13 July 2009

The solution to, and cause of, all of life's problems

Had a conversation with a few folks after the Amartya Sen lecture last week, mostly on the subject of how the country is pretty messed up and no one, especially in the Government, really knows how to get us out of the mess we are all in. This would not be that remarkable a conversation in the current climate, except for the fact that the folks bemoaning our socio-economic meltdown were all senior academics many of whom have been employed recently as consultants by the Government.


But then slowly and somewhat dimly a long-life lightbulb kicked into gear above my head and I had the solution to all our socio-economic woes. Given the fact the as a nation we love nothing more than to complain about something without ever actually trying to fix it, I proposed the introduction of a Cynicism Tax. Modeled along the lines of the Plastic Bag Tax, it would impose a 20¢ levy on any instance of cynicism. Since the introduction of the Plastic Bag levy in 2002, consumption of plastic bags has fallen by 90% while over €80 Million has been raised for the exchequer. Think of how much could be raised by tapping into our greatest national resources, our cynicism, pessimism and general all-round begrudgery?

The Tax could be operated on a prepaid basis available from any newsagent (I'd like €20 worth of Begrudgery please), or on monthly Bill Pay (get a 10% discount to your total bill when you bundle 2Gb of Online Narkiness with unlimited Local and National Negativity). Roaming charges for cynicism abroad could also be a valuable revenue stream (Wow, Helsinki is great, why can't Dublin be this good? Everything in Dublin sucks monkey-balls).


With that in mind, and having used up my entire monthly Moaning Minutes for July in the first twelve days alone, I now present in no particular order five things that currently do not suck about Ireland, admittedly somewhat Dublin-focused.

1) Music
A recession brings good music. In the 80's folks had lots of time on their hands, rehearsal space was cheap thanks to acres of empty industrial space, being in a band was seen as a route out of poverty and going to see a local band was a cheap night out in comparison to international acts. The Celtic Tiger years encouraged musically inclined folks to spend all their time on their laptops twiddling knobs in the privacy of their own bedrooms, and the innate narcissism of the time stopped folks from collaborating and ultimately most electronic music ended up sounding the same, boring and repetitive because without the cross-fertilization that collaboration brings it never became greater than the sum of its parts. The New Recession is bringing the group effort of the 80's to the world of electronica, and something great is happening again. Try and catch a live set from Waterford's Fighting Spiders, a multi-piece group blending 80's synth pop with noughties indie-angst rock, or Dublin's Love Rhino playing guitar and laptop around the city with Rude Doc on live drums, you'll be in for a treat.

2) 3E
Yes, despite having possibly the worst website of any Irish TV station and showing almost nothing but American shows, it is responsible for putting on '30 Rock' five nights a week, possibly the funniest show I have seen in many, many years. I don't think I've enjoyed any US comedy show as much since the ill-fated 'Andy Richter Controls the Universe', an admission which should also be taken as a giant Caveat Emptor on any other TV recommendations I make. 3E showed every episode of 'Sopranos', just started on 'The Wire', brought us the surprisingly good (and unsurprisingly canceled) "Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles" and also shows "Chuck", which I've never watched but a number of my US friends seem unduly attached to. 3E + a DVR is the perfect antidote to the miserable summer weather.

3) The Schoolyard Market in Ranelagh
For ages the Sunday Farmer's Market in the multidenominational school in Ranelagh was in a sorry state, with a chicken/egg situation leading to almost no stalls and no customers. With management of the market now run by the traders themselves as a not-for-profit enterprise, a new life has been breathed into it, with stalwarts Denis Healy's veg wholesaler and the Corleggy Cheese folks joined by Cork's Real Olive Co, a great baker, and stalls selling fresh pasta, muesli and jams/chutneys and preserves made by one of the chefs from The Cake Cafe. While the quality of Denis Healy's veg isn't always top notch by the time it makes it to the Sunday market, overall the new market is great and a welcome return to form.

4) The Science Gallery
Its free, open late and hosts a wide range of hands on exhibitions, films and lectures. The current "Infectious" series is coming to end on Friday, and I'm going to miss the familiar yellow bio-hazard posters around the city; during its three month run the series has managed to cover everything from the spread of memetic ideas to the compulsive nature of laughter, while retaining a core focus on medical matters that coincidentally paralleled the emergence onto the world of everyone's current favorite bio-nightmare, the H1N1 flu. As a whole TCD manages to attract a world class level of guest lecturers with public talks normally free, if poorly advertised, but the Science Gallery goes beyond this, with its mission to explicitly break down any barriers between the public and an ivory-towered academia and to ignite a spark of scientific and artistic curiosity in the minds of the general populace. Having this as a free resource in the center of Dublin gives the city something to be proud of at an international level.

5) The Internet
While not technically and/or exclusively Irish, the level of thought, research and discussion on the current socio-economic and political crises currently being engaged in online on a few specific Irish sites is amazing. Two sites specifically worth highlighting are:
a) IrishElection - my vote for the best site for Irish political coverage and comment, bar none. A diverse group of writers from varying political backgrounds, IrishElection has emerged in recent months as a strong and credible news source, often covering and/or breaking stories ignored by mainstream media.

b) Progressive-Economy@TASC - TASC is an independent vaguely left-leaning Irish Think Tank, attracting contributions from a wide range of academics, scientists, artists, business and NGO leaders, and Progressive-Economy@TASC is their economics blog, providing a counterpoint to the Government's hyperbole. IrishEconomy is another good economics blog, slightly more academic than TASC's, but also more centrist/centre-right in tone.

As an afterthought on this list, I originally tried to come up with ten things that currently do not suck about Ireland, but after struggling to find even the five above, I gave up. I think I'm going to move to a Pay As You Go Cynicism Plan, and slap another €20 worth of credit on my account. That should get me to the end of the week at least.


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