Thursday, January 27, 2011

The conquering taste of freedom

"I've decided not to shut up again. We're afraid that things will turn bad again, but I've said to myself that I'm going to keep .... writing. You get used to freedom, even if you only have it for two or three days."

Tunisian journalist Hajer Ajroudi

The lifting of the siege of Leningrad

This  day,  in 1944, the Siege of Leningrad was lifted. 900 days of horror.
But,  in  that  time, the great art treasures of The Hermitage were hidden.
Shostakovich composed his Seventh Symphony.

Amid  the  wreckage  of their city and their lives, students sat and passed
their university exams.
By  this day, 27 January, 650,000 people died. But the human spirit endured
and life went on.

At a speech given today by Enda Kenny in Dublin reference was made to the anniversary of the significant date.

Humiliation of the 'little people'

"But there was a dark shadow over everything; had people like them any right to laugh? How could one really laugh in a world where captains of industry are allowed to line their own pockets and make hundreds of mistakes, whereas the little people who had always done their best were humiliated and squashed?"

When was it written? By Hans Fallada in Little Man, What Now. It was written in 1933 in Berlin before the Nazis came to power.

Whatever changes.

Where were the bishops and what were they saying about this horror? Pope Benedict constantly criticises a philosophy or relativism. Where was the voice of the church in supporting the 'little man' and condemning the oppressor?

How really is the church responding to the current misery of the 'little man'?

I think of rarefied discussions of whether or not people may receive communion in the hand. Close to where I am writing this there is a Catholic church where I may not receive Communion in the hand at certain Masses. Discussion about whether or not people wear religious habits in public and the dole cut by eight euro. Low paid workers paying a new Universal Social Charge and all because the bankers lined their pockets.

It is interesting how so many bankers and other pocket liners enjoy the old liturgy and how their friendly priests fulfil their needs.

Time for another Strumpet City.

It is always intersting how progressive church communities compare financially with ones which offer the old conservative words and ritual.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Most of us belong to the 'little people'

In recent days author Hans Fallada has been mentioned on this blog. His book ‘Alone in Berlin’ is a great insight into the Berlin of the Nazi era.

In ‘The Drinker‘ and ‘What Now, Little Man’, Fallada describes in an uncanny way some of the workings of the human mind and spirit. He cuts through so much humbug, nonsense and pretence, that his characters are impeccably real.

All the time the horror of the Nazi evil is lurking in the background but Fallada’s characters are real and alive today.

Clearly he sees the ‘little man’ with no chance when pitted against all-powerful authorities and institutions.

Anyone who is sceptical of authority and sees how the ‘little person’ can be and is enslaved by the horror and madness, the greed and jealousy of institutions and those who control them, then they will find hope and courage in Fallada.

Fallada sees the damage that is done to the ‘little person’ through the hands of all these all-conquering institutions.

We simply delude ourselves by thinking we have escaped from under the clutches of powerful institutions. Only stooges through all their various dancing and palaver attempt to give a respectable face to the cold cruel reality of institutions and authority.

And nothing changes.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

An occasion to say no to 'the great'

The late John O'Gorman OP often spoke of the crass incompetence of the hierarchical church. It was something that engaged him greatly.

How so many spoke of the electoral machine that was Fianna Fáil.

We all hang on by the tips of our broken finger nails.

Read 'The Drinker' by Hans Fallada.

It all gives such a new and living perspective on a theology of grace.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

German CDU call on Vatican to think again

German politicians call on Catholic Church to re-examine celibacy rules.

They believe parishes are suffering as a result and that Germany needs more priests.

Interesting development.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Whatever our dreams we die alone

This article appears in today's regional IN&M Irish newspapers.

By Michael Commane
On Tuesday morning just past midnight I finished the book, probably the best read of my life. I am not a quick reader but I tore through this book.

The book is Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin. It only appeared in English in 2009 having been written in 1947.

Fallada was born Rudolf Ditzen in 1893 in Berlin, the son of a retired judge of the Supreme Court. At 18 he killed a friend in a suicide pact that went terribly wrong. He spent close to two years in a sanatorium for the mentally ill. He struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction all his life.

After World War II the Communist authorities appointed him a mayor of Carwitz, a small town on the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Brandenburg border in Eastern Germany. But it was not a job he liked. He was not happy at all with his Communist bosses, and resigned.

He wrote Alone in Berlin in 28 days. He died in 1947 before it was published. His book Little Man, What Now was made into a film.

Before I say a word about the book I have to admit that Fallada seems to be a person who has big issues with authority and institutions and that’s probably one of the aspects of the man that has drawn me to him. Ok?

So to the book. Otto and Anna Quangel live in a flat in Berlin. The good, the bad and the indifferent live in the apartment building.

Otto is a foreman carpenter in a furniture factory, which is now making coffins.
It is 1940 and the German Army has rolled into France. The Germans are euphoric about the victory. And in those ‘glory’ days, the Quangles receive post telling them that their only child, also Otto, has fallen in France. Anna gets hysterical at the news, eventually telling her husband and adding, ‘you and your Führer’. Middle aged Otto senior was not even in the Nazi party but had done well for himself during the early years when Hitler came to power.

He is a silent man with big awkward hands and within days of his wife’s comment he decides to set out on an anti-Hitler campaign. He writes postcards denouncing the regime and leaves them in apartment buildings all over Berlin.

He knows that if he is discovered it is curtains. He persists with extraordinary purpose. Nothing but capture will stop him.

The policeman put in charge of the case, Escherich, is fascinated and obsessed with the case and names his target the ‘Hobgoblin’. He has a map on his wall marking all the places where cards were found and handed into the police – 276 cards and nine letters.

After two years Quangel slips up and is caught.

Inspector Escherich has been impressed with his Hobgoblin and now when he meets him face-to-face he realises what a special person he is. In all the time he has been looking for him he has picked up all sorts of creeps, hoodlums, cowards, sycophants, petty criminals, every type and all of them begged and pleaded for mercy. Eshcherich did many horrible and brutal things but he saw the goodness and bravery of Quangel, who was proud of what he had done.

The police inspector discovers that all but 18 of the postcards were turned into the police.

Escherich is so impressed with Quangel that he sees the folly of his job. It dawns on him how evil the Nazis are but realises that he is now unable to take up Quangel’s baton and out of fear and despair shoots himself. He tells himself that he Escherich is probably Quangel’s only convert.

The book goes on to show how the Gestapo root out everyone who had any contact with Anna and Otto Quangel, and how they lead them all to their deaths.
The English translation can be misleading. In German it is Jeder stirbt für sich allein, which means ‘everyone dies alone’.

Fallada creates characters that are so alive it is impossible to put down the book. The bravery, determination and lack of fear of those who oppose the regime is in stark contrast to those who are suppliant, approve and say yes to the Nazi authority.

It has nothing to do with class, occupation/profession, gender, none of those categories. It has all to do with those who are good and brave. It has all to do with what it means to be honest. It has all to do with speaking out openly and truthfully about what you believe and think.

I was particularly taken by the picture Fallada paints of two prison chaplains. Fallada does not believe in God or a life after death but he becomes greatly impressed with Father Lorenz – the first chaplain he encounters. He is a man in poor health and dressed in shabby clothes. Father Lorenz is greatly interested in the prisoners and is always willing to give them news of other prisoners – something strictly forbidden. He campaigns to have the drunken doctor removed from the prison and is not afraid to speak his mind to his superiors.

The other priest is referred to as ‘Reverend’. He does not have a name. When Quangel tells the Reverend what a fine man Fr Lorenz was, the Reverend replies, “Because he did your bidding! He was a weak man, Quangel. The man of God must be a fighter during these times of war, not a flabby compromiser”.

He asks Quangel to kneel down with him and pray. He takes a snow-white cloth out of his pocket and places it on the ground. It is only large enough for the Reverend’s knees!

Fallada’s insight of people is extraordinary. His description of the two different types of prison chaplains is remarkable and is as real and as authentic today in Ireland as it was in those terrible Berlin prison cells.

It’s the best book I have ever read. Read it and prove me wrong.
 
 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Barack Obama in Tuscon Arizona

Make sure we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds

Barack Obama in Tuscon

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Iran stops Hedda Gabler in her tracks

Iranian authorities have suspended a Tehran theatre’s production of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and set up a body to police cultural affairs.

Some months back Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman was at the Abbey in Dublin with Fiona Shaw in a lead role.

A spokesperson for the Iranian government said the play had some problems both conceptually and in the way it was performed.

Hedda Gabler, which is adapted from a western play and is based on nihilistic and hedonistic ideas and was performed in a very vulgar and inappropriate way for the public, was stopped,” Fars news agency said.

With the tiniest of tweaking that comment is similar to something that a Vatican spokesman might say about a play, film or book.

The Vatican does not say that sort of thing as much today but that probable is because it will not be heeded.

The language, tone and style of the Iran comment is similar in so many details to Vatican speak that it must cause profound worry to people who are genuinely in search of truth and God’s Word.

“Setting up a body to police cultural affairs .” Really!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Toomevara gone and not a toilet in sight

The piece below appears in today's IN&M regional newspapers.

By Michael Commane
Every time my late father drove through Toomevara he would announce that great Tipperary hurlers came from the village and the older he got the more often he would recall those great Tipperary hurlers. Names such as Tom O’Meara, Garret Howard and Matt Kennedy were regularly mentioned.

My dad had been to school at Thurles CBS and the Cistercian Abbey in Roscrea and both schools played hurling. I have a picture somewhere of my father togged out in Roscrea gear before a hurling match. It was 1926, I think. A long time ago.
For over 50 years, every time going through Toomevara, I have heard, thought or smiled about great Tipperary hurlers.

So you can imagine what it was like on Bank Holiday Monday driving from West Kerry to Dublin. Toomevara was no more. Off in the distance of time and geography, no doubt those great hurlers were dancing about in the ether of the small Tipperary village.

It is motorway all the way now from just outside Adare to Naas. I travel on a weekly basis from West Kerry to Dublin but usually do the journey by rail. On Bank Holiday Monday I decided to take the motorbike. I was too late to get the last of the online rail tickets and rightly presumed that there would be few if any large trucks on the road.

It really was amazing to be able to travel at 120km/h from Limerick to Naas with just one stop at the toll booth near Borris-in-Ossory.

It was cold but I was well decked out for the journey – with just one exception. There was a tiny hole in the lining of my left glove. Some days later my little finger was still cold. It’s always that weakest link that screws things up, always and ever.

Most family cars have fuel tanks that can easily hold 50 to 60 litres of petrol or diesel. So on most Irish motorways there is no need to refuel. Not so with my motorbike – the tank holds approximately 17 litres. I left West Kerry with a full tank and just a few kilometres south of Naas I was fortunate enough to spot that the needle was hovering in the danger zone.

I began to wonder whether or not I would make it to the filling station at Kill, just north of Naas but began to panic a little. The thought of running out of petrol on the motorway simply did not bear thinking. I spend my life procrastinating and prevaricating but that sort of nonsense on the motorway was just that – nonsense. So I decided to take a short detour and go into Naas, which has among its claims to fame one of the most expensive places to buy fuel.

And just like my dad before me I have a tendency to dither about buying petrol – the needle is more often than not on red. It was something that caused major conflict between my mother and father. Funny, no matter how we try, we invariably end up like our parents. I wonder how psychiatrists explain that? Or what do theologians say about how grace can influence us in any real way if things have already been predetermined by our DNA?

But to think that there is not one single service station on the motorway the entire way from Adare to Naas is simply ludicrous. Okay, most of the people travelling the road are either in cars or trucks and with a little bit of sense will make sure to have enough fuel before setting out. But what happens if a small child needs to go to the toilet?

And indeed, you don’t have to be a small child to need to go to the loo. There are a myriad reasons why someone might need to stop. It really is preposterous that there is not one single pit stop on that road.

I presume it will be built but surely it would have been much cheaper to have built it during the road construction?

Okay, we get a lot of things wrong but the latest statistics on road deaths are remarkable.

Last year saw the lowest number of road deaths since records began 50 years ago. I remember when the Naas Road was turned into a dual-carriageway and when there was two-way traffic in Dublin’s Grafton Street. To think there were less fatalities on Irish roads last year with over 2.7 million vehicles on the road than back in 1960 when there were a mere 302,767 registered vehicles is simply staggering and great good news.

In 1960 there were 169,681 cars, 45,530 trucks, 37, 719 agricultural tractors, 41,467 motorbikes and 10,370 ‘other’ vehicles on our roads.

Sometime in the 1950s my dad bought a second-hand Anglia. It cost £90 and I can still remember the registration plate – ZL 9968 and I don’t know the number of my motorbike.

And that’s a little like the Toomevara hurlers – my dad could reel off the names of the famous men of long ago but had trouble mentioning any of the names of the modern day players.

It was in that Anglia I first heard about those great hurlers. These days it often strikes me how formative those years were. I can remember every detail about that car. I can even recall the hole in the floor through which you put the jack so as to change a wheel. As a small child I thought of other ideas for that hole. My parents were horrified. Come to think of it, with no service station on the M7, that old Anglia could well answer the prayers of many a motorist these days.
The thoughts that can go through one's head driving on the M7!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fallada is talking to all of us

While Alone in Berlin is about an aspect of life in Berlin in Nazi Germany, the book forces the reader to question how easy it is to manipulate people to think and live in a particular way.

These days in Ireland it is popular to criticise and ‘blame’ the banks, Fianna Fáil, the hierarchical church for the woes of the country. But where were the ‘blamers’ during the so-called ‘good times’? But of course they were not good-times.

In every organisation crazy things happen and who ever has the courage or the wit to oppose and speak out? Once you do you are marked for life and there is no redemption unless there is revolution. And even then not necessarily.

We are privileged and lucky to live in a democracy. But it always happens that those in charge, those who are considered the ‘in people’ are admired and adulated. Maybe that’s natural but there is also something terribly wrong about it. It means people can easily be afraid to oppose and criticise.

Fallada manages to paint a clever picture how the Nazis were able to consider anyone who was opposed to them as ‘low people’ with no morals. Really extraordinary.

While the two prison chaplains play minor roles, Fallada has a curious insight into the transcendental and imminent aspects of ministry. Is it possible Pope Benedict has read the book? Interesting to know what he might say about the two men.

A fascinating book and a book for our times.

And if the Nazis had not been all that bad and evil, it could be possible to dismiss the book. After all it was written in something like 28 days by a curious character, who drank too much, took drugs and killed a person I a duel when he was just 16. He spent 17 months in a sanatorium for the mentally ill.

It seems as if Fallada spent his life trying to come to grips with the realities of the world around him. He was convinced he could succeed in asserting himself against it.

Hans Fallada's 'Alone in Berlin'

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada is simply an amazing read.

The book was originally written in 1947 and only translated into English in 2009.

Hans Fallada is the pen name of Rudolf Ditzen, who was born near Rudolstadt. An interesting man. His Little Man, What Now was made into a film

Anna and Otto Quangel live in a working class apartment in Berlin. The buildings in Jablonski Strasse are homes to families of all types and shapes. The usual lot of human misery: pain and love. Good people, nasty people, brave people, cowards.
France has ‘fallen’ to the German Army and there is euphoria in Germany. What and where next for the all conquering Wehrmacht?

The Quangels receive post from the front informing them that their only son, Otto, has fallen in France. Anna becomes hysterical and her husband asks here what’s wrong. She tells him Otto is dead, looks at him and adds, “you and your Führer”.

Otto was a man of few words, slow to show his emotions. He makes a decision. He spends the next two years delivering post cards all over Berlin denouncing Hitler.

The police are on his trail and eventually track him down. The inspector in charge of the case does good and bad things. He becomes obsessed about catching his ‘Hobgoblin’. He has a map in his office of all the places where the cards have been reported to have been dropped. Most of them are handed in to the police – people are afraid.

In the two years chasing the Hobgoblin the inspector comes in contact with all sorts of humanity. He does terrible things.

Early on the inspector realises that his Hobgoblin is a special type of person. When he does come face-to-face with him he sees his courage and exceptional personality.

Alone in Berlin is a great story of how brave people behave against the odds.

At he end of the book there is the portrayal of two chaplains – one a great man the other a stooge. One is interested in people, the other in souls and the recitation of prayers.

Published by Penguin Modern Classics. 568 pages.

The English title is a little misleading. The German title is Jeder stirbt für sich allein, which more or less means Everyone dies on their own/alone.

Cycling to work this morning it dawned on me how lucky we are to live in a democracy, even with its limitations. To be able to breathe the air. The prisoners in Prince Albrecht Strasse risk being shot by simply looking out their windows in search of fresh air.

The book is set in the Nazi regime but it is about people and their behaviour.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Vatican team is in Ireland

The Vatican commission to investigate the Irish church is at present doing its work.

Back in the 1970s this blogger studied in Rome. New out from Ireland, the Vatican and its personnel left me stunned and simply amazed.

At the beginning of the second academic year a lecturer, a young priest, arrived into the lecture hall. There was only one thing to do - roar laugh. Not because of his apparent orientation. But it was the massive roman collar, the perfect black suit, the frilly stock. the shiny shoes, the white cuffs, cuff links, simply incredible.

In modern jargon, it was the beginning of a great learning curve for some of us.

Everything about his dress and behaviour left one in no doubt that he had to be a gay man. Nothing at all wrong about that. But then to hear how he enunciated the most conservative and orthodox thinking on all sexual moral issues of the church left us simply flabbergasted. Many of us would go home and simply laugh our hearts out at the nonsense of this man. He was a source of great fun for many of us young men.

At the time it seemed uproariously funny but there was also something worrying and dismaying about it all. And his pomposity was, to say the least, annoying.

Today that man is a cardinal archbishop.


If the Vatican is to be anyway serious about setting up a commission to investigate the church in Ireland, surely it is important they appoint people to the commission who are outside that ‘Vatican thing’. Are there married women and men on the commission?

Of course there is nothing at all wrong about being gay. But the mix of being gay, secret about it, expressing conservative views, acting out a life-style that seems on the face of it to be bizarre, is indeed most worrying. And it would appear many closet gay clerics are also misogynst. A phenomenon replicated throughout the hierarchical church.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Of course Irish Rail should carry cycles for free

Irish Rail are to allow passengers to bring their bicycles with them on the DART and Commuter Rail in off-peak times for free. Good and about time. But they are to continue to charge for passengers to take bicycles on their InterCity services.

They should immediately change that and allow passengers take cycles for free on their InterCity trains.

On the Mark Fours there is plenty of capacity and the InterCity Rail Cars could also take the cycles.

The revenue they at present take in for the carrying of cycles on InterCity trains is negligible so why bother charging.

It is a typical silly Irish Rail 'thing' and is of course a nonsense. It's similar to their asking passengers to be board trains before they actually arrive at stations.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

RTÉ's Mrs Brown is neither funny nor clever

RTE screend the first in a comedy series called Mrs Brown. It is centred around housewife Mrs Brown, aka Brendan O'Carroll.

It is baffling how anyone at RTÉ could have allowed the programme to be aired. It is appalling.

It is a mix of foul expletives, silly jokes, sexual connotation that is never acceptable. It is not funny. It is lewd.

It must be unusual for someone to expereince solitary emarrassment. I watched the programme alone and was so embarrassed I had no alternative to turn it off.

It is shocking.

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