Monday, December 24, 2007

… sing in exultation

The only time I sing at Mass is Christmas. I can't help myself and let loose even though I know I'm no where near being in tune or even in time. I was a little more restrained tonight, but, still, sorry to those who were sitting in front of me.

Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

No lights at Wal-mart

I won't be able to buy my incandescent bulbs at Wal-mart for long after they're banned here. I see in this morning's NY Times that incandescent bulbs are to be outlawed in America from 2012.

I just don't understand why incandescent bulbs have to banned? If fluorescent bulbs are a better buy, then all you have to do is convince the consumer and he'll respond accordingly. There's no need for the law to get involved unless this is not actually true.

One other thing that interests me is whether I'll be able to find bulbs for those fixtures that require something a little different than the standard shaped light bulb. I'm not unwilling to give the low energy bulbs a go, but I'd like to be sure I'm not going to be left without a choice - especially if low energy replacements are not available for all fixtures by 2009.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Live from Newgrange

I'm not sure how exciting this is, but I'll probably take some time to watch the web cast of the solstice from Newgrange this morning (starts at 8:30). The forecast is good for both today and tomorrow, when you can catch the 'light show' again.

UPDATE 8:20: Now it looks like the Heritage Ireland web site is down. Too much demand for their site even though the good stuff doesn't start for another 10 minutes?

UPDATE 8:37: Okay, I have the stream running now. So far, not bad.

UPDATE 9:55: Well I have to say it was better than I expected. The weather was perfect and the sun rise spectacular (allowing for web cast quality). The commentary was a little livelier than I anticipated and not excessively gushy.

Some of the discussion on the change in the Earth's tilt over the past 5,000 years was good. And the periods of silence were welcome too. Overall, it was more distracting than was probably good for my productivity.

Near the end of the commentary they said that the video would be archived and available on the web site for the next year. You can also catch it again tomorrow, live, from 8:30GMT.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

George won't like this

I'm not much of a fashion watcher, but I've noticed that there are a few more Boston Red Sox caps around Dublin lately and fewer Yankee caps.

I don't think this is a direct result of the Red Sox success this decade when compared with the Yankees, but possibly an indication that certain Hollywood or pop music types are more frequently seen in the Red Sox B than in the Yankees' NY.

I just hope that this little tidbit will find its way into George Steinbrenner's Christmas stocking.

Playground ahead - you're not welcome

I don't like this decision one bit. Nope, this one stinks.

According to today's Irish Independent, lone adults will not be allowed into children's play areas. Barring lone adults from playgrounds is so severe and draconian that I can't imagine how such a regulation came about in the first place. It takes no account of any possible motives for going into a playground other than those that are malign.

The other day I brought my son to school. As I was looking around the schoolyard I was thinking to myself that everyone should take time to spend a few minutes in a schoolyard before school. So much mayhem, so much noise, so much life. I just love being there.

I often stop for a minute when I'm walking by a playground just to watch the fun. What's not to like? And, I'd like to think that when my children are too old for such places that I could still go and watch the fun for a few minutes. Now that seems unlikely.

Now every lonely grandfather or childless woman who'd like to sit in the playground for a few minutes is a potential pedophile or child abductor. They're banned and to be viewed suspiciously. This is heartless and only further stigmatizes people – "Know your place old man".

What sort of society are we building?

Fast forward to the end

I don't even know if the post I wrote about the water charges issue was before or after the Taoiseach hit the fast forward button and announced the cave in, but at least sense prevailed before this got any more (mostly unwarranted) attention.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The EU's Water Framework Directive

Why is the EU involved in Ireland's water usage anyway? This goes back to the EU Water Framework Directive, which mostly deals with water pollution. Even if I concede the EU has a role in tackling water pollution in Ireland (and I don't, really), what business is it of the EU's whether Ireland wastes drinking water or not? What business is it of the EU's if local individuals, businesses, government bodies, schools, whatever have to pay for water or not?

The Water Framework Directive does have a section that deals with droughts and water scarcity. Now, this may be an issue in some areas of the EU, but it's not an issue here. We have water to burn, so to speak.

It may or may not be in Ireland's interest to meter water usage and charge accordingly, but why should the EU have any role in this discussion? Is the EU planning to pipe Irish drinking water to Spain or other parched regions of the EU?

This is one of the primary reasons I'm not keen on further European integration. What integration really means is increasing attempts at the centralization of control over aspects of our lives that should be local or national.

What if they don't pay?

I can't take this whole water charges thing seriously. I mean, what we're talking about is one part of the centrally funded state - local authorities - getting paid by another part of the centrally funded state - schools. Ultimately, the payer and the payee are one and the same.

What would happen if the schools simply said they weren't going to pay? I'm sure the dispute could go along a number of alternate routes, but eventually we'd end up with closed schools and then what? Then you have VERY ANGRY parents and a protesting teacher's union or two and right after that you have a government cave-in. So, why don't we just fast forward to the end right now.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The (new) Mitchell Report

George Mitchell (yes, that same George Mitchell) released his long, long, long awaited report on "the Illegal Use of
steroids and other Performance Enhancing Substances" in baseball yesterday. It's a pretty big story in America and there are some big names in the report.

However, as far as I'm concerned it's all a bit of a damp squib. There aren't that many surprises here. There's no name that shouts out at me or had me saying, "Wow! Him too"? Mitchell admits that this is by no means a complete list, but it's what he has to offer today.

I actually don't think there's a whole lotta value in this list, but if it gets baseball to move to an even higher level in its efforts to root out this sort of cheating then at least it will have been beneficial. That Commissioner Bud Selig seems energized by the report is positive. If he had been mostly defensive that would have meant that nothing was really going to change.
On Thursday, the man who sought that outside investigation against the advice of his confidants appeared saddened, proud and perhaps most strangely, invigorated.

… It was as if the kindly old relative we all knew for decades stood up during Thanksgiving dinner and announced that he never did like turkey and was leading a revolt to cook a ham next year. Selig would not even refer to the day as disappointing.
I think it's a good thing that Selig is more interested in the future than the past. There's nothing to be gained by worrying about what's gone before. Just fix it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Road to Bali

How am I supposed to take seriously that the government - especially our Minister for the Environment - wants us to curtail our use of carbon when he and 13 others from his office and the Dáil have flown all the way to Bali for the big climate change shindig. Oh, but they're buying offsets.

So, not only do they waste the taxpayers money to attend this nonsense, but they also then waste more of OUR money assuaging THEIR guilt. Why Bali? Why couldn't they have had a conference in Brussels with teleconferencing facilities so that people wouldn't have to fly half way around the world to attend?

And, if carbon offsets are acceptable, why can't I plant a few trees in Borneo (or wherever) and go on using my incandescent bulbs?

Demand for bibles

The world's biggest producer of bibles has to move to a new home in order to expand production to meet rising demand, most of it in the home market. The company is Amity Printing and the new home is in Nanjing in China where demand for the bible is "soaring".
A country where the Communist ideology has lost much credibility is seeing an upsurge in conversions to Christianity. Li Baiguang, a prominent lawyer and Christian activist who was received by President Bush at the White House last year, said: "Rising wealth means that more and more people have been able to meet their material needs, the need for food and clothing.

"Then they are finding that they need to satisfy their spiritual needs, to look for happiness for the soul. In addition, they are seeing a breakdown in the moral order as money takes over. Thus, more and more people are turning to Christianity."

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Stopping climate chaos

This is a protest I can support. The organizers of today's march call themselves Stop Climate Chaos. If they can stop the sort of chaotic weather we're having today, I'm all in favor.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Time to stock pile light bulbs?

The Minister for the Environment announced that he plans to ban incandescent light bulbs starting January 1, 2009. First of all, this is what we get with our Green Party Minister. He even went beyond what Greenpeace wanted. They were looking for a ban starting in 2010, but Minister Gormley decided that the Irish people want to be 40 shades of green greener than Greenpeace.

If you come here often enough you know I hate this. My initial reaction was, "Will it be illegal to sell such bulbs or to use them"? In other words, can I bring back incandescent bulbs by the trunk-load every time I head north or even fly to America? Also, Minister, don't try and tell me how much money I'm going to save on my electric bill when we all KNOW that the low energy bulbs cost a fortune.

And, beyond the price issue, my impression of the light they produce is not good. Maybe the technology has improved, but if we're basically going to be stuck with fluorescent lighting then I'm definitely going to look for a way around this ban. Also, aren't there a lot of light fixtures for which there are no low energy alternatives?

What I don't understand is why the Minister is banning incandescent bulbs because they use too much energy, but not other energy hogs. Why not ban hair dryers or clothes dryers or irons or dishwashers (could at least ban dishwashers' dryer cycles). Each of those appliances has a low energy replacement (basically they are air, air, wrinkles and elbow grease).

I hate this because it stinks of old style, Stalinist, command-economy government. I'd prefer to wear wrinkled shirts than read in poor light. I want to choose, but the Minister has decided that the people are the enemy and they must be brought to heel.

Retail therapy

Recently I had to, HAD TO, go shopping for clothes. I absolutely loathe shopping. I dread the prospect and detest the reality. It is by no means "therapeutic".

So, when the young guy handling my purchase asked me if I was "enjoying a little retail therapy" I was dumbfounded. Couldn't he see I had a face like thunder? Did he really think I was enjoying myself? Do men ever "enjoy retail therapy" in a clothes store? And, mostly, even if the answer to the previous question is "Yes" is it the type of thing you say to another man?

It was one of those moments when I realize that I'm really out of touch.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Divorce, separation and kidnapping

It was just a small note in an article in last week's London Times, but still I was kind of surprised. The article was about the increasing frequency of 'international' marriages breaking down and one spouse taking the children 'home' (or not, but to another country).

Obviously, the article was mostly about the experiences of Britons in these cases.
As travel becomes easier and cheaper, as employees move around the world with multinational companies, the number of international marriages – and divorces – grows. The influx of Polish workers coming to work in Britain has also helped to fuel the number of abduction cases here. When one partner wants to return home to Poland and takes the children, the matter often ends up before a judge. The highest level of child abduction/return is between the US and Ireland, because of the number of marriages between Irish and American people. The problem is so pronounced that the two countries have a child abduction pact.
Can it possibly be true that there are that many marriages where one spouse is Irish and one American? I don't think so. There's something else going on if the "highest level of child abduction/return" is really between Ireland and America.

Friday, November 30, 2007

99 barrels of beer in the haul

Actually, it was 450. Guinness was robbed of 450 barrels of beer yesterday. I know it's thieving and it's wrong, but still I find it hard to not to chuckle at the boldness of it all. Some guy just drives up in his truck, hooks up a trailer and drives off with all that beer.

Maybe this is the start of a new, daring, illegal temperance movement and he and his cohort have emptied the barrels down the drain.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

'White gold, Tipperary tea' ...

White is the new black. Or, according to the Irish Examiner, "milk is the new oil". The price farmers are getting for milk has risen by 30% in the past year. More shockingly, there's this.
Optimism among dairy farmers and those in the industry is being driven by a welcome increase in market returns for dairy products.
Optimism? Among farmers? Is that even allowed? I thought it was written into the contract that when you become a farmer you must never forget to moan incessantly whenever any non-farmer is within earshot. The moaning must increase by a factor of 3 whenever that non-farmer is from the media.

Behaving like the English

Ed West of the Daily Telegraph says that Irish drinking has changed.
Irish drinking patterns have gone through a weird process of Anglicisation.

The Irish used to drink in inter-generational groups, which has a civilising effect, while female drunkenness was frowned upon, as were overt displays of intoxication.

Now Irish women vomit at bus stops like good English girls, teenagers booze in packs, and alcohol-related violence has rocketed. Drunken Irish football fans even shout in mockney accents picked up from English TV, which carry a certain chav chic.
Is he right? I never really thought about it before, but there is something to his "inter-generational groups" comment. I remember when I first came here I was struck by the sight of young guys with long hair, etc. sitting there talking, joking with men who I imagined would frown on such haircuts. It was one reason I found the Irish pubs so appealing. (The lack of music was another, but sadly that's in the past now too.)

It's a short article, but one that is interesting for the manner in which it laments the changes in Ireland, changes that have led to the Irish being more like the English then ever before.
Ireland is now free, rich, drunk and Anglicised: English shops dominate the high street; that oxymoron, English celebrity culture, is everywhere; British tabloids have taken over; English football is the new religion; and Tesco has "pacified" the country way beyond Gladstone's wildest dreams.

This new Anglo-Irishness reflects a self-consciously vulgar New Brit view of the world in which drunkenness is something it never was before - shameless.
Generally Irish people hate being criticized by anyone English, but in this case West is criticizing the Irish for behaving too much like the "English".

I know he's overstating things, but generally I agree with him.

Abolishing college fees

According to today's Irish Independent tuition fees should be reintroduced. This comes from a survey of "175 leaders in higher education, research centres, Government departments and agencies".

I was opposed to free tuition when it was introduced and I still think it's wrong. However, I've been paying so that others' children could avail of this largess and now that my children are approaching the age when I'll soon be able to put my snout in that trough there's talk of taking it away. {And, now that my children are beyond it I'm sure that free college will be replaced by free child care.}

That's the problem with all this government spending: it creates a level of dependency. My wife and I haven't exactly planned for the thousands of euros that will be required of us if free tuition is abolished. And, I doubt we're alone among parents of teenagers.

Bruce must love Ireland

It took just over 2½ hours for three Springsteen shows next to sell out. And, 2 of those shows were only announced after the first show sold out in minutes. Over €8m ($11m) in ticket sales to fans who have to stand in a field (or sit far away) in a terrible venue, exposed to the weather. And, no, I didn't break down and buy a ticket.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Howard out, Rudd in

John Howard's defeat in the Australian election was greeted almost with elation in some quarters - Howard's defeat in some way represents a defeat for President Bush. Well, I suppose, but then how's he doing in those overseas contests?

Aznar, Blair and Howard all gone and replaced by less 'agreeable' leaders. Three losses for Bush. But, Schroeder, Chirac and Chretien are also gone each of them has been replaced by a leader who definitely tacks closer to America generally and even to Bush specifically. So, 3 up and 3 down. A wash.

I think the real lesson is that the great division of the early part of this decade is narrowing and I expect that Europe, America, Canada & Australia will find working together a little easier over the next few years.

Reality check

Steven King in today's Irish Examiner:
Therefore, with the 2008 elections and the subsequent removal of the bogeyman that is George W Bush, many believe – or, at least, pray – that transatlantic relations will begin to settle back to the cosy position they were in before the hated neo-cons were given their head.

The new administration, Democrat or even Republican, will surely be keen to distance itself from such an unpopular administration which – according to the conventional wisdom – has forfeited America's good name by abandoning the rule of international law and opting for military force as the first option, not the last.

There is something in this thesis. Name a leader who does not come to power promising change. But those counting down the days until January 2009 would be wise not to get carried away. There will be no revolution in American foreign policy doctrine. A softer, more contrite tone than that previously associated with George Bush, yes, but a wholesale rejection of the policies he has pursued, no.
No revolution. I haven't followed the debates religiously, but mostly what I've heard is that the style rather than the substance of America's foreign dealings will change.

Health service figures

Fergus Finlay, of all people, presents some facts on the health service that I haven't seen before. Maybe they're repeated often and I just switch off - the whole health service thing just turns me off - but just in case let me put them before you.
Just seven years ago, in 2000, the allocation for health was approaching €3.5 billion. By 2007, using the same comparison, the figure was significantly in excess of €14bn (a little more than half the budget was for pay).

In 2000, about 91,000 people were employed in the health service. In 2007, just about 133,000 people were employed between the HSE and the Department of Health.
From €3.5bn to €14bn in SEVEN years. Whoa. A 46% rise in the numbers employed by the health service and a 300% rise in the budget. Where has all the money gone?

Finlay then says that we're still not spending enough, but give me a break. We have a much younger population than most EU countries. We have the smallest proportion of population aged 50 or more in the EU. Our health spending should be lower than in other EU states.

Finlay looks back at the history of the health service and points out that the centralization program begun in 1970 might be part of the problem. I'm sympathetic to this point of view. However, in order to reverse this situation the central government would have to be willing to cede control over both the operation of the health services and the funding of such services.

Local taxes should pay for local services. Towns, counties, regions can work together where the population is too thinly spread to allow for a "centre of excellence" in whatever area of health provision.

Learners and penalty points

In a comment written during the heady days of the diving test fiasco (only a month ago, but it's about two major government scandals in the past now) I said I was looking for statistics that would compare the accident rates of those who drive on provisional licenses with those who have full licenses. Today's Irish Independent gives us an answer to a different, but possibly related question.
Since the system was introduced five years ago, one-in-six qualified drivers, or 311,000 drivers out of 1.8 million on full licences, have got penalty points.

However only one in 10 provisional licence-holders have so far got penalty points, a total of 44,000 out of 420,000, it has been learned.
I'm not convinced that the penalty points regime is all that great at making the roads safer, but it's what we have. And, for what it's worth, learner drivers have been caught (on average) less often than have those who hold full licenses.

Now, Indo, how about some stats on accidents and fatalities.

The 'new' nuns

They're a dying breed. Nuns are rare sights in America and even here in Ireland, where they seemed to be pretty plentiful when I first came here in the mid 1980s. In America the average age for nuns is 69. There are virtually no young women entering the convent these days. No argument, right?

Well ...
Although the number of religious sisters in the United States has plunged since the 1960s, resulting in an average age of about 70, there has been an increase in recent years among traditional, habit-wearing orders, including the Nashville-based Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, which has 226 members and a median age of 35. It recently raised $46 million to expand its chapel because the sisters were spilling into the hall.
The more traditional orders are growing. Today. In 2007.

Just looking at all the young women Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia's web site is an odd experience. I suppose I never expected to see young nuns again.

Time magazine reported on this phenomenon a year ago.
And although the extreme conservatism of a nun's life may seem wholly countercultural for young American women today, that is exactly what attracts many of them, say experts and the women themselves. "Religious life itself is a radical choice," says Brother Paul Bednarczyk, executive director of the National Religious Vocation Conference in Chicago. "In an age where our primary secular values are sex, power and money, for someone to choose chastity, obedience and poverty is a radical statement."
Maybe there was something to all the traditions that were tossed aside during the 1960s. Maybe.

Skipping Bruce

I only just remembered that Springsteen tickets went on sale this morning for his concert (actually, concerts - just found out he's added two extra shows) next May. I don't know. I don't seem to be in any hurry to buy tickets.

The new album is undoubtedly a big part of it. In the end, I bought a copy of Magic and, well, it's okay. I actually find it kind of dull. I played it a lot when I first got it and just sort of lost interest. I thought it might grow on me, but it didn't. Like I said, it's a very political album.

Is this why I don't like it? I don't know to be honest, but there's a sameness to the album that bores me and there's a sense that this is Bruce's attempt at atoning for past 'sins'. None of his early albums, released during the last years of the Vietnam War, were as political as this one.

But, there's more to it than the new album. I think I'm just getting too old to want to pay €87.60 (just under $130) to stand in a field for 3 or 4 hours. I guess if I knew the weather would be sunny that would be worth something, but even that probably wouldn't be enough to get me to buy a ticket.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Child abuse by teacher

One of the great myths pedaled in Ireland is that as soon as the Church is out of education we'll be rid of the scourge of child abusing teachers.

Yesterday a teacher in my hometown pleaded guilty to molesting 8 of his first grade students. A quick perusal of sites like Teacher Smack Down and Teachers and Trash Education demonstrates that child abuse goes on in public as well as Catholic schools.
Comparing the incidence of sexual misconduct in schools with the Catholic Church scandal, [Hofstra Professor Carol] Shakeshaft notes that a recent study by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops concluded 10,667 young people were sexually mistreated by priests between 1950 and 2002.

In contrast, she extrapolates from a national survey conducted for the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation in 2000 that roughly 290,000 students experienced some sort of physical sexual abuse by a public school employee between 1991 and 2000.

The figures suggest "the physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests," said Shakeshaft, according to Education Week.
I doubt the situation is any different anywhere. I would bet it's true in Ireland, but incidences of non-clerical abuse don't attract anything like the publicity that those abuses by priests and religious do. This is partly because the media loves bashing the Church and partly because for many in the media and Irish society as a whole abuse by priests is somehow more shocking than by teachers or anyone else.

However, that doesn't alter the fact that there are parents out there who seem to believe that their children are safer in secular schools than in Catholic schools, which I doubt has any basis in fact. For this I blame the myth-makers, in the media and in politics.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Climate change - you start.

I'm not trying to be funny, but yesterday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had two editorials. In one the paper argues that the local airport should work at getting more flights into the airport, which is under-utilized and directly below ran an editorial claiming that the United States needs to act on climate change by cutting greenhouse gases.

This is how I see almost all climate campaigners. We've got to do something now, so you start. We need our air traffic (or cars or cattle or whatever), but you don't. Pittsburgh should get more air traffic and everyone else needs to start cutting back.

And the award for Worst Imperialist goes to ...

How can I disagree? I've said it so many times myself. America is the worst imperialist power ever. So when I saw this headline - "US is 'worst' imperialist: archbishop" - I thought, "Too right".

I mean compared with other empires throughout history the United States just doesn't do a good job. As an imperialist power the US simply doesn't do anywhere near enough to enforce its will.

Instead what you get is a muddle of democracy, human rights and free trade mixed with a subtle (or even not too subtle) "favor us" (politically, economically) message. You either have to do it right - full subjugation and exploitation - or not do it at all - ignore how other nations govern themselves, ignore their warring and simply bargain hard for mutual trade agreements. In other words, use the 'blind eye' or simply accept that 'it's none of our business'.

Unfortunately, when I read the article from today's Sunday Times I realized the Archbishop of Canterbury wasn't talking about the United States failures to build a proper empire. Instead, he was simply pandering to a Muslim magazine audience. Uggh.
Rowan Williams claimed that America's attempt to intervene overseas by "clearing the decks" with a "quick burst of violent action" had led to "the worst of all worlds".

… He said the crisis was caused not just by America's actions but also by its misguided sense of its own mission. He poured scorn on the "chosen nation myth of America, meaning that what happens in America is very much at the heart of God's purpose for humanity".
Too much violence and too much God. At least he amuses me.
He contrasted it unfavourably with how the British Empire governed India. "It is one thing to take over a territory and then pour energy and resources into administering it and normalising it. Rightly or wrongly, that's what the British Empire did — in India, for example.
That "normalising" didn't entail any sense that Britain was the "chosen nation" and never required violence, right? Please.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Day Parade

I can't believe that NBC doesn't make the Thanksgiving Day Parade available through its web site. Maybe it would be too popular? I'm not sure I would have watched it all, but I'd like to have gotten a flavor of it and shown my son a bit.


I was in Belfast yesterday. Didn't get a chance to see much because (a) I was busy and (b) it was MISERABLE. I had thought I'd go for a good long walk after my meeting was over, but it was just too wet. And dark. Even at 2:30 it was like the day was done. I had even brought my camera, but I took only one picture (at around 10:15, before my meeting).

I hadn't been in Belfast since 1999. What a difference. The center of the city just looks so much fresher. Even Belfast City Hall somehow looked better, although I doubt that's possible. And, wow is that a big building. I walked around it and half-way around I thought to myself, "this is bigger than City Hall in New York".

Yesterday (and for the next month) there was an outdoor market on the grounds of City Hall. It was better than I expected when I first wandered over to it. That's probably because it mostly food and not beads and belts. And, there's a massive Ferris Wheel, which nobody was going into thanks to the weather (I guess).

Happy Thanksgiving

This is the fifth Thanksgiving since I started posting here. I haven't got much to say that I haven't already said in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006.

And, in case you're wondering, no, Ambassador Foley didn't invite me for dinner today. Again. I feel a bit like one of the toys on the Island of Misfit Toys.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Irish Times & Kindle

You can subscribe to the Irish Times via Kindle for $5.99 per month, which works out at €48.60 for a year. That's a lot less than the €79 they charge for access through the internet. Hmmm.


I just saw Amazon's announcement about their new electronic book reader, Kindle. I can't say that I think it's a terrible idea. If I had one of those I bet I would never forget to make sure it was with me after I had checked my luggage.

Amazon is pitching the device with very low cost books. I saw one book I was interested in that costs $25 on 'dead tree' was only $10 for Kindle. That appeals. And, Amazon says that there are "more than 88,000 books available" for Kindle. Also, Amazon says you can get access to newspapers, including the Irish Times and "250 top blogs", although I don't know how that can be seeing as I don't think that includes the Irish Eagle.

You can read a newspaper for 75¢. It's not clear if you have to pay to access blogs, but the fact that they specifically mention free access to Wikipedia makes me think you will have to pay for blogs (not worth it if you can't get Irish Eagle). The Times says it can play MP3's as well, but that's not mentioned on Amazon's page.

In theory I like the fact that you can download just about anywhere as the device connects via the same technology that cell phones use - 3G . You're not stuck looking for WiFi hotspots. I don't know if it will work in Europe, but there's no date for making it available here.

Even if I could get one, I'm not sure I would want to carry another device, particularly one that costs $400 and seems a sure bet to be left behind on a train or whatever. I don't know. I'm of two minds on Kindle. I would still want traditional books (meaning ones with paper), but I think I could live with an electronic reader so long as the print was easy to read and there was minimal flicker.

UPDATE: Found it. Costs $1-2 per month to subscribe to a blog, which isn't that bad really. Now to get Irish Eagle included there!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Novelty and tradition in America

Ahh, Mark Steyn - the man people love to hate or hate to love. I'm more the latter than the former. He makes me laugh.

Today's he's writing on Thanksgiving, the Constitution, a lot of stuff. He's all over the place, but I really enjoyed this.
… Continentals who grew up on Hollywood movies where the guy tells the waitress "Gimme a cuppa joe" and slides over a nickel return to New York a year or two later and find the coffee now costs $5.75, takes 25 minutes and requires an agonizing choice between the cinnamon-gingerbread-persimmon latte with coxcomb sprinkles and the decaf venti pepperoni-Eurasian-milfoil macchiato. Who would have foreseen that the nation that inflicted fast food and drive-thru restaurants on the planet would then take the fastest menu item of all and turn it into a kabuki-paced performance art? What mad genius!
He then discusses the Europeans' love of novelty in their forms of government and finishes that with, "If you're going to be novelty-crazed, better the zebra-mussel cappuccino than the Third Reich".

Economic woes and the EU 'not a Constitution' Treaty

Something that hadn't occurred to me before now. How will the Irish people vote on the EU Treaty if the economy is really in full retreat by the time voting takes place? I suspect that the only hope of this treaty passing is if the referendum is held very early in 2008. The longer the government waits, the more likely it is that the people will start to see things negatively.

Not only could it cost the government the referendum, but there's always a risk that anti-immigrant sentiment could come to a boil during the campaign. If I were Bertie I'd postpone that referendum until mid-2009 and then retire in June of 2008. Let someone else handle that aggravation.

Dr. Joe Barry & Price Elasticity

There are times when I hear people say something on the radio, something I think they've actually thought about, but that I think is just wrong or unproven that I start pondering what they've said and never hear another word they have to say.

That happened to me this morning when I heard Dr. Joe Barry on Morning Ireland talking about the HSE's proposal that excise duties on alcohol be raised by 10%. Dr. Barry's argument was that this rise in price would cut alcohol consumption because, he said, alcohol had a high price elasticity. Then a minute or two later he argued that raising the price would increase the amount the government takes in.

Well, how does he know? If the elasticity of price is as he says then it's entirely possible that a tax hike on alcohol would cause consumption to fall sufficiently so that the government would find that its take on alcohol could actually fall. I don't know what might happen, but I do know he contradicted himself.

Maybe he had a point. Maybe duty on alcohol should be raised, but all I could think about after 90 seconds of his interview was that he could easily be wrong that the tax take would increase. Point lost with me due to misuse of economics.

Circle of Life

One of the drawbacks to listening to the radio while driving is that your attention has to necessarily fade in and out. So, I can't say who I heard making the point (on Newstalk on Saturday) or how credible his source was, but I nearly lost control when I heard him say that the Irish economy was heading towards unemployment rates of over 7% by the end of next year.

Well, that's that then. Apparently the construction industry expects 60,000 job losses (did I hear that right?) in 2008.

Remember when the Celtic Tiger was but a cub? It seems now all we're left with is the possibility of gnawing on our own paw before the Irish economy becomes worm food.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Chasing Fr. White

I'm sure Fr. White's not amused, but after the appalling news out of Omagh the past two days, I have to admit that this story makes me smile. It seems so ridiculous.

Apparently the secretary for Queen of Peace parish thought Fr. White was the cat's pyjamas. Fr. White, however, wasn't of a mind to reciprocate the secretary's feelings.
Fr White said he felt 'uncomfortable' when he received gifts from Ms O'Hehir, including a key ring he felt was inappropriate, due to what it depicted.

He said she also told him that she loved him and sent him Valentine's cards.
Now, what amuses me is that this is a Bray parish and I've seen Fr. White in action on many Sundays. He does not strike me as a "Father what a waste" that the women used to talk about in days past. And, by no means is he a dynamic or electrifying personality when he's on the altar.

Maybe one-on-one it's a different story, but from where I usually sit Fr. White comes across as a man whose greatest excitement is a cup of cocoa on a Friday night. I just can't get over the fact that this woman seems to have vacated her sanity over him.

{I hope he can forgive me for enjoying a small chuckle at his expense. This is the kind of story you need when the news is so dire elsewhere.}

UPDATE: I just re-read what I wrote and I want to amend it a bit. Like I said, I don't know Fr. White, but my impression of him is of a very nice, courteous, mild-mannered man. I can well imagine he was genuinely horrified by this woman's behavior. It's this perception that made this story amusing to me. And, the fact that Fr. White sent the woman to a psychologist because she was so smitten with him.

Dinner for 12 please

Every so often I come across an American who has only recently arrived here. The conversation always goes in the same direction - talking about all the things that are different here, most of which have long since faded to the background in my mind. I always find it enjoyable to be reminded that there are still people out there who are taken aback by traffic flowing the opposite way to what's expected or that "the jacks" is the mens room or that Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Ireland.

That last one can really cause homesickness in the recently relocated American. Most Americans I know here try to adhere to tradition with the turkey dinner. The only catch is you have to "book" your turkey.

You see, turkeys in Ireland are bred for Christmas dinner, not for a late November feast. Butchers and supermarkets just don't stock turkeys this time of year. You have to call in advance ask them to have one ready for you. Of course, newbies don't know this.

But, if you're new to Ireland and you're reading this, now you know. Get on the phone and call the butcher or supermarket and order your turkey for next week. (By the way, I'm pretty sure Superquinn in Blackrock is the most Thanksgiving knowledgeable store in Ireland.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Today's Irish Independent reports that the EU's "consumer affairs watchdog" is investigating some European airlines, including Ryanair apparently, for "irregularities, in particular relating to price indications, contract terms and clarity of proposed conditions" on their web sites.

Do these people never rest? Ryanair is fantastic value. Why does so many people hate it?

The only amusing aspect to all this is that the EU is not going to publish the names of the airlines for 4 months. I suppose all those Eurocrats want to be sure they get home for Christmas and back on Ryanair (and pocketing the difference in the cost of using other airlines) before they try to name & shame the airline.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I should add ...

I don't really believe that Aer Lingus passport scanners can be faulted for the fact that some of the type face is missing from my passport. I believe my passport was a shoddy product sold to me by the US Dept. of State. The scanner may have rubbed the ink off, but that was because the ink or the paper was no good to start with.

If there was a general fault with the scanners I'm sure this would have been an issue by now.

Fun times with Homeland Security

Friday night, Kennedy Airport and I'm in plenty of time. I have my book and I figure I may as well go through security and head to the gate. All very relaxed.

That soon ended. The first Homeland Security person looks at my passport and boarding card and waves me on. The next, however, gave me a look like he was Elliot Ness eyeballing one of Capone's gang. I was told (not asked) to wait right there.

After a couple of minutes he returned with a colleague and they stood staring at me then my passport, then me, then my passport. Thoughts started running through my head. Was it because I lied on my application? I mean it's been two years since I got that passport and I've probably gone a little less "brown" since then.

Eventually the supervisor type guy said that there was something wrong with my passport and that it looks like it may have been tampered with. Well, that changed the mood because I was pretty sure that tampering with a passport was a crime and he was basically accusing me of having done just that.

Next he asked me how long I'd had the passport.

"What passport? That one in your hands or an American passport? I've had a passport since April or May 1985, although I was on my mother's passport back in the late 60s. I was born in Jackson Heights and what the hell is wrong"!

By now I was mad as hell. He wouldn't tell me what was wrong with the passport. I told him that the passport was fine when I entered the country three days earlier.

Then he went off for a while and I was left to stand in their special holding pen surrounded by people getting through screening without difficulty. Finally he returned.
"You will have to get this problem sorted when you return to Dublin".
"What problem"?
"I can't tell you that".
"What do you mean, you can't tell me that? How am I supposed to get the problem sorted if you won't tell me what the problem is"?
"That's not my problem".
"What do you mean it's not your problem. This passport was issued by the government and now you're telling me that something's wrong with it".
"I have nothing to do with issuing passports".
And, that's how he left me, except I was then told I had been selected for extra screening and had go through the whole shoes-off, pat-down, every-item-in-my-possession-given-extra-scrutiny treatment. At least this task was undertaken by another person and not either of the two who I seriously wanted to injure right then.

{I'm not sure if what I'm about to say is acceptable to the race police these days, but what the heck.}

It's been my experience in America that when dealing with the inhumane forces of government and the excessively self-important people who seem to fill many of those jobs that black people somehow seem able to hold on to their common sense and common decency. I particularly remember an immigration officer in Newark whom my wife and I had to go to back in the late 1980s.

And, Friday night. The young black guy assigned to give me the extra screening seemed almost apologetic. He probably thought I was going to have a pop at him (although given his size and youth there was no fear of that). I looked at him and said, "I don't mind the extra screening. In fact, I think it's more than fine. It's necessary. But, if they could have just told me what was wrong with my damn passport I'd be able to understand".

So he took my passport, saw the problem and showed me. On the right hand side the words "United States Department of State" have been somewhat scraped away. He asked me if I'd washed the passport, but I hadn't. I couldn't figure out how it had happened, but then a possibility occurred to me. I asked him if Aer Lingus's passport scanners might have rubbed the words away. He looked at it and nodded and said that could be it. It's the only possibility I can think of.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Reading Bryson

I know how guys like Bill Bryson get rich. Last Friday evening I was all set for my flight. I checked in and was free with only my laptop on my shoulder. Great. Five minutes later it dawned on me. I had left the book I was going to read in the front pocket of my case where I'd put it because it was too much hassle to carry it and it didn't fit properly in the laptop bag.

I couldn't face the 6½ flight (not counting the always fun 90 minutes on the ground at Kennedy before take-off and all that pre-boarding time) with no book to read. I had to buy a book from the small bookstore in the departures lounge. Once I had mentally eliminated all the romance novels and self-help books I was left with a pretty meager choice.

I saw one book I really wanted. It was the next book of three by Rick Atkinson on the US Army during World War II. I had read the first on the N. Africa campaign earlier this year. But, this was a hardback book and I didn't want it in hardback for $35. So, after hemming and hawing I settled on a Bill Bryson book.

I wasn't enthusiastic, but he's light and easy and sort of fun and I know his brand. So, plumped down my $12 or so and got through most of it during the flight. He saved me the pain of Live Free or Die Hard, for which I'm grateful.

Still, this is the third time (I think) that I've bought a Bryson book in an airport. This is how these guys get rich. They know there are people like me out there who will check their book with the luggage and be forced to buy something to read in the small airport bookstore. We're trapped by their cleverness.

Assessing teachers

A new report from McKinsey indicates that class size and increased spending doesn't matter as much in a child's education as the quality of the teachers. Funny enough, I came across something similar in a report produced back in the early 1990s for authorities in London so I'm not quite sure how this is news, but whatever.

To my mind this is blatantly obvious, but how do you assess a "quality teacher"? I used to think that parents could always tell the good teachers from bad, but now I'm not so sure.

Last year my 5-year-old son had a teacher who we (my wife & I) thought was simply incredible. He learned so, so much and not just the three R's. Yet, I also know that some (possibly most) of the parents of my son's classmates didn't like this teacher. I can't explain it. {I wish she could take my sixteen-year-old for a year as I'm sure she'd have her functioning like a well-oiled academic machine and strolling through the Leaving Cert without worry.}

I suspect that the other parents didn't like the fact that this teacher didn't bubble over about their precious darlings and certainly didn't encourage parents to talk to her. She imposed order on the little monsters and then proceeded to open their heads and pour in more learning than my two daughters will acquire in their 12 combined years of secondary education. In fact, if my son could have had this woman for one more year he would probably have been ready to sit his Leaving Cert 11 months before he makes his First Holy Communion.

Unfortunately the modern parent wants their child to be "understood" and "loved" in school. They'd probably rate this woman as 'poor' despite the fact she is easily the best primary school teacher any of my children has had. The only answer to this question is that I, and I alone, should be allowed to rate the teachers my children have. There'll be no sentimentality and no marks for cuddles. We're competing in a global marketplace and there's no room for touchy-feely.

Anyway, I'm back from New York

As you might have guessed by the sudden activity around this place.

It was a very quick trip, maybe the shortest I've ever had. I only arrived on Tuesday afternoon and I was on my way back on Friday afternoon. One small error I made in planning only hurt me somewhat. Thanks to all the balmy weather we'd been enjoying here up to last weekend I forgot that an overcoat might be of some use in New York in November. Oops.

I've lived away for so long now that there are aspects to life in New York that are long past 'new' and, therefore, make me look like a tourist (which I guess I am).

Metrocards, for example. They're easy enough to figure out, but I don't know the associated local lingo. My blasé "4 please" - I was using the old token speak - led to my getting grilled by the seriously unbusy token booth clerk. Uggh. At least the public announcements are still unintelligible (maybe NY will have London-style signs with train arrival & delay information next time I'm in town).

Strangely, every cab I was in was driven by an English speaking, chatty, friendly, clean-looking driver who seemed to know where he was going. Whatever happened to the angry, filthy, ignorant drivers I remember?

Brendan O'Connor's property portfolio

Just wondering if Sunday Independent columnist Brendan O'Connor happened to see this article in last Sunday's (Nov. 4) paper. I hope he at least caught the headline: "Property price crash is now in full swing". I'm only wondering because he confidently asserted back in August that it was a "buyer's market". Funny how the prices are still falling despite the fact that property was "good value" in August.

I'm not going to pass myself off as any sort of expert. I can only say that the current dip in prices still smells a long way from having bottomed out.

'I don't know anyone who likes Sarkozy'

That's the gist of yesterday's Sunday Herald column by Joanna Blythman.
The French have flirted with Sarkozy and allowed him to start tinkering with some of their most cherished institutions, but seeing the divisive and profoundly un-French reality of what they have elected, they are coming down to earth with a bump. His poll ratings are crashing after only six months in office. The queue of aggrieved citoyens mutinying over attacks on their pensions and similar now includes civil servants, transport workers, teachers, prison officers and magistrates.
Unless things have changed dramatically since November 3, I think Blythman is spending too much time in certain Paris cafes where she she encounters only the elite left and/or members of civil service unions. On November 3 the AP reported that "if they could do it over again, French voters would still elect energetic conservative Nicolas Sarkozy president. A poll released Saturday suggests French voters do not regret their choice, six reform-packed months after the elections".

And, today's [London] Times reports that "[s]ixty-nine per cent of the public told an Opinionway poll last week that Mr Sarkozy must persist in reform".

The only thing "crashing" is Blythman's credibility.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Bray in the NY Times, again

I'm in New York at the moment, but not escaping Bray. Right there on the main page of the NY Times web site is a picture of the sea front in Bray. The picture is of Annie Enright, who, I just found out, lives in Bray. At least Bray looks better in this picture than the last time the town made the NY Times.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Equality Authority must go

It is long past time that the government pull the plug on the Equality Authority. They should simply write it off as a bad idea gone bad.
A new study from the authority included examining television advertisements, the 'Late Late Toy Show' and toy stores. It found gender stereotyping is deeply embedded in the marketing process. As marketing strategies target children extensively, it is important to examine both the obvious and hidden messages which are communicated, Niall Crowley, chief executive of the authority, said.

… During last year's 'Late Late Toy Show' on RTE "the main presenter persistently reinforced stereotypes of gender", according to the study. In the case of one toy, a human skull shown to ooze slime, the comment was uttered "made for boys, I think".
Really, if this is what they have to show for their efforts it's clearly past time that they wrapped things up and went away.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Deferred for 8 months

So, Minister Dempsey finally hit upon something close to the right decision. Deferring the implementation of the more rigid enforcement of the driving test requirement accomplishes two things: (1) it allows many people time to pass their test, although not everyone who has a second provisional license will have passed their test by next June 30 and (2) it increases the odds that the new regime will not fall into disrepute as did the old one despite previous amnesties, etc.

I still think Noel Dempsey should go on a sabbatical for a while. I can't understand how he got this simple thing so badly wrong.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sports as entertainment

Today's NY Times features a column by a British sportswriter explaining all the reasons British sports fans don't like American sports (mostly football). This is to mark the occasion of today's NFL game at Wembley Stadium.

As I was reading I was saying to myself either "fair enough" or "typical". "Rugby players do not dress in shoulder pads and helmets"; "Baseball is viewed as glorified rounders played by men in pajamas". That sort of thing. I've said the similar things in my time: "Soccer - 90 minutes because nobody could endure more than that"; "Cricket? They stop for tea. Enough said."

Just your normal give and take, but he makes a few relevant points as well. The best was this one.
Americans see sport as entertainment. But the British do not necessarily want to be entertained at a sporting event. We require long-term emotional involvement, and that often means the perverse pleasure of grumbling about your team’s horrible form.
If he thinks Americans don't grumble about their own team, then he has not spent any time at a sporting event in the northeast. Philadelphia fans are probably the worst in America, but fans from Philadelphia to Boston are well known for booing (or worse) at their favorite teams.

Still, he has a point. It's this aspect of American sports that really annoys me. Those who run the sports leagues believe you must keep tinkering with the game to try and drag in every last barely aware fan. Of course I understand why that is done, but it's always at the expense of the most committed fan, the fan who turns up or tunes in even when the team stinks. And, even though there are elements of this in sports over here, it's much less a factor than it is in America.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The RSA Chairman

I have been focusing on the Minister Dempsey's role in this driving license debacle, but I am sick of RSA Chairman Gay Byrne's "Let them eat cake" attitude.
Gay Byrne acknowledged a great number of people were upset by what the authority was trying to do but he urged people to "get rid of the hysteria".

While enforcement would be a matter for the gardai, the authority wanted to make the public aware of it and "they better get with it", he warned.
I love that "he warned".

It might seem like a minor issue to Byrne, but to people up and down the country the fact that in 3 days time they might not be able to go to work or the store, drive their children around or visit their families is a big deal. They are not being hysterical when they vent their anger at this ham-fisted decision by the government.

Nor would they be out of line in seeking to put the arrogant Road Safety Authority Chairman back in his box.

Dempsey sings "I sought the law and the law lost"

Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey, is going to wake up today and realize that all this upset is his own doing. He's the lead story in today's Irish Times and essentially the story is that, yes, he's changing the law, but no the law shouldn't be enforced, at least not for a while.
Responding to intense public anger at the planned clampdown, Mr Dempsey said the Garda authorities would take a "proportionate" and "common sense" approach to implementing the regulations for two or three months.
Ah, I see, but unfortunately the gardai don't quite see it that way. Or do they?
A statement yesterday afternoon from Garda headquarters appeared to contradict Mr Dempsey's assertion, saying gardaí would "fully enforce the laws in relation to this area". The statement added that gardaí would "where appropriate issue a caution/warning, notice or prosecution".

However, reliable senior Garda sources said later yesterday that in reality, gardaí would operate a three-month grace period. "If a driver is stopped and driving alone is the only offence, it will mean a caution," said one source.

Other Garda sources said the force had been put in a very difficult position, adding that if the Government did not want the new rules enforced for three months they should have waited until then to introduce them.
So, we have a Minister who doesn't want his own law implemented and a police force that might be willing to see that his new law is not implemented. Hard to disagree with Labour Party spokesman, Tommy Broughan, who said, "the situation had degenerated into an absolute farce". Indeed. It's one of those satires that just writes itself.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Dempsey should go

It's getting better. I just heard a report on Newstalk that Minister Dempsey says that those drivers who haven't passed their tests should relax because the law won't really be enforced for a while yet. Good G - O - D!

I wonder if all of this nonsense is simply a smokescreen to deflect attention away from the fact that the Minister hasn't got a clue as to what's going on in his Department with regards to Shannon.

I think it would be a good idea for Minister Dempsey to resign today because he clearly needs a break.

The wait from this point to the test is ...

I should have added to my post below that currently, there is on average a 6-month wait for a driving test. What are the odds that the wait is about to get a LOT longer.

Arrogance & ignorance

I knew as soon as I saw this headline "Drive-alone ban to hit 420,000 learners" that this was going to be trouble.
MORE than 420,000 learner drivers will be banned from driving alone from midnight on Monday.

Their insurance will be also invalidated if they crash, road safety chiefs warned last night.

If people flout the new law – announced by the Government yesterday – they face fines of €1,000 or jail terms of up to three years on a second offence.

Gardai last night insisted they would implement the drastic new measures which will put an end to provision licence holders, on their second licence, being allowed to drive without being accompanied by a fully qualified driver.

The new learner permit system starts from Tuesday.
How can this happen? Now, if you don't live in Ireland, this might sound fair enough. People who haven't passed their test shouldn't be driving unaccompanied. True. But, ...

That's how it's always been here. People can basically drive as if they've passed their test once they've taken the test once (& failed). Insurance companies will insure you and nobody will ticket you.

This afternoon I heard that it has always been illegal for someone to drive unaccompanied. I presume that's true, but if the law is so obviously unenforced it's essentially it's non-existent. According to the Independent, that's all about to change very suddenly.

The reason I knew this would be trouble is because I know there are thousands of people who drive to work, but who have yet to pass their test. Many of these live in the far distant suburbs of Dublin (or beyond), in towns and villages where public transport is not an option. So, with the flick of a pen, next Tuesday morning, there will be many, many people unable to get to their place of work.

I can't for the life of me understand how this happened. It can only be due to the arrogance and ignorance of those in the government, the Road Safety Authority and the upper echelon of the civil service.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


There are always people complaining about Ryanair and its lack of customer service. There are times when I find Ryanair annoying, but I've had no serious issue with them. If you want really bad customer service look to Tesco.

I used to actually not mind a trip to the supermarket. Nowadays a trip to the supermarket requires endless patience while customers struggle with Tesco's piece-of-junk self-service scanners. The scanners are too sensitive, too slow, too prone to failure (or "crashing" as the Tesco employees say) and a pleasant experience only for those under 15 years of age. {Kids love scanning and there are often long lines of kids buying chocolate or sodas.}

Only a few checkouts are manned these days and those always have long lines of people with full shopping wagons. As well as the self-service scanners, half the items have no price near them on the shelves (Price stickers? Forget it.) so you only find out what something costs when you scan it.

I know there are people in America who think Wal-mart is the epitome of poor customer service, but Tesco is inferior.

And, yes, I know it's profitable, but I can't help wondering if their whole success is due to the reluctance of planners to allow any new multiples to open supermarkets in areas where Tesco (Quinnsworth before it) has been established for some time. I know I'm considering driving 8 miles each way to avoid going to the Tesco that is less than a mile from my house.

So long Terrible Twins

I think I'm the only person in Ireland or anywhere outside Poland who is sad to see the Kaczynski twins on the wane. They made me laugh. I love the fact that they were the only EU leaders willing to publicly show that they didn't care for aspects of EU policy or the general drift towards a federal state.

The fact that "Europe" is "relieved" is disappointing. You just know what they really mean is that the EU leaders are relieved that those trouble-makers won't be around disturbing the planning and implementing of their federal super-state.

Maybe if I lived in Poland or came from Poland I'd have a different view. Obviously the Poles had had enough of them. The Polish economy has been growing rapidly, but possibly the government still was not doing enough to ensure that the growth was sustainable long-term and the people voted accordingly. Or maybe the Poles were tired of being bludgeoned by the European political and media elite who thought the Twins "strident, xenophobic" nationalists.

Regardless, we now have a new Polish PM, Donald Tusk, who is more amenable to the federal project. At least, his name will be easy to spell and pronounce.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Thin-skinned owners

I can't believe that the owners of Sheffield Wednesday are preparing to sue some of their own fans for libel because some of the fans may have gone overboard when they vented their frustrations on an internet chat site.

Of course, the first step was for the owners to find out who these posters were. Last week a judge ordered that
three fans whose postings might "reasonably be understood to allege greed, selfishness, untrustworthiness and dishonest behaviour", should be unmasked.
I don't know what, precisely, these guys wrote about their club's owners, etc., but this shocks me. Although I'm a cautious person even I would occasionally let loose when particularly frustrated by the Mets. And I wouldn't have a leg to stand on if Yankees' owner George Steinbrenner ever decided to come after me.

Sports are all about hyperbole, no? Fans overstate the importance of the results in their lives and make ridiculously exaggerated claims - for better or worse - about the teams they "marry". It's a 100% emotional relationship; reason never enters into it. Are we all now supposed to only speak in legalese when talking about our team?

Look, I know posting on the internet is not the same as talking in a bar, but anyone who reads a blog or message board run by and for a team's fans knows that many of the posters are posting in that semi-sober, barely literate state that fans often find themselves in after a game. People do get carried away, but I would bet Wednesday's fans would be happy if the chairman, chief executive and five directors who are filing suit would simply let it go and tell the fans that they too are frustrated, but they do want to win.

Like I said, fans aren't reasonable, but they can be somewhat appeased if they know that those in charge of their team are suffering, truly suffering. They don't really mean any harm, but they're in agony and they're yelling at the doctor, the only one who can help them with their suffering. That's the owner and being thick-skinned is a prerequisite.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Calling the Lord Mayor of Belfast

Columbia High School students are looking for at least 1,198 people to take part in a Guinness Book of Records attempt at the world's largest game of leap frog ever tomorrow. I would imagine that a leap-frogger of the Lord Mayor's experience would love to be part of such an event.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Milk is a natural!

Now this is just too much. The British government wants people to switch to UHT milk - you know, that undrinkable junk that they serve you in those little 'creamers' - to help save the planet.

Possibly the the greatest pleasure to living in Ireland is the full fat milk is simply without equal on this planet. I drink milk, take it in my coffee/tea and put it on my corn flakes. I know my milk and I've never had anything near as good as the milk we get here. I don't even much care for the full fat milk in Britain or America. The very idea of drinking UHT milk is just OUT!

And, if I won't drink it then neither will the children. I guess I should just give them, what? Goat's milk? That'll be the day. Maybe the government wants me to put coke on their corn flakes.

If the environmental do-gooders have their way, we'll soon be spending our winter evenings sitting in light that's no good for reading, drinking tea or milk that's neither fit for man nor beast, freezing our tails off. And people wonder why the average voter rejects the 'green agenda'.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

PBS showed the Catalpa episode

I'm nearly sure that this program that aired on PBS in May 2006 is the same short film on the Catalpa Rescue that was on Hidden History last week. I just hope it turns up on the History Channel some day.

Turkish genocide

Without making much effort to learn anything on my own I've simply believed that the Armenians were the victims of genocide. I can't remember how I first heard about it or where that view came from, probably a high school history teacher. Wherever that opinion came from I've never read or heard anything to counter my perception of what happened in 1915.

So, last week when a House Foreign Affairs Committee voted to condemn the mass killings as genocide I figured it was about time. But, why now? Does the US really want to annoy Turkey right now?

President Bush didn't seem too keen and now, in what can only be described as an amazing about-face, a lot of folks in the House don't seem too keen either.
Until Tuesday, the measure appeared on a path to House passage, with strong support from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It was approved last week by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. But by Tuesday evening, a group of senior House Democrats had made it known that they were planning to ask the leadership to drop plans for a vote on the measure.
Uggh. Either do the right thing or shut up, but don't antagonize the Turks and then pull back from making a stand.

By the way, thanks to the NY Times recent move to free, you can read about a similar effort in the Senate in 1990. Kind of interesting to read what President Bush (the first), Senators Dole, Byrd and others had to say back then. It seems like it's never a good time to do the right thing when it comes to the Armenian genocide.

Bishop Walsh's donation

Bishop Willie Walsh "donated lands worth €10m for the construction of residential housing and a day-care centre to cater for the growing elderly population in Ennis, Co Clare". Now, this land isn't actually Bishop Walsh's personal property, but is owned by the diocese.

First of all, let me say that this sounds like a worthwhile project. I think these sheltered housing schemes for the elderly are a great idea. I'm not sure Bishop Walsh should be giving away the land, however.

I can't vehemently condemn Bishop Walsh because I half suspect that most of the people in the Diocese of Killaloe probably think this is a good idea. Still, how many people hearing this news will think to themselves, "The Church has a lot more money than it needs these days".

In the past, the Church wouldn't have donated the land, but would have been quite likely to take on the role of managing the construction and operation of the facilities. There would have been a big Church-led campaign to raise the money and build support for the scheme. Obviously, Bishop Walsh decided that the Church couldn't or shouldn't do so in this case.

This has me thinking that the Church simply can't use the assets at its disposal. Does that mean the Church should just simply give it all away? Well, maybe, but why should I (or any Catholic) respond to any request for funding for those services the Church still controls if the Church is giving money away? Why should I dip into my pocket to fund Accord (for example) if the Church has the resources to do donate land that should rightly be bought or rented by either a private operator or the government?

I guess my big problem is that I can't see any benefit to the Church or the people of Killaloe thanks to Bishop Walsh's donation. It's just not hard-headed enough for me.

Kate McCann's looks

Kate McCann, says that people would have a different view of her if she looked more maternal.
If I weighed another two stone, had a bigger bosom and looked more maternal, people would be more sympathetic.
I don't think it has anything to do with how she looks, but rather it's how she acts.

I think it's because a lot of people don't think she acts maternal that they're somewhat unsympathetic. What her mother describes as a "terrible mistake" (leaving the children while she & her husband dined in a nearby restaurant) a lot of people see as pretty close to neglect.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Film Script

Declan Lynch, reviewing RTE's Hidden History program on the Catalpa Rescue had this to say:
You won't see anything better on RTE this year than Hidden History: The Catalpa Rescue. The story of how six British soldiers convicted of membership of the Fenians were rescued from Fremantle Prison in 1876 by an international conspiracy of their American, Australian and Irish comrades was of a complexity and tension that age had not withered one bit. It was superb and the inclusion of the Aussie novelist Thomas Keneally to give the background colour supplied the Schindler star quality.
Now I'm even more annoyed that I missed it and I can't find any place to catch it.

Lynch also had this to say about the rescue itself:
Only one question remains. Where, in the name of a dingo's daggy didgeridoo, is Hollywood?
I can remember when I finished O'Luing's book and returned it to the man who had loaned it to me he asked me what I thought. I said "it's an amazing story and it would make a great movie. I can't believe Hollywood hasn't taken this book and turned it into a winning film script".

By the way, it's not hard to find O'Luing's book in the library in Ireland, but for some reason it's always listed as a "children's book". I don't know why that is, but I think it's because O'Luing wrote the book for secondary school students during the 1960s. Whatever the reason, it is definitely not a childish book.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The European View

Thanks to Jack, who alerted me to a series of videos (one, two, three, four, five, six) on Europeans' views of America (& Americans) produced by the Center for New America. I think, if I'm reading this right, it was shown on PBS. The videos are entertaining and educational, in a way.

I love David McWilliams's comment (first video at 2'40") that "anti-Americanism has great rhetoric and no down-side risk".

As I watched the videos I was struck by two things:
  1. this stuff is really not all that new (I heard much the same when I came to Ireland for the 1986/87 academic year) and
  2. I shouldn't let it bother me.
So, I'm going to try not to let it bother me.

Catalpa Rescue

I'm really annoyed this morning. I only found out today that I missed a Hidden History program last week on the Catalpa Rescue. RTE says the Catalpa Rescue has "long since been forgotten", which I don't think is quite true, but it's pretty close to true in Ireland.

I remember being amazed the first time I came across the story in Sean O'Luing's book, the Fremantle Mission, which is hard to find these days. At the moment I'm reading a biography of the Catalpa Rescue's chief planner, John Devoy (by Terry Golway - I recommend it), so some of the details are fresh in my memory.

Unfortunately, it appears that RTE doesn't make Hidden History programs available for online viewing.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Khalid won't be happy

Today's Daily News reports that Ramzi Yousef (1993 World Trade Center bombing, et al) is now a Christian. I wonder what uncle Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (9/11 et al) thinks.

I guess it's hardly surprising that Yousef has become a Christian. He's in a prison not far from Colorado Springs, "Mecca for Evangelical Christians".

Thursday, October 11, 2007

National Portrait Gallery

I had to go to London yesterday. I found myself with a couple of hours on my own and I went to the National Portraits Gallery. Never before even imagined going in there. I'm still not sure why I decided to go yesterday.

Regardless, I thought it was really worthwhile. Kings, Queens, other royals, politicians, inventors, scientists, poets, actors, scandalous women and loads of others are all there. Although the most spectacular works are of the Kings & Queens, I probably liked seeing some of the lesser known politicians and the inventors/scientists/engineers more.

I guess from an Irish point-of-view I found the treatment of Lord John Russell, Prime Minister for most of the Famine, most interesting.

On display there is a statue of Russell from 1832 and a portrait of him in 1851. He looks proud and confident in the 1832 sculpture, but in the 1851 portrait, his eyes are nearly shut and his head is turned away from us. You get the impression he's ashamed of what his government has done (or not done).

Monday, October 08, 2007

Becoming American

Ireland is 'too American', according to Aurelio Caminati, whose claim to fame is, seemingly, that he "knew Picasso and Matisse".
"I have a very great love for Ireland, but am deeply concerned with the way some Irish – like other European countries – have adopted American capitalist ways," said Caminati, who has been coming to Ireland for more than 13 years.

"The subtlety and refined sensitivity of the Irish could slowly disappear, to be replaced by a brash new breed of greedy nouveau riche."
Yada yada yada. "Greedy nouveau riche" equals American. It can get a little tiresome. Note how the journalist, Richard Curran, didn't seem to bat an eye at that connection. Sheesh.

There is a coarseness in Irish society that I don't think was there twenty years ago. Is that because Ireland is becoming 'too American'? No. Society's changing for better or worse.

Ireland is a wealthy nation and this is a good thing, but clearly the impact of this sudden rags to riches transformation isn't entirely positive. Nothing to do with America or anything imported from America. It's all about Ireland and Irish people adapting to change.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Google celebrates ...

Took me a few minutes to figure out what this was all about.

Initially, the US government responded with low key congratulations to the Soviet scientists. But, the American people were panicked, many thought it was some form of weapon. Eventually, the government decided to join the Soviets and the the space race was born.

I forgive you Padraig

I don't care for golf. I don't play it and I hardly ever watch it. So, the fact that Padraig Harrington skipped the Seve Trophy last weekend down in Laois doesn't bother me. Seve Ballesteros says Padraig "let down the people from Ireland, especially the people from the Dublin area".

I just want to let Padraig know that he need feel no guilt about letting me down even though I live in the Dublin area. I'm a big man - I can brush off this slight.

No fool like an old fool

That's what my mother likes to say and as proof there's always the Lord Mayor of Belfast. He injured a city councilwoman when he decided to leapfrog her during a photo shoot. There's a picture of the Lord Mayor mid-leap here.

It's just so stupid you have to laugh, but the woman seems to have suffered a fairly serious back injury. Just so stupid.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

If it wasn't so funny it would be offensive.

First of all, thanks to William for finding the report that was quoted by the Irish Examiner the other day.

I haven't read much of it yet or really analyzed it, but basically they got together two groups of people in each EU state and let them participate in 'guided' discussions on culture. Unless I'm misreading the report, that means 8 - yes EIGHT - people from Ireland were involved. Now statistical models are a great thing, but I'm pretty sure that 8, NOT randomly selected, people might be just a smidge too small a sample size to allow anyone (ahem, N.B. Irish Examiner) to declare that "Irish people want to become more European and are highly critical of the US, its values and culture". (Oops - what I get for reading too quickly. There were 16 Irish people involved, not 8. Still, a pretty small sample from a population of 4m).

Regardless, there are some priceless quotes here, all of which are not much more than claptrap born of bigotry. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from "Europeans":
  • "I have the feeling what is at stake is rather globalisation. It mainly comes from the Americans and the English, whether you are in a discotheque here in Cologne or in Madrid or Warsaw, you hear the same music" (Germany. Lower-middle social and educational level)
    What? Isn't Nena putting out any good records these days?

  • "Having a general culture, we think more. We refine our judgements by reading a book which also enriches our vocabulary. Then by discussing the book with someone else, we also improve our reasoning capacity and our capacity to question things. That does not happen among Americans. They have no personal opinions on any subject" (Romania. Higher-middle social and educational level)
    In my personal opinion you're a moron.

  • "I would define the European culture as more creative. The Europeans are active and energetic. I cannot imagine the Americans as active and creative" "The European culture has a past. That is exactly why the Americans envy us. Their history goes back in time to some 200 years..., you can extract whatever pottery from the earth on our lands" (Bulgaria. Higher-middle social and educational level)
    Yup, Americans are just green with envy. On an almost daily basis all 300 million of them dream about living in Bulgaria.
Honestly, the fact that this report was commissioned and published by the European Commission is almost beyond belief. When you read the quotes - and I've only really dipped into it so far - you realize that the European Commission obviously considers it all right to publish a report that basically says Americans are a nation of Neanderthals.

What's really funny, however, is that the envy is all in the other direction. Americans hardly even give Europe a thought, other than as a sort of Disneyland of history.

Marriage in America

Hmm. I have to admit that I'm taken aback by the figures in this op-ed piece from Saturday's NY Times.
The story of ever-increasing divorce is a powerful narrative. It is also wrong. In fact, the divorce rate has been falling continuously over the past quarter-century, and is now at its lowest level since 1970. While marriage rates are also declining, those marriages that do occur are increasingly more stable. For instance, marriages that began in the 1990s were more likely to celebrate a 10th anniversary than those that started in the 1980s, which, in turn, were also more likely to last than marriages that began back in the 1970s.
I guess I just assumed that divorce rates were only ever going to head one direction and that's Up. Seems that's not so.

That little caveat about declining marriage rates deserves more investigation, but I think this is good news.

Eircom's wireless issue

I mentioned this two years ago, but I guess nobody from Eircom happened to stumble onto my site at the time. Eircom has finally realized that all those wireless routers that they've been providing to people are pretty easily hacked. They all have the same password, which means the customer should change it as soon as the system is installed. But, nobody from Eircom told the customer.

What surprised me then - and as far as I know they haven't done anything about this - is those customers who were using desktop PC's, who didn't need wireless, were still given a wireless router. People who had no knowledge of WiFi, no understanding of what that piece of equipment on their desk is all about were never told that they needed to change the password of their router. This was the case even when Eircom sent a technician to install the router and get the broadband working.

And, of course, as the market-dominant former semi-state, Eircom has a disproportionate number of customers who just wanted broadband, but were never geeky enough to even consider asking any questions. The whole process was just too mysterious for them. They simply trusted old 'Ma Bell'.

Sure, you can say that the customer should have been more savvy, but broadband is sold like digital television and how many people understand how that works? No, this one's on Eircom because (a) I'm sure they knew that people were leaving themselves open and (b) it was just too much bother to explain this to people or even open the whole security can of worms.