Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Finkelstein

I never heard of Norman Finkelstein before this past weekend. Finkelstein is an American Jew who is, from what I heard, implacably opposed to most of current Israeli policies and practices with regards to its dealings with the Palestinians.

I don't really care about Finkelstein or his views. What annoys me is the treatment he received on Newstalk 106 this weekend on the Wide Angle. First of all, Finkelstein may be a s**t-stirrer (actually, I suspect he's a lot worse) in the US, but over here he's preaching to the converted with his "It's all Israel's fault" line. That's bad enough, but then gets the softest of interviews from Coleman. Good God. She proved she could be a more fearsome interviewer when she had Cliff May on a few weeks ago, but with Finkelstein she did nothing other than support his views.

And, on top of all that, she did a great job of plugging his book, which, based on her description of how it's doing in the US, must be out-selling the entire Harry Potter series. I can just imagine how she'd treat Alan Dershowitz if he was a guest on her show.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Lieberman

Why is nobody in the Bush Administration able to make such a clear statement about America's aims and progress in the war as Joe Lieberman?

Irish Ferries

In a comment below, Miranda wants to know what I think about the Irish Ferries dispute. I have to admit I haven't paid a whole lot of attention to the ins and outs of this one, but I guess I wouldn't be going too far out on a limb to say that the company could have handled this better.

My free market instincts and my sympathies for the eastern Europeans who are getting the new low paid jobs have me leaning towards the company, but it's not quite so simple as that. It is almost always those who are not earning a whole lot who lose out when low paid immigrants or cheap imported goods make the local labor or product too expensive. It's all well and good for talking heads to ramble on about "upskilling" or the "knowledge economy", but not everyone is cut out for "upskilling" or the "knowledge economy". I also have sympathy for those who feel threatened by the eastern European workers.

I have no idea how true it is that the company could collapse. I can't see how this would benefit the company or the workers. I'd like to imagine that a reasonable solution can be found.

I do have one question related to this dispute, however. Anytime I've flown with Ryanair, most of the cabin crew were not Irish or British. I've thought that many of them were eastern European. Do those employees get the same pay as their Irish or British colleagues?

'Hey, we're overcharging you and you're still shopping here'

Shopping. Have I mentioned before how much I can't stand it? I thought I had. So it doesn't take much to distract or amuse me during my annual outing into an endless number of stores that I would otherwise happily avoid from now until Kingdom come.

On Sunday I was in a store called Wallis (I think that was it) when the price tags caught my eye. They had prices in both pounds and euros. At first I thought they were giving us the Irish pound equivalent, but no, they were sterling prices. I guess they didn't want to have to produce two separate price tags for their operation in Ireland - north and south?

What really caught my eye was that the exchange rates were all over the place. (I'm working from memory, so my numbers may be off, but the gist of this is right.) Every item that was £25 was €45. And, any item that was £27 was €47 and any item that was £35 was also €55.

Ignoring VAT for a moment, how can one item have an exchange rate of €1.80 per £1.00 while another has a rate of €1.57 for every £1? So this had me amused for a few minutes until I started thinking about VAT. The Irish rate is 21% and the UK rate is, I believe, 17% (but I'm not sure if that is the rate on clothes).

Like I said, it takes little to amuse me when I'm shopping. So, as I stood there and started doing some mental math I started to realize that even allowing for VAT, the exchange rate was not really that close to the official €1.47 for every £1, particularly on those lower priced items.

It's one thing to feel like you're being overcharged for items, but it's another all together for a company to flaunt their overcharging so blatantly and still expect you to part with your cash. No purchases were made in Wallis.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Down, but not out.

I'm a bit under the weather at the moment, which sort of explains the quiet around here.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Dissin the Boss

It is 30 years since Born to Run was released. Last week two US Senators from New Jersey sponsored a resolution to congratulate Bruce Springsteen on the thirtieth anniversary. {No, I have no idea why this kind of thing goes on, but it's pretty common.)

Anyway, the Republicans in the Senate killed the resolution. It seems the reason for this was Springsteen's support for John Kerry last year.

Look, I think Springsteen was mistaken, but this is pettiness beyond the call of duty. As Harlan Coben notes in today's NY Times, many of Springsteen's fans are Republicans. They may disagree with him and even wish he'd just "shut up and sing" at times, but I think most would accept that he's not your usual Hollywood/show business dingbat. He clearly thinks before he speaks. So he's not perfect, but then nobody is. Imperfection doesn't bother me nor does it bother Bruce.
The screen door slams
Mary's dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch
As the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that's me and I want you only
Don't turn me home again
I just can't face myself alone again
Don't run back inside
darling you know just what I'm here for
So you're scared and you're thinking
That maybe we ain't that young anymore
Show a little faith, there's magic in the night
You ain't a beauty, but hey you're alright
Oh and that's alright with me
It was a great moment in American culture. Grow up Senator Frist.

Joining the Irish Brigade

The Columbia Rifles is a Civil War reenactors organization the members of which are seriously devoted to authenticity. "The reenactor who is dedicated to authenticity will divide his efforts between three facets of equal importance: man, methods, and material culture". They should look, act and think like the men in uniform at the time.

Yesterday's Irish Independent provides some details from the Columbia Rifles' manual. Chapter 1 is "Playing Paddy Right" dealing with what is expected of anyone who wants to join an Irish unit. A knowledge of Irish history - up to the 1860's, obviously - an Irish accent and some spoken Irish and, importantly, a good understanding of the importance of Catholicism to the Irish soldier.

The Independent failed to note the section on alcohol and fighting where the author says drunkeness is not essential. He then tries to explain the stereotype as it existed then.
... Irishmen may have a lower alcohol tolerance than other European ethnic groups. Former Irish Brigade Association president Liam Murphy who, while serving in the United States military once spent time training doctors to be army officers, stated, "There is a liver enzyme called ethyldehydrogenace [?] which metabolizes drinking alcohol. If a full-grown European can metabolize, say, one ounce of alcohol per hour, he must consume more than that for ethyl alcohol to show up in his bloodstream and, therefore, in his brain. If the standard is 1.0, then the Native American Indian runs at only 30 percent of the European norm and, according to the MDs I trained, the average Irishman metabolizes alcohol at only 70 percent of this norm."
Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Shopping in the US

Today's Boston Herald features an article (now part of an annual ritual) about shoppers from Ireland descending on the big stores and shopping malls looking for Christmas presents. Another part of the ritual is the warning from the Irish authorities that such shoppers could be prosecuted if they exceed the €175 limit on purchases.

The other day I heard someone on the radio - not sure who it was - mention that Macy's was offering an 11% discount to all shoppers with an Irish passport. If true, I wonder how they'd distinguish between those who had flown in to shop and those who flew in years ago to take up jobs in the city?

Irish dancing

When I was in college there was an annual céilí on the campus organized by a local Irish organization. Almost no students went, but a couple of my friends and I used to turn up, partially (okay, mostly) because for $10 the bar was unlimited for the night. That was a bargain even then (mid 80s).

Still, we used to have fun. These middle-aged Irish women would insist on dragging us out onto the dance floor and instruct us in that tolerant, but firm tone that middle-aged Irish women have. Most of the women were older than my mother, which explains why I was alarmed to read the following from a court case in North Carolina:
Dr Hanna's argument was that Irish dance "involves a rigid upper body and a leg pounding upon the ground [which] can be associated with the phallus pounding the female."
Whoa! Even with twenty elapsed years this is a heart-stopping revelation. I presume this means that at the very least I should immerse myself in the River Jordan as an act of atonement.

Happy Thanksgiving

Lunch out with a friend today and a big family meal on Saturday. And, despite the fact that it's still not a holiday here - must ... try ... harder - I'd like to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.

You know, with all the talk about American cultural imperialism, I'm not sure why something as good as Thanksgiving hasn't taken off here. I think that the faster pace of life in Ireland today and the excessively pressured Christmas season strengthens the argument for a Thanksgiving pause around now.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Athens "fiasco"

I have to admit I can think of no good reason why the Irish government should spend a single penny to boost the Irish Olympic team. Are people really that desperate to hear the national anthem at the Olympic Games?

Apparently Athens was a "fiasco" and required that the government pay €16,000 to analyze and report back on what could be done differently next time.
Agenda Consulting surveyed the opinions of athletes, coaches and organisations, such as the Irish Sports Council and Olympic Council of Ireland.

In its 13 recommendations, the report calls for more funding for coaches and athletes and talent scouting of young athletes with the potential to be future stars.

While work is already well under way for the Olympics in Beijing in 2008, Ms Keaveney said the sporting authorities need to be looking ahead to London in seven years. London will be a "cataclysmic factor" in Irish international sport, she said.
The report concluded that we (the taxpayers) need to spend more money on Olympic athletes. Why? What return is there to the nation for this investment?

The head of the Dail Committee looking into this "fiasco" said that
[a]fter the scandals of Athens and Atlanta, the main hope for future Olympic performances was that Irish athletes would not only be successful but tarnish-free, Ms Keaveney said. The important factor was not the number of medals won.

"Given that the last two Olympic Games were remembered for gold medals that became no gold medals, we would like to see is athletes performing to the best of their ability without any scandal. A clean Olympics, simple as that," she added.
Well, duh, if all you want is a clean Olympics the best way to guarantee that is to (a) remove all state funding for athletes – there'll be fewer Irish athletes competing and, therefore, fewer potential positive tests and (b) remove the tax breaks available to top athletes – these are furthering the incentive for athletes to cheat. It is better for the state not to be involved so that when a medal-winning athlete tests positive the state is not responsible for having encouraged the cheating.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

How's that Kyoto thing going?

Ireland's not unique among EU states in failing to meet its Kyoto commitments.
Eleven of the fifteen old member states have reported emissions going up instead of down since 1990, with huge increases seen in Spain (41.7%), Portugal (36.7%), Greece (25.8%), Ireland (25.6%), Finland (21.5%) and Austria (16.5%).
The US exceeded its Kyoto targets by 13.3%.

The UK turned in the best performance in emissions reduction in the EU (can ignore Germany, which 'benefited' from E. Germany's emissions levels). And, yet, the UK won't make its Kyoto targets.

Kyoto is dead - deader than the EU Constitution, which is actually far from dead as far as the bureaucrats are concerned.

Cycling with Bush

A rarity from The Guardian today - an article about President Bush that is light and almost totally lacking in cynicism. Cycling correspondent Matt Seaton is impressed with Bush's cycling equipment and it's not just all show.
Last year, a journalist from Associated Press joined the president on a lap of his Crawford ranch. Bush's heart rate, Scott Lindlaw reported, peaked at 168 beats per minute during the 18-mile loop. For a man of his age (59), that's likely to be about 95% of his maximum - which is the sort of intensity only elite athletes train at. According to AP, Bush completed the ride in an hour and 20 minutes. That's more than 13mph, which may not sound all that fast, but for an off-road cyclist, believe me, it's shifting. His resting pulse - a good rule-of-thumb indicator of fitness - is down in the 40s. On this form, Bush could not only hold his own in age-related cross-country races, he'd win some.
Seaton comments that the President's jacket was baggy, but when I saw that picture over the weekend I was wondering if he had on his bullet proof vest underneath the jacket. I had figured that if there was one place he wouldn't need it that would be in China.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Message for Minister Callely

Tinted windows don't kill people, people do.

For the record, I really don't like blacked out windows in cars. I think they're ugly. I do, however, own a car with some windows blacked out. This is because when the car was for sale it was too good a deal to pass up even though I hated the dark windows. The car's an estate (station wagon) and the back window and two other small windows along the side at the back are darkened.

Thanks to the Minister I started taking note of people driving cars with blacked out windows yesterday. I saw seven and not one of them fit the description of "boy racer". Four were women of 35 or more years. Not one of the drivers I saw was a man under 25 years of age. As for the cars, three were people carriers, two were big Mercedes, one a SEAT (as is my own) and one was a small commercial car/van.

This idea is so stupid in so many ways that a blog post cannot really do it justice. I have no idea whether the tint can be removed, but if it can't - and the back window has the rear defrost wires on it too - then my car will be worthless next year.

Two Chinese students

Thanks to Warren in The Corner for this cultural highlight - two Chinese students lip-synching to the Backstreet Boys.

I'm not sure it is as good as the Fat 'Dutch' Kid, who turned out to be much more New Amsterdam than Amsterdam. {And, just in case you were missing him, the Fat Dutch Kid, Gary Brolsma, has a fan web site - GaryBrolsma.net.}

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Newshound - Nov 20

There is a technical problem with my site's hosting company. I don't know when I'll be able to update the Newshound today.

All of the links are available at nuzdown.com.

UPDATE 9:56am - Problem seems to be resolved now. Update of main page is complete.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Before the levees burst

According to this story in yesterday's New Orleans Times-Picayune, it seems that there was a pretty good indication that all was not well with the levee system before Katrina blew into town. Over a year ago residents near the Canal levee complained that their yards were wet and not drying out. The Army Corps of Engineers never found out despite the fact that the residents reported the problem. The water was tested and it was from the Canal. That was pretty much the end of the issue.
But investigators on forensic engineering teams probing the failures said they aren'’t surprised the corps didn't know about that leak -- or about numerous other leaks and problems with the levees that residents reported to them. That ignorance reflects a minefield of twisted bureaucratic jurisdictions, poor levee maintenance, missed opportunities and suspect engineering they say likely contributed to the costliest natural disaster in American history.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

ROS goes down

Eek. One day after I noted how good the Revenue Commissioners' web site is, it's unavailable this afternoon. And, this ain't good, today is the DEADLINE for filing via the web. I'm sure the two are not unrelated, but the Revenue folks should surely have anticipated a little extra traffic today.
The Revenue On-Line Service is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later. Thank you.

If you wish you may contact the Revenue On-Line Service information desk at 1890 20 11 06 from 8.30 am to 6.30 pm Monday to Thursday and from 8.30 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. on Friday or by e-mail to roshelp@revenue.ie

Shopping in Dublin

I can't stand shopping in Dublin. I'd much rather drive to a suburban shopping center, park my car - for free - in a large parking lot than go through the hassle of shopping in Dublin. And, it's always crowded in Dublin.

In truth, I can't stand shopping anywhere, but if I have to endure it I want to be sure that it's as easy as possible to get in and get out. So, when I say that shopping for furniture in Dublin's city center is worth it, I'm saying something.

Most of the furniture stores that used to be on Capel Street seem to be gone, but we got what we were looking for when we were there last week. The quality, to my eye, was as good as what I'd seen in the numerous suburban furniture stores we had been to and the price was much better - about €400 better. It was a worthwhile trip, even though it cost me €2.50 to park.

Uh oh

Last week the Wall Street Journal let the cat out of the bag - US companies love setting up in Ireland because with a little slight of hand they can claim to have earned vast profits here that were, in fact, earned in the US. The companies save a ton of money on taxes thanks to Ireland's 12.5% tax rate and Ireland gets a ton of tax money it wouldn't otherwise get.

Everybody's a winner, right? Well, emm, no. The US government is the loser here and is now looking to crack down on this sort of thing. The focus of the Journal's article and this Sunday Business Post follow-up is Microsoft's use of an Irish-based subsidiary to license the rights to its software.
While there is nothing illegal in what Microsoft is doing, Richard Murphy, an accountant and tax expert with the Tax Justice Network, said that arrangements by some multinationals may contravene the spirit of the law, even if they obey its letter.
No laws are being broken, but laws can change.

Despite all the nonsense about our "well-educated work force", what really drove the Celtic Tiger was that it was cheaper to do business in Ireland than any other EU country. This is why Ireland's EU partners despise the low Irish corporate tax rate. And, now it seems the US government is an enemy too.

An editorial in today's NY Times means that rather than going away quietly, this story is growing. It could become a real problem. I suspect that once the IRS gets through checking on intellectual property registrations, they'll turn their attention to large fund transfers among financial institutions (IFSC) and other nifty accounting practices used by Irish-based operations of large multinationals. Next thing you'll know, Congress will be holding hearings on Ireland's status as a 'tax haven'.

The economy could quickly collapse if the US and EU decide to bring the Tiger to heel. Might be a good time to sell that investment property. On the upside, an economic collapse would end all discussion of immigration problems.

Topless

Just out of curiosity – I have no intentions of applying myself – is it legal to advertise exclusively for female staff? Can a man apply to be a member of the waiting staff in a topless bar?

And, with our current gang war, how long before one of New York's greatest tabloid headlines – "Headless Body Found in Topless Bar" – is reused here?

Mandatory Irish

Enda Kenny's proposal to make Irish optional for Leaving Cert students has irked a few people. Well, here's a suggestion for Kenny: compel utility companies to offer an Irish language call center option for their customers.

I had to call Bord Gáis recently about a ridiculously small matter. I expected the conversation would take, oh, about 15 seconds. Instead, after spending 15 minutes or so trying to communicate with a woman whose first language was certainly not English I began to wonder if Bord Gáis had a call center for those who wish to speak Irish. {For the record, I don't speak any Irish at all.}

I'm sure the Irish people, when faced with the trials and tribulations I had to endure with Bord Gáis, will jump at the chance to use the native tongue.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

ROS

Have I mentioned before that the Revenue Commissioners' web site is a joy to use? (Except, of course, for the fact that I have to pay money out of my pocket when I'm finished.) The web site is much easier to use than my bank's and it feels more secure too (whether that's a false security, I can't say).

Compared with the situation that prevailed a few years ago, things are infinitely better today. Now you can fill in your Form 11, complete it online and also use their 'calculator' to get a good idea as to what you owe. I remember in past years spending way too much time trying to estimate what I owed and still not being sure, which usually meant I overpaid by a large amount and then waited for my refund.

I'd love to do other peoples' taxes just so that I can enjoy using the ROS web site without having to endure the pain of having to actually part with any of my own money. If I was an accountant would I get to do this? Maybe I should take up some accounting classes just so I can file taxes on behalf of other people.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

'Don't meddle in US affairs'

I nearly forgot about this article. T. Ryle Dwyer has some sane analysis about the immigration debate in the US (and some fairly irrelevant, but interesting history) and advises that the Irish government shouldn't get too involved in campaigning for change. "Americans traditionally resent foreign interference in their domestic political affairs".

Herceptin

Last month I linked to an article in the Forbes about the breakthrough that Herceptin represents in the battle against breast cancer. This story was in many other newspapers and magazines at the time. Well, unfortunately, Herceptin may not be a miracle drug after all.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Science in school

Last time I mentioned intelligent design I admitted I didn't know much about it. Well, nothing's changed on that score I still don't know much about it. I do know, however, that Pat Robertson made a fool of himself last week.

The people of Dover, PA voted to turn out 8 members of their school board who had introduced ID to science classes in their school district. Robertson's response was classic. Basically he told Dover's residents that, 'God will smite you'.
"You just voted God out of your city," Robertson said in his televised remarks. "If that's the case, don't ask for his help, because he might not be there."
I can't imagine too many people are that worried about evolution and biology classes and it's always nice to see common sense in action. Parents should not be afraid of their children learning scientific theories, even though science is frequently wrong.

I also don't think children should be wound up to be afraid of science, which is a problem I have encountered here. My own daughter is being subjected to uninformed scare-mongering intended to frighten her away from nuclear power. I can't understand this. This does nothing to foster interest in science.

The Good American

They say ignorance is bliss, so I'm pretty sure that there can be few more blissful than Cristina Odone. Yesterday, she let the Observer's readers know that
[a]bout 64.5 million Americans are engaged in volunteer work, spending on average 52 hours a year. US citizens raised $241 billion in 2003 for charities, and more than 60 per cent reported some form of charitable involvement in response to Katrina.
Her conclusion is that despite the "cocky bastard who straddles the British and European media as he kills Iraqi civilians and ignores the plight of the black and marginalised back home", the "Good American" is alive and well even in "George Bush's era".

What Odone seems not to realize is that many of those volunteers and much of the money raised come from those who hold similar views to George Bush, voted for George Bush and have a Christian faith like George Bush. "Southern Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans and hundreds of volunteers from unaffiliated churches have poured tens of millions of dollars in private relief and volunteer labor into metropolitan New Orleans". Those groups of people were a pretty good block of support for Bush in last year's election.

Flat organization

I started reading the Ferns Inquiry report over the weekend. I only got through the first 50 pages. I haven't reached any of the allegations yet, which start around page 70.

Most of the early pages are devoted to definitions and an analysis of the history of treatment of child sex abuse, both within the Church and without. Chapter three is dedicated to the legal and managerial structures in the Church and the relevant government bodies. Even though I sort of knew this, it is amazing what a 'flat organization' the Catholic Church is. The Parish Priest (Pastor in the US) reports directly to the Bishop, who reports to the Pope. Some parishes have one or more curates (associate priests, I think, in the US). A Bishop must appoint a Vicar General and can have one or two others (more in a big diocese) to help him with the administration duties. (Compare this with the Gardai: in descending order - Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner Operations, Assistant Commissioner, Chief Superintendent, Superintendent, Inspector, Sergeant, Garda.)

There are 49 parishes in the diocese of Ferns. This should mean that the Bishop will have 49 direct reports. However, due to an oddity that dates back to the famine, all the Curates are also assigned to their own Church, known as "half parishes". This means that the Bishop of Ferns has 92 priests reporting directly to him. In the 1980s it was around 150.

This flat organization ensures that each individual parish priest exercises a great deal of authority within his parish. And, every Bishop exercises a great deal of authority with his diocese. I'll be interested to see if the report's authors believe that the structure of the Church was a big part of the problem.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

National disgrace

No, not the rugby team, Louis Walsh. Other than Chris, I'm not sure anyone else from the world of Irish blogs is paying much attention to the X-Factor, but my children keep me up to date, sort of. Anyway, from what I understand, Louis Walsh embarrassed the Irish nation last night by voting to keep the "God awful" Conway Sisters and send "not too bad" Maria home. According to my daughters (and friends), Walsh's decision was simply due to the Conways being Irish.

From what I can gather, Maria's annoyance is as nothing compared with the feelings of shame now felt by some Irish teens. Apparently, this is serious enough to warrant a "passport burning" threat.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Think planning

Just an addendum to my last post: all those who are so sure that these abuses would not have occurred in a state-run education system have to explain why a state run education system would have been more transparent than the state-run planning system. Until quite recently, Irish civil society - not just the Church - suffered from a severe shortage of people willing to ask the hard questions or those who willing to blow the whistle and air dirty laundry in public. Everybody kept 'schtumm'.

Public schools & sexual abuse of children

Richard has a long post about why the Catholic Church should no longer be involved in education. Richard liberally quotes the Ferns report, which is, as I said, damning.

There is no denying that priests were involved in evil and that the Bishops failed to respond properly. However, far too many people are reacting as if this sort of phenomenon is only known among priests or in religious-run schools. There is no reason to assume that a state-run system would be (or have been) any better.

There have already been many child sex abuse scandals here, some lasting decades, in state-run schools.

What surprises me about Richard's post is that Richard is American too. He must surely know that these sorts of long-running abuse cases are not unknown in many public schools in the US. I went to a large public school in upstate NY and I heard one or two rumors in my day. I have no idea if they were true or not, but we thought they were at the time. We knew it was possible.

A recent study in the US found that nearly 10% of American school children suffered some form of sexual abuse.
The report describes schools as places where abusers come to prey, targeting vulnerable and marginal students who are afraid to complain or unlikely to be believed if they did. It describes adults who trap, lie and isolate children, making them subject to unwanted behavior in hallways, offices, buses or even right in front of other students in class. And the offenders work hard to keep kids from telling, threatening to fail or humiliate them.

Misconduct is defined in the report as physical, verbal or visual behavior, from sexually related jokes or pictures of sex to fondling of breasts and forced sex.
And, there's this from the Christian Science Monitor:
The same faulty behavior exhibited by bishops occurs in school districts, she adds. In a study of 225 New York abuse cases, including rapes, all had gone through the school's system and some action been taken against a teacher, but none had been reported to the police or district attorney.
Reform the systems and ensure the safety of children, of course. But, nationalizing the schools is absolutely no guarantee that these problems will go away.

US Navy in Dublin

How will the anti-war people handle this? It's one thing for US Warplanes to be landing way down in Shannon, basically out of sight, but now the US Navy is coming to Dublin. Thousands of US naval personnel. It's practically going to be an invasion. This could get ugly. I fully expect the Fighting Irish to make it a real battle and, probably, come out on top. The Navy may be strong, but the Irish are stronger.

Okay, I'm getting a little silly, but there is going to be a Navy vs Irish college football game in Dublin in 2012. Yes, 2012. Notre Dame's Fighting Irish against the Navy's Midshipmen.

I actually think this is a bad idea on two levels. First, I was at the last ND vs Navy game here ('94? '95? - can't recall) and the atmosphere was pretty flat. No student body and only a half-filled stadium. The whole "college sports" phenomenon seems to underwhelm people here. A professional contest would be much better attended. They should play the ND-Navy game in front of 78,000 people in the Meadowlands (or wherever).

Second, I sincerely doubt there'll be a sea change in attitude by then. Yes it's college football, but each of the Navy players and many of their fans will be a member of the US Navy. That means (a) there'll undoubtedly be anti-American protests and (b) this will be a security nightmare for the local authorities.

Seven years is a very long time. Anything can happen. Maybe with President Hillary residing in the White House the protests will be more muted. Or maybe the War on Terror will be only a memory by then. Or maybe the Irish will become fully-fledged allies in the war against Islamic extremism and have the security infrastructure to guarantee the safety of thousands of US Naval personnel wandering around Dublin.

However, the most likely scenario is that things won't be a whole lot different than they are right now. Therefore, it's not a great idea.

Eleventh hour of the eleventh month

I thought this article from today's Irish Echo about Irish veterans of the Great War was interesting.
Those suffering from the long-term psychiatric and emotional impact of war was Ireland's "secret demographic," he said. He referred to Sligo's asylum, which had "nine levels of incarceration." Barry drew a parallel with post-Vietnam America, which he wandered around as a student in 1973."In every small town, you'd see one or two men looking exceptionally lost," he said.

"I wouldn't say they were ostracized," said the 64-year-old Phelan of his hometown's World War I veterans. "But nothing was made of them."
I suspect there aren't any (Irish veterans) still alive, but I did see a few living WWI veterans on the BBC this week. One man, 105 or so, was incredibly lucid. Amazing.

Were nuns paid by the state?

Auds brings up something that I've been wondering about in her post on Liz O'Donnell's ravings. Were the priests, sisters and brothers who built and ran Ireland's primary education system remunerated for their efforts at the same level as were lay teachers? I don't know this answer. I always assumed that the state paid the wages due to members of religious orders directly to the orders.

By the way, I love this bit from Auds about Liz O'Donnell:
Get over it, honey - you can't be a priest in the RCC but rest assured, you're a fully signed up priestess of the new Irish secularism, armed with a Fendi crozier, an Irish Times Bible and enough bile to obliterate any pretensions of a pluralistic respect toward what is simultaneously believed to be a greying impotent force of irrelevancy and a powerful enforcer of a "rigid right wing morality".
I don't even know what 'Fendi' is, but I know when I find out I'm going to like this even more.

St. Bartholomew to the rescue

Who knew? I sure didn't. During all those years when the media kept insisting on providing us with endless details about his domestic life I never suspected that our own dear Taoiseach was a true defender of the faith.

Yet, that's just what he was yesterday. Stepping up to the plate and delivering just when Irish Catholics needed it most.
On the role of religious in education Mr Ahern said there were 3,200 primary schools in the country of which about 3,000 were owned by the religious communities - the vast majority of these by the Catholic Church.

The State would not be able to manage the schools without the religious, he said, and he believed the State owed a great debt of gratitude to the communities.
Yes, the child sex abuse scandals are damning, but they are not the full story of the Catholic Church's role in Irish life or, particularly, Irish education.

{Note this typo from the Irish Times reporting on the Taoiseach's speech yesterday, "the State-owned religious communities a great debt of gratitude". "State-owned" - just as Liz O'Donnell would love it, I guess.)

Young French Muslims

I read this in an article in today's NY Times, "Most second-generation Muslim immigrants are generally no more observant than young French Catholics".

I'd love to know if that's true. I can't square that sentence with the uproar over the hijab.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Sticking the boot in

These are hard times for Catholics in Ireland. All the old certainties are gone. Many Irish Catholics are floundering and not sure what to think. Many have simply drifted away. The seemingly incessant revelations of child abuse by priests and other religious are almost unbearable. Catholics are like wounded animals just waiting to be hit again.

So, not wanting to miss such an opportunity, Liz O'Donnell stuck the boot in yesterday.
In the strongest Dáil attack on the Catholic Church in memory, the PD backbencher called for an end to the "special relationship" between church and State.

"The cosy phone calls from All Hallows to Government Buildings must end," she said. She also demanded that "the church's almost universal control of education" be "radically addressed".

Apparently implying that children may still be at risk of abuse in church-run schools, she said Catholic Church control of education must be addressed "if our stated commitment to taking all necessary steps to protect children is to be more than just rhetoric".
I have no idea how often All Hallows calls Government Buildings for a "cosy" chat, but so what? There are still a large number of church-going Catholics in this country. Why wouldn't the government be interested in the Church's advice? And, I would imagine that other denominations and faiths are also regularly consulted - probably out of proportion to their relative sizes compared with the Catholic Church. I have no problem with that.

Watching her on the news last night, I saw her disdain for the Catholic Church haughtily on display. I doubt she truly believes in secularism, just anti-Catholicism.

Although O'Donnell complains that the Church has "almost universal control of education", the Church's influence is as nothing compared with the state's. Talk about 'universal control' - the state decides what is taught, who can be hired and who can be fired, the length of the school year, and countless other small matters. The state controls education from nursey school right up to higher degrees in universities. That's universal control.

O'Donnell's stance seems to imply that non-Church schools are free of such scandals, which is false. Although the media chooses not to provide the same breathless headlines, these scandals do exist in the state-run schools.

The Church is down, but not out. I believe the road back will be led by immigrants, many of whom are Catholic and have a strong faith. And, they know nothing of child sex abuse scandals. These scandals are history as far as they're concerned, not relevant today.

Writing about the Sox in the Globe

'Don't worry, we have no problem bad-mouthing our sister company', is essentially what the Boston Globe's Ombudsman said last week. A couple of weeks ago I linked to an article in the Boston Herald which was connecting corporate ownership dots and asking questions about the coverage of the Red Sox in the Boston Globe. The New York Times Inc. owns the Boston Globe and also owns 17% of the Red Sox (and does help explain the Times's betrayal of the New York team for the Boston team in 2003).

Richard Chacón "found no evidence that Globe coverage is influenced by the Times Co. investment". He did find, however, that the Globe and its web site - Boston.com - often omitted the disclosure that is supposed to feature in news stories about the Red Sox. Just an oversight, I'm sure.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Becoming like America

A leading Spanish Muslim Abdelkarim Carrasco says "[e]ither Europe develops and supports the idea of a mixed culture, or Europe has no future... Europe has to learn from what the United States has done. It is a country that has taken in people from all over the world." (For some reason, the NY Times left off the second part of that quote.)

This is the crux of the whole issue, isn't it? If I was at home in New York I think I'd probably see this as a potential solution, but from here it's clear that this is not as easily done as said.

Americans do assimilate immigrants more smoothly than does any European country. There are many reasons why this is so, some of which are government policies. But, one feature of America's success that I don't think is possible in Europe is the relative ease most Americans feel about their country being transformed by immigration.

Sure it's not trouble free, but Americans are less concerned about the effect immigrants have on society than are Europeans. This is because Americans have a less fixed idea as to what their culture is than do Europeans and, therefore, they are less worried about the changes immigrants bring.

The white, Protestant society of 1840s America is gone. Also almost totally gone are those who think that's how America should be. America was much more Anglo and/or Germanic in the 1800s than it is today. European nations have only recently begun to experience anything like that. And, their cultures are much older than America's culture.

There has been so much glib talk about assimilation. Muslims are failing to assimilate or the French government hasn't been doing enough to assimilate Muslims. It's just not that easy. Assimilation means (a) there has to be some cultural identity that the immigrants can aspire to and be welcome in and (b) that the majority culture is happy to be changed gradually.

You can see this in America with simple things like general acceptance of Spanish phrases and Mexican foods and brand names. These things would have been unthinkable in the 1950s.

Can this happen in a country that has a government run academy dedicated to the preserving the purity of the French language? Right now they're not happy about anglicisation, but what about arabisation? I can just imagine how they will react if Arab words and phrases begin to gain common currency.

Pensions crisis in France

Here's a thought: if you were a 45 year old working in France today and you were looking forward to retiring in 15 years, would you be worried that a bloc of young, Muslim voters might decide that they don't want to pay all those taxes to fund pensions for those who look down their noses at them? The French pension system is not a savings system, but one that is funded by current taxes. And, few people have non-state pensions.

This goes for the entire social security/welfare system in France. Younger Muslims might recognize that they can better take care of their own and vote accordingly. They don't have the economic clout to do this yet, but it is inevitable that they will grow increasingly strong economically given France's aging non-Muslim population.

France's troubles

It's probably not a very 'grown-up' response, but I'm sure there are many, many Americans who are watching what's happening in France and saying to themselves, "And you lectured us". The smug certainty of many Europeans that what happened in New Orleans was proof that America was a diseased, corrupt society and that the European way was obviously better has been blown away the past few weeks. No country has found the foolproof policies for dealing with issues of race, ethnicity, religion and assimilation.

Today Anne Applebaum combines a humorous take on the Katrina coverage in Le Monde with some excellent analysis of the problems in France.
For France's immigrants are invisible: Not only do they live in places that most other French people never go, they also hardly participate in mainstream politics or culture, outside of sports. I was in Paris on the night of Chirac's electoral victory over the National Front leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 2002. Although the campaign had been dominated by immigration issues and race, vigorous channel-surfing produced not a single black or North African face on any of the post-election talk shows.
This is something I'm only now becoming aware of. For me, the face of France is the nation's soccer team, much of which is comprised of immigrants and sons of immigrants. I just assumed the rest of French society was as mixed from top to bottom. Wrong.

The Islamic population of France is now 10% of the total and growing rapidly. It won't be long before the proportion of France's Muslim population will equal that of America's black population (approximately 13.3%). Yet, from what Applebaum writes here it's clear that black people are much better represented at the top of American society than are those of African descent in France.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Opportunity knocks

As I mentioned below, I'm not convinced that this is some form of French (or European) intifada, but that potential probably exists. If al Qaeda is not yet involved in the riots, they will be soon. This is one massive opportunity for them. These disaffected, young, Muslim men are just crying out for a bit of direction and organization.

French riots

I've been trying to get some understanding of what's going on in France (Europe?).

There are thousands of different analysis and opinion pieces on what's going on. They broadly seem to fit into two camps: (a) it's because the rioters are Muslims and this is the beginning of a new effort aimed at an Islamic conquest of Europe and (b) it's because the French are racists.

I find it interesting that so many people on the 'right' are keen to paint this as some form of French intifada, as if the rioter's religion was all the explanation needed for what is going on. I'm not convinced, although many of the people making this argument are those with whom I'd generally agree. The reason I find this interesting is that many of these people are supporters of the war in Iraq, which is supposed to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq. Yet, if French Muslims cannot live peaceably in a Democracy, which is the implication of that argument, what hope is there for Iraq or any other Middle Eastern country?

I thought this Stephen Schwartz column was good (found through Instapundit). This discussion over at Slugger O'Toole's had some interesting comments on the religious make-up of the rioters.
I'’d be surprised if the number of those rioting was 99% moslem. There are no official statistics, but I'd guess 40-60% moslem at most. Another point to keep in mind is that a lot of immigrants from former colonies like Algeria are in fact Kabyl [I added link because I didn't know what Kabyle was - IE], and not even necessarily moslem.

The Dish

Thanks to one of those free weekends that the subscription movie channels sometimes provide, I got to see one of my favorite movies over the weekend. The Dish is a simple story with virtually no Hollywood stars - I only knew Sam Neill - or effects, but it's a lot of fun. I'm surprised to see that it got a PG-13 rating in America. I would have no qualms about letting my children watch it.

The Dish is Australian as are a few other of my favorite movies. I've loved Breaker Morant ever since I was introduced to it by friends in college and Strictly Ballroom is one I would never have watched if my wife hadn't forced me to. Those two, like The Dish, are great to watch despite (or maybe because of) the roughness around the edges.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The good divorce myth

Turns out that the accepted wisdom held by just about everyone before 1960 is valid after all: divorce is bad for children regardless of how 'amicable' it is.

Divorce is far too easy for people today. I'm not talking about the legalities, but the social acceptance. There's essentially no social price to divorce. Anytime someone in the public sphere tries to make this point, the discussion is steered towards violent spouses, etc.

Well, you know what? Most divorces are caused by a lot less severe suffering.
Research shows that two-thirds of divorces now end low-conflict marriages, where there is no abuse, violence or serious fighting. After those marriages end, the children suddenly struggle with a range of symptoms -- anxiety, depression, problems in school -- that they did not previously have. The waxing and waning cycles of adult unhappiness that characterize many marriages are often not all that obvious to children. For the children of low-conflict marriages, divorce is a massive blow that comes out of nowhere.
Marriage is hard, very hard. It's a cliche to say that being a parent is the hardest job a person will ever have, but being a parent is nowhere near as hard as being a spouse. Being a parent is exhausting, sometimes exasperating and occasionally frightening. Being a spouse requires a much bigger commitment, however. A spouse must sacrifice himself/herself as an individual to ensure that the union is strong. It is the only way marriage can work. This is what children need. They need stability and marriage is stability.

This has been obvious for millennia. The importance of marriage has been stupidly thrown away in an orgy of selfishness over the past 4 decades or so.

Lawlor apology

The Observer published an apology for their article on Oct 23 on the death of Liam Lawlor. The apology is all about the 'sex' allegations: that Lawlor was in the company of a 'young prostitute' when he died and that he "'was known' to visit brothels and sex clubs in Prague".

What's not mentioned, however, is this sentence from the original report (now gone from the Observer's site): "Lawlor was suspected of recycling cash for criminals into property across western Dublin and latterly into eastern Europe". Does this mean that this allegation was more well-founded? And, I still say this is far more damning of Lawlor (and, probably, Kushnir by association) than anything about possible sexual activities.

A professional on Newstalk

Saturday morning I was listening to Newstalk106 . Karen Coleman was interviewing former NY Times journalist Cliff May.

I met Coleman when I was on her program last month. She was pleasant and courteous and listened to my 'right-wing, nut-job rantings' without cutting me off. Just as well because listening to her badgering May on Saturday I was pretty sure I wouldn't have stood up well under such an assault. May, however, was smooth, good-natured and totally at ease dealing with Coleman's interruptions and, well, grilling. My two appearances on the radio have given me the kind of insight that have always helped me to appreciate a major leaguer's ability to hit a curve ball for a base hit. I now know enough to appreciate the difference between the amateur and the professional.

UPDATE 8:30pm: Cliff posted his own take on his interview with Karen Coleman.

Friday, November 04, 2005

China woos the Taiwanese

What's going on between China and Taiwan? Back in March the Chinese were threatening Taiwan with its anti-secession law. Today, China seems to be going way out of its way to make a good impression on the Taiwanese people. China is suddenly playing a smart game and it all started with the visit of Taiwan's leader of the opposition last spring.
Half a year after top opposition Taiwan politicians Lien Chan and James Soong were feted in historic visits to Beijing, the ripple effects brought by promises of good will and trade appear to have penetrated more deeply than at first thought - intensifying political divisions and emotions in the young democracy.

Beijing is poised to use its meetings with opposition parties to gain unprecedented influence in Taiwan's domestic politics.

. . . The state of affairs is a striking reversal of the political mood and of edgy cross-straits relations. The pro-independence government of President Chen Shui-bian appears so off-balance, say analysts, that its once-bold plan to revise the Constitution and hold a referendum seems on hold.
China's campaign has convinced the Taiwanese people that they should not feel threatened. Taiwan is resisting US pressure to beef up its defensive capabilities.

I can't help thinking that the Taiwanese are being lured into a trap. The Chinese government recently rejected any moves towards democratization. So far, this Chinese 'perestroika' is not having the same effect as the USSR's did 20 years ago. And, there's no glasnost to go along with the perestroika - journalists are still being jailed and web sites shut down if they attempt to shed any light on government policy. I think if I were Taiwanese, I'd be wary.

Suing for libel

The Irish Times reports this morning that "[l]awyers for Julia Kushnir plan to issue proceedings against the newspapers". At least this means it will not vanish without a trace, which is what I expected to happen. (Still believe that, to be honest.)

Here's something I missed. Last week the Irish Times had a long article on "the story behind the story". A couple of interesting facts here.
Lawlor and Kushnir arrive shortly before midnight at Moscow's main airport, Sheremetyevo. A Russian developer has supplied a Mercedes and driver, Ruslan Suliamanov, to pick them up.

The big black Mercedes heads south through the clear chill air, then into the Leningradsky Shosse, a wide boulevard leading to the Kremlin. Their destination is a mile short of that, at the five-star Marriott Grand hotel, one of Moscow's smartest and also most secure. President George Bush stayed there recently.

At 12.55am, according to one report, a drunk careens on to the road, forcing the car to swerve. Its side slams into a lamppost, killing Lawlor and the driver instantly. Kushnir, in the back seat, is thrown forward and bangs her head.
First of all, in today's Irish Independent the driver, Ruslan Suliamanov, was "a highly respected CEO of a Russian company". (There's nothing about him on Google - at least using this spelling.) He was also "the husband of a dear friend of mine and while Mr Lawlor was to be dropped off at his hotel I was to stay with Mr Suliamanov in his family home". The Examiner tells us that "Ruslan Suliamanov, the driver of the car, had known Mr Lawlor from earlier business dealings". So, the "Story behind the story" was wrong too. Suliamanov was the man Lawlor was to meet in Moscow and not a driver hired by a developer.

One other curiosity is that the "Story behind the story" tells us that the accident happened around 12:55am, which doesn't tie in too neatly with the published schedule of flights from Prague to Moscow for October 22. The schedule (no longer available online) indicated that the only direct flight they could have been on was one that arrived at 1:05am.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

'I want to be left alone'

I just heard on the radio that Julia Kushnir has released a statement through her solicitor. No mention of any libel action, but she is 'disgusted' by the coverage of the death of Liam Lawlor and the references to a prostitute. Mostly, she wants to be left alone by the media. Her statement indicates that she was working for Mr. Lawlor as a translator - no mention of legal adviser - and hopes to qualify as a lawyer next year (so, she is a law student, I guess).

Well, I can understand how the media is probably annoying her. However, I do not accept that she didn't know what sort of reputation Liam Lawlor had and why the media would be interested in anyone associated with him. And, if she's worked for Lawlor regularly (which this statement doesn't claim, but has to be the case seeing as she's met Mrs. Lawlor a number of times) she may well know more than she's comfortable knowing. And, she may want the media to leave her alone, but I don't think she necessarily has an automatic right to this when there are so many questions about Lawlor that still need to be answered.

Day out

Another one of our family days away yesterday. Spent yesterday flying to London, touring around the city and flying home again late last night. Everyone's exhausted, but that's the way we like it. The weather was miserable so we opted for indoor activities. The Science Museum was the highlight. All ages are catered for, which is about as good as it gets when you're traveling with children ranging in age from 4 to 14. It was much better than I expected.

This was a make-up trip for our trip to London that we postponed in early August.

Malfeasance part of levee problems

Today's NY Times reports that one expert investigating what went wrong with the levees in New Orleans may be a result of malfeasance. Professor Raymond Seed indicated that he's been hearing from levee workers and contractors that corners were cut.

And, in a related item, rapper 50 Cent may be starting a new rapper feud, this one between himself and Kanye West.
"I think people responded to it the best way they can," 50 told ContactMusic.com. "What Kanye West was saying, I don't know where that came from." Instead, 50 said, "The New Orleans disaster was meant to happen. It was an act of God."
It's great for President Bush to have 50 Cent in his corner, but 'Fiddy' might want to revisit this position if he reads today's NY Times about what might have gone on during some of the maintenance work done on the levees. Also, he might want to pay some attention to the testimony of those who noted that FEMA's Michael Brown was not 100% focused on his job after Katrina hit.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Seeking translator

I don't know what this site is all about, but this little item is intriguing.
Hi

Perhaps someone in the business section if this site can put me in touch with a English-Russian-Czexh translator who has been recommended to be called Julia Kushnir.
I am told Ms Kushnir is based in Prague and her service has been recommended very highly.

Thanks.

Don Evans.
The Gardai or Planning Tribunal, perhaps?

Lawlor update

In truth, my obsession is past. I've hardly thought about Liam Lawlor or Julia Kushnir the past few days. The Sunday Times provided a few new facts, some of which contradict those facts we previously 'knew'. Now the story is that Kushnir was in the front seat and Lawlor in the back. The Sunday Times also tells us that the car was traveling at 120Km/h (around 70MPH) when it "smashed sideways into a lamp post". This sideways crash explains [a] why Kushnir was unhurt (the impact was on the other side of the car) and [b] why the airbags didn't inflate. Reading this article it was almost like someone was reading my questions and answering them for me.

Anyway, I think if you weren't sold at all by the official word regarding last week's crash, etc. I see little in this article that will put your suspicions to rest. This - "there were no tyre skid marks, indicating the car did not slow down before the impact" - alone will make people wonder. Was it murder? And, even if the brakes completely failed, if the driver had taken his foot off the gas pedal wouldn't that have ensured that the car would have slowed well below the 120 Km/h before impact? Wouldn't traveling sideways at that speed have left skid marks anyway?

Being Taoiseach - it's easier than you think

This was my favorite Bruton quote from the Chronicle interview. He was asked which, of all his jobs in politics, did he enjoy the most.
Oh, being prime minister, by a mile. It was a fantastic job. The economy was going very well. It wasn't an easy job, but it was a lot easier than you might think.
Maybe Bertie should take a pay cut?

"Iraq was too fast"

The EU's ambassador to the US, John Bruton, was the subject of two long interviews over the weekend. One in the Boston Globe and the other in the San Francisco Chronicle. One thing Bruton said to the Globe struck me.
Bruton said the rift on Iraq, in both its suddenness and perceived scope, was as much a function of different policy-making systems as political or ideological differences.

"Policy is made at the top in the US. The president takes a position and that's it," he said. "It takes much longer for a policy to emerge in Europe. Some EU countries supported the administration, others didn't. . . . The EU countries can reach an agreed position on most things as long as we have enough time to do it. Iraq was too fast."
What exactly is he saying here? At first I thought he was just spouting more "rush to war" stuff, but now I think this was really from his Europhile heart. Bruton believes in the EU. He'd like to see the EU take command of defense and foreign policy issues away from the national governments and that, I think, is where the "Iraq was too fast" is coming from. To Bruton the divisions within Europe and the inability to agree a single policy is evidence that the EU must have one voice on these issues.

Advocates for local government will find it this quote from Bruton ironic:
"While the EU is democratic, people don' t have the sense that they can change the government the way they can change the mayor of Boston or the mayor of Dublin," he said.
The mayor of Boston is, of course, a real executive with real authority where the Lord Mayor of Dublin is virtually powerless and elected annually by the members of the city council, who themselves are virtually powerless and are elected (generally) every 5 years.