Friday, November 28, 2008

I suspect Angela Merkel is correct

"Cheap money" is the source of our economic problems, according to Angela Merkel.
"Excessively cheap money in the US was a driver of today's crisis," the chancellor told the German parliament. "I am deeply concerned about whether we are now reinforcing this trend through measures being adopted in the US and elsewhere and whether we could find ourselves in five years facing the exact same crisis."
It does seem to me that there is a strong resistance in America to admitting that you can't go on spending more than you earn. You can't go on buying things on credit.

RTE - DAB hands at (mis)using my money

I heard on Morning Ireland today that RTE is going live with a new digital audio broadcast service. During the report the reporter admitted that commercial providers were not leaping at the chance to provide digital radio services and that Britain's Channel 4 had recently abandoned plans to launch a digital radio service because advertisers weren't interested. The reporter also all but admitted that pretty much the only people who will be able to listen to the new stations are people with access to broadband.

Okay, this begs two obvious questions. One, why is RTE going ahead with a new technology that no commercial provider wants to touch at the moment? And, two, why is my license money going to fund a new service that is for all intents and purposes aimed at those who have the unlimited choice of online radio?

I actually tried a few of the stations today and, well, the sound quality wasn't great (that could get ironed out over time). But, more importantly, the question "Why bother" leaps to mind after a few minutes. Dance music? Indie/Progressive rock? Golden Oldies? I think those audiences can find their needs are already met sufficiently well online. RTE Choice was the only one that might be interesting, but the 20 minutes I gave it this morning had me thinking otherwise.

If RTE has the resources to fund a new unwanted service why not simply give us a refund on our license?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

"Setting apart one Day of publick Thanksgiving"

Despite the origins of Thanksgiving that we all know today, Thanksgiving was not celebrated throughout the colonies in pre-Revolution America. The first time it was celebrated 'nationally' was in 1777 and the breaking of bread between Pilgrims and Indians had nothing to do with it. The occasion was the defeat of the British at Saratoga.

After the victory, the Continental Congress established a Thanksgiving committee to make a recommendation for some form of national celebration of the victory.
In CONGRESS, NOVEMBER 1, 1777, Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with gratitude their obligations to HIM for benefits received. . . . And it having pleased him in his abundant mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable bounties of his common providence; but also to smile upon us, in the prosecution of a just and necessary war for the defence and establishment of our unalienable rights and liberties: Particularly in that he hath been pleased in so great a measure, to prosper the means used for the support of our troops, and to crown our arms with most signal success: It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States, to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth day of December next for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE: That at one time and with one voice, the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their DIVINE BENEFACTOR.. . . That it may please him graciously to afford his blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the PUBLIC COUNCIL of the whole. To inspire our commanders both by land and sea, and all under them. . . under the providence of Almighty God, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE. That it may please him, to prosper the trade and manufactures of the people, and the labour of the husbandman. . . To take schools and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety, under his nurturing hand: and to prosper the means of religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth "IN RIGHTEOUSNESS, PEACE AND JOY IN THE HOLY GHOST. And it is further recommended, that service, labour, and such recreation as, though at other times innocent . . . may be omitted on so solemn an occasion.
I hope they didn't mean football, when they asked that "such recreation as, though at other times innocent . . . may be omitted". That wouldn't do at all. Nope, not at all.

It was the first national Thanksgiving, but it didn't become an annual affair until Lincoln issued his famous proclamation in 1863.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

It's time for Citi to take a nap

"Citi never sleeps". That's Citibank's slogan. Or at least it used to be. Today, the banks' managers are the poster children for a driver fatigue campaign.
Yet as the bank’s C.D.O. machine accelerated, its risk controls fell further behind, according to former Citigroup traders, and risk managers lacked clear lines of reporting. At one point, for instance, risk managers in the fixed-income division reported to both Mr. Maheras and Mr. Bushnell — setting up a potential conflict because that gave Mr. Maheras influence over employees who were supposed to keep an eye on his traders.

C.D.O.’s were complex, and even experienced managers like Mr. Maheras and Mr. Barker underestimated the risks they posed, according to people with direct knowledge of Citigroup’s business. Because of that, they put blind faith in the passing grades that major credit-rating agencies bestowed on the debt.

… To make matters worse, Citigroup’s risk models never accounted for the possibility of a national housing downturn, this person said, and the prospect that millions of homeowners could default on their mortgages. Such a downturn did come, of course, with disastrous consequences for Citigroup and its rivals on Wall Street.

… In fact, when examiners from the Securities and Exchange Commission began scrutinizing Citigroup’s subprime mortgage holdings after Bear Stearns’s problems surfaced, the bank told them that the probability of those mortgages defaulting was so tiny that they excluded them from their risk analysis ...
This is the root of the whole mess. They were making tons of money and they didn't have a clue what they were doing, what they were selling or the risks involved. They really were like sleep-deprived drivers trying to keep on a straight line and not seeing the "Bridge Out" signs along the road.

“We have a simple thesis. There is going to be a calamity, and whenever there is a calamity, Merrill is there.”

This is a long and not always easy-to-understand article on the subprime mortgage debacle, but there are enough entertaining moments to make it worthwhile.
By then, Eisman was so certain that the world had been turned upside down that he just assumed this guy must know it too. “But we’re sitting there,” Daniel recalls, “and he says to us, like he actually means it, ‘I truly believe that our rating will prove accurate.’ And Steve shoots up in his chair and asks, ‘What did you just say?’ as if the guy had just uttered the most preposterous statement in the history of finance. He repeated it. And Eisman just laughed at him.”

“With all due respect, sir,” Daniel told the C.E.O. deferentially as they left the meeting, “you’re delusional.”
This wasn’t Fitch or even S&P. This was Moody’s, the aristocrats of the rating business, 20 percent owned by Warren Buffett. And the company’s C.E.O. was being told he was either a fool or a crook by one Vincent Daniel, from Queens.

Does Barack Obama think I'm a fool?

Fools fall in love in a hurry
Fools give their hearts much too soon
Okay, maybe I'm not in love with Obama, but sheesh he's sure trying hard to win my heart. Today the NY Times says that the President-elect will keep Robert Gates on at Secretary of Defense. Then I read that once the economy starts humming again he's going to cut, cut, cut!!!
“We can’t sustain a system that bleeds billions of taxpayer dollars on programs that have outlived their usefulness or exist solely because of the power of politicians, lobbyists or interest groups,” Mr. Obama said. “We simply can’t afford it.”
Again, I may be reading way too much into this, but these don't sound like the words of a man who's about to authorize a massive increase in the size of the federal government in order to implement a national health care plan.
Just put in two bars of stardust
Just hang out one silly moon
Oh! They've got their love torches burning
When they should be playing it cool
I used to laugh but now I'm the same
Take a look at a brand new fool

Monday, November 24, 2008

I missed a chance to be offended

According to today's Irish Independent "RTE has received a "significant number" of complaints after an appearance by the dance troupe, the Satanic Sluts, on Friday's 'Late Late Show'". Now, maybe I would have been offended if I'd watched the Late Late on Friday, but I gave up on that program many, many years ago. I can't believe people still watch it.

Friday & Saturday nights are dead time on RTE as far as I'm concerned. Between the Late Late and Tubridy Tonight, RTE 1 might just as well not exist. I really can't believe anyone enjoys the toe-curling, stomach-churning, cringe-making embarrassment that those two programs serve up on a weekly basis.

What offends me is that I have to hand over €160 a year to keep this stuff on the air.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I used to work for Citibank

In fact, I did two different stints at Citibank, which may explain why I found this so funny. Oh, and in case you don't know Citibank's been in the news lately because, well, let's just say that a Big Mac now costs more than a share of Citi's stock.

I have tears in my eyes. I love the Weekly World News.

"Change has come to America"

This is probably more of a stretch than my other posts on Obama, but when I heard him utter those words in his acceptance speech I thought to myself: "So, he's the change. It's come. From here on in it will be a change to better management rather than significant new policies".

Now, two things. First, when I had those thoughts I was - again - projecting on to him what I wanted to believe. However, the choice of Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State and Timothy Geithner at Treasury is pretty darn reassuring to me. I'm not sure how those who voted for Obama in the primaries feel about these selections but I'm breathing easier after today. If he opts to keep Robert Gates on at Defense then I'm definitely going to relax.

Second, I don't want to want to sound flippant. The choice of Barack Obama as President does actually represent a massive change in America even if that's a change that's been underway for quite some time. Change has indeed come to America.

"Now somewhere in the black mountain hills of dakota ..."

I was too young for Beatlemania, which when I was young I thought was merely the name of a Broadway musical. When I got a little older I acquired a lot of Beatles albums, but I don't really love most of them. My favorite, however, is the White Album, which - according to what I heard on the radio last night - was released 40 years ago. Rocky Raccoon is 40 years old.

Speaking of music from days of yore, I used to make noises about how good Roy Orbison was when I was a student. I knew he was someone I should like because everybody said so. But I never really did. It wasn't that I didn't like Orbison I simply made no effort to discover whether I would or not.

Well, recently I've been listening to some of his albums and he really was great. It seems some of those excessively earnest music lovers from my college days knew what they were talking about. In this case anyway. His last album, Mystery Girl, which was released after I'd graduated from college, is incredible. I have to admit that I'm not sure I'd have appreciated it as much then as I do today.

To the Irish Examiner?

Dear Irish Examiner,

You might want to check your distance charts to see how many British airports are within 300km of Dublin.
FLIGHTS to most British destinations will escape the full force of the new air travel tax after Finance Minister Brian Lenihan bowed to pressure from regional airports to exempt them from the top rate.

Under amended arrangements confirmed yesterday, the €10 per passenger rate, due to come into force at the end of next March, will only apply where the destination is more than 300km from Dublin Airport. Flights to nearer destinations will be taxed at the rate of €2 per passenger.
"Most British destinations"? Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow squeaks it at exactly 300km from Dublin. That's it. I really believe that the Irish Examiner has confused its kilometers with miles.

Could politicians sit out Lisbon II?

Bill Cullen says he'd join the 'Yes' campaign if a new referendum was held. This reminds me of something I've been wondering for the past couple of months. What would happen if the government and political parties simply stayed out of the (second) campaign? What if others who favored the treaty put themselves forward as its advocates?

I would imagine that if you're a 'Yes' advocate you might figure such a strategy might be worth a try, right? Look there's been a lot of complaining about Declan Ganley, his money, etc. and the 'No' campaign. I would bet that those who want a 'Yes' could find equally deep pockets and passion among its ranks to provide the fuel and backbone the 'Yes' campaign needs.

Truthfully I don't think the talkaholics in the government/Dáil could resist. Yet if they did, I think it would be a plus for the 'Yes' side. The public has very little respect for politicians these days. Their faces on posters and the television are not a plus for the 'Yes' campaign.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

No, and only No to Lisbon

Sarah Carey says we shouldn't let Rupert Murdoch decide Ireland's future. I guess I agree, if Murdoch is deciding Ireland's future. I'm not sure I believe he is, however.

What bothers me about Carey's headline grabbing thesis is that it distracts from what I think is a decent thesis in her column: that the Sunday Times should have published a pro-Lisbon column by her or by someone, but they had a policy of 'no pro-Lisbon comment' in the paper. Carey assumes that Murdoch is anti-Lisbon thanks to his "well known pro-US-hawkish views" and this is why the paper pursued such a policy.

Again, why does being pro-US mean being anti-Lisbon? Truth is, the American in me feels that the Lisbon Treaty is just what the EU deserves, but the fact that I'm an Irish citizen too and a resident of Ireland makes me more skeptical about the merits of the Lisbon Treaty.

Here's another theory on why the Sunday Times may have adopted the policy it did: it might have sold more papers. When others were selling confusion, the Sunday Times was selling clarity. And, given the level of confusion about Lisbon maybe customers were happy to get a steady diet of negative comment (propaganda?).

Other Sunday papers were providing a basically pro-Lisbon agenda, but with varying degrees of anti-Lisbon comment sprinkled in. The Sunday Times may have thought there was an opening in the market for a simpler message. I don't know, but it's possible.

Carey's column is pretty damning of the Sunday Times and Irish editor Frank Fitzgibbon, but she distracts from this by pointing the finger at every leftist's favorite media boogie man - Rupert Murdoch.

{I want to add that I don't know enough of Carey's views to know if she's a leftist or not. She should just have written the column without bringing Murdoch into it.}

UPDATE: Nov 21, 9am: Roy Greenslide agrees that Murdoch was probably not personally involved in the Sunday Times's Lisbon policy.

Felon-free Senate

Ted Stevens has lost. Hard to shed a tear when the guy's recently been convicted of lying on his financial disclosure forms. Still, the Republicans' grip on a sliver of power is now even more tenuous. All that stands between them and political insignificance is a Minnesota recount and a Georgia run-off for Senate seats.

What's good for GM is good for ...?

What's good for GM is good for America. We all learned that as kids. Now GM along with the "competition" - Ford & Chrysler - are asking for Congress to do what's good for GM. But is what they ask good for America?

No, says Mitt Romney. Romney was not my favorite Republican presidential candidate, but if any of them knows anything about the car industry and what this bailout will mean, he's the one.

Romney says that the current management must go and the unions must be brought to heel. The costs of cars produced by the big three are simply too high.
First, their huge disadvantage in costs relative to foreign brands must be eliminated. That means new labor agreements to align pay and benefits to match those of workers at competitors like BMW, Honda, Nissan and Toyota. Furthermore, retiree benefits must be reduced so that the total burden per auto for domestic makers is not higher than that of foreign producers.

That extra burden is estimated to be more than $2,000 per car. Think what that means: Ford, for example, needs to cut $2,000 worth of features and quality out of its Taurus to compete with Toyota's Avalon. Of course the Avalon feels like a better product — it has $2,000 more put into it. Considering this disadvantage, Detroit has done a remarkable job of designing and engineering its cars. But if this cost penalty persists, any bailout will only delay the inevitable.

Second, management as is must go. New faces should be recruited from unrelated industries — from companies widely respected for excellence in marketing, innovation, creativity and labor relations.
I wonder if Romney would have written those words if he was still courting Michigan's voters, but it does seem to make sense that the big three cannot keep producing cars that are too expensive.

So, what should be done if not the bailout. Again, Romney serves up a succinct plan for the Federal Government.
It is not wrong to ask for government help, but the automakers should come up with a win-win proposition. I believe the federal government should invest substantially more in basic research — on new energy sources, fuel-economy technology, materials science and the like — that will ultimately benefit the automotive industry, along with many others. I believe Washington should raise energy research spending to $20 billion a year, from the $4 billion that is spent today. The research could be done at universities, at research labs and even through public-private collaboration. The federal government should also rectify the imbedded tax penalties that favor foreign carmakers.
And what of GM? Micheal Levine writes in the Wall Street Journal that a managed bankruptcy is the best option for GM.
The social and political costs would be very large, but if GM fails after getting $50 billion or $100 billion in bailout money, it'll be just as large and there will be less money to soften the blow and even more blame to go around. The PBGC will probably need money to guarantee GM's pensions for its white- and blue-collar workers (pension support is capped at around $40,000 per year, so that won't help executives much). Unemployment insurance will have to be extended and offered to many people, perhaps millions if you include dealers, suppliers and communities dependent on GM as it exists now. A GM bankruptcy will make addressing health-care coverage more urgent, which is probably a good thing. It would require job-retraining money and community assistance to affected localities.
Okay then. Deep breaths everyone. Now pull the plug.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I see the government is going to ban the 'traditional' bedsit. Shame. Horror stories about the places where one has lived as a student are the kind of thing you dine out on here, particularly as the years pass.

I know I told you a little about my flat-mate, but did I ever mention the bed-sit we shared during the 1986/87 academic year? It was in Ranelagh (where else?) and was a two 'room' bedsit. One room had a kitchenette (and emphasis on the ette!) two chairs and a sort of coffee table. We had a t.v. on the table. The room was about 6' by 9'. Th other 'room' was an addition to the house and it had two single beds and about two feet of space between them The walls were nothing more than plasterboard insulated by wallpaper! It was COLD in there.

One particularly vicious night I opened the door to the bedroom and was sure my flat-mate was dead. I woke him up to make sure he wasn't dead. He was so cold he was glad to be awoken so he could go into the other room to warm up. He'd been sleeping with his toes in hands.

Anyway, I know there are few former students here who don't have similar tales. Sad to think the government is trying to eliminate this grand source of reunion chat.


I think it was last year, but maybe it was the year before that I stumbled onto a documentary on Jonestown. I'd forgotten all about it.

I know crazy suicidal religious cults seem a dime a dozen these days, but Jonestown was my first experience of this particular lunacy. I remember the following days in school the whole thing was as much a source of humor as horror to us teenage boys. Just the shout of "Hey, Kool Aid" was enough to start you off laughing.

Anyway, as I watched that documentary on Jonestown I remember how surprised I was that over 900 people had died that day, November 18, 1978. I guess I thought the number was in the 150 or so range. It seemed a lot more horrific to me as an adult than it had when I was 14.

Tim Reiterman's eye-witness account is worth reading.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Caution is advised

Another reason I'm not that upset by Obama's win is that I have this sense that deep down he's a naturally cautious man. And, after 16 years of guys who like to gamble and throw caution to the wind (whether sexually or politically), I'm happy to have a guy who'll think first, think again and then act.

Am I right about Obama? I don't know, but since everyone else is seeing in him what they want to see, I may as well join the crowd. Right?

Obama's win

I've been trying to write a post on Barak Obama since election day, but it just gets too long and involved. I decided to just throw out a few short posts and see how that goes.

First, as I said, I wasn't that unhappy about Obama's win. Why? I don't know, but I think it's because I couldn't help but feel happy for all those black people on the streets singing and dancing. It was their moment. How could you not be happy watching those scenes?

Don't get me wrong. I still hate losing and my happy feelings for black people did not (and do not) extend to Democrats generally and certainly not to smug, sanctimonious Europeans. Each time I hear one of them on the radio I get all tied up in knots again. I'm really, really hoping Obama disappoints them. I don't even know if I care how he does it.

It's April 15 in Ireland

That's how I always think about it, anyway. April 15 is the deadline for filing taxes in America and that deadline is just ingrained in the American psyche. That's not quite true here because apparently many (most?) people who work and pay taxes don't bother to file a return, although I'm not sure why. Regardless, today is the deadline for filing the return and paying off your tax bill for 2007.

I suspect that a lot more filers will be reporting smaller incomes/profits for 2007 than the government wants to believe and that the revenues will be lower (& refunds greater) than expected. And, additionally, the payments for preliminary taxes due on 2008 income/profits will be a lot lower. I think the recent budget forecasts will prove to have been too optimistic.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Heard on the bus the other day

I found a seat up top of a double decker one day last week. It was early and quiet, except for one guy. He was talking to another fellow (who I couldn't hear) and letting us all know that (a) he was good with numbers and (b) he was sure the public sector had to be cut back. It must have gone on for 30 minutes, 'teachers ...' followed by 'nurses/doctors ...' followed by 'civil servants ... & ...'.

Anyway, just as I'm getting off I hear him say where he works: AIG! I wanted to turn around and roar at him that he was a member of the public service himself these days (although part of the American government, not the Irish) and that you'd imagine that he'd be just a tad more reluctant to damn government employees. Sheesh.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Is it time to legalize drugs?

If you don't know who Shane Geoghegan was that's simply because you're not in Ireland. Geoghegan's death is the biggest news story and, from what I've noticed, talking point in the country.

For those of you outside Ireland, Geoghegan was shot and killed just a few yards from his house in a case of mistaken identity. Apparently Geoghegan looked somewhat like a local thug, drug dealer and gang member. The gang member bit is important because it was a gang in competition with this local thug who murdered Geoghegan.

By all accounts, Geoghegan was a nice guy, popular member of his rugby club, a loving boyfriend, brother, son. And now he's dead at 28 for no other reason than some dirtbag couldn't be bothered to make the effort to establish the identity of the man he was about to kill because killing, even in error, meant little to him.

I don't really have a whole lot to offer on this. I mean what can be said? I feel shocked, sick, helpless and enraged all at once just like everybody else, but I also believe we'll continue to mollycoddle thugs/gangsters/murderers and that not much will change.

Just because I don't think anything will change doesn't mean I'm opposed to change. I know it's not a 'conservative' position, but the more I hear journalists say that the gardaí admit that the war on drugs is lost the more I'm open to other suggestions, including legalizing narcotics, cocaine, whatever.

I just heard solicitor Gerald Kean (I think that's who it was) talk about this on Newstalk. I've thought about this myself and just can't help wondering if legalizing drugs would make things much worse than they are now. I don't know, but I'd love to hear the pros and cons to such a move.

Open up on Lisbon

The Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin says that remarks by Czech President Vaclav Klaus on the Lisbon treaty were "an inappropriate intervention".
Mr Klaus held a joint press conference with the founder of the anti-Lisbon Treaty group Libertas Declan Ganley, ahead of a private dinner in honour of Mr Klaus in the Shelbourne hotel.

He warned of a shift towards "supranationalism" in Europe, and that the Lisbon Treaty would not enhance freedom and democracy.

He also said he was "not happy" with what he saw as attempts by Europe to "forget the Irish referendum and to change the result".
The Minister probably has a point, but you know what? The old ways didn't work so why not just keep quiet and let people like Klaus come and have their say. By all means invite those who can make the pro-Lisbon case too. I think if the Irish government was more open to the debate it might help get the people to accept it.

Besides, it's not like Sarkozy & Barroso haven't been here making similarly "inappropriate interventions".

Suspension bridges

I'd heard of John Roebling and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, but I never heard of James Finley before. There are probably others who contributed to the development of the modern suspension bridge, but still I find it interesting that Finley is credited with being the 'father of the modern suspension bridge'.

This Friday Finley will be honored by the state of Pennsylvania, where he lived and worked. And, although Wikipedia claims Finley was born in Maryland, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Structure magazine both assert that Finley was born in Ireland in 1756.
Judge Finley has been cited as Father of the Modern Suspension Bridge, a well-deserved accolade based on his efforts to introduce this style of structure in the form now used all over the world. In June 1810, he presented his theories and methods in an elegant essay appearing in a Philadelphia magazine, The Port Folio. The essay was later expanded into an instructional booklet published at Uniontown the following year.
Irish born and the "Father of the Modern Suspension Bridge". Is Finley part of the curriculum here? I hope so, but I doubt it. None of my children mentioned Finley to me even when I was waxing lyrical on Roebling or Brunel's bridges.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

I'm pretty sure this is not in the AP stylebook

Maybe I'm the only person who cares about this stuff these days, but I'm really annoyed that today's Sunday Independent has a front page headline that includes a word (s**t) that I'd rather my children never use.

The headline is right next to a big ad (not cheap, I'm sure) for the Halifax Bank. If I was the guy at the bank who okays the money for the bank's ads in the paper I'd ask for a refund for today.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Emmanuel & the Irish media

I haven't seen this in the Irish Times nor heard it on RTE yet, but I wonder if Obama's choice of Rahm Emmanuel for Chief of Staff will play well with the Irish media down the road.

Israel may earn more White House representation than it bargained for, in the event that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama emerges victorious from the November 4 elections.

Congressman Rahm Emanuel, who has served in the Israel Defense Forces and even speaks a little Hebrew, could be appointed the White House's next chief of staff.

… When Bill Clinton began his campaign for presidency, he appointed Rahm Emanuel to direct the campaign's finance committee. But Emanuel left when the Gulf War broke out, in order to volunteer in the IDF.

He served in one of Israel's northern bases until the war ended, and upon his return to the US became Clinton's advisor in the White House for almost eight years.

Smokin' in the White House

I wonder if the Councillors on the Redbridge council felt any twinge of regret at their decision to ban smokers as they watched the scenes of the Obama family at the celebration on Tuesday night. Why should they feel any twinge? Because Barack Obama is a smoker, which would mean that if the Obamas relocated to Redbridge they would not be allowed to foster children.

I was trying to figure out last night who was the last smoker President. I know the current President doesn't smoke and I don't think Clinton did either. Going further back, I can't remember seeing Bush or Reagan smoke, although I'm sure Reagan smoked as a young man. Carter? I don't know. I have this idea that Ford & Nixon smoked a pipe, but again I'm not sure. Anyway, Obama's a smoker and it's all part of the "change".

I presume Obama will not be allowed to smoke in the Oval Office. He was careful not to be photographed smoking during the campaign, it's such a social negative these days. I remember reading something about Hillary having suggested that Obama would be constantly heading to the White House doorways to satisfy his nicotine cravings, but that seems a long time ago now.

Smokers need not apply

A local council in Britain has banned smokers from acting as foster parents. This strikes me as ridiculous. The report in the Guardian admits that it may "become harder to find loving homes for vulnerable children". I bet.

I always thought that those who were good foster parents were truly special people, not always easy to find. Now, thanks to the council's decision, some children in Redbridge will be denied the chance to live with some of those truly special people because one or both parents happens to smoke. I'd love to know what other behaviors are ruled out (& what's ruled in).

"Wasilla hillbillies"

So McCain's team is putting it about that Sarah Palin didn't know Africa was a continent, "barely understood the structure of US government", etc. This is, I guess, supposed to convince us that Palin was the reason McCain lost. I guess. Strange because, unless I'm mistaken, IT WAS JOHN McCAIN WHO CHOSE HER!

For what it's worth, I don't believe much of this stuff. Sounds like the bitter, twisted rantings of people looking for excuses for their loss. There's a word for people like that: LOSERS.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

No longer embarrassed to be American

Having just read Hadley Freeman's column in today's Guardian all I can say is, "Hadley, get over yourself and grow up".

Freeman is relieved because she's no longer embarrassed to be an American living in Britain. Ah, the poor dear. It must have been so hard for her.
But all Americans who live or even travel abroad have, for the past eight years, become used to living with a glaze of protective, self-defensive and at times chippy armour. The American accent lost its aura of modernity and glamour, which it still had when I moved to Europe 20 years ago. Instead, the hint of a twangy vowel carried connotations of ignorance and arrogance: Hicksville instead of Hollywood. No matter that many expats hadn't voted for Bush: for eight years we have been represented by him.
First of all, the American accent denoted a "colonial" when I first went to Britain in the mid 1980s. I never had the sense that it was glamorous.

And there were plenty of Europeans who didn't like President Reagan and were not shy about telling me. There were many Americans I met then who were "embarrassed". And, I find it nearly impossible to accept that Freeman wasn't a bit "embarrassed" during the Lewinsky scandal (and I count this as different because it wasn't a government policy, but something ugly, dirty and unnecessary).

There's no reason to be embarrassed to be American because Europeans don't like American policy. You too might disagree with American policy, but all countries make mistakes, end up with elected officials who fail them. These things happen.

Of course she's not just embarrassed by the Bush Administration. She's also embarrassed by American culture.
Some might see Thanksgiving as awkward - marking the time when the pilgrims stole land from the Native Americans and imposed a tradition of supersized feasts.
Thanksgiving is "awkward"? Shaddup. Thanksgiving is a fantastic holiday, in fact I don't know of any other nation that has a holiday that is so perfect.


The Irish Times editorial starts with "WHAT A marvellous day it was - the first black president of the United States, the hugely increased turnout and public engagement ...". What if the turnout wasn't all that "hugely increased", would the day have been any less "marvellous"? I only ask because I can't make sense of the turnout figures.

This page claims that turnout was 64.1% or 148m voters. But, if that's true then where are all the other votes? As of right now, with 98% of the precincts reporting Obama has 64m votes and McCain has 56.5m. That only adds up to 120.5m votes and when all the precincts have reported that will still only be around 123m. We can throw in another 2m for the minor candidates (I'm in a generous mood), which would make total vote around 125m. In 2004 the total vote was 122m, which - given the fact that the voting age population was about 10m smaller in 2004 - would mean that turnout was down this year. Not quite as "marvellous", I guess.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Electing a felon?

No, not Obama. I wish I was gloomier about Obama's win, but I'm not really. I really could have been quite happy with an Obama win if the Republicans could have had control over even one house in Congress. Didn't happen, of course.

Anyway, I'm referring to the Alaska Senate race. Right now Republican Ted Stevens is ahead by 3,600 votes with 96% of the votes counted. It's just over a week since Stevens was convicted "on seven felony counts of failing to disclose more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations".

Forget about the "Bradley Effect" and welcome to the "Felon Effect". The last poll indicated that Stevens's opponent, Democrat Mark Begich, was ahead by 22% and yet Stevens may pull it out after all. I guess a lot of voters were a little uneasy telling pollsters that they were going to vote for the convict.

I'm not sure what happens next if Stevens wins. It's possible the Senate will expel Stevens, which would, I think, mean that who replaces him is in the gift of the Governor - Sarah Palin. I wonder if she could/would send herself to Washington?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Elections Americaines

I was switching around looking for a bit of late night election news and stumbled on to TV5, the French channel. The French really do things differently, don't they? First I saw a couple of reporters talking about the election from inside an aquarium. I was only guessing, but I presumed it was the Shedd in Chicago. Of course, for all I know it could have been a seafood restaurant in Paris.

Then they went to their panel discussion. On the panel was the coolest looking guy I've ever seen on a political discussion program. Behind the panelists there are women (mostly) walking around drinking wine.

You can watch the coverage here, but unfortunately, they've changed panelists now so the cool guy is gone. Still, it's worth it just for the difference in images, etc.

Ambassador Foley doesn't love me (sniff sniff)

I heard on the radio that there's a big bash at the American Embassy today. I guess Ambassador Foley's the host? (I tuned in too late.) Anyway, he's snubbed me two Thanksgivings in a row and now an Election Day bash. That's IT! I'll, I'll, I'll … I'll think of something.

Hennessy & Staunton

Over the weekend I spent a lot of time catching up on my newspaper reading. A lot of what I read was the Irish Times's coverage of the American election. I can't point to anything definite, but after reading many articles by both Mark Hennessy and Denis Staunton I noticed that there was a difference in the style of the two reporters.

I think the difference is that Hennessy's reports struck me as his attempts to report what he was hearing and seeing as he traveled around with the two campaigns. Staunton's reports have a more editorialized tone. Obviously I can't say for certain, but I wonder if it's down to the difference between being one Irish reporter being temporarily in America to report on an event and the other being the full-time Washington correspondent.

Hennessy normally reports on Irish politics and only turned up in America in September (August?). Staunton, meanwhile, sounds like he's spent too much time having drinks with correspondents from the NY Times and Washington Post (& their wannabes).

Anyway, after an hour or so I stopped reading Staunton's articles and stuck with Hennessy's.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Talk about infomercials

Last night TV3 showed United 93. I hadn't seen it before and I guess I wasn't really expecting the emotional impact that it had. I've watched so many documentaries about September 11 that I thought I was inured to the images of what happened that day. I was wrong because I wasn't ready for United 93. The movie is something else and so much better than Oliver Stone's gobbledygook.

I wonder if that had been on ABC rather than TV3 if it would have had the effect of being an infomercial for McCain. Maybe, maybe not, but it sure gets you angry again.

Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal

This cheered me up this morning. The Erie Canal is getting more business these days thanks to the rise in fuel costs. If it doesn't 'absolutely, positively have to be there overnight' then the canal can, apparently, be pretty cost effective.

I grew up near the canal and even though I knew there'd been some increase in pleasure boats using the canal I didn't realize there was any commercial traffic still using it.
We've hauled some barges in our day,
Filled with lum-ber coal and hay,
And ev'ry inch of the way we know
From Al-ba-ny to Buff-a-lo OH