Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What is Art?

Every Sunday morning, Miriam O’Callaghan interviews a “couple” on RTE radio. Last Sunday’s “couple” was John Sheahan & Barney McKenna of the Dubliners.

Sheahan read a poem he’d written for the deceased Ronnie Drew – the closing section was where he hoped Ronnie had finally found the answer to life’s three great imponderables: “What is life, what is art and where the fcuk is Barney?”

I thought of it last night while watching a BBC2 programme about aspiring young artists competing for the patronage of Charles Saatchi.
Basically the programme had selected 12 wannabe artists from a much larger group, this 12 to be further whittled down to 6 during the programme, who would then be given 10 weeks to produce some new artworks. The ultimate winner will have his/her piece exhibited with Saatchi’s collection and be given a studio for 3 years.

The whittling process from 12 to 6 was the subject of the programme, with each participant having to present one art work to the panel (which included Tracey Emin) and the final choice to be made by Saatchi himself.

As a little surprise the 12 contestants were asked to complete a life drawing of a nude model, which merely served to prove that none of them can actually draw. There were only 3 painters in the twelve, the rest were showing a variety of installations, mechanical devices and videos.

They then, individually, had to discuss their presentation with the panel and each was asked the simple question: “Why is this art?”. None managed a credible answer, indeed, most were genuinely flummoxed by the question.

This inability to justify didn’t seem to faze the panel – who showed a “famous” video by an “artist” called Bruce Nauman, walking bare-foot along the edge of a square marked on the floor. Nauman famously found himself suffering from “artist’s block” while sitting in his studio. Then he had a blinding revelation: “I’m an artist and, therefore, everything I create is, by definition, art”. And off he went. He’s beloved of the art community because this rationale has been the greatest “get out of jail free” gift that could ever have been given to that community.

I don’t know if this was the first of a series of programmes, but I hope there will be a follow-up. At least half the final 6 chosen appear to be utterly talentless charlatans, so my education has obviously sadly deficient and I welcome all opportunities to bridge the gaps.

One girl who made the final 6 presented a handle attached to the wall, with a referee’s whistle suspended from it. Asked to explain it she mumbled stuff about tactile feel, action of blowing the whistle etc.. Tracey Emin elaborated for her – it’s sexual blah blah. But what they particularly liked was her drawing of the nude model – an incomprehensible series of marks, squiggles etc across two large sheets of paper. The human form could not be discerned in all of this. But I know that I’m wrong, because this “drawing” also caught the approving eye of Charles Saatchi!.

FIFA & the Thieffy Henry affair

There’s not a single word of regret or condemnation in the FIFA press release* denying the FAI request for a replay, nor anything from Sepp Blatter or Michel Platini. This demonstrates the moral vacuum in the body responsible for running world football.

The fish rots from the head, so it’s hardly a surprise that the actual players are so willing to cheat as part and parcel of the game.

FIFA is clearly a rotten cod.

*20 Nov 2009 Press Release from the FIFA website

“FIFA has today, 20 November 2009, replied to the request made by the Football

"Association of Ireland (FAI) to replay the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ play-off match held on 18 November 2009 between France and the Republic of Ireland in Paris.
In the reply, FIFA states that the result of the match cannot be changed and the match cannot be replayed. As is clearly mentioned in the Laws of the Game, during matches, decisions are taken by the referee and these decisions are final.”

Penalty Points for Criminality/Anti-social behaviour

There was a lively debate on RTE’s Frontline last night on the subject of criminality and anti-social behaviour.

Clearly any solution will have to be multi-faceted, a combination of carrot & stick measures.

Most of those appearing in our courts are described as “unemployed” or “on disability” – in other words, the state is supplementing their criminal lifestyle. In addition, it seems to be widely accepted that ASBOs have limited deterrent effect on juvenile offenders, who often make life hell for neighbours.

Here’s one “stick” measure which might be effective.
We have a penalty points system for motoring offences – why not have one for criminal and anti-social activity offences? Every citizen (and welfare recipient) has an individual PPS number, so it should not be rocket science to modify the system.

Every conviction to carry a points tariff, leading to a reduction in benefit payment to the convicted party. If that party is a juvenile, the reduction will apply to the child benefits paid on behalf of that child. Such a system might incentivise parents to take more interest into what their kids are getting up to outside the house!

As with motoring points, these new points would automatically fall off the system 2 years after they were awarded, so that a period of good behaviour will also be rewarded.

At a time when many people are facing cuts in benefits and uncertainty about their financial security, clamping down on those who have no interest in working, but rather are intent on pursuing a state-funded lifestyle involving petty criminality and anti-social behaviour, would seem like the first and most appropriate reform of the welfare system.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Senator Shane Ross - fearless or toothless?

Saturday’s Irish Times Weekend section contains a review by Labour’s Joan Burton of Shane Ross’s “The Bankers: How the Banks brought Ireland to its knees”.


Ms. Burton tells us that Ross “has been a constant thorn in the side of corporate Ireland and has never flinched from exposing its practices to the public gaze”.

Shareholder in IN&M, Ross’s employers, might well be wishing that this was actually true as, in terms of the loss of value of their shares, they have now surpassed the beleaguered shareholders in AIB & BOI.

For many years the boardroom of IN&M was populated with various old faithful retainers and the offspring of our most notable press baron. Sir Anthony also filled the dual roles, for several years, of Chairman and Chief Executive - another clear breach of best practice in corporate governance principles.

While Senator Ross was routinely railing about comfortable cliques in other Irish boardrooms, he never once focused attention on his own employer.

The bold senator may like to present himself as a fearless newshound but, in matters relating to the business affairs of his paymaster, he has consistently shown himself to have all the bite of a toothless lapdog.

Friday, November 06, 2009

NAMA & the budget deficit - we don't need that crap.

I’m not sure what, if anything, the broadcast today of Pat Kenny’s radio programme from O’Connell St added to the debate on the state of the nation. It might well be perceived that staging the programme in this way was, in itself, an act of solidarity with the trade union organised protest.

However, one contributor (Kieran Allen) was allowed to make the misleading claim, oft repeated by left-wing commentators, union reps and opposition politicians, that the €54bn (estimated) bill for NAMA is somehow tied into the yawning annual budget deficit.

This claim is generally allowed go unchallenged by programme presenters, as it was today by Pat Kenny.

However, on Kenny’s own Frontline tv programme some weeks back, Colm McCarthy made it forcibly clear that this claim is nonsense. The fact that it’s routinely made by economists and opposition politicians – who must know that it’s a lie – makes it all the more important that it is scotched immediately every time it is uttered.

To paraphrase a well-known media figure (Pat Kenny) – we don’t need that kind of crap.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Some GPs opt out of Swine Flu Vaccination

It appears that some GPs are concerned that their professional indemnity insurance may not cover them in the event that they fail to identify all “at risk” patients on their practice list for the swine flu vaccine.

Their solution to this problem is to absent themselves entirely from the vaccination scheme, thus ensuring that all their “at risk” clients are actually put “at risk”.

Even if such blatant dereliction of duty does not invite legal actions from patients, which might well put “at risk” the GPs indemnity insurance, it surely must demand serious sanctions from their professional bodies.

No point in holding your breath!