Thursday, November 30, 2006

Kelly under pressure

Ray Kelly is the Irish America's current Irish American of the Year. I met him briefly back in March when I was in New York for the ceremonies. This week he's under pressure due to that police shooting over the weekend.

I don't really know much of what happened, but just because I met him and he seemed like a decent guy I hope this thing doesn't ruin Kelly.

Jumping to football?

It seems that drugs-banned sprinter Justin Gatlin had a workout with the Houston Texans. (And, according to the Chronicle, the Texans aren't the only ones to have given Gatlin a shot.) I guess he doesn't have what it takes to play football because the Texans said that they're not interested at this time. I'm sure that if he looked like he would be any good there'd be no qualms about the fact that he's a drugs disgrace in Track & Field.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I didn't know that. Did you?

A woman writing in this week's Sunday Independent brought something to my attention that I had never realized before. It's illegal to use your mobile phone in your car even if you're not driving at the time.

She was caught up in last week's great M50/M11 traffic nightmare and figured she'd better send a text to let her child-minder know what was happening when a member of the Gardai stopped for 'a chat'.
I took out my mobile phone to text her, and as I did, the first garda I saw coming anywhere near the scene in almost an hour and a half, drove by on a motor cycle. He didn't appear to be in any hurry. He didn't have a blue light flashing. But he was certainly being observant, because he was able to look inside my little car and detect the terrible crime I was engaged in.

Having gone past me the length of a car or two, he stopped, wheeled around and headed straight for me. I rolled down the window and he told me I was not supposed to be using a phone in the car.

I pointed out that I was not actually driving, and had not been driving for some time. In fact, the engine was turned off.

Nevertheless, he said, I should not be doing it.
Is this right? Is it illegal to use the mobile phone in your car even if the car is off? If it is then I'm frequently guilty of this violation as are all those people who I see pulled off to the side to call or text someone.

Losing out on my purchases

Has decided that sales to Ireland just aren't worth it? Twice in the past week I've gone through the shopping experience only to find when I try to pay that .there's a problem with one of the items in my order'. The problem is that they won't ship any of the items I've selected to Ireland. I wasn't trying to buy books, but music, toys and an one electronic item.

Didn't matter in the end. With a little effort I found what I wanted elsewhere.

Legalizing drugs

Legalizing drugs is not something I'd be happy to see. The consequences of making it legal to shoot up or whatever could be severe. However, I'm not sure that keeping drugs illegal doesn't have more severe consequences for society than the ban.

To an extent it's not much different than the corruption that prohibition helped foster in the US during the 1920s. Only, with drugs most of the raw material is in poor countries where drug kingpins completely hold sway. And, in Afghanistan the illegal drug trade is feeding instability and helping fund the Taliban.

Again, I'm not sure. I guess you could say I'm open to the discussion.

Sister city

Dublin is twinned with San Jose, but really if there is one American city that Dublin should be twinned with it's Seattle. You've got Microsoft's HQ and all the other tech companies in the area. And, it's often gray and rainy.

Seattle is having an unusually wet November, but despite the rainy, gray weather, Seattle's annual rainfall is not that great. 38 inches a year, which is less than Boston, New York and others. "The rain here has made its name mostly through persistence, not volume. It plays bass, not lead guitar."

That's like Dublin too. In fact, Dublin's annual rainfall is less than Seattle's, just 29 inches per year. It's never the volume, it's the frequency that can get to you.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

O Tannenbaum

You always hear people complaining about how early Christmas starts, how early the Christmas decorations go up in the stores. Implicit in those complaints is that nobody wants to see the decorations up so early. Well, one of our neighbors had their tree up by this past Wednesday and I've heard reports - from my children - of at least two other houses with trees in the window. I guess not everybody thinks Christmas comes too early.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

We Are … ND

Notre Dame plays a big game tonight against USC (Setanta Sports 1, 1am). Today's NY Times provides some insight into the financial strength of the Fighting Irish program.
The university generated $61.4 million in football revenue and spent $17.9 million, according to a 2005-6 filing under the federal Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act. During the same filing period, U.S.C. generated $27.7 million and spent almost the same amount as Notre Dame.

… Notre Dame's deal with NBC is worth $9 million a year through 2010. Ken Schanzer, the president of NBC Universal Sports, said the network's commitment to the Irish was stronger than ever. He said the team's performance on the field this season has led to a second consecutive year of strong ratings.

"There are only a few legendary sports brands, and Notre Dame is among them," Schanzer said. "When they perform well, they become more significant. Notre Dame is everyone's second alma mater, or in some cases anti-alma mater. But they are an entry point to college football for committed and casual fans."

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Lincoln says it best

Everyone references this, but still I want to do it too. Lincoln's proclamation making Thanksgiving a holiday. Here's a snippet.
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
Sojourning in foreign lands. That's me, right? Okay, so I'm on a very long sojourn.

Message for Ambassador Tom Foley

Ambassador Tom Foley - I wouldn't have said 'no' if you had invited me for dinner today. Just thought I'd let you know. For next year.

Happy Thanksgiving

Despite what I've written below, it would be a good idea to have a Thanksgiving in Ireland. I know it's not really feasible, but a break in the 12 weeks of Christmas wouldn't be a bad thing.

Happy Thanksgiving.

British Thanksgiving

The Guardian wants Britain to adopt Thanksgiving and "hand the ghastliness of the imported Halloween back to the Americans". Won't happen. You know why? Thanksgiving is strictly cultural, not commercial. Those aspects of America that daily seem to be absorbed by Britain and Ireland are those for which the bottom line is king. There's a profit motive.

Halloween has become "Americanized" simply because there's money to be made adopting the American model. Store-bought costumes (for adults too!) and loads of candy, etc. are now part of Halloween on this side of the Atlantic. This is not because British and Irish people wanted to be like Americans, but because businesses here realized there was money to be made promoting the "American" Halloween. Other than the chance to sell a few turkeys, Thanksgiving offers no such opportunity.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

How bad could it get?

Tony Blankley looks into his crystal ball and sees the future after the US pulls out of Iraq. I agree with his analysis of where it will lead.
But if, as it is hard to imagine otherwise, our departure from Iraq yields civil war, chaos, war lordism and terrorist safe havens — it is very likely that Iran will lurch in to harvest their advantages, Turkey will send in its army to stop an independent Kurdistan and Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the other Sunni states will be sucked in to fend off Shi'ite Iran's hegemony. In that nightmare maelstrom, the 20 million barrels a day of oil shipped from the Persian Gulf — and the world economy with it — will be in daily risk of being cut off.
However, I'm not certain that Iran will welcome the chaos on its borders. I think Iran is much happier with the current state of play - the US taking a pounding while it struggles to prevent all out civil war - than with what might happen if the US 'bugged out' in the morning.

At a minimum Iran would have a refugee crisis inside its borders. A worst case scenario would see Iran drawn in to defend the Shiite population and confronting Saudi, Jordanian and possibly Egyptian military forces drawn in to defend the Sunni minority. All the while, Al Qaeda will be carving out a niche for itself and Syria would either tear itself apart or be compelled to side with the Sunni defenders against Iran. Turkey might even roll in from the north.

No, I suspect Iran would be none-too-keen on an all-out civil war in Iraq. Indeed, that might be the US's best bargaining chip right now.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Russians

When I was in high school I read The Russians by Hedrick Smith. (It was assigned to us; I didn't pick that one up for casual reading believe me.) I'd love to wow you with the quality of my teenage insights, but the truth is I'm not sure I remember a single thing I read in that book.

I'd like to have another go at the book just to see if Smith even mentions Muslims in his 700 pages (or whatever). The reason I bring this up is because today's little E. European population vignette comes courtesy of the Washington Times, which forecasts a Muslim majority in Russia by 2050.
Russia's Muslim population has increased by 40 percent since 1989, to about 25 million. By 2015, Muslims will make up a majority of Russia's conscript army and by 2020 one-fifth of the population. "If nothing changes, in 30 years, people of Muslim descent will definitely outnumber ethnic Russians," Mr. Goble said.
That's incredible. In just over 8 years the majority of Russia's army will be Muslim. Will those guys fight in Chechnya? Or any other predominantly Muslim regions that opt for independence? Doubt it. What then?

No way Smith ever imagined such a rapid change was vaguely possible. I'm sure he didn't even anticipate the collapse of the USSR, but he may have seen those cracks. Yet, here we are only a generation later and we can see how Russia is being transformed.

Losing the Times

The UN Human Rights Council is in trouble when its lost the New York Times.
The council is new, but its deliberations have already fallen into a shameful pattern. When it comes to the world’s worst and most consistent human rights violators, like China, Iran, North Korea, Myanmar and Sudan, there has been a tendency to muffle words and conclusions and shift the focus from individual and political rights to broader economic and social questions.

But when it comes to criticizing Israel for violations committed in a wartime context that includes armed attacks against its citizens and soldiers, the council seems to change personality, turning harshly critical and uninterested in broader contexts.

Not you too, Terry

I like Terry Prone. This week, however, she leaves me a little cold. She's talking about Michael Moore's A Liberal's Pledge to Disheartened Conservatives. Prone describes Moore's letter as
gently-written, in stark contrast to the bulk of his previous tub-thumping rhetoric. It nonetheless manages to deliver digs and reproaches, wrapped up in positives.
She is so wrong about this as Moore's letter is nothing other than a big "Up Yours" to conservatives. {Sorry, I couldn't think of a non-crude alternative for that.}

However, that's not what bothers me about Prone's column. Prone repeats what I believe is a near universally accepted truth in Ireland - that those who are in the US military are uneducated dupes, people who are not really capable of making responsible decisions for themselves.

Referring to Moore's movie Fahrenheit 9/11 she says that it made
the point [John] Kerry recently and critically failed to make: that it’s the under-educated underclass in America who are dying in large numbers in Iraq.
Today's New York Times Editorial on Representative Rangel's proposal to reinstate the draft explains that
the volunteer force in Iraq has been a truer cross section of America than the force created under the last draft, which ended in 1973, before the end of the Vietnam War.
In fact, those in the military are not that much different than the average for all people of the relevant age across America.
The slight dif­ferences are that wartime U.S. mil­itary enlistees are better educated, wealthier, and more rural on aver­age than their civilian peers.

Recruits have a higher percent­age of high school graduates and representation from Southern and rural areas. No evidence indicates exploitation of racial minorities (either by race or by race-weighted ZIP code areas). Finally, the distri­bution of household income of recruits is noticeably higher than that of the entire youth population.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Polish migration

The New York Times continues its investigation of E. European migration. This time it's the Poles. Poland is suffering severe shortages in labor thanks to the fact that over 800,000 people have left the country the past two years.
The exodus is believed to be one of the largest migrations by Europeans since the 1950s [should be 1850s - IE], when a wave of Irish crossed the Atlantic to escape poverty.

But in Poland, this huge movement of people has created a labor shortage so severe that the government may not be able to spend the money that is due to begin arriving in January from the European Union for projects like improving roads and the water supply.

"We have a fantastic opportunity to improve our infrastructure because we are due to receive billions of euros starting in 2007," said Bartlomiej Sosna, a construction analyst at the consultant group PMR in Krakow. "But how?"
So, what to do? Should the EU maybe reconsider sending all that money to Poland? I can't see the EU doing anything that will encourage those Poles who've left to move home.

The EU could encourage Poland to open its borders to hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Ukraine (a large Polish population), Russians and other non-EU E. Europeans. But, if Poland opens its borders to all those young, skilled Ukrainians, etc. where will Ukraine get people to replace those? Ukraine's population is already falling at a rate of .6% per annum. How many more young, skilled people can Ukraine afford to lose?

Murdering black pudding

Remember last month when I declared that I enjoy black pudding. I didn't think that was too odd a position until I read this:
Black pudding is about as carnivorous as it gets - fresh pig's blood and ox intestines go into a Lancashire speciality which was narrowly edged out by tripe and jellied eels in a recent survey of the dishes which the British find least palatable.
That simply cannot be true? How could people dislike black pudding so much that it's even included in the same sentence as jellied eels and tripe? Those people included in that survey don't know what they're talking about.

So, now we have a vegetarian version of black pudding. This is more palatable?
The Real Lancashire company's owner, Andrew Holt, explains how he substituted the meaty elements - blood, fat and ox intestines - of the pudding. We tried to make a liquid which would simulate the properties of blood and get the right colour as well. We used beetroot and caramel for the colouring, with GM-free whey and soya powders for the protein.
It definitely is NOT.

It me

I get the whole spam motivation. Basically, spammers are trying to seduce you with their promises of, well, money and women I guess. Seduce isn't the right word, however. There's really no subtlety, no seduction. It's a continuous bombardment in the hope of finding that one little weakness - it might be just a moment - when something in the look or the language just catches you wrong and you follow the malevolent instructions.

So, this is what I don't get. If you're involved in spamming as your life's work, shouldn't you at least try to ensure that you're using English either correctly or as it's spoken? For the past week I've been inundated with messages (over 300 a day) that have as their subject "It me {a name}". "It me?" Does anyone say this? Is there really even the vaguest possibility that any English-speaker anywhere would take such an e-mail seriously?

I know I should be grateful that they've made it so easy for me to filter out these messages, but the gross stupidity of that subject line is really annoying me.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


France last used the guillotine in 1977. I wouldn't have imagined that they were still using it until so recent a date. Interesting tidbit (& photograph from 1929) from this article about the differences in opinion between Eastern and Western Europeans on the issue of the death penalty.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Ireland is "strange"

I love this quote from a Bulgarian woman living in Ireland in an article in today's Washington Times .
"It is very strange, is it not?" said Chris, who spoke only on the condition that her real name not be used. "In most countries in the world, the men chase the women, but in Ireland it is the women who chase the men."
I think I'll just leave it at that for fear of getting in some serious trouble.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


I'm not sure they're great works of literature, but I enjoy the historical novels that have come from the Shaara family. Michael, the father, was a better writer than his son Jeffrey, but I read his books. I just finished reading Michael Shaara's Killer Angels. Before that I read Jeffrey's Gods and Generals and now I'll probably read Jeffrey's The Last Full Measure, which rounds out the "trilogy". {It's a little odd that Jeffrey decided to write a prequel & sequel to his father's novel, isn't it?}

Killer Angels won a Pulitzer, but to be honest I don't see a huge difference in quality between that book and all those written by Jeffrey. None of them is great literature, but if you're too lazy to read a history book you'll get something of what motivated those who fought on both sides of the American Civil War (War of Northern Aggression, anyone?).

Like I said, not great literature. Everyone is ridiculously noble and if you like your characters well-rounded, forget about it. But, so what? I think the books are enjoyable, which really is all that matters.

{I'm taking a break from Wagons West - about life on the Wagon Trails in the 1840s - because the book is just too damn dull. I expect I'll finish it before Christmas, but there is simply way too much detail here. You'd have to be a fanatical wagon trail enthusiast to enjoy this one.}

I don't want to be in the Dáil

A few minutes ago I happened to see a television showing today's (I think) proceedings from the Dáil. I have no idea why that was on that television, maybe whoever had it on just forgot to take it off when Knot's Landing finished. God knows.

Anyway, a tall, pleasant-looking white-haired man was speaking. I have no idea who he is or what he was saying, but just listening to his cadence and his droning voice made me glad I'm not an elected representative. Then his mobile phone started ringing and all us viewers were treated to that buzzing noise you sometimes get when your cell phone rings near the car radio or while you're already on a different phone. Simply television at its finest.

Russian invasion

According to today's New York Times, Russians are coming over the border to take jobs in Latvia that are being left undone thanks to the thousands of Latvians who have moved west since the country joined the EU. (These people are ignoring the "Don't go to Ireland; we need you" ads the Latvian government is running.)

I find this all very interesting. Latvians are uneasy because there is a large Russian minority (nearly 30% of the population) in the country left behind when the USSR collapsed and the Latvian government has been doing all it can to force these Russians to "become" Latvians. The last thing the government and many Latvians want are more Russians in the country.

Yet, the economy is doing well and employers need workers. So, you have illegal immigrants coming from Russia & Belarus. The numbers don't seem to be too large now, but that could change.

What happens if the Latvian economy really takes off over the next few years? Sure, Latvians may stop coming to Ireland, but a quick look at the demographics of Latvia indicates that they will need immigrants even if their young people stop 'going to Ireland'. It seems inevitable that most of those immigrants will be Russian-speakers, but this could cause a lot of strain in Latvia.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Do as I say, not as I do

Cardinal Martino of the Vatican says that the US proposal to build a fence along the Mexican border is "inhumane". I wish I could understand why someone building a fence around their property is "inhumane".

I know it's obvious and many have said this already, but doesn't the Vatican have a fence (okay - a wall) around it? I live in a country where every single single small garden is surrounded by a fence or a wall. Are all these landowners behaving inhumanely? Nearly all Church properties are surrounded by walls or fences. If fences and walls are inhumane shouldn't the Church start with its own properties before criticizing others?

And, what exactly is "inhumane" about a fence along the border anyway. I can understand the arguments that say such a fence will be ineffective or is unnecessary, but "inhumane"? That makes no sense to me. If a fence is "inhumane" then surely so are border guards and immigration officials. Those people are supposed to protect the border from unwanted intrusions, which is what the fence is supposed to do.

I've been trying to figure out what's going on here because this is one of the more bizarre interventions from the Vatican. Does the Cardinal believe that those who break the law (illegal immigrants) have a right to do so? If yes, I think that conflicts with the catechism's teachings on authority and the "rule of law". If not, what's his problem? The US is not closing off legitimate cross-border traffic with the proposed fence. The US is not preventing people from leaving the country (unlike the Berlin Wall which he references). There is no question that the fence will be entirely within the borders of the United States (as recognized by both Mexico and the Vatican). So, again, what's his problem?

We (don't) apologize for the break in service …

The News Letter just does not treat its web site well. Its web site has not been updated since November 3. This is not the first time they've given their web site some time off.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Embasssy upgrade

Well, color me surprised. I had to go back to the embassy today for another child's passport. Okay, the security is still really annoying, but I couldn't get over how friendly every single person was. Cheerful, even. Is it possible that the American government has been asking embassy staff to be more upbeat, helpful and considerate? And, the whole process was quick too. If it wasn't for the $82 I might have even enjoyed it.

If there's one thing about spending a few minutes in the embassy that I like, it's the selection of magazines. I found one from the Civil War Preservation Trust with a nice article about Fighting Tom Sweeney from Dunmanaway, Co. Cork. There was also a magazine there called Latin Mass. Not sure why it was there, but it was. Thanks to the efficiency of the embassy staff, I didn't have time to check it out.


The colors in the trees this year are great. I don't remember ever seeing so many bright colorful leaves here before. Must be all that dry, warm weather we had this summer and fall. Usually the leaves turn a sickly yellow before being blown off the trees after a day or two.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The fountain pen of wisdom

Yesterday I read about a school in Edinburgh that still insists that its students use fountain pens. (I know of one school here that does the same.) Bryan Lewis is the school's head and he says:
Learning to write in fountain pen not only results in beautiful presentation but also has the not insignificant bonus of developing children’s self-esteem.
I'm not too sure that a fountain pen boosts a child's self-esteem in a way that a ball-point pen wouldn't. Lewis sees the decline in hand-writing as just another manifestation of the decline in education.
Lewis believes handwriting is just one of the skills that has suffered as a result of the "progressive" teaching approach introduced in the 1970s.

"Modern teaching methods overwhelmed the curriculum in the late 1970s and early 1980s," he said. "They proved to be no more than an excuse for the lowering of standards of basic literacy and numeracy under the guise of freedom of expression.

"From that time generations of children were no longer taught to write properly, to recognise the importance of spelling, to read with expression and understanding and to master numbers."

Lewis claims that Scotland's school children are "reaping the whirlwind" of the liberal education ethos.
I don't buy it. I'm willing to go along with him on grammar, spelling and reading skills, but hand-writing isn't in the same league. I'll grant him that's a good discipline, but not necessarily related to the use of correct spelling and good grammar. So long as a kid masters basic legibility that's all that should matter. Everything else is demanding for the sake of being demanding.

US elections - good for us / bad for us

Yesterday's Sunday Business Post editorial made a small attempt at sobering up its Irish readers after Tuesday's euphoria.
Whatever about Bush’s discomfort, there are dangers for Ireland in last week’s results. Specifically, there is now a grave danger of an outbreak of economic protectionism in the United States. Many Democrats campaigned with an old-fashioned economic populism that may work well on the stump, but is not a tool for government in the age of globalisation.

One of the Democrats’ champions, Sherrod Brown of Ohio (a key swing state in presidential elections), has even written a book entitled Myths of Free Trade: Why American Trade Policy Has Failed. So the mood in the new Democrat-controlled congress will be worth watching.

This country has reaped enormous benefits from freer global trade (and from the visionary leadership of Bill Clinton in this regard) and from smart domestic taxation policies that have made it very attractive for American firms to do business here.

Free trade and American investment have brought hundreds of thousands of jobs to Ireland, lifted us out of poverty and brought us wealth undreamed of a generation ago. Gratifying and all as it is to see Bush’s nose tweaked, let us hope that the newly-empowered Democrats do not turn their backs on the free trade policies that he inherited and continued.
The Business Post should take some time to lecture Irish farmers and food processors. From today's Irish Examiner:
The success of the Democratic Party in taking control of both houses of the US is being seen as good short term news for food processing and farming in Ireland.

It is likely to further delay any world trade agreement which both sectors fear would include radical cuts in farm supports.

Stalled talks on a new agreement were expected to be revived in the aftermath of the US mid-term elections, having collapsed in Geneva last July over the crucial issue of agricultural subsidies.

Abacab redux

Maybe it's just me, but I honestly have trouble thinking of more than one person who I knew who was a BIG Genesis fan. I mean, really, aren't their songs just the background noise you remember hearing on those radio stations you turned off in a hurry?

I thought that Genesis's success in the 80's was just … I don't know … inexplicable. I just can't imagine 60,000 people packing a stadium to hear No Reply At All, Misunderstanding, and Invisible Touch again.

They're calling it the "Turn It On Again" tour. Is this really necessary?

Sunday, November 12, 2006


I drove through a Garda checkpoint yesterday. Nothing too unusual about that. I've been through far too many in the past. Usually they're checking for up-to-date tax and insurance. A couple of times during the summer of 2005 I was stopped on the M50 by armed police who were clearly trying to do something about the spate of kidnappings at the time. (Probably have to do something like that again).

Yesterday, was different. Most of us drivers were simply waved through, but the Gardaí had about 7 or 8 cars pulled over. Every single car had license plates from another EU state. Is there a crackdown on all those E. European cars that are on the roads here?

It's pretty obvious that most of those who own E. European-registered cars are not just visiting, which means they should be taxing and insuring those cars here. Taxing and insuring those cars in Ireland will make them a much less attractive proposition.

I don't have a problem with this as it does seem that E. Europeans are involved in a disproportionate number of fatal crashes here. In fact, it's not far from what I wanted done back in May.

Kerr for the US job

I was watching Brian Kerr on Tubridy Tonight last night and the thought occurred to me that the US Soccer Federation should make him the national team's manager. I don't know that Kerr is a great manager, but he is a character. I can actually imagine him getting a lot air time on sports programs, etc. because he's such a great interview. He would certainly help US Soccer in the PR department.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

For your listening pleasure today …

Johnnie, get your gun,
Get your gun, get your gun,
Take it on the run,
On the run, on the run.
Hear them calling, you and me,
Every son of liberty.
Hurry right away,
No delay, go today,
Make your daddy glad
To have had such a lad.
Tell your sweetheart not to pine,
To be proud her boy's in line.

Over there …
A great collection of music from World War I. Simply fantastic stuff. You can listen to the songs on recordings that date from the war itself. Nora Bayes, John McCormack, Eddie Cantor and many others. This is the kind of web page that makes the internet so great.

And, from NPR, a short snippet on the fourteen living American WWI vets. The youngest is 106 years old.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Not vengence, justice

Iraq's National Security Advisor, in Belfast on a fact-finding mission, gave a sharp "back off" to those who want Saddam spared from the death penalty.
Dr Mowaffak also hit out strongly at those who have disagreed with the death sentence on Saddam.

He said: "These people are interfering with justice in Iraq. This is not about retaliation or revenge. This is about implementing justice. It was an Iraqi trial on an Iraqi accused, applying our law. This is not American or British or European law. It is Iraqi law."

Dr Mowaffak also said that it was not "an eye for an eye.

"This is an eye for millions of eyes," he said.
I don't know. I guess I figured nobody would actually try to lecture the Iraqis on this one.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


I'm sort of surprised that the media here has not really mentioned the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger won easy reelection last night. Arnold's not my type of Republican, but it looks like he's a pretty good politician.

Beyond the pale in Tipperary

Tipperary Councillor Michael Fitzgerald has uttered words so reprehensible, so utterly fantastic that all right-thinking people are condemning him, practically calling for his head. But, are the right-thinking people right?

Councillor Fitzgerald essentially suggested that a seasoned drinker in a rural area could drive safely after 3 or 4 pints. He claimed that young 'boy racers' are the real threat on the roads, not old guys having a few drinks in the local.

To be honest, I'd never drive after 3 or 4 pints. In fact, these days I'm wary of driving after half a pint, but I would like to know if there are any facts that might support Councillor Fitzgerald. I've often thought to myself that people should be held responsible for how they drive, not necessarily whether they've been drinking. At the same time, I've seen a lot of stupid behavior by drinkers - all ages - so I'm not really opposed to the drunk driving laws.

Mid term fall out

First of all, I'm mildly disappointed by last night's results, but it doesn't hurt the way what happened on Oct 19 hurt.

It will be interesting to see what effect yesterday's vote has on Iraq and foreign policy generally. I suspect it will be a lot less substantial than people like Joe Higgins are hoping. My sense is that those Democrats who have 2008 Presidential ambitions will not be loudly proclaiming defeat by urging withdrawal, but rather they will want to push the White House towards a winning strategy.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Gas prices

Well, no, I didn't mean what I'm paying at the pump, although I have to admit it's nice to see prices of unleaded below the €1 per liter mark. Keep it coming down. We need to warm the Earth even more because …

The price of natural gas has exploded. I know it was in the news a while back, but it's when you get your own bill you really see it. What was 2.994c per KWh (.26c per m³) is now 4.005c per KWh (.35c per m³). That's a 33.4% increase - Yikes. {Oops - it's a 33.8% increase.)

{Memo to children: prepare to don another sweater because when winter finally hits it will be cool in the house. As for showering, let's cut back on that too.}

Election coverage

It simply amazes me how much coverage the mid-term elections are getting on this side of the Atlantic. I can't believe people care that much, but if that's what the print, radio and television news people want to focus on that's fine with me. I enjoy it. It just seems that Americans don't care that much if you consider that about half of the eligible voters won't bother voting today.

The Clash in Taiwan

The editorial in today's Taipei Times provides a clue as to the editor's favorite Clash song. President Chen is under pressure due to a corruption scandal. The headline on the editorial? "Should he stay or should he go now?"

Monday, November 06, 2006

There is a downside to global warming you know

That's right. I know, I'm a spoilsport, but as we enjoy another ridiculously warm and sunny November day I want you to understand that there is a price to pay for all this. Yes, the grass has to be cut in November.

This weekend when I should have been holed up in my living room watching miserable sports fans on t.v. and miserable passing pedestrians wrapped up against the rain, wind and cold all I could see were people in tee shirts and the occasional light cardigan. What fun is there in that? And, to top it off, I had to cut the grass in November. Dreadful.

Note to Tesco

For the mathematically challenged at my local Tesco, going to great lengths to let me know that you've reduced prices by a fraction of a cent is not a winner with me. All sorts of fruit & vegetable packages have stickers noting that you "save .50c" or "save .40c". Yippee.

Not the New York I know

One small part from a long article by SDLP councillor Martin Morgan caught my eye.
No one street in most parts of New York is the exclusive reserve of any one group and no single shop has only one colour or nationality of person working or shopping in it.
Okay, I don't live in New York these days, but I figure there are still ethnic neighborhoods in New York. And, I have to imagine that there are still all sorts of retail businesses that are pretty much the exclusive domain of one group/nationality.

… hang by the neck until dead

Saddam has been found guilty and sentenced to death. According to today's Irish Independent, Europeans have "reacted with deep unease" to the sentence. What are they uneasy about? Are they afraid that the wrong man will be executed? Or is it that they think hanging is too good for Saddam and that they'd prefer a ritual disemboweling or maybe drawing and quartering? And, which Europeans are opposed to Saddam's hanging? I doubt they're Romanians or Bosnians or any of those who know what it is to live under a tyrannical regime.
"This is very far from our ethics and the political tradition of this country, no matter how cruel the crime is," said Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi.
Far from the political tradition of Italy? Yeah, I guess, if 61 years defines "far". I wonder what Prodi thinks about the treatment Mussolini received in April 1945?

Saddam should have been executed long ago. I don't think anything positive has come from the long, drawn-out trial.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


I never realized until today that a child saying "eeeuww" was adopting an Americanism. Not everyone is happy about the Americanization of Halloween here.
Peanuts are out, it seems, as are apples, walnuts, hazelnuts and any other fruits of the autumn season. We searched their bags again, but could find nothing that had ever been alive. When these youngsters call at the neighbouring doors, they don't say, "any apples or nuts?" as we used to when we were nippers. They prefer the American catchcry of "trick or treat?".

They have also adopted the American custom of lighting their house up like Wembley Stadium and disembowelling pumpkins with murderous energy.
Lighting the house was not a Halloween custom when I was a kid, but I guess it may have become one over the past 20+ years. Clearly, many people here taken to it with gusto.

SF violence

I heard on the radio the other day that Halloween night was very violent in San Francisco. What did they expect considering that this was the first Halloween since the Charmed Ones retired?

Friday, November 03, 2006

October has come and gone

Julia Kushnir's lawyers must not have been able to act as quickly as they'd hoped. In June we were told that they "hoped to get an early hearing for the cases in the High Court, possibly as soon as next October". November now and I haven't seen anything about this in any Irish newspaper, so I'm guessing nothing has happened so far.

It's now more than a year since Liam Lawlor died and still nobody (from the press) has had a face-to-face interview with the only survivor of the car crash that killed him. I can't believe I'm the only one who thinks she might have some interesting details to offer on Mr. Lawlor.

'Because I'm worth it'

"I think the salary is sufficient for the job we do. We wouldn't be paid more than a carpenter or electrician". The salary is "sufficient" as far as Noel Dempsey is concerned. I guess he doesn't feel that our public representatives are underpaid at more than €100,000 per annum.
The average basic wage for a TD reached exactly €100,000 this year, and next year it goes up to €103,500. The Dail will only sit for 97 days this year – though that is five more than last year. If that sitting ratio continues in 2007, TDs will pick up €1,070 per sitting day.
Uggh. And, sometime in the not-too-distant-future we'll read/hear one of our 'sufficiently-salaried' TD's moan about the hours they work, etc. What I especially love is how they go on and on about how it's "out of our hands" meaning that it's an All-party decision to overpay our representatives.

(Pardon me now while I go scream in a sound-proofed room.)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

South Africa's mortality rate

Sorry, I just realized I left that South Africa reference hanging there below. The reason I brought that up is because the mortality rate in S. Africa in 1991 was 8/1000 and now it's 22/1000. In 1991 births outnumbered deaths by 4.25:1. Today deaths outnumber births 1.22:1. What a tragedy.

I still believe dismantling the Apartheid regime was the right thing to do, but if post-Saddam Iraq is a failure after 3.5 years, then what about post-Apartheid S. Africa after twelve years?

On Iraq

I have more to say about Iraq than the posts about the Johns Hopkins studies. I just love playing with numbers.

I actually don't think that even if that study is completely debunked that changes the fact that (a) Iraq is a mess and (b) the Bush administration must change what it's doing. More later.

Birth & death rates

One other thing about those Johns Hopkins figures. In 2002 the CIA estimated Iraq's population at 24m (July '02). Today the CIA estimates that Iraq's population at 26.7m (July '06). If the Hopkins figures are an accurate representation of the Iraqi population (1474 births, 629 deaths, 12801 people over 4.5 years), then the overall population growth should have been around 1.4m (total population 25.4m), which would leave Iraq's population well below the CIA's July '06 estimate of 26.7m. Even stranger is the Hopkins study includes an estimate of 26.1m (not sure as of when) for the total population, which is well above where projections using their statistics should have had it.

{Please check my figures. I could have missed something as I've sort of rushed these calculations.)

Mortality rates

I was thinking about the "mortality rate" statistic that was used by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health for their examination of Iraqi death rates. The mortality rate is simply the number of deaths per thousand people in a given society.

Perhaps the most curious aspect of the Johns Hopkins study is that the pre-war mortality rate in Iraq was 5.5 deaths per thousand, which is also the CIA's pre-war estimate. What makes that estimate so hard to grasp is that before the war we heard so much about how Iraq's civilian population was suffering thanks to the sanctions regime. Yet, a death rate of 5.5/1000 is significantly lower than the mortality rates of the United States (8/1000), Ireland (8/1000), the UK (10/1000), or Germany (10/1000). It seems odd that Iraq's death rate would be so much lower than that which prevails in W. Europe or the US, but the population structure has a big effect on mortality rates and 'the west' is a lot older than Iraq (and the rest of the Middle East).

Anyway, the Hopkins information is based on Iraqi government statistics, which are also the source of the CIA's numbers. However, the current Iraqi government statistics (& CIA) figures estimate the death rate in Iraq at around 5.4/1000, while the Hopkins study puts the rate at 13.3/1000. Obviously, one of them must be wrong.

Another curiosity is that the Hopkins study "recorded 1,474 births and 629 deaths among 12,801 people surveyed". That gives a ratio of 2.34 births for every death. The CIA ratio for 2006 is just 5.995 births for every death (the CIA's estimate for the ratio in 2000 was 5.475). Another substantial discrepancy.

By the way, South Africa's mortality rate is 22/1000 (same as in 2000), which is far worse than the Hopkins estimate for Iraq.

Latin players & positive tests

The NY Times article about Mota's positive test informs us that Latin players are more likely to test positive.
Mota fits the profile of players suspended in 2006. Of the 39 who tested positive this season, 26 were from Latin America. Breaking down the 39 suspensions by position, 26 of the players were pitchers. Mota joins the Mets' Yusaku Iriki and Jason Grimsley, who had been released by Arizona when he was suspended, as major leaguers penalized since the punishment for first-time violators increased to 50 games from 10.

The number of positive tests has plummeted since last season, a sign that the tougher rules are deterring players from taking performance-enhancing drugs. In 2005, 93 players, including 12 in the majors, violated the policy. Of those 93 players, 44 were from Latin America. Broken down by position, 46 of the 93 violators were pitchers.
I wonder if these sorts of statistics could be used by the government to tighten the rules regarding visas for ballplayers from Latin America. It could be argued that these ballplayers are taking jobs that could (would) otherwise by done by Americans.

Positive test

I know I said that this post would be the last time I mentioned the Mets for months, but yesterday's news that the Mets' Guillermo Mota has failed a drugs test changed my mind. At the time the Mets acquired Mota (Aug. 20) they were already 14 games clear of the field and cruising to the post-season. Nothing Mota did in the final six weeks changed the final standings.

However, he was an instrumental member of the team during the playoffs. He wasn't outstanding by any measure, but he did get some key outs. If the Mets had actually gone on to win it all, I can't help thinking that their title would have been tainted by Mota's positive test. I'm sure most Met fans would not agree with me, but I'm kind of relieved that the Mets didn't win the World Series this year.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The new Halloween

I can't get over the effort people are making for Halloween these days. I've been going door-to-door for twelve years now. When I first started making my rounds, people were generally handing out a mixture of apples, nuts and sweets. Nowadays, very few people hand out nuts or fruit. Kids don't want it, so most people give out little chocolate bars and other little candies, which is what we got when I was a kid in New York.

The treats aren't the only change. Loads of folks are going to great effort to decorate their houses, some even add sound effects. Many adults are wearing costumes too, whether they're trailing along after the little tricksters or manning the fort. Back when I first started going around with my oldest, I felt like something of a pioneer - an adult who had participated in the 'new' Halloween as it was in Ireland at the time. Now I'm the stick in the mud who spurns the costumed look and insists on wearing a coat and sensible shoes.