Re-reading the page

The husband of a woman left severely brain damaged after her bike collided with a car has said that the incident resulted in her losing the ability to speak, walk, or hear.

The daughter of the man who had been driving the car said that he suffered from such deep remorse that he could not think about the incident without becoming emotionally overwhelmed.

Robert Faherty (63) pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to one count of careless driving causing serious harm after his car collided with Grainne Duncan on February 4th, 2015, on the Malahide Road, Dublin at 6:45 pm. He will be sentenced next month.

Ms Duncan was in a coma for two months after the accident, and only became aware of her situation recently, which had also resulted in her requiring treatment for depression.

The court heard that Faherty had been driving a short distance without his lights on, after having recently collected his car at a bus stop, but that neither speed or alcohol were a factor.

Garda Keith Murphy told the court that Ms Duncan had been cycling on the left side of the road when she decided to turn right at a junction with Greencastle Road.

Gda Murphy said that the main contributing factor to the accident was that Ms Duncan was unable to see Mr Faherty’s car because he did not have his lights on.

“I think that she may have noticed the car when she went to make the turn, but by then it was too late,” Gda Murphy said. “It would have been completely safe for her to make the turn if there had not been oncoming traffic,” he added.

The court heard that Ms Duncan was wearing a high-vis jacket, a helmet, and had a light on her bike at the time of the incident.

A victim impact statement was presented on behalf of Patrick Duncan, the victim’s husband, who said his wife’s disability had had a profound effect on her daily living. Her favourite pastime was reading but due to the short term memory loss from the brain damage, she could not read more than one or two pages at a time.

At the time of the incident he had returned to college as a mature student, but he had since given up his studies to care for Ms Duncan.

The medical costs to date were estimated at €540,000, and the court heard that there were pending civil proceedings.

Caroline Biggs SC, defending, said that the crux of the matter was that the accused was not driving with his lights on.

“By the time the car had stopped the lights were on, and therefore, it would be appropriate to classify this as momentary inattention, albeit with tragic consequences,” Ms Biggs said.

Mr Faherty’s daughter wrote a letter to the court, which stated that he had been a dedicated father and had never harmed another human being in his life.

“The accident has had a huge impact on our family, and the remorse that my father feels is such that he cannot think about the incident without becoming emotionally overwhelmed,” she said.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment, but Ms Biggs requested that the court not impose a jail sentence due to Mr Faherty’s compliance, remorse, and poor health.

Judge Pauline Codd offered her apologies for the severe suffering sustained by Ms Duncan’s family and reserved judgment until May 5th.

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Sigh Rise

Ben Wheatley’s latest film fails to reach new heights

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Flamboyant carnage evolves out of visually oppressive power hierarchies in Ben Wheatley’s High Rise, a dystopian film equally sustained and flawed by its style. The film is provocative and spontaneously violent. The characters are lonely and cold. Its casual attitude toward horrific acts can cause feelings of anxiety and unease which may persist for hours after viewing concludes.

Wheatley adapts the novel by J.G. Ballard to the screen with clear inspiration from other sci-fi films about hopeless survival and classist corruption, like Brazil and Zardoz. It is colourful to the point of sickening, an apartment block that becomes more outlandish and cruel the higher up you go.

The antagonist at the center of the story is Dr. Laing, played by a calculatedly handsome Tom Hiddleston. The opening scene depicts him barricaded inside his post-apocalypse looking apartment and deciding to eat his former neighbors dog. Time then turns back three months, and the story of the demise is told from the moment he moves into the building. Wheatley removes any element of surprise, and forces the viewer to bear witness to the chaos rather than  make sense of it.

Anthony and Ann Royal (Jeremy Irons and Keeley Hawes) live in the penthouse apartment, which includes its own fairy tale-like garden, complete with white steed. Mr. Royal is the architect of the building, and downplays the initial discontent as “teething problems.” When the unequal distribution of resources becomes overwhelming, he laments that his project was so misunderstood. Like God, he wanted to create a peaceful world but the humans soiled it with evil. What starts as a fight over electricity and water, turns into a war over wine and canapés.

Wheatley succeeds in turning big ideas into optical illusions, a building full of surprises that acts as a metaphor for societal unrest. Despite being set in a simultaneously 1950’s/futuristic world, the echoes of contemporary life are deeply palpable. The rich care only about continuing their ongoing party, the poor about having enough resources to survive. Ann Royal lights her 200th cigarette with the statement, “Like all poor people, they’re constantly obsessed with money.”

The violence is chillingly familiar. For the women, the threats of rape are on every corner. Richard Wilder (Luke Evans) is lambasted by the rich for raping those he did not have permission to rape. His wife Helen (Elisabeth Moss) spends the entirety of the film with a baby bump the size of a beach ball – she’s been “overdue” for 3 months. The sight of her wobbling around, with a cigarette and glass of Riesling always at hand, puts the viability of the fetus into constant question. The role was perfect for Moss, a rich departure from Mad Men that allowed her to create a heartbreaking mix of innocence and lust.

Charlotte Melville (Sienna Miller) is the only female who shamelessly takes charge of her sexuality, but once all order is lost she is also abused and humiliated. The idea that after chaos ensues men will thrash and violate women is an obnoxiously predictable plot point. The only hope lies in Charlotte’s son Toby, but even he finds more solace in Margaret Thatcher than his mother.

The film drew on styles taken from a wide variety of times and places, including Victorian, French Revolutionist, American 1960s, disco flashy 1980s, and an imagining of a post-civilization future. The wide palette ensured that there is always a style for Wheatley to attach to, but it also meant a watered down version of style in general. Images, like close ups of exhaling cigarette smoke, are overused so often they lose all meaning and became redundant. Although it could be argued that the entire film is intended to be simultaneously overflowing and devoid of meaning.

As a physiologist, Dr Laing is conducting experiments on the brains of the mentally ill. At the office one day he slices open the severed head of a schizophrenic former patient. He then demonstrates with his thumbs how he can “peel the face away, like a mask.” It is nauseatingly lifelike, and one of his students faints. The detached manner in which he deals with the body is similar to how Wheatley deals with all the characters in the high rise. It is a building full of humans, but no people. All style, but no substance.

3/5 stars

Dear America, You Disappoint Me

Two recent headlines this week have made me hopeful that the future of the world is not full of spite and hatred. The University of New South Wales decided to change the terminology of their history books to recognize British colonialism as an invasion, rather than a discovery. This small change displays a brave ability to revisit a dark past. It is also a reminder of the power of language.  On the other side of the planet, Francois Holland scrapped plans that would have stripped convicted terrorists of their French citizenship. For a country rocked by two horrific attacks in the same year, this is a strong move in a forgiving direction.

What do I see when I look at my own country? I see guns. I see segregation. I see paranoia. I see the two top contenders for the Republican nomination smearing one another with how slutty or ugly their wives are. And then accusing the other one of “starting it.” I see states trying to pass “religious freedom” laws so some of its citizens don’t ever have to rub shoulders with gay people.

Statistician Nate Silver has been compiling years of census data on every major American city. His graphs show clear cut divides across cities, north and south, east and west. Black and white. Some of these lines were the same ones drawn in the Civil War. It seems one of the biggest melting pots, doesn’t really melt at all.

You groomed me from a young age to believe in your greatness. You were #1.

I put my hand to my heart every morning before school for 12 years and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. I got goosebumps when I heard the National Anthem.

My classmates and I used to shout, “It’s a free country” as a win-all end-all arguments tactic. It seems now that the only thing we are free to do is shoot each other.

I believed without a doubt that everything we did was for the betterment of mankind. My 5th grade history teacher told me we were the policemen of the world. We had to go in there with our guns, and our democracy, and help them be like us-Free.

With this superior attitude came a huge amount of paranoia. The world hates us because we’re great. They’re jealous. Life is a teen horror movie, and we’re the popular girl.

My journey to adulthood came with an overwhelming amount of disillusionment. Why had no one told me about all the mistakes we made, all the wars we caused, all the lives we took?

You have likely heard the statistic that only a third of Americans have a passport. What about that 73% had no idea when the Cold War was fought? When I was home last, two different people didn’t know where Ireland was. This is more than about traveling, it is about the ability to live in a bubble that begins and ends at the four corners of the country. When you’re inside it, the vastness of the US dwarfs the rest of the world.

And so I look at the examples in Australia and France and I wonder when America will start making some mature decisions. Give the 5th graders of today a chance to see our flaws. They will respect our nation more for it when they get to be my age because, guess what…no one cares who was popular in high school anymore. 

Detecting a Heartbeat

How the migrant crisis has made Ireland’s hauler industry a war zone

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As the claustrophobic walls of the tunnel closed in, the freight truck driver thought he heard creaking coming from the undercarriage. He was long past any point of return, and stopping to get out would cause a barrage of honking from behind him. Perhaps, he thought, if there was somebody hiding under his truck they would leave as soon as the fresh English air blew in. Or perhaps, he had just imagined the noise.

Truck drivers found entering the UK with stowaway migrants on board can be fined £2000 per person discovered. In Ireland, 90% of goods circulated involve road travel, and 70% of our market is dependent on export by road. When the trucks can’t safely make it out of France, the rest of their journey experiences a domino effect. The recent announcement from Calais president, Xavier Bertrand, that the French would cease all border patrols following a Brexit has brought the crisis to a boiling point. This is a more than a matter of money or inconvenience; being contained in a small area with little oxygen for days is life threatening for the migrants. The President of the Irish Road Haulage Association (IRHA), Verona Murphy, has just returned from Brussels after pleading to the EU Transport Commissioner for stronger protective measures for haulers and migrants.

The issue became relevant in Ireland last weekend with the discovery of nine migrants in a trailer near Rosslare port. They were sent to Waterford regional hospital for evaluation, and their condition was said to be stable. For Murphy, this highlights how close to home the crisis is coming, and she fears that the IRHA will soon have deaths on their hands. “It affects absolutely every industry in Ireland. We had a case where a shipment of cars was examined and migrants were found to be hiding inside the cars. Migrants don’t want housing, they don’t want to be relocated, they want to be in England.” Simply reaching England does not ensure that they will be permitted to stay, let alone that asylum status will be granted.

French customs authorities enforce a series of checks to ensure that there are no stowaways on board the trucks. One test, known as the ‘heartbeat test,’ scans a vehicle with micro-waves to detect if there is any living thing on board. Other tests include sniffer dogs, and carbon dioxide detectors. Some drivers have been caught with stowaways despite receiving the all clear from French customs. Murphy believes that the French authorities are not doing their job correctly, although she acknowledges that the steady uprooting of the Calais ‘Jungle’ is unmanageable.

The most recent incident involved an English driver who was found to have five stowaways on board in the UK, despite receiving the all-clear in Calais. His fine of £10,000 is currently being disputed. Last November four Irish drivers were discovered with stowaways and faced fines totalling €54,000. Some of the migrants discovered were armed with knives. The IRHA, which represents many haulers, claims that a genuine fear for their lives is one reason many drivers do not confront migrants.

Drivers are no longer taking traditional routes through Europe in an effort to avoid migrant camps. This has caused a sharp rise in the price of deliveries, most notably produce, which is in turn affecting the restaurant industry. According to Neal Costelloe, sous chef at SuperMissSue Restaurant in Dublin’s city center, finding alternative sources of produce is difficult and costly. “At first we just thought our delivery drivers had made mistakes in giving us these jumbo prawns, but then they told us that was all we could get. Higher quality suppliers and their drivers are the only ones who can afford the risks.” When a food delivery truck is found to be carrying a stowaway on board, the entire contents of the truck are destroyed.

And what about the migrants? They risk their lives to climb on board and if they make it, they can apply for asylum in the country they reach. At first glance, the ends appear to justify the means. Many migrants have unfortunately been misinformed about the benefits available to them in the UK. A comparative study done by the BBC last year found that cost-of-living benefits were actually higher in France, although they didn’t provide any money for children. The difference between the amount of applications granted in France and England is minimal (around 4,000), and France approved a higher proportion of their applications in 2014.

The distance between Calais and Dover is only 31 miles, yet it is a high stakes journey for both drivers and migrants. The struggles can begin long before the Tunnel screenings. Last week, Eoin Gavin from County Clare was driving a truck full of steel from Germany to Kerry when he stopped for petrol in Northern France. “I watched as nine guys climbed into the back of the truck. They refused to get out when I asked so I had to wait for the French police to arrive, and they [the police] gassed them all. It wasn’t very nice to watch.” Gavin has been driving for 20 years, and although he has had to deal with migrant stowaways since 1999, the problem has gotten out of control. “I can’t afford the fines. If the French police hadn’t helped me, I could have been stuck with €18,000 bill. If you don’t pay they [UK border patrol] take your truck away.” For him, the only answer is English police permanently stationed at the French ports.

Each country is claiming that their resources and manpower are quickly dwindling. A last resort would be to involve the military, but the English are reluctant to engage in a visibly physical confrontation. Increasing fear with violence does not usually bode well in easing an atmosphere of suspicion toward the other.

Charcuterie and Psycho Killers

 

An Interview with Declan Maxwell, Maitre D Extraordinaire

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The huddle that had formed in the corner of the perfectly set restaurant erupted into laughter as it dissolved. The man they had been listening to emerged and walked toward me. The pre-service briefing was complete, and the night was about to begin. But first, he would sit down at one of the soft black booths and chat with me about his recent nomination as Best Manager by the Restaurants Association of Ireland.

Declan Maxwell is neither a newcomer to the restaurant industry nor the awards ceremony. Yet, his affable and modest personality would have you doubting whether he’s actually spent half a lifetime working in fine dining establishments. Declan won the award in 2013, after complaining that there wasn’t a category for managers. “So they made it for you?” I ask. “Yeah, basically,” he chuckles, with his trademark I’m only half joking face. In hospitality, the maxim ‘you don’t get if you don’t ask’ is almost an across the board rule. And recognition is one of those things you rarely get.

When he won the award last he was working in Chapter One, a Michelin starred restaurant since 2007. This time around he’s in Luna, a modern Italian experience on Drury Street that sports a charcuterie station and a dessert trolley. Many in the industry were surprised by his exit from Chapter One, but Declan wanted a new challenge. When asked if being nominated this year feels like less of a big deal because the reputation factor isn’t on the line, he shook his head. “It actually means a lot more.16 years in Chapter One, which is an institution, you get nominated for things with that and you wonder of course, is this because of me or because of Chapter One? With Luna, its like my own personality is coming out.”

The atmosphere in Luna is, in a word: sexy. Dark wooden tables, black leather seats, and staff decked out in burgundy suits are just some of the things to expect. The music is louder than you would anticipate in a fine dining establishment, but Declan believes this caters to a new strata of Irish diners. “I think what people are looking for in the dining scene is where they can have fun. The market for extreme fine dining will always exist, but overall I think more people want to have a good time when they go out.

When asked about Catherine Cleary’s prediction last year that the dining boom is back, Declan is hesitant to agree. He worked through that boom and he saw the out of control spending. The menu in Luna indeed boasts some items that would break the bank for many diners, but Declan insists it is possible to eat there on a budget. “People are definitely going out more than they did, say five years ago, but they also want value. They are not spending 200 a head, they might spend 60 or 70 but they also expect greatness, which is fantastic.” Savvier customers raise the bar for restaurants to compete on a whole new level. It is not enough to cook a good steak.

The benefits of pushing for more front of house recognition has changed the way many Irish people look at the restaurant industry. The Head Chef used to be the mast head for the establishment, but now that person may be nowhere to be found for diners on a Friday night. The staff member you make a connection with is the person you leave remembering, and over the years Declan has made his fair share of connections. “I have some customers where I’ve seen them a few times a year for over a decade,” he says with a face of amazement. “You learn about them, their families, and in turn, they learn about you. These are the people who happily come back to celebrate special occasions. Or they invite me to their wedding, which is a plus.”

The other side of the managerial coin is dealing with customers who are not so happy, and Declan has his own set of rules for those encounters. His first is the not-so-secret, kill them with kindness. Instead of arguing, or letting the conversation run around in circles, Declan always suggests a next day phone call. Reason being, he says, is alcohol. “It is one of those things specific to our industry. Somebody might be the loveliest person Monday-Friday, but after 3 glasses of wine, they become a psycho-killer.” A good manager knows when to say no, but a great manager knows how.

He is gestured over to the door by a beautiful dark haired woman in a black dress. With a cheeky grin, he bounces up and grabs the reservation book. The Saturday night crowd is about to descend upon them, and Declan is already having all the fun.

The RAI awards ceremony will be held on May 16th at the DoubleTree by Hilton.

Global vs Local

Living in a connected world allows us to feel involved with issues and conflicts that are thousands of miles away. But by keeping our eyes on the world around us, are we possibly ignoring some of the problems on our doorstep?

Being aware of what’s going on in the world on a daily basis has been a priority of mine for as long as I can remember. When I was in theatre, the news was an endless source of inspiration for plays, characters, and settings. Now, as a journalist, I aim to be a part of the process of sourcing and presenting stories. Mistakenly, however, I think I had established an unconscious hierarchy system for news that associated bigger with better.

Most journalists will tell you that news is local. How many people a story affects is the most important qualifier of big news, but the second is how many of those people are part of the intended readership. It is a sad truth that people (in general, not a rule) care more about people they associate as “like them.” Journalists who defended the saturated coverage of Paris vs Beirut said that the massively unequal number of clicks shows that they are simply giving the public what they want. While I find that a very pragmatic way to excuse a blatant valuation of life, it does show that proximity will always be used to justify media attention.

For so long, however, I scoffed at local news. To me, the happenings of the city around me were dwarfed by the multitude of wars and injustices in various pockets of the planet. Why should I care that a few dozen people might get evicted from their homes when there are hundreds who will die while traveling to find a new home? Why does it matter that the bus fare will go up while others have no safe access to public transport whatsoever? Homeless dogs? What about brutally murdered and soon-to-be extinct elephants? And so on, and so on. In the end, it’s pretty easy to make the case for why there is always a bigger problem in the world.

I spoke with a good friend of mine about the issue at length. She works for a non-profit that helps prevent LGBT suicides through education. One day I asked her how she justified putting so much energy into preventing suicide among people that are living relatively privileged lifestyles. Being LGBT in some parts of the world means living in constant fear of persecution, torture, or death. If she really cared, why she didn’t pack up and go try to help those more in need?

Her response was to describe the multitude of people she has seen her job directly affect. They had vocalized their gratitude for the chance to feel more comfortable and accepted in their jobs, schools, and families. Although the majority of people she worked with were complete strangers, they felt like family because they represented the future potential her society had to offer.

I have settled myself into multiple cities over the course of my life, but always had eyes on somewhere else. I never considered that the community around me had the potential to be a direct reflection of my efforts to make it better. While it may be a better place to live in some regards, it still had its own list of serious improvements. You can quantify need, but unless you work in an Emergency Room, it is a dangerous game to play with life.

I started this piece months ago, but was inspired to revisit it after reading Courtney Martin’s article  on how privileged young people can sometimes venture naively into solving the worlds problems. The upside to that naivety was recognized by Kevin Starr in his response. From Starrs point of view, many of his best philanthropic work would probably never have been accomplished had he not set out to help as a brazen 19 year old. My contribution to this discussion is that having the urge to help others is, in many ways, to want to live for more than just the life you have. And this is wonderful, and admirable, and should be nurtured. The allure of travel, however, can often blind people to these initial desires. Signing up for an 8 week stint to play with orphans wrapped up in an Indian vacation, is not the best way to nurture that urge. The amount of volunteer applications to many places (turtle sanctuaries in Malta, elephant reserves in Kenya) are so numerous that many places charge volunteers. I have nothing against volunteer holidays, if that combines two things you want to do together. But what could you give to the needy that would cost nothing but your time?

I am not, by any means, advocating putting the head down and tuning out the world. I have simply discovered that compassion and concern do not have to be reserved for the most horrific tragedies of the world. If I do my best to acknowledge how the ‘bigger’ issues manifest themselves in the local community, then I can connect with those issues in my daily life. If nothing else, the dogs will not continue to get shafted by the elephants.

Here Come The Drones

At the end of 2015, the US Federal Aviation Authority  opened the floodgates on the commercial market for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) or drones, as they are more ominously called. Any member of the public can now legally launch their drone into the sky once they register their vehicle and obtain a Certificate of Authorization (COA) or an FAA 333 Exemption, depending on the use. The FAA previously had rules in place for registering a drone, but with the advent of new UAV technology and a surge in requests from commercial entities, the FAA had halted the process until it could instate alternate regulations. The changes have received a mixed reaction from the public, due to the fact that simply registering your vehicle and obtaining permission is enough to fly it almost anywhere you want. The US government has still not properly addressed the issue, and the failure of new policy to address privacy and safety laws could mean that the new FAA regulations are legally void.

The future possibilities of commercial drones are vast and ethically complicated. Security companies see widespread surveillance possibilities, and energy firms get access to construction site inspections. Media outlets have suggested that drones could be used to ‘report from’ dangerous situations, saving them time, money, and lawsuits by not putting journalists on the ground. The agricultural sector, delivery services, and the film industry are all hungry to get their hands on authorized drones to cut costs and experiment with new methods. Each of these uses, however, are now also available to the individual citizen, and once they have registered with the FAA (one drone, one registrant) they receive the same exemption as the companies mentioned above. There are ‘no-fly zones’ such as airports, stadiums, and the White House, but these only scratch the surface of the possible misuses. If behind each machine, there are a multitude of operators (or resold machines), the FAA only has the name and address of the initial registrant. This kind of loophole is reminiscent to the issues surrounding gun sales, despite the fact that drones have even less legislation.

Drones can now be equipped with high resolution cameras, infrared and thermal sensors, as well as wi-fi capabilities.  Two of the latest models being launched later this year are based on a “Follow” control, where you carry a tracking device and the drone flies itself. It is being marketed to extreme sports fanatics as a safe and easy way to record yourself, but it is easy to imagine the sinister potential that private detectives or begrudged ex-partners could use it for.

Daniel Herbert, founder of Skygear Solutions, expressed his concern about the ease with which the 300,000 recent applicants (as of January 25th) to the FAA program will have. While he acknowledges that registering with the FAA will encourage some level of accountability for drone users, he states that, “If an irresponsible person chooses to not register his drone and intentionally do something reckless, then that person would likely never be found or held responsible for their actions.” The maximum civil penalty for failing to register a drone is $27,000, but the consequences of doing something reckless with a registered drone are still unknown. The FAA issues the fine, but it will still be up to law enforcement to seek out and investigate the users. With no precedent for illegal drone activity, how police and the FAA decide to prosecute the offenders will likely lay the groundwork for the policies to follow.