The One After 9-9-9: Herman Cain and Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan

November 25th, 2011

A friend once confessed an anecdote to me while we were discussing the subject of job interviews. A potential employer asked him a moderately tricky question that, according to him, he answered so dreadfully that he got up, shook the interviewer’s hand and said ‘sorry, I know I won’t get the job now’ and walked out of the room. Arrogance and ignorance were swiftly followed by humility.

Whatever my friend said, however, cannot possibly have been as utterly atrocious and mortifying (in the strictest sense of the word) as Herman Cain’s effort to respond to a basic, yet moderately tricky, question about President Obama’s handling of the Libya situation this year. Cain should have just said ‘sorry for wasting your time’ and walked away from pursuing the job as most powerful person in the world.

Jon Stewart described the skin-crawlingly bad answer as “it’s like he’s trying to download the answer but it’s just the little ball is spinning and he’s just buffering.” The Cain camp blamed his slow reply on his busy schedule and lack of sleep, and assured us that the potentially most powerful man in the world is well up to date on international affairs.

Let us grant Cain and his team that and give him the benefit of doubt. His unease under pressure? His lack of basic knowledge on the downfall of Colonel Gaddafi? The way his only aim throughout the humming and hawing is to position himself on the opposite side of the President? Take all that, and put it down to having a bad day and a poor night’s rest, for Cain had already proven that it is not a lack of knowledge that makes him unworthy of Presidential status, but rather an open celebration of said lack of knowledge.

In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network a few weeks prior to the Libya question, CBN host David Brody asked:

“Are you ready for the ‘gotcha’ questions that are coming from the media and others on foreign policy? Like, who’s the president of Ubekistan (sic)?

Cain replied:

“I’m ready for the ‘gotcha’ questions and they’re already starting to come. And when they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan I’m going to say, you know, I don’t know. Do you know?

Cain followed this by saying his priority – his only priority – is to create jobs. What he effectively seems to be saying is ‘I don’t want to talk about foreign policy; I want to talk about jobs.’ Well, perhaps it ought to be pointed out to Cain that he doesn’t really get to decide when someone asks him questions on foreign policy.

The addition of multiple extra syllables into the country’s name seems to show that Cain is annoyed by its very existence and reveals a flippant attitude towards the world. This might play well among a minority within the American electorate who give the impression that they admire lethargy in international relations, but is in reality incredibly condescending towards a very large number of Americans who do want a well-rounded, knowledgeable and creative president, willing to learn more about the world both at home and abroad.

What is important in this interview is that Cain is quite proud of his lack of knowledge. The interviewer didn’t even ask him who the president of Uzbekistan was, yet Cain was happy to tell us that he didn’t know. It wasn’t even close to being a ‘gotcha’ question, yet Cain was very much got.

As I said in an article recently published in Trinity News, American exceptionalism or ‘manifest destiny’ is alive more than ever within the GOP. Christopher Hitchens recently penned a good article on this subject, only weeks after I had made the same argument (are you watching me, Hitch?). The two most recent debates – on foreign policy and national security respectively – have shown this to be the case.

The basic rule among the candidates (with one or two exceptions) seems to be: if you are struggling to answer a question, just praise the United States and label it exceptional and all will be well. The audience claps, you smile, and we move on.

Some of the words uttered by these ostensibly serious candidates are outright bizarre. Michelle Bachmann, perhaps the most vocal exponent of American exceptionalism, labelled Pakistan “too nuclear to fail”. Rick Santorum called Africa a country before praising US aid efforts to fight AIDS because it helps curb Islamism — would fighting AIDS not be a worthy end in itself? Rick Perry appears to be in the Cain camp of not really giving a damn about foreign affairs; rather, he tows the ‘exceptional’ line and maintains the policies held by almost every other establishment Republican. Ron Paul is different; his foreign policy seems to be not to have one at all. Jon Huntsman, erstwhile Ambassador to China and speaker of Mandarin, is consistently ignored. Perhaps he doesn’t shout loud enough. Mitt Romney said US aid could “bring Pakistan into the 21st century, or the 20th century for that matter.” The new tactic to win over wavering allies is to patronise them, or so it would seem.

Newt Gingrich was almost lynched for suggesting that “church-going” illegal immigrants with families who have been in the country for a quarter of a century ought to have a path to citizenship available. Church-going? It would seem Newt wants to perform a merry dance on the corpse of the First Amendment. The superficially domestic issue of illegal immigration spills across the Venn diagram into foreign affairs because what is being mooted by the majority of candidates is mass repatriation of people and families to other states. The favoured policy du jour is ‘root ‘em out and send ‘em home’. That’s right; a forced migration of perhaps 12 million people. It’s like the Trail of Tears never happened. Or rather, that it never mattered.

Very few of these candidates are prepared to have any nuance, creativity or imagination on international matters; everything is black and white. If this stakes were not so high, this might even be funny. But the stakes are that high.


When I Get Home: Sandycove, Killiney and Achill

November 21st, 2011

In a post from May of this year I mentioned that, of all the things I miss about being away from home, nothing is more craved than the sea. One of the first things I did on this brief visit home was take a dip in the Forty Foot. Yes, it’s cold. Yes, you may think it’s crazy; but it is a creature comfort that I yearned for all year. This post is a tribute to where I am from and where I spend a lot of time: Sandycove, Dalkey and Killiney, Co. Dublin and Achill, Co. Mayo. Of all the places I have been in my life, I am yet to find one that can be quite as beautiful as Ireland. Some of the images were taken by my friend Ed Kavanagh, some were taken by myself, and some were taken by others.


Sunset from Sandycove strand. On cloudless evenings like this the sun illuminates the east pier and Scotsman’s bay. You can see three swimmers with their heads bobbing on the water.

The Forty Foot. I must have climbed those steps a thousand times.

More Forty Foot. You can see all the way across Dublin Bay to Howth on the far side.

Sandycove and Dalkey from the east pier in Dun Laoghaire.

Some birds found lunch in Sandycove.


More lunch.

A seal spies a wee birdy in Sandycove.

Rainbow over Dublin Bay, taken from Sandycove.

From Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape

Dalkey Island from Coliemore Harbour. The water isn’t normally this calm!

Sunset over Dalkey Island. I once sailed from Dun Laoghaire to the island and camped for the night. We had a wind and the current on the way over, but the journey back was hell. We had to row and I was about 14 with arms like toothpicks.

Killiney Bay taken from Killiney Hill.

Gorse bush on Killiney Hill in November.

Early morning dew on Killiney Hill.

Ed took this one of the Obelisk on Killiney Hill. It is probably my favourite image of all in this post.

The Obelisk with the Dublin mountains in the background.

Time to head west. This is Keem Bay near the westernmost point of Achill. I have been to countless beaches across three continents, yet none has ever been as magnificently beautiful as Keem. Have a few more . . .

Keem Bay is just one stunning place in Achill. Here are a few more . . .

One of the many dolphins off the west coast of Ireland.

Some horses watching a Mayo sunset.

Surfing at sunset on Keel strand.

The next few images are from the Curraun penninsula, just off Achill Island.

This is Clew Bay, Co. Mayo. Scores of little islands (‘drumlins’) dot the bay.









A Year in the Life: Montreal, Canada and Me

November 12th, 2011

Why Montreal?

Why not? It seems childish to answer a question with another question, but in this case I can’t help it. I had never been to the place before moving there, but it seemed like a place for me. Why Toronto? Why America? Why Australia? Why gap years spent on some pseudo-anthropological quest to see what’s it’s like to spend time in rural Bhutan? Why stay at home? These are all worthy pursuits for certain individuals; Montreal seemed to be a worthy pursuit for me.

Plus, I knew pretty much nobody and if I wanted to I could made up an entire history for myself and give myself a new name. I didn’t, of course, but I could have if I wanted to. Even that thought – the very hypothesis – was liberating. I needed a challenge and initially in Montreal I had a long, harsh winter ahead, no friends, nowhere to stay, no job, limited savings and the need to improve in French and become comfortable with the unique twang of its Quebecois derivative.

I arrived in mid-January. Finding an apartment was theoretically straightforward but practically complicated. I had no friends or acquaintances in the city and so had to trawl through a pile of online classified ads, copying and pasting the same spiel in two languages, amending it for those ads forewarning that obviously copied and pasted spiels would be ignored (you think I’m going to write a different reply a hundred times?). The other problem was that it was Montreal and it was January and on my third day it was -31 degrees Celsius. Minus thirty one. I had to get to these places to view them in that sort of climate. “Oh but it’s a dry cold,” they say . . .

I knew the area in which I wanted to live and started by applying in that neighbourhood. One fellow rang and said I could view a nice room in that area, but when I took the metro to get there it was obviously not in that area but actually a good few miles out. It would be like calling Tallaght “Balinteer” or maybe like calling Mogadishu a suburb of Milan. It really was very far from where the ad said it was. I went anyway, saw the room, shook the man’s hand and said ‘no thanks’.

The second place I saw that same day was in a perfect location but was a little bit . . . how do we put this? It was a little bit shit. The floors were uneven, there was no natural light at any time of day, and the room offered was oddly shaped with a single mattress on the floor. I know this because a lot of the posts on this site were written from that very room. Though I was not a beggar, I was most certainly not a chooser either.

I took the room not only because of its location but also because I was interviewed for it by two lovely, intelligent, outgoing women. What could be more important than good housemates? It turned out that woman A was subletting from woman B, who in turn was planning on moving to New York with another housemate (her boyfriend) who was at that time in New Zealand. I had not yet met the other housemate.

It turned out that the other housemate, a 30-year-old man from Paris, was a coma-inducing mammal who seemed to have undergone a complete personality bypass. I have now lived with him for nine months and as such feel ready to give birth to my true feelings about him. I never got his phone number, our longest conversation was perhaps long enough to go thirty seconds beyond ‘ca va?’ and when we had a mouse issue earlier in the year, his solution was to pick up his excrement-ridden half-eaten bag of rice and utter ‘putan merde!’ That’ll get rid of them. Not. His girlfriend rivaled him for annoyingness. He would bring her home in the afternoon and, even though I may have a friend over or I’d be chatting to the other nice housemate, they would give off the sweet aural flavours of passionate lovemaking. In such situations I feel compelled to perform a little bit of coitus interruptus myself and withdraw from the scene by leaving my own home for a while. I should give this man a name, shouldn’t I? Let’s call him Spanky. Work that one out.

When I arrived, friendless and cold, I worked hard. I had set myself a goal a few weeks prior to my arrival of getting published in The Irish Times. I pitched a few articles to various editors and was eventually commissioned to write one of them. That article was published over two months later.

On a notice board in my parents’ bedroom, there is a piece of paper on which is written something I said during my early-to-mid teens that so amused my mother that she had to pin it on the board. It says ‘the three most important things in my life are newspapers, women and cake.’

From around June of this year I subconsciously switched the first two around to the point where my consumption of news and output of words didn’t just take a back seat, but rather were put in a trailer. I then forgot to attach the trailer and instead drove off without it (though I never forgot to bring cake).

The evidence for this is on this page. I was unexpectedly overwhelmed by how epic the Montreal summer is and, at the same time, a person re-entered this little life of mine and took it over for a while. My output went down, as did my networking and pitching. Now that I have left Montreal, though probably not forever, I do have the very salient sense of ‘if only’ about some aspects of my year. But then I ask myself a question: if you had been offered the year as it panned out, would you have taken it in advance? Yes, I would.

Montreal is the hidden gem of North America. Homer Simpson once said “anyone could miss Canada, all tucked away down there,” and even within Canada Montreal is tucked away. There is no metropolis further north and it’s not really on the way to anywhere. To get to Montreal, it almost has to be your destination.

For many Montrealers, they are Montrealers first and foremost, not Canadian or Quebecois. I was having a sandwich in my favourite cafe (Chez José on Duluth) in around March of this year when the man serving me, a gangly bespectacled Anglophone of about my age, noticed the book I was reading:  A Fair Country by the Canadian author John Ralston Saul. On seeing my reading material, the man flipped out and went on a rant about how much he hated Canada. Of course, he was Canadian, but he gave the impression that he was trying to shake off his Canadianness like a dog trying to pick a tick off its body.

“What do I have in common with some kid in Alberta?” he demanded in a sort of rhetorical way. Canada is perhaps too big to have a uniform culture and it was never really meant to have one – that’s almost the point of its existence. The United States has been more successful in honing a sense of loyalty to one flag than its northern neighbour, but Canadians should not seek to mimic that. Any sentence that begins with ‘Canadians are . . .’ invariably misses the point; A nation of such size will inevitably command secondary loyalty from a large proportion of its citizens or, in the case of the man in the cafe, disdain. So be it. Montreal is worthy of this man’s affection in any case. It is a city worthy of anyone’s affection.


Day Trapper: Come on you Boys in Green

November 8th, 2011

It looks like Silvio Berlusconi is in a spot of bother, and this time the Teflon Prime Minister might not make it through. I’m scared. Why am I scared? Well, you should be too. Them Eyetalians will probably want another cheeky septuagenarian from the homeland to take the keys to the Palazzo Chigi , one with a nice smile and public recognition. If Silvio is forced to resign, it’s likely that we’ll lose Trap as his replacement. He’s that good.

Before that happens, however, Trap needs to guide us through some choppy Baltic waters. The lads are meeting in Dublin town this week ahead of the journey to Tallinn. We heard a rumour that Robbie Keane arrived all the way from California this morning, cart wheeled into the dressing room and stood defiantly with his arms out for all to marvel at. What did he point at? Apart from himself, I mean. He pointed at Duffer, but Duffer was asleep in the corner under a pile of coats. Séamus Coleman got so scared that he ran all the way home to Donegal to cry to his Mammy.

Trap then asked Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews to put out the cones for training, but they never looked for the cones and when one of them found them by accident they left the chore to each other. Trap found this so endearing that he made them both captains for the 7-a-side at the end of the session. He also gave them a lollipop and an ice cream sandwich each. At this point Andy Reid was spotted behind a fence a hundred yards away, crying into a bowl of Shreddies while glugging back a litre of Sunny Delight.

Poor Kevin Kilbane was also spotted behind the same fence, dressed as Brian Boru while singing the national anthem through a loudspeaker. Poor fella had his heart broken.

The lads then played a game of crossbar challenge. Stephen Ward didn’t understand the basic rules and instead dribbled the ball all the way to the corner whereupon he ran it out of play. Darron Gibson said that he was too good for crossbar challenge and promptly went off to text Alex Ferguson. Kevin Doyle ran to the ball, turned his back to the goal and asked a non-existent referee for a free kick on the halfway line. James McCarthy was called to take his shot, but Trap looked around and noticed that he’d left the field without telling anyone. Throughout all this, Stephen Hunt was bouncing up and down screeching “is it my turn yet?!” A member of the Garda Siochána was eventually called to threaten him with a Taser or incarceration into a mental institution. Paul McShane missed the ball altogether and fell on his back (Trap said this showed his “good mentality”). The only one to hit the crossbar was Marco Tardelli, who celebrated by crying uncontrollably while running with his arms waving all the way to O’Connell Bridge.

This was just a normal training session for Trap and the lads. When he becomes Il Primo in Rome, hanging out with Ratzinger and Francesco Totti, Trap will look back at those days in Malahide and surely smile. Surely.