Thursday, January 31, 2008

Too easy to travel, say hotel owners

Budget airlines are killing British tourism. That's the claim of hotel chain Travelodge.
Budget airlines are "squeezing the life out of British tourism" and the government is exacerbating the problem by promoting expansion of the aviation industry, MPs were told yesterday.

Budget hotel chain Travelodge accused Ryanair and easyJet of driving an £18bn "tourism deficit" by drawing British holidaymakers away from Britain with low fares underpinned by state tax breaks.
What? You mean too many British people are taking advantage of cheap fares to travel abroad and not stay at home and stay in your hotels, right? Well, that begs the obvious question: don't those planes go both ways? Why aren't people from other countries coming to Britain and staying in Travelodges up and down the country?

This is the first time I've ever heard of a tourism business complaining about the government making it too inexpensive for people to travel.

Is that tumbleweed?

You know, reading the papers this morning you'd be forgiven for thinking that Ireland's soon going to resemble an abandoned Nevada mining town.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Belgium - the language cracks

Today's Washington Post has another article about the growing divide between the Walloons and the Flemings.
So for now Belgium remains one, officially at least -- Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia, with the officially bilingual and thriving cosmopolitan capital, Brussels, in the middle. But Dutch and French speakers live largely separate lives, governed by parallel officialdoms. They watch separate television stations, attend distinct schools and universities and vote for Dutch and French wings of the same political parties.

… Many Flemings see the safeguarding of Flemish culture and language as a reversal of a historic injustice. French was the language of public official life until the 1960s, when the country settled on its current system of linguistic zones.

But that delicate system is being tested as Brussels grows and its French-speaking population fans out into Flemish zones. Peter Dejaeghar, spokesman for the Flemish minister responsible for language decrees, sees in this population spread an "imperial" tendency to "Gallicize" Flanders.

… "Ideally, Belgium should become completely bilingual," said Hadelin del Marmol, 48, a consultant and reserve officer in the army, who proudly cites two generations of relatives who fought and died for Belgium. "But what I'm saying is utterly utopian. Flemings are afraid that their culture will disappear." And Walloons, he added, haven't much desire to learn a language they can't use outside the country or the Netherlands.
That last paragraph sums up so much. Is it possible that the treat posed by Germany was the real source of national unity during the 20th century and now that the German threat is no more there is too little holding Belgium together? Also, are the Flemings' fears justified? And, why don't the Walloon feel more of a commitment to learning the language of their compatriots?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Time to leave the euro?

In today's Irish Examiner, Fergus Finlay advocates for the EU by bringing us back to 1992 and the currency crisis.
In a bid to stave off devaluation, interest rates went up by nearly 40% during the three months of the crisis, and it didn't do any good. In the end, the crisis of 1992 gave a huge added impetus to the creation of the euro and the European-wide fiscal system that underpins it.

I don't pretend to understand that system, and I'm certainly not going to try to explain it. But as we read about the madness in worldwide stock markets and watch the frenzy on television, night after night, all I can say is thank God for the euro.
I remember that currency crisis well. First Britain, then Ireland trying to remain in the ridiculous Exchange Rate Mechanism. I was pretty new to Ireland at the time and none too pleased that the economy was being sacrificed in order to adhere to some ridiculously badly structured exchange rate control system. It wasn't the speculators that caused the problems, but the European ERM.

Finlay can thank God for the euro if he likes, but the problems of 1992 were not the result of an independent currency, but the failed attempt to lock the currencies when the various economies were badly out of sync.

Saturday's Examiner had a column by Matt Cooper asking if it's time to leave the euro because
[o]ur involvement as one of the 15 member states of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) contributed dramatically to the property bubble that has now burst and is the leading cause of the sudden domestic downturn.

Our euro membership sees us suffer from excessively high interest rates and a currency valuation against the dollar and sterling that will damage many exporters just when we need to be stronger to cope with the international downturn.

… Since the euro came into creation, the European Central Bank (ECB) has set the price of borrowed money to suit the economies of continental Europe, not little Ireland, even when its economy is out of kilter with the rest of the EMU members. The rate set was far too cheap and caused a lending boom by greedy bankers.

As our economy boomed and asset prices — particularly for property — soared, an independent Dublin-based Central Bank would have acted to make the cost of borrowed money more expensive. It couldn’t act because it no longer had the power.

The boom was allowed to get out of hand as a result of ECB inaction, despite a number of cautionary statements by the Central Bank, some economists and some media commentators. Their analysis that this would all go wrong eventually was right and now they are victims of vicious sniping about being allegedly unpatriotic in talking us into a recession.
I'm sorry Fergus, but Matt Cooper knows what he talking about, while (as you say) you don't.

However, I think Brendan Keenan's analysis with regards to Italy would be the same for us. We won't be leaving the euro anytime soon, but it will take its pound of flesh.

Monday, January 28, 2008

As for the text of the treaty

I sincerely doubt I'll get through the whole thing. First of all, unlike the Constitution, this document doesn't stand on its own. It refers to the previous treaties, which means you probably need copies of those too in order to fully understand it.

So far I've read 2 or 3 pages. I really don't like this (Article 2.3):
The Union shall establish an internal market. It shall work for the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment. It shall promote scientific and technological advance.

It shall combat social exclusion and discrimination, and shall promote social justice and protection, equality between women and men, solidarity between generations and protection of the rights of the child.

It shall promote economic, social and territorial cohesion, and solidarity among
Member States.

It shall respect its rich cultural and linguistic diversity, and shall ensure that Europe's cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced.
What does "balanced economic growth" mean? What does unbalanced economic growth look like? And, how do they define price stability? Does this mean if we vote for the treaty we can't expect the price of milk to rise or fall again? What about a gallon of gasoline? What a load of nonsense.

How is the EU going to promote "solidarity between generations"? Too much gobbleygook. They should have stopped after "internal market".

Speaking of expensive items

I got my copy of the Lisbon Treaty today. Prompt service from the EU Parliament office in Dublin.

One thing I hadn't noticed in the pdf version (but it's there) is the price of a copy of the treaty. I got mine for free, but apparently some people are paying the cover price of €42. I can't even begin to imagine who would pay €42 for this document.

I was figuring that we're probably getting them free because we're having a referendum. The rest of Europe probably has to pay. Maybe I should ask for another 50 copies or so and put them on eBay?

Milkin' us dry

What on Earth has happened to the price of milk? I could be wrong, but I'm nearly certain that less than years ago the price of a liter of Premier milk at Tesco was 70c. Now that same liter is €1.06 ($6.03 per US gallon). That's more than a 50% increase.

Now with most products I can chalk it up to supply and demand. Maybe there's been a sudden surge in milk drinking in Ireland, although I doubt it. No, I suspect it has a lot more to do with the whole milk quota thing. I can't claim to be an expert in the arcana of EU agricultural policy, but surely there's something wrong with the EU's intervention in the market if demand is so great that the price rises by 50% in less than two years.

I can understand why the government might want to intervene in a market in the short term if something dramatic happens, particularly with regards to the food supply, but long term intervention always ends with the consumer losing out somehow.

Friday, January 25, 2008

EU Constitution - Part II

Ahhh, the EU Constitution. Remember that? It died, right? Well, ...

"Just when you thought it was safe to go back to camp", the Lisbon Treaty (Jason in a new mask) is coming to a theater near you.

Of course, nobody cares (other than Enda Kenny and he only cares because he wants to see what effect this referendum has on the government). Yes, it's important, it's about the future role of this country in Europe, it's zzzzzzzz. Nobody cares. Not really. There'll be some posters and for a few days some folks will get excited by this, but for the bulk of Irish people this just doesn't register. Interest in the US Presidential election is (and will be) far greater than this referendum (whenever it happens).

This is why they switched from trying to pass a new "Constitution", which was always going to generate a lot of interest, to simply calling this a Treaty. The word 'Treaty' is a turn-off.

I haven't read the Treaty and probably won't, but I'd like to imagine I will. I'll definitely read some of it.

So, I yesterday sent an e-mail to the Dublin office of the EU Parliament and they've promised to put a copy in the mail right away. In a few days I should have my very own copy of the Lisbon Treaty. In theory I'm going to take the time to compare it with the copy of EU Constitution I got three years ago.

You can ask the EU Parliament office for your own copy or you can download the treaty.

The Times endorses McCain

John McCain is endorsed by the New York Times today. I'm sure that's a headache he didn't need. Any Republican seeking the party's nomination who is endorsed by the Times knows that this is going to make the average Republican voter wary. The Times takes a meek swipe at McCain, but damns him with this at the end.
He has been a staunch advocate of campaign finance reform, working with Senator Russ Feingold, among the most liberal of Democrats, on groundbreaking legislation, just as he worked with Senator Edward Kennedy on immigration reform.
Good Lord, but they just summed up the arguments against McCain as far as the average Republican goes.

The Times editorial kicks each of the other candidates in the shin, but focuses most of its editorial on Rudy Giuliani.
Why, as a New York-based paper, are we not backing Rudolph Giuliani? Why not choose the man we endorsed for re-election in 1997 after a first term in which he showed that a dirty, dangerous, supposedly ungovernable city could become clean, safe and orderly? What about the man who stood fast on Sept. 11, when others, including President Bush, went AWOL?

That man is not running for president.

The real Mr. Giuliani, whom many New Yorkers came to know and mistrust, is a narrow, obsessively secretive, vindictive man who saw no need to limit police power. Racial polarization was as much a legacy of his tenure as the rebirth of Times Square.
I don't think Giuliani could have hoped for better material for his campaign. They hate him because he was right about New York.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Too appropriate

The Galway Alliance Against War is going to drape the city's statue of Liam Mellows in an orange jumpsuit to protest the war, Guantanamo, whatever. It's kind of funny that Liam Mellows is the figure they're using.

The Galway Advertiser article about this stunt doesn't indicate whether the GAAW is aware of the story of Mellows's time in America or not, but I'm sure they are.

After playing a leading role in the Rising Mellows escaped to America, where (the story goes) he was "imprisoned without trial in The Tombs in New York on a charge of partaking in an Irish-German plot to sabotage the allied forces during World War I". See how that works? Mellows was imprisoned without trial on some vague war-related charges just like the poor slobs in Guantanamo.

I've come across that story about Mellows many times in various books and now on the web. I figured it was true until I stumbled on to the Carmelites' 2006 newsletter. Inside that edition of Vox Eliae (I love that name) is an article by Carmelite Alfred Isacsson, who actually researched the court records of the time to get the truth.

Mellows was not "imprisoned without trial" at all, but was arrested with Patrick McCartan and
indicted on December 3, 1917 for perjury and for conspiracy to defraud the United States. Both charges resulted from the falsity of their applications for seamen certificates.
Mellows and his companion had obtained false documents in order to return to Ireland in 1917. Mellows was bailed 10 days later. Eventually, the perjury charge was withdrawn and Mellows pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge and was fined. {You can read the article here, but it's a mess. You have to hunt for pages 14 & 15 - they weren't scanned in order.}

I'm not sure where the tale of Mellows's imprisonment without trial came from, but it's generally accepted as fact now. I wonder how many of the Guantanamo stories will turn out to be more fairy tale than truth in the fullness of time.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Anyone But Clinton. Six weeks ago I had resigned myself to the idea of Hillary Clinton becoming President. I wasn't thrilled, but I was actually thinking that it wouldn't be all that bad. I have flip-flopped on that one. And I don't think I'm the only one. In fact, I think a fair number of Democrats are coming around to that view too.

I'm not saying that Clinton won't win the nomination, but I now believe that she's the only hope the Republicans have of winning the White House in November and avoiding a complete drubbing in the Congressional elections. And to my surprise, Bill is her biggest problem.

A lot of people had developed a sort of rose-tinted view of Clinton's years in office thanks to the failures of the Bush Administration. All along I assumed that Hillary would do the hard slogging of the campaign and Bill would stake out the high moral ground, stay above the fray and just allow himself to be the feel-good guy. I thought he'd be her biggest asset.

But, no. He's been bad-tempered, angry and almost self-destructive. Almost every day he manages to remind the American people of all those negative aspects of his character that they'd half forgotten. In fact, I can't help wondering if his ugly public performances are due to his desire to see Hillary lose. He must know he's harming her campaign. And, if she can't reign him in now on the campaign trail, what awaits us when she's President?

I assumed Bill would provide Hillary with the charm she lacks. She has the grasp of policy, etc., but unfortunately for her the differences between her and Obama on the issues are fairly negligible. She has a little more experience, but not enough to get excited about, but at this stage I can't see what else she has other than asking people to vote for her because she's a woman. Obama excites people in a way Hillary Clinton can only dream about. Even Republicans find Obama an attractive candidate.

What's funny is that large numbers of Republicans are pretty down-hearted about the campaign this year. They don't like their candidates or their chances in the fall. They're expecting to lose. Yet, Bill and Hillary can change all that.

If she wins the nomination, the Republicans will be energized no matter who their candidate is. And, thanks to the manner of her primary campaign, I actually think she'll have managed to have simultaneously de-energized a large chunk of the Democratic Party. She might still win, but it will be close. It sure isn't the safe bet it looked in December.

On the other hand, if Obama wins the nomination it now seems certain that he'll emerge from the primary campaign looking like he just escaped a pack of wild dogs. His clothes will be in shreds and he'll have scrapes and bite marks all over him. He'll be wounded, which might be just enough to let the Republicans escape the pasting that looked certain in December.

Anyone But Clinton - I wonder if the Democrats will get the message on time.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Super exuberance & the markets

Everybody's waiting to see how far the American markets will fall today. Well, if the Dow Jones doesn't tank today there's only one possible explanation - the New York Giants.

I've long believed that market confidence is affected by the performance of New York's baseball teams, but the Giants' surprising run to the Super Bowl could help the large number of New York area investors and brokers maintain an (unwarranted?) confidence in the future. Well, you never know.

Warning: follow this advice at your own risk. I'm not putting my money where my mouth is.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Two movies

I saw two movies over the weekend. I wanted to see each of them when they were in the movie theaters, but didn't work out. One was a war movie and the other about a political activist.

The war movie was Flags of Our Fathers. And, ... Well, it was all right. I was disappointed, to be honest. I thought it was kind of dull. I didn't like the fact that it had virtually no flow to it and about an hour or so in I realized that I just didn't care. It wasn't awful just not that good. {I have Letters From Iwo Jima still to watch.}

The other movie was Amazing Grace. Now that was good. The movie was about William Wilberforce, MP and anti slave-trade campaigner from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. For a movie that had virtually no action, it was pretty riveting and the two hours passed quickly.

Back to free

The Irish News is the latest newspaper to make its online edition free to read. They relaunched their web site a week or two ago with a nice new look and no mention of paying to read. I'm not sure if they intend to keep it free to read or if this a temporary situation. We can only hope it's permanent.

In recent months we've had the NY Times abandoning their subscription model and at some point last year The Independent abandoned their subs model too.

How long will the Irish Times hold out?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Obama's quote

I can't imagine any statement by any of the candidates will be as big a put down or as full of meaning as Obama's yesterday (youtube video, transcript from NRO).
I don't want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what's different are the times.I do think that for example the 1980 was different. I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.
He puts down Bill Clinton while praising Ronald Reagan. At the same time, he's letting us know that he's not a politician 'of the 60s & 70s', which (by implication) Hillary is. "All the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s …" - wow. Has he just lost the boomer vote?

No experience required?

The past few weeks I've been wondering if the voters are so turned off by the Bush Administration that they're willing to overturn an almost unwritten rule in this year's election: that Presidents must have some executive experience before they're elected. In today's Washington Post David Broder notes that none of the leading Democrats has ever been in charge of anything before.
But it was also stunning to realize that the three current and former senators who have survived the shakeout process -- Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards -- have not a day of chief executive experience among them.

By contrast, the Republican field is loaded with people who are accustomed to being in charge of large organizations. Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee were governors of their states of Massachusetts and Arkansas, Rudy Giuliani served as the mayor of New York, and John McCain, as he likes to remind audiences, commanded the largest squadron in the Navy air wing.
Conventional wisdom has it that the Democrats are practically a shoo-in this year. Maybe they are, but this is a serious chink in their armor.

The more the campaign focuses on the economy, the more I think that favors Romney above all others. His Massachusetts experience is a good story and that's what won the day for him in Michigan. I still think he's the favorite for the nomination and if he can overcome his plastic-ness he could well win in November.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Watching the Republicans

I know this is almost heresy, but the Republican campaign is pretty interesting. You have five candidates still in the race after the first 3 primaries (4 if you count Wyoming, but no one does) and each of them is not quite the ideal Republican candidate. Each has strengths and weaknesses and plays to different elements in the Republican Party. You have (in alphabetical order):
  • Giuliani - the tough guy;
  • Huckabee - the preacher;
  • McCain - the maverick;
  • Romney - the businessman;
  • Thopmson - the 'heart throb'.
Of those five, Thompson is the one who appeals to the heart of the Republican Party, which is why I say he's a 'heart throb'. He says the right things, he looks commanding, he has presence, but ... Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like too many Republicans believe him or in him.

The others, however, all have defects that make them less than desirable to the Republican base. There are clear differences in each of them, differences in experience, emphasis and ideas. And these differences in emphasis and ideas make the campaign both entertaining - who doesn't like a close race? - and educational - the emphasis on the issues varies by region and by state, which allows us to learn something about what each candidate would do.

The Republican race doesn't have the sex appeal of the Democrats' contest, but for political junkies I think it's the better one to follow.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

London Olympics

Why would any city want to host the Olympics? Today's London Times claims that the city might have £1bn shortfall when the various Olympic sites are sold off after the Games are over in 2012.

Imagine how much worse it will be when the realization dawns that the Olympics have been killed by becoming too big and too closely associated with the drugs in sports problems.

LA Gov - doesn't fit the stereotype

Louisiana's first non-white Governor was sworn in yesterday. Indian-American Bobby Jindal, a Republican, busts all sorts of stereotypes. Jindal's also a convert to Catholicism, which doesn't worry his family or Hindus generally.

Jindal's only 36 and he was born in America. We'll have to wait and see if he moves any higher than Governor of Louisiana.

Online check-in

Flew to Edinburgh the other day with Ryanair. I have to admit that the addition of online check-in is a great boon to us day trippers. Takes all the stress out of getting to the airport on time. Now all we have to do is get to the gate on time and not be there to "check-in two hours before hand" and those seemingly endless lines. Those 6:30 flights don't seem so early now.

It was cold in Edinburgh. Much colder than it's been here in a few years. I was struck by the fact that a lot of the sidewalks were covered in frost throughout the day. There doesn't seem to be any imperative on property owners to clear the sidewalks in front of their buildings.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Vincent Browne's new show

I saw an ad tonight for a new news/politics program on TV3 hosted by Vincent Browne. Great to see our alternative network offering a new face and a new perspective on news/politics.
Nightly News with Vincent Browne will give viewers in this country something they have never had before in one programme – a news bulletin, in-depth reports, interviews with the key newsmakers and expert analysis, sport, weather and uniquely a preview of the following morning’s newspapers.

The Nightly News team will be led by Vincent Browne, one of Ireland’s foremost journalists. Vincent will anchor the programme and will be joined by two Senior Correspondents, Karen Coleman, who joins TV3 from Newstalk Radio where she presents an award winning weekly programme The Wide Angle and Brian O’Donovan, one of this country’s most exciting young journalists. He has covered most of the big stories for TV3 News since he joined two years ago.
I simply can't get excited by the idea of a new Vincent Browne led news/politics show.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Carbon footprint calculator

Repak launched its carbon calculator over Christmas. I spent a few minutes doing it just out of curiosity and found out that my (or my family's - it's not clear) carbon footprint is above average.

I was pretty surprised by that, to be honest. I hadn't expected our home energy use to be above average. It has me wondering how they arrived at the "averages for Irish homes". When I read the Repak suggestions on how to reduce our energy consumption there was little we didn't already do.

One aspect of the carbon calculators that I don't understand is why doesn't stuff matter? Surely someone who buys a lot of stuff should have a higher carbon footprint than someone who eschews material purchases, no? Every sweater from Pakistan or pair of sneakers from Indonesia or gadget from China must add to your carbon footprint. Why do shopaholics not have to fret the carbon police, but us occasional air travelers have to endure being portrayed as baby seal murderers?


I don't know why I put myself through it, but for some reason I tuned into Newstalk a few minutes ago. Uggh. I didn't hear the names of the guests, but Nell McCafferty is definitely one. I have no idea how anyone can take her seriously when she's gushing about Obama and Clinton, uttering half-truths, untruths, waffle and nonsense.

The Irish media will be insufferable regardless which of these two wins. If only there was a chance for Edwards to win the nomination.

Green waffle

I'm listening to Pat Kenny talk to Eamon Ryan, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. Kenny's making good points, but he's too gentle. This light bulb decision is ridiculous. I just wish Kenny would state that if the consumers really save money with these 'low energy bulbs' there would be no need for the state to bludgeon us into using these bulbs. By all means, zero rate them for VAT, but do not ban incandescent bulbs.

Kenny's pointing out all sorts of practical problems with the CFL bulbs, but the Minister's not listening. In fact, I suspect he's incapable of understanding what Kenny's saying so he keeps repeating some mantra that he's memorized.

Kenny's noting that these 'low energy' bulbs:
  • burn out much more quickly than advertised if you turn them on and off, as many people do now with incandescent bulbs - in fact, Kenny said that a CFL bulb will last only for 500 hours of normal use not 5000 as the manufacturers claim;
  • can't be used with dimmers and that the new dimmers that you need to buy are terrible;
  • that there are many light fixtures for which there is no 'low energy' replacement yet.
Really, Kenny handled him with kid gloves. He is clearly knowledgeable about these bulbs both through good research AND, importantly, he uses them almost exclusively in his own house. He should have gone for the jugular. It's just not Kenny's style.

St. Patrick's Day — March 15 & 17

Two holidays for the price of one. The Church has moved St. Patrick's Day to the 15th of March (so that it won't conflict with Holy Week), but the state-run parade and other celebrations will go ahead on the 17th. Funny that the Archdiocese of New York and the parade organizers there don't have any issue with a Holy Week St. Patrick's Day.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


There are times when I still marvel at what you can find online. Last week someone sent me a file that I couldn't open because my software couldn't handle the file's format. I needed to convert it to something I could use.

With virtually no hope of success I sought help from the all powerful Oz - Google. And what should I stumble across? Just the perfect solution to my problem.

I had never heard of Zamzarbefore, but their free online service did exactly what I wanted. There are one or two other web sites that do similar things, but Zamzar was the best as far as I was concerned.

That would be news

When I saw this headline I just had to click: "Jan O'Sullivan slams health system which favours the poor". However, it's just a typo and not a new (possibly even a winning?) political ploy from the Limerick TD. The first line spoils the fun.
Limerick's Jan O'Sullivan says it's time to take action on a health system that favours the wealthy over the poor.
Such a cliché; so dull and hardly newsworthy.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Bush protest

I was watching Euronews last night and saw a short item about President Bush's visit to Israel. I could see what looked like thousands of people waving signs. At first I thought they would be a nice welcoming committee, but no. They were protesting against Bush for being too pro-Palestinian — "Bush: Founding father of Hamastine". Disliked by both the Israelis and the Palestinians, which at least shows that they agree on something. Right?

Flashes of insight

I had two flashes of insight last night. First, I suddenly realized that it's possible that no Republican is going to win enough delegates to win the nomination before the convention in early September. Second, Romney's going to win the nomination. {And, this flash is independent of the first flash - Romney may well win the nomination before the convention.}

I think Romney will win because he's younger and fitter than either McCain or Giuliani, less likely to burn out or - as they will - appear old and irritable. Also, he's more of an unknown than either of them, so he has a better hope of building momentum. And, he's much closer to the Republican core values than is Huckabee, who I think could win enough delegates to play a big role at the convention.

I think the Democrat race will be decided one way or the other by early February, but thanks to the wide open Republican race we'll get a great chance to learn about the arcane primary system. Congressional Quarterly has the best summary I've seen of how the primaries work on a state by state basis. Also, these January primaries are all against the rules, which means that each of these states' has had their delegate totals cut in half.

Liverpool's "Yanks"

You might (or might not) remember when in February I wrote these words: "I would not be happy if I was a fan of Liverpool FC". I wrote that when Texas Rangers's Tom Hicks and Montreal Canadiens' owner George Gillett bought Liverpool FC.

Well, here we are not even a year later and it seems that Hicks and Gillett are having some serious money issues. I wish I could understand what makes American billionaires believe that they can run English soccer clubs better than billionaires who actually know something about the professional game as it exists in England?

Dewey Defeats Truman — again

Not quite as bad as the old Chicago Tribune headline that blared "Dewey Defeats Truman", but I'm guessing that there are a few folks at The Independent that sort of wish they'd held off on this front page.

It seems the coronation was a tad premature. You had exactly one day to get your money from the bookies on your Obama bet. I hope you cashed in.

I just don't buy all this "comeback" nonsense. All that's happened is that Clinton and Obama are in a tight race and the polls got it wrong.

This has happened so often that you'd think that the media would be a little more circumspect about polling data, but that doesn't suit the profit models. Rather we have to be convinced that this is like a football game with "Big Mo" and leads coming and going. The media wants it to be exciting because they've learned that viewers stay tuned when the game is close.

I suspect that by tomorrow we'll see all sorts of columns and talkshow discussions on whether Obama's done now.

UPDATE 8:35am: Just found these headlines from today's Irish Examiner: "Obama deals Clinton second blow in crucial poll" and "Obama victory big blow to Clinton". And, there's more. Must be awful to have your whole World News section devoted to an event that didn't happen. Uggh.

At least the front pages of today's Irish Independent and Irish Times only claim that Obama's "poised" for victory.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Praising Bush

Saturday must be the NY Times's lightest circulation day. Why do I think that? Because last Saturday the Times published an article that was actually positive about one aspect of President Bush's foreign policy.
So far, roughly 1.4 million AIDS patients have received lifesaving medicine paid for with American dollars, up from 50,000 before the initiative. Even Mr. Bush's most ardent foes, among them Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, his 2004 Democratic challenger, find it difficult to argue with the numbers.

"It's a good thing that he wanted to spend the money," said Mr. Kerry, an early proponent of legislation similar to the plan Mr. Bush adopted. "I think it represents a tremendous accomplishment for the country."
And, John Kerry and the Times maybe grudging in their praise, but not so others.
"I think he's done an incredible job, his administration, on AIDS. And 250,000 Africans are on anti-viral drugs. They literally owe their lives to America. In one year that's been done." Who made this radically pro-American claim? No doubt it was a Bush administration stooge, right? Wrong. These are the words of Bono, the Irish rock star and humanitarian activist. And here's what fellow rocker-activist Bob Geldof has to say: " … the Bush administration is the most radical — in a positive sense — in its approach to Africa since Kennedy."
At Mass a few weeks ago I heard a woman who had been a lay missionary in Africa praising President Bush's efforts in Zambia. Is there any hope that this part of the Bush story might also find its way into the "accepted view" of people here in Ireland?

Results matter, not more money. It was something I expected from the Bush Administration in all spheres, but at least it seems to have paid off in Africa. Once you have the program right, then up the aid, but don't just throw money at a problem to follow the same failed path.

Monday, January 07, 2008

American Gaeltacht

I'm not sure what to say about the government's decision to provide €660,000 (that's a million bucks)
to boost Irish in the United States, where it is also hoped "mini Gaeltacht" areas can be established.
Interesting, anyway. I wonder if the Canadian Gaeltacht received any money.


Sheesh. If you had asked me at any time from 2000 up to late 2006/early 2007 I would have said that there wasn't even a snowball's chance in hell that Hillary Clinton would ever be elected President. Then at some point between August and December I changed my mind so completely that I decided that she was nearly a shoo-in. Now? I don't know.

What I never anticipated is that any other candidate would be the media darling, but that's what Obama has become. I can't say that I see what it is that makes Obama so attractive to the media, but he sure is the darling. And, thanks to the farce in Iowa that has attained a severly inflated status, the press (especially in Britain and Ireland) seems just about ready to write off Clinton.

I think it's too soon for that, but the ridiculously condensed and early primary schedule doesn't allow much time for a methodical fight back. This week's not all that important either, so long as she can find the right buttons to push to bring Obama back to Earth. She has the money, but whether she's the campaigner she needs to be is now in doubt. I think Bill Clinton would wipe the floor with Obama, but that doesn't mean Hillary can or will.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

CFL - my first try

Today I was in Tesco and I just figured I'd try a couple of those CFL bulbs. I bought two Philips 20W that were supposed be replacements for 100W incandescent bulbs. I can live with the light they're giving in a couple of fixtures, but there's no way that the light these bulbs are giving off is comparable to a 100W bulb. No way.

Friday, January 04, 2008


A very pleasant woman from Newstalk called me yesterday to ask if I'd come on the radio this morning to discuss the Iowa caucuses. I declined (and may have been a bit abrupt with her — sorry).

I explained to her that I just don't understand why Iowa has become SOOO important. I can remember when Iowa seemed like a quaint, odd, but hardly worth-getting-excited-about phenomenon. I always thought of a Iowa as being like the trumpet blast before a horse race (do they do that on this side? – I've never been to the races in Ireland) – an alert to let you know that it's nearly time to start paying attention.

Somehow Iowans, eager for all the attention and perks, and the media, eager for something that sells news coverage, have managed to turn Iowa into a major event. I suppose if Iowa's going to be so vital couldn't Iowans at least agree to hold a proper primary?

At least Iowa's behind us now and I've heard the trumpet blast. The REAL starting gate is straight ahead.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


So, who am I going to vote for in the primary? Well, right now I'd have to say that I'm a McCain supporter. I kind of liked him back in 2000 and despite the fact that he's getting on in years, I still like him. I'm not wild about him, to be honest, but the rest of the Republican field leaves me C O L D.

Dual citizenship

Mike Huckabee wants to change the law to outlaw dual citizenship.
The former Arkansas governor's "Secure America Plan" includes a call to "discourage dual citizenship" by imposing "civil and/or criminal penalties on American citizens who illegitimately use their dual status." While Mr. Huckabee's plan is short on details, it says prohibited uses of dual citizenship would include "using a foreign passport, voting in elections in both a foreign country and the U.S," and other actions.
Well, that certainly would cramp my style. I hold both an American and Irish passport AND I vote in both jurisdictions. Seeing as I think it's pretty unlikely this will come to pass, I haven't really given any serious thought to how I'd respond if Huckabee's plans ever came to pass. All I know for certain is that I wouldn't renounce my American citizenship, but what the implications might be or how my children might react if forced to choose I couldn't say.

I suppose if Huckabee does well tomorrow, I might have to think about this issue, but for now I'm just going to assume that nothing will really change.

Greening of the Church

I don't know what to make of the burst of environmentalism coming from the Vatican, the Anglican Church and others. On the one hand, respect for God's creation makes perfect sense as part of a Christian message. I think people should respect what God has given us.

However, that's a million miles from the silliness of buying carbon offsets or saying that "God doesn't do waste". The Rev John Owen, leader of the Welsh Presbyterian Church, went so far as to remind the members of his Church that "the nativity had a minimal effect on the environment". I don't know how he can say that, what with those three kings (& you know they brought their entourages) traversing afar, I'm not so sure the nativity had that small a carbon footprint.

If the Christian Churches are serious about tackling climate change, then how 'bout they start with their own organizations. Why do priests in Ireland all seem to live in separate houses? Talk about wasteful. Why can't two priests in one parish share a house? That's just for starters.

Why are churches heated (particularly in Ireland or Britain)? There's no need. Most people come wearing heavy coats when it's cold. I can't tell you how many times I've been in heated churches where the doors are left open. And, why is any church air conditioned (I've come across this many times in America)? Again, there's no need. Okay, it's hot & sticky – deal with it. Why all that artificial light during daylight?

I'm all for the Christian message against greed and gluttony, both of which are very wasteful. It's just that the Churches are crossing the line into the ridiculous and, even, possibly economically disastrous. Keep the perspective right.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Paper or plastic?

Could just be my imagination, but it does seem like we have accumulated a lot more paper bags this Christmas than in years past. I presume that even with the proliferation of paper bags the environment is still a winner thanks to the paper bag ban, but the gain is less now than it was when the plastic bag ban first came into effect.