Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Now, here's some fightin' words

From the NY Post's Mike Vaccaro:
. . . I am also certain that, relatively speaking, we are as sane, as sensible, as reasonable, and as rational, as any sports fan in the world. And that is because, as a people, we in New York look at a soccer ball and see a sleeping pill. We see a soccer game invade our television screen and will pull a hamstring lunging for the remote to change the channel.
I love that kind of stuff.

12,000 pubs?

I have to admit I really doubt the veracity of the Mr. O'Keefe's repeated claim yesterday that we already have 12,000 pubs in Ireland.

What Mr. O'Keefe means is that there are 12,000 licenses in existence. The licensing laws were written in the early 20th century and haven't changed much since. The VFI, which represents pubs outside Dublin, has approximately 6,000 members. The LVA, which represents Dublin's publicans, has "750 members and collectively represents 95% of all publicans in Dublin". Add those two figures together and you fall a bit short of the "12,000". I was really annoyed that Damien Kiberd didn't challenge Mr. O'Keefe on that yesterday.

You drink too much!

That was the message from the head of the Licensed Vintners Association, Donal O'Keefe, yesterday on Newstalk. The LVA's members are worried that if Michael McDowell goes ahead with his plan to allow for cafe bars that it will only make the "binge drinking" problem worse.

Mr. O'Keefe pointed out that it was illogical to think that adding these "small pubs" to the "12,000" we already have is going to help solve this problem. He may be right. Maybe we need fewer pubs, not more. However, I find it difficult to believe that the pub owners are that worried about the nation's excessive drinking. I just can't put my finger on what their concern might be.

What? You think their objections to cafe bars could have something to do with a fear of competition? That's an unworthy thought.

Saddest city on Earth?

My vote would be Montreal. Here it is the end of May and they have no hockey, due to the NHL's suicidal strike, and no baseball thanks to Major League Baseball's decision to relocate the Expos to Washington (the official MLB web site for the Expos is too cruel – nothing but blank pages). A minor league soccer game (and this is compared with the MLS) was their main sports story yesterday.

Bono on Bush

Long extract from Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas in this week's (London) Sunday Times. Probably nothing really new here, but Bono admits to liking President Bush and finding him funny.
I was in a photo with President Bush because he'd put $10 billion over three years on the table in a breakthrough increase in foreign assistance called the Millennium Challenge. I had just got back from accompanying the president as he announced this at the Inter-American Development Bank.

I kept my face straight as we passed the press corps, but the peace sign was pretty funny. He thought so, too. Keeping his face straight, he whispered, "There goes a front page somewhere: Irish rock star with the Toxic Texan."

I think the swagger and the cowboy boots come with some humour. He is a funny guy. Even on the way to the bank he was taking the piss. The bulletproof motorcade is speeding through the streets of the capital with people waving at the leader of the free world, and him waving back.

I say: "You're pretty popular here!"

He goes: "It wasn"t always so . . ." – Oh really? – "Yeah. When I first came to this town, people used to wave at me with one finger. Now, they found another three fingers and a thumb."
Although offering anything other than sneers at President Bush will lose Bono a lot of street cred with the Hollywood/celebrity set, I think Bono's praise for Jesse Helms has to be far more surprising.
Jesse Helms did me and everyone working on the global Aids emergency a great favour when he came out in our support. It was a great irony for me to find myself feeling such affection for this old cold warrior.

He did an incredible thing: he publicly repented for the way he had thought about HIV/Aids. Politicians rarely do that. He really changed the way people on the right thought about this disease.
Bono also admits that the left is not necessarily more "his friend" than the right in his mission to try to help tackle Africa's economic and health problems.

I know, I know – Bono's an overbearing egomaniac, but so are many mega-rich rock and movie stars. I think he's at least genuinely concerned with the people of Africa and doing his best to try to come to some understanding of what will make the place better. And he's obviously got an open mind, which is more than can be said of most wealthy celebrities.

The Undead Constitution

Too perfect. EU leaders have declared that the constitution is "still alive". I think what they mean is that the Constitution remains "undead". I suspect that this thing will lurch lifelessly around the landscape for a long time.

Monday, May 30, 2005

EU – branding nightmare

If any corporation had as muddled a brand image as the EU it would sell nothing. The EU's primary problem is that it means different things to different people in each member state. This breeds confusion. Often these different meanings are actually contradictory.

Is the EU heading towards a Federal super-state or is it not? Will there be a single federal tax regime? Will there be a single social welfare regime? Will there be an EU military or will each country always have its own army/navy/air force?

What about foreign affairs – one policy for the entire EU or many disparate, and often opposing, policies? How big will the EU get? Will the EU spread to Russia, the Caucuses, Turkey, Morocco, Lebanon, Israel, elsewhere?

Anyone who claims that these issues have not been fudged is in denial. And, some of these questions have been fudged for a long time. Eventually all this fudging had to lead to a backlash.

The EU needs to settle on a concrete, manageable set of agreed statements that say this is what we are and this is what we hope to do. Until such time as this is done, the EU will continue to hemorrhage support. It's entirely possible that whole regions will opt out, but even that would be better than the drifting and deceipt that seem to alternate as the driving force of the EU.

Irish referendum

I suspect that all of this negative news from the rest of the EU is a ploy by the Irish government. Unlike most of the rest of the EU members, we have to have a referendum on the EU Constitution. If all the other member states vote 'No' before our vote comes up, I presume it'll pass fairly easily here – especially if all the major Irish political figures come out and denounce the Constitution and support a 'No' vote.

Then, once the Irish vote is bedded down, the rest of Europe can get on with the business of approving the Constitution regardless of their non-binding referendums (referenda).

Next up – Holland

How will the Dutch vote? Looks like a 'No' right now, but over the weekend Prime Minister Balkenende apparently said that if the Dutch people vote 'No' it would make him look like a fool (heard this on Newstalk just now). Is this one of those cultural things? Will this change minds? I can just imagine the reaction in this country if Bertie Ahern made a similar statement. It would be a 90% 'No' vote.

Regardless, there is some talk that the Dutch people will not bother voting at all now that the French have voted 'No'. The Dutch referendum is "non-binding", but all the Dutch political parties have agreed to abide by the result provided the turnout is at least 30%.

France votes 'No', world survives

From the moment I heard the result of the French referendum yesterday I have been waiting for divine retribution. You know, floods, fire, earthquakes, something 'catastrophic'. I thought that's what EU President Juncker was talking about last week. So far, so good (knock on wood).

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Intellectual stratification

I really liked David Brooks's column today. I'll have to think about it more (I'm busy with other things at the moment), but my initial take is that he's right on the money and everything he says about modern America applies to Ireland too – possibly more so.

UPDATE May 30: I tried to update this post, but I clicked "save" rather than "post" and it disappeared. I didn't know that would happen.

Friday, May 27, 2005


As I was reading Tom Friedman's column this morning, it struck me that more and more Americans are gradually becoming less comfortable with many of the trappings of the War on Terror. What was the preserve of a radical few in early 2002 is now becoming a more widely held perspective.

Friedman asserts that he's convinced that "more Americans are dying and will die if we keep the Gitmo prison open than if we shut it down". I don't know what evidence he has for that, but if Tom Friedman –– not a member of the loony fringe –– is saying "Close Gitmo" then I figure a lot of Americans must be thinking the same thing.

Friedman's belief is that the news emerging from Guantanamo is having a
toxic effect on us - inflaming sentiments against the U.S. all over the world and providing recruitment energy on the Internet for those who would do us ill.
I'm sure to a large extent he's right, but before we jump to any conclusions we should review how we ended up where we are.

On September 11, 2001 there was no prison camp at Guantanamo Bay nor any "U.S. military prison system dealing with terrorism". It didn't exist and there was no clamor for any such system to exist. We felt quite safe.

However, that was an illusion.

After September 11, there was little concern in the US about the rights of captured al Qaeda members. The concern was that another large scale attack was planned and that we didn't know anything about it.

The idea behind 'Gitmo' was that captured al Qaeda operatives and their allies would be brought someplace that was unfamiliar in an effort to disorient them. The hope was that they would reveal things about what they were doing, where they were doing it and whom they were doing it with.

As Friedman notes, there has been a lot of bad press about Guantanamo, in the US and globally. Loads of abuse stories, some of which may well be true. However, what hasn't been part of the press coverage is whether the Guantanamo enterprise has been successful in providing solid leads and advice for thwarting al Qaeda attacks and/or discovering their bases.

It's quite possible that this information cannot be made public. I can live with that. I would like, however, to hear from some trusted legislators on the issue. Before I leap on Friedman's "Close Gitmo" bandwagon, I want to hear from Senators McCain and Lieberman (or Clinton for that matter) that Guantanamo Bay is not bearing any fruit and should be closed. Absent that, I say straighten out the problems and get on with the business of running the place properly.

No exam pressure

I'm sure we're not unusual, but my wife and I have been much more insistent that our daughter relax, telling her that the exams are not that important. Watching the news from Meath we're feeling what most parents of teenagers are feeling this week – 'there but for the grace of God'.

School's out!

Always a happy day for me when my daughter's end of year math test has come and gone. I'm the world's worst math teacher ("It's as plain as the nose on your face that the answer is 12π") and she's not the most enthusiastic pupil ("I'm never going to use this anyway"). Can make for some tense moments.

On the upside I'm relearning all the things I've forgotten. It's not everyday that I have to calculate the volume of space in a rectangular box not occupied by three snugly fitting spheres. Or even the slope of a line and its perpendicular. Great fun.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Rogers' Rangers

Robert Rogers was a hero of the French & Indian War. He was the inspiration for the movie Northwest Passage with Spencer Tracy playing Rogers.

Rogers wrote a manual, Rogers'’ Ranging Rules, in which he
set down more than two dozen no-nonsense rules for frontier warfare. He insisted on the intensive training of his soldiers, including exposure to live-fire exercises. The result of his efforts was the creation of a highly mobile force that could sustain itself for long periods by living off the land.
Although he was not the first to use the frontier-fighting tactics he employed, he was the first to write them down as "rules" and this is why he's still a hero to rangers today.

The Rogers story does not have a happy ending, however. He was tried (& acquitted) for treason by the British, but didn't have much luck with the Continental Army when the Revolution broke out.
When the Revolution arrived in 1775, he applied for a commission. Rejected by George Washington as "the only man I was ever afraid of", Robert Rogers was instead arrested as a spy. In revenge, he escaped and turned Loyalist, commanded the Queen's Rangers, and fought against the American cause.
This weekend a statue to Rogers will be unveiled on the island – Rogers Island – he used as his base during the French & Indian War. Not everyone is happy with this, however. Some, including veteran Bob Bearor, object to the ceremony being held on Monday, Memorial Day, because Rogers fought for the British during the Revolutionary War. Others, including the veteran who owns the property where the statue will stand, don't see any issue with having the ceremony on Monday. That date simply facilitates a bigger gathering.

I think it's an interesting argument. The key is, what is Memorial Day all about.

The Revolution was another form of Civil War and I don't think excluding those who fought honorably for the British from Memorial Day makes any sense, seeing as those who fought for the Confederacy are honored. However, Rogers had no honorable role in the Revolution, although he was not Benedict Arnold.

Given his role in the French & Indian War, which was crucial in the development of what is the US today, I don't have a problem with this ceremony on Monday. I do think, however, that it would have been better to have it on a different day, say Labor Day.

I just came across this article from the Boston Globe. It seems Rogers may have been as bad as Arnold. Robert Rogers was the man who trapped Nathan Hale. That does it for me – he should not be honored in any way this weekend.

Great picture

Today's Irish Times a great picture on the front page. Appropriately unintrusive, but says so much about what happened on Monday.

Disaster for the world

Nothing sums up the arrogance of those who are driving the EU project more than this comment from EU President Jean-Claude Juncker:
If there is a 'no' on Sunday in France, that would be a catastrophe for France, for [French president Jacques] Chirac and for the entire world.
A 'catastrophe' for Chirac, almost certainly. A 'catastrophe' for France? Well, I actually doubt it, but I'm sure there could be some serious repercussions. A 'catastrophe' for the "entire world"? Well, Mr. Juncker, I think you're slightly exaggerating there.

I'm sure it was a bad translation. What he meant to say is that a French 'No' on Sunday would be like the entire world crashing down on him. It will definitely be a 'catastrophe' for Mr. Juncker, although I suspect even he'll survive it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Collector's item?

Ìt's looking like the EU Constitution will not survive the upcoming referendums (referenda) in France & Holland. Now I'm annoyed at myself for taking my copy of the Constitution out of the wrapper. I could have held on to it and it probably would have been worth a fortune someday. It would have been a rarity in a few years and worth money among the eBay constituency like this collection of Pabst Blue Ribbon glasses. {Okay, probably not as valuable as that, but you get the idea.}

Counterpunch review

I found this review of Devils & Dust interesting. It's written by Harry Browne for Counterpunch.

I have a sneaking regard for Browne simply because he's a Met fan, but his politics are a long way removed from my own. So, I was a little surprised to find Browne criticizing Bruce Springsteen for endorsing John Kerry.
. . . for many of us on the left it was more distressing to see Springsteen, whose 9/11-inspired The Rising (2002) was astonishingly nuanced as well as frankly commercial, turn himself into a huckster for a mainstream pol.
I guess Springsteen should have endorsed Ralph Nader.

I know this is kind of a cheap shot, but I was also somewhat surprised to see that Counterpunch is an affiliate partner of Amazon.com. I know the left has to eat too, but still it surprises me when I find them partnering with corporate bloodsuckers like Amazon. After all, "nothing makes them happier" than when readers write in to tell them how "useful they've found our newsletter in their battles against the war machine, big business and the rapers of nature". Surely, Amazon.com would be included in "bug business".

Of course, I, as a committed capitalist, have no qualms about imbibing at Amazon's font.

Springsteen fan

I really enjoyed last night's show. Different experience to the E Street Band tour, but better in some ways. Hard to say.

Regardless, I'm not a big enough fan to get this tattoo. I suspect Chris will be getting one soon, however.


Like a lot of people in the country, I've been doing a bit of reading and learning about school buses. There is a lot of discussion about seat belts. Today's Irish Examiner has an editorial in which the paper calls for seat belts on school buses and the Irish Times (sub. required) has a column by the paper's health correspondent, Eithne Donnellan, in which she discusses some of the arguments against seat belts.

Donnellan cites Canadian studies (a lot can be found on the Canadian government's web site) that indicate that seat belts can cause injuries and that the safety benefit of seat belts has not been proven. That may well be true, but there also seems to be some negligence with regards to testing as most tests are for front-end collisions, not side impact or rollovers (which is what happened on Monday).

Regardless, the arguments about seat belts from N. America are irrelevant in Ireland. What's missing is any discussion of compartmentalization. I don't know why this topic is being neglected in the press, possibly because nobody who's ever ridden an American-style school bus is helping out.
Compartmentalization is the name for the protective envelope created by strong, closely-spaced seats that have energy-absorbing high seat backs that protect occupants in the event of a crash.
I remember in the 1970's when my school introduced these changes. We went from being able to talk to kids in front or behind us to isolation in our own seat. You couldn't see up the front or down the back without leaning into the aisle.

There are also added safety features on school buses.
School buses also have other features that contribute to the high level of safety they provide each occupant. Features such as emergency exits, roof structure, fuel systems, and body joint strength make the bus stronger, larger, heavier, and safer than most other vehicles on the road today.
Adding seat belts may or may not be the answer, but if money really shouldn't be the deciding factor (I've heard that a few times) then we should consider an actual dedicated school bus fleet. Buses designed to keep children safe. The history of school bus safety in America is probably a good place to start this transformation.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


A few weeks ago I mentioned that I wasn't too happy with Bruce Springsteen's R rated song, Reno. At the time I only had the lyrics to go on. Now, having heard it, I have to admit I like the song. It's still too graphic for my children, but I have to admit I'm intrigued by the lack of regret or remorse in the song.

I also suspect that Bruce is a little uneasy singing the lyrics himself since he rushes and slurs through the most graphic line.

Regardless, I'm off to the Point Depot tonight see his solo show. Looking forward to it.

School bus tragedy

Last night, I was listening to John Bowman describe how school buses work in the US. He talked about the coloring of the buses, the laws requiring cars to stop whenever students are getting on or off the bus, etc. Those policies undoubtedly make school buses safer, but I'm not sure any of those would have made a difference yesterday. Right now, I'm having trouble imagining a scenario that doesn't include "the bus was going too fast". Unless the bus's brakes failed, all the other factors people have mentioned – poor road conditions, road works, aging fleet – could have been accounted for by the driver slowing down.

I spent most of my school days on school buses. I can remember when our school district installed little clock-like meters that recorded the speed of the bus throughout its journey. That was at least 25 years ago. I wonder if the bus involved in yesterday's crash had a similar device? If yes, the investigators will be able to determine exactly how the fast the bus was traveling and match that information with what they know about the condition of the road at the time.

There is a lot of talk today about seat belts. I'm a great believer in seat belts and would love to imagine that if every school bus had seat belts that all the kids on the bus would wear them. However, I'm not convinced that they would and I half suspect that the "cool" option would be to skip the belts. It would be very difficult for a bus driver to enforce a seat belt policy, but they should be there at least as an option. At a minimum, you could probably convince younger kids to wear them and maybe over a period of time school kids would adjust to wearing them without giving them a thought. I hope so.

Regardless of whether there are seat belts or not, bus drivers must insist that every child sits down and stays seated until the bus stops. I have seen Irish school buses on the road with kids standing up or kneeling on seats. I can remember from my own days that whenever someone was standing up or there was even a hint of any trouble the driver would stop the bus and just sit there until things settled down.

Maintaining order on a school bus is important. Fights or rowdiness are a real distraction. In my school the bus fleet was owned and operated by the school district. The school authorities were responsible for maintaining the bus fleet, hiring the drivers and, crucially, enforcing discipline. Reports of misbehavior from the bus driver to the school resulted in detentions and/or suspensions. This was a big part of what kept order on the buses. I don't know if this is how things work here, but the bus invovled in yesterday's crash was operated by Bus Eireann, which I imagine puts the school at a greater remove from what happens on a bus.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Pitching the computer

I don't know about this one.

Carlos Zambrano of the Chicago Cubs has been asked to scale back his computer usage because the Cubs think that he's possibly developed Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Who am I to argue with the Cubs medical staff? But, I'm sure I use computers more than Zambrano does and I used to find that throwing a baseball was great relief for the kind of trouble that can come from excessive use of a keyboard & mouse.

Maybe Zambrano's problems are caused by his computer use, but maybe, just maybe, they're caused by his manager over-using him.

Devils & Dust

I got the new Springsteen album during the week. There's nothing fantastically great or dreadful here. Although the album sounds like Bruce's two previous solo efforts, it reminds me mostly of Darkness on the Edge of Town, which is more than 25 years old.

I'm not disappointed by the album, possibly because I was expecting to be. It's not as good as Darkness nor does it have the emotional pull (for me) of The Rising, but it works and I think I'll grow to appreciate it more with time.

One of the difficulties I have with this album is that the songs are about people who are far removed from me. There isn't a single song where I could "see myself". I don't think this was the case on any of his other albums. Despite that, there are plenty of excellent songs here. I'd recommend it, especially for a Springsteen fan.

For 8 of the 12 tracks the album is a back and forth argument Bruce is having with himself as to whether the glass is half empty or half full. Four up-beat, positive songs about men who are making the best of their situations, 'looking on the bright side'; these are men who've who've taken their share of knocks, but who still have hope, still have something to look forward to. Then there are four other songs about men for whom the best days have past, the spark has gone out of life. They're just passing the time.

The title track, Devils & Dust, is the weakest song on the album. It's Bruce's attempt to tell the story of the "grunt" in Iraq. I think it fails because it sounds too much like a draftee's Vietnam experience, not the sentiments of the professional soldier that we have in Iraq today.

"Best Star Wars movie of them all"

Yes, that's Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.

I should say that I haven't seen it yet – that's my 13-year-old daughter's considered opinion. I must admit I'm a tad uncertain about that pronouncement, but I was never that keen on the others. I prefer Star Trek.

Young, insecure and a Muslim

This from today's London Times caught my eye.

Feroz Abbasi's autobiography was written while he was held at Guantanamo Bay.
In the document, the most personal account yet to emerge from the US camp, Mr Abbasi says that he was shy with girls and haunted by loneliness while growing up in London. He describes himself as a restless boy with an “insecurity complex”.
He tried Buddhism while in college, but he was still "restless". Then, while traveling, he met a Muslim man who told him about the Muslims of Kashmir.
On his return to London, Mr Abbasi took a renewed interest in Islam and began reading about jihad. He joined a group at the Finsbury Park mosque called SOS, or Supporters of Sharia, the strict Islamic law.

Meetings at the North London mosque raised his awareness about the plight of Muslims in the Russian province of Chechnya and the Taleban’s fight in Afghanistan. He believed it was a Muslim’s duty to volunteer for jihad, and travelled to Afghanistan to learn about guerrilla warfare and to volunteer for actions against America.
You have a young boy who's insecure, who can't talk to girls and he turns to his religion for some help. This somehow leads him on the path of jihad.

There is no parallel for this sort of "support" in Judaism, Christianity or any other religion that I can think of. This is the sort of behavior that is more associated with self-destructive cults, like the People's Temple only on a much bigger scale.

Only Muslims can sort this out. Nobody else can do it for them, but until the problem is corrected we've all got a problem.

Subway series update

Okay. The Mets lost 2 out of 3 in their home building. Not a good weekend, but not the end of the world either. It's a long season (162 games) and there is only one measure of success in baseball and that comes in October. I don't think this will be the Mets' year, but the future's much brighter than it has been for some time.

School attendance

There's seemingly no end to the number of busy-body, interfering, government-funded organizations that want to tell me how to live. The National Education Welfare Board has decided that my wife and I are in no position to judge whether our children should be in school or not.

Today they launched their 2005-2007 Strategic Campaign and they are "keen to make everyone aware that every day counts in a child’s education". This is ridiculous.
CEO Eddie Ward said that the Board also wanted to confront was he called a “culture of casual non-attendance” including those days that parents sometimes think don’t count – the mid-season holidays, the days taken for Christmas shopping or looking for the confirmation clothes, the days off after the baby’s Christening, for example.

“A day missed is a day that has to be made up by a child at some stage,” he said. “For some children this might pose no problem. For some, however, it can put undue pressure on them to catch up. It is better that children miss days only if they are sick or if there is a serious family issue.”
Nobody is better place to make that judgment as to whether it "poses no problem" for a child or puts "undue pressure" on him or her than the parents. That's our call, nobody else's.

My wife and I have often given our kids the green light to skip school for vacation or just because there are relatives over visiting. School may be important, but it's not really that important. {In fact I think it's way over-rated, but that's another argument.}

The point is, my wife and I are fully capable of making the determination as to whether our children can miss days or not. We don't need the state's involvement. In fact, the state should have no role whatsoever in this.

Saturday, May 21, 2005


Imagine a professional athlete whining about being bullied and how he's going to make sure he wears his anti-bullying bracelet during a big game. Well, that's what Arsenal's José Antonio Reyes said about facing Manchester United today. He may have been "flippant", but he was whining.

Hitchens on Galloway

Christopher Hitchens always argues his point well. I don't always agree with him, but I certainly wouldn't want to be in his sights when he decides to put pen to paper.

Writing in the Weekly Standard (tip: NRO), Hitchens gives his take on George Galloway and the Oil for Food scandal. Hitchens offers two possible explanations for Galloway's support for Saddam. One is in line with my own speculation that he supported Saddam simply because he liked him.
The first explanation, which would apply to many leftists of different stripes, is that anti-Americanism simply trumps everything, and that once Saddam Hussein became an official enemy of Washington the whole case was altered. Given what Galloway has said at other times, in defense of Slobodan Milosevic for example, it is fair to assume that he would have taken such a position for nothing: without, in other words, the hope of remuneration.
There is a second possible explanation, which Hitchens describes as "nonpolitical". isn't spelled out, but as far as Hitchens is concerned it is implausibile that this explanation is not correct.
Galloway is not supposed by anyone to have been an oil trader. He is asked, simply, to say what he knows about his chief fundraiser, nominee, and crony. And when asked this, he flatly declines to answer. We are therefore invited by him to assume that, having earlier acquired a justified reputation for loose bookkeeping in respect of "charities," he switched sides in Iraq, attached himself to a regime known for giving and receiving bribes, appointed a notorious middleman as his envoy, kept company with the corrupt inner circle of the Baath party, helped organize a vigorous campaign to retain that party in power, and was not a penny piece the better off for it. I think I believe this as readily as any other reasonable and objective person would. If you wish to pursue the matter with Galloway himself, you will have to find the unlisted number for his villa in Portugal.


The Ballymoney Times informs us that the latest "daredevil craze" is stripping off and then cruising the north coast. I suppose, given the weather along the north coast, that is the equivalent of extreme ironing.

{I have to admit I suspect this is a ploy by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.}

Friday, May 20, 2005

Subway series

Three games against the hated pinstripers from the Bronx starting tonight. Too much pressure to consider blogging on much else.

I don't think I've said enough good things about NASN lately. The other morning I woke early and went downstairs with my WiFi enabled laptop and turned on NASN to get the previous night's baseball news, but instead, I caught the 4th quarter of Seattle against San Antonio in the NBA playoffs. What a treat. 5:40am and I'm watching live playoff basketball.

Anyway, the great people at NASN are proving live coverage of two of the three NY vs NY games plus a whole lot more this weekend. NASN is essential viewing for the American abroad.

FA Cup

I read something on an obscure Florida web site that claimed Malcolm Glazer was planning on renaming the FA Cup the Tampa Bay Cup when Manchester United claim it tomorrow afternoon. This is how it starts.

Indefatigable Saddam?

I wonder if George Galloway still considers Saddam indefatigable after seeing a very weary looking Saddam in his underwear in this morning's Sun.


I hadn't read or heard that Firefox had some security issues and that a new version is now available. This apparently all happened more than a week ago. I found out thanks to Richard's post on his bad experiences with version 1.0.4, which I've now installed as well.

After 10 minutes all is fine for me.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Galloway vs the Senators

I love this description of the encounter by John Derbyshire:
Galloway came up through the UK parliamentary system, though, where you have to be fierce and clever in debate, and need to be able to think fast on your feet. The US Senate is full of pompous bores, stuffed up to the nose holes with a conviction of their own terrific importance, whose idea of debate is to drone their way through a speech some minimum-wage staffer has written up for them. This was like watching an alley mongrel let loose in a room full of pampered, overfed lap dogs.

Galloway "wins"

The London Times claims today that George Galloway was the winner "on points" in his battle with the US Senate sub-committee the other day according to the US press. The Times could well be right, but what struck me later when I thought about it is that the two Senators who asked the questions, Coleman and Levin, didn't much care. And, for the most part, neither did the press. Galloway was not front page news that I saw and not the subject of acres of news print or any opinion pieces.

Galloway is a nobody in the US. Only the politically obsessed have ever heard of him. The Senators didn't target Galloway in their report because he was clearly not really the focal point of what they were about. For the most part they couldn't have cared less about him.

The Senate found his name on a few documents and published his name along with others. Galloway has never been in government or a position of real authority and the Senators were never really interested in him. I think this explains why the wind seemed to go out of Galloway's sails near the end of the exchange. I think he realized that he just wasn't important enough for the Senators to care whether the report was strictly accurate with reference to him or not.

They humored him for a few minutes and then he was 'dismissed'. He arrived home to a hero's welcome, but let's face it—the average American has no idea who Galloway is and doesn't know anything about his testimony on Tuesday.

Conor Lenihan

As fate would have it, I was in the Dail chamber as a visitor yesterday. I listened to Joe Higgins make his points on Aer Lingus (and I second Richard's views on Higgins). Unfortunately, I had to leave just as Higgins was finished and I missed what happened next.

Should Conor Lenihan have to resign for his remark to Higgins? No, I don't think he should have to. Here's why.

I suspect we all know people like Lenihan. Occasionally witty and, just as frequently, wrong, embarrassing, or hurtful in their attempts to be witty. Such a person is an annoyance and usually not that bright. An attention seeker. This has been my impression of Lenihan since he was first elected.

Yesterday evening on the radio I heard a journalist* who helped break the Gama story say that he has heard Lenihan praising Higgins for his work on this issue. That tells me that Lenihan is favorably disposed towards Higgins's efforts on behalf of the Turkish workers and (probably) not bigoted.

What I think happened yesterday is that Lenihan simply took the bait that Joe Higgins (a much cleverer man, I believe) offered him. Higgins twice referred to the "silence of the lambs" among the Fianna Fail back-benchers over the privatization of Aer Lingus. Lenihan simply combined lamb with Turkish and came up with his kebobs quip. Doesn't seem to have been too funny, although I'm not sure how hurtful it really is. Stupid certainly seems an appropriate description.

So, I won't convict Lenihan of being a racist after one off-the-cuff moment of stupidity. However, he is an idiot and has been for quite a while. As far as I'm concerned this really says much less about Lenihan than it does about the judgment of Bertie Ahern. Why does he have such a man in the government?

Lenihan shouldn't have to resign, but Ahern should have to remove him from the cabinet because Lenihan is clearly not government material and never was.

* I cannot remember his name now, but I know when I heard it that the name was a familiar one. Sorry about that.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Best thing I've read on Uzbekistan so far. Stephen Schwartz says that Islamism has nothing to do with the uprising in the east. It's all about commerce and rising expectations.

Galloway TV

You can catch proceedings online here. Starting shortly, I believe.

UPDATE 5:50pm: I suppose from an entertainment perspective this was great. Galloway was certainly feisty. However, after a while it became apparent that neither he nor the Senators were going to say or reveal anything really interesting or worthwhile.

Wrong profit model

I think the NY Times has got their online business model exactly backwards. From September the Times is going to start charging for online access to their op-ed and sports columns. News, features & photos will remain free.

What a bizarre decision. I don't think these people know what part of their operation is actually valuable.

The NY Times still has the best news coverage of any English language news provider. That's what makes the paper great. Their regular columnists are generally predictable and not all that special. Many of them are syndicated anyway. Columns written by Tom Friedman, David Brooks, Maureen Dowd and others will, presumably, still be available elsewhere online. Besides, there are millions of opinions online, many more interesting than those available at nytimes.com, but there are very few good sources for news.

If I was in charge of the Times's online business I would let anyone read Maureen Dowd for free, but charge a lot for the paper's coverage of national and international affairs.

Europe United

A simple survey of Europeans indicates that the French aren't all that well thought of. I would bet if the same survey mentioned in this article were conducted in the US you'd probably find that Americans like the French more the Europeans do.
"Interviewees were simply asked an open question - what five adjectives sum up the French," said Olivier Clodong, one of the study's two authors and a professor of social and political communication at the Ecole Superieur de Commerce, in Paris. "The answers were overwhelmingly negative."
Perhaps if the EU wants to see its constitution ratified across Europe, kicking the French out of the EU should be considered?

Racism at Shea?

NY Times journalists, Lee Jenkins & Ken Belson, imply that Met fans are racist because they boo Kaz Matsui and not Mike Piazza.
Just as American players in Japan are often viewed more critically than natives, Matsui is getting little sympathy in New York. He batted a respectable .272 last season and has a higher batting average than Mike Piazza this year, yet he has become the biggest target for frustrated fans since Roger Cedeño was chased out of New York.

When Matsui says that he does not regret signing with the Mets and believes the jeers have nothing to do with his being Japanese, it is hard to tell if he is being serious or diplomatic.
He may have been "respectable" last year, but Met fans were led to believe they were getting great. This year he's been awful.

Maybe if Matsui had been one of the all time great players for the Mets, had led them to the World Series and was finishing up a great career he'd get the respect and patience that Met fans show Piazza. But, Matsui is young and a flop. He's a failure in New York and nothing is more unforgivable. It has nothing to do with his being Japanese.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Lying to the federal government

Last week I was finally able to get into the Embassy to get my new passport. I was there with my wife and daughter, who also needed a new passport. Anyway, my daughter was reading my renewal form and noticed that I had listed "brown" for my hair color. My daughter said "there's a lot of gray there". My wife piled on with, "Can you be arrested for lying on this form? Salt and pepper is closer to the truth than brown".

Family members can be so cruel.

Murdoch & Glazer

I'm trying to understand Malcolm Glazer's logic in buying Manchester United. I'm going to assume it has nothing to do with him being a big fan.

Reading this article on Glazer's potential bid for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003, the writer notes that Glazer "made his fortune buying financially handicapped companies and selling them for profit". Well, United is not financially handicapped – at least not as far as I know.

At the time, the NFL wasn't too happy about Glazer's possible purchase of the Dodgers. The NFL has rules against owning teams in "competing" sports.

Then there's this from 2003 on the Dodger sale:
In a pretty wide-ranging interview with Sports Business Journal last week [Sep '03], [NFL] commissioner Paul Tagliabue acknowledged he hasn't heard much lately about the sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers to Tampa Bay Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer and his family. And this might be a reason why: Unless somebody slaps a pair of defibrillator paddles on the deal, and resuscitates the thing, it's dying. Owners from both entities, but especially those in the NFL, have some pretty strong issues with the whole concept. His NFL peers simply don't believe Glazer has the financial wherewithal to purchase the Dodgers without using some of the Bucs money, or using the NFL franchise as collateral, and Malcolm would have a lot of 'splaining to do before he would get their approval. As the great philosopher Yogi Berra once noted, "It ain't over 'til it's over." In baseball terms, though, Glazer looks to be in the ninth inning, shy a couple runs, and down to his last strike.
So, if he couldn't afford the $400m price tag for the Dodgers in '03, what's changed to allow him to afford Manchester United and its (approx.) $1.5bn price tag?

Is it possible that Glazer is buying Manchester United partially with someone else's money? And, could that someone else be Rupert Murdoch?

Murdoch still owns 10% of the club from his failed bid in 1999. I haven't seen anything about him selling his shares to Glazer.

In today's NY Times Geoffrey Wheatcroft notes the global appeal of Manchester United, particularly in Asia. "The club has one fanzine that sells 35,000 copies a month in Thailand; games from Old Trafford are watched live in China by more people than inhabit the British Isles".

If I were Rupert Murdoch and in charge of the STAR TV satellite systems across Asia, I'd be pretty keen on acquiring Manchester United. In 1999 Murdoch was stopped from doing just that by the British government. Could he have found a partner in Glazer? Someone willing to be the front man for Murdoch's buyout?

When Glazer tried to buy the Dodgers in 2003, they were owned by Murdoch's Fox Sports. So, there's a little history there already. Of course, Glazer would also have had some input into the NFL's t.v. rights negotiations with Fox and the other US networks. There has to be some logic to this deal and I can't see it from Glazer's perspective, but from Murdoch's view this would be a great deal.

Moaning about prices

Listening to Fine Gael Deputy Leader Richard Bruton moaning about "rip-off" Ireland on the radio this morning. Why do radio stations even allow politicians on to talk about this type of thing? He first tried to blame "British multiples" for charging more here than in the UK and then said that people didn't have time to shop around to find lower prices.

Gimme a break. Sure prices here are high. Taxes are exorbitant and wages are high. And, if companies are charging a premium for those who are "too busy" to shop around what about it? It's not the business of government to help those who are "too busy" to shop around. If people can't be bothered saving their money I don't see why my tax money should be used to assist them.

I've never been able to fully explain it, but I've always thought that the basic logic of competition and economics are not grasped in Ireland as they are in the US. Not sure why that is. Complaining about the price of cups of coffee, etc. seems so silly. Just do not have coffee where it's too pricey. It's not that hard to avoid having a cup of expensive coffee when you're out.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Spreading freedom & democracy

It's all well and good for the President to promote freedom and democracy world-wide, but I'm still not convinced its wise. This week he was in Georgia where he got a great welcome. He's got a real soul-mate in the Georgian President, Mikhail Saakashvili:
"It's a new kind of ideology that we have from this president that's kind of crystallized now. It is idealistic. It's a much more moral position. It's also a very winning positive position," Mr. Saakashvili said.
If there is a 'moral' position in foreign affairs, this is one. However, I'm not so sure it's a "winning" position. President Bush is on some form of mission here, but I'm not sure it's right for the US.

If I weren't American I'd only see reason to applause. However, I worry that the President is over-committing the United States. I don't think the American people are willing to see their troops die in wars around the world to keep the Georgians (or Taiwanese or others) free. Yet, that's exactly the position the President might find himself in.

The other day the President's biggest cheer-leader, Mr. Saakashvili upped the ante in his dispute with Russia. Would this have happened if President Bush were more circumspect and less forceful in his promotion of the cause of freedom and democracy in Georgia? From the Washington Times article (link above):
"We didn't ask President Bush for cash here or for some special statement, even on the Russian bases. No. What we asked for was not to be abandoned. That's what matters," he said.
Are we really willing to not "abandon" the Georgians if things get really hot between them and the Russians? Has NATO okayed this or is the US all alone on it? I wish the Georgians well, but I can't see going to wall with the Russians for the sake of Georgia.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Manchester United Buccaneers

Lead story on RTE tonight is that Malcolm Glazer has bought out the shares of the two Irish owners of Manchester United giving Glazer 57% of the club.

I mean, who cares? Lead story? This is hardly a big issue in the scope of things.

I honestly don't understand why Manchester United's fans are in a "rage" about this. I haven't heard that Glazer is planning on moving the club to Tampa.


I'd love to believe that George Galloway did receive 20m barrels of oil from Saddam. I'd love to believe it because I've come to really dislike this smarmy, Saddam-loving politician. However, I would have thought that if he had received 20m barrels that there would be some fairly clear evidence of what happened to all that money. For the moment, I'll probably just assume he just liked Saddam for who he was and not for any kick-back he was providing.

Maybe he'll testify before Congress and we'll get an answer one way or the other.

My own copy of the EU Constitution

I received my copy of the EU Constitution today. {Just sent an e-mail to the EU Parliament's office in Dublin asking for a copy and they sent it to me. You can download it in PDF format here.}

Wow, is it long. I didn't really know what to expect, but I somehow doubt I'll ever read the whole thing. I'm no expert on constitutions, but this one is clearly not written with the expectation that the average citizen will read it. I've only read and re-read the preamble and the best I can say about it is that it reads as if it is a mission statement for an organization that really doesn't know what its mission is.
DRAWING inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, from which have developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, democracy, equality, freedom and the rule of law,

BELIEVING that Europe, reunited after bitter experiences, intends to continue along the path of civilisation, progress and prosperity, for the good of all its inhabitants, including the weakest and most deprived; that it wishes to remain a continent open to culture, learning and social progress; and that it wishes to deepen the democratic and transparent nature of its public life, and to strive for peace, justice and solidarity throughout the world,

CONVINCED that, while remaining proud of their own national identities and history, the peoples of Europe are determined to transcend their ancient divisions and, united ever more closely, to forge a common destiny,

CONVINCED that, thus "united in its diversity", Europe offers them the best chance of pursuing, with due regard for the rights of each individual and in awareness of their responsibilities towards future generations and the Earth, the great venture which makes of it a special area of human hope,

DETERMINED to continue the work accomplished within the framework of the Treaties establishing the European Communities and the Treaty on European Union, by ensuring the continuity of the Community acquis,

GRATEFUL to the members of the European Convention for having prepared the draft of this Constitution on behalf of the citizens and States.
The preamble to the US Constitution is much shorter:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The US Constitution was hardly flawless. It contained one almighty compromise (& contradiction) that eventually led to the Civil War and more than a million dead Americans. Still, I love the fact that the first three words are "We the people". There's no sense in this EU Constitution that this document is intended to create a "government of the people, by the people, for the people".

There are plenty of compromises and contradictions here too. I suspect that the provisions of Part III, Title V could cause some problem. How do you square, "The Member States shall support the common foreign and security policy actively and unreservedly in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity" with Irish neutrality, for instance.

Those compromises and the length and excessive amount of detail in this Constitution – Part III, Title III, Chapter V, Section 4 deals with tourism, for example – hardly bode well for the Constitution's longevity. I wonder if it will be voted down for simply being too complex.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


I listen to Newstalk 106 a lot – more than I listen to RTE. Apparently, I'm one of the few.

I have to say I'm glad to read that Eamon Dunphy hasn't helped the station. I think he had his moment on TodayFM when he brought some serious competition to RTE for radio news. However, now we have his former show on TodayFM and George Hook on Newstalk using the same format.

My biggest problem with Newstalk is the frequent dive into crudity. This can happen at any time, but seems most prevalent on their sports program, Off the Ball.

I generally like this program. The presenters are young and good. However, they often venture into territory that really is of little interest and they do so in a language that should be out of bounds.

For example, last week they discussed the fact that snooker player Shaun Murphy is a Christian and that Murphy met his wife through a Christian chatroom. They then descended to discussing Murphy's virginity in totally inappropriate language. I was so annoyed I actually hurt myself diving on the radio to turn it off.

The station could be far better, but I'm still glad it's there.

U2 - not blowing 'em away in the Windy City

A few weeks ago the Sunday Independent's magazine had a feature length article about how U2 is still "the greatest rock band in the world". Barry Egan had been dispatched to Anaheim to see for himself after rumors floated back here that the shows on the current tour haven't been getting great reviews.

Today I stumbled on to the Sun-Times's Jim DeRogatis's review of Saturday night's show in Chicago. To say that DeRogatis was less than impressed would be seriously understating it.
[I]t was every bit as phony, bombastic and manipulative as a Britney Spears concert, the Republican National Convention or a televangelist's miracle-working dog and pony show.

As a fan who's seen the group a dozen times and who ranks 1992's Zoo TV tour on the short list of the best concerts I've ever experienced, U2 has never seemed as pointlessly pretentious and preachy.
"Britney Spears" - that's a serious allegation.

DeRogatis is clearly bored with Bono, but he seems equally annoyed with the rest of the band.
The 45-year-old front man's hubristic sins went on and on -- there was a facile routine about how Christianity, Judaism and Islam are all "true" (with Buddhism and other religions conspicuously absent from the list), speeches about how "we" can end poverty in Africa, and boasts about how world leaders take his calls. Still, while he was the most obnoxious presence, it would be wrong to single him out as the only offender.

Guitarist The Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. gave their silent approval while providing the music that served as background and afterthought for all of this speechifying, and they did so in a rote, autopilot fashion that created a disturbing contrast between the impassioned windbaggery and the passionless rock 'n' roll.
DeRogatis acknowledges that most of the fans seemed happy enough, but today's Sun-Times has a selection of letters from fans who were happy to read his review. The Tribune's Greg Kot was only a little happier with Saturday's show. Kyle Munson in the Des Moines Register was even more up-beat.

I've already said that I like the new album. However, I find it hard to take Bono's theatrical politics. I can imagine the band feels the same way. I know people like Bono or Springsteen feel they have something to say and they don't shy away when they've got the attention of thousands of people, but I think it falls flat.

I really think that it does no good for the causes they espouse. Much better to keep it local (as Springsteen used to do with his "Let's support the local soup kitchen" or whatever) or focus on one narrow, achievable task. Bono sounds too much like a Miss America wannabe seeking "world peace".

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Georgians—out of their minds?

I was watching Euronews this evening and I thought there was almost a tone of disbelief during the report on the events in Tbilisi today. President Bush getting cheers from a massive crowd (around 100,000) in a European capital? How can this be?

Lebanon's best friend?

Ireland, according to Rory Miller. Miller runs through the history of Ireland's various missions to Lebanon, which started in 1958.

WWII lessons for Bush

This is the kind of history that really annoys me. The Boston Globe's editorial today on President Bush and the lessons of World War II:
though Bush said some things in the Latvian capital of Riga and in Moscow that needed to be said, he was speaking as a leader who has demonstrated an unfortunate insensitivity to the lessons his predecessors learned from the inferno of World War II.

. . . It is Bush, however, who cast aside the lessons of World War II when he first came to office, rejecting the close cooperation with allies that his father had practiced so deftly while presiding over the Cold War's bloodless denouement and the unification of Germany. It would be a good thing for the United States and its allies if Bush, listening to Putin say yesterday in Red Square that the victory of [over? - JF] Nazism cannot be divided "into ours and someone else's," absorbed the lesson his father's generation learned at great cost about the value of collective security, multilateral cooperation, and strong alliances.

Leave aside for the moment that his father's devotion to multilateralism and cooperation with "allies" was responsible for the disastrous first Gulf War.

The lesson of World War II was that weak, leaderless multilateralism offers no security whatsoever. World War II was a result of weakness and the failure of the League of Nations to act. Victory in World War II was the result of resolute action by a "coalition of the willing" – the US, USSR, UK and other Commonwealth nations – and that's about it. The Cold War was much more about alliances and cooperation, but that too would have failed without determined US leadership.

In fact, I think the case is stronger that Bush has over-applied the lessons of World War II. His willingness to act against those who are potentially great enemies, even when that appears fairly unlikely, indicate that he certainly knows the history of 1930s appeasement.

Louis Leithold

The author of one of the best books I 'read' in college has died. Louis Leithold wrote The Calculus, which I used in my freshman year. It was the only math book I kept (usually I sold my books when the new term started) for the full four years.

I remember that it was about three days into my freshman year when I realized how much better Leithold's book was than the one I'd used in high school. I was annoyed at my high school teacher when I realized he could have used Leithold's book instead of the 400 pages of confusion we did use.

(I think it was Leithold's book – the edition we used – that had the oddest book cover I've ever seen. The cover was taken from a painting, which was the work of a Polish man, Roman Opalka. He was painting numbers from 1 to infinity. Every time he changed canvases he made the paint a little lighter so that as the numbers moved towards infinity the canvas moved towards all white.)

Monday, May 09, 2005

Fall of Saigon & VE Day

Interesting that the two anniversaries were so close together. There were many articles in the press comparing today's Iraq with the Vietnam War. I saw fewer making reference to the events of 60 years ago with today's happenings in Iraq, but I'm sure they're out there.

I know why so many people love referring to Vietnam when discussing Iraq, but I don't see how what happened in S.E. Asia in the 1960s & 70s has any relevance today. Vietnam is as relevant to understanding today's war as World War II was to understanding Vietnam.

The military had lessons to learn from Vietnam (and all deployments since) and those lessons are, presumably, being applied as far as practicable in Iraq today. However, the political equation is completely different today.

The only similarity from what I can see is that many people oppose the war. This is not new. World War I, the Spanish-American War, the Indian wars, the Civil War, the Mexican American War, and the War of 1812 ("the most unpopular war that the United States ever waged, not even excepting the Vietnam conflict") all had a large number of detractors in the US.

Is this war the right course of action for the United States? That is the fundamental question. After that, if the answer is 'yes', then what are the right tactics to win the war? If the answer is 'no' then how do we exit Iraq? Talking about Saigon, Hanoi, the Vietcong, Ho Chi Minh, etc. might be comforting for some people in the media and academia, but these discussions provide nothing useful to help answer the key questions regarding Iraq.

Italian baseball

The New York Times with more on baseball in Italy. First noted here about a year ago. Nettuno is clearly the heart of Italian baseball. I love the story about Joe DiMaggio's visit to the town in 1957.

US farms in 19th cent = Chinese manufacturers today

I really enjoy reading David McWilliams. I'm not sure if his analyses are always or even frequently correct, but he certainly gets me thinking.

This might be a gross over-reach, but McWilliams ties together the problems at GM & Ford with those at Waterford Crystal and then says look to China for the causes of their problems. He compares China's influence in manufacturing with the influence of the United States in agriculture during the 19th century. I love this kind of stuff. I'll read this again and keep wondering if he's onto something or just linking a few items together, ignoring others and saying, "Look - here's the future".

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Kentucky Derby Day

I don't really have much interest in horse racing, but today all Met and Red Sox fans are rooting against one particular horse – favorite Bellamy Road. Bellamy Road is owned by George Steinbrenner who, for those who don't know, also owns the Evil Empire (a.k.a. the NY Yankees).

In a related, happy story, feast your eyes on this. Sure it might not last, but for now the Yankees are stinking up the joint and I'm lovin it.

UPDATE: Giacomo, a 50-1 shot, won the big race. Steinbrenner's horse was 7th. And, I have no idea why the Giacomo's owner named his horse after Sting's son.

9/11 Commission Report - Chapter 3

The third chapter is much tougher going than the first two. This chapter deals with what each relevant government department did and didn't do before September 11.

This chapter contains a lot of supporting evidence for anyone who thinks that government should be as small as possible. National security is, obviously, the domain of the government. It's what government should do.

Trouble is, big governments do best what they've always done. They don't change quickly. This chapter details how the government's defense and homeland security practices were essentially unchanged throughout the 90s up to September 11.

Little fiefdoms, familiar structures and redundant skills are part of any big organization. They are a bigger problem in governments than in businesses, which are forced to change or die in the competitive marketplace.

Transformations are shunned by governments who prefer currying favor with voters and not disrupting their permanent paid employees. During the 90s the federal government failed to transform its defense operations because the required changes were too painful. Established defense and security practices, highly skilled cold warriors & tacticians, and a bi-polar world-view were all redundant from the moment Boris Yeltsin took office. Yet, a decade after the collapse of the USSR the federal government was still operating essentially in a cold war mode.

This inability to change is the primary reason I don't believe in big government. The intentions might be right, but eventually the demands of those who work in the government (or state-owned companies) or the needs of a few key constituencies will take precedence over serving the needs of those who are ultimately the "customers".

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Arm the Gardai?

I was listening to a discussion this evening on whether the Gardai should be armed. This debate is a reaction to the what seems like an epidemic of killings lately.

Now I'm not all that bothered by the notion of armed police officers. Obviously it's pretty much standard in the US. Yet, I'm not convinced that the current gangland killings are due to the fact that the Gardai are not armed. Maybe I'm just missing some of the details, but if the Gardai are not intimidated or unable to do the job properly because they're not armed, what is arming them going to accomplish?

"The Garda Síochána will succeed not by force of arms or numbers, but on their moral authority as servants of the people".


There's a headline in today's Irish Examiner that is missing one word and it changes the whole sense of what the article is about. The headline reads, "Supermodel Elle in breast awareness push".

Of course the word "cancer" is missing here. Is this a deliberate ploy to get more men to read this article? How can this have not caught anybody's eye? {I'd love to know if it's the same in print as it is online.}

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Conservatives, not neo-conservatives

I really wish the media would give the label neo-conservative a rest. Today's Guardian has an article about the Brazilian government's decision to refuse an American government offer of $40m to help fight AIDS. The Brazilians didn't like some of the conditions attached to the funds. Fine by me. The Brazilians are well within their rights to refuse such aid and, similarly, the American government is acting within its rights by offering the money conditionally.

What bothers me is this sentence from the article:
Most US Aids funding goes directly to organisations working in the field and much will be channelled through faith organisations that back the no-abortion, pro-abstinence and anti-prostitution stance of the US neo-conservatives.
There's nothing "new" about conservatives espousing these positions.

I'm sure there are many so-called neo-conservatives who disagree with this policy.

The things you read on blogs

Carrie, who's from Southern California, complains that it doesn't rain hard enough in Belfast. Too much light mist and not enough hard, steady down-pours. Even the thunder-storms in Belfast are pathetically weak.

You expect people from California to complain about the weather in Ireland, but you don't expect that complaint to be that the rain isn't substantial enough.

Thanks KM

Thanks to a friend in New York I now have a ticket to see Bruce Springsteen in Dublin on the 24th. I'll be there with fellow bloggers Chris and Auds. The ticket arrived in the mail today.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Liverpool vs Chelsea

My totally unscientific research indicates that if you're not a Chelsea fan, you want Liverpool to win tonight. It's not just the underdog thing either. A lot of people seem to really despise Chelsea, especially their manager Jose Mourinho. I'm not really sure why that is, but I'm pretty sure I'm not wrong about this at least in Dublin.

I'm with the crowd on this one, although I won't lose any sleep over it.

This Bud's for you

Finally, after two half-hearted efforts, baseball commissioner Bud Selig has come up with a drugs testing policy proposal that sounds serious. Three strikes and you're out!
  1. First offense - 50 games suspension
  2. Second offense - 100 games suspension
  3. Third offense - lifetime ban.
Selig also proposes more random tests and wants to turn over the testing to the World Anti-doping Agency.

If the players union makes a big effort to water down this policy then they are doing a great disservice to the interests of the union's members.

I like this article by Larry Sloane of the Seattle Times who says, "To fans, Bud Selig remains the most polarizing man in sports — they either loathe him, or they hate him". Too true, but as Sloane says Selig has been forced onto the moral high ground.

Real risk of war with China

So says Michael O'Hanlon writing in yesterday's Financial Times (I hope this link works).

O'Hanlon says "China is serious about being willing to risk war to prevent Taiwan's secession. Second, although many in China as well as Europe cannot quite believe it, the US is just as serious about defending Taiwan". I believe the former, but I'm not quite as certain about the latter. However, I firmly believe that right now Taiwan will wage a war to the death rather than give in to Chinese threats. At the very least, the US would provide a lot of support for Taiwan in any conflict.

O'Hanlon says that for the US not to come to Taiwan's aid would undermine its position with regards to all allies around the world. He could be right, but that wouldn't necessarily mean that a large block of the American public would be keen to fight a major war over Taiwan. The pacifists and isolationists would argue that the US has little real interest in who rules Taiwan. I'm not sure that their arguments wouldn't prevail.

Passport hassles

I fully understand all the security requirements surrounding passport applications, but that doesn't make it any less aggravating when the time comes to renew your passport. I really miss the easy-going embassy process I encountered when I last renewed my passport. I was brought into the embassy, given a cup of coffee and had a nice pleasant chat with a man across a desk. He took my money and my paperwork and twenty minutes later I had a new passport. Very civil.

However, today all the dealings are through thick security glass. There is zero effort made to make you feel comfortable, and after handing over the paperwork and money I won't get my new passport for 2-3 weeks. I could do it all by mail, but I have to get a new passport for my daughter too, so that makes little sense.

The funny thing is, the security arrangements that are the greatest hassle are for children's passports.

In order to get my ten-year-old daughter a new passport (this will be her third) I have to go into the passport office with my daughter and my wife! I don't know why my daughter has to appear, but apparently she does. My wife has to appear because she has to give her consent to my daughter getting another passport. You'd think that having done this twice before would count for something.

I know, I know, I know. This is to try and prevent children being abducted and whisked out of the country without one of the parents knowing. I accept all that. It's still an incredible hassle. My daughter has to take time off school and my wife and I time from our work. The embassy doesn't help either as the only times you can come in for passports are between 8:30 & 11:30 four days a week. No afternoon appointments.