T is for Twenty-Fourth of April: Census Day

Ireland's Census Day is April 24.

To mark the occasion, here are some lyrics I wrote (to the melody of Annie's Song by John Denver)


You fill up my census with your four-person household,

And the baby you gave up, to the nuns out of shame.

Because rents are so high now, the kids watch you grow older,

From the sofa beside you as you all watch the game

Come on and tell us, about your hip operation:

When you fell in October, were you in any pain?

Did that wait on the trolley in your housecoat feel colder

than the pain in your femur as you walk in the rain?

After selling the Yaris, can you limp to the station?

Are you getting up early, to catch the dawn train?

Like the crippling interest on your defaulting mortgage,

You fill up my census, with the thoughts of your pain!

S is for Somalia

Guest Post by Yusuf Toropov.

Just as they do in in Syria, catastrophic ecological shifts underpin the long-running political trauma in Somalia.

Westerners may be used to filing news from Somalia under such headings as "failed state" and "religious conflict," but these simplistic tags don't come close to telling the whole story, and they certainly don't give us the information that is most relevant to Somalis at the moment: The country is on the brink of yet another major famine. The last one, in 2011, took the lives of a quarter of a million people.

Facing a surrealistic combination of severe drought in the north and relentless rains in the Middle Shabelle Region that brought flooding and crop failures, Somalia is in trouble again. The country faces a daunting humanitarian crisis, barely four years after the establishment of its first convincing attempt at a centralized government since the early Nineties.

Those of us who live (and eat) far away from places like Somalia tend to talk with intensity about how much we dislike religious extremism. Yet we often pass by opportunities to support the people who are most vulnerable to the cycle of poverty and desperation where it thrives. Somalia is a prime example. Having only recently yielded its #1 ranking on the UN's Fragile States Index to South Sudan, Somalia is in a vulnerable position. It is headed in the right direction … but it needs more help than it's getting.

The group Concern Worldwide is doing great work in Somalia, targeting specific communities in need and ensuring that 88%+ of its budget is devoted to relief and development. If we can afford to give them even a little cash, in the hopes of keeping hope alive in Somalia, I think we should. 

We can do so by clicking here.

R is for Reviews...

Jihadi, the debut novel by Yusuf Toropov, has been getting lots and lots of great reviews.

For the blogging AtoZChallenge, I share some of them here, because Jihadi: A Love Story is a thoroughly engaging book:

On Goodreads:

Victoria Goldman says:

Jihadi is intriguing, addictive, brutal, gripping, tragic and brilliant, with several strands that come together seamlessly by the end of the book. It's written in an almost-rhythmic way that enabled me to get inside the characters' heads.

KE Coles says:

Wonderful. The most fascinating book I've read for many, many years and probably the most original I've ever read. It's heartbreaking, horrifying, and yet beautiful too. I think I went through almost every emotion while reading it.

The great reviews this book is picking up indicate how very good it is. My advice is to just read on through. Read it like a straight thriller, with footnotes from an editor who is contradicting the narrator at every opportunity. Read these footnotes too. The pay-off is an extremely rewarding read, with what could be described as an ending that is both as tragic and satisfying as the death of Socrates.

Get the book here on Amazon US or here on Amazon UK.

Q is for The Quantum Eavesdropper

The Quantum Eavesdropper is the name of my work-in-progress. I say work-in-progress; I've been sporadically shopping it around agents for the last year or more, adding to and editing it as I go.

For instance, it has a little time-travel, but I have made the narrative more linear and less jumpy. It was a 170,000 word novel, since split in two, the most recent change to the ending of the first part, to give it more resolution.

I've considered a sequel. There's space. I can see the title character moving aside for this next book.

I've one specific scene in mind for that sequel already.  Although a far cry from the late lamented Douglas Adams, Eavesdropper's somewhat parodic when it comes to sci-fi and pop culture. So I also have a gag about ret-conning for the sequel too. Beyond that, I have not plotted it out.

I have submitted the manuscript to fewer than twenty agents so far. I've occasionally mentioned the novel on this blog since mid-2014.

Feedback from rejection letters in recent months has included lines like:
"It's not the perfect fit for me."
"I'm not connecting with it as strongly as I can."
"This specific project is not right for me."

In a clever manoeuvre, as above, I like to remove the word "not" from all of those sentences. That's what us deluded writers have to do. And remind ourselves of the success stories:

"Think about whatsisname. Or herself. Or the other chap. And you know yer one? Found on the fanfiction site. The Mormon pornographer, with the whips and chains? 
"What about the guy who self-published first and got the billion dollar contract? And that other guy, who published on the PodgeWodge. What is it? WattPad? 
"The woman who got all those votes on the X Factor thing, except it was for the books? And that young lady who followed that publisher fella into the toilet, and got the deal chatting to him while he did his whizz? His cocaine I mean.
"And the one who said the book was finished, but then it wasn't finished yet and she had to write it in five minutes?
"And the Ben Affleck screenplay diddly. Matt Damon. Remember? Who won that again? And the Francis Ford Coppola competition?

"And whatserface? The wizard boy? On the Twitter? 
"They all got 400,000,0000 rejections each before they became successful."

More than a year ago, I approached one critique partner via a social media post where she was requesting beta readers, after doing the same with other people's novels, and we worked on each other's stuff over a few months. After completing the novel, she said:

I'm not blowing smoke when I say that your manuscript was far and away the best. Like light years away. I also have to say that even though I was hesitant to read sci-fi, I think I came away liking The Quantum Eavesdropper the best.  It was just so good.  I can't wait to see it in print!

(Anyway, I wish she was an agent.)

P is for Privacy

Part of the AtoZ Challenge:

P is for Privacy
Government and corporate abuse of data storage

I'd like to just spend an entry here defending some of my musings from yesterday's post

A decade ago, Yahoo controversially cooperated with Chinese authorities, providing details of dissident journalists’ activities from their email accounts, on foot of requests related to log-in times, IP addresses, and other details. The dissidents faced charges directly related to their email activity, such as the sharing of material critical of the Chinese government with correspondents overseas, and these same dissidents were subsequently imprisoned. The UK and Ireland’s National Union of Journalists was among the groups advocating a boycott on the use of Yahoo services. One of Yahoo’s rationales for their behavior was that they cooperate with the law in whichever jurisdiction they operate.

Recently, studies undertaken by credit ratings agencies have suggested that the prevalence of keywords such as “wasted” in a person’s social media posts increase the probability that they have bad credit ratings, or are likely to be poor candidates for loans. Using such markers to discriminate against mortgage applicants, for example, is a possibility.

Companies often require new employees to pass drug tests before accepting positions, and to submit to health checks, psychometric testing and/or a battery of other examinations.

For decades, discoveries about people’s predispositions for inheritable diseases through genome studies have been talking points in health insurance companies’ rights and obligations. Should a health insurance provider be allowed to deny a person coverage on the grounds that there is a significant chance that he or she will contract an illness at some point? Individuals with inherited conditions such as Type 1 diabetes or cystic fibrosis already pay higher premia for their insurance than the average. Recent medical breakthroughs related to both conditions seem to be bearing fruit. But there will always be other conditions.

Data protection laws in Ireland state that companies are compelled to retain an individual’s information for a period no longer than is required. Individuals can request any and all information held about them from a company. While useful for a bank customer seeking confirmation of a historical transaction, data such as this – when linked to specific individuals – can obviously be abused in fields such as private investigation and journalism.

Whatever about the morality of fidelity, the hacking of the Ashley Madison dating site for those seeking to conduct affairs outside of the marital home, and the subsequent leaking of the credit card data of cheating spouses across the world, has probably led to more than a few marriage breakdowns.

Meanwhile, the legal obligations about data retention insisted upon by US lawmakers of their nation’s telecommunications providers causes contention; the United States has a frequently fractious relationship with EU-member countries over the sharing of what is usually innocuous information. US politicians and diplomats might argue that such information could be used retroactively to incriminate terrorists they want to bring to justice, and to expose their accomplices.

Critics argue that the vast majority of law-abiding individuals around the world are entitled to privacy, and the warrantless hoarding of such data is Orwellian.

O is for Orwell and Miller

O is for Orwell?

You can look up stuff related to Orwell on the Interweb yourself. I was having a chat with Yusuf Toropov who suggested I do a post on Orwell for the AtoZ Challenge. I don't know much about the chap, but here's a pic I found of him:
Keith Chegwin (R) and Orwell
Seriously, though:

Let's look at Arthur Miller's The Crucible and George Orwell's 1984. John Proctor of The Crucible is a man with only his name left, and he will either hang, or relinquish his title - a thing by which he is ascribed identity by the members of the community - by signing a false confession.

Orwell's Winston has perhaps more to protect, his uncertainty under interrogation more psychologically pernicious to him. Proctor's choice is stark, Winston's less so, although both situations equally harrowing.

Principles in themselves may not be worth dying for. But the fact that The Crucible is an allegory for the HUAC and McCarthyism takes things further than Proctor's dilemma. Unlike his hero, people such as Miller protected their colleagues rather than themselves if called to testify.

Orwell fought against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War. He saw how Europe was turning, with Hitler and Mussolini already in power. However, 1984 suggests that regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, totalitarianism is a no-no. We don't live in a totalitarian society today though. Right?

Well, there's a disgrace (a collective noun) of extra-judicial executions being undertaken by the superpowers; arrests are rarely made, but instead poisons, bombs and long-range drones take out suspects.

Our privacy is being undermined in ways that we wouldn't have understood thirty years ago, to the point that authorities can discern how well-informed you are on certain topics if they feel the need, what newsletters you subscribe to, what articles you read - at least online. Even the media can violate privacies with relative impunity, exposing celebrities and whoever else. 

Whistleblowers are imprisoned or forced to flee, and held up as traitors.

These are issues worth fighting for because they harm innocent people, cause collateral damage and undermine national sovereignties across the planet.

BTW, I write about Privacy for my P tomorrow too!

But Orwellian activity from governments has been going on for decades - since long before Orwell's time. A look at the behavior of the governments before and during WW2 - the war that was "just" - proves this. Nastiness was not limited to the tyrannies.

Both Miller and Orwell put their lives and livelihoods on the line for what they felt was just, and they wrote about it all too. They could see this stuff coming. 

Whatever your own views on principles alone being worth dying for, many years back I heard Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers declare in an interview:
Even if you're a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.

Looking it up now, it seems it's been credited to Gandhi by the folk of the InterWeb. 

But I think the Manics - given their own wonderful politics - were probably citing Orwell. Wise words anyway.

N is for Nineteen Sixteen

Ireland marks the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising this year.
There have been commemorations about the event that changed the lives of Irish people - perhaps for worse, perhaps for better – over the Easter period.
Briefly, Irish politicians in London’s House of Commons (led for a period of the late nineteenth century by Charles Stewart Parnell) had been trying to establish Home Rule – a form of devolved and limited parliament of their own, in Dublin – through coalitions with William Gladstone’s Liberal Party in London's House of Commons and broader pleas for devolution, since the 1860s.

The House of Lords kept voting the legislation down. Lords being lords, they were quite conservative, and they wanted to hold onto Ireland and rule directly from London. There were three attempts to pass Home Rule Bills into law. The faces changed but the struggle remained. Redmond replaced Parnell, and Liberal leader Asquith took Gladstone's role in post-Victorian London.

It reached a point that involved limiting the Lords’ powers so that they could no longer reject laws entirely, but only delay their passage. Or, as Wikipedia has it, after some checking: "The Parliament Act 1911 replaced the unlimited veto of the Lords with one lasting only two years, ensuring that a bill passed by the Commons could not be blocked for more than two years." 
This was a reasonable and progressive change in a democratic system, as the Lords themselves had never been elected directly by the people.
Home Rule was going to be achieved with the Government of Ireland Act 1914, and the Lords, typically, delayed what they would have previously rejected. But Ireland had its Parliament on paper. 

Then the Great War began, and the British government used it as a pretext to postpone the establishment of an Irish assembly.

The British had their reasons to delay the enactment of the legislation, and certain leaders in Ireland’s nationalist movement even encouraged their countrymen to fight against the Germans under the Union Jack. They expected the British to reward this loyalty and after the war, the new Dublin parliament would be open for business.

However, the British government wasn't given the chance to stay true to its word. The leaders of the Rising, and those who followed them, declared independence from Britain in 1916, launching an armed insurrection against the UK and UK-sanctioned authorities across Ireland. With WW1’s calamitous death tolls in the trenches across France and Belgium, the British regarded this as the ultimate treason.

The leaders of the Rising were executed – one man, Eamon DeValera – spared due to his US birth and citizenship. He would later become both a head of government and a head of state as Irish prime minister and, later, president (which some claim was a sinecure he created for himself after retiring from Parliament).

So Ireland – with the controversial exception of six counties with a Protestant majority in the north-east of the island – was granted independence by the early 1920s, perhaps far quicker than anyone might have anticipated.

Why did the rebels act the way they did? They felt it necessary, although public opinion was initially against them.


Here are some of the many reasons for the Irish desire for independence.

Dublin – at one point the British Empire’s second city – had been a slum for more than a century. Socialist James Connolly, one of the rebel leaders, regarded the British monarchy and establishment as a privileged elite unworthy of their status.

Discrimination against Catholics had been prevalent for centuries across the United Kingdom, enshrined in property-related and office-holding laws, resulting in what was effectively a serf class of Catholics in Ireland, whose primary and often sole source of nutrition was the potato (beyond the milk with which it was often enhanced).
The Irish Famine of the late 1840s - caused by a disease that affected the potato crop - had been exacerbated by the United Kingdom’s trade policies, which had continued to encourage food exports out of Ireland while its people starved.

Previous rebellions – such as two around the beginning of the 1800s, led by the Protestant Emmets and Wolfe Tone, and supported by the French – had failed. After a battle in the rising of 1798, Irish soldiers were said to have been executed while their French allies stood watching - or perhaps ordered by their British captors to look away - their own treatment as prisoners-of-war more in keeping with the later Geneva Convention than the Irish they had assisted. Over the centuries, the Spanish, French, and those with claims to the British monarchy had allied themselves with the Irish independence movement. A few years before the 1916 Rising, German arms had been sailed into Dublin.

Price of the Rebellion

In the end, the 1916 rebellion’s leaders were executed. Public opinion turned against the UK authorities. But the leaders who replaced these idealistic radicals were – as they claimed themselves – among the most conservative revolutionaries in history. The Irish leaders of the late 1920s were not socialists, atheists, or communists. They were generally church-going anti-feminist economic protectionists. They had few of the progressive tendencies of the men from whom they had inherited the cause of Irish independence. 

It seemed that those who had been willing to kill and die for Ireland - however wrongheaded critics may think they were - had been replaced by the more typical politician class we know today.