Friday, September 29, 2006

Poor Game

Disappointment at the Parc des Princes last night as Derry City's UEFA Cup run came to an end losing 2-0 to Paris St-Germain. Two first-half goals, both soft from set-pieces finished Derry off though PSG were hardly impressive either. A poor game though Derry did play some nice football without ever really threatening and their final ball was at times lacking. Some of the group I was with left five minutes before the end, to avoid the crowds but the rest of us stayed. No matter how bad the game was there was a certain thrill to be had in watching a League of Ireland team spray passes across the field so stylishly. It's a far cry from the games I used to attend on wintry Sunday afternoons as a kid. The gulf in class, even against a team as mediocre as PSG was too much to bridge but Derry in no way disgraced themselves. Now to the FAI Cup quarter-finals on Saturday.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

UEFA Be Joking

The FAI's website reports that John Delaney has come back from a UEFA meeting in Strasbourg with an assurance that the new Lansdowne Road will one day host a Champions' League or UEFA Cup final. Given the still-provisional status of the stadium's development, the tortuous history of failed stadium initiatives involving the FAI, and Delaney's own poor attempts at spin, I might be forgiven for seeing the FAI chief as a Neville Chamberlain-type figure just for now. Already RTÉ are taking the gloss off the whole thing by reporting that only a UEFA Cup final has been promised.

As for now, it is off down to the Parc des Princes tonight to cheer on Derry City against the reviled Paris Saint-Germain. PSG have suspended their most famous, and possibly best player Vikash Dhorasoo, for something amounting to insubordination. They will have to rely upon the efforts of Pauleta, sunshine boy par excellence - as Eamon Dunphy might say - to break down the Candystripes. A score draw will put Derry through. It is not unthinkable.

Pay the Penalty

The Dickensianly-named FIFA President Sepp Blatter has vowed to rid football of penalty shoot-outs, which he has described as a 'tragedy' (Herr Blatter has a similar concept of the tragic to the Bee Gees, then). Thankfully, like almost all of Blatter's plans for football (remember the skimpy lycra shorts for women footballers to attract more fans?) this will come to nought. Blatter's predecessor Joao Havelange was an unattractive figure at the best of times but even the withered old Brazilian reactionary did not announce his own senile murmurings to the press as FIFA policy.

As for penalty shoot-outs being unfair, can we please put to rest once and for all that clichéd misconception? Shoot-outs are not a lottery; the better and mentally stronger side over 120 minutes usually wins. Take a look at the teams that consistently win shoot-outs in major tournaments: Brazil, Argentina, Germany, teams that display a mental toughness and play to their strengths. Now consider the less successful teams: Holland, England, Italy (with one or two exceptions including this year's World Cup final), Spain, bottlers for the most part and who usually get their excuses in early in advance of being knocked out. Pick at random a few celebrated shoot-outs in history: 1982 France-Germany 3-3, great game and Schumacher should have been sent off but Germany deserved the win after coming from 3-1 down in extra time; 1986 France-Brazil 1-1, another superb contest but France were the better side and even managed to carry a missed penalty by Michel Platini; 1986 Steaua Bucharest-Barcelona 0-0, the worst Champions' Cup final ever, and Barça, managed by Terry "you can't practice penalties" Venables miss all four of their spot-kicks to compound their dreadful display; 1998 Holland-Brazil 1-1, yes, Holland were the better side but with a record as bad as theirs you should know better than to wait for a shoot-out against Brazil.

The alternatives that have been offered are risible, such as Blatter's suggestion that players should be taken off one by one in extra time. As if that is going to make the game either more attractive or more interesting. Or fairer for that matter either. The golden goal which has been consigned to history for major finals is far more unjust than the penalty shoot-out. Just ask the Czechs in 1996, or the Portuguese or the Italians in 2000. And in no case did this measure stop teams playing for a shoot-out. If a team cannot win over 120 minutes then there should be no special sympathy extended them. Winning a tie at spot-kicks from twelve yards is as much a part of the professional game as winning five-goal thrillers and should be treated professionally. Today's footballers should be reminded how European Cup ties were decided in the 1960s: by a toss of the coin. I do agree with Blatter on one thing though: the World Cup final should be subject to a replay, there's no reason it can't be done, with all the attendees at the first final entitled to buy tickets for the second game.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

You Don't Have 2 Be Beautiful 2 Turn Me On

More on the all-exciting world of Irish politics. I have tried in vain to find that photograph of Michael McDowell kissing his predecessor as PD leader Mary Harney smack on the lips in one of the most grotesque displays of animal conduct Irish public life has seen since Michael Flatley first slipped on his dancing shoes. Nor have I been able to get anything other than a poster reproduction of Barbara Klemm's iconic image of Leonid Brezhnev doing the same to GDR leader Erich Honecker in 1979 (sorry, the link's in German, I can't understand it either). Was this a conscious right-wing riposte to the strangest photograph of world leaders in existence? As my mother likes to say, it doesn't bear thinking about.

Loan Shark

Bertie Ahern seems to have survived what initially appeared to be the evil day that was always going to catch up with him, being implicated in the shady world of illegal payments that his political party could probably not survive without. Payments of £39,000 to him in 1993, at the time of his marital separation while he was Minister for Finance, were not seen by the donors as gifts, according to Bertie, but he did feel that they were 'a debt of honour'. Now maybe I have seen a few too many mob movies recently but that sounds suspiciously like you know what. Bertie says that £20,000 of that was to pay for his two daughters' education, though surely Bertie should have known that there were any number of techs or lowly secondary schools that he could have put them in much cheaper if he were short of cash. Most of the rest of the country get by that way. But then they don't have too many friends with thirty-nine grand to spare.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Oyster Fever

I went to that wedding on Saturday and the predictable mayhem ensued; a great time was had by all but my periodic physical reaction to oysters has since returned. Gastro-entritis I think. But it's not going to put me off having them again. On a less 'gastric' level the music was great, including a miminalist remix of 'Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above' by Cansei de Ser Sexy. Does anyone know who it's by?

Tommy Gun

2-0 to the Celts on Saturday in the first Old Firm game of the season. Among the scorers was Thomas Gravesen, his first goal for the Hoops. I wonder what The Dubliner would say about Tommy's girlfriend, Kira Eggers, who is an adult film star? I am a worldly enough person but I was unfamiliar with her name, and I suspected that the news reports in the British press were probably pruriently exaggerating a topless model. But a quick search on the Internet, and such searches are always the quickest ones in cyberspace, suggests that yes, she is by any standards, employed in the world of hardcore porn. As Tommy is a bit of a hard chaw himself and has links with a number of fearsome biker groups in Denmark I suspect that Trevor White and his boneheaded scribes at The Dubliner might steer clear of 'satire' this time.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Uneasy Ryder

The Ryder Cup, surely one of the most absurd sporting contests in the known universe, does not interest me and would have gone unremarked on this blog only for that incident involving The Dubliner magazine and Tiger Woods' wife. It is characteristic of the golfing world that the only references to this story that can be found by Googling are on either bland news sites or publicity sites. Apparently The Dubliner, which I was surprised, and a bit dismayed, to discover was still in existence, photoshopped pictures of Woods' Swedish wife Erin Nordegren and claimed that she has featured in 'steamy porn shoots'. The magazine says that it was a satirical article. I'm sure it was but satire requires a target. And what sort of target do Tiger Woods and his wife constitute? He is a golfer for God's sake; it is hard to get any duller than that. But maybe a bit of barracking in the rough-and-tumble of international golfing is close to the hearts of The Dubliner. Anybody familiar with the rag, which has been lumbering along for close to five years, will not be surprised that its efforts at humour were so unfunny. Woods is threatening legal action, though this is unlikely to happen, but if he does it could resolve definitively the problem of The Dubliner's presence on the newstands.

Wednesday Night's All Right For Fighting

The stag party the other night had an unusual feature, a scaled-down version of Fight Club. The gloves were on and no punches to the head were allowed so it was relatively tame. Which does not mean to say however that it was not enjoyable. I now regret never having boxed when I was a young fella. But the pain is beginning to sink in. My ribs hurt, not terribly, but enough to prevent strenuous effort for a day or two.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Non, je m'en foot pas

The print media in France is probably the biggest in the world and certainly one of the best. In almost every field the magazines are of a higher intellectual and editorial level than their counterparts in the English-speaking world, in football especially. Though the grand old sporting paper L'Équipe suffers from an over-earnest editiorial voice and an uncharacteristic tendency to factual errors, the twice-weekly France Football, which awards the European footballer of the year award is essential reading, then there is the humorous monthly fanzine Les Cahiers du football, a sort of Gallic When Saturday Comes. Best of all though is the amazing So Foot, which walks a fine line between intellectual and political analysis of the game and wry fanzine-style humour. This month's number includes a look back at the historical footballing adversity between France and Italy, a superb article on Torino FC as they celebrate their centenary as the only Turinese club in Serie A, a piece on Lebanese football in Hizbollah-controlled regions, football-related interviews with actor Jean-Pierre Darroussin, government minister and Valenciennes club chairman Jean-Louis Borloo, and novelist Laurent Mauvignier, whose new novel Dans la foule is set during the Heysel tragedy in 1985. It's a shame they don't cross paths with FourFourTwo, recently launched in French, and do an English-language edition. It is a superb magazine and their website, even if you don't read French is well-worth checking out, as is their MySpace page. The magazine also releases football-compilation CDs, including an excellent one recently in tribute to George Best, the footballer who best personifies the magazine's worldview.

Hold Your Horses

Congress has banned the 'barbaric' slaughter of horses for export as food to the savage nations of France, Belgium and Japan. I wonder if it has thought of applying the same adjective to its country's war project in Iraq, which I seem to remember it fully supported? Some Congressmen really lost the run of themselves, referring to 'American horses'. As if horses had a nationality. Though, the Japanese, in their excellent humour seem to think so too, a former Kentucky derby winner, Ferdinand, was slaughtered in Japan a number of years ago and the meat marketed as the chance to eat an American champion. They get worried about the strangest things, those Yanks.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Sins Of The Father

Incuriosity has kept me from watching The Godfather Part III for many years, mainly on account of the negative reviews that prevailed upon its initial release. The consensus is that it is a blight on the pristine memory of the first two films. I suspected this to be a harsh assessment, and I thought that surely there must be lurking in the third film at least some of the residue of the genius that gave us the first two instalments. On Sunday night I finally saw the film and my only articulable reaction is, how did they make it so unbelievably bad?

The film is abhorrent as well as abberrent, not only because Coppola, though he was already in decline as a director, had not yet stooped this low (or at least not since his long-forgotten early days as director of Dementia 13 and Finian's Rainbow), but also because the personnel had barely changed from those that appeared in the first two films (apart, of course, from the actors whose characters had been killed). The producer, director and writers are still the same (Mario Puzo once again with Coppola); Pacino, Keaton, Talia Shire are still there as the surviving Corleone members; Dean Tavoularis is once again the set designer; Gordon Willis still the photographer, though his flat slipshod work is unrecognisable from the first two films; only the music is different, Carmine Coppola having taken over from the late Nino Rota, though Rota's famous theme still features prominently. Yet the film is an appallingly bad apotheosis of the tale; it is as if it has become caught up in the automatic self-referentiality and parody that was already beginning to pervade mob movies. The Catholic Church and the mysterious death of Pope John Paul I move centre-scene in this film, to underline crudely the references to the Borgias that needed only remain implicit in the two previous films (we see posioning from Shire's now hysterical and pathetic attempt at a Latinate Lady Macbeth and Pacino shouts out the name of the fondly remembered Florentine family at one point just in case none of us get it).

A foretaste of the film's unbridled vulgarity is offered in the opening five minutes where a double-exposure flash-back to the murder of his brother Fredo is grafted onto a scene where Pacino receives a papal medal for his charity work. Already we are being spoonfed the drama. I cannot remember what the general quality of Hollywood films was in 1990, when the film was released, but watching this provides persuasive evidence for the respect for the audience's intelligence having taken a sharp dive since 1975. The vulgarity mounts in the smallest details, noticeable simply because they would have not existed in the earlier films: such as the scene where Pope John Paul I is elected, the very conclave itself has to be represented just in case it does not register.

The film nowadays is best known for the catastrophic start it provided for the acting career of Sophia Coppola, who has since partially redeemed herself since with one and a half decent films she has directed. In fact that is what people talk about all the time when they mention the film. This is unfair because, though Sophia is a terrible actor, with no conception of space, timing, emotion or depth, she is no worse than anybody else in the film. Pacino's wearisome late-career voice-raising has by now arrived in the post and his efforts to redeem his character through guilt-induced Catholicism are about as convincing as the threat embodied by Andy Garcia's successor-to-the-throne Vincenzo - Garcia was later to be a lot scarier in Ocean's 11. We have already mentioned Talia Shire's nepotism-blowing turn, and the grand guignol villainy of the supporting cast completes the nonsensical picture. There is pleasure though to be had from the performance of Dónal Donnelly as the venal archbishop Gilday, if only because his own brother was a real-life auxiliary bishop of Dublin at the time the film was made.

As noted above the nepotism of the Coppola clan was mercilessly pilloried after this film, though Coppola the director is to be damned less for his casting of his own daughter than for his attempt to assume the role of Don by having her play the role of Michael Corleone's daughter. When she gets dispatched in a horrendously badly-directed finale, set to the strains of Mascagnani's Cavarelia Rusticana (a piece whose movie-life had by now belonged forever to Raging Bull), my instinctive reaction was to laugh, as much at Francis as at the hapless Sophia. I can't see why, but I think my reaction probably would have been the same had Winona Ryder filled the role, as originally planned.

Coppola has never made a halfway decent film since before this one; no amount of academic analysis or commercial repackaging of the 'trilogy' or the 'saga' can rescue The Godfather Part III from being the sack of shite it is.

Busy Week

The form sheet is somewhat chequered this week and my presence on this blog more sporadic than usual because of an unusually active week, between looking for work, looking after my fellow man, and the wedding of two of my friends (what are the chances of turning up at a wedding and knowing both the bride and the groom?)

I had a job interview today, which went well and my standard interview bullshit seemed to have gone down as well as might be expected. Not for another week will I know if I have got the job but I have another interview in the morning to keep me occupied just in case. Very soon I will get extra-good at this sort of thing.

Lies, Damned Lies and....

It has been a bad week for leaders saying things that have implications far beyond what they suspected. First there was the Pope and his quoting a Byzantine emperor to make a point (I am no fan of Benedict XVI but I do feel a bit of sympathy for him, however careless his comment might have been) and now there is Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, who has been caught on tape admitting that he and his Socialist Party lied to win the elections in April, sparking rioting the likes of which has not been seen since the fall of Communism. Reading the transcript of Gyurscany's peroration I do not see the fuss, as it is more of a frank admission of failure and a civic-minded resolution to ameliorate the country's economy. Should he resign for admitting that he lied? Some might say yes but the outrage here seems to be directed more at the admission of guilt rather than the lie itself. It was probably something he should have kept to himself; the disclosure has rather the effect a detailed avowal of one's sexual predilictions might have. The fault here in any case is mild enough compared to what was committed by fascist and socialist regimes in Hungary throughout the twentieth century. I do not know enough about Hungarian politics or society to ascertain the Gyurcsany government's real guilt but surely the Parliament can dispose of it by a simple vote of no confidence?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Hold The Mayo

The bottom fell out of the All-Ireland final fairly early and, despite a brief mid-game fightback from Mayo, Kerry ran out easy winners, even easier than in the one-sided final of two years ago. I only saw the second half because of work commitments so missed whatever real action there was. Mayo decided to paper over their usual bottling in a big game by starting brawls where they might have more profitably punted the ball up the pitch in search of a much-needed score. It made me think of how harmless the Materazzi-Zidane incident was compared to your average off-the-ball tussle in Gaelic football. I'd like to see Materazzi try the same thing down in Crossmolina and find anyone willing to defend him when he's carrying his jaw home in a lucky bag.

Nasty Work

Another piece from the Sindo, copied as per usual from a British rag, tells of the shock engendered by the appearance of footage of US soldiers being killed in action on YouTube. Being a bit sceptical about the article, mainly because it was so vague and badly written, I did a search on YouTube and there is indeed a lot of nasty stuff involving the deaths of US military in Iraq. There is nothing new about such stuff being posted on the Internet but that such a mainstream site as YouTube allows it, and moderates it only by a system of flagging as 'inappropriate', is worrying. Whatever your views about the war (and mine are that it started as a criminal enterprise and has continued as a mad, suicidal and ultimately crushing one) the families of the dead soldiers deserve more respect from YouTube. That the families of Iraqi victims (a lot more numerous) also deserve this is irrelevant, other than to say that videos of their deaths should not be shown either. There are few people that watch this stuff for reasons other than sick voyeurism; if people want to post this elsewhere, let them. The anti-war cause is not going to be helped by such postings. What is most staggering is the hypocrisy of YouTube, who forbid any sex or nudity on their site (and even relatively innocuous links to adult websites are flagged as possibly inappropriate). It is a lot like the US, and Hollywood then. Sex bad, violence OK. The families of US soldiers that have been killed in the prosecution of an illegal, immoral war deserve more from their country than this skewed system of values.


A great piece in today's Sindo by Gene Kerrigan, who is not only worth the cover price of that silly little rag, but probably the cover price of all Irish print media, north and south, combined (you need to register to read it but that's free, and worth it). A slight departure from his usual evisceration of the corruption and hypocrisy of contemporary Irish society (it tends to keep him busy most weeks, so busy that he might have to outsource some of the work to keep up with it), it treats of a case last week, where a judge and the Gardaí clashed over the supposedly bungled investigation into a pair of Mullingar boy racers, who did a motoring equivalent of happy-slapping on the N4, for Internet consumption. For more background, see here. Kerrigan comes down on the side of the beak, while sympathising with the cops at the same time. He asks rather why this government, and previous ones, have being so tolerant of reckless driving and failed to implement appropriate laws to sort this out. It seems it is only since Latvians and Poles have started becoming involved in fatal car crashes in Ireland that the Irish government (and people) have got too bothered about our atrocious record of road safety. Those familiar news stories about Bank Holiday death tolls were obviously just about bad luck tales then, and as for all those youngsters that have over the years moaned about the expensive insurance premiums for drivers under 25, well, a bit of investigation into actuarial logic might have been revelatory. Geno makes admirable use here, to decribe our friends from the midlands, of the finest word that Hiberno-English has gifted the world tongue: gobshite. Good on ya, Kerrigan, once again.

Back To My Beiruts

Music at the moment is 'Gulag Orkestar' by Beirut, aka 20-year-old Zach Condon, a New Mexican based in Brooklyn. The album is heavy on European folk influences, Goran Bregovic and Emir Kusturica being only the most famous musicians that it brings to mind. But there is a clear originality to the record, and is all the more impressive for Condon's age. I bet he wished he hadn't chosen that name now: after the summer bombings of Lebanon it must be hard for the curious to Google him.


The football season started again today, that being the season that involves personal exertion for yours truly. A 2-1 defeat in a friendly and due to a shortage of players, Seanachie spent most of the game in goal, his first stint between the sticks since the Connacht Vocational Schools championship (Gaelic football) in 1989. Not having to run about so much means that my muscles have been spared the rigours of post-match strain for the next couple of days, though I would like to imagine that my decision to cycle to and from the pitch (30 minutes each way) contributed to that too.

Two American Films

I saw a couple of American films in the past two days, both of which might be considered 'Indie' pics according to their aesthetic and social concerns, though both are as conventional as one can expect from any film that comes out of the US these days, whatever the budget used to make it. The first is the better one, Thumbsucker, the feature debut of Mike Mills, one of the co-founders of the Director's Bureau with Sophia and Roman Coppola. Mills, like his colleagues has cut his teeth on music videos, most notably for Air, who named a song after him, and commercials. His first film, which focuses on a shy, disaffected seventeen-year-old in small-town Oregon, who has yet to relinquish the habit of sucking his thumb, is a modest but pleasant piece. While much of the subject matter will be familiar from previous films of the sort, Thumbsucker is for the most part convincing and not terribly inane, which, given some of the American indie films I have had to endure in the past year, is an achievement in itself. Mills strains a bit towards the Wes Anderson school of whimsy, and there is an annoying over-reliance on slow-motion comedy shots set to music, not to mention long, aimless pans. But the quirkiness is mostly held in check and whatever jokes there are are gems, such as the entire character of the family orthodontist Perry, played by Keanu Reeves, who sends himself up gloriously. The acting all round is first class and probably the reason for the film being so sympathetic; newcomer Lou Taylor Pucci plays the diffident teenager Justin, doe-eyed and uncertain as to whether he should become an out-and-out rebel or to conform, as seems to be closer to his temperament. Vincent d'Onofrio and Tilda Swinton are both excellent as his parents, whose very ordinary characters are shaded masterfully by the actors and director alike. Best of all though is the school debating coach played by Vince Vaughn, who seems to be relishing the advent of middle age, his features lustily swelling to a bon viveur contentedness. This is probably the best portrayal of the pale regretfulness of a late thirtysomething man since Matthew Broderick in Election; and it is Alexander Payne, rather than Mills' younger contemporaries that the director resembles most. While the friend whom I saw it with was a bit miffed at the film's apparent disapproval of drugs, legal and otherwise, I saw this as more of a muddle, a flaw to be expected in a film that, refreshingly has no great ambitions, nor ideas above its station. I was happy just to watch Mills' beautifully framed images and situations drift by, set to the tune of poor old Elliott Smith and that army of optimists, The Polyphonic Spree. A nice film, and that is no slight.

The same cannot be said however of Thank You For Smoking, a leaden satire on the tobacco lobby by Jason Reitman, son of Ghostbusters and Twins director Ivan (whose new film My Super Ex-Girlfriend was released, in France at least, on the same day). Aaron Eckhardt plays a lobbyist, who takes all the public revulsion that the job engenders in his stride, and manages to stymie his opponents with exceptional flair, until he engages in a bit too much pillow talk with a young journalist assigned to write about him (Katie Holmes in yet another clichéd role). Eckhardt's track record working with Neil LaBute on both stage and screen has prepared him well for the amoral anti-hero he portrays here, and his performance is both effortless and with gusto, and it is about the only thing that keeps audience interest in the film. Beyond that the film gets bogged down in a morass of fascinating facts that might as well be repackaged as a Reader's Digest special entitled 'the truth about the tobacco industry' (Reader's Digest does get a mention in the film too). Eckhardt also delivers a voiceover that sounds very like the apologia provided by Nicolas Cage's arms dealer in Lord of War, and while Thank You For Smoking is not quite as bad as that, the film's overall tone of condescension and its pretention to a Swiftian savage indignation make it deeply dislikable. And, badly made, for the most part.

Friday, September 15, 2006

By The Authority Vested In Me...

Seanachie's taste for the bizarre is sated by the news that World Bank chief and former White House hawk Paul Wolfowitz has come to the aid of anti-IMF activists, 27 of whom had been banned from entering Singapore ahead of the IMF meeting there next week. Wolfowitz branded Singapore 'authoritarian'(well, this is a country that bans men from having long hair as well as criminalising chewing gum and failing to flush a public toilet) and the Singaporean 'authorities' have cut the protestors some slack and agreed to allow all but five of them in.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Bienvenue au Brandywell

Derry City play Paris Saint-Germain tonight in the first round of the UEFA Cup. PSG manager Bernard Lacombe, who, when the draw was made, said that "we know what to expect from British teams, especially Irish ones" has elected to leave three players at home, including French World Cup finalist Vikash Dhorasoo. He wants to rest them ahead of the league match against Nancy on Sunday. Sounds a bit presumptuous to me. PSG, a manufactured team that enjoys a scandalous amount of bias in the French media, have, other than a successful period in the mid-nineties, achieved little in their 36-year history. Watching them is like supporting the Springfield Isotopes, the none-too-great gridiron team in The Simpsons. After three league defeats so far this season, including two at home, they are ripe for another fall. The Candystripes might well sneak a win, in the first leg at least.

Wake Up And Smell The Coffee

Some over-caffeinated harridan is bringing a $114m lawsuit against Starbucks in the US because the company withdrew an offer, which it had originally intended only for friends and family of employees. This person clearly leads a full and profitable life. It pains me to take the side of the giant here, especially an avatar of conformism and homogenisation such as Starbucks but I wish the lawsuit embarrassing failure. For one, it damages the credibility of far more worthy class-action suits brought against large corporations that do lasting damage to communities, employees and the environment. (And under Bush, tort reform has attempted to block off these avenues as it is). Secondly, it is an indication of one's pathetic understanding of the world that litigation should hinge on such a ridiculous thing as consuming a cup of bad, charred coffee. The lady in question would be advised to do what any sensible person would: take their business elsewhere. No doubt, like most Americans she would not recognise decent coffee if she were force-fed it for six months on end but I am sure she will be able to find another outlet that will gladly honour her loyalty card. It is hard to champion the cause of Western civilization when faced with such childish solipsism as this.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Zip Up Your Mickey

Living abroad, and not having yet set foot on the Emerald Isle in 2006, I am a little behind important developments back home, so I am straggling after all those bloggers in Ireland that have been enjoying the fall-out of the Twink "Zip Up Your Mickey" saga. People in Ireland will know all about it already, but those elsewhere might be interested, out of pure entertainment, in listening to the voicemail message the veteran cabaret star left on her estranged husband David Agnew's machine. Apparently somebody close to the randy hubby leaked the message to embarrass Twink, but it has had the opposite effect, if hardly one desired by the deliverer of it. Listen and enjoy - good, old-fashioned Dublin abuse. And then there's this clever little 'remix' of it, that makes full use of the newest catchphrases in Irish life. It'll be up there eventually with GUBU. What are you like?

Ugly Tunes

Nerd post, now. A new version of iTunes saw the light of day yesterday, version 7.0 to be precise. There are some nice improvements, such as an automatic album art search, and the podcasts now download in the sidebar, without having to move back to the iTunes shop every time you download. But the interface is damn ugly (and iTunes 6 was already a step back from previous versions) and I don't like that new blue livery. Which means more time will be wasted customizing it back to the old style.

Just The Ticket

A latest reminder of the corruption endemic within FIFA; the vice-president of the world football federation, Jack Warner of Trinidad & Tobago has been rumbled by an Ernst & Young report that says he made £500,000 on World Cup tickets sold illegally at more than three times their face value. The fool bought 180 tickets on his credit card and got his son to pick them up from FIFA HQ. When a Swiss travel agency complained about the non-arrival of tickets they had bought, the inquiry naturally found its way back to Warner.

There are free-marketeers that will say that there is nothing to get flustered about here, that the market should decide the value of World Cup final tickets as much as any other commodity. Aside from the most obvious facetiousness of such an idea, the issue of Warner's privileged position and his use of it to break his own organisation's laws make it a serious incident. It will be interesting to see if FIFA will do what any self-respecting organisation would do: sack the miscreant and then prosecute him with the full force of the law. But, that might be unlikely. In the meantime Warner had this to say about match referees in yesterday's Trinidad Express:"Some of our referees have been mercenaries. Most times all they are concerned with is how much the can earn for officiating the game; they care very little about their performance on the field." I wonder what the Caribbean equivalent of chutzpah is.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Michael McDowell Gets Up To Bat

Self-styled rottweiller Michael McDowell, Minister for Justice (or Secretary of State, Home Secretary, Minister of the Interior, as other countries have it) has just stepped up to the mark to lead the Progressive Democrats in what will surely turn out to be the most deluded political leadership change in Irish history (and, yes, I remember Alan Dukes in charge of Fine Gael). McDowell has, over the past two years become one of the most reviled personalities in Irish life, being hated by everyone from Sinn Féin-voting taxi drivers to gee-eyed student ravers to tax-dodging West of Ireland farmers all the way up to the natural constituency of 'Dublin 4 liberals', a large number of whom would appear to vote for him. It is like the widespread unpopularity of his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy over here, except that he does not enjoy Sarko's polarising influence. For every one person that hates him, there is at least one another that admires him. Thousands of people hate McDowell and there are few outside his Dublin South-East constituency that do not.

For a man who is quite clearly intelligent, and a capable barrister, he is a dunderheaded fool when it comes to politics. His only creed is one of 'might is right', and he tries to trample all over objections to him in Ireland with the strong-armed tactics of a Donald Rumsfeld or a John Ashcroft, something which backfires terribly in Irish politics. His unpopularity was cemented in the last year by his comparing the colourless Fine Gael TD Richard Bruton to Göebbels and his hatchet job on Frank Connolly and the Centre for Public Inquiry, for which he will ultimately be the fall guy, doing away with a troublesome adversary of Fianna Fáil while the PDs get excluded from the next coalition government, whatever it may be. The PDs can kiss their election goodbye. And the rest of the country will relish the prospect of a more retiring Mickey Mack.

This Is For Steve Ya Flaming Galah

There's no let-up in the Steve Irwin saga, of a man whose influence on world affairs reaches beyond the grave. According to the Beeb, who manage to report this with an admirably straight face, Australian fans of the Croc Hunter have been exacting revenge on stingrays, something the conservationist would surely have not wanted. I don't have much to say about this strange affair other than to remark that is it 'tits for tat'. What are the chances of irate mobs of stingrays desecrating Irwin's grave? I fear for it.

Party Like It's 1999

It was New Year's Day, 1999 in Ethiopia yesterday. For more details, check out this blog entry by a Quebecois lady that happens to be a friend of a friend. Well spotted, Erin.

Something Amis

I finally digested yesterday evening Martin Amis' lengthy essay on Islamic fundamentalism that appeared in the Observer on Sunday. A friend of mine who, unlike me, is a lifelong fan of Amis' fiction, decried his recently-found ambition to impose himself as a world-historical commentator. I, however have found his non-fiction to be always far more interesting, and readable than his novels, and 'The Age of Horrorism', despite its overweening self-importance is a good read.

Amis' main concern is the way in which Islamic fundamentalism has become not only the most vocal form of Islam, but probably the only vocal form. He has probably been listening to his old buddy Christopher Hitchens go on about this for years now, without really been that interested (in an interview once, Amis claimed that Hitchens used to sell the Daily Worker at Oxford, when it was the Socialist Worker, quite a clear distinction for the politically-minded). Amis bungles though in viewing Palestinian suicide bombers as a purely Islamist phenomenon. It is true that Islamic fundamentalist groups have nurtured suicide bombings and encouraged them among the Palestinian youth, but the attacks are born more of a historical desperation that was already having grisly effects long before Hamas or Islamic Jihad got a foothold in Palestine.

Amis has a clear distaste for Bush and the neocons and he accepts that the folly of the Iraq war has only inflamed the international Islamist jihad but his conclusion, a blasé dismissal of all religion, stating that

the time has come for a measure of impatience in our dealings with those who would take an innocent personal pronoun, which was just minding its own business, and exalt it with a capital letter,

emphasises how clueless, and ill-equipped he is to analyse the phenomenon of religious belief, and its dogged endurance outside Europe and North America. I sympathise with his agnostic/atheistic views but religion is not going to go away, however impatient we might be with it, and many of us are already, and rightly so. There is the lingering impression that Amis was trying to impress Hitchens and his friends here. I doubt they will be by Amis' foray into the world of geopolitics.

What is interesting too about the article is that Amis reveals much of the plot of a novella he abandoned writing, for reasons that he never fully explains. The opportunity is ripe for somebody to steal his idea and publish it themselves in a Borgesian faux-text. Amis, being a fan of the great Argentinian, might even appreciate that...

The Balls of Your Feet

I'm a terror for the cycling, like Flann O'Brien's Third Policeman, though I have managed to keep my relationship with my bike a healthily platonic one. Since I fixed up my bike again (following the theft of the quick-release back wheel and saddle - yes, I know, it was my fault) the two of us have gone everywhere together, except Italy and Slovenia.

Paris is a good town for cycling in, despite the maddening traffic; the cycle lanes are generous enough and most journeys take fifteen minutes at most. What amazes me though is how few people in this city know how to cycle properly, or fix their bike for maximum comfort. Every day I whizz past people that labour forward on old granny bikes with the seat set at the lowest possible setting (do they know how sore that is on the thighs?) and use the back of their heels to pedal with. When I was a young lad, a road-safety poster from the Department of Transport that was ever-present in the classroom, instructed us to pedal with the 'balls of the feet'. Oh, how we laughed as ten-year-olds at that. But the advice stuck with us. And France is supposed to be the home of cycling. Well, it's little wonder that a Frenchman has not won the Tour de France in 22 years.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Ain't No Sunshine When It's Wrong

I am baffled by the generally favourable reviews, in both France and the UK, of Little Miss Sunshine, a film I saw last week. It's not a terrible film but it is notable rather for its mediocrity. I am not going to go into it in too much detail but the film is a hyperactive family road movie, that imagines itself to be a lot more transgressive than it actually is. Effectively a sitcom shot indie-movie-style (a style that has become as entrenched and as conservative as the Hollywood product it purports to counter); all the characters have a hook, the morose teenage son, the cute seven-year-old, the pushy Dad etc. One can forgive a certain schematism in a film like this but the jokes need to be particularly good. Unfortunately here they are not, what it really lacks is an extreme daftness (à la Napoleon Dynamite) or excessive bad taste, in the John Waters mode. There are a few fundamental problems with the film too: why do the family not know about their daughters' beauty pageant routine, despite their whole-hearted support for her? And though Toni Collette's mother is the breadwinner in the house, we are never told what she does for a living. In fact there is barely any reference to her job. Not an insignificant oversight.

Much better, though clearly a much different film, was Bruno Dumont's fourth film Flandres, which I saw over a week ago and I hope to come back to again in more detail when I watch it a second time.

Howard's End

Underachievement favourite, Aussie PM John Howard is at it again, on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, calling on Australian Muslims to be more critical of terrrorism. Just exactly, I wonder, how critical one has to be, in Mr Howard's eyes. For the last five years, Muslims the whole world round have been in turn exhorted to be more condemnatory of the violence committed by a small number of their coreligionists, and censured for not being loud enough in their condemnation. What is it with Western Christians and their obsession with this public display of collective guilt, this wearing of sackcloth and ashes in order to reassure the people in the free world that they do not hate 'us and all we stand for'? There is a distasteful evangelical, almost proselytising, air to such coerced condemnations.

Perhaps the main reason Muslims are not more condemnatory is because they are acquainted with enough bloodshed not to be too moved by the deaths in terror attacks, which, however bad they might be, are dwarfed in number by the amount of deaths in wars such as Iraq and Chechnya whose news value has long become banalised. The British right-wing media used the same bullying attitude towards the Irish in the 1980s, by claiming that those of us that did not condemn IRA violence sufficiently loudly were tacitly supporting it. The strong have at their disposal an arsenal of accusations to aim at the Other, conveniently casting innocent people as a Fifth Column, in order to justify, even elide, its own depredations. The most recent example was the Israeli Defence Force's claim that any people still left in Southern Lebanon after being warned to get out, were obviously terrorists, thus giving instant anointment for their bombing to continue. I do not have any truck with terrorists, a word that is used to apply to almost anyone these days, and I would sooner live in secular Israel than in Hizbullah-controlled parts of Lebanon, but I can understand why Muslims do not get too hot and bothered about a few insane fundamentalists planting bombs in Western cities. It does not mean that they support these people however.

What I Learned This Week

1. That the Corsican French for 'car bomb' is attentat à l'irlandaise. Around these parts they just say voiture piègée. Thanks to Ronan for that (see below). Don't worry, I was not being a leech, I gave him trivia in return.

2. That the French for 'colour blindness' is daltonisme, after the 18th-century physicist and chemist John Dalton. Though apparently it exists as a synonym in English too, yet I never knew. I discovered it watching a subtitled film last week, and was momentarily thrown into a linguistic fuzz as the Irish for 'blind' is dalt, which is presumably unrelated.


My friends Ronan and Emily, in town for a few days, related me a tale, almost too good to be wasted on a blog, of a college friend of theirs from Kerry, who used to take day-trips to Cuba from his home county in the early 1980s. In those days Aeroflot used to fly from Moscow to Havana and their refuelling would take place, not in Shannon, as might have been expected, but Farranfore, the Kingdom's number one aerodrome (since made busier by the 'national treasure' that is Ryanair). The local lads had a habit of debating what to do in the pub on a Friday night and, if the mood took them, they would get on the next flight through, with a packed lunch, naturally. The Aeroflot cabin crew were unusually accommodating and would charge them a nominal fare of £20. Of course, the Kerrymen could not do much when they got to Cuba, as they had no entry visas, so they would spend a few hours walking about in the balmy Caribbean air, or drinking in the departure lounge bar, assuming that there was one before boarding the return flight to get back in time for Sunday Mass. My natural inclination to scepticism forces me to doubt the veracity of this tale, but it is so good that whether it happened or not is irrelevant. This urban (or, more accurately, rural) legend will run and run.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Nerve of Them

Meanwhile Chile's Supreme Court has had the nerve to strip Augusto Pinochet of the immunity from prosecution that he bestowed on himself over sixteen years ago. While I despair of ever seeing the old bastard convicted, it is heartening that the country's judiciary is standing up to the thugs that supported Pinocher's regime and still exercise a lot of power there. Pinochet's daughter Luica ran off to the States earlier this year, and sought political asylum because the Chilean government is making her pay $859,000 in taxes owed. You're breaking my heart, Lucia. Of course, the old General is pleading unfitness to stand trial on medical grounds. I think they should just put him through it out of spite, and make the ordeal as uncomfortable as possible. He is not going to spend any time in prison after all, even if convicted.

A Simple Gesture

Seanachie's favourite footballer, the majestic Lilian Thuram, together with team-mate Patrick Viera, ruffled a few feathers of the French right-wing on Wednesday by inviting seventy undocumented immigrants to the France-Italy game. The immigrants, mostly African, were recently expelled from a squat in the town of Cachan, just south of Paris and are currently being housed by the town council (who, it should be pointed out, has been quite sympathetic to their plight) in a gymnasium.

People such as the loathsome aristocratic populist Philippe de Villiers, leader of the nationalist Mouvement pour la France, have been particularly annoyed, accusing the "millionaire" footballers of self-righteously preaching, and he asked if Thuram and Viera would like to defray the cost of providing for them, and sheltering them. Considering the pitiful amount of tax the rich pay in this country, the same question might be put to de Villiers, who is no more short of a few pound than the swarthier nouveau riche footballing pair.

Nicolas Sarkozy, a long-time adversary of Thuram, reminded the Barcelona defender that he has been living out of the troubled banlieues a long time and living quite comfortably in Italy. Yes, he has, Nico, but not nearly so long as you have, despite your penchant for parachuting yourself into those banlieues and pledging to clean them up with an industrial cleaner normally used for cleaning birdshit off walls.

Milder voices on the right have stammered that, while the players might have the right to invite whoever they like, a football game should not be manipulated for political ends. Well, some might call it civil rights ends. As for manipulation, it would be gratifying if members of the Chirac-de Villepin-Sarkozy axis could absent themselves from France games in the future, as they tend to be made look good by association. UMP deputy Yves Jégo, a friend of Sarko, moaned that Thuram and Viera are 'rewarding people that for many years have not been respecting the laws of the Republic.' I could think of quite a few members of Jégo's party, not to mention his class, that do the very same thing. This is France, after all. But respect for the law is obviously confined to those that have greater cause to be worried about the consequences of disobeying it. Meaning the poor and African immigrants.

Thuram is no lofty observer of France's social problems; he has been involved in various initiatives to politicise young people in the suburbs in which he grew up, including a voter-registration drive, intended to counter the still-strong Front National vote. He is entitled to an opinion, and being a footballer, pace Philippe de Villiers, does not negate this. Neither Thuram nor Viera will be too worried by their detractors. In the past they have shown themselves to be above the insults thrown at them, such as Jean-Marie Le Pen's gripe that there were too many black players in the French team. And, while the publicity for the immigrants' plight will be welcome, the invitation should be viewed above all as an act of solidarity by two men who have been lucky to rise out of adversity with others who have not had such luck. Long may Thuram and Viera annoy the French establishment.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Secret's Out

The Leader of the Free World® yesterday admitted the existence of CIA secret prisons around the world, not that the admission was accompanied by a mea culpa of any sort, nor even that Bush felt forced to disclose this under pressure from the media. Rather than see it as a commendable act of honesty to admit something that the world has already known for the past two years, I see it as a disturbing precedent, an opening onto a shady world drawn up by Bush's neocon advisors, in which soon everything, torture included, will be seen as acceptable and part-and-parcel of 'the world we live in today.'

The great Slavoj Žižek wrote last year that those right-wing intellectuals (legal scholars in the main) that defend 'a debate on torture' are more dangerous than those that advocate torture outright. These defenders of the 'debate' usually like to couch it in terms of a 'ticking bomb scenario', a spurious and improbable situation. Žižek's argument is that allowing the debate breaks down a barrier that must be maintained at all cost: against the idea that torture can be justified in certain situations. Once this barrier is gone, anything goes. The White House's admission yesterday can be viewed in the same light: once it's out in the open, CIA prisons can flourish everywhere. It's just another way of turning the clock back. Speaking of clocks Žižek had this to say about the worrying tendency of the TV show 24 to soft-soap the issue of torture, something that no other writer, be they on the left or the right, has pointed out. Recommended reading.

Forget Berlin

Watching France gain a measure of revenge for the World Cup final defeat last night in St-Denis was a thrill unmatched by anything in this year's Finals tournament. Two superb strikes by Sydney Govou, and enough chances missed that might have resulted in Italy's worst-ever defeat had they been taken. Of course, the pressure of Berlin was off and France would gladly swop this victory for the trophy they lost two months ago, but after Zidane and Materazzi (both of whom were absent and whose names were chanted by their respective fans) this was satisfying. Italy are in serious danger of emulating their performance of seven straight defeats after their last World Cup win in 1982 (in the last three weeks they have lost two and drawn one) and the resurgent Scots look like they might make a push for second place, if they hold their nerve.

Ireland may as well give up trying to win Group D on goal difference, after Germany won 13-0 away to San Marino. Thankfully the Czechs cancelled out most of the Slovak's goal-margin by winning 3-0 in Bratislava. But our lack of penetration up front worries me.

Hats off to NornIron, who beat Spain for only the second time in their history,3-2, with a hat-trick from David Healy, the same man that humbled England this time last year. Healy now has 23 goals from 51 internationals, which is a tally better than many more vaunted strikers. A bit of fun can be had perusing this post-mortem from unofficial Real Madrid fanzine Marca. By way of diversion there is also this humorous piece that has the Bible of Spanish football choking on its paella: Celtic new-boy Bad Thomas Gravesen dissing Fabio Capello and the merengues. And he says something nice about fellow slap-head Lee Carsley too.

Tragic Hero

Never before has Seanachie written so much about a man or a topic that has meant so little to him. Yes it's Steve Irwin time again. People are calling it Australia's 'Diana moment'. (Funny, because I came across a typically specious comment article in the Sindo last week by Eilis O'Hanlon, mourning the fact that on the ninth - yes, ninth - anniversary of her death, Diana is forgotten. Well, so?) The clipping to the left, from some Aussie rag whose name is unknown to me, puts it all in perspective, shall we say.

I will hand you over to the redoutable (and very funny) Jack Marx of the Sydney Morning Herald blogs for a greater appraisal of this Australian national trauma. I have to hand it to Irwin's family, who have proven themselves to be above all this nonsense by declining the offer of a state funeral.

Taking the Mickey (or Pulling a Sicky)

Spotted at last night's game between France and Italy at the Stade de France: Michel Platini (see previous post). Did he get to that funeral at all? There is a pattern developing among former French internationals making their excuses. In June Youri Djorkaeff took leave mid-season from the New York Red Bulls in order to attend to a 'family crisis' only to be spotted celebrating France's World Cup quarter-final win against Brazil. As for the wisdom of expecting MP to foresake a World Cup final rematch for an FAI Cup draw, what was John Delaney on when he arranged the whole thing? The FAI, methinks, was getting its hopes up, just like a poor teenage girl at the hands of a caddish older man.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Ah, Kilkenny, You Have This In Ireland Too?

French footballing legend and FIFA Presidential hopeful Michel Platini made a bizarre visit to Ireland this week, ostensibly to attend the draw for the quarter-finals of the FAI Cup. Well, naturally. The FAI though had the thunder stolen from them by his attendance at the All-Ireland hurling final between Kilkenny and Cork, which Platini was apparently hugely impressed by. The FAI's website also says that he took the opportunity on his short visit to take some tutorials in English at UCD. This, like Platini's visit, is a bizarre notion; I have no idea how good or how bad his English is (I have only ever heard him speak French) but don't you think a FIFA-executive member would already be taking classes in English, and would probably be able to get by for a couple of days in Dublin without emergency grinds? Or maybe it was a crash-course in Cork English. Well, the GAA seems to have rubbed off on him, as he has had to cancel his appearance at the Cup draw because, like many a 'dignitary' before him, he has to leave to attend a funeral.

Liberal Art

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not a publicity-shy person, and the Western media never tire of him either. According to the latest report from the BBC he has declared war on liberal university lecturers in Iranian universities. He says "a student must ask why a secular teacher gives low marks to a student that does not have the same ideas as him." This rhetorical flourish, down to the gruff refusal to use the politically correct "he or she" (and more than fifty percent of Iranian students are female) is reminiscent of the complaints of right-wing US commentators during the Culture Wars of the early 90s, and more recently, of the rabid morons that subscribe to Daniel Pipes' sinister Campus Watch. Liberal bias, you know. Nice to see that the Iranians have the same problem. Is there a distant planet where we can send these charming fundamentalists, both Persian and American, to found their brave new world, free of left-leaning academics? The advice Joe Queenan gave the American conservatives in the early 90s holds as true today for the Iranian mullahs: "Marxists and liberals on campus? Hell, you've got them where you want them. When they start handing Union cards out to WalMart clerks, then you should start getting worried." Or whatever the Iranian equivalent of WalMart is.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

He Ain't Bluffing, Roman

Arsenal new-boy William Gallas has reacted angrily to claims by his former club Chelsea that he threatened to score a deliberate own-goal if he was not allowed to leave. It is a humourous scenario, a world-class defender taking his employers hostage like that: "these are my demands, get me out of here, or Peter Cech gets it." But, after José Mourinho's tussle with the French national team over their "enslaving" of Claude Makelele, this incident suggests that among the new directors (or more appropriately, backroom staff) at Stamford Bridge, might be lurking the next Karl Rove. Gallas says they lack class and I am inclined to believe him.

Iranian Jews

A fine piece in the New York Times on Saturday by Roya Hakakian, an Iranian Jew exiled in New York. Though the title is misleading, the recollection of growing up a Jew both in the Shah's Iran and after the so-called Islamic Revolution is both informative and touching. It will also surprise many people in this part of the world whose only knowledge of Iranian-Jewish relations is informed by the grotesque splutterings of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It also makes me think how naive people in the West are to be shocked at Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial; it is hardly terribly surprising that a religious fundamentalist, an ignorant ideological hoodlum whose view of civilisation is shared by barely half of his own country (if even) could utter nonsense that many Europeans with a pretention to rationality have already claimed before him. Israel is entitled to be concerned at the nuclear threat posed by Iran (though that sentence could just as easily be restated with the names of the two countries reversed) but casting Iran as an overwhelmingly anti-semitic country is unjustified and plain wrong.

State of Grace

It appears that the recently deceased Steve Irwin is to be given a state funeral, according to Queensland State Premier Peter Beattie, 'if his family wishes so'. Am I the only person thinking that this response is just a little bit disproportionate? Does this recent Australian taste for honouring the rich and famous at the taxpayers' expense (such as they did for the memorial service for media magnate Kerry Packer earlier this year) stem from the honoured being fans of the John Howard goverment? According to Germaine Greer, Irwin, bless him, thought that 'Howard is the greatest leader the world has ever seen.'

Monday, September 04, 2006

Steve Irwin RIP

Farewell to Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, who died yesterday in the line of duty, not at the hands of a crocodile, but a stingray. Well, it only takes one bad egg. It is a bit crass to point out the tragicomic aspect of his demise but the incident reminds me of something out of the Simpsons, such as the episode when Homer facilitates the surprisingly swift and anti-climactic execution of the great James Bont. I wonder if Steve expected to go out this way?

Nipped in the Budd

A bit of self-indulgence here; I had a flashback to my childhood the other day, when I remembered the name of Brian Budd, a Canadian soccer player, who won the World Superstars Championship three years in a row in the late 1970s. At the age of about five, my Dad took me to see him give an exhibition of his all-round athletic ability at the Baymount in Strandhill. I remember being slightly disappointed because I was stuck at the back of the hall, with a restricted view, even atop my Dad's shoulders, but I was gratified nonetheless to be in the presence of the great Canadian, who was matched in my esteem only by Evel Knievel and Superman.

A quick dash to Wikipedia turned up this link to the CBC archives, from 1978, where Budd appears on Peter Gzowski's talk show 90 Minutes Live, which will, I'm sure mean more to the Canadians out there than the rest of us. He looked exactly as he did a couple of years later in Sligo though I think he had beefed up a bit in that time. Certainly his close control with a football left something to be desired, and it is not surprising that the pinnacle of his footballing career was a stint with Ayr United reserves.

Goulash Backlash

Two films treating of life in the former Eastern bloc, albeit in wildly different ways. The first is a Hungarian film called Taxidermia, directed by the 31-year-old György Pálfi, who had a minor arthouse hit, Hukkle, a few years back. The second film released this year set in the world of taxidermy, the first being Fabián Bielinsky's classy Argentine thriller El Aura (which, strangely enough, had a brief scene with a crowd of Hungarian taxidermists). Taxidermia tells the tale of three generations of a very strange Hungarian family, from the grandfather, who is a harelipped, sexually-frustrated serviceman sometime before the second World War, through to his 'athletic' son and his grandson, who is the only family member to take up the métier of the title. The grandfather is given to what appear to be paedophile fantasies (yes, you read that correctly) and bizarre methods of masturbation. He impregnates the gargantuan wife of his sadistic superior officer and gets a bullet in the head for his troubles.

The resulting progeny becomes an élite competitor in a surreal international eating competition, which features enormous competitors and much graphic vomiting, against a backdrop of Socialist-era propaganda. It is strangely funny and, I suspect has a number of things to say about life under the mummification of Communism that I did not quite get. The logic of the film falters somewhat in the final third when the taxidermist is introduced in the present day, and though there are some fantastic scenes with his father - now swollen to the size of Jabba the Hutt and subsisting on thousands of chocolate bars every day - the plot strand involving the taxidermy seems like it belongs in another film. But, apart from this lopsidedness the film is enjoyable, even if it is possibly the most grotesque film ever made; I personally know only five or six people that would be even remotely interested in watching it but it is worth it for the superb line bellowed by the father's sprawling mass at his taxidermist son: 'Do you know who I am? There's a vomit named after me!'

Much more conventional is the Romanian film How I Celebrated the End of the World, a semi-autobiographical account by director Catalin Mitulescu of a teenage girl's life in the last year of the Ceaucescu dictatorship. The heroine Eva is expelled from her lycée after she carries the can for her boyfriend destroying a bust of Ceaucescu, and after being sent to a Technical School she falls for the son of a political dissident, though her parents try to get her back with the old cad of a boyfriend, who is the son of a thuggish but influential cop. The film may not be on the same level as this year's other Romanian release, Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr Lazarescu, which is the best film I have seen so far this year, but it is an engaging enough account of the decrepitude and idiocy of the regime that was toppled just before Christmas 1989. Like Enver Hoxha's Albania, the Romania of Ceaucescu was underpinned by a coalition of willing yobs and cowards, which is nowhere more evident in the endless, vacuously patriotic songs that the pupils are forced to sing before every class. It strikes me how much more nationalistic than socialist many of these regimes were in their outlook; they used the exact same devices as bourgeois 19th-century nationalism, but reproduced on a suitably mass scale. The film, of course ends happily, and I was reminded of a chapter I read recently in Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner's Freakonomics, which suggested that Ceaucescu's repealing of Romania's liberal abortion laws in 1965 created a generation of young people that was eventually going to drag him down and summarily execute him in the space of a week.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Witness the Fitness

Within thirty seconds of the kick-off in Stuttgart last night, the butterflies kicked in. I only get them when the Irish football team play; none of the club teams I support evoke such a sensation. It is strange as I am not particularly patriotic (and sometimes criticise Ireland to a degree that many would consider treasonous) and I could not give a rat's arse about how Ireland do in any sport other than football. Robbie Keane's near miss after two minutes settled them a bit but by the time Shay Given had to make two superb saves in four minutes after half an hour (and the Germans missed two more in that same period) the nerves were fraying again.

Lukas Podolski's jammy free kick that deflected in off Robbie Keane's boot broke our hearts but simultaneously put us out of our misery. To be honest we never really looked like scoring after that though Steven Reid's free kick did have Jens Lehmann flapping in his familiar manner and Richard Dunne might have done better with that last-gasp effort. It was a bit harsh but in reality we could have lost by three or four. And that against a mediocre German side; people are talking about how their form has fallen since the World Cup. I would argue that they are simply reverting to form; the World Cup bouyed their average team, inflating it as artificially as a Weimar Republic Deutschmark. Italy, and to a lesser extent, Argentina, cottoned on to their one-dimensional play, and Ireland, for large parts of the game last night were able to keep the ball surprisingly easily.

Not the end of the world but two wins will be needed next month away in Cyprus and at home to the Czechs. Not an impossibility. Once again though Ireland looked desperately short of ideas in the final third of the field. Nice to see Alan O'Brien on though, he looked even more dangerous than Duff, no doubt because of his obscurity. That will not last long.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


Channel 4 is, as they say in the meejia, 'courting controversy' with a new mockumentary about the fictional assassination of the current US President, one George W. Bush. Head of 4's subsidiary MoreFour, Peter Dale says that "I'm sure there will be people who will be upset by it. But when you see it, it's not sensationalist or exploitative. It's a very powerful and thought-provoking drama." Perhaps, and I will reserve wider judgement until I see it. But there is a whiff of Channel 4's usual sensationalism here, the production front-heavy with a headline-grabbing concept. Films like this are not 'exploitative' but rather 'provoke thoughts', 'raise issues' and 'stimulate debate'. And of course play straight into the hands of the neo-cons and their allies, most of whom are far smarter than the useful idiots with leftist leanings in the British media. The White House says that it "does not dignify a response", which already sounds a lot wiser than the folks over at Channel 4.

A friend of mine has pointed out that a file for such a scenario probably already exists in a classified vault in Langley, Virginia (and probably has for past presidents too). Which is not unlikely. But I would prefer these navel-gazing armchair leftists to do something about these fantasy scenaria they devise and walk the walk. This would mean actually assassinating the president (by the way, I would like to point out to the good people at the CIA, MI5 and associated franchises listening in that I in no way condone the assassination of any US President, living or dead). Perhaps if these overpaid Islington bores got their fingers out and donned the mantle of Gavrilo Princip, Leon Czolgosz or Lee Harvey Oswald, it might 'provoke thoughts', 'raise issues' and 'stimulate debate' more effectively than their production will. Not that it would change anything because, even though Bush is not the errant fool that the media (and he, himself) like to portray him as, the real brain behind the regime lies elsewhere. But it would be nice for media types to actually upset the apple cart rather than light a tinderbox and then scamper away back to their offices so they can plan their next reality TV show when international politics gets boring again.

Match Night

International football kicks off again in earnest today. The big game is Ireland's away in Stuttgart versus Germany. We go more in hope than expectation but, as I have said before a draw is not out of the question. And we all know that we enjoy playing in Stuttgart. In the same group John Toshack's Wales travel to Teplice to face the Czech Republic. It would be nice to see both the Irish and Welsh emerge from that group but I cannot see either of us doing each other any favours to that effect.

I have a sneaky suspicion that the Scots will surprise a lot of people in the group of death, where they will have to contend with the World Cup finalists France and Italy and also Ukraine. The Scots are full of beans and intend to start been taken seriously on the international scene again. Qualification might be beyond them but they could go close. I forget who NornIron are playing but I know they have Denmark, Spain and Sweden to take care of, those countries are, at the very least nice places to visit. Meanwhile England start their long march to certain victory in Vienna in two years time with a game against Andorra. And pigs will be airborne by then too.

Notre Damned If You Do...

Le Parvis Notre Dame, the square in front of the famous Paris cathedral, popular with tourists and pigeons alike is due to be renamed tomorrow Place Jean Paul II (anyone with a knack for translation will see the name of the last Pope in there somewhere). The Socialist-run city council voted last year for the change in name, though it is being resisted by a number of troublesome groups, such as the Greens, the Communists and the queers. The latter of which is the wonderful direct-action-oriented Act-Up Paris, who are like Peter Tatchell, but with a more wicked sense of humour (last year after the banlieue riots they put up posters of Nicolas Sarkozy around town, with the caption 'Votez Le Pen'). They are planning to crash the popish party tomorrow.

I have to say I am with the Greens, queers and commies on this one. JP2 had his good points, not least his renunciation of the traditional anti-semitism of the Catholic Church, ironic that it took a pontiff from a still largely anti-semitic country such as Poland to do it. But his firmness on issues of sex and contraception had disastrous consequences for the control of poverty and AIDS in the developing world and his insistently anachronistic reign drove millions of people in the Western world from the Church. I count myself among those, though to be totally honest, it was really the boredom of the Mass that did it. JP2, despite having lived in Paris at one point (in the Collège des Irlandais, now home to the Irish Cultural Centre) really has no place in a free and decadent city such as this one. He will be smiling away in his grave though, as the little park at the back of Notre Dame bears the name of John XXIII; his ideological opposite takes the back seat on this one.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Let's All Go to Funderland

New Sunderland manager Roy Keane has gone mad altogether on the last day of the transfer window, signing his former Man U team-mate Dwight Yorke, Celtic pair Ross Wallace and Stanislav Varga, and a trio of Irishmen Liam Miller, Graham Kavanagh and David Connolly. Sunderland is being retransformed into a home-from-home from the Irish, though I would prefer them to decide to stay in the Premiership long-term if this is going to be the case. Steve Staunton is, of course, none too happy that four of his players - Kavanagh, Miller, Kevin Kilbane and Jonathan Douglas - had to leave the Ireland training camp two days before the Euro opener against Germany in order to change club. That will happen when players cannot hold down regular first-team places though.

Upward Mobility

Good and bad news for incessant mobile phone users: as of today it is illegal to use a mobile phone in Ireland while driving, unless one uses a hands-free kit. I'm surprised this was not made law long before now. The better news is that Michael O'Leary has declared that mobile phone usage will soon be allowed on selected Ryanair flights, which will no doubt lead to every flight to airports in the middle of nowhere all over Europe. Ryanair flights can be annoying enough at the best of times (though unlike a lot of other passengers I do realise that that is a reasonable enough trade-off for a cheap ticket); I can't imagine what they might be like being stuck listening to someone else's phone conversation for half the duration. Trust self-proclaimed unpleasant boor like Michael O'Leary to open the doors to further rudeness and anti-social behaviour.