Monday, December 31, 2012

Angela Merkel quotes Greek philosopher on negotiations

Before the main news bulletins this evening, German television stations carried German Chancellor Angela Merkel's New Year's Eve address to the German people.

"Fifty years ago this evening 'Dinner for One' was first performed in Hamburg, It was the first day of the German Football League. In 1963 John F Kennedy said his famous words: 'Ich bin ein Berliner' at the Wall in West Berlin. Also that year Germany and France signed the Elysée Treaty. For France Charles DeGaulle signed and Konrad Adenauer signed on behalf of the German people."

She quoted Adolf Kolping's line on how people who show courage create a brave society.

"Every day families carry out extraordinary acts of kindness towards their children and family members. Trade unionists and employers help create an environment where people can work in security and respect. They make our communities human and successful.

"Germany is experiencing the lowest unemployment rate since the unification.

"Next year is not gong to be easy, economically it is going to be more difficult than 2012.

"In recent days I met a 10-year-old boy who was born almost deaf. Now as a result of great medical progress he can enjoy listening to an orchestra.

"I also met a woman who underwent major heart surgery and is now living a normal life. Just two examples of the the results of our scientific progress.

"Research in our country means jobs and security.

"We have to balance our books and our economy has to be returned to financial rectitude. We need patience and the crisis is far from over. We still have not learned all the lessons from the banking failures of 2008. Our reforms are working but there are very difficult days ahead.

"In these days we particularly remember those who help make our country a secure and safe place to live, our soldiers and police, who serve our country, especially those who are on service abroad."

She quoted from a Greek philosopher, who said, "Courage* is at the beginning of negotiations and happiness at the end."

"Ideas and innovation help make our country a progressive, human and successful society.

"I wish you all a happy and peaceful New Year and God's blessing."

*The German word for 'courage' is 'Mut'. But the German word for 'anger' is 'Wut'. In Frau Merkel's address it would be quite easy to think she had said 'Wut' rather than 'Mut'. At least for the hard of hearing.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The TV charm of Moya Doherty

Occasionally one comes across something on TV, watches it for a second or so and then says, gosh, this is great television.

She is a woman who is known and recognisable to most Irish people. I had heard her name regularly and often, knew something of her work, but knew nothing about her.

On the RTE News Now channel late on Christmas night Mike Murphy was interviewing Moya Doherty.

I repeat, I know nothing about her but her screen performance on RTE was simply spectacular.

Her clarity, her articulation, her charm, how she spoke about her parents, some of the best I have seen.

Monday, December 24, 2012

German archbishop speaks out on social issue

The Archbishop of Freiburg and President of the German Bishops' Conference in his Christmas address said that there should be no taboo on behalf of the German State in placing higher taxes on the rich.

Archbishop Zollitsch would be considered to be one of the more liberal German bishops.

What senior Irish cleric has said something similar this Christmas?

Christmas past and present

I remember the Christmas Santa brought me a bus. It was fitted with battery operated lights. I spent most of that day down on my hunkers 'driving' the bus around the floor. It so happens that right now I'm sitting in the room in which I unwrapped the parcel that contained that bus.

And all the blather I have heard between that day and now. Of course I have heard good words too. But.

My late parents always come to mind at Christmas. They were completely different to one another. My mother burned her bra before Irish women were wearing them and Dad was a gentle soul. That's not to say Mum was not gentle and my father was not strong-willed. Anyway, what's 'gentleness'? I have met the biggest hoodlums, who in the common estimation of 'men' were 'gentle' and 'kind'. The 'holy' ones too.

The main 'thing', maybe the only 'thing' I know about holiness is the lives my parents lived.

Earlier this year a senior cleric referred to the hard work and holiness of a priest. I was fascinated by the comment and spent many hours thinking, laughing, comparing the 'holiness and hard work' of the priest with the holiness and hard work of my parents.

For me the moral of the story was and is, we priests need to be careful with our words.

In the name of my parents and in their memory, happy Christmas to readers of this blog.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Madonna of Stalingrad

An icon of the Madonna of Stalingrad hangs in the Gedaechtnis Kirche in Berlin.

It featured significantly among the troops of the Sixth Army in the days before Christmas 1942. The army was encircled by the Soviet Army.

On Decembr 23, 1942 it was officially announced that the rescue attempt by Manstein's army had failed. It would be another two months of senseless slaughter before Paulus surrendered.

One million dead, 90,000 German troops were taken prisoners of whom 6,000 survived and returned to Germany.

Soldier Rocholt was one of the last prisoners-of-war to return home from the Soviet Union in 1954. But he decided to detrain in East Berlin and live in the GDR.

Later he returned to Fulda to his fmaily and rediscovered his belief in God, which he had lost in Stalingrad.

He along with a number of survivors from Stalingrad made an annual pilgrimage to the cathedral in Trier where they prayed to the Madonna of Stalingrad.

Do we, the citizens of the EU, ever appreciate our good fortune?

Friday, December 21, 2012

The madness of blind 'obedience'

These days 70 years ago on the Volga there were those German soldiers who knew the game was up and realised the stupidity of the leadership in Berlin. They had the sense to realise they had been fooled and duped and were naturally angry with their situation.

Their letters home tell the story.

And there were those who continued foolishly to believe that Hitler would rescue them from their plight.

Sad to say it, but they were clowns, misguided men who placed such idiotic trust in a crazy leadership, a leadership that was all spoof, rhetoric, sometimes even fine sounding words.

And many of these men had given it their all. They were not all bad men. How could they have been? But of course there were the nasty ones there too, who found protection in the midst of all the madness and stupidity.

But outside the world of Nazi Germany ordinary women and men, both inside Germany and internationally, knew it was all a sham, bad stuff too.

Maybe the moral of the story is to appreciate and respect the ordinary good sense of the 'ordinary' people. And always be suspect of authority.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Crossings gone and no need for the Kursbuch

Berlin rail station, opened in 2006, is
on the site of the old Lehrter bahnhof.
In the mid 1980s I lived in Berlin, Moabit to be exact. It was a 15 to 20 minute walk to West Berlin's main rail station at Zoologischer Garten. It must have been one of Germany's most run-down stations, at least stations served by Deutsche Bundesbahn, now called Deutsche Bahn. Clever Germans, they managed to keep the DB brand. Ironically the former communist GDR continued to call their railway Deutsche Reichsbahn, DR, German Kingdom Railways.

DB was not allowed bring its ICs or ICEs into West Berlin. Nor were they permitted to haul their trains with DB locomotives. All trains in and out of Berlin were pulled by Deutsche Reichsbahn locomotives. Trains from and to West Berlin from the Federal Republic had to have their locos changed on the German German border. Marienborn/Helmstedt, Gerstungen/Bebra, Probtzella/Ludwigstadt, Schwanheide/Buechen are those rail crossings on the inner German border that will be etched in my memory for ever.

Trains could be held at these crossings for long periods of time and if the two Germanys were in dispute then no-one was in a hurry to give the train clearance.

And the loco change happened before the train arrived in the station. That change happened in no-man's land.

The barriers, the Vopos in their green uniforms, jackboots and peaked caps. And then the portable tray/bag they carried with all their official documents as they moved from passenger to passenger. That very special East German look to make sure you were the person whose picture was on the passport. The loud speakers welcoming rail passengers 'auf dem Territorium der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik'.

It's all gone. Marienborn, all of them gone. And Friedrichstrasse, sanitised beyond belief.
For years and years one of the last things I did when leaving Germany was to buy that huge magic book, Das Kursbuch - the complete rail timetable for all DB traffic, national and international. Indeed, on one occasion a DR loco driver gave me a DR Kursbuch, which I still proudly possess. And probably never do it again; travelled from Hamburg Altona to Dortmund in an ICE loco on a quiet Sunday morning.

The GDR is gone and all the information that was in that Kursbuch, which I spent hours upon hours reading and studying is no longer needed, maybe not even available. It can all be checked on the DB app.

Right now I can see that ICE 848 is due to leave Berlin Hauptbahnhof, a spectacular building, at 13.35 and will arrive at Frankfurt-am-Main Airport in four hours 35 minutes. Just one change at Frankfurt-am-Main HBF.

That's life.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

In the US they are tragedies, in Pakistan mere bug splats

Obama has said nothing about
the drones killing children
Yesterday's Guardian has a not-to-be-missed piece on US drone attacks in Pakistan. The article is written by George Monibot.

He talks about Barack Obama's words at Newtown Connecticut. He argues that what applies to the children in Connecticut murdered by a deranged young man also applies to the children murdered in Pakistan by a somber American president.

The people who operate the drones, according to Rolling Stone magazine reports, describe their casualties as 'bug splats', "since viewing the body through a grainy green video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed".

Obama's counter-terrorism adviser Bruce Riedel explained that "you've got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back".

For John Brennan, Obama's counter-terrorism assistant, the people of north-west Pakistan are neither insects nor grass: his targets are a "cancerous tumour".

Monibot writes: "Beware of anyone who describes a human being as something other than a human being".

It certainly puts a new perspective on Baracak Obama's words and tears in Connecticut.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Getting language right - what's the significance?

I have a letter from a priest where he writes its'.

The column below appears in this week's INM Irish regional newspapers.

By Michael Commane

A Dominican colleague called me last week to point out that I had misused the word ‘pious’ in something I had written for a national newspaper.

I think I can call him a friend so there was a bit of banter between the two of us. I immediately made for the dictionary.

The sentence he was quibbling about ran, “That’s why so much pious talk is cant and humbug.”

He argued that I was pious.

As so often is the case with English words, the word has many meanings. My Collins dictionary gives two meanings for pious, 1, religious or devout, 2, insincerely reverent; sanctimonious. Now, does that not make the word meaningless as both those meanings seem to express opposite or at least mutually exclusive ideas?

In my job working in a press office I am regularly using the dictionary and I am amazed at how confusing the English language is. Is bi-monthly twice a month or does it mean every two months? My dictionary says: 1, every two months, 2, twice a month. But a bimonthly publication is published every two months.

Did you know that flammable means readily combustible. But that’s exactly what inflammable means too.

Are you confused? I certainly am.

And before I write another word and still on the letter ‘f’, did you know that ‘fulsome’ means excessive in an offensive or distasteful way. But it has a second meaning, ‘extremely complimentary’. Can it get more confusing than that?

And ‘presently’ does not mean ‘at present’. It means in the immediate future. RTE’s Morning Ireland always uses the word in its ‘pure’ sense. Those of you who may remember David Hanly presenting that programme will recall how he always used the word to indicate something that would happen in the immediate future. The Morning Ireland team have, or should that be ‘has’, remained faithful to Hanly.

I spotted that horrible redundant apostrophe on Sunday – ‘Christmas tree’s’ for sale. For the life of me, I do not understand how someone can make that mistake. Why throw in an apostrophe just because the word is plural?

It seems ‘it’s’ is a bogey word with many people. When is it ‘its’ and when is it ‘it’s’? I know a priest who never gets it right. But he developed a clever compromise and decided to put the apostrophe after the ‘s’, so he writes its’. He has a penchant for boxing clever (or should that be ‘cleverly’. And it has done him no harm at all.

It’s almost impossible to go into a supermarket without spotting ‘1000’s of items ....’ Why in heaven’s name an apostrophe? It should not be there. It is plural. End of story.

And then there are those who write ‘He lived in the 1960’s’. Can anyone explain to me the reason for that apostrophe?

The late Con Houlihan once quipped that a man who will misuse an apostrophe is capable of doing anything. The same law I think applies to the apostrophe.

And then whether it is ‘me’ or ‘I’.

‘It’s me’ has become so widespread that it now seems to be the norm. A new book on the shelves this month has the title ‘Catholicism and me’. Why the use of the accusative case when it is clearly the nominative case?

Maybe all grammar is in process and changes with use? I’m not too sure about that.

It is now becoming more and more common for RTE journalists to mix up the past participle of the verb with the simple past tense - I heard a reporter say some weeks ago, ‘They done it’.

Okay, I can hear you say, ‘so what, who cares’. And there might well be a point to that. But how would you react if someone came along to you and said, ‘Me am going to town today’? You’d be puzzled.

But there is more to it than that surely. How many people are inclined to make judgements on people the moment they hear their accents? And when those same people intersperse their sentences with ‘I done this and I done that’ people quickly form opinions, right or wrong.

Is language, accent, the words we use a giveaway?

It’s my last column here before Christmas, so happy and holy Christmas to all readers. And by the way had I said Xmas there would be nothing secular about it at all as the ‘x’ comes from the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of the Greek word Χριστός, translated as ‘Christ’

Prosperous New Year too.

Different rules for different people

On Saturday evening in an inner-city church in Dublin at the beginning of Mass the celebrant made what he thought was a smart comment about the colour of the vestments he was wearing - pink. The comment was distasteful and inappropriate and not at all funny.

At the funeral Mass of Paidi O Se in Ventry today one of the many eulogists interspersed his words with 'Christ'.

That's all fine. And the funeral Mass was a real community celebration. But how many of us have heard tales of priests refusing family members to speak at funeral Masses.

And the comment of the priest in the Dublin church will go unchallenged. No one will dare say a word. It would not be polite.

The world well knows there are two rules one for the rich and one for the poor.

And certainly right now within the Irish Catholic Church those who control and are in positions of 'authority' seem to be able to do as they wish. And do it with such arrogance.

Might the lesson of it all be, 'Cast a cold eye on life on death, horseman pass by'.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

German obsession with Jews

Interesting if disturbing piece in today's Irish Times.

Derek Scally, the paper's German correspondent, reports on the new controversial book on Germany by Israeli born Tuvia Tenenbom.

Tenebom is a self-confessed Germanophile.

A woman in Bavaria tells him that "everything in America has something to so with to do with Jews". A nun informs him: "All over the world the Jews are united."

He argues that a terrible collection of cultural cogs clicked into place for Hitler in Germany: overbearing righteousness and naivete, a love of absolutism and consensus groupthink rather than individual decisions and personal responsibility.

Tenenbom believes these 'cogs' still whirr today - ouf of sync for now but not necessarily forever.

He concludes: " I have always thought great things of the Germans .... and I always defended them when people said they were Nazis.

"I didn't think that this book would contain more than three pages about Jews if at all .... but the obsession with Jews here is frightening. I so much wanted it not to be that, but this is what it was."

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Information and tweaking

Word verification has now been enabled on this blog. Also under consideration is to block anonymous comments but no decision yet made.

This blog is read in 138 cities around the world. It is blocked by the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran and some months back a letter criticising work by the author appeared. The letter was written by the then parish priest of Cahersiveen, who has now been appointed bishop in Cloyne.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The late Mick Cleary and all the nonsense

The late Fr Mick Cleary
The words, sentiments and behaviour of some of the clergy people as shown in last evening's documentary on RTE Television must leave people wondering about the Irish church.

The appearance of Michael Cleary, his silly words, ridiculous attire, his adoring fans and all the nonsnese that surrounded him and many of the clerics was profoundly sad.

It is also interesting to compare the attitude of many the clergy people of that time with the attitude of many of the current commentators, who appeared on the programme.

Is it possible to replace the word attitude with 'arrogance'?

But surely anyone who is out and about 'shouting' about their take on anything, whether it is religion, morality, ethics, that crazy word, 'evangelisation', anyone, who sets himself/herself up as a 'guardian' of how things should be are really all 'templates' of the likes of Mick Cleary.

The strident, the dogmatists, the functionaries come and go, usually full of their own importance.

Mick Cleary, his roman collar, his silly black fake leather coat with the fur collar is most likely the same old game as those who prance about in religious gear in the new attempt to appeal to the adoring crowds.

Is there any difference? All making themselves noticed.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

TV thriller highlights our subjectivity

Difficult to know if Carrie's love/lust
for Brody is all for the good of the CIA?
This column appears in this week's INM Irish regional newspapers.

By Michael Commane

The current US espionage thriller, ‘Homeland’, which is showing on RTE Two on Tuesday evenings, is the highlight of my week. How sad can you get?

For those of you who are not watching ‘Homeland’, putting it as simply as possible: it’s about US Army Sergeant, Nicholas Brody who was captured while on service in Iraq. He converted to Islam and became a fanatical follower of Abu Nazir, who plans to hit the US. Brody is to play a pivotal role in the attack.

A US drone mistakenly killed a group of children, including Nazir’s son. The ‘incident’ was kept under wraps. The episode plays a significant role in Brody’s conversion to Islam.

Brody comes back to the US. A plan is put in place to kill a number of high-ranking people, including the US Vice President. Brody funks it and the CIA get him on their side. He becomes a double agent. There are so many angles, sides and corners to it that you would really need eyes at the back of your head to follow it.

At times it seems xenophobic. But it also highlights the CIA as not being too worried about obeying the rule of law.

The main CIA character, Carrie Mathison has a tryst with Brody. At this stage I'm not sure whether or not it is genuine love/lust or for the sake of the CIA. She also happens to be bi-polar. It’s interesting to see how her bosses at the CIA treat her when this becomes evident. Her protector Saul Berenson is always there to help and support her. So far he’s the wise counsel in the series. But last week he falls victim to mysterious double dealing.

The CIA, at least according to ‘Homeland’, has no problem living by the rule of deception and lies. Of course, it’s all for the greater good and honour of the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Brody’s wife, Jessica and Carrie are very good looking women. I’m sure many of the men are too.

There are so many silly scenes - CIA agent Carrie, chasing a helicopter in a field in the middle of nowhere. The death of the VP is caused by a remote control attack on his pace maker. Surely a warning there for anyone who has a pace maker. I joke of course.

In a previous episode, a number of terrorists shoot up CIA personnel. They come in, blazing submachine gun fire. And believe it or not Peter Quinn, a central CIA figure, bleeding from the mouth, miraculously walks away.

So what is it about it that has me glued to the screen on Tuesdays? Suspense, the goodies versus the baddies, the aura of secrecy, interesting characters. But it is also bizarre and somehow or other there is something about the bizarre that forever attracts us.

Maybe after all it is xenophobic. At least so far the goodies are the Americans and the baddies are the ‘foreign terrorists’. You are led to believe that the nastiness and ugliness of ‘the goodies’ is bearable and deep down they mean to do the right thing. So far all the ‘baddies’ seem to be from the Middle East or Americans who spent some time there.

Anyone who has been following what is happening in real life to US army private Bradley Manning is bound to look at the world of power and politics with a jaundiced eye. Manning is in jail for over two years since he was accused of intelligence leaks to the WikiLeaks website. As a young man he was bullied because of his sexual orientation. In the last two years he has spent long periods of time in solitary confinement. And this is not a television series. It is for real

How we are all children of our environment never ceases to amaze me, whether it is to do with our family, our school, our town, our religion, everything.

It is the prophet and the bravest of the brave who dare attempt to look out over the parapet.

Maybe, in some amazingly artistic design, ‘Homeland’ wants us to see how we all suffer from terrible bias, subjectivity and brain washing.

After this there is to be another series; number three. OMG.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Forty-five TV minutes with Merkel

On Monday evening German television screened a fascinating 'What makes Merkel'.

The prgramme began showing the German Chancellor in her spacious office in Berlin.

On one occasion during the euro crisis she cancelled a meeting with Federal State premiers and spent hours in her car in Berlin calling EU ministers. Photo journalists were expecting her to call at a certain place, instead her car passed at great speed.

It went on to describe how she wheels and deals behind closed doors and tells another story in public and in parliament.

It cited how she dealt with the euro crisis in 2010 and how she handled the loan to Greece. And then the referendum in Greece, which she heard about through the press.

It showed how Merkel supported Sarkosy in the run-in to the French election. He lost and Merkel would pay the price.

The prgramme explained how Merkel did not get her way at the EU Heads of State in 2011. It was Hollande's first EU meeting.

German civil servants had decided that if Greece were to leave the EU it would be catastrophic for the EU and Germany. Just in those days Samaras visited Merkel in Berlin. But Merkel was still saying publicly that Greece could leave the EU.

At one stage in the crisis, Jens Weidman, head of the Federal German Centrall Bank was on the verge of resigning.

Peer Steinbruck, the SPD chancellor candidate for the 2013 elections recognised that the situation in Europe is now far more stable than in 2010.

The 45-minute programme never once mentioned one word about the situation/crisis in Ireland.

GOP's bedfellow

Maureen Dowd's piece in today's Irish Times is a good read.

Well worth comparing her picture of the GOP with some aspects of right wing Catholic thinking.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Straightening the way

A great day's cycling from Tallaght to Donard and then a
climb to the top of Lugnaquilla and cyle back to Tallaght.

Today's Irish Times Thinking Anew

By Michael Commane

If I were asked what were the great memories of my early days in the Dominican Order I would immediately say the introduction I got to cycling and walking in the great outdoors.

Indeed, before joining I did cycle to and from school and spent the summer holidays in the country, but the idea of cycling 100 kilometres or more in a day was foreign to me. So too were expeditions that meant climbing mountains more than 1,000 metres high.

The excitement, the annoyance, the sheer toughness of a day’s hike is an incredible experience. The same goes for a long cycle. The next uphill climb fills one with fear and trepidation. Then the downhill and speed of it is nothing but sensational. And the same goes for getting to the top of a mountain. Pure exhilaration.

In tomorrow's Gospel we read those familiar lines: “A voice of one that cries in the desert: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight! Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be levelled, winding ways be straightened and rough roads made smooth, and all humanity will see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3: 4 - 5)

When one has spent six or seven hours walking in rough terrain a magic wand that would fill in valleys and straighten hills would be much appreciated. But that’s not the way it is. And no one ever goes out on a day’s walking ever hoping or expecting something like that to happen.

As Christians we believe that after death all the mountains are straightened out and the valleys filled in but before that final call we are destined to experience every sort of turn and curve, sudden climb and sharp descent. It’s the way of the world.

There is something in the adage that life is a valley of tears. Maybe that hits us more forcibly as we grow older. Young healthy people consider themselves almost indestructible. But all we have to do is look about us and see the suffering that exists in every nook and cranny of the world about us.

Every night on television we see horrific pain and slaughter meted out to people, irrespective of age, gender, geographical setting.

One in five children in Ireland goes to bed hungry and one in seven people in the world has not enough to eat. There’s no need for such suffering and yet it happens.

Individually each one of us is called to play our part in straightening the roads, filling in the valleys and levelling the hills. Of course there is never going to be perfection on this earth of ours. But that does not mean we should not try to fix things, making things better for those who are in pain and suffering, for those who are mistreated and misunderstood.

The one who cries in the desert is the precursor of Jesus. Far too often it is inconvenient to listen to the prophet, to listen to the person who is talking out of synch with the prevailing fashions.

There is nothing level and smooth about the world and the lives we live.

Constantly we are challenged to go a step further, to take risks, to walk the unexpected road, all the time trying to understand things better so that we can come to the help and assistance of others.

Advent is a fitting time to see the world as it is, with all its pain and suffering and joy too. In many ways you could say it is similar to that feeling on the mountain. That’s why so much pious talk is cant and humbug. But we believe in paradise, there the valleys are filled in and the mountains levelled.

We are taking part in in a process. In the meantime we take the good with the bad, all the time trying to improve things, especially for those less fortunate.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Concern award for Hillary Clinton

Concern Worldwide, Ireland’s largest international humanitarian organisation, today awarded US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with its inaugural Fr Aengus Finucane Award for Services to Humanity.

The CEO of Concern, Tom Arnold, presented Ms Clinton with the award in front of an invited audience, which included members of Fr. Finucane’s family, at a special presentation in The Helix, Dublin.

Fr Finucane worked with Concern from its earliest days in Biafra in 1968 and served as Chief Executive from 1981 until his retirement in 1997. He was Honorary President of Concern US from 1997 until his passing in October 2009 and contributed immensely to building the Concern organisation in the US.

In presenting the award to Secretary of State Clinton, Concern CEO Tom Arnold said: “Concern wanted to find an appropriate way to honour the life and work of Fr Aengus, taking into account the wishes of his family. We decided to institute the Fr. Aengus Finucane Award for Services to Humanity and we’re delighted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has agreed to accept the Inaugural Award.

“The reason Concern want to recognise Secretary of State Clinton with this award is because she has put development at the heart of US foreign policy. In particular, she has put a huge focus on policies to improve nutrition for pregnant women and children. Her leadership on this issue has inspired other political leaders to introduce policies which will improve the lives of tens of millions of women and children. The US and Irish governments have worked closely together to promote this noble cause.”

“The whole purpose of Fr Aengus’s life was to improve the lives of others,” Mr Arnold added. “He had a passionate commitment to the education of girls, seeing this as the foundation for the future well- being of families and the wider society. It is therefore entirely fitting that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the Inaugural recipient of the Fr Aengus Finucane Award for Services to Humanity.”

Ms Clinton spoke inspiring words and concentrated on human rights, stressing the importance of treating women and girls with equal dignity with men and boys.

John Bruton launches book

Former taoiseach John Bruton launched John Maher's book, Catholicism and Me at the Dominican Priory in Tallaght last evening.

Mr Bruton spoke about being a Catholic and how important it is for us to be public about our faith. He said he could not imagine that could not be a God.

He also referred to the current abortion discussion that is taking place in Ireland.

The book is a compilation and Mr Bruton referred to many of the contributors in hsi address.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Whether we stand or kneel; probably best to laugh

Isn't it always the little things that give us away. Sometimes they may not be so 'little at all'.

During Mass in a church in Newbridge at the weekend the presiding priest berated the people for not adhering to the new liturgical rules, which he pointed out, are now one year in operation.

"We were chastised for not standing or kneeling at the appropriate time. And it was the way he said it. I'll certainly let him know what I think," the comment of someone who was at the Mass.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A strange mix of title and dress

In most Irish newspapers today there is a picture of Sister Mary Teresa Grogan.

Yesterday the Mercy sister was found not guilty of indecent assault charge,

The 62-year-old woman had been accused of indecently assaulting seven girls at a primary school in the midlands more than 35 years ago.

Sister Grogan joined the Sisters of Mercy in 1966 as a 16-year-old girl.

She was given the name Sister Peter.

The picture in today's papers shows an elegant woman but somewhere or other in those eyes there seems to be a sadness. Maybe even fear.

She is wearing a black coat, red scarf and carrying a hand bag slung over her left shoulder.

Has anyone asked how come a girl of 16 is taken off to live a life that, at least, is strange. And then to be given the name of a man. She was given the name Sister Peter.

And no one blinked an eye.

The women were given the names of men and the men were asked to go about dressed as women.

What in God's name has all this to do with the Gospel.

Surely an aberration.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Three aspects to life in Ireland

Irish Times columnist   
and playwright
Michael Harding

Archbishop Charles Brown
Newly appointed Bishop of
Cloye, William Crean
Three items that might interest readers of this blog.

The announcement on Saturday that William Crean had been appointed the new bishop of the diocese of Cloyne.

The comments made by the papal nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Charles Brown, in the current issue of Intercom.

Michael Harding's article in today's Irish Times.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Gunther's EU rail journey

Well worth listening to 'Gunther' aka Barry Murphy's satirical piece on the passenger behaviour of EU citizens on a train journey.

Very funny.

Friday, November 23, 2012

English grammar according to RTE

RTE Radio One news programme at 16.30. First item introduced today with the followig words.
''... how the meeting had went".

If their news is as inaccurate as their grammar, then things are bad.

Helping Concern today

ElectricIreland is running a week-long advertising campaign. Three charities are involved and the winning charity will receive €50,000.

So, calling on everyone who reads this blog, please sign in to electricirelandpoweringkindness and log a good deed. It is open until 16.00 today and Concern needs all the support it can get.

Right now it's tight, so Concern needs your support.

Please help.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Brussels over Stalingrad any day

A mere 70 years ago today, on November 22, 1942 a Soviet counteroffensive against the German Army at Stalingrad trapped a quarter-million German soldiers south of Kalach on the River Don.

It was on this day that Friedrich Paulus requested from Berlin permission to surrender. Permission was refused.

It's that slaughter, that madness that forced the leaders of Europe to see another way. So we have the European Union.

Today in Brussels the leaders of 27 EU states will meet to discuss a new budget.

How fortunate we are.

It's a far cry from the blood of close to two million people and the icy waters of the rivers Don and Volga.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Efficient, fast, cheap burials in Berlin

Surely this can't be missed.

Quick burials, crematoriums. Poland, The Czech Republic, the Germans, Berlin and efficiency. And it's today's story. Modern parlance would be forced to say OMG.


BERLIN DIARY: Her final journey was supposed to take Anja’s mother from the funeral home to the crematorium. Instead, the 61-year-old’s body was taken on an unscheduled jaunt from a Berlin car park and over the border into Poland.

At about 5am on October 15th, thieves broke into the white transporter van parked behind the funeral home and headed east down the autobahn, unaware that they had 12 coffins in the back.

The bodies had been loaded into the van for the 200km trip to the Saxon city of Meissen for a cut-price cremation. Instead they turned up, eight days later, unloaded in a forest in Konin near Poznan, 300km from Berlin.

“We’re not sure how long the coffins were here, it’s a place locals come to pick mushrooms,” said local mayor Andrzej Rybicki.

Anja eventually got her mother’s body back, but only after paying the transport costs.

The ghoulish story has served as a cautionary tale in the increasingly competitive Berlin funeral market.

Although 80 people die here on average each day, the overall numbers are declining while the number of undertakers is growing.

To attract attention in a crowded market, new operators are advertising their services online and on bright hoardings near hospitals: or

One discounter’s advertising slogan is “Provocative but not impious”. As with budget airlines, price-conscious Germans who book ahead can rest in peace knowing they got one final bargain on the way to the graveyard: €949 all-in, compared to an average burial spend of €2,500.

Given that this is the country that gave us Lidl and Aldi, it’s perhaps not surprising that canny German consumers have embraced the cult of discount undertakers or that these new arrivals are expanding their market share with ruthless cost-cutting.

The promise of a cheap funeral first raised its head in 2004 after German health insurers stopped making a contribution to funeral costs, causing a drift away from traditional burials and religious tradition.

An added factor in the low- cost funeral boom is the disint- egration of family structures, meaning that in some areas of Berlin one in three burials is an anonymous affair, paid for by social services.

With the squeeze on, it is not unusual for undertakers to do under-the-table deals or spread unflattering gossip about the competition.

“Last Christmas one of my competitors gave the director of a nursing home a Mercedes,” complained one undertaker to the Berliner Zeitung daily.

In Berlin’s burgeoning battle for bodies, vanishing acts are not as rare as you might hope. Two years ago, the body of a woman vanished from a city hospital three hours after she died. “The relatives were informed immediately that the mother and grandmother had been kidnapped by an undertaker,” said the court report during the subsequent trial.

As distraught relatives considered what to do next, the woman’s daughter got a phone call from an undertaker. He noticed her number in her mother’s hospital file, he said, and was wondering if they had decided on burial or cremation. The grieving daughter hung up and contacted her undertaker of choice to collect the body.

While Germany’s Undertakers Association complains of the growth of what it calls a cost- conscious “disposal mentality”, many operators, particularly in eastern Germany, are changing with the times and offer would- be customers free bus trips to Poland and the Czech Republic.

Every day, busloads of pensioners arrive for a crematorium tour, get a price list and, on the way home, often sign pre-death contracts for low- cost funerals. Now a cross-border market, some Polish and Czech crematoriums report that every fifth body they process is German.

Faced with cheap Czech competition and funeral discounters at home, many traditional Berlin undertakers are outsourcing services to cheaper operators in eastern Germany. According to figures from 2011, almost a third of Germans now choose a burial costing €1,200 or less.

The disappearing dozen from Berlin, for instance, were en route to Meissen. Renowned for its porcelain, the Saxon city is also the home of Germany’s cheapest crematorium.

Yesterday cremator Jorg Schaldach confirmed that the 12 bodies finally arrived back from Poland, ending their journey last week. Schaldach offers cremations around the clock, every 35 minutes, 1,000 a month – 200,000 so far and counting. His price: €188.90.

“We have a good price but people also value our speed: whoever comes to us today is in the urn tomorrow,” he told The Irish Times. “You shouldn’t have to apologise for being effective.”

A valley of tears

The column below appears in this week's INM Irish regional newspapers.

By Michael Commane
It must be four weeks ago now since I drove my motorbike from Rathgar in south Dublin to Rush in north county Dublin. I was interviewing a 90-year-old amazing man who spent most of his working life with Aer Lingus. This year Tanzania launched the first Young Scientist Exhibition in Africa and the man I was interviewing had long links with the Irish Young Scientist Exhibition. I was preparing an article highlighting the genesis of the exhibition.

Interview over, we said our goodbyes, I put on my helmet and went back out to my motorbike. It was a miserable day, that sort of never-ending drizzle that keeps sticking to you.

Earlier in the morning I had felt touches of a headache. I might well get the occasional ‘man-flu’ but it is seldom if ever I get headaches.

Back out on the motorway, rain clogging up my visor and terrible traffic jams because of road works near Dublin Airport, that headache began to hurt. In fact, it was beginning to thump at my head and even my eyes were sore. I only began driving a motorbike in 2007, so the mix of headache, bad weather, motor way traffic and road works was beginning to become intolerable. I decided I simply could not stay at this and left at an exit near Castleknock.

I eventually got home and straight to bed. The headache kept getting worse and worse until I was forced to go to the doctor to discover I had sinusitis. It’s only in the last few days that I have been free of the damn thing. The exhilarating joy of getting out of bed in the morning free of a headache is incredible.

The experience set me thinking about all sorts of things: how fragile we are, how easy it is to knock us out of our daily routine, but most of all, what must it be like for people who suffer great and horrendous pain and over long periods of time.

Some weeks ago I wrote in this column about a young man who had lost a leg and was in the process of having a prosthesis fitted. I have been amazed at how he has taken it all in his stride.
I know someone whose niece’s husband received serious brain injury back in the spring and is still in a coma. The pain and suffering of that for his family cannot be described in words. What can one say?

And just last week the shocking death of 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar in Galway.

Every day and night we turn on our televisions and radios and see and hear about horrendous pain being caused on people. Last Wednesday I saw an Israeli bomb tear down on a car in Gaza setting it into a ball of fire and killing all the occupants.

Anyone who is watching RTE’s ‘Love Hate’ or the US TV series ‘Homeland’ must at times put their hands to their eyes as indescribable pain is meted out to people, human beings, people like you and me.

The writers of these series will say they are portraying, more or less, reality, a world that exists ‘out there’.

Maybe it has something to do with growing in age but the more I see of the world around me I can’t help but say that yes, it is ‘a valley of tears’.
Of course great things happen. People experience wonderful happiness and joy. On Friday cycling to work I was stopped at traffic lights and beside me was a young man with his small child on a little carrier saddle on the back of the bike. Great smiles from both of them. And they are the important moments. But always, lurking somewhere or other, there is pain and suffering and wrong doing. And so much of it could be avoided, but so much of it is a given and part of our lives.

When I was in my late 20s I lived in a Dominican community. In the house at the time was a man whom I presumed was quite old. He may not have been that old at all but he was always complaining of being in pain. Eventually I more or less stopped listening to him, paid no attention to his pain.

My tiny four-week discomfiture has made me make a promise. Be far more sympathetic to people who are in pain and suffering. At least listen to them and try to understand. Be there with them and for them.

A friend of mine often says to me she will listen to no words from anyone unless they have wiped the bottoms of the old and infirm, been with them in their pain. She has a point.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Living a dangerous illusion

"A church that feels itself embattled, and believes it needs to resurrect all the symbols of its past glory in order to bolster its authority, is a church that is living a dangerous illusion."

"There are no moral, intellectual or geographical borders that can deny grace its citizenship in the world."

James Hanvey SJ teaches at the University of San Francisco.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Keeping the US coffers low

Every year US citizens defraud their treasury of $400 billion and it costs the US Treasury $410 billion to collect its taxes

Never a bell on Sunday Radio

Why is the Angelus bell never rung on RTE Radio 1 on Sunday?

The first day of snow

This day 70 years ago the first snows fell in Stalingrad.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

What really do the so-called experts know?

The CIA talk about security.

It transpires that CIA chief David Patreus communicates with his lover Paula Broadwell using electronic mail. They are sophisticated of course and leave their letters in the draft box, something drug dealers do.

One is forced to ask what does the CIA really know about security?

IKEA, GDR and Volvo

IKEA apologises for purchasing products from the former GDR, which were made by political prisoners.

This news is all over today's newspapers.

But might there be a link between the IKEA business and the fact that all state cars used in the former GDR were Swedish built Volvos?

What was the deal between Sweden and the GDR?

Not a word on this so far.

Comparing PSNI to Catholic Church

On the Marian Finucane Show today Fr Oliver Brennan was interviewed about his ordeal of having been accused in the wrong of sexual abuse.

He came across as a wonderful man, forgiving too.

He was too kind to say it, maybe too big too, but listening to every word of the interview it was alarmingy clear of the bungling behaviour of the hierarchical church.

But he did compare the professionalism and kindness of the PSNI to the poor behaviour of the church.

So far the church has not apologised to him.

Fr Brennan spoke highly of how the Association of Catholic Priests supported and helped him.

He said at first he was very bitter towards the church but said fortunatey he no longer feels bitter.

The late Dominican John O'Gorman always maintained that the biggest issue with the Catholic Church was its ineptness and total inefficiency.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ninety years of great radio

BBC Radio is 90 years old today.

The event was celebrated throughout the day on BBC stations with a special moment to mark the occasion at 17.22, which went out around the world.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

UCC award for Mary O'Donovan

In the current issue of 'Independent Thinking', the UCC alumni magazine, there is an attractive three page spread on Mary O'Donovan.

Earlier in the year Mary O'Donovan was awarded an honorary Degree of Doctor of Education by UCC.

Mary is the co-founder of Scoil Mhuire in Cork city.

She is the sister of Fr Raymond O'Donovan, a member of the Irish Dominican province.

The story might well have been flagged in some Dominican publication that went unseen by the author of this blog.

It is profoundly sad that this sort of news is lost in the ether of Dominican news while at the same time we are subjected to so much terrible nonsense and material that is boring and totally non news in quality.

US Tea-Party style will help nobody

This is this week's Independent News and Media Irish regional newspapers column. It appears in 13 of the 14 INM regional newspapers in Ireland.

By Michael Commane

In the run-up to Saturday’s children’s referendum the free sheet Alive! received much publicity. Indeed, one newspaper in one article referred to Alive! as being ‘A Dominican Catholic monthly’.

The free sheet strongly advocated a No vote on Saturday.

The Irish Catholic bishops said neither Nay or Yea in how people should vote in the referendum. Once the referendum was announced Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin came out in support of a Yes vote.

So how Catholic and how Dominican is Alive! And a much more pertinent question is when can a person call themselves Catholic?

Certainly there are many sides and corners to the Catholic Church, It’s important to remember that it is a universal church, which means that it is not monolithic. It is not a dictatorship, where people are forced to obey rules and regulations out of fear of some authoritarian figure at the top.

The Vatican Council placed great stress on the idea that the church is the people of God.

Anywhere there are people living in any sort of honesty with one another there will be diferences of views and opinions. It's important to realise that difference is not division.

At the bottom of the front page of Alive! there is a disclaimer. It reads: “The content of the newspaper Alive! and the views expressed in it are those of the editor and contributors, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Irish Dominican Province.”

So that makes it quite clear that the views and opinions and how they are expressed in Alive! are not necessarily the views and opinions of the Irish Dominicans.

I find myself disagreeing with much of the content in Alive! Indeed, I have no difficulty saying that the church it portrays is certainly not a church that I would wish to be a member of. It often strikes me that a publication with trenchant liberal or 'left wing' views would never be allowed survive within the church as Alive! manages to survive.

Alive! is cleverly presented. It’s tabloid in form and content and follows the tabloid ethos in that it offers the reader short shock horror stories. It certainly can catch the reader’s attention.

On page nine of the November issue a headline runs: ‘Gilmore drops bombshell: kids’ vote is anti-church” But Diarmuid Martin supported the Yes vote and the bishops had no objections.

Right across the Catholic Church there seems to be a US-style Tea Party campaign attempting to ‘take over ‘ the church and turn it into some horrible right wing organisation that seems so far removed from anything that is gentle and kind, searching and tolerant. It would seem they want the church to be some sort of strident army in which there is no room or acceptance for any sort of freedom of thought.

In the Gospel that we read in church last Sunday Jesus goes out of his way to criticise those who prance about in long robes weighing people down with their long prayers. Instead he admires the poor widow who quietly and gently gives a penny to the treasury.

Surely the Gospel story is our mission statement. It’s a story that supports the weak and the fragile.

Anyone who has ever impressed or left a lasting mark on me has been someone who has been gentle and kind, never strident and authoritarian.

It struck me in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy how the US federal agencies were on the ground helping people. These are the same agencies that the Tea Party advocates want disbanded. They argue government should be so much smaller.

And in that context I find it difficult to understand how Alive! too is constantly attacking the Government on so many issues, yet it has no trouble telling its readers that because it is registered as a charity it can avail of the Government’s tax back scheme.

There is a growing stridency right across so many organisations, including churches, which is greatly worrying. I for one, find it difficult to take. I’d much prefer to be associated with a church and society that is on pilgrimage, all the time on a journey, walking in faith and wonder.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Breaking the wise rules of protocol

This weekend in a sermon a senior ecclesiastic referred to a bishop as 'his excellency'. Indeed, he used the term on two occasions.

And that on the weekend when the Gospel being read cast a cold eye on the behaviour of certain 'scribes'.

What at all is happening in our church?

Is there anyone out there brave and holy enough to shout 'stop'?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

It was so close to being so different

Tilo Koch, born in Karl Marx Stadt, now Chemnitz, in 1968 was a young GDR border officer working in Berlin the night the Wall was opened.

In a documentary film shown on German television today he said that had he received the order to shoot at those storming his border crossing point, he would have done his duty and opened fire.

Bornholmer Straße was the first border crossing point to be breached on the night of November 9, 1989.

It's unlikely that the Wall would have come down so easily had there not been a European Union in place to support the Germans.

The goings and comings of powerful men

General Valery Gerasimov has been appointed chief of the general staff of the Russian Army.

Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham, has been appointed the new Archbishop of Canterbury.

David Petraeus has resigned as chief of the CIA, issuing a statement saying that he had engaged in an extramarital affair.

The Rusians jailed young women for performing lewd sexual acts in a church.

The Church of England is greatly divided over the appointment of women bishops and same sex marriage.

And the head of the CIA, the man who designed and planned the 'surge' in Iraq and Afghanistan, is gone from one of the top jobs in the world because of his behaviour with a woman.

The long-robed spoofers

The column below appears in today's Irish Times.

By Michael Commane
On one of the days that Superstorm Sandy caused devastation in the Caribbean and the east coast of the United States I was in a shop in Dublin which my late mother frequented. It's seldom I'm in the shop. Out of the blue, the owner, gently smiling, said to me that he still had a thank you letter I had written him for attendng my mother's funeral. My mother died in 1988. And just as I came out of the shop and began to untie my dog from a pole a young girl stopped and told me what a lovely dog she was.

The power of the positive word. For the next 20 minutes or so, walking home, I was naturally recalling what the shopkeeper had said. Yes, it put a smile on my face. A nice man. And even the little girl's comment about my dog did me no harm.

That same day US television networks were showing the incredible damage that Sandy had caused and at the same time recalling the small human stories of kindness that helped people get through the disaster - even the kind words a Republican governor had for a Democratic president.

What nicer accolade to give someone than to say she or he is a kind person.
What better ambition to have than to be a kind person.

All groups, all organisations, all societies, all religions have their nasty and kind people. Yes, rules and regulations have a role to play but surely it has to be kindness, human kindness that shines through and saves us. As Christians we believe that our kind deeds and words are especially appeciated and recognised by the God we believe in, praise and adore.

In tomorrow's Gospel we read the words of Jesus: "Beware of the scribes who like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted respectfully in the market squares, to take the front seats in the synoguges and places of honour at banquets; these are the men who devour the property of widows and for show offer long prayers." (Mark 12:38)

It is quite extraordinary how redolent those words are today in our times and in our society.

Of course rules and regulations play a role, an important role in any group, in any society, in any religion but they are means to an end. And it seems that sometimes we can get lost in ritual and even turn prayer into some sort of formula said by the elite, which can easily imply that the 'ordinary people' are not as important as the 'ruling classes'. Surely that's what Jesus is warning against. And if the Gospel is to be considered an important piece of literature, even inspired word, then it has value and significance in every age.

We should never understimate the kind deed, the kind word and you know, so often they are done away from the limelight, away from the cameras, away from the important seats at the market squares.

And again Jesus stresses the simple kind deeds, the deeds that so often go unseen and unrecognised by the great and the powerful. He refers to the poor widow, who gives a penny to the treasury: "In truth I tell you, this poor widow has put more in than all who have contributed to the treasury."

Sometimes I wonder is there something in the human psyche that always tempts us to give far more credence and authority to the words and deeds of the powerful than those of the little people.

And all the time in the Gospel, Jesus keeps stressing the importance of the weak and fragile. Surely, it's the small kind routine events in our daily lives that inspire and lead us to God.

I think of the shop keeper and the little girl.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Dark evil, great moment and good luck

On this date in 1938 the Germans carried out that terrible night of destruction on Jewish communities right across the country. The memory of Kristallnacht makes every sensible German bow their heads in shame. It can and must never be forgotten.

And also on this date but in 1989, the Wall came tumbling down.

I lived in Berlin in 1986. The fall of the Wall then seemed unthinkable.

With the fall of the Wall one has no alternative but to believe that anything, just anything is possible.

On March 17, 1986, with a group of students from the univeristy in Berlin I visited a Protestant pastor on the German side of Görlitz. We were travelling from Berlin to Krakau. We smuggled him in that day's newspapers from West Berlin. He prepared us a wonderful breakfast. During our conversation he kept insisting that it was just a matter of time before it all collapsed in the German Democratic Republic. I can still see him stressing emphatically that it was over and that his state was totally bankrupt, economically and morally.

I did not believe him.

How I know it was March 17 is because the GDR custom control at Friedrichstraße requested me to open my case. Hidden inside I had GDR money. Bringing GDR money into the country was a serious crime. So, unusually calm for me, I mentioned to the controller that it was Ireland's national holiday. Suddenly, it seemed he forgot about what he was doing, chatted with me and closed my bag.

St Patrick had come to my assistance.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A man who claimed to stay the course

"My fellow-countrymen and women! Party Comrades! It is, I think, something very extraordinary when a man after about 20 years can stand before his old followers, and when in doing so he has not had to make any revisions of his programme during these 20 years."

So much for consistency and 'staying the course'.

This is the beginning of an incredibly rambling speech that Hitler gave in Munich on this date 70 years ago.

It is shocking stuff.  How did he ever get away with it and how did it happen?

Nasty words can tell a story.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The BBC get it so wrong

This text appeared on the BBC 10 O'Clock television news this evening.

The item was on child abuse in north Wales.

"Did inquiry 'do it's job'?"

Imagine, the BBC confusing a possessive adjective or would you call it a possessive pronoun with an abbreviation, which it certainly is not.


Roman letter and Dublin video

Every four years individual provinces of the Dominican Order hold a meeting or chapter. The meeting is held so as to plan for the future and to elect a provinical and other officers for the following four years.

This summer the Irish Dominicans held their chapter and elected a new provincial.

An account of the chapter is published in book form, which includes a letter from the central governing body of the Order, which is based in Rome.

The letter accompanying the most recent chapter of the Irish province makes suggestions and recommendations as to how Irish Dominicans might carry out their work over the next four years.

In the last few days on both the Irish Dominican website and on the international website of the Order a video has been posted, which discusses the aftermath of the Eucharistic Congress, which was held in Dublin in the summer.

A comparison of the video with the letter from Rome in the current book on the recent meeting of the Irish Dominicans is well worth studying.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Alexander Platz November 4, 1989

On this date in 1989 a large anti government demonstration took place in Alexanderplatz in the GDR.

Among the speakers at that demonstration were writers Stefan Heym and Christa Wolf. Also there was Ulrich Mühe, who played the lead role of Wiesler in the film The lives of Others.

Mühe died soon after the making of the film. Subsequent to the fall of the Wall the actor discovered that his wife was spying on him and working for the Stasi.

Some days before the demonstration in Alexander Platz Egon Krenz replaced Erich Honecker as SED leader and the top man in the GDR.

Krenz was the perfect party man. Spent his entire life in the shadow of the leaders, in so-called 'important jobs'. At one stage in charge of the FDJ - the GDR youth movement.

He was always considered a wise man, did those secretary jobs that every organisation gives to its 'wise men'.

Krenz is a paradigm for all those who play the politicial game, whether in State or church, never really express an idea but somehow or other, people think they have a wisdom about them.

Of course most of them are 'yes men'.

Once the change became clear, Krenz explained how he really was never a 'hardliner'.

And then reality hit the people, the party, the country and maybe even eventually Krenz spotted who he really is - a Mr Nobody, the perfect sycophant.

He was later charged with manslaughter and a period in jail.

Guess what, he might well still be doing the job of secretary somewhere, somehow.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Tenth anniversary of death of JJ O'Gorman

Today is the 10th anniversary of the death of Dominican John James O'Gorman

The following appreciation, written by the author of this blog, appeared in The Irish Times in November 2002.

JOHN James O’Gorman was born in Blarney Street, Cork in 1945 and attended the North Monastery Christian Brothers School. He was one of their brilliant young men, obtaining a scholarship to UCC. But instead of going on to university he joined the Dominican Order in September 1962. He was professed the following year and ordained a priest in 1969.

John O’Gorman stood out as a shining light. Most of all he was a man of absolute integrity, but he was also endowed with brilliant intelligence. After priestly ordination he studied postgraduate theology in Rome and remained at the Irish Dominican community in San Clemente as bursar.

He spoke Italian like a Roman – or so said his neighbours on the Via Labicana. But he was not happy with Rome and the Roman scene. His first love was always science and mathematics. He began postgraduate work in maths while still in Rome. Father J.M. Heuston, a brother of John Heuston of 1916 fame, himself a fine mathematician, admitted that he had never before met someone with such mathematical talent. John came home to Ireland in 1976, moved to the Dominican Community at Newbridge and did his H.Dip at Maynooth. Without any formal degree in mathematics, he blazed a trail of brilliance through Newbridge College. Students seeming destined to produce average turned in spectacular performances.

By the time of his last year at the school, there were two streams in sixth year doing Higher Level Maths in the Leaving Cert. But John was also there for the not-so-clever. Anyone who sat at his feet in Newbridge will remember him as a brilliant and fair teacher. John was endowed with both a practical and speculative intelligence.

In the early 1980s he began to develop an interest in Computer Science and did a Ph.D, in computing at the University of Limerick. This led to a career in lecturing at the college, a job he greatly loved. He is the author of two books on computing and was in the process of publishing a third.

He was meticulous in everything he did. While mathematics and teaching were his first love there were other sides to this faithful son of St Dominick. He walked every by-road of Ireland, climbed to the top of every mountain and had a knowledge of roads, rivers and mountains that was simply breathtaking.

John also took his theology seriously, had a profound knowledge of the Bible, and was familiar with modern theological thinking. But he was never at home with his priesthood. In the mid-1980s he requested permission to resign from priesthood while remaining a Dominican. The Order granted his request.

Most of all John was a dear friend, someone who was always there to give the best of advice and help. He had absolutely no time for show or pretension and lived the simplest of lives. He never lost his Blarney Street accent. He carried his intelligence easily and never used it as a tool to lord it over anyone.

Above all, any signs of obfuscation annoyed him intensely. He had little time for people in authority who attempted to take short-cuts and he had no mercy for Dominican superiors whom he felt were not living up to their responsibility.He was a member of the provincial council of the Irish Dominicans and took his responsibility very seriously.

He was a true democrat, moulded by the constitutions of the Order, so when he felt superiors or communities were lack-lustre living out their calling to St Dominic, he had no hesitation in letting people know his views. He was in some ways a private man but was always there for his friends and he would go to any distance to help and support.

John was a physically fit man who could walk up to 20 miles a day. He took good care of himself. Yet he died in his room in the Dominican Community in Limerick on the evening of Sunday, November 3rd of a massive heart attack.

He is survived by his brother Andrew, sister-in-law Emer, niece Fiona, nephews Rory and Mark, and his Dominican brothers. I have lost a dear friend. May he rest in peace.

Design changes minus a milimetre or so

As and from next Saturday the Thinking Anew column will appear at the back of The Irish Times with the church notes.

It's part of a re-design of the newspaper, which will also mean a slightly narrower page, ever so slight, more like the Irish Independent broadsheet.

Have to wait and see how it looks.

Full marks to The Irish Times for telling this contributor in advance.

Approximately ten years ago, The Kerryman changed its design, remaining as a broadsheet.

At the time I was working on the paper and there was a great fanfare about the change.

Within a short period of time it was all scrapped and the group introduced a univsersal tabloid format across all its titles.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

British television and the poppy

Does some sort of edict go out that everyone who appears on British television in these days must wear a poppy?

Not for a moment is there an issue about remembering the war dead but the apparent universality of poppy wearing surely raises issues.

If someone now appeared not wearing a poppy, it would almost seem as if it were a protest.


Many types of Dominican publications

What makes something a Dominican publication?

In today's Irish Times Alive! is referred to as a 'Dominican Catholic monthly'.

It's extremely doubtful that this blog would ever be considered a 'Dominican publication'.

But it is worth noting that while conservative and 'right wing' material is always tolerated in the church, material of a liberal or 'left wing' leaning is quickly 'rubbished', ignored and dismissed.

At times it's difficult not to see the church as a 'right wing' organisation.

A Dominican who can persuade people

Dominicans mentioned in today's Irish Times.

The Dominican who helped the two factions in Drogheda to merge seems an interesting man.

His calming words were on November 1, 1412.

Frank McNally in today's An Irishman's Diary mentions the local Drogheda Dominican who had the gift of persuasion.

Second fiddle to sheep and phones

There are more sheep and mobile phones in Ireland than people. Indeed, there are more mobile phones in the world than there are people.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Words and their meaning or meanings

So what on earth does the word 'fulsome' mean?

Republican Governor of New Jersey was fulsome in his praise for Barack Obama, so say many of the TV, radio and print journalists.

But surely that's not what the good govenor was actually doing, or was it?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Russia stays well ahead

From 02.00 today Ireland and the UK are now an hour further away from Moscow.

There are now four hours between us.

Last year Russia decided to keep summer time the year round. But it was due to return to the old system this autumn. It seems not. It is now 22.00 in Dublin and the clock in the Kremlin has chimed 02.00.

Hardly a whisper in New York

No trains, no buses tonight in the city that never sleeps.

All's quite in New York tonight as it awaits Sandy.

What the V Leute are doing

An interesting discovery.

With the current controversy in Germany over the neo-nazis, the term V Leute has popped up. V Leute are V People, who inform the police and the BKA (Bundeskriminal Amt) of what the neo-nazis are doing.

The term is interesting as, while different in many ways, it must immediately remind one of the G Men.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dumb/taub in Berlin

Did anything dawn on Eamon Gilmore while in Berlin yesterday?

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and SPD chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück managed to speak in perfect English to the Irish Foreign Minister.

How different it would be if Mr Gilmore spoke German, even a few words.

And this Government is doing nothing to help improve the teaching of German in our schools.

Bet more state money was spent teaching English and German to both Guido Westerwelle and Peer Steinbrück than is spent teaching German and English to Irish school children.

Titles, honours and the Vatican

Murdoch, Savile, might the Vatican have a thing or two to learn?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

German press adviser resigns

Hans Michael Strepp, press adviser with the German CSU party has resigned.

He is accused of trying to influence the ZDF television station on an item of news.

Rumours abound that he was not doing it on his own account.

So easy to live in a silo

Lord Patten, Chairman of the BBC Trust, said this evening that people in positions of authority tend to live in silos.

He was talking about the Jimmy Savile case. He also said it was the worst situation he has ever had to deal with and by a mile.

It's so easy for people to live in 'silos'. But isn't that a major issue with the institutional church?

And the current trend to head back to the past in some silly nostalgic way is surely a real sign of 'silo living'.

I recently saw a Sunday parish letter published in a parish where anything up to 70 per cent are unemployed. And the Sunday letter was so far removed from the lives of the people living in that parish.

It is a shocking story. And no one seems to notice, no one is saying anything. Does anyone care?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tearing away the layers of fake authority

BBC Director-General George Entwistle gave evidence in the House of Commons today.

The similarities between the behaviour of Mr Entwistle today and Irish bishops, provincials, congregational leaders answering questions on similar topics is really incredible.

The body language, the words, the nonsense, all the fake authority gone, it is an amazing story.

Compare George Entwistle's performance today to the loftiness he demonstrated just one month ago when it was announced he had been appointed BBC D-G.

Last Sunday's Gospel is well worth a re-read.

The madness of allowing people in authority, anyone, in State or church, get away with all the arrogant, pompous rot is just that, madness.

Last Sunday's Gospel speaks about the role of leadership as one of service, indeed, 'slavery'.

We must be far worse than the Pharisees.

One in four Germans consider themselves poor

According to the German Federal Statistics Office, one in four Germans consider themselves poor. That's over 16 million people living in Germany.

The majority is made up of women and older people over 65-years-old

And it's getting worse by the day

There has to be, there must be. Surely there is a link in the Catholic priesthood between arch conservative, zealous right wing behaviour and a sexual orientation that, when hidden, is most worrying.

The signs are screaming so.

Which way to vote?

This will be the 31st time that we
have been asked to change the Constitution.

This week's INM regional column

By Michael Commane
Just last week I spotted the Referendum Commission’s booklet on the Lisbon Treaty. It was on a table at home. I had kept it with the intention of re-reading it. Of course I haven’t. I do know how I voted in the referendum and think I have a fair idea how I have voted in most referendums. If you asked me right now what the Lisbon Treaty was about, I don’t think I would score too many points.

On November 10 we are being called to vote in another referendum. This will be the 31st time that we have been asked to change the Constitution.

There are just over two weeks to voting. Have you made up your mind how you will cast your vote?

At first glance and listening to people, usually respected for their common sense in society, it would seem that Yes is the only way to cast your vote.

And then, at least in my case, you begin to read around the topic and listen to people debate the issue, and you realise that it might not at all be as simple as it looks.

In an opinion poll carried out for last Thursday’s Irish Times, over 33 per cent of those polled were in that nebulous category of ‘don’t knows’. It seems Fianna Fáil might be on the way back and Sinn Féin losing.

Within days of the referendum being announced Archbishop Diarmuid Martin came out in support of it. But then I see that former Supreme Court judge Hugh O’Flaherty has suggested that the referendum might simply be unnecessary in the light of existing constitutional provisions and the laws of the land designed to protect children.
Ombudswoman for Children Emily Logan is supporting it as is the Chief Executive of Barnardos, Fergus Finlay. Columnist John Waters and former MEP Kathy Sinnott are opposing it. And the Catholic Voice and the free sheet Alive are also opposing it.

As a superficial and smart aleck throw-away comment I could say those line-ups are enough reason for me to vote Yes.

Are we being asked to give the State more power while at the same time the State is refusing to train enough people to use that power well and morally?

Many informed people say that social work supervision is in crisis.

Two things happened to me in the last few weeks. A woman whom I know, a great mother, intelligent too, is voting No and has asked me to consider voting No. She believes that the State very often can get things wrong and this referendum would be giving the State/HSE more power, a power they do not deserve to have. I hope I have parsed her argument correctly.

About two months ago Helmut Schmidt, a former German Chancellor and now in his 90s was on a television programme with the current German President, Joachim Gauck. Schmidt is greatly respected in Germany. He has been one of Germany’s great post-war chancellors. Indeed, he is so respected that he is allowed break all the rules and is always permitted to smoke when appearing on television. There you go; even the Germans break the rules.

The programme was discussing the crisis in the EU. Both men are strong believers and supporters of the Union. But Schmidt tut tutted any idea of a referendum in Germany on any issues dealing with the EU. He argued that topics or subjects, which contain highly technical issues or deal with emotional topics, should not be put to the people in the form of a referendum.

That strikes me as great common sense.

Indeed, I often wonder how well informed I am and what informs me when I cast my vote in referendums, indeed, in all sorts of elections? By changing the opening hour on referendum day from 07.00 to 09.00 the State is saving €600,000. How much would it save if the referendum never happened?

Just over two weeks to go, I don’t know how I am going to vote.

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What's in a name?

The 'Thinking Anew' column in The Irish Times today. Michael Commane Sometimes I wonder has all the pious 'stuff' we have ...