Wednesday, June 27, 2007

If I vote

I should have known this would happen. First I stated that nobody cared about the Seanad election and then I mocked a bit, suggesting I should have run and now I'm fascinated. I spent a few minutes last night reading all the election leaflets I could find around the house and was struck by the fact that all but two¹(of the 15 I could find) want to spend more of my money.

How can that be? Maybe it's always this way (like I said, I don't generally pay any attention). I don't know, but I can't understand how so few people running for a position in a legislative body that is supposed to be a "safeguard" see no value in safeguarding the taxpayer's money.

Anyway, after reviewing the 15 candidates whose literature I could find (I know some leaflets were thrown out before I started paying attention) I have made my decision. If I bother to vote, Liam Crowley will get my Number 1. I don't want to know any more about him for fear that I won't like it.

Feargal Quinn is probably closer to what I'd like and he'll get my Number 2, but I like Crowley's minimalist single issue leaflet: he wants a tax break for those who pay fees to further their education. I like tax breaks a lot more than I like tax hikes, so I'm in favor of this proposal.

Go Liam go. Of course, I'll probably forget to vote after all this.

¹ One candidate didn't bother to provide any details as to what they'd do if elected. I like that approach too. 'Ask not what I can do for the country, but what you can do for me'. There's my Number 3.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Downloading music

I purchased a download track yesterday. One song. First time I ever tried this and it was such an unsatisfactory experience that I can't imagine going through that again anytime soon.

I wanted to buy a song. I didn't want any software installed on my PC (that rules out iTunes - God I hate that program - and many others I checked). I didn't want to subscribe to any service, just buy a song. One song.

I thought I'd found the answer with (they had the song I wanted too). Wrong.

First of all, the format is WMA and not MP3, which I wanted. This wasn't made clear to me until AFTER they'd taken my money. (I know it was only 79p - $1.57 - but still.) The bitrate is a pathetic 128kbps. Then there's DRM nonsense that I have to put up with.

I have my music on a hard drive connected to my pc and I sometimes like to play music off the hard drive using my laptop via the WiFi connection. Well, not with the DRM protections on this downloaded song. And, on top of that, I had to let them install a little program in my browser (IE, not Firefox, another grumble) in order to download the one song. Errrrr.

So, I'll stick with CD's. You can buy them online and even with shipping they're not really any more than a downloaded album. And, you can rip them and play them without all this copyright protection.

{Look, I know why the record companies do this, but really it's not great business to treat your customers like criminals. In fact, it's pretty annoying.}

Ahh, summer

I saw the sun this morning. I had to squint, but I'm sure that was the sun. It's gone now, of course.

And, it isn't just that it's been dark. It's been cold. Okay, not mid-winter cold, but cold for late June. Yesterday, I saw two women wearing hats. It was wet, cool, oh yeah, windy too. I think the wind chill was probably in the high 40s.

On Sunday I was in a store where they were offering deals on suntan lotion. I think it was get ½ off or something like that. I thought to myself that they should be just giving it away because the only people who would want it are those who are flying out of here in the near future. And they had a lot of it piled up on their shelves.

You have a better chance of getting frostbite than a suntan around here these days.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Applying for a passport

I recently had to renew my Irish passport. Sent off all the paperwork and waited. But, not for long. I couldn't believe how quickly I got the passport back. Took about 10 days at most (might have been less). I wasn't expecting it for another few weeks.

Maybe the US government should hire some Irish government employees as consultants so that they can learn to speed up the process of getting passports out to citizens. The American government used to tell applicants that they should received their passports within eight weeks of applying, but according to the Washington Post's former correspondent Michael Dodds, his wife and daughters have been waiting for more than eleven weeks for their passports. That's close enough to three months. Uggh.

And, they're not alone. Three months is the new standard in efficiency. People are practically sleeping outside passport offices in an attempt to expedite the application process. Good God.

The government's excuse is that the new law requiring Americans to have passports for travel to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean has caused a backlog. I could see how they were caught off guard. This change was only proposed back in April — 2005. I could see how two years wouldn't be sufficient time to ramp up.

Just imagine how the government would react if they had to make, distribute or sell Nintendo Wii's or some such high-demand item. You'd be on a waiting list for 40 years.

No longer 'anything goes' in Holland

The Washington Post reports that the Netherlands is "rethinking its anything-goes policies".
In cities across the Netherlands, mayors and town councils are closing down shops where marijuana is sold, rolled and smoked. Municipalities are shuttering the brothels where prostitutes have been allowed to ply their trade legally. Parliament is considering a ban on the sale of hallucinogenic "magic mushrooms." Orthodox Christian members of parliament have introduced a bill that would allow civil officials with moral objections to refuse to perform gay marriages. And Dutch authorities are trying to curtail the activities of an abortion rights group that assists women in neighboring countries where abortions are illegal.

The effort to rein in the Netherlands' famed social liberties is not limited to the small, newly empowered Christian Union party, which holds two of the 16 ministries in the coalition government formed this year. Increasingly, politicians from the more center-left Labor Party are among the most outspoken proponents of closing some brothels and marijuana shops -- known here as "coffee shops."
Historian James Kennedy describes the change as "a national 'weariness with moral squalor — the Dutch have grown tired of it and unwilling to put up with it.'"


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Spotted this evening

I should probably write a letter to the Irish Times. The editor seems to love to publish letters about swallows and their appearance in early spring.

Well, I just saw the last swallow of this summer. He was in my backyard and I watched him take a long look up at the endless dark, grey sky and the falling rain. Then he shrugged, put a woolie hat on his head and took off heading due south. I don't think he looked back.

I should have run for the Seanad

There are three NUI seats in the Seanad. I should have contested one. I could have sent out loads of leaflets informing the electorate as to (a) who I am and (b) why I should get their votes.

I have the perfect campaign slogan. "Put a war-mongering neocon in the Seanad. Vote for Irish Eagle". It's a can't miss, right?

I just can't take the Seanad election seriously, but boy, oh boy do the candidates take themselves seriously. Campaign leaflets and letters keep flying in the letterbox. I love the fact that the Green Party's candidate - can't remember his name - sent out the most waste so far. A letter and a leaflet. The funny thing about his leaflet is that the tone of it is that of a candidate who's assuming his party will be in opposition. Oops.

Points for littering

John Gormley believes that drivers who litter from their cars should get penalty points on their license.

Let's face it, Gormley just hates the fact that people drive cars so he's looking for another way to punish them. Still, this is just dumb. If Gormley's idea became law that would mean that someone who throws a wrapper on the ground from a car will be penalized more than someone who happens to do exactly the same thing from a bicycle or while walking. Littering car drivers would be better off stopping the car (emitting more fumes, etc.) and stepping out before throwing the wrapper (or empty can or whatever) on the ground.

It's a silly suggestion. You want to crack down on littering? Fine, I'm in favor, but don't single out litterers from cars simply because they're in cars. Treat all litterers equally before the law.

The global superstar

A couple of weeks ago the Sunday Independent had a long, back-page article about Lebron James. This paragraph caught my eye.
The [NBA's] growth worldwide probably has a lot to do with [Michael] Jordan, who was one of those sportsmen who perform at such a sublime level that they transcend the confines of their own game. Their excellence is such that even people who know nothing about the sport they play recognise them as superstars. Pele was one such star and is perhaps Jordan's only rival as sporting icon of the century gone by. That's how good the Bulls' man was.
A few years ago I was in the middle of a big discussion as to who was the most popular or famous sportsman of the twentieth century. The discussion included Irish, English, Italian, Australian and American contributions. We agreed on Pele and Jordan as sort of 'tied for second', but the one name who we all agreed was bigger than both of them was Muhammad Ali. Ali is still The Greatest.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Beckham a bust in the US?

Tuesday night's Around The Horn discussed David Beckham briefly. The consensus of the panelists was that Beckham (a) would make minimal impact among US sports fans and (b) had waited way too long to come to Los Angeles. Beckham's deal with the LA Galaxy was big news when he signed, but so much time has elapsed since then that the moment has passed.

This clearly has been realized by the Galaxy too. Their manager Alexi Lalas made the eye-poppingly stupid comment that Beckham's going to be bigger in the US than Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan. Los Angeles Times columnist T. J. Simers summed up the truth. "With all due respect to Lalas, he's off his rocker. If Beckham doesn't score every game, and it's not what he does, eventually he will draw a collective yawn."

I still think it's a good move for Victoria Beckham, who has a new television show coming out in the US soon. She threw out the first pitch at the Dodgers game last week as part of the promotion for the new show.

I originally thought the move would be good for David Beckham as well, but now I'm not so sure. He had a great wind behind him when he signed his deal, but the delay has cooled interest. And, his recall to England could be a bigger issue if he skips Galaxy's games in order to play for England.

This might end up being a negative for Beckham, the Galaxy and the MLS too, but could be a mighty positive for Posh Spice. Ahh, sports.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

No PDAing

Is it really big news that an Indian school has banned its students from kissing? The story was carried in today's Irish Examiner. My high school had such a ban in place when I was there 25+ years ago.

The Dean of Discipline, Mrs. Gertrude Durand, used to frequently announce over our intercom system that all public displays of affection beyond holding hands were forbidden. Often she'd say, "PDAing is not allowed". Sometimes she'd wander the halls shouting this out as she walked. Occasionally she'd come across a young couple violating the "No PDAing" policy and she'd give a firm tap on the back of the boy. Have no fear, this never happened to me - not even close.

I wonder if this (my school) was news in the old Cork Examiner back in the 70s?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Back in Sioux City

I have to admit I'm surprised that Jimmy Murphy (remember him) got his visa situation cleared up so quickly. Anyway, he should be settled in again in Sioux City, IA. Good for him, but next time he finds himself confronting officials waving a rule book he has to keep his cool.

Red tape - it's the American way.

Climate change as the issue?

Columnist Jonathan Last claims that the Irish election was "dominated by a low-grade financial scandal of Ahern's, but when the scandal wasn't in the headlines, one of the main issues was: climate change". Was it? I don't remember hearing that much about climate change. I heard a lot about the health system, but even that I thought was more of a media contrivance than a burning issue.

Climate change when it's discussed in Europe is really just a stick with which to beat America. I don't think too many Irish SUV owners have traded them in for Raleighs. I don't even think the Irish voters would be happy with an extra 20c on each liter of gas (petrol), so I don't believe the policy options on climate change influenced too many voters, really.


I was still seeing some Fiona O'Malley & Ciaran Cuffe posters until late last week, but those now seem to be gone. The only poster I've seen since Friday is Richard Boyd Barrett's on the M11.

What is the fine for having an election posters up one month after the election?

Ignoring the Seanad elections

RTE radio is losing listeners because it's refusing to cover the Seanad elections. That's according to FF Senator Terry Leyden. His comment is the silliest, but only by a little, of all the nonsense in this article in this week's Sunday Independent.

RTE's spokesman justified the lack of coverage by pointing out that most of RTE's audience has no say in who is elected to the Seanad. He also noted that they'd be obliged to give equal time to all the candidates, which would be impractical. He forgot to mention that the Seanad is essentially a powerless talk shop, where the unelected (to the Dáil) and the unelectable gather to ... well, I don't know what. Not much of use, anyway.

Here are some choice quotes that illustrate how far removed some of these people are from the real world:
  • Brendan Price suggested that RTE's decision "was akin to censorship"
  • Mary Henry said, "The Trinity electorate is nearly 50,000 and the NUI is more than 100,000". Yeah, but how many of those 150,000 will actually vote?
  • Wildlife campaigner and Seanad candidate Brendan Ryan said, "The truth is that the electorate for the two constituencies of NUI and Trinity is far in excess of the the audiences achieved for programmes they like to make a fuss of". Uggh, again how many people who can vote actually CARE? I don't.
I think these folks have a slightly inflated sense of themselves. Really they should just be happy that Senators get all sorts of expenses and nice perks that will help them get elected to the Dail next time AND that they draw a nice salary. (I couldn't find what the current salary and expenses are, however. State secret?)

Friday, June 15, 2007

Saint Trevor

Such integrity. Trevor Sargent is a martyr. If only there were more like him in Irish politics. Leccchhh.

Before the election Trevor Sargent said that he'd rather resign than lead the Green Party into government with Fianna Fail. Yesterday he resigned.

My skin crawled as I listened to Sargent on RTE yesterday. He's so sanctimonious, so pompous and so WRONG that I was embarrassed for him.

Maybe this plays well with those who vote Green and I'm sure there are those who see this act as almost heroic. As evidence, there's this from today's Irish Independent.
For me, the hero of this week is not Bertie Ahern but Trevor Sargent. He said he would not lead his party into coalition with FF. He has kept his word. He has struck a blow for standards in Irish democracy.
More embarrassment.

This deal with Fianna Fail did not happen in the face of Sargent's opposition, but due to his efforts. No matter how he tries to spin this, he LED THE GREEN PARTY INTO COALITION WITH FIANNA FAIL. He did this.

I have more respect for the Greens' Ciaran Cuffe, who, on May 28, wrote that a "deal with Fianna Fáil would be a deal with the devil". Maybe it is, but that's how politics works. You have to compromise and work with others - particularly when you're only a small, minority party.

Cuffe wrote that comment on his blog. I heard him answer a question about that remark by commenting that a blog is "more poetry than prose". Beautiful. So is a lot of campaign rhetoric, which Sargent should realize. I'm certain most of the public understands this. Sargent is cutting off his nose just to spite his face. I really hope most people see this for the grandstanding, pathetic silliness that it is.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Local government

One issue I'm with the Greens on is the idea of effective, accountable local government. It's about more than directly elected mayors, but I guess that's a start. Local taxation and spending control would be a much bigger step, but for some reason Fianna Fáil seems to fear such ideas. It's as if the Soldiers of Destiny don't trust the foot-soldiers of democracy.

Habemus Papam

White smoke over Leinster House finally. We have a government. Oh wait, that can't be right because there's no way that Fianna Fail's new partners would approve something so environmentally unsound as a smoky fire.

Anyway, I just can't get over the idea that Fianna Fail will form a government with the Green Party. To be honest, I'm really not happy about it, but I don't get the feeling that too many Fianna Fail voters are all that concerned. I think they just assume that their party will utter some platitudes and make a bit of noise about some environmental issues to keep the sandal-wearers happy, but not really do a whole lot that will upset things.

I'm not so sure. I always see Fianna Fail as basically non-ideological and willing to do whatever it takes to remain in power. I worry that they'll bend a lot further towards environmental wackiness than the Irish electorate has so far indicated it wants to bend.

I wish Charlie McCreevy were still on the scene. I trusted him more than most of the rest of the Fianna Fail folks.

Who'd be a basebal fan?

Ugggh. What more can be said? The Mets are playing so badly that I dread listening to the games these days (but I still do). They've lost 5 straight and 9 out of the last 10. And, to make matters worse, the Yankees have now won 8 in a row and are playing great. And, worse again, the two teams play each other this weekend.

Mocking is catching is a phrase you hear regularly in Ireland. If it applies to anyone right now, it applies to Met fans. Two weeks ago things couldn't have been better. The Mets were winning and looked like they were coasting and the Yankees looked like they were disintegrating. Now it's like doomsday in Metville.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

If I weren't already married ...

I'd definitely want to marry Alyssa Milano. I mean, she's an attractive woman and all that, but more importantly, she's a big baseball fan. She has her own baseball blog and (assuming she's really writing this), she knows her stuff.

{I'd have to forgive her being a Dodger fan, which I guess I can just about manage.}

Monday, June 11, 2007


I'm one of those people who loves reading bills to make sure all the charges are right. I don't like paying until I'm sure that what's being charged is right.

The other day my NTL bill came in and there were all sorts of changes. The changes should have been almost transparent as they relate to simply changing the bookkeeping on the charge for NASN. NASN is now part of the Setanta Sports Package and during the last billing period NTL decided to unsubscribe me (& others, I presume) from NTL and subscribe me to Setanta Sports Pack.

Not a biggie, but not everything was done as it should have been done. I noticed that I was subscribed to Setanta on April 25 and unsubscribed from NASN on May 4. For 9 days I was charged for both, which should not have happened. We're not talking about a lot of money, but it's the principle that matters and all that.

At the end of the call I asked the customer service rep if this means all who were similarly overcharged would be automatically credited with their €3. "No, they have to call us".

That answer may be legal, but it sure isn't ethical. It looks like they systematically overcharged a subset of their customer base, but they're not going to review the fees for that subset for the current billing period.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

All Day Pajamas

Apparently there's a trend – fad? craze? no phenomenon I think is the right word – a phenomenon of women who wear their pajamas all day. Even when they go out. I didn't know this. A quick check with the family told me I was the last to realize this was going on.

I learned about it this morning when I heard a short item on a news program about a school principal in Belfast who had written to parents asking them not to come to school in their nightwear. The principal told the parents that this new fashion "was setting pupils a bad example and was also making staff uncomfortable". No kidding.

What's with these people? Do these people simply have no self-respect? I know I don't even like answering the door early in the morning in my pajamas and I'd never go out in them. Besides, if I wanted to venture out in my PJ's, I'd be afraid that I'd ruin the furry feeties that keep my feet comfortable and warm!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Stuck in traffic at 11pm.

About 11pm Wednesday night I was driving towards Donnybrook. No reason to expect traffic, right? Wrong. The N11 came to a dead stop in front of me. Every couple of minutes we crawled forward a bit. In the distance I could see flashing blue lights so I knew some form of emergency vehicle was there. Can't complain when you see that. I figured someone had probably been hurt.

But, no. There was no accident or fire or anything wrong whatsoever. I was delayed - 15 minutes at a minimum - because the police were holding the N11 so that people exiting a concert could get on their way with due haste. To say the least, I was not best pleased. I was still steaming yesterday morning when I read that it was a George Michael concert that all those people were coming from. GEORGE MICHAEL!

Initially I was willing to accept my time lost when I thought someone was seriously injured, but I was incensed when I realized I'd been delayed to facilitate people who are seriously afflicted.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

American Greens

I just read a brief profile of Green Party TD Dan Boyle and found out he was born in Chicago, which makes him an American, of course. That means at least two - Ciaran Cuffe is the other - of the Greens' six TD's are American. Nothing more than a curiosity, I know, but still I find it interesting.

Monday, June 04, 2007

I could have imagined it

I haven't said anything about the poor girl who went missing in Portugal. I paid a lot of attention when the story first broke, but as time has passed I've been less attentive to the McCanns and their plight. I guess that's only to be expected.

One reason that I didn't write anything about this story before now is that I had this nagging uneasiness with what the McCanns did, but I couldn't figure out how to say it without sounding like I was condemning them. Thanks to yesterday's Sunday Tribune I have it.

The Tribune quoted Mrs. McCann.
"I think we were naive; we are very responsible parents, we love our children very much. I don't think any parent could imagine or consider anything like this happening."

Regardless of the rights or wrongs of leaving the children unsupervised, parents everywhere will empathise with Kate McCann's belief . . . nobody could ever have imagined this could or would happen.
Well, you know what? My wife and I have imagined "this" many, many times. And, from the reactions I've heard from others, we're not alone. We've been in similar situations frequently since our oldest daughter was born and we've always suffered bad meals - take out dinners eaten in the hotel room - or the inconvenience of eating with small children rather than leave them alone.

What I find hard to understand is why the McCanns couldn't imagine "this".