Category Archives: Social Media

Just. Plain. Wrong.

protestors syria

Image taken from theage.com.au

Oh, I’ve got plenty of things to say. Over the summer, I spent three weeks in America, where the citizenry still drink corn syrup for breakfast and eat bowls of bleached sugar dipped in lard for lunch. I spent two weeks in Ireland, where the good people of that island revel so much in death and misery that some humble Hibernians prefer to use rip.ie as their home page when they open up Internet Explorer (“Seamus! Seamus! Would you look at this now, Seamus! Guess who died! Go on, guess!”). It will soon be a fertile field from which to mine much pith and wit reflecting on life in general.

But first things first. War? With Syria? What are we, nuts?

Big deal. The American Londoner’s a peacenik. That wasn’t hard to call. Typical pansy liberal, right? After all, his (adopted) country voted to sit this one out while the real players (like France, because we’ve always loved the French) commit to doing all the dirty work on the front lines. Right?

But it’s not as simple as all that. Not by a long shot.

(And I’ve been meaning to say his for a while by the way, but what with being back at work, taking the boy to school yada yada… who has time in the end?)

I’d go so far as to say this is the most morally complicated case of threatened military intervention in my lifetime (Oh you don’t get me that easy).

I don’t pretend to be an expert. For balanced and more well-informed opinions, you’d have to go to Scott Erb’s excellent mainly political blog, World In Motion or The BBC or Huffpost or some gloriously legitimate and reputable news source. What follows is how I see the insanity in a subjectively truthful way from this side of the pond.

In what way is it complicated, Pete? (I hear you say) You then reach for a Teutonic comparison quicker than you can say Godwin’s Law. Assad is a barbaric dictator. It does not follow that all barbaric dictators are the same or indeed that it is the responsibility of more powerful countries to intervene on behalf of the wretched of the earth against their oppressive overlords. If recent history is any precedent or instructor, one would think it our responsibility to use those oppressive overlords to maintain the balance of power that served us best in a remote region.

Bottom line: is there a moral imperative? Well isn’t there? Aren’t we henceforth responsible for any atrocities that happen if we choose to do nothing? Aren’t the hottest places in hell then reserved for us?

20130919-232337.jpg

Still the world’s biggest copper? Image taken from azstarnet.com (Daily Fitz Cartoon)

Answers are good. Questions are even better. The Syrian Civil War has been going on for two years. Why haven’t we done anything before now? Chemical weapons, you say? Good point.

There we were, us not-in-my-namers, back in the naive noughties raging about Bush leading us on some bloated, ignominiously futile crusade to find WMD (eventually callously jokingin his trademark , pre-cro-magnon manner about it) and here we have a man who has actually used WMD on his own people. Put your money where your mouth is, lefties, and let’s send the troops in and smoke ’em out.

Oh. Hang on.

That last phrase certainly did sound familiar.

In fact, the last time I can remember feeling like that was when I heard our leaders say that they had “reliable” intelligence claiming that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction, which is a bit like saying you have high confidence that a dictator has slaughtered his own people.

Eerily familiar, huh?

And before you know it, you’re committed to another unwinnable quagmire of a conflict, being resented by the people you’re trying to help and doing more harm than good.

I don’t doubt that Assad probably did slaughter his own people, in their thousands. And Obama is refreshingly careful in his language compared to Bush’s bully boy tactics and cowboy diplomacy. One gets the sense that POTUS does not take these decisions lightly.

But if the chemical attack really is the smoking gun, why didn’t we remove Saddam when he slaughtered 5,000 in Halabja with chemical weapons? Why did he remain in power for another 15 years? Where were our guilt pangs and outrage when our military used white phosphorous in Fallujah in 2004, or indeed when the CIA helped Saddam to gas 20,000 Iranians during the Iran-Iraq War?

The fact is that our leaders have long lost the benefit of the doubt when it comes to leading us down us down the well trodden paths of military interventionism. I don’t blame Obama for the sabre-rattling and who knows but that it may have done some good as a deterrent in the end, but there’s always a better option to war and the infliction of further untold suffering on innocents.

The worst part of this whole issue though is not the limited and unpalatable choices we are left with though. The most horrific element of all is that we have lost the ability to talk about these matters in any way that means anything. Take the picture below that did the rounds on Facebook a couple weeks back:

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And this wasn’t the most brutal photo by far. Taken from politifake.org

First of all, the president does not genuinely actively support those who commit atrocities. Second of all, the extreme and brutal elements always rise to the fore in these sorts of situations. Thirdly, as this argument is based on glib, false conclusions, it can do nothing but hinder constructive debate and solutions and can only be credited by the truly paranoid.

Our world is complex. The only way to try to make it better is to try to understand those complexities instead of shooting horrific photos at one another. We need to do nuance more often.

That’s me for tonight. Next time, back to the trials and tribulations of an American Limey expat.

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Jim Carrey Sort of Missing The Target

Jim Carrey Gun Control

Jim Carrey incisively sticking it to the gun lobby (image via theblaze.com, still from ‘Cold Dead Hand’ on Funny Or Die)

I like Jim Carrey and I admire his brave stance on gun control; I laughed at him for the first time in years when I watched ‘Cold Dead Hand‘. Over. And over. And over again.

So I hate to say this, but I think he’s missing the point here.

I know. I know. The twitterstorm about his refusal to promote Kick-Ass 2, in which he appears, is old hat (Geez, Pete, like epic #timeliness #fail. That is so June 24th, 2013), but bear with me for just a few seconds because this is an attempt at drive-by pith here.

Carrey’s backed out of promoting the film because he ‘cannot support that level of violence,’ which is fine. Anyone can have a change of heart and he probably wanted to appear consistent given the vocal stance he’s taken on Sandy Hook. Typically, howls of hypocrite have come frothing unpleasantly from the mouths of cadres of conservative do gooders looking to sort ’em out on earth like our Puritan forefathers.

I do not know what Jim Carrey’s response will be to these fits of verbal flatulence coming from the wrong ends of the twitter accounts of loudest mouths on fox, but I can’t help but feel like by backing out of promoting the film, he missed a real opportunity to confront this vicious political environment on its own terms by stating the obvious: there is no direct causal relationship between violent media and violent behaviour.

I watched all the Freddy Kruger films and the Friday the 13th franchise. I even saw one of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films in the theatre, but I somehow grew up to be a productive non-violent member of society. So have millions of others. None of these films lead to massacres or murders because they encapsulate and articulate the fears of us all during the 1980s about what lay lurking behind the rapidly decreasing family structure and what happens to our children when we aren’t there to protect them, but by articulating those fears, as awful as those films were, they functioned to help us deal with them. And yet, there are so many gun deaths and so much violent behaviour. I admit, I find some videogames irresponsibly violent, but that does not mean I hold them responsible for gun violence.

But don’t take my word for it. See what Dr Gene Beresin says in Psychology Todaybacked up by studies done by the FBI, the Secret Service and various other medical researchers who conclude that there is ‘no causal relationship between violent games and violent behaviour.’ So no matter how much blame-shifting the NRA does, there is no getting away from the corrosively unhealthy gun culture alive and well in America today.

I still think Jim Carrey is a good guy. I wish he’d made that point.

Time to Stash the Tache: Four Things Movember Taught Me

Movember Day 19

In my last week as a Mustache Merchant

So as the last hours of my second Movember draw to a close and I sharpen my Wilkinsword Sword (a British brand of razors for those raised eyebrows in the house) and lather up, it seems an appropriate time to reflect back on some of the poignant lessons that participating in this phenomenon has taught me that I can take away and use to make myself and the society around me better.

Blackadder #Movember

Blackadder, the British television comedy icon that I was likened to around abouts day 20 (photo taken from blackadder.wikia.com) 

1. Fellas: It’s time to start talking about it. 

I started this month with a post that mentions a very young Irish man who died of a testicular cancer that might well have gone undiagnosed for far too long. But who can blame him? We live in a society in which we are seeing the great renaissance of the ancient Greek value of stoicism. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Especially if it hurts. Bear up and you’re even more of a man. These are the values that we as males are raised with, especially in North America and Western Europe, as was brought home to me in a conversation with a colleague the other day. Said colleague was talking about how her husband had had a scare some years ago, and how ‘men just don’t talk about it.’ How can we? We’re not supposed to. Women get together and if one or even more than one of them has had breast cancer, they talk about it, they swap stories, they share experiences. But what are we supposed to do, whip it out in conversation at the pub? I meant the conversation topic of men’s health, of symptoms experienced, anxiety keenly felt (what did you think I was talking about?) To do so would be seen as an admission of weakness. Or perhaps of our own mortality and by extension, our humanity and therefore a great act of courage. So, whether it’s your disco stick or your meat cleaver, your lincoln log or your trouser snake, we’ve got to start talking more, being uncomfortable less and forming common bonds of support around the issue of health.

David Niven #Movember

David Niven, who I was also likened to around day 18 or so (taken from vivandlarry.com)

2. On that point, get checked out. 

On that point of diagnosis, how tragically awful and wasteful must it be to die not because you have a fatal condition but because you have a condition that, had you had it diagnosed sooner, could have been prevented from becoming fatal? And yet again, colleagues and friends have, because of this issue in the last month, spoken to me about countless cases of men losing one testicle or suffering a much worse fate simply because they didn’t know or didn’t think they needed to get certain irregularities checked out or that those irregularities were worth regular self checking.

I know how nerve-wracking it is. It evokes that great unspoken apprehension that we of the Y Chromosome persuasion all secretly hold: The George Castanza Fear — “What if it moves?” Yes, what happens if my organ, whilst being given the once over by the kindly male doctor, even involuntary… shifts… even in the weakest pulsation of a movement? What could it possibly mean? I admit, it is a legitimate cause for concern that hung like a specter in my head for weeks before the last time I had myself checked out. As it happens, it did not move, but could as easily have done just from the sheer nervousness I felt and the one answer I have come up with for anyone — including myself — that feels the Castanza Fear is an obstacle is that suffering and dying from a preventable and treatable condition is far worse than movement down there under close examination.

Zhivago #Movember

Yuri Zhivago, who I was quite flattered to be compared to by my cousin (taken from interfence.com)

3. Men’s health organisations need money

I know it is true that most charities are crying out for donations all the time, but one of the most surprising facts that I found as I was reading up on Movember’s History was that when Movember fundraisers presented the Prostate Cancer Foundation Australia with a cheque for AUD $54,000 in 2004, it was the largest single amount they’d ever received. No big donors. No great benefactors. It took a bunch of Aussies growing facial hair to bring the under-funding of men’s health to the world. And the continuing phenomenon is proof of both changing attitudes to men’s health and the continuing need to talk up and raise funds for these very serious charities and health organizations, who are still desperately in need of cash.

Magnum #Movember

I was always repulsed by Magnum, PI’s mustache when I was a kid, but my mother would always respond with, “Ah but the ladies like it.” Still not seeing it. (taken from denofgeek.com)

4. Be bold and savvy when fundraising. Save the guilt for when the money’s counted

I raised £208 last year for Movember. I thought If I could do it again this year and raise £300, I’d be doing well, but then the wife said, be bold, why not go for £500? And she was right. It is better to aim for a bold number and miss then aim for a realistically modest number just to be sure and hit the target. At last count my grand total for Movember was £425, which is not too shabby considering it was just about £250 entering the last week of the month. I attribute the success and the slight shortcoming to three things: Pestering, Persisting and making it personal. I put a reminder on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ (just for good measure) nearly every day, and any of you keeping up with my Tache page know that I updated that pretty frequently too. There’s an apprehension with some people who don’t want to feel as though they’re being a nuisance. Again, being a nuisance is a small price to pay for preventing suffering, especially since you’re not out in the street trying to get bank details and email addresses and all you have to do is pass on a link. I also sent text and email reminders that were most effective, both on my personal email and my email at work and thanked my donors in a group email or on as much social media as possible. If a person donates, at the very least they have earned the right to have it acknowledged as publicly as possible. All of this hindsight-acquired vision comes with a caveat though: Facebook was useful, Twitter was not. By a long shot, which is odd because I often find Twitter more fun. I sent direct messages to every company that follows me, but the truth is, no one goes on Twitter to give to charity. It is a format that is uniquely suited to the superficial nature of the internet and in-depth appeals for charity seem to fall dead in the water. Better off next year sending personal emails, perhaps even followed up by phone-calls.

Finally, if you feel so inclined, Movember certainly will not turn your money away just because the month is over, please click on the link and donate to a worthy cause. You will be making a huge difference no matter what your contribution.

Pete Lawler’s Movember Page  

#Movemberandsons

My son “liking” my mustache on Facebook. He’s five. 

 

 

 

My 13 Minutes Of Fame – Lessons I learned from being on the radio

Journeyed far into the unknown west on Saturday. 
West London. W6. Hammersmith to be exact, to be interviewed by David Michaels from OnFm in the lovely Riverside Studios overlooking the Thames next to Hammersmith Bridge. 
Fascinating experience. My first radio interview. We chatted for a little less than a quarter of an hour about how I came to move from the states to Dublin and then to London, my blog and my writing and what I hope to do with it, and my views on The Olympics. I really enjoyed myself and I felt it went really well, but I also learned a lot, the key points of which can be summarised into the following kernels: 
  1. Assume nothing about your audience –  I went with certain expectations, but felt I talked as though everyone listening already knew me and what I was about. Make as much known about what you do as possible, starting from the beginning. If that’s the wrong place, a good interviewer will guide you to the right one. 
  2. Make a plan – It might seem like a casual chat with someone who works professionally for radio every day, but it’s orchestrated to appear that way. Have a plan as to how to present yourself, pick the two or three coolest things you want your audience to know about what you do, and angle every one of your responses to somehow tie in with that. 
  3. Keep talking – I cut myself short a few times thinking I was going on too long, but it seems in radio, there is seldom such a thing. If you’re going on too long, the presenter will tell you, but just keep talking about what you do and don’t be afraid of repeating yourself. Like in a classroom, the people listening will only remember about 2 minutes of what you say. Reword the same cool stuff about what you do every two minutes. Can’t go wrong. 
Also, having got the recording already from OnFm, just listening to myself was enormously instructive. I think everyone should listen to themselves more often – teachers, parents, Mitt Romney – but so many don’t take the time. 
Have a listen and feel free to offer your honest critique. 

Violent Trauma, The Aurora Shootings and The Way of Lunacy

There are a number of ways to deal with the experience of violent trauma.There’s therapy, which of course takes many forms: talking through the experience, associated memories, feelings and thoughts with a paid professional; art therapy, premised on giving vent and voice to your negative feelings and emotions through the creative impulse in a medium such as painting, sculpture or music; there’s hypnotism, drawing the suppressed negativity to the surface whilst in a mesmerised state; there’s repression, which we all do a bit of every day, i.e. we suppress the impulse to throttle our bosses because we submit to certain types of behaviour in order to live in civilized society; and we repress a certain amount of stress in order to function in every day life. Men are actively encouraged to repress their sentiments and affections for fear of appearing too soft, the long term effects of which are often cited as, among other things the reason why shaking baby syndrome occurs more often in boys and the reason Irish males between the ages of 18-25 account for one of the highest suicide rates in Europe.

And of course there’s fantasy, not in itself a terrible or deleterious element of a constructive course of psychotherapy, but when prescribed by an amateur or a petition of social media users as a way of helping 58 shaken victims by confronting them with an image directly associated with the violent trauma they have experienced, as the above appeal that I came across posted on facebook three days after the shooting, started by Emily Sanchez, requests of Welsh-born star of The Dark Knight Rises Christian Bale, then it starts to sound a little bit less healthy and a bit more deranged.

The request tacitly acknowledges that the film will be indelibly associated with the horrifying experience inflicted on theatregoers by James Holmes. Else what would be the efficacy in having Bale dress up as Batman except as some kind of reparation of the image in the victims’ minds for the upset that it may still be continuing to cause as a psychological symbol. But let’s stop for a second. If you are dealing with the mental trauma associated with gunshot wounds or even being witness to an attack like this, in which your memory is clouded with smoke, gunfire, bodies falling, running all around and screams of terror and anguish and hovering above it all in your grey matter is the image of the DC Comics hero, larger than life looming towards you on a cinema screen, what is going go be the effect of seeing the actor himself, striding purposefully towards you in a hospital bed, wearing the exact same costume, replicating and amplifying the imaginational icon of fear for you? I can think of nothing more fear-inducing.

Thank goodness cooler heads prevailed and I do think it’s good and noble of the actor to have gone to visit the victims of the shooting as himself, but isn’t there a strong chance we’d be seeing a second set of headlines about further upset caused if this insane appeal had been acted on? The philosopher Slavoj Zizek, in an analysis of The Joker, Batman’s nemesis and the character that James Holmes allegedly identified himself with before opening fire, says that the clown prince of crime is ‘not a man without a mask, but, on the contrary, a man who is his mask — there is nothing, no “ordinary guy” beneath it.’ What kind of message are we sending if there is no ordinary guy beneath the mask of The Dark Knight, that there is no piecing together the brokenness of violence, no dissembling the experience of trauma?

Not only is this attempt to deal with the tragedy dangerous, but it is also insultingly trivialising for the victims. You would not see an appeal like this with any other situation in which a group from the public have been deliberately terrorised: not a Holocaust survivor, not a refugee from Iraq, not a family member who has lost a loved one in an IRA bombing. You may as well send Adam West, belly sagging over his utility belt, Robin at his side smashing fist against palm crying, ‘Holy travesty Batman! We’ve just made light of an unspeakable horror!’ And if that sounds flippant, it is only to illustrate the undeniable flippancy in Sanchez’s probably well-intentioned and unfortunately popular effort.

The worst part about this campaign is that it seems to actively deny the real problem. It attempts to engage with nightmares through the use of escapism, instead of engaging with the issue in real, complicated terms. That poor, unfortunate community in Colorado, has sustained terrible loss and yet, as is the worrying trend in the wake of gun violence in America, firearm sales have spiked for fear that those pesky legislators in Washington DC may try through their dictatorial power of democratic process pass a law in some cockamamy attempt to protect the scaredy cat, commie citizens of this beloved nation. Fascists masquerading as elected representatives seem oblivious to the fact that we have to bear arms to protect ourselves from the fearsome colonial overlords trying any minute to quarter themselves in our homes. We must continue to perpetuate a perfectly healthy paranoia in the national psyche about ourselves and continue to desensitise our children to violence while guillotining any serious, difficult discussion about the real reasons individuals end up blurring the line between the value of human life and the enacting of a twisted psychological vision.

Until we, as a nation, recognise our collective culpability and initiate difficult national discourses about these issues, without leaders who only seem to grudgingly acknowledge days after the event that something must be done by the government of America to protect the citizens of America, I fear these unspeakable acts of violence will continue. Much will come out in the next few weeks about James Holmes and the unregenerable evil within his dark pit of a soul. It is almost certain that somewhere, he confused symbols of fantasy with his version of reality. Let us try to fight the good fight and refuse to give in to the same temptation. What do we become otherwise?

And I do know how it is. You see something in the sidebar or in front of you as you’re scrolling down and it’s a nanosecond of your time and an iota of effort to ‘like’ or ‘share’. I’ve liked everything from Matt Smith to Debbie Harry and I’m pretty sure I’ve shared a map of Panem because I thought, ‘Yeah, that makes sense with what the book says,’ but there must be a line at which you stop and think about spreading an arguably callous, wrong-headed campaign. I also think that Facebook and other social media can be a force to effect great social change and information sharing, as jives with Tim Berners-Lee’s great vision, but we also have to act conscientiously in what is by nature a superficial environment that often feels like it is all surface and no substance.

I have a feeling there are those who might think that I am spoiling a well-intentioned act, but there are many well-intentioned efforts that have ended in a jeremiad of despair, attempts to create a stronger German state for instance in 1938; more recently the attempt to prevent bloodshed through the location and elimination of weapons of mass destruction annihilating thousands of innocent Iraqis in the process; the effort to monitor the usage of libraries and the internet by free citizens in the name of preventing terrorist atrocities, swapping freedom for an anxious sense of security. We all mean well, but the extent to which we carry out our ‘good intentions’ can pave the way to a better world or a very bad place, as the adage goes.

I would end by saying that if I have caused offence, ‘that you have but slumber’d here‘ but that would be to attempt an escape again, to elide the real and dark chapter in our nation’s history that we must scrutinise unflinchingly if we are to avoid repeating it.

Do remember, I may disagree with you, but I’ll do as Voltaire would have done to defend your right to say it.

This post was informed by the following article:

http://www.globalnews.ca/should+bale+visit+shooting+victims/6442684935/story.html

And Jason Farago speaks to our tendency as a nation to avoid complex national discussions in this article:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/27/james-holmes-dehumanisation-causes-violence

This BBC Radio show features a fascinating discussion. Only about 28 minutes does someone finally call in and add a sensible voice to the discussion:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p00vlk83/World_Have_Your_Say_WHYS_60Can_shootings_like_Aurora_be_prevented/

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