Monthly Archives: December 2010

Dawkins, Hitchens and Paglia

Camille Paglia is an atheist.

The American author, teacher and social critic has been known to take strong stances on many issues, most notably within the territory of feminist academia, often causing controversy. Unlike other famous atheist academics such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who take the anti-theist view that religion and belief generally in a Higher Power should be eradicated, Paglia is pro-religious education. Paglia, argues that the presence of religion in education systems is essential if children are to have a well-rounded learning experience.

I suppose it’s no surprise, since I do believe in God, that I agree wholeheartedly with Paglia on this matter. More than that, I rather detest the condescending way in which Dawkins and others like him have such a dim view of people who believe there is a God.

In his 2006 book ‘The God Delusion’, Dawkins writes: “Natural selection builds child brains with a tendency to believe whatever their parents and tribal elders tell them. Such trusting obedience is valuable for survival: the analogue of steering by the moon for a moth. But the flip side of trusting obedience is slavish gullibility. The inevitable by-product is vulnerability to infection by mind viruses.” This portrayal of religious belief is deeply misleading and gives the reader no opportunity to consider the positive effect that religion has had in the world. I often fear that the seemingly endless barrage of scandals involving the Catholic Church’s attempts to protect paedophile priests and pervert the course of justice both in Ireland and across the world, have made it acceptable to tar all of Christianity with the same brush.

Paglia’s stance is somewhat refreshing in comparison to Dawkins: “As an atheist who respects and studies religion, I believe it is fair to ask what drives obsessive denigrators of religion. Neither extreme rationalism nor elite cynicism are adequate substitutes for faith, which fulfills a basic human need — which is why religion will continue to thrive in our war-torn world.”

Here, Paglia speaks at length of her beliefs and the place that religion has in modern philosophy, education and everyday life:

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The fun/cool things people do with cameras

I don’t know anything about Sean Teegarden, the internet yields very little. His pictures are beautiful, though. The portraits in particular, I found very arresting.

Pencil vs Camera is the simple idea of superimposing pencilled drawings of the world (or versions of it) onto landscape photographs. The Flickr account belongs to Belgian artist Ben Heine who originally hails from Cote d’Ivoire.

As a childhood fan of Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery, I felt no other example of Heine’s work could be more appropriate for this blog.

Finally – one of the things I notice more and more, the more time I spend with people who take photographs regularly is that it is so much more about one’s ‘eye’ than I had originally thought. The photographer must, first and foremost, have an idea of what he wants the end result to be. This is exemplified beautifully in this Flickr account, devoted solely to photos of the trails made by moths flying around lights.

I freely admit that such an idea would simply never have occurred to me.

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The Rubberbandits for Christmas Number 1!

I’m clearly a bit slow on the uptake but I’ve been essay-writing. The song shown below is called “Horse Outside” by the Irish comedy group Rubberbandits who hail from Limerick, where I went to boarding school. Its video features a wedding scene with the singer trying to persuade the beautiful bridesmaid (Irish model Madeline Mulqueen, above) that even though some of the other men vying for her affections may have souped-up cars, he’s the best option because he has a ‘horse outside’. Simple and ridiculous, it’s a clever send-up of Irish boy-racer culture and Limerick stereotypes in general.

Apparently there’s been some controversy as the chaplain of the church used in the video, situated at the University of Limerick, has said that: “They got permission to use the space in the university but I wasn’t clear at the time as to exactly the nature of the filming”. I’d love to know what yarn they spun for him.

There has been a big campaign at home in Ireland to get the single to number 1 for Christmas this year and I have a feeling it may well happen. Scary what an economic downturn will do to a nation, eh?

Fun fact: the girl at 1:16 in the video, doing her make-up, is a friend of mine from school who I haven’t seen in years. Bit of a shock.

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Filed under Ireland, Laughs, Music

Christmas jumpers and bad weather

Bailey was getting worried I wouldn’t make it home for Christmas what with all this horrid weather…

Not to worry though, all’s well and I’m one of the few people who managed to get out before the blizzards hit. Phew!

Check out my friend Paddy’s Christmas jumper – it’ll brighten your day (there’s a hilarious joke in there, just give it a second)


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Filed under Aberdeen, Cute, Ireland

Why is this not bigger news?

The fourth year medical students at Aberdeen University finished their exams yesterday. The general rule with these people is that they ‘work hard, play harder’, only I’ve never seen a more terrifying example of that cliché. I was invited to a party at Kittybrewster furnished with food and booze and the familiar ‘unacceptable behaviour’ of people who have just been freed from the stress of important exams.

I hadn’t expected any deep, meaningful conversations but Helen, an old friend from the days of Wavell House halls told me a story I’d never heard before about her time in Zambia two summers ago. Naturally, I’m always willing to hear about Africa, so I listened intently.

Many of the patients Helen was dealing with when she worked at a hospital there were at least suspected to be HIV+ (the infection rate among adults between 15 and 49 is 17%). One day, a patient came in and was diagnosed with fungal meningitis, a kind which tends to be associated with immune deficiencies. As a matter of course, the doctor treating the patient decided to perform a lumbar puncture, removing a sample of cerebrospinal fluid from the patient’s spinal cord in order to ascertain whether or not the patient had HIV. Helen was asked to hold the syringe, but since the rubber of her gloves kept sticking to the plastic, she was told to remove them.

It was this point that it became obvious the syringe was leaking potentially extremely infectious HIV+ spinal fluid. She immediately washed her hands and spent the next six months worrying could she have contracted the disease (due to manual labour, her hands had several cuts). Helen told me that it is standard procedure in the West to give staff exposed to such situations immediate prophylaxis treatment. No such thing was done for her. (She’s fine, by the way).

All this came down to a conversation about HIV, its treatment and research to find cures. I had never heard of this story before yesterday and I just don’t know why it’s not received greater attention. A patient in Berlin who was HIV Positive was being treated for leukaemia and the stem cell treatment he underwent (inadvertently, I believe) cured him of HIV as well as the leukaemia. I’m sure it’s still a long way off, but the story shines a ray of hope on finding a possible cure some day.


Filed under Africa, Current Affairs

Won’t somebody think of the gingers?!

I hosted a Christmas dinner last night at my flat, with bread sauce, hors d’oeuvres, chicken and mince pies galore. The whole evening was a tremendous success.

As at any good meeting of friends, conversation flowed vigorously and many interesting things were said. One in particular stood out. One of the guests – my friend Piggy – was telling us all of the British-Sri Lanki singer M.I.A’s video for her song Born Free. It was such an unusual concept that I looked it up later and such an impression did it makes on me that I thought I would share it. M.I.A is probably best known for her 2007 hit Paper Planes and is a woman of many talents – art, music, film direction and fashion design. A victim of the conflict in her native Sri Lanka as a child, M.I.A (real name, Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam) has been both lauded and criticised for her activism in defence of various minorities including Tamils, African Americans and Palestinians. This year she released her third album, Maya, from which the song Born Free is taken.

The short film which accompanied the song is an extremely violent depiction of a fascinating concept – the ‘ethnic cleansing’, as it were, of red-heads. With many similarities to Schindler’s List, the video nods in the direction of many of the greatest conflicts of the past twenty years, including a reference to Northern Ireland. Perhaps it’s a goofy allegory, the murder of people because of their ginger hair, but in my opinion the effect is hardly reduced. It’s a strong indictment of the kinds of merciless tactics used by governments against minorities around the world. Lurid, but powerful.

This video is NSFW (not suitable for work)

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Filed under Film, Music

Ellie Goulding – nach bhfuil sí go hiontach?!

Every once in a while, especially in Britain, a singer comes along whose voice seems to define the time. The last bunch came all at once. Lily Allen, Leona Lewis and Amy Winehouse were kicking it about three years ago but since then, nobody else has really captured my imagination.

When I first heard Ellie Goulding’s song ‘Starry Eyed’, I really did think it was much of a much-ness. Not being one for ethereal softly-softly music or voices, it didn’t appeal to me. I liked the soulful emotion of Winehouse, the gutsy and witty lyrics of Lily and the sheer “WOW!” of Leona Lewis. The only thing I could even slightly get into was the remix of ‘Starry Eyed’ by Jakwob, but that was far more to do with the grimy, steel-balls-against-a-concrete-wall dubstep chorus than the singing.

However, since she covered Elton John’s Your Song for the John Lewis Christmas advert, I’ve been forced to admit to myself that I spoke too soon. The girl’s voice is really very beautiful and even though I want to say I hate quiet music that sinks into the back of your mind, Ellie Goulding makes me love it. As if to add insult to injury – Goulding wins my admiration even more so because she can sing live, with nothing but a guitar for company.

Here are a few videos of covers she’s done recently. If you have the time, listen to them all.


Filed under Music