Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sign the bill, Governor

Both parties agree. The Wall Street Journal and the Albany Times Union agree. New York Governor Paterson must sign the libel bill before him to insure that New Yorkers' First Amendment rights are protected from foreign libel courts.

The inspiration for the bill is the case of Rachel Ehrenfeld, who has been sued for libel in an English court. Ehrenfeld named Khalid Bin Mahfouz as a possible funder of terrorism in her book Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Funded and How to Stop It. Bin Mahfouz sued, in England, and won $225,000. The new bill would make these judgments unenforceable in New York. (Hard to believe that they are at the moment, no?)

The Governor has until the end of the day to sign the bill, passed unanimously in both houses of the state legislature.

Playing the anti-American card

Well, how do you like that? Fine Gael's Lucinda Creighton has managed to make some news in America today, stealing a little bit of Bertie's spotlight. The Washington Times has a report today on Creighton's recent "web posting" on the Fine Gael web site.

Creighton claims that
US foreign policy has traditionally been opposed to EU integration. The US supports the EU as an economic bloc but nothing more. The idea of a politically strong EU, acting as a check or counterbalance on the US does not sit well with our transatlantic friends. This policy has long been evident in NATO, where the US has consistently opposed the expansion of NATO to the new EU member states.
I don't know what she means by "traditionally", but it's always been my impression that American policy was positive about European integration. And I really have no idea what she's talking about with all that about the expansion of NATO. America was not forced to support NATO expansion. If anything American policy has been too keen, generating tensions with Russia.

So, what's going on? Well, it turns out this is part of an attempt to besmirch the character of the people heading the anti-Lisbon movement here. According to Creighton, Ulick McEvaddy and Declan Ganley's opposition to the Lisbon Treaty is due to the fact that these two men "are heavily dependent on contracts from the State Department, the Pentagon and US Government Agencies".

What she's saying actually makes no sense to me. Why would people who are in the business of selling equipment to the Pentagon be unhappy about European integration? A unified, militarily strong EU (which is implied in her statement) would be another potentially lucrative contract for McEvaddy & Ganley. Arms traders are rarely so picky when it comes to customers.

However, Creighton's politics are pretty transparent. She's throwing mud - and links to the Pentagon will definitely not play well with the Irish media or a big chunk of the Irish electorate - and hoping some will stick. She's not too subtly playing the anti-American card in the EU campaign. That's a new angle for Fine Gael.

Job interview?

I like how Bloomberg's news service captures the essence of the Taoiseach's speech before Congress today: "Ahern's U.S. Speech May Be a 'Pitch' for an International Role". Yup, Bertie needs a job.

The speech is on RTE 1 at 4pm and on C-SPAN at 11am. C-SPAN will also air the speech online.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Bank of Ireland scandal

There have been a few pretty good articles/columns on the Bank of Ireland and the 'lost laptops', but there's a part of me that thinks that the media, generally, has bought the bank's spin that (a) this isn't really a big deal and (b) they've kept a close watch on the accounts. I was watching RTE's report last night and it wasn't bad, but the reporter seemed to think that somehow the bank's reassurances were somehow an effective counter to the fact that the bank has lost the personal details of thousands of people.

The new information that came to light yesterday - that the number of affected people is now over 30,000 and the number of branches involved has quadrupled - indicates that the bank doesn't have a clue. But rest assured they're "monitoring the accounts".

Well, are all the accounts in the records stolen Bank of Ireland accounts? The reason I ask is because some of the lost data referred to life insurance customers and I can well imagine a situation where a Bank of Ireland life insurance customer's banking details with another bank might be in the lost data. Did the Bank of Ireland notify the other banks? Some of the people are not even customers, but only people looking for quotes. Are they monitoring those people's financial records too?

This is a massive scandal. First the bank clearly doesn't give a damn about their customers or potential customers given the systematic indifference to the safety of their customers' personal data. If they cared there would be a culture of concern with regards to the information on those laptops.

I get the feeling that the regulators are very concerned, but from what I've seen and heard they don't have the personality or public relations capacity to explain to the media how serious a breach this is. And, as I said, the media doesn't seem to get it. This story should be front page, but it's on neither the Irish Independent's nor Irish Times's front page.

I understand how 'compelling' this Austrian story is for the newsrooms, but it's sensationalist trivia compared with the Bank of Ireland story.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Waste not! Why not?

I don't want to hear any government minister complain about packaging or junk mail or any other commercial marketing material that they deem waste again. The government seems to be in love with sending me material for my recycling bin. Recently we had Preparing For Major Emergencies and yesterday we received the hefty Discover Ireland 08, which is as far as I can tell a print version of Tourism Ireland's obviously expensive web site. And, let's not forget that last year every house in the state received a copy of the new Rules of the Road book.

Three fairly sizable magazines/books that virtually nobody in the state asked for and which are probably (the government hopes) going to end up in the recycling centers. I think my copy of Discover Ireland 08 spent nearly 20 minutes in the house before I had it out the back door. I'm not sure what happened to the emergencies book. And, I'll admit I was mildly amused by Rules of the Road, but that went out too after a week or so.

Seeing as I didn't ask for any of those items and none of them came addressed specifically to me, I have to assume that every household in the state received each of these (& I'm sure there have been others that I can't recall at the moment). How much waste does all of this add up to? Well, Discover Ireland 08 is 144 full size pages (not counting the cover) and assuming that around 2m were printed that adds up to quite a nice pile of waste.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

McCain's not a shoo-in

I think there's almost a growing consensus - especially among the gloomier, left-leaning media - over here that the Democrats are committing suicide and that McCain is a clear favorite to win in November. Now as much as I'd enjoy such a spectacle, I think there are a few little things that have been overlooked in the Irish media that should at least give pause for thought.

First, McCain is hardly loved by the Republican Party. In fact, I don't think it was mentioned here at all, but despite the fact that the nomination process as a contest is over 27% of the Republican primary voters in Pennsylvania opted for Paul or Huckabee rather than vote for McCain. That's a fairly significant level of discontent with the party's nominee, which could be a factor come November.

Second, the news media is only now moving to high definition broadcasts. This will not help McCain - especially against Obama. (HDTV doesn't do any favors for Hillary, apparently.) HDTV market penetration is still fairly small, but it's growing pretty rapidly. I doubt it will be as high as 50% of American households by year end, but even if it's a third that's a lot of homes where John McCain will suddenly look a lot older than he does at the moment.

And, those are two insignificant items compared with McCain's fairly orthodox conservative economic policies that should prove pretty unappealing come November and his staunch support for a war that is still pretty unpopular.

So, it's too early for all the members of the Democrat-loving Irish media to get too down. I suppose it's experience that has taught them to be pessimistic.

Earth Day

The other day was Earth Day. I somehow missed it. Oh well.

Whenever I think about Earth Day I think back about 20 years. I had driven up to Harriman State Park for a picnic and decided I'd drive back the slow route with a stop at Bear Mountain. Mistake.

That day Bear Mountain was the venue for an annual Earth Day concert. The place was full of filthy people, driving gas-guzzling cars (not that I had a problem with gas guzzling cars, but I didn't go to Earth Day concerts either). And, it was a mess. Really. Litter everywhere. I was going to say that I couldn't believe it, but I believed it all too well. It was exactly how I expected people going to an Earth Day concert to behave.

Sure they were 'environmentalists', but that meant that they wanted you to cut back, clean up and drastically change your ways. It didn't mean that they were going to sacrifice. That's how I saw environmentalists then and my views haven't changed much since then.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Is McCain the luckiest man alive today?

The Pennsylvania primary is today. It's only six years weeks since the Ohio & Texas primaries.

Anyway, Clinton's going to win today, not by enough to say Obama's mortally wounded, but not by so little that Obama can make the case that she's done. And, so we'll go on ... and on. The North Carolina & Indiana primaries are only two weeks away.

Careless & thoughtless - Bank of Ireland

Did you hear about the four bank robberies that cost a bank about €500,000, but about which the bank did practically nothing? Funny enough, three of those robberies were not 'bank robberies' as such, but rather instances where officers of the bank had over €100,000 in the trunks of their cars and the money was stolen from there. And, so at ease was the bank in question that the robberies weren't even reported up the chain of command for months.

You didn't hear about that? You didn't because it didn't happen. No bank would be so lax with so much money. Yet, the Bank of Ireland is that lax with its customers' information, which they put on laptops that then get thrown in their officers' cars.
The laptops contained information about medical backgrounds, life assurance, bank account details, names and addresses of up to 10,000 Bank of Ireland customers.

The Bank of Ireland confirmed the laptops were stolen between June and October 2007. It claimed the theft was only brought to the attention of the "appropriate authorities" in the bank over the "past number of weeks".
10,000 customers' information was on those laptops, but the bank didn't consider it important enough to even notify the customers in question. "Bank of Ireland said it was planning to contact all of the customers affected". They're still "planning to contact" the customers even though the robberies occurred between 6 & 10 months ago. Arrogance doesn't quite fit. Contempt is closer to it.

I tell you, my personal information is worth more than €50 to me as it is I'm sure to all 10,000 of those whose information was 'lost'. That values the information at over €500K, but the bank hardly gives a damn.

I'm not even sure why all this information is allowed on laptops to begin with. Why not force all their officers who travel with laptops to use secure networks rather than saving all this detail on an all-too-easily stolen laptop? Again, probably too expensive for the Bank to make such an effort.

And, you can already tell that the fall-out for the bank will be minimal.


Wow! I can't say enough about Antony Beevor's book, Berlin, which I finished recently. Before I'd read this book I had only a vague knowledge of what happened on the Eastern Front as the war wound down. I'd never heard of Seelow Heights, for example. 45,000 men were killed in less four days of fighting.

My only regret with this book is that I hadn't first read Beevor's Stalingrad, just so I'd have had a better background before reading Berlin. My only complaint about the book is that I find it hard reading a large number of names I can't pronounce.

There were a lot of things that surprised me reading this book. One is that the front line infantry, those who actually did the heaviest fighting, generally treated the German women (& others) far better than the tank units and those troops who came up in support. Another thing that surprised me (and it shouldn't have) is just how German the Baltic region was before 1945. It was only after I looked at a map of post WWI Germany that I realized how much of what was Germany became Poland or other states after WWII.

This book provides a great sense of how inhuman both of these regimes were. They cared little for their own people, never mind 'the enemy'.

Thousands of Soviet troops were sacrificed in a contest between the two lead generals to be first to Berlin. Stalin fostered this contest in order to keep them keen to serve him. Or what about the fact that those Soviet soldiers and civilians who had been imprisoned or enslaved by the Germans earlier in the war were treated with suspicion by the Soviet regime after the war. And then there's the fact that advancing Russian troops also raped Russian, Polish and other (any other) women prisoners/slaves they came across.

Overall, great great book.

Recruiting men to the priesthood

The Archdiocese of New York's has a new message for those who are considering (or might be willing to consider) the priesthood: "The World Needs Heroes". The web site is actually pretty impressive.

And, although the emphasis is not exactly what I had in mind when I said the Church needed to emulate the US Marines, there are images on this site that make it clear that they're thinking along those lines. The Church needs tough guys to be priests.

The home page of the site shows a priest leading the prayers over the coffin draped in a FDNY flag.

I still think that there has to be more of an emphasis on toughness in the seminary program and they could do worse than have a look at Anapolis and/or West Point as models. I'm not sure if the new appeal is in tune with the message you get from the program as outlined in the seminary's web site.

What? No Bruce?

According to today's Irish Independent, the Junior Cert curriculum for the "all-new music syllabus" is going to include John Denver, Abba, Rod Stewart and Simon & Garfunkel. Uggh.

The Independent says that music from the 70s seems to be the primary focus for the new course. Fair enough, but they could do better than that list. There's no mention of The Who. There's no mention of The Clash. There's no mention of Lou Reed. There's no mention of ... the list of who's missing is pretty extensive.

Mostly I want to know where Bruce is in the new syllabus. He should have his own module.

MORE: I should add that I really have no time for this sort of 'right on' change to the syllabus. I'm not sure what's currently in the music syllabus, but I doubt it'll be enhanced with Rocky Mountain High.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cooling off

Could someone please turn on the heat? The calendar seems to think it's supposed to be spring, but so far we've seen very little evidence of that.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

England smells

Yup, England smells something foul and it is (apparently) Europe's stink. Of course some people are having fun with the cause of the smell, but there doesn't seem to be any one culprit - other than the smell is coming from across the channel.
But the Met Office stepped in to rule that it was basic pollution - the "odour of ordinary everyday life in northern Europe". Belgian chocolate factories, Dutch pig farms, German diesel engines and 1,000 other smells had become trapped under a motionless cloud hanging over continental farms and factories for several days.
I really like this.
The charity Water Aid yesterday claimed that London had not smelt as bad since the Great Stink of 1858, caused by raw sewage.
I had never heard of the Great Stink of 1858 before.

Friday, April 18, 2008

End of the party

Who is Ciaran Cannon? I never heard of him until a couple of days ago when I heard that he'd won the day and become the new leader of the Progressive Democrats. In contrast, I had heard of Fiona O'Malley, who Cannon defeated to become leader of the PD's.

Everyone seems to believe that it's only a matter of time before the PD's simply vanish. I doubt 'everyone' is wrong. The funny thing is, I was actually a little happy when I heard that Cannon had defeated O'Malley. Why? Well, mostly because I'm not a fan of O'Malley as I've written before. I guess I have this fading, vague hope that Cannon will revive the PD's only without the hip social policies and the (sometimes virulent) anti-Catholicism.

So, until I learn otherwise, I'll wish Cannon well, but whether I like what he has to say or not, I think his party's doomed.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Consulting with children

Teenage children want the drinking age lowered. That's according to Teenagers’ views on solutions to alcohol misuse (Report on a National Consultation). The teens believe that the legal age for buying alcohol should be 16.

I didn't know until I saw this report that the Minister for Children had even established Children and Young People's Forum, which is comprised of children aged 12-18 (is 12 the new 'teen'?). The CYPF was formed in 2004 because "[t]here is a growing awareness of the need to involve children and young people directly in researching their lives". Apparently this idea is driven by "international best practice on participation by young people in decision-making".

This sort of thing drives me nuts. "International best practice"? Who decides what's "best practice" and what isn't? And where is this "growing awareness" taking place? I would doubt it's in the homes where most parents do their darndest to raise their children right. No, it comes from busy-body academics who love nothing better than dictating to others how to raise their children, etc. (while drawing their tax-payer funded salaries to engage in tax-payer funded 'research').

Look, I know there's a problem with drinking here and it starts at a young age. However, if instead of wasting tax-payers money on the CYPF and ridiculous research projects the government listened to parents I think they'd hear something along the lines of:
  1. Toughen the laws - make it illegal to sell alcohol to anyone without a proper state-issued ID; make it a crime on a par with drug-dealing for a legal drinker to supply alcohol to underage drinkers (excluding the family home)
  2. raise the drinking age - for the first time since I moved here I've been hearing this one a lot. 20 seems to be a minimum people think should be adopted.
This kind of consultative drivel is what you get when you create unnecessary government positions like the Minister for Children. That should just be scrapped.

I can't wait for the next gems to come from the Minister's office. I'm sure it'll be something along the lines of ... Consultation with children aged 5-11 indicates that they'd like a strictly enforced regime of three ice creams per day ...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Reporting on the Waterford aid request

It might be a mere oversight or coincidence, but the Irish Independent's coverage of this story has been somewhat scant compared with what can be found in the Irish Times and the (London) Sunday Times.

In today's Irish Times, John McManus points out (sub. reqd.) that the crystal (Irish & other) business is actually profitable and it's their other product lines that are causing most of the trouble: "the real problem with Waterford Wedgwood lies with the ceramics business and not the crystal business".

If the Waterford Wedgwood accounts reveal anything at all it is that the non-Irish brands are dragging down the iconic Irish brand". McManus concludes, "rescuing quoted companies, particularly quoted companies that carry out more than three quarters of their operations outside of the State makes no sense for the Government". Correctamundo! (I'm sticking with the Happy Days theme)

Normally, I would expect to see a similar column in the Sunday Independent, but nothing yesterday.

Yesterday's, Sunday Times noted that the request for government aid "came just minutes before it emerged that Sir Anthony O'Reilly, the Waterford Wedgwood chairman, spent €4 million of his own money on building his stake in Independent News & Media". This is the same Independent News & Media that publishes the somewhat reticent (on this topic) Irish Independent.

Why is the Irish Independent and the Sunday Independent missing on this story? I wonder.

The Democratic prmaries

The Democratic Party is still trying to find a nominee. I can't believe it's another week to the Pennsylvania primary.

I don't know about you, but I've lost interest. In fact, when I read the other day about some new problem for Obama and how this might be Hillary's opportunity I thought how this process is like a t.v. show I watched when it was new and interesting but is now trudging on with nothing new to offer to hold the viewer's attention.

If the Democrats were ABC they'd be having a crisis meeting about falling ratings and be looking at how they could spice up the storylines with something new. Maybe a new character. Like Chachi on Happy Days. That's a good idea. The Democrats should be appealing to Al Gore to throw his hat in the ring (his candidacy will be forever known as the Chachi campaign). They just need something to freshen things up.

Looking into the crystal ball

Waterford Crystal wants the government to provide it with "State guarantees for €39m of new bank debt over a three-year period". Why is Waterford Crystal asking for the government to "guarantee" new bank debt? It's not a trick question, you know the answer. Yup, because no bank will go near them without the taxpayer as back-up.

The company has too much debt already. It's certainly sad, true, but at least there a few laughs reading CEO John Foley's arguments (sorry, but Irish Times and sub. reqd.) why the Irish government should back Waterford with taxpayer money:
  • They're only asking for a guarantee, not a loan or a grant (surely somebody out there would recognize that there's no risk in a guarantee and come to their aid. Surely. No?)
  • They want to stay in Ireland (aren't they great)
  • Government aid would be no different than public bail-outs of Northern Rock and Bear Stearns (yes, possible collapse of financial system or loss of luxury glass manufacturer - same thing)
  • The company "has a heritage from the mid-18th century, has been manufacturing in the city for more than 60 years. It has been a good corporate citizen throughout this time". (Possibly my favorite)
  • The company has been substantially supported by its shareholders in recent years (Duh. Maybe they should have realized earlier that the business was in trouble?)
  • They believe it's desirable for Ireland to maintain Waterford Crystal in Ireland (I agree - each shareholder should pledge to double, triple his investment with zero expectation of any return)
  • The "award-winning visitor centre", which attracts 350,000 people annually, could stay open. (I wonder if there are any other attractions that might be able to attract 350,000 people per year with €39m to spend?)
I hope the government has the sense to bid Waterford adieu. At the same time, it might not be a bad idea to just put out feelers in EU circles to see if "Waterford" must come from Waterford. You know, like Champagne has to come from the Champagne region? I'd love to see Mr. Foley's face when the government makes that announcement.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Taxing the internet to fund t.v.

This is just outrageous. The British government's telecoms watchdog proposes imposing a tax on internet service providers in order to fund television programs nobody watches. This is so stunningly unnecessary and unjust that I'm nearly speechless (or the blog equivalent). In fact, I was so sure that the Daily Telegraph was mistaken that I went to Ofcom's web site where I saw that the report was accurate.
Fourthly, industry funding for public service content could be introduced through levies. President Sarkozy has proposed this as a possible approach for France. It might be possible to introduce levies on providers not currently part of the formal public service broadcasting model, such as broadcasters, equipment sales, internet service subscriptions or UK online content providers.
I didn't read this whole report, but even with a quick breeze through it you see lots of words like "plurality". Plurality is used to mean "competition", but not the kind of competition with winners and losers. No, winning and losing is out because plurality means the average Joe Schmoe has to pay for all sorts of fringe or unwatchable programming that the viewing numbers can't justify.

What makes all this piffle more interesting is that for reasons that are insufficiently explained, internet service providers or television manufacturers should be punished because all this undoubtedly worthwhile, but unwatched, programming needs funding. Why not tax newspapers or video rental shops?

Television is under threat from the internet and that's the problem. The governments are finding it hard to collect money and control the thoughts of people who use the internet. The report mentions frequently how young people use the internet more than t.v.. We can't have that now, can we?

This is so typical of a government quango or civil service response. They can't hold back the flood waters of change, but they're sure going to punish those who insist on it.


I wonder who might end up regretting the Beijing Olympics more - the IOC or the Chinese government?

The IOC is in "crisis" over the torch relay. They're issuing threats against the athletes, who are the backbone of the Games. And now, belatedly, they're demanding that China respect human rights.

Despite all that, I think the Chinese government is probably even more rueful today. The Summer Games were supposed to be a great success, something of an announcemnt of China's 'arrival'. Well, right now it looks like this summer might be the hottest for them since 1989.

The Tibetans have obviously perceived that the Olympic Games provide them with an opportunity to gain world attention for their plight. The Chinese government has not reacted well. They've shot themselves in the foot and the fate of Tibet is now a hotter item than Iraq. Soccer commentators would describe that as an 'own goal', which it is surely is. The Chinese authorities must be scratching their heads at how they managed to accomplish that feat. Their dreams are going up in smoke.

And, today I read that Chinese government claims to have thwarted a Muslim terror plot aimed at causing mayhem during the Games. Nice try there. Two years ago they claimed that they had no Muslim problm in Xinjiang, but now that they could really use a little global sympathy (especially from the West) they uncover a big plot involving 45 people who intended to "blow themselves up in Urumqi and to attack hotels, government buildings, and military buildings in Shanghai and Beijing". The Los Angeles Times reports that the "authorities offered little evidence to support the claim". The timing couldn't be more convenient.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Great Carrier Reef

I remember first reading about this a few years ago and it just seemed like a good idea. New York City's Subway Cars were dumped in the sea off the Delaware cost to create a reef that would allow all sorts of sea life to flourish in what was bascially an underwater desert.

Now 6 years later it's looking like a great idea. More states want the retired cars and Delaware may soon find it a struggle to find new trains for their reef.

There are good pictures, videos and charts from a similar reef off New Jersey's coast here.

Casablanca II?

I heard about this on the radio on April 1 and I was sure it was an obvious April Fool's joke. But, apparently not? Madonna really wants to remake Casablanca with her in Igrid Bergman's role? And it's going to be in Iraq? (Does Madonna realize that Casablanca isn't in Iraq? And that Bergman was 26 when she made Casablanca?) This could be one of the dumbest ideas I've heard in a long time.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Shea farewell

Today is the first home game for the Mets, their Home Opener. They have 80 more home games this season, but the Opener's always a special occasion. Back in the 1980s I made it a ritual to skip class and head to Shea Stadium for Opening Day. During the early 80s they practically gave away tickets to Opening Day, but by 1986 it was a tough ticket.

Today is Shea's last Opener. April 2009 will see the grand opening of the contemptibly named CitiField, which promises to be a more pleasant (and expensive) experience. I'm sure I'll get to like it.

Met fans have mixed emotions about this because the Shea is not lovable other than it's ours. It's our home. We all have our own memories of our times in the ball park watching the Mets (I also saw the Jets there & the Beatles played there too). And, of course, we all remember the great and sometimes strange things happened there. A miracle occurred there in 1969.

The long good-bye starts this afternoon.

"Yeah, Hi. I'm calling from the plane"

I have yet to speak to anyone who's happy about this decision. I don't have any problem with the idea that people will be able to use their mobile phones on a plane so long as they're texting, but listening to people's inane phone conversations might do more for ending the demand with cheap flights than anything John Gormley & the Greens could have dreamed of.

Talk about air rage. I can just imagine how tempers might shorten if some loud-mouth idiot never shuts up. It's already a nightmare on trains, but somehow it seems it'll be even worse on board an airplane.


There are times when I just shake my head at the hodge podge of nationalities and enclaves that make up Europe. It seems that Kosovo's recent independences has inspired the Hungarians who live inside Romania.
The Hungarian region, comprising part of Mures County and all of Harghita and Covasna, where Sfantu Gheorghe is the capital, was once a border area of the Hungarian kingdom defended by the Szeklers. After World War I, the Szeklers found themselves smack in the middle of Romania, a few hours drive north through the Carpathian Mountains from Bucharest.

The conclusion of the war is best remembered for the harsh terms imposed on Germany. But the peace agreement signed by Hungary in 1920, the Treaty of Trianon, was arguably even tougher. Hungary lost roughly two-thirds of its territory and population, including one-third of its Hungarian speakers, in the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a loss that to this day is known as the Trianon trauma. (Hungary regained most of its lost territories temporarily during World War II.)
The Szeklers are looking for an autonomous region inside Romania and not full independence. Still, understandably, the Romanians are not best pleased.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Flame tour

Why is the Olympic flame on tour? Why are police forces in Greece, Britain & France (elsewhere?) protecting this flame? Why do governments go to such lengths to help perpetuate the myths of the IOC?

I like sports and I like watching the Olympics, but it's high time that we stop pretending that it's any different than any other sporting body. All this flame nonsense is a joke.

I can understand why the Tibet supporters want to protest against the Chinese government, but the rest of us should be asking why any taxpayers' money is wasted on this charade. I heard on Newstalk that the flame was extinguished by protesters this afternoon in Paris. That's good because the Olympic ideals were extinguished long ago.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Okay, you can have Charlton's gun now

Charlton Heston is dead. I hope someone was there to take his gun from his "cold, dead hands".

Friday, April 04, 2008

Bishop Gormley and CFL bulbs

This article is 6 weeks old, but I'd misplaced it after originally intending to mention it in February. Emmanuel Kehoe of the Sunday Business Post is none too keen on Minister John Gormley's light bulb decision.

I enjoyed Kehoe's column for what he had to say about the Greens generally even though I'm probably less negative about the CFL bulbs than he is. I suspect that, like me, he'd be happy to be won over to CFL bulbs rather than being forced to adhere to what feels like a new state religion.
Think of a Green’s anguish when forced to fly to a UN climate change conference in Bali, as John Gormley did last December. Happily, the poor man was provided with a bicycle to use and be photographed with when he got there. Nothing makes a Green happier than a bicycle - and nothing makes a Green minister happier than being photographed with one.

… The Green lobby, like any evangelical faith, is one that demands conformity and outward proof of goodness. It also requires daily strictures and practices that make it a kind of secular Opus Dei.

It’s the religion of the ecologically sound versus the unsound, of the composter versus the dumper, of the righteous versus the ungodly, in which the planet is treated almost as a worshipful deity. To be Green, one has to measure up, to bear witness and, with most other countries phasing in the introduction of CFLs over a number of years, it looks as though Ireland’s Green party is just a little too eager to bask among its peers in the glow of an ecological and moral first.
By the way, I've built a small stock of 20W CFL bulbs recently. Whenever I'm in Tesco and I see that they're selling 2 for the price of 1 I grab a couple. I've also noticed that neither Tesco's or Woodie's is now carrying the very inexpensive multi-packs of 100W and 60W bulbs that I used to like.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Avoiding the "bang wallop"

I don't know what else to say other than I thought Brendan Keenan's column on the economy was excellent. Keenan says that we're at the beginning of the third economic cycle since the Great Crash of 1929. We need to avoid making the problems worse, which has happened in the past by applying the wrong solutions to the economic problems that arise at these turning points.
Thanks to a remarkable contribution from Peter Sutherland, the World Trade Organisation replaced the more limited GATT system. Trade expanded mightily, although it has never been liberalised to the degree that was hoped.

Instead, it was global capital flows which were freed on a scale not seen since the 19th century. This is not only a revolution, but a recent one.

… There will certainly be more banking and stock market regulation – much of it replacing 1930s regulation which had gone out of fashion and been abolished. If that is as far as it goes, it will probably be all to the good. But if the pessimists are right about a long, grinding correction of US imbalances and excesses, it might go a lot further than that.

The danger is exactly the one which infected the 1930s and became part of the organised international system after the war – protectionism. It is certainly a concern that cheap Mexican workers seem to be getting more stick in the US presidential campaign than the mega-rich bankers of Wall Street. The impact of low cost labour is easier to understand (and misrepresent), but it is not where the problems lie.

Before opinion swings too far against the excesses of the 1990s and 2000s, we should remember that the period saw the fastest growth in global incomes – more even than during the Industrial Revolution. Around 500 million people have been removed from subsistence poverty – five times as many as in the 19th century.
I was a little unsure what he meant by the "cheap Mexican workers", but I don't think he means the illegal immigrants debate. Maybe he does, but that's only infinitesimal in economic terms compared with the effects of NAFTA and Chinese imports, etc. I suspect that's really what he's getting at there.

Regardless, I thought it was a good summation of how we got where we are and what mistakes have been made at other times - especially in the 1930s - that we should aim to avoid this time.

Holodomor - "Loony fable"

Alexander Solzhenitsyn claims President Bush has fallen for a "loony fable". The "loony fable" has to do with the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33.
Without mentioning Bush by name, Solzhenitsyn said the famine had "mown down" not only Ukrainians but millions of ordinary citizens across the Soviet Union. Many of the communists who orchestrated it were in fact Ukrainian, he added.

"This provocative outcry about genocide ... has been elevated to the top government level in contemporary Ukraine. Does this mean that they have even outdone the Bolshevik propaganda mongers with their rakish juggling?" Solzhenitsyn asked.
I don't care what you call it, Stalin orchestrated the famine to punish the Ukrainians for believing that Ukraine should be separate from the USSR. According to the CBC:
Ukraine officially became part of the U.S.S.R. in 1922. When Stalin assumed power in Moscow in 1927, he decided to make an example of Ukraine's "harmful nationalism." Stalin engineered a famine in 1932-33 that killed an estimated seven million people. Executions and the deportation of intellectuals further depopulated the country. Stalin also went after Ukraine's churches and cathedrals.
A 1988 American Commission found that "Joseph Stalin and those around him committed genocide against Ukrainians".

Walter Duranty has a new spiritual ally among the Nobel prize winners. I can only hope that Solzhenitsyn, who is over 90, is slipping mentally because he's the loony tune here.

ATA goes under

ATA has filed for bankruptcy and is simply discontinuing all operations. There was a time when ATA (then American Trans Air) was the only option other than Aer Lingus for traveling from New York to Ireland. They used to operate charter flights during the summer. I flew on them a few times.

I think it's quite a few years since they flew to Ireland so no travelers to or from here will be affected by the airline's decision to simply close up shop. Anyone with a fully paid ticket is out of luck.

NATO expansion

I don't understand why President Bush feels the need to provoke Russia. The other NATO allies don't seem too enamored of the idea as seven current members are opposed to extending NATO to Ukraine and Georgia. I can see no good reason for annoying France & Germany when relations with both seemed to be recovering form the (also unnecessary) tensions that arose in 2002/2003.

Is the United States really going to go to war if Russia decides that South Ossetia and Abkhazia are so important that they warrant military action against Georgia? What was it George Washington said about no entangling alliances? Might be a bit dated in 2008, but I suspect that most Americans would not be too keen on the idea that we might end up at war with Russia over a border dispute in the Caucasus.

It's almost enough to make me take another look at Ron Paul.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Bye bye Bertie

You know, I could have sworn that I'd written a post predicting that Bertie would go after he speaks to the houses of Congress in Washington later this month. I was sure I'd written that, but if I did I can't find it now.

Bertie's leaving, but not until May 6. He'll get the speech in, but not be Taoiseach when we have the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. I wonder if his decision to go now is because he fears that the referendum might fail. I thought he should have gone in September '06, but I'm still not happy to see him go. I'm not overly unhappy either.

I don't give Bertie or Fianna Fail the credit for the economy they want to take for themselves and I hold them responsible for the out of control spending, but overall I think Bertie did a decent job.

A lot done, but a lot left undone.