Thursday, May 22, 2008

Billy Keogh has a dependent mother, seven employees and he's a good businessman - so it's two years for rape

Rapist a man of good character, says judge

If you're a good businessman, have employees and support your mother, you can now have all this taken into account if you're being sentenced for rape.

Businessman Billy Keogh raped a prostitute after she refused to take off his condom. According to the woman, he also claimed to be a member of the Garda (police) and threatened to throw her out the window of the Waterford Hotel in which he met her.

The Waterford businessman later offered her €30,000 compensation but she rejected it. The judge, Mr Justice White, noted that she had been threatened by phone the day she returned to Ireland to give evidence in the case.

Yet the judge went on to tell Keogh, “It is quite clear to me that you are a man of good character..."

He gave him a five year sentence but suspended the last three years, says, according to this report in The Examiner, he was impressed by how Keogh re-established himself after losing his business in 2004 and that he also had an elderly dependent mother and seven employees to support.

You may wonder what the hell these factors have to do with sentencing in a rape case and so do groups like Ruhama - which works with women in prostitution - and the Rape Crisis Network Ireland.

“Our judicial system needs to give the women the confidence to come forward and seek justice," said Ruhama in a very restrained response. "Rape, no matter where it happens or to whom, has a longstanding impact on the victim. Sentences need to reflect this and act as a clear deterrent.”

Some deterrent!

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

French-style kissing not for the Irish!

Women learn lots from kissing

This is the text of my That's Men column in The Irish Times on Tuesday 13th May, 2008. "That's Men - The best of the 'That's Men' column from The IrishTimes" is published by Veritas.

A year ago this month, president Ahmadinejad of Iran was accused of indecency for kissing a woman in public.

The woman was a retired schoolteacher and he kissed her hand at a ceremony and she was wearing gloves at the time but still.....

As the newspaper Hezbollah poined out, you never know what this sort of thing can lead to.

How, I wonder, would Hezbollah feel about Madonna's latest kissing escapade? Madge got loads of publicity five years ago for kissing Britney Spears in what the Daily Mail called a "steamy stunt" during the MTV awards.

Last week she grabbed a backing singer during a show in Paris and planted a kiss on her but a jaded world failed to pay much attention. That the recipient of Madonna's attentions looked like someone struggling in the grip of a grizzly bear did not help.

Since French women kiss each other - on the cheek - all the time and do it much more elegantly than dear old Madge, she may just have picked the wrong city for her display.

I might add that when you watch a bunch of French people kissing you have to wonder if a simple "Howya" Irish-style wouldn't make life a lot easier. Here in Ireland we're not much good at the kiss on the cheek thing, though. Attempts are more likely to end up as bone-crunching crashes than as exercises in European flair.

Romantic kissing between men and women is usually a more complicated affair.

Researchers on kissing - oh, yes, there are such people - suggest that when a man and woman are engaged in a deep kiss there's a lot more going on than a conjunction of lips and tongues.

Women, they suggest, are noting the taste and smell of the man as part of their assessment of his suitability as a mate. Our brains devote a disproportionately high amount of processing power to what's going on with our mouths and tongues so perhaps the suggestion makes sense.

And if a woman judges you to be a "bad kisser" she is far more likely to refuse to have sex with you.

Research conducted among 1,041 students at the University of Albany - and that's a lot of kissing - found that with men it's all more simple. We're mainly focussed on the chances of getting the female into bed. Most males in the research would be happy to skip the kissing preliminary altogether but most females insist on it.

Which adds credence to the view that with women there is some sort of assessment procedure going on that even they themselves are not consciously aware of.

This in turn suggests that women who refuse to kiss on a first date are depriving themselves of valuable information and should rethink their position.

Men are fonder than women of big, wet kisses. Susan Hughes, the psychologist who led the study, suggests that because our sense of taste and smell is less sharp than that of women, we use the saliva to help us make our assessments. Well, yuk!

And since women's breath changes during their menstrual cycle this may be mother nature's way of telling the male brain that the woman is fertile and to go for it. Not that mother nature would tell the guy upfront - it's all unconscious, otherwise it wouldn't work.

You know what? Hezbollah is right - you never know where this sort of thing leads to. Do yourself a favour and keep yer gob shut.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Death of motorcycle champion Robert Dunlop - a fatal attraction to risk?

Fans defend dangerous sport

The death of motorcycle champion Robert Dunlop reminds us again that risky behaviour has a huge attraction for people and maybe for men in particular. He died in an accident during a practice session for the North West 200 in Portrush last Thursday evening. Next day on the Liveline programme on RTÉ, caller after caller lined up to defend the sport while acknowledging the recent deaths of motorcyclists and of Dunlop's brother Joey in 2000. The basic message was that people who get hooked by the sport wouldn't want to live without it. Do they get addicted to the adrenalin rush? Following his death, his widow Louise said Robert Dunlop knew the sport would one day kill him.

"He was prepared to accept the risk," she told The Irish Independent.

"He had to be in the thick of it himself. That was just his way."

"The lights have gone out for us," she added. "Nothing will ever be the same."

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Friday, May 16, 2008

That's Men launched in Dublin

Collection of Irish Times columns published

The collection of my Irish Times columns, That's Men, was launched at a 'do' in Veritas last night. Pictured above in Frank Miller's photo for The Irish Times are Veritas publications manager Ruth Kennedy (left) who steered the ship home safely, yours truly and (right), Maura Hyland, Veritas managing director. Also launched were other books including, notably, When a child dies: footsteps of a grieving family, by Jim O'Shea. His account of the aftermath of the death of his son Cathal at age 13 is truly written from the heart. If you are involved in bereavement work in any way, you really ought to read it. If you know somebody who has lost a child you should read it too.

To order That' s Men, click here.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Prime Time Investigates - will this exposé of a collapsed child protection system have any effect?

With children left at risk, there is little hope for change

Taoiseach Brian Cowen has told the Dáil that new Minister for Children Barry Andrews will be following up with the HSE the findings of last night's RTÉ Prime Time Investigates programme on children at risk, says this story on RTÉ. (Scroll to the bottom of the RTÉ story for a link to the programme).

But the Health Service Executive and its predecessors, the health boards, have known for years and years that the child protection system is in collapse. Barry Andrews can whistle Dixie for all the good it's going to do. And on tonight's follow-up he was doing just that, informing a sceptical nation that our child protection services are 'cutting edge'. That's the HSE line and the old health board line too - all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

For as long as this amoral organisation is running child protection services we will get nowhere. The job just must be given to an independent body with its own statutory underpinning and funding. How many children must be destroyed or die before this happens?

Quite a lot, actually.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Men and cosmetics, from eyeliner to guyliner - am I missing something here?

Are more men wearing makeup than meet the eye?

This is the text of my That's Men column in The Irish Times on Tuesday 6th May, 2008. "That's Men - The best of the 'That's Men' column from The IrishTimes" is published by Veritas.

Is there a hidden world out there of guys who wear makeup? Or is it a not-so-hidden world? Am I completely out of touch with trends in the male world?

I have to admit that I am one of those guys who won't be seen wearing makeup this side of the funeral parlour. In fact, I would gladly declare that "I won't be seen dead wearing makeup" except that the decision will be out of my hands.

In all this, I think I'm still a member of the majority - but the world of men and makeup is changing, however slowly.

My eye was caught recently by a blog by journalist Natasha Hughes in the Sydney Morning Herald in which she expressed amazement at seeing the groom at a wedding wearing what she called "slap-full coverage foundation."

What is "slap-full coverage foundation"? I guess it's something you slap on your face and that's awfully obvious to the onlooker, especially to the sharp-eyed female onlooker.

Natasha's amazement at the groom with the foundation mirrored my own surprise at another manifestation of the interest of men in makeup. Last year on my blog I wrote a single paragraph piece under the heading Men, eyeliner and sex appeal. It was just a little link to something I read somewhere else. Since then, that headline has drawn readers to the blog day after day. Never mind my more serious meanderings on the meaning of life. No, it's eyeliner and sex appeal that gets them going.

Why? You don't see that many guys going around wearing eyeliner unless they're Goths and I don't think the Goths are big readers of mine.

Do some of us have a secret habit? Are there lots of guys standing in front of the bathroom mirror wielding the eyeliner and slapping on the "full coverage foundation" and then removing it before the wife comes home?

Well, I guess there are some, but that many?

And anyway are we reaching the stage where fellows won't feel the need to whip off the eye shadow when they hear the key in the front door?

Right now, being caught wearing your wife's make-up might result in several expensive therapy sessions - but it's all a matter of context and maybe context is changing to the point where the makeup thing just wouldn't matter anymore.

Indeed, I read that Boots has a men's makeup line and that the H&M stores stock a line of men's mascara, in London at any rate. I don't know whether they stock it in their stores here. Maybe one of the lads would drop in and check it out?

In the music world, barriers are increasingly being breached when it comes to men's cosmetics. High School Musical star Zac Efron set tongues wagging last year over his fondness for foundation. Other male stars' attachment to eyeliner has given the world the word "guyliner."

And how much money does/did Bertie spend on makeup? Is it €5,000 a day or €5,000 a month? It doesn't really matter, does it? It's the principle that counts. [Note: Bertie Ahern, former Taoiseach - Prime Minister - of Ireland]

And the major question is this: will Bertie keep wearing makeup when he's no longer Taoiseach and he's not before the television cameras every day of the week?

Should a grateful nation not provide him with a small 'makeup' allowance so that he can look his best when, say, he's being filmed entering and leaving the Mahon Tribunal over the next decade or so?

You might think that this is all on the fringes and I suppose it is, but fashions have a habit of working their way from the edge into the centre.

How long is it since a man would be embarrassed to be seen buying a male moisturising cream? Not long at all - but now nobody could care less.

Actually, there is a possible use of male make-up which I hadn't come across before and which just might appeal to Irish boyos. One guy responding to Natasha Hughes' article revealed that he finds "a little concealer" is always useful "to hide those bags under the eyes after a big night."

So there you are. If a night on the tiles has left you unable to face your jumbo breakfast roll, just dab on a little concealer and make those bleary eyes vanish.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Nuala O'Faolain dies age 68

I was sorry to read of the death of Nuala O'Faolain just before midnight, 9th May 2008, last night at Blackrock Hospice. Her interview with Marian Finucane a month ago startled and touched many people. It also tore away the veil of "don't talk about it" that surrounds terminal illness. It is some consolation that she died in a hospice where the experience would have been made as painless as possible. I hope she found some peace towards the end.

RTÉ's report of her death is here.

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Friday, May 9, 2008

That Bulmers video

Here's a link to the YouTube video that got eight guys in Bulmers fired. I would have thought a bollocking in the form of a month's suspension and some mandatory health and safety training would have been enough.....

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Empathy in order for Derry family in Algarve nightmare

Ill, not drunk?

Perhaps a little human empathy is in order for the McGuckin family from Derry. Did they drink too much on the first day of their holiday on the Algarve or was one of the couple, as they claim, just ill?

Either way, it may have been an over-reaction on the part of the hotel to contact the authorities and an over-reaction on the part of the authorities to take the children into care.

Their holiday turned into a nightmare. No need to burn them at the stake as well.

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Young women becoming more violent, says study

Young women and men commit physical and psychological violence against each other

Story from AKI News: Rome, 29 April (AKI) - Young women are committing more violence against their boyfriends, according to a new study conducted in Italy.

The study of 672 adolescents found that 22 percent of young women admitted they had committed physical aggression against their male partners.

But more than 60 percent of the males surveyed said they had acted violently against their partners.

Forty-six percent of female adolescents said they had committed some form of psychological aggression against their partners, while 40.8 percent of young men said they had acted violently towards their partners.

The research in Italy was conducted by the Universities of Rome and Florence and published in the Italian daily, La Repubblica, on Tuesday.

"The violence between young couples is no longer asymmetrical like we have seen over the decades," said Ersilia Menesini, associate professor from the psychology department at University of Florence.

"And in all countries that we follow, the phenomenon seems to be linked to the growing empowerment of women in society."

Menesini, a specialist on bullying in schools, was one of several teachers behind the project which is one of the first of its kind conducted in Italy.

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Sunday, May 4, 2008

Tony - father and career alcoholic in a Manhattan bar

Also, global warming and how to look young

This is the text of my That's Men column in The Irish Times on Tuesday 29th April, 2008. "That's Men - The best of the 'That's Men' column from The IrishTimes" is published by Veritas.

“I am a career alcoholic,“ Tony declared.

I had ducked – alright, walked deliberately – into an Irish bar near the Ground Zero site in Manhattan to escape from the rain and a cold wind and to have a drink while I was at it.

Tony materialised beside me with a bottle of Bud in his hand and a smile on his face. He was dancing lightly to the music and he continued to dance in place as he talked.

He established my name and country of origin, introduced himself – he had what I take to be, in my ignorance, an Italian-American accent – and then made the announcement about his career as an alcoholic.

“It makes me feel good,” he declared. “What else matters?”

I agreed. He was in that state of elation which, in some people, can turn ugly in a second if you express a point of view different to theirs – especially if they have a lot of alcohol on board.

Tony was in good shape for a career alcoholic. He was fifty years old, he told me but I would have put him in his late thirties. His hair was jet black and this, he assured me, was entirely genuine and without benefit of a hair colour. He was only a little overweight and he was light on his feet. Maybe the dancing kept him fit.

It has been a while since I’d been to the barber’s and Tony spotted this. “Lose the hair,” he advised me. “It will take ten years off your age.”

He spoke very fast and with a thick sort of accent so I couldn’t figure out everything he said. For instance, I could not make sense of his explanation as to why he, personally, knows global warming is real (he had moved seamlessly from my need for a haircut to environmental issues). “See this burn mark?” he said, putting his hand to his forehead, as he explained how he knew global warming was for real. There was nothing there but I said I had seen it anyhow.

Then he moved on to his main topic for our encounter, namely his ex-wife, “the evil one”, and how she had unsuccessfully tried to get his kids to say he had molested them.

“I am telling you this because you are elder,” he said. I am definitely going to lose the hair, I told myself.

He took out his wallet and showed me photographs of his kids. All were graduation photographs, three boys and a girl, all looking happy and proud of themselves. It hurt him, he said, that their mother had tried to turn them against him.

“You’re a good listener,” he said. Not bad, I suppose, when all you’re trying to do is avoid an argument.

I was wondering how I was going to get out of the conversation and leave with politeness when two young women, maybe in their twenties, came into the bar and sat down at a table. Tony danced over to them and started to chat them up. The young women laughed it off but Tony’s attention had definitely turned in their direction.

I said goodbye and left.

It struck me that Tony seemed to have the ability to create company for himself. He was a man whose whole life was a performance for an immediate audience. Well, whose isn’t – what I mean is that Tony’s one-man show is more direct and up-front than most of us manage. Clearly, from what he told me about his wife, not everybody in his audience is a fan.

Then I remembered last Christmas Day when my wife and I went to a bar on Second Avenue for a drink in the evening. This was an Irish bar too, and their prices certainly lived up to the name. But the other Irish thing about it was the number of men who sat up at the counter, alone, drinking, talking to nobody. It was a somewhat depressing sight for Christmas Day.

They could have done with Tony in there to brighten up their evening. I expect he is still dancing in the bar in Manhattan, chatting women up, explaining global warming and showing pictures of his kids to other customers. Good luck to him. I hope the career works out.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Depression alone cannot explain murder-suicide of Flood family in Clonroche

Depressed people rarely engage in physical violence towards others

Text of my article in The Evening Herald, Friday 2nd May 2008:

Depression and anxiety are the twin scourges of our emotional world but society views each of them very differently.

It's 'alright' to be stressed out - in some settings it may even be the done thing to complain about stress on the idiotic grounds that if you're not stressed you're not working hard enough.

But it's 'not alright' to be depressed and people with the condition often keep it to themselves for that reason. Some, for instance, will not state on an application form for life insurance that they have suffered depression because they fear they will be denied cover.

That said, it is unlikely that depression, or depression on its own, could account for acts such as the murder-suicide of the Flood family in Co Wexford.

It seems reasonable to suppose that some level of delusion, perhaps including hallucinations or voices, could have provided the impulse for the tragedy.

Depression involves a debilitating mixture of low mood, negative thoughts and fatigue. The sufferer loses interest in his or her usual activities.

Depression can arise as a reaction to life events. The birth of a child, for instance, can be followed by post-natal depression. Grief can turn into depression. So can a sense of helplessness or of being trapped in an unhappy relationship.

Researchers believe depression has increased over the past one hundred years. The reasons for this are not clear but depression may be the price we pay for our increasingly sedentary lifestyle. We no longer 'work off' negative moods or feelings and we have too much time to brood which, in itself, can trigger or prolong depression.

People suffering from depression generally begin to seek help by going to their GP. The GP will probably prescribe medication and may also refer them to a counsellor. Counselling can be very effective in helping people to overcome depression and to change the thinking patterns or circumstances that may have led them to become depressed in the first place.

Depressed people are the last you would expect to indulge in violence. Indeed, some psychologists believe that people become depressed because they turn their anger in on themselves instead of inflicting it on others.

This, again, is why we need to be cautious about attributing the terrible events in Clonroche to depression in the father. As a report in yesterday's Evening Herald pointed out, it is highly unusual for a depressed person to kill someone else.

But there is, as we all know, a strong link between depression and self-harm including suicide. Sometimes this happens when the depressed person starts to feel better because it is only now that they have the energy to carry out the act. This, obviously, is a point at which counselling can be crucial.

Many depressed people also turn to self help groups such as Aware, Grow and Recovery. These can provide a real lifeline for people with depression, especially for those who cannot afford private counselling fees.

The most important step to take in depression is to seek help whether from a counsellor, GP or self-help group.

This is not as easy a step to take as it may seem. A considerable amount of prejudice against persons with mental health problems persists, as research by the National Office for Suicide Prevention revealed last year. The researchers found that 52 per cent of people interviewed did not believe people with mental health problems should be working in jobs such as medicine. One third would be uncomfortable talking to a person with mental health problems - completely ignoring the fact that they have probably talked to people with mental health problems quite often without knowing it. Thirty nine per cent thought the public ‘should be better protected’ from people with mental health problems.

We all get a touch of the blues from time to time. Very often depression lifts by itself but when it persists people should seek help - we need to make it easy for them to do so.

Aware has a helpline at 1890 303 302 and has self-help groups throughout the country. The Samaritans are at 1850 60 90 90. Grow is at 1890 474 474. Recovery can be contacted at 01 6260775.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Tragedy of Flood family murder-suicide in Co Wexford

No satisfactory explanations for murder-suicide

(This is the text of my article in The Evening Herald on 28th April)

The apparent murder-suicide of the Flood family at Clonroche has one thing in common with most other suicides.

This is that we have no satisfactory explanation as to why it happened and we are unlikely to get one.

When an individual commits suicide, the person's family may spend years seeking an explanation. But even suicide notes usually fail to give a satisfactory reason for such a drastic step.

In the case of murder-suicide, the mystery is even greater. Why would a man who, for some reason, has decided to take his life, bring his family with him? Why - if this is how it happened - did he do it in such a way that his children were left to die in a fire after their parents were dead? (Note: since this article appeared, there is reason to believe that the children were drugged before the fire began).

Gardaí have been unable to find anything at all in the background of the family to explain what happened.

A Garda source is quoted this morning as saying that there must be people who can throw light on the event. It may well be that today or this week we will find out more.

And yet a description of the events that lead up to a murder-suicide does not necessarily constitute a satisfactory explanation for it.

Studies of murder-suicides by researchers suggest, unsurprisingly, that stressful life events are often involved. These can include financial losses and marital discord.

But a great many people suffer financial losses and marital discord without killing themselves or anyone else - and we don't know whether such factors were present in the Flood family.

Depression is also a frequently found factor in murder-suicide, especially where a person kills his or her own children as well. There have been tragedies over the years in which a parent a depressed parent has taken this course of action.

But depression is one of the most common emotional problems and is something which almost all of us have experienced or will experience to an extent at least. Again, it rarely leads to tragedies of this kind.

Something additional is needed and it is thought that psychosis is often the ingredient that can turn a 'normal' depression into a murder-suicide.

Psychosis is a state of mind in which a person loses touch with reality. A person may hallucinate or hear voices telling them to act in a certain way.

Research suggests that more people hear imaginary voices than we think but that they know the voices have no independent reality and ignore them.

In psychosis, however, the person may believe the voices to be real and may obey whatever it is that they are telling him or her to do.

Paranoia, or an extreme and unrealistic level of jealousy, can also be behind murder-suicides insofar as experts have been able to deduce their causes.

Were any of these factors present in the Flood family? We may or may not find out.

Because of the devastation caused by these tragedies and because of their horrific nature, it is important that an attempt is made to establish causes.

This can best be done by a psychological post-mortem as it is called. A psychological post-mortem is carried out by interviewing everybody who might have information about the state of mind of the perpetrator in the period leading up to the event. It is quite separate to a Garda investigation or a physical post-mortem.

It is also of the greatest importance that people touched by this tragedy get psychological help, if they need it, in the future.

The death of the Flood family has left friends and relatives in shock. But when the shock wears off there will be people among them who will never be the same again.

These people need emotional support and may need it for years to come.

That is what is important now.