skinned people would cause equal annoyance and alienation. Furthermore, it is galling to think these remarks were made after the killing of the innocent Jean Charles de Menezes by police officers in London who believed he was a terrorist for this very reason. Amis has always been right to insist on the necessity of free speech in the confrontation with extremist Islam, and the right to ridicule the literalism of the Islamists is central to the confrontation. In part by the sharpness of our jests will they be defeated. In short, Muslims should be treated as responsible adults in the public sphere, and Amis should treat them similarly on public transport. However, the spontaneous grousing of an Old Age Liberal like Amis is not needed in this context. It will only meet with spontaneous professions of deep cultural “respect” for the most farout Islamism. Leftist cultural “respect” and Amis-style cultural fear (Amis writes darkly of being “outnumbered”) lead to each other like Clearasil and acne. When we need to offend - and we will - it should be done calmly and thoughtfully, and with a confidence in freedom that Amis cannot muster at the moment. In that spirit, let me suggest an amendment to the famous Danish cartoons. In the one in which Muhammad says to the suicide bombers, “Stop, we’ve run out of virgins,” it would be funnier to have all the virgins turn out to unattractive. Only Muhammad Atta could be disappointed at that.
Ich Heisse Adolf Leah Sullivan discusses the mores that lie behind names, and how names are really interpreted by society.
uch an introduction is likely to get an odd reaction. Why? It is, after all, just a name. It’s got that festive association in that it sounds a bit like “Rudolph”, and it even has a nice meaning, being the modern form of the Germanic name Adalwolf, meaning “noble wolf”. A far better meaning than my own name, in any case (“wild boar”). Come to think of it, Adolf may actually be a great name, especially if you yourself had the misfortune to be saddled with the cumbersome “Reachbha” or “Caoimhin”. No one is ever going to spell “Adolf” wrong, or choke over it in a roll call, and certainly no one is going to forget you. It’s far better than being inflicted with something vaguely slutty like Candice or Tiffany or some pretentious concoction which mimics the name-giving habits of rock stars. In fact, Adolf is what every parent looks for in a name: something unusual, memorable, and easy to spell. Unfortunately somewhere, someone decided that to name a child Adolf was culturally and ethnically offensive like such blunders as holding weight watchers meetings at Bergen Belsen, or sporting temporary KZ lager tattoos. So really, what’s in a name? Would not an Adolf by any other name still smell like Auschwitz? What effect does name association have, and are there some names which will never recover from the weight of their associations? According to an online baby name trend observer, “Names convey impressions of personality, and people are likely to attach their image of the name to the child bearing it.” Which means that you should only take the risk with “Adolf” if you are sure the child can overcome its Anti-Semitic twang. A study found children with the most popular names were also the most popular kids, and that children with odd names were not as well liked. However while Adolf may not convey the popularity of more common names such as John, Michael or Lisa, it is at least not burdened by being a “black-sounding” name. A University of Chicago study, “Are Emily and Brendan More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?” by Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil
Mullainathan, found that people with names like Pam or Amber were more likely to be called back for job interviews than applicants with similar Curriculum Vitaes with names like Lakisha and Shaniqua. Other names suffer prejudice for myriad of other reasons. In one study “Dolores” was assumed to be old and overweight, while “Dennis” was assumed to be bratty. Adolf’s fatal flaw may be that it conjures up an unpleasant image unrelated to the name itself. Another example cited was Pervis, in that it is a combination of the words pervert and penis. Yet Adolf is not the only name to have been crushed by the weight of fame and history. Which other names have suffered a similar fate? There was a sharp drop in the popularity of the name “Monica” in 1997, which coincided with the Monica Lewinsky Scandal. Similarly the name ‘Katrina’ suffered a drop following the hurricane that devastated New Orleans in 2005. Some names saw a huge increase in popularity following the fame of celebrities with the same name. “Britney” leaped from 405th to 200th position at the time of her rise to fame, but now experiences rapid drop off. “Aaliyah” rocketed from 211th to 96th in the year following her death in 2001. If he wins the election, it will be interesting to observe a change in the popularity of the name “Barack”. Senator Barack Hussein Obama has a name with almost no usage history in the United States. Interestingly, the names “Hussein” and “Obama” echo Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, two of the biggest enemies of the U.S. in recent years. Obama may then be regarded by one of the socially prominent people who “seem to have a high incidence of unusual names.” Indeed many successful business executives and politicians overcome the stigma of their rare names. So if you decide to name your kid Adolf, then you may indeed avoid the stigma of a “black-sounding” name, or a name associated with being lazy or stupid, but he may still have a mountain to climb. Just be thankful your partner isn’t insistent on “Pervis”.
Around the World with Heinz Stücke Katie Grant talks to the record holder for world travel by bicycle about his perpetual travels.
t the age of twenty, Heinz Stücke of Hovelhof, Germany, decided that he wanted to get away from his small-town life and see the world. Nothing particularly unusual there then. The current trend of global exploration is at an all-time high as we jet off to exotic locations left, right and centre in search of …something. If you aren’t planning on spending the Summer holidays “finding the real you” whilst being treated to a Thai massage on a beach in Koh Samui, trekking the Inca trail to open up your eyes to nature, or constructing a school in Kenya out of mud, blu-tac and the kindness of your heart, then popular opinion would suggest that there is frankly something wrong with you, you insipid bore! A two-week package trip to Crete just doesn’t cut the mustard; any proper adventure must last a minimum of one month, otherwise you’re just another pesky tourist having an artificial rather than the highly coveted “authentic” experience. Ideal destinations include any Third World countries, preferably one that is hot and sunny –what’s the point if you return home looking exactly the same as when you first made tracks? However, you do get double do-gooder points for sacrificing a tan for the benefit of the greater good. What sets Stücke apart from the rest of us who share a thirst for adventure, good photo opportunities (e.g. “Me with cute onelegged orphan in Delhi”), and a favourable exchange rate, is that he chooses to forego air-travel as much as possible, instead riding only by bicycle, except when he needs to cross the sea. Also, having first set off in August 1960, it is less of a summer holiday for Stücke and more of an extended sabbatical that he plans to continue indefinitely. His initial motivation was, and still is, simply to see the world. “Many people have the same idea but not everybody stays with it. They are not enterprising enough, not witty enough. I can live on little. Others are not independent enough not to accept money. I’m proud not to ask for money.” Stücke funds his travels by
producing pamphlets of his journeys and putting on slideshows. Given his unique lifestyle it is unsurprising that he has garnered a considerable amount interest over the years, and has attracted a cult following now, much like Forest Gump did when he just decided to run for no particular reason, not for charity or to make a political statement, just because he felt like it. When asked why he doesn’t cycle to increase awareness of certain causes or to raise money for charity, Stücke’s answer is simple and straightforward: “Society has plenty of money to care for disadvantaged people if it wishes.” I found this detached view rather cold at first, but his message that there is more than enough to go round, and that people are too complacent to bother resonates somehow –it is surely not his responsibility to redistribute the world’s resources, but a duty shared by the whole of society. Ireland might be notorious for poor roads but Stucke claims that cyclists have many more rights in a country such as this; cars might honk and try to push you off the road, but drivers at least have a grudging respect for cyclists, if only because by ignoring their rights, their car insurance will skyrocket. Whilst the developed world finally cops on and moves towards a greener lifestyle, Stucke notes that this certainly isn’t the case the world over, where cycling is a mark of poverty in many ways. “Third World countries are full of new traffic. Development occurs quickly, then the economy has to catch up. For a professor or a company director to ride a bike to work would be a downgrade in a Third World country. They all want to drive cars, they have no respect for bikes.” In his travels, he has survived some fairly dangerous and dramatic events, such as the time he was on the road in the desert tuning his radio when a truck ran him over. He assumed the driver must have been asleep because he carried on going. When this crops up in conversation I’m a bit shocked and my reaction is something along the lines of: “oh dear! How traumatic!” His
response is fairly casual: “When that happens you just have to pick up the pieces and go.” Oh. So you didn’t happen to catch his licence plate then? You weren’t tempted to call for a minicab? No.
want to run a marathon, why does it have to be in the London marathon or the Paris marathon with thirty thousand other people? Why not alone in a forest? It is a mass mentality. People are directed by the media and told what to do.”
His attitude towards the risks his lifestyle poses is nonchalant. “Accidents happen, riders get killed. The biggest lifesaver for me has been installing a very big rear-view mirror. I can always see what’s coming up behind me. That, and I also have a kind of sixth sense.” Useful that sixth sense, I’ll bet. Despite the dangers he has encountered, it is not only cars and other vehicles on the road that concern him. Other factors include climate and running out of water, “especially in Africa. Always I am thinking, where will the next water be? I get down to one litre and then I start worrying.”
He claims never to get bored, that he always has something to do –writing, pictures, correspondence. “Boredom is when you don’t know what to do.” How about getting lonely? “Loneliness is connected to boredom. I am always busy. The writing I have to do is endless. I stick to myself. I am a one-man show.” Still, hasn’t he ever been tempted to invite a special someone into his life, and perhaps take up tandem biking instead? “I had a Russian girlfriend for eight years, she didn’t like my cycling. She is married to someone else now. It is a quandary when you find a woman. People want everything: freedom and security. There is no other way. I have about thirty or forty pretty close friends. It is nice to have a woman but it’s not life-threatening not to have a woman. For a relationship, unfortunately, you need another person. I am a one-man enterprise. Children would interfere with my life on the road. There are more than enough humans on the planet already.”
Stücke is also troubled by the changes he has observed in societies across the world over the duration of his travels. A small but significant change he says is that these days pedestrian areas are a rarity. There are roads and traffic everywhere. “I prefer the Third World places. They are exotic and you can have an adventure, getting by on your wits.” So what are the main ways that his travels differ from the likes of yours and mine, where we also often step outside of our own comfort zones? With Western tourists “it is all about money and everything is prepared for you. People want to consume other countries rather than travel for the sake of it. Everything is manicured and beautiful. There are fences and gates on cliffs. Nature must be experienced the way it is, not fenced. There are tour-buses everywhere and people are herded like sheep. When I went to the Everest camp alone I had to take everything myself. Now it is made very easy for you, all you have to do is walk. There are so many tourists, nature is being destroyed. Things are being ruined and worn away by excessive tourism. When I went to the Great Wall of China all the tourists set up camp at a certain spot, as if they went any further they would not make it back to their tour-bus in time. They were walking where thousands of tourists had walked before them. I set up camp a mile away and was alone. In 1978 I visited the Giant’s Causeway and was left to my own devices. It is all based on tourism now. I have noticed deterioration over the years, but that is just the way it is.” I ask Stücke if he especially dislikes the company of other people, and his response is ambivalent. “I am social. I speak my mind. I hate big groups, I am good with a few people. If you
Since he spends such a great deal of time alone, I wonder if he likes to celebrate any special occasions, such as his birthday (11th January). “I don’t celebrate it. I sometimes don’t even notice it. I don’t really celebrate Christmas either unless I am staying with people. I don’t like having to buy gifts, there is so much expectation, I prefer to be alone in the desert then.” When I ask him about going home he tells me, “Everywhere I sleep two nights in a row, that is home.” With regard to his hometown of Hovelhof he says, “When I’d been gone for seven or eight years it occurred to me to go home [to visit]. After twenty years I decided I wanted to see every country in the world. I always had more ambitions, there were always more territories. I had to do something; I didn’t want to go home. This became my reason for being. To go back means getting a regular job. I can’t go back, my journey supports me”. It occurs to me that he has been cycling round the world for so long that maybe he simply can’t stop now, that it is too terrifying a prospect, and I ask if the idea of ceasing his journey scares him. “Everything I can’t do I find scary”, he replies. So what exactly would it take for him to stop? “Eventually the point will come when I’ll pitch my tent in a cemetery and just go to sleep! I’ve done it before –nobody bothers you there.”
Human Rights and the Chinese Olympic Games Alexandra Finnigan highlights the human rights issues surrounding China as it prepares to host the 2008 Olympic Games. been hugely disconcerting for the speakers to talk about their passionate struggles to such a small group. At one point, we were told how hard the committee found it to judge the success of their campaign. However, they said, “The important thing is to keep the issue alive – to spread the message and create an interest.”
alking down Grafton Street on a typical busy week-day one will often see an assortment of protestors, buskers, collectors and performers. Nine times out of ten I walk on and simply ignore what they have to say. However, this time, faced with the prospect of at least a 10-minute Luas journey and no daily Metro to read I picked up a leaflet entitled, ‘Global Human Rights Torch Relay and Olympic Games Beijing 2008’. Having glanced through it I noticed a forum being held that very evening and having not managed to persuade any of my disinterested flat mates to go with me, I endeavoured to set out alone and see what I made of it. In regards to China, I knew next to nothing about the politics or the human rights situation there. This forum proved to be a reality check in more ways than I can describe. There was a pitifully small turnout. I had expected photographers, reporters and journalists reminiscent of the press conference Julia Roberts gives at the end of Notting Hill. It must have
The different speakers form part of an organization called ‘The Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong’ (CIPFG). Its aim, as stated in the Press Statement and Information pack, is, “To raise international awareness of the despicable human rights situation in China and to boycott the Olympic Games 2008 if human rights abusers and the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners including the criminal harvesting of their organs do not stop.” According to statistics today, Falun Gong – a cultivation discipline whose goal is to become enlightened to the truth of human life – is the number one human rights violation in China. When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded Beijing the 2008 Olympic Games in 2001, it did so with the expectation that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would put right its horrendous human rights record. However, statements issued by Amnesty International and the Hong Kong Liaison Office of the International Trade Union Movement suggest otherwise: “To date, China has failed to live up to its Olympic promise. Basic workers’ rights continue to be violated and labour activists continue to be imprisoned.” This is totally at odds with the promises made by men such as Liu Jingmin (Vice President of the Beijing Olympic Games Bid Committee) who stated, “By allowing Beijing to host the Games you will help the development of human rights.” After a brief introduction to Chinese economics, an Irish psychiatrist closely involved in the campaign made some comments. He spoke of how psychiatry in particular is being used as a form of social control in China – the drugging and mentally destabilizing of Communist opposition into submission. Falun Gong practitioners for instance are branded mentally ill, tortured and
doped into compliance. A condemning report entitled “Bloody Harvest” by David Matas and David Kilgour was mentioned, which investigates the link between the rise in organ transplants and the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners (who apparently account for ninety percent of transplants). The Chinese Government has characteristically remained totally silent about the allegations made in this damning report. The next speaker was Ming Zhao, Falun Gong practitioner and survivor of the Chinese Labour Camps. He recounted how the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre - where pro-democracy students were slaughtered for their beliefs - changed his life. Due to ongoing persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, Zhao decided to make a complaint to his government in the safest way open to him - via the ‘Appeals Office’. He went on to describe the irony of how this office was in fact a centralized trap by which dissenters could be watched and arrested. Zhao was detained by plain-clothes policemen and over the course of two years spent his time in a number of labour camps, centres and prisons. His worst experiences were in the Tuanhe Transition Center for labour camp detainees where he was tortured in numerous ways. He was force-fed through a tube forcibly injected up his nose, tied to a bed and shocked by five people at one time, made to sit in excruciating positions for as long as a week and beaten by inmates. He talked of how these were common practice in Chinese prisons – the tools of the Communist regime. His reasoning behind the particular torture of Falun Gong members is that the Government is terrified that if there is another protest similar to Tiananmen Square, there will be no option but to commit another massacre and consequently, the Chinese government will be exposed to world criticism. So, torture is the answer – torture the prisoners to give up their beliefs and prevent them from forming any real opposition. With the conclusion of Zhao’s experiences, the forum went on to offer some enlightening facts about press freedom and censorship in China. The Internet in China is a vastly growing market and the opportunity for internet-related business is rapidly expanding. The country now has more than 160 million Internet users and at least 1.3 million websites. Eighty-two percent use the Internet as a source of daily news. The website www.rsf.org
ranks countries in terms of press freedom. Ireland is currently ninth on the list; China, however, is 163rd out of 169 countries, one place ahead of Burma. It seems unbelievable that a country preparing to host the Olympic Games has little or no press freedom. The Universal Declaration for Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Despite this, China’s Internet laws state that sites may not publish or broadcast material inciting illegal assemblies, associations or marches. With YouTube now inaccessible and Google blog searches partially blocked, Reporters Without Borders on rsf.org states, “The blocking of these sites comes at a perfect time for the government. Blogs and video-sharing sites such as YouTube offer ways for Internet users to share situations they may have encountered during the congress. Preventing Chinese citizens from having access to them forces them to rely on the national media for their information.” They go on to say in a separate report, “This system of censorship is unparalleled anywhere in the world and is an insult to the spirit of online freedom…With less than a year to go before the Beijing Olympics, there is an urgent need for the government to stop blocking thousands of websites, censoring online news and imprisoning Internet activists.” The government owns firewalls and jamming systems and so controls exactly what people see and consequently think. There is no access to BBC or CNN, both of which are blacklisted websites. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Skype have all signed the Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for the Chinese Internet Industry and in doing so are theoretically supporting and fuelling the internet censorship in China and the violation of basic human rights. This Orwellian nightmare of censorship, propaganda and coverups is a far cry from the China I had so naively imagined. The Communist party made fundamental promises to improve its human rights record in order to win the 2008 Olympics. However, since then, no progress has been made and the repression of journalists, cyber-dissidents and Falun Gong practitioners has not changed. A demand for a significant improvement in the human rights situation before the opening ceremony is vital. On their website, Reporters Without Borders call on all groups of people: the National Olympic Committees, the IOC, athletes, sports lovers and human rights activists to publicly express their concern about the countless violations of every fundamental freedom in China and do what they can individually to change the appalling situation in this highly influential power structure. This is an impassioned plea of which all should take notice.
In Defence of Indifference Graham Neary discusses the reasons why apathy might not be such a bad thing after all.
hen it comes to apathy, in particular political apathy, I passionately believe that we could do with a heavier
The truth of the matter is that, despite their inevitably poor reputation, those people without an opinion are not responsible for the crises dominating society. They neither actively condone nor willingly partake in the follies of government, though they number among the victims of them. Furthermore, their unique characteristics of indifference and calm translate into actions displaying impeccable tolerance and a high degree of sanity. The difference is that apathetic people don’t care one whit about politics, or even the political system, at any level. It doesn’t occupy their thoughts in the slightest. They might recognise Bertie Ahern, but it would never occur to them to find out if this accounts clerk from Drumcondra was ever really educated at the London School of Economics. Watch the news- why bother? It’s more fun to play the Wii for an hour. Take part in an election- what’s the point? One vote is obviously never going to make a difference; and besides, the weather’s nice enough for a trip to the beach. For the apathetic, when it comes to politics and government, less is always more. Naturally, the apathetic person is not too popular in our textbooks. We are taught from an early age that there is virtue in “taking part”, that indifference is iniquity. The Junior Certificate CSPE course is designed to develop in pupils “a personal commitment to active, constructive, participative citizenship”. Indeed, the State goes so far in advertising democracy as to warn its captive audience that “non-participation... can lead to alienation, apathy and lack of responsibility on the part of the individual.” It is to be expected that the political classes would castigate those people who prefer not to spend time thinking about politics. Every apathetic non-voter is perceived as a problem by the powers-that-be, perhaps because every abstention challenges the very legitimacy which they believe is conferred upon them through the electoral process. Ultimately, the non-voter threatens the relevance of politics, and with it the importance of politicians and every other category of political meddler. That is what is at stake here, and if you’ve ever met a politician, you’ll know that burning their egos is approximately as safe as putting a fire under methyl nitrate. The bitter irony is that the non-political classes will never respond to any accusation made against them, meaning that they can be blamed for any of society’s ills without rebuttal, no matter how implausible the argument. They are by far the softest of soft targets. I can guess what some of you are thinking: “Fine, but what
about fixing the health service? What about our schools? What about war, disease, and so many other afflictions ravaging the modern world? How will you eradicate them if you are at home playing Mario Strikers Charged Football?” Trust me, I understand this point of view. I probably held it myself once upon a time. But here’s the rub: apathetic people did not cause those problems. In fact, apathetic people don’t cause very many problems at all. If anything, they are the victims of the zealous. Their consciences are guilt-free. Let’s take an example close to home. Who is to blame for the appalling condition of the health service? Could it be the politicians, bureaucrats and trade unions actually in charge who have conspired to create this situation? Apparently not. We would prefer to blame the lethargic Joe Schmo who, after suffering a terrible accident, waits for six hours in A&E with a severed leg before realising that self-treatment is his best option. According to the official storyline, Mr. Schmo is the real aggressor here, for failing to vote at the last election. Poor Joe has no right to complain when his infection goes bad. To take another example, who decided it was a good idea to punish people for possessing certain controlled substances? Only a non-apathetic intellectual could come up with the idea that a remotely appropriate response to somebody using drugs could be for the State to criminalise and incarcerate him or her. At the heart of the apathetic philosophy is the question, “Who cares? It’s got nothing to do with me!” Therefore, while the apathetic might not be found leading the march for drug legalisation, you can bet your last euro that they weren’t the ones who first designed this egregious, socially destructive interference. Where apathy really shines, however, is away from the field of domestic policy, in the arena of war. Allow me to put it this way: it can be a hard sell convincing the politically disinterested that it might be worth their while picking up a gun and agreeing to kill or be killed by foreigners, perhaps on the far side of the world. While I’m sure people sign up for a variety of reasons, apathy is not one of them. There is a reason that foxholes are not known as bastions of calm or detachment, and you won’t find the apathetic committing needless violence from either side of any battlefield, unless of course they were drafted (in which case they are more likely to wind up like Jona Lewie’s character in Stop the Cavalry, sitting uselessly in the snow and wishing they were at home with the missus). Apathetic people are more suited to safe, boring, activities such as advancing their careers and taking care of their families. And it might be an unpopular viewpoint, but perhaps these peaceful, wholesome pastimes of the unconcerned are the ones which genuinely contribute to the long-term ascent of civilisation.
The Social Psychology of Apathy Joseph Stephen Plowman investigates the underlying mentality behind the apathetic disposition of our society.
or thirty minutes they could hear her scream and cry for help, but did nothing. Twice she escaped during the ordeal, pleading for help, and twice she was pursued by her attacker, who saw that no one was coming to her aid. She was stabbed eight times and sexually molested. She did not survive the attack. In the respectable neighbourhood of Kew Gardens, in the borough of Queens, New York City, the murder of Kitty Genovese in March 1964 sparked a national outrage at the apparent apathy of the residents of Kew Gardens and, by implication, of the wider society itself. This event, so shocking in its details, led to a flurry of research into the social psychology of helping and prosocial behaviour. Are people more apathetic, then and now? Is there a moral decline in our concern for one another? Are we all guilty of a growing apathy that pervades our existence, saturated by self-interest? Are we all guilty of ignoring the beggar lying unconscious on the street, just outside the gates to the Bank of Ireland? A fitting symbol to the mantra “Time is Money” and people just “Human Resources”; our worth is based on what we can contribute. Those who can’t function and contribute become the invisibles – a collection of Unpeople. They go unacknowledged as we walk by, clothed 9-to-5 in a suit of apathy. But is it truly apathy? If we judge caring by our behaviour, our helping, then perhaps we may answer yes. Perhaps the newspaper headlines of doom and gloom are correct. Despite world-wide protests against the Invasion of Iraq, perhaps the majority still do not care? Certainly, the protests were not enough to stop the War, and certainly even those who were against it did not all march. However, this does not answer whether we are truly more apathetic; a state of psychological disinterest and lack of concern. One can help while not really caring, by simply “going through the motions”. So to answer whether we are more apathetic, we must go deeper than simply objective behaviour, and plunge into the subjective. In their attempt to explain that horrific night, social psychologists have made substantial progress in explaining “the bystander effect”, the phenomenon
whereby individuals fail to intervene, as evidenced in the Kitty Genovese murder. Although social norms of helping will influence specific contexts, unfortunately it does not seem very normative to help a beggar; much of the interesting research examined the cognitive processes that take place in emergency situations, such as in Kitty Genevese’s case. Why did no one help? One of the prime suspects is called “diffusion of responsibility”. Ironically, research has shown that you are more likely to be helped by a lone bystander than from any individual in a group. This disturbing finding is because each individual passes the responsibility on to someone else. In a confusing situation, such as an emergency, each individual will look to others to determine how to act. When every person observes that no one is responding, the result is that no one helps, or that they interpret the situation as not really an emergency in the first place; just like those who walk past the beggar lying unconscious. In Kitty’s case, everyone probably assumed that someone else would ring the police, that someone else would do something. The result of this cognitive process was that Kitty died. It was not apathy that killed her, though the papers cried otherwise. It was an insidious psychological process. Evidence for this comes from a variety of different studies, but only two need be mentioned here. In one study in 1970 by Latané and Darley, the two principal researchers who decided to investigate the tragic causes of Kitty’s death, students were invited under false pretences to an interview on the various problems they had during university life. The researchers had the students complete a questionnaire in one of three experimental conditions – alone, with two other participants they did not know, or with two confederates (individuals secretly working for the researcher). While the students filled out the questionnaire in their respective conditions, smoke began to pour into the room from a vent. The question was, what would the participants do? The confederates had been instructed to do nothing and to thus be, if you like, an “apathetic model” for the participants. Although this experiment would most likely not re-
ceive ethical permission today, the results were revealing nonetheless. Seventy-five percent of the participants who were alone took action, whereas only thirty eight percent of those in the “two-stranger” group responded. More worryingly, only ten percent in the confederate group intervened in what may have been a life-threatening scenario for them and others. In the face of apathy, apathy was the most likely response.
necks out; we allow others to make a stand. The result, of course, is that fewer voices are heard. Indeed, so pervasive is this effect that if you were to be attacked, and there are bystanders nearby, you are more likely to be helped if you fix your gaze on an individual, or if you address someone for help specifically, rather than a collective cry for help. Worrying, isn’t it, that in a large group we all become sheep?
This research clearly showed how we are influenced by people in our social context, and how we look to others to decide what to do in such situations. In the above experiment, if three genuine participants each look to one another to decide what to do, they each see one another doing nothing due to their indecision. Thus, they are likely to respond less than they would alone. In an ever-growing social world, where the pace of life gets more complex, this may explain much of social apathy. As social psychologists have noted, we are “cognitive misers”, and thus we look for the simplest route to a decision. Unfortunately for some scenarios, that is often other people. But what of Kitty’s case, where maybe individuals were alone in their apartments, listening to her screams? Here, research has also revealed the influence of the perceived crowd.
Although there are exceptions, such as the millions who did protest, the people who do recycle, and the saviours who did intervene in violent crimes – even just to call the police - the fact is that we are all susceptible to the bystander effect, whether we like it or not. It is not a moral issue, although such internalised principles will help to combat the social psychology of apathy. Just like in Stanley Milgram’s famous experiments on obedience to authority, where “everyday” people were coerced into delivering, as far as they knew, potentially lethal levels of electric shock, we are all capable of “evil” acts, comparable to the Nazis, if we never stop to question the situation. Apathy is the evil of doing nothing. As Edmund Burke commented, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing. So what can be done to combat apathy?
Latane and Darley, in 1968, devised an experiment whereby participants communicated with a confederate via microphone. The confederate was instructed to mimic an epileptic fit, having previously disclosed that they had epilepsy. The participants were led to believe that there were either two (themselves and the confederate), four, or six individuals in communication at any one time, but they themselves only communicated with the confederate. The findings showed that the more bystanders “believed” present, the less likely it was that the participant would respond. In Kitty’s case, the more you believe a whole neighbourhood can hear her screams, the more you will not feel compelled to intervene yourself - a frightening revelation.
The first and most important stage is awareness. By becoming aware of the social psychology of apathy, we can rise above the cognitive process that leads to inaction. We can decide to take responsibility, regardless of whether we are alone or in a group. We can refuse to assume that someone else will help the next Kitty Genovese. By assuming responsibility, we will not only free ourselves to act, but we will liberate others from the chains of inaction. Indeed, research has shown that if even one person acts to help, the others will follow. The spell of so-called apathy will be broken. Try it sometime, I have. The next time you see a beggar lying unconscious, stop. You will soon find that you are not alone, as others re-interpret the situation as a potential emergency and use your action as a model indicating how to behave. The truth is we do care; if we understand the situation correctly, without erroneous assumptions. But caring is not enough, we must act. In order to do this we must become aware of the obstacles to action: the psychological routes that allow evil to triumph.
If one generalises to the political and environmental context, how many of us have heard the remark, “What can I do, I’m just one person?” Whether it is war or recycling, when we believe that there is a group, a collection of people involved, we diffuse responsibility to others. We don’t want to stick our
WHERE THE DUCK IS HE?
The Miscellany Duck was most appauled by the lack of enthusiasm shown towards last issueâ€™s competition; perhaps students are apathetic sods after all. The locations to the last round were the Museum Building, the Dining Hall steps, and the Cricket scoreboard. The Duck expects a better response this time around, and as such he is upping the ante- a bottle of his finest scotch to the winner! All entries to email@example.com.
Student Disability Disservices
One of Trinity’s PhD students speaks out against the difficulties and discrimination experienced as a person with disabilities.
efore I became ill I was like a lot of you: I thought that there were provisions made for disabled students and that they were well looked after. I had no proof of this, but I was comfortable with the assumption. They probably get rooms on campus, and extra time for assignments or exams. They probably have sources of funding and access to whatever it is that these disabled students needed – though at the time whatever those needs were I had hardly a clue. But I certainly didn’t question it, nor had reason – I wasn’t disabled nor did I know anyone who was. In 2005 I fell seriously ill; after many tests, hospital stays, and a year and a half off-books back home in Canada, I was diagnosed with Progressive Multiple Sclerosis and Sjogren’s Syndrome. MS is a degenerative neurological disease that slowly disables its sufferers over the course of a lifetime by causing irreparable damage to the nervous system. In my case, Progressive MS, the disease pattern is continuous, with the occasional plateau, but no remission. As the disease takes its toll, it affects my vision, bladder control, and ability to walk, speak, swallow and breathe. It is not predictable and from onset, there is no way to know what will happen or when. Sjogren’s Syndrome is a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks moisture-secreting glands so that they can no longer perform their duty. It also causes fatigue, joint pain, and combined with MS, both reduce my body’s ability to fight diseases because my immune system is faulty. As I had mentioned, I returned to Canada to live with my family when I first became ill so I could adjust to my new life. After a year and a half, I was ready and very excited to return.
I lived on campus from October until they made me move, which was unfortunately around the same time I had the postgraduate upgrade viva which determines whether a student’s thesis can become a PhD dissertation or remain MPhil. I couldn’t juggle my illness, my thesis and moving, so moving took precedent. Once I was finally settled in, I found that I had to return my library carrel key and wait two months for them to reassign carrels. I felt like I just could not get stuck in and get to work – it was really hard to be as productive as a PhD student needs to be when the academic year is better geared towards undergraduates. By now I had purchased a mobility scooter to get me to and from the college, I had furnished a flat and weathered a few bad flare ups of my disease. Eventually I did get another carrel and was back at it, hacking away at my research once again. However, it was hard work moving back to Dublin, managing my disease and my thesis – I hadn’t had a holiday in nearly a year; therefore, I booked a much-needed three week break in Canada. I reckoned that although this would cut into my time, I would get a good chunk of a chapter finished before I left. Then my mobility scooter was stolen from outside my home. It felt like the gods were determined to keep the PhD out of reach! I was overwhelmed, tired, and frustrated and this new disaster was the last straw. I was sick of explaining my illness, my situation, the fact that I was still capable of writing a doctoral thesis but not capable of doing my shopping. The reaction to my exhaustion was always a strange blankness. More often than not I was shut down by my friends and family when I tried to explain
culture why things were harder than they should be. The reaction was always the apathetic: ‘What do you want me to say/do?’ It was never an offer of help; it was the exact opposite. But for some reason I thought that the college would approach my problem differently because of the laws that were meant to ensure equality for all students, sick or not. However, a new policy was introduced. Now, departments which have students who remain on the PhD register beyond the allocated three years would be penalized significantly by the college’s exorbitant fines. The result: increasing pressure to finish a doctorate without delay, regardless of circumstance. Mobility scooters aren’t covered by the medical card so I had bought mine with my own money. I couldn’t afford another – it cost €1400. I was horrified. Without the scooter, I didn’t have the energy to work on my thesis, my health would deteriorate and I would be further away from my goal. I instantly set about trying to find funding for another, and as luck would have it, the student assistance fund’s deadline had just past. I got permission to apply late, and was hopeful that they would grant me the money to replace my scooter so I could get back to work. I thought it made sense: help me replace my scooter, then I get back to work and everyone’s happy. I was turned down. The department in turn simply turned up the heat: I was being pressured to go off-books so that the department could thwart being fined since anytime spent off-books did not count towards the three year limit. I tried to explain that I was doing all I could to rectify the situation, but that going off-books wasn’t ideal as I feared that my student loans would go into repayment, my student visa would be invalidated and I would be pummeled with
a slew of new problems I didn’t have before. My goal was to maintain some semblance of stability in what had become a very volatile situation. Ultimately, I contacted the Student Disability Services to see if they would talk to my head of department on my behalf, as I suggested that this was a case of blatant discrimination on the basis that no disabled student should be forced to work within the same time constraints as a healthy student. It was simply unfair, and this new policy of fining departments only made disabled students less attractive. The response was, “It seems perhaps to be discrimination…”, to which I retorted angrily, “Seems?! Perhaps?!” How could this not be obvious to everyone, especially the powers that be, whoever they are? If the student disability services officer couldn’t see that this was seriously wrong, how on earth were the regular college staff supposed to think of this? Ultimately, I am not sure what’s happened since. I’m scared to go to the department to discuss the situation and they seem equally afraid of approaching me. I’m not being urged to go offbooks anymore and I finally got another scooter through special HSE funds after 3 months of fighting for one, but I feel very alone. And writing this article only made me realize one thing: only you, the reader, are able to finish this article. You may feel some sense of outrage at the obvious injustice I’ve highlighted, but you will have forgotten all about it by the time you sit down to your panini and double latte at lunch. You will go about your day because this does not affect you. And, I suppose, that is what apathy ultimately is.
Can’t Strike Me Down James Dempsey, our writer in exile, regails us with more tales of his adventures in France.
bout forty days into my seven month tenure as an English language Teaching Assistant in Alsace and I’d had enough of village life. By the luck of the Irish and random selection, I’d been chosen to spend my days in the Lycée Jean Jacques Henner, a senior cycle French secondary school, located in the deepest part of Alsace, known as the Sundgau. At the beginning, all was well. My accommodation sorted itself out: as the school has a set of six houses on its grounds and I’d been given permission to share one with my German counterpart, Isabell. Génial. Getting a bank account was a breeze. Bravo. Even the interaction with the students, which I was dreading, turned out to be a lot of fun (my advice to anyone planning on being an Assistant: laugh at yourself, master the photocopier, learn their names, and above all, curse. Frequently. They love that.). Formidable. Yes, it was all going well… But forty days later I was bored. Now, before you judge me as some messed-up, drug-fuelled party animal who spends every night in Coppers chatting up nurses before a post-scoring deep meaningful conversation with another nurse in Casualty as I get my face stitched up after falling down the stairs in a drunken stupor, let me please point out that’s not me. I like to go out, I enjoy the latest hit record in the discotheque as much as the next crazy cat. In place of the average 21 year old, who generally needs coking up for a good night out, I often need merely coaxing. So
I also have a relatively high threshold for boredom. Despite my elfin features, I think I could survive prison, as I fill time easily. But nothing could prepare me for the boredom of Altkirch. The tourist office website was very informative: cinema, two museums, swimming pool, sports hall, shopping facilities...The cinema burned down during the summer, the museums are two rooms filled with mannequins dressed in traditional costumes, the swimming pool is outdoor and thus empty for the entire duration of my stay, the sports hall is only for the use of students from the school, and the shopping facilities are one supermarket and a pound shop, a 25 minute walk from me. Needless to say, I have a loyalty card and eagerly await my matching set of tea towels. So when my friend Alex, studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, invited me to visit him and his girlfriend Deirdre, I jumped at the opportunity. I found the website of the SNCF, the French national railway. I booked my ticket with a joie de vivre I’d forgotten existed. It was to be my first time in Paris since I was 14, and my first time on the TGV, the fastest train in the world. I scrolled down the website and was delighted to learn that a first class ticket would cost exactly as much as for commoners, so with hedonistic humour, I clicked and entered the card details. I was really excited, not just to get away from Altkirch, but also
culture from Isabell. Ours is a love/hate relationship, she loves me, she occasionally makes me hate her. When not suggesting that we clean some more, or that it’s disrespectful that I allow the students to call me James, or that I speak with funny vowel sounds, she’s skyping away to her heart’s content, and my heart’s contempt. The facts are these: Isabell has a boyfriend named Philipp, they have been together 3 years. They skype every single night, and the wall we share is rather thin. This means that nightly I get lulled to sleep by either the baby talk googly woogily love declarations, or the full-on shouting matches that end in tears, and make me a prisoner in my bedroom as I don’t dare set foot on the landing. Paris couldn’t come sooner. All the teachers told me I’d have a brilliant time, and my Friday afternoon departure was fast approaching. On Thursday, I walked down to the train station, no more than a house with tracks in the garden, to head to a nearby city of Mulhouse to stock up on some gifts for the weekend. As I entered the station, I saw the man at the counter eye me with unionised umbrage. “What do you want?” “A ticket to Mulhouse, please.” “There are no trains today.” “Sorry, no trains? Why not?” “Strike. No trains today, no trains tomorrow.” Eh, quoi? I’d just spent €100, a seventh of my monthly wages, on a luxuriously plush first class ticket to Paris, and now there’s a strike?! I asked the ticket salesman was he sure the train wasn’t running. He took the details, spent 20 minutes tip tapping away at his computer, then looked up and said: “Bof.” This seemingly meant that there was a possibility that the TGV would be leaving Mulhouse for Paris, but that there would be definitely no train from Altkirch to Mulhouse. He pointed me to a bus timetable, then closed his window. My TGV was leaving at 3.30 pm, and the bus timetable looked worrying. The departure times were extremely erratic, the first at 9.13, the next one leaving at 12.36. As I had no idea how long the bus journey would take, I weighed up my options. I have class from 11 to 12 on Friday, so if I had everything ready, there would be just enough time to make that bus. That evening while I packed my bag, I wondered how exactly I had missed out that there had been a national transportation strike in effect since Monday. The country was at a standstill because President Nicholas Sarkozy wants to increase the age of retirement for Railway workers and civil servants. As half of France’s workforce is based in the civil service, the country is ready to storm the Bastille. Normally, I’d be there at the picket,
supporting the teachers, dossing and skiving. I’m all for democracy, but not on the weekend I’m going to Paris. The next morning was planned with military precision. Alarm, breakfast, hair, teeth, keys, photocopy, classes. At 12.00 I left the school; at 12.05 I left my house. Unfortunately, at 12.45 I was not on the bus, as it has failed to turn up. Nor could I plead with the man in the train station as everything, including the banks, supermarket and post office, closes in Altkirch between 12 and 2 pm. So what was I to do? I couldn’t go back to the school, all the teachers were working. The next bus? 17.26. No trains, no buses, no taxis, no bikes. €100 down la toilette. But no, enough was enough. There comes a time in an Irish boy’s life when he has to stand up and be counted. I was getting to Mulhouse, anyway possible, and if that meant hitching a ride for the first time ever in my life, then so be it. I walked out of the station, around the bend and stuck out my thumb. I have to thank my parents, really, for giving me a very cushy middle class background that has eliminated any need to hitchhike throughout my life. The closest I’d gotten was making my way across the galaxy with Arthur Dent, and even then it never appealed to me. But it was either risk possible murder, or a long weekend of sympathy and Germanic googling from Isabell. I chose to look death in the eye. And my top tip for hitchhiking is, aside from mace, have a destination sign. Within ten minutes two cars had stopped, but weren’t going my way. 20 minutes later and I found myself in the front a Citroën, making small talk with a very zealous Swiss woman. I explained who I was, what I was doing, why I needed the lift, and where I was from. Then it turned a little weird. She turned to me and said out of the blue, “I really enjoy the novels of two Dutch writers, who focus mainly on the Holocaust.” “Oh… really? That’s interesting…” She really knew her stuff about the Holocaust in Holland and these books. For 25 minutes she detailed the plots and styles of her two favourite female Dutch writers, and seemed very surprised I had neither heard of them, nor read their tomes. It was only in the last minutes of out journey together that we realised what had happened. When I said I was Irish, Irlandais, she’d thought I’d said Dutch, Hollandais. So with a gracious thank you, my first ever hitchhike ended with an awkward silence. I made it to the train station, and I finally caught a break and found my TGV was leaving. There would be no first class carriages, but at least I would get to the city of lights. And I had a superbe stay, seeing that France is actually more than a village of 5000 people. I realised that I have free time and days off and disposable income and the opportunity to see France and its culture. That my time is not a sentence, but what I make it. And even if the trains strike and I have to wait for hours on platforms, at least I have the name of two Dutch Holocaust books that got great reviews.
Israel: Still Struggling
Ciaran Cleary outlines the problems that led to Israel’s troubling situation today.
srael is not a large country. With an area of roughly 21,000km2, it’s not much bigger than Leinster. Nevertheless, it has long punched above its weight in more ways than one. Israeli scientists and other academics in places like the Chaim Weizmann Institute and the Hebrew University have given the country a worldwide reputation for excellence. Twenty-four percent of the population holds a university degree. Once barren and under-productive from neglect, the land of Israel has become an agricultural powerhouse due to the pioneers of the kibbutzim. Its archaeologists have made many important finds in places like at the fortress at Masada, which dates back over two millennia. The IDF is arguably the best-trained and skilled military force in the world. This last point is particularly revealing, considering its size. Ireland is a neutral country and always has been; Israel does not have that luxury. After years of Jewish immigration and Arab unrest, David Ben Gurion finally read out Israel’s declaration of independence in the Tel Aviv Museum on the 14th of May, 1948. The next day, the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq began rolling towards the new state, while the British mandatory caretakers withdrew to let the combatants tear each other apart. This war set the stage for the choppy waters of the years to come. After a bitter fight, the new state drove out the attackers, along with a substantial proportion of the Palestinian Arabs. The latter largely went to the Gaza strip, the West Bank, Jordan and Lebanon. Meanwhile, Jewish immigrants from all over the Diaspora, from the plains of Iraq to the Displaced Person (DP) camps of Germany voted with their feet and travelled to Israel. They too were placed in camps set up by the government called ma’abarot. In its early days, Israel struggled to find its feet. In the Sinai campaign of 1956, it had to do most of the work while France and Britain had their own agenda in simply re-opening the Suez Canal, which had been closed by Egypt. The Six-Day War of 1967 was undoubtedly a spectacular victory where Israel fought Egypt, Syria and Jordan against overwhelming odds. On the other hand, now it was in charge of thousands of unhappy Arabs in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and to a lesser extent the Golan Heights. On the 6th of October 1973, on Yom Kippur, the usual suspects of Egypt and Syria rolled their armies into the only Jewish state in the world. This time, the United States lent a hand to Israel, which only then was able to repel the invaders. This marked the start of a
unique relationship which extends to the present day. Today, the American taxpayer sends over about $3billion every year in contributions to its best friend in the Middle East. The Jewish lobby in the United States, led by AIPAC the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is extremely efficient and well-run, exerting a very large influence in Washington. If there is any criticism of Israel’s policies by American politicians, they will soon find themselves in trouble. This was particularly apparent when the author of a report on the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel War on behalf of Human Rights Watch was labelled an anti-Semite. Apparently, the verbal assailants were oblivious to the irony that the man, called Kenneth Roth, is an American Jew himself. Some of Israel’s actions regarding the 1982 Peace for Galilee Operation, the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel War and indeed other events need to be openly discussed in both North America and elsewhere. Equally, its opponents should not get off scot-free either. Both Hezbollah and Hamas are starting to flex their muscles using support from Syria and Iran, and it’s not a pretty sight. Hamas is a particularly nasty organization and this was typified by the horrific Passover massacre of 27th March, 2002. Thirty civilians were killed in Netanya at a dinner provided for elderly Jews who had few or no close relatives. Holocaust survivors were among the dead. Nevertheless, it’s important to focus on not just the effects but the causes. Building a massive wall around the West Bank, lobbing shells into the Gaza strip and arbitrarily bulldozing down houses is not going to make the Palestinian people happier. Trade must be reopened with Gaza, where ordinary people are being crushed economically and are suffering as a result. Education is also a key issue. You don’t need a degree to be a suicide bomber. Israel has had a tough time in its short existence and has amply demonstrated it is no pushover. However, it has to view its neighbours not as military targets but as human beings.
The Miseducation Stephen Lydon raises the quesof the role of the media in the of the Media tion apathy of the public: are we really completely to blame?
here is no such thing as apathy. Everybody cares about something, whether it’s about the big issues like environmental catastrophe and political corruption, or the rather less global ones, like making a tidy bit of cash for oneself. It’s understandable that people don’t care for things they don’t know about. It becomes less understandable if they know about it but choose to ignore those issues that don’t affect them directly. Before we rush to castigate the youths of today as an apathetic bunch of self-servers, we have to determine how immediately available information about political matters really is, and to what extent people are guilty of ignoring this information. We live in an age where information is more freely available and catalogued in more diverse forms than ever before. Of this, television, internet, and print media are the biggest distributors. With the advent of the Internet and sites like Wikipedia and Youtube it is possible for absolutely anyone to contribute to the vast pool of human experience. The problem is, as most of us know, that much of it is utterly useless. We learn to filter the vast amount of what we take in due to sheer quantity – advertising, blogs, news, gossip, reviews, and histories. We learn to distinguish between information and knowledge. How we make this distinction is debatable. Knowledge is information we can retain and use, in other words information that is important to us. But how are we to discern, among the vast stockpiles of digital and printed text, what is important to us, or what will be in the future? With traditional media we are told what is important and how, but in a very unsatisfactory form. In addition, traditional media determines the importance of issues of the day ultimately by the barometer of what will sell or make compelling reading. They have no other agenda. Similarly in the case of the Internet, the sheer volume of information and degree of choice we are presented with prevents us from any real intellectual engagement with the topic. Burma? How unfortunate. Wonder what’s on The Onion. Because issues are presented to us in such an abstract and summarised manner, they become distant. We have no rational or emotional engagement with the content when we are simply told a series of events. Frequently, a source of media will print
several average length pieces on new events relating to a major story, accompanied by a short summary piece of the events surrounding it. Having followed a story every day one would eventually get to know what was going on, but in an ultimately superficial way. Pieces like this engage interest, but they do not provoke action. They isolate the event outside of the world of the reader. The event is not part of a world he recognises. Apathy today stems not purely from self-centeredness and laziness, but also from an inability to engage fully with the world around us. Many Irish people do not possess the political grammar to assess the significance of events we hear of every day concerning corruption, healthcare and schooling. Within our society lies no tradition of politics, only a tradition of nationalism. Our historical relationship with England has led us to mistake ourselves into thinking we are the working class of England, and our recent prosperity has postponed any engagement with the realities of a politically undereducated people. If the size of our political parties is anything to go by, it would not be unfair to say that Irish society is divided predominantly in two major political groups: Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. It is highly worrying that these two parties do not differ on the vast majority of social and economic issues. Because they do not differ, their core assumptions are taken for granted and their actual policies never come to light. The majority of people vote for these parties, then, on a vague sense of historical identity which has not had any relevance for current issues since the founding of the republic. When the two biggest opposing parties in a country are right wing socially and economically, they present factions, not social groups. When an electorate stares corruption in the face and dismisses it on account of “likeability,” we do not demand enough from our politicians. We do not know what to demand. When there is little or no political education in our schools, and when 64% of people do not know their stance on a European treaty they are being asked to vote on we must acknowledge that we have a problem. Let’s get Madeleine McCann out of the media spotlight please, and face up to one of our own ugly truths: we need an education.
Rogues of the Red Line Andrew Hayden muses on social interaction, or the lack thereof, during his trip on the Luas.
hird-level education is ingrained into the psyche of secondary school students’ minds as being a rich, rewarding educational experience. However, the potential educational prospects of travelling to these third-level institutions is sorely underestimated. Like many I commute to college every day using public transport, namely the Luas line which runs from Connolly Station to Tallaght. Whilst university education is still generally regarded as a middle-class pursuit, my daily commute offers me a true cross-section of all facets of Irish society – from middleaged couples with shawls and scarves draped over their cashmere discussing the latest productions that The Gate and The Abbey have to offer, to drunken youths who stumble on, hands down the front of their tracksuit trousers, shouting about their latest scuffles. In between, there are early morning sing-a-longs, legal representatives holding folders emblazoned with “Re: Divorce Proceeding” on the front, and people spreading the good news that Jesus Christ is our saviour and redeemer. What I’ve noticed is the increasing apathy and guardedness that has been ingrained in me and urban society at large. I’m wary and uneasy when I see three or more people about to get on if they’re fairly young and in tracksuits – I pull out my earphones and wonder if they’ll potentially cause trouble. Fortunately - or unfortunately depending on how you look at it - my intuition is more often right than wrong. Apathy is endemic. People get up and make a cup of tea and sandwich whilst appeals for Concern and Trocaire showing disease and starvation are on television. A car bomb exploding in Iraq killing 30 people is now given as much attention in the media as the exploits of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. The prevalence of apathy especially struck me during a trip on
a Luas a fortnight ago. The Luas seemed fairly busy as it approached the stop. However, there was seemingly plenty of standing room in the very last compartment. As the door opened I wasn’t even remotely startled as I entered and stepped over a man lying in a foetal position on the floor babbling. He lay with a bottle of almost translucent coke in his hand, his tattered jacket wide open with a large bottle of cheap vodka tucked securely into his inside pocket. “Please Drink Responsibly” – two out of three isn’t bad. I doubt he really needed to be convinced with a ‘please’ either. He lay at the feet of another man in his mid-fifties and played with the end of his long black winter coat, as a child would with a hanging mobile. He watched the cloth intently and followed it as he meekly slapped at it with his hand. The gentleman tried to ignore him as he continued conversing into his mobile phone to his colleague about deadlines and reports. By this point I’d switched off the mp3 player which usually serves to cut me off from everyone else – not to help the man but to observe him and the other commuters. I tried to comprehend him when he slurred and babbled, but I couldn’t. Others were temporarily united – it was a cold day but this seemingly ‘comic’ turn of events warmed them to laugh and joke in their arbitrary and curious groupings of twos and threes – two young black men laughed as an elderly man with a walking stick glanced down to the floor and quipped about it to them. They reciprocated with a joke of their own and the elderly man chuckled. One man didn’t find it remotely funny. He thought aloud, only half to himself, swearing and commenting that it was a disgrace. Every time the helplessly drunk man babbled incoherently, he was admonished by him. The man dragged the drunken man up onto his feet despite the attempted resistance – his slurs con-
veyed anger and disdain. He was talked down aggressively. The joking had begun to stop. The doors opened at another stop. A man in his thirties, cigarette in hand, stepped on since the drunken man being forced up had allowed more space. He began to search for a cigarette lighter. People stared at their feet and looked out of the window as the smoke wafted throughout the carriage. A young man who looked like his companion reached over and took the cigarette out of his mouth. He looked over at him sulkily and asked for it back in a husky whisper. Ignored, he travelled through the crowded Luas and approached a woman who was sitting next to where I was standing. He whispered something and she promptly vacated her seat. He asked the person now sitting down beside him for the time. It was 2:30. He asked her for a cigarette. She said she didn’t have one. He turned to me and tapped me. He asked me the time. I coldly told him it was 2:30. He asked me for a cigarette. I told him I didn’t have one. I was annoyed at him for smoking. I was even more annoyed at myself for pathetically pretending that I didn’t see it. Inspectors got on and, pulling out disposable plastic gloves from their pocket, began to deal with the drunken man. Now seated, the other man searched his pocket, retrieved a longed-for cigarette, and lit up. I once again stood there silent,
hoping the inspectors would see him. They eventually did and forced him to put it out – he resisted and refused to get off at the next stop. The inspector is forced to relent, as the drunken man, still being needlessly goaded by the man who forced him to his feet, had gotten aggressive. Being forced off by the inspectors, he refused to let the doors shut as his two companions, who had passed out from drunkenness, were still on board. He tried to rouse them to no avail. A garda who had arrived on bicycle approached and pulled him away from the tram, prompting the drunken man to retaliate. As the Luas pulled away he was pressed up against a wall and handcuffed, his rights read to him. He probably couldn’t comprehend them anyway. A middle-aged woman in a full-length beige jacket complained aloud about being late for her train. The driver apologized for the delay and informed us it was due to a woman being assaulted on the tram. She continued to look at the train timetable, then at her watch. I stayed on the Luas until the terminus, consciously deciding to miss my stop to see what would become of the two men who had passed out. As I walked back towards the city centre and towards my planned destination – the college library– the Luas carriage passed me by with the two men still in their seats and still surrounded by indifferent commuters looking out of the window and staring at their shoes. I knocked on my mp3 player and continued to walk.
Inside Apathy: The Real Mountjoy Sarah Maguire brings us inside Mountjoy Prison to uncover the human rights issues taking place in Dublin’s own fair city.
ountjoy Prison (nicknamed “the Joy”) is a closed medium security facility. It’s the main committal prison in the state for males aged 18 years and over. Despite this fact the conditions of the prison remain abysmal. If asked about the condition of local prisons most people would be unaware and most likely wouldn’t care what the inside of a prison looked like as they would have no intention of having to be in a position to find out. Many may even say that the prisoners are there to be punished so it’s all part of the punishment to have to endure whatever conditions may face them. However, one group of students have the chance to see the real thing every year, as the criminology class from the law faculty takes an annual visit to Mountjoy. On arrival the students stand beside the entrance on the North Circular Road in what can only be described as nervous anticipation. We were first shown the Dochas centre which bears an uncanny resemblance to a regular university dormitory. The lucky ladies who reside there have single ensuite rooms, communal rooms and access to unlimited telephone calls depending on their behaviour. Our next stop was the inside of the male prison facility and we were told quite aptly, “You’ve seen heaven, now we’re gonna take you to hell!” (Queue more nervous laughter and awkward glances.) Mountjoy was built in 1850 and was designed with the belief that it would be a holding unit and never a committal prison. This means that on sentencing prisoners would be sent to Mountjoy where they would be kept for a short period before being transported to Australian colonies like Van Diemen’s Island. Mountjoy has a bed capacity of approximately 450 but has held numbers well exceeding this figure. The average cell is 12x9 feet and holds a small single bed and a few possessions. However, due to overcrowding, in most cells there are three men to a cell. This brings me on to the issue of in-cell sanitation, or the lack of it. The prison was originally built with this basic facility, but this was subsequently removed as the prisoners were using
too much water. The ‘facilities’ which replaced this are something unimaginable to most: each cell contains only a couple of plastic buckets to be shared among cellmates. Not only are the standards of in-cell sanitation deplorable, but on each floor there are two toilets and two sinks to be shared between approximately fifty five men within a ten-minute period. As you can imagine, the race is on during this time to empty in-cell buckets and try to freshen up at the same time. Needless to say the smell in this area was not the most pleasant, but even worse was the dripping of water from the taps, the over-flowing water from the toilets, and the burst pipes leaking down the walls. As far as showering is concerned, each prisoner receives a weekly shower as there are only 20 showers available for over 480 prisoners. The Inspector General of Prisons and Places of Detention in his 2004-05 report stated that prisoners in Mountjoy exist in degrading and inhumane conditions due to overcrowding. He also described the attitude of the Minister for Justice at the time as “frightening and fascist”. This year the class group is focusing on what appears to be another breach of procedure. The plans for a new prison at Thornton Hall are well under way. However, it seems that some of the inmates from the juvenile division at St. Patrick’s will be moved to Thornton Hall to allow for refurbishment and development of the St. Patrick’s facility. If this is the case, this means that under 18s will be mixed with adults, which is strictly against procedure. Another focus of this year’s campaign will be to follow up on information received from the previous year’s efforts. In a response received from the Minister for Justice’s office last year the students were assured that the new prison at Thornton Hall would have all single cells and rehabilitative facilities like football fields. The campaigners’ aim is to find more information about this to see if such plans are actually in existence and to ensure that problems like suicide and attacks resulting from overcrowding do not happen again.
Contacts If youâ€™re feeling less apathetic after all that, try some of these websites for more information.
issues on rights:
www.amnesty.org Human Rights Watch www.hrw.org Reporters Without Borders www.rsf.org
o f n i ky.
s m cho
w w w. s v p . i e Get involved in your area
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Responses Response to Jean Acheson In the last issue of Miscellany, Jean Acheson defended those Irish people who choose to promote the Irish language as a definitive part of their national identity. She argues against the view that such efforts are elitist. While the article was reasonable in tone and aim, I still took issue with some of the assertions made. Jean’s naïvely optimistic attempt to describe all enthusiasts of Irish as being motivated solely by a simple love of the language is admirable, but I could describe reams of anecdotal evidence that would suggest otherwise. For instance, as a teenager I spent some time in a Gaeltacht. My abiding memory of the main organiser of the language course is his unashamed, frequent insistence that a person couldn’t consider themselves to be really in Ireland unless they spoke Irish. If you spoke English, then you were really living in England, although according to any map, you’d be in ‘Ireland’ – this was his crude and fanatical mantra. I acknowledge that we cannot accurately generalize one way or the other. So I cannot justifiably conclude that all enthusiasts of the Irish language share the appalling elitist attitude I have just described. However it’s natural that finding a few bad apples in the barrel would tend to make us wary of the rest. Jean also admits that, in the past, the language has been clumsily ‘hijacked’ in the attempt to achieve political goals. And it seems to me that the uncompromising idealism of the fresh-faced Irish Free State government, and of all subsequent governments, might be another reason as to why Irish language enthusiasts are considered by some to be elitist. What could be more elitist than the assumption that the people of the country should be coerced into realizing some far-fetched romantic ideals concerning a mythical Éire? I acknowledge that it might be considered important that people have some knowledge of their cultural heritage, but the arrogant attempt to coerce them into obtaining fluency of a language goes too far in the cause of nationalistic fervour idealism. Jean made the totally reasonable assertion that people should be allowed to nurture whatever aspects of their national identity that they please – although I might add that they should all follow her non-elitist manner of doing this as well. But it must also be recognised that enthusiasts of the Irish language represent a small minority of the people who would consider themselves Irish. This is one aspect of Irish national identity that most Irish people can’t genuinely participate in a non-trivial or meaningful way. Consider the recent television beer advertisement in which an Irish man holds a crowd of foreigners enthralled with a nonsensical mix of random Irish words. It seems to me that this is quite an accurate portrayal of the relationship that most Irish people have with the language: It’s something of which we have a vague knowledge. And also, for some, the Irish language (however vague a knowledge they might have of it) serves as a handy, readymade means of creating a certain distinctiveness and mystique around themselves when in the company of other nationalities. But apart from this dubious use, I would argue that Irish has no other practical function for most Irish people. Thus the Irish government (and certain enthusiasts of the Irish language) should wake from their fanciful idealistic slumber and stop insisting that Irish is the language of the Irish people. This would be the case if it was freely and naturally spoken by most people as a meaningful part of their everyday lives. However it is patently obvious that this is not the case. The money being spent on the interpreters, whose purpose is to translate all of the proceedings of the European Union into Irish, is a farcical and unnecessary waste. Enthusiasts of the Irish language should be left in peace – just so as long as they are not attempting to manoeuvre Irish into a position among the accoutrements of the Irish nation that is far more prominent than the language justifiably deserves. Submitted by Sarah Cantwell
Something to say?
Prove it. Miscellany is now accepting contributions for the Trinity Term issue, as well as responses to the articles featured in this issue. If you agree, disagree, or think people should listen to you, isnâ€™t it time you did something about it? Go on, you witty devil.
Trinity term is in many respects the brightest and happiest in the whole year, and now it lies ahead of us with its possibilities and opportunities. And it is our duty to make this coming term a successful one by doing our best to bring happiness not only into our own lives but into those of our fellow men. And the factor essential for happiness is activity. It is an undoubted fact that life at a University is the happiest period of our career, for we are spared the troubles and worries of the larger life outside and have the immense advantages of freedom and companionship which are so easily lost when we pass out, but are we to presume on these advantages and bask in the sunshinne of a selfish idleness? If we do, it is to our own loss which will make itself felt in later life. Idleness is incompatible with true happiness. Take the case of the millionaire who has all the comforts that modern civilisation can afford, and who does no work for his living. His life is characterised by a condition of luxurious idleness which he cannot shake off, but is he happy, can he be happy when his mental and physical well-being is stunted and decayed from lack of use? An extreme example, you may say, but do we not all suffer from the same complaint to a lesser degree? And if we turn the mirror of self-examination upon ourselves, are we satisfied with the results? Can we say that we are active members if this University, each one a cog in the wheel of a mighty machine, the smallest vital to the whole, or are we merely passive factors who stand by and criticise the work of others? Latterly men have been too ready to shirk responsibility and to leave the management of affairs in the hands of others, and by so doing they are causing loss to themselves and to their University. College clubs and societies, however, have been admirably conducted by a small circle of capable men, one man frequently serving on the committees of several clubs, and for these men we have nothing but praise: they are the men who run Trinity and who keep the spirit of Triinity alive. And with respect to College clubs and societies, may we summarise the position of T.C.D. T.C.D. is the mouthpiece of Trinity: it reflects the thought and atmosphere within its walls and gives expression to the changing moods that prevail within its precincts, and T.C.D. has keenly felt the lethargy of recent years. College men and women have shown little enthusiasm or support for the magazine which is their own, and the contributions which we publish are the efforts of a small circle whose numbers are diminishing. Can it be said that there is no literary ability in Trinity? It would be a grave charge to make, and one which, we think, would not be entirely unfounded: it remains for the present generation to disprove it. Therefore to the younger members of this University, we would say: this is the beginning of a fresh term, the making or marring of which lies in your own hands, see that you make the best of it by taking an active part in College life, and the results will be worthy of your best endeavour.
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it ignorance or apathy? “ IsHey, I don’t know and I don’t care. ”