Thursday, December 31, 2009

'Neutral' cannot include training of combatant's forces

Surely training Egypt's air force pilots in '79 was as much a breach of neutrality as allowing 12,000 American troops to land at Shannon for a re-fueling stop in the same year.

In 1979 only a few years had passed since Egypt was last at war with Israel and another war was not unimaginable, but the Irish government took the decision to allow Aer Lingus – 100% state-owned at the time – to train Egyptian air force pilots. The same year, the United States – with clumsy diplomacy, it seems – landed 12,000 troops at Shannon for refueling after a NATO exercise.

Maybe the two articles aren't telling the full story, but only in the case of the American soldiers did the government appear to worry about Ireland's neutrality.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

You can't neglect the 4th R

All boys instinctively know that if you spend too much time on the 3 R's - reading, riting & rithmetic - you won't fully develop the 4th R - riding a bike. Only a boy would go with no hands on icy ground. Great picture on the front of today's Irish Times.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Chair of Irish Nationwide comes to his senses

Great to see that the Chairman of Irish Nationwide has joined the rest of us: he no longer expects Michael Fingleton to repay the €1m bonus they paid him on his departure. It took me about 5 seconds to work out that the man in charge of the building society for the past quarter century or so knew full well what state the finances were in when he took the €1m and knew how to ensure that no one was going to get that €1m back after he got it. Why would anyone ever have expected him to repay?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The root cause of Al Qaeda

Another rich terrorist, yet I'm sure I'll find people writing and talking about poverty & the root cause of terrorism. The only poverty these people experience is a poverty of the mind and the soul, a void where compassion and human feeling should be, a political world-view that is nothing more than a shared psychosis.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Group-think, not conservatism is to blame

Elaine Byrne says that much of the wrong-doing in Irish public life was uncovered by outsiders who were not influenced by "Irish conservatism." Conservatism is not the problem; it's more of a national group-think. It's very difficult to stand against the tide.

If conservatism is blamed then we are destined to repeat this process again and again. We have to recognize the extent to which group-think dominates Irish politics and social structures and even conversations with friends.

It may be that such a small country will always be prone to these problems. Madison believed a big republic was preferable to a small one. The best argument for Ireland being part of the EU.
The smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it; the fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The $600 Man

The article about the falling price of hard drive data recovery has me pondering how much would it cost to create The Six Million Dollar Man today? You could probably "rebuild him" for $600 given the fall in the price of technology since the mid 70s.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Would you bet that WWF would publish data admitting it was wrong?

The Guardian's environment blog says Paddy Power is taking bets on the world-wide population of polar bears. The key point is that the bet is on the World Wildlife Fund's estimate of polar bears.

So the bet could be rephrased as, "Will a leading global lobby group provide evidence that one of their campaigns is based on inaccurate information?", which may explain why Paddy Power hasn't taken a "take a single bet on the polar bear population increasing."

Now the WWF may be right, but to bet that they will publish data that contradicts their own views is to give them way more credit than I'd be willing to give them. Only a sucker would take that bet.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Blinded by the fright

Nick Cohen's column in today's Observer can't be taken seriously. First, he asserts that the New York Times is reluctant to call the five Americans arrested in Pakistan terrorists because they're American. What? If the five were part of some extremist group operating out of Idaho the Times would not shy away from calling them terrorists.

Next, hes says the FBI's failure to take seriously the threat posed by Major Hasan was because they were "blinded by the belief that an American could not be a jihadist and thought Hasan was simply conducting research." Not a chance.

They're blind because they're afraid. Afraid of putting a foot wrong and slipping on a politically correct banana skin. Afraid of conceding that those on the political right might have a point.

The funny thing is, I can tell from reading Cohen's column that he really knows why the Times and the FBI did what they did, but he's decided to look elsewhere for an explanation.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Totally unlike Texas abandoning the dollar

Brian Lenihan says talk of Ireland leaving the euro "is akin to stating that Texas will leave the dollar." You're wrong Minister. Texas' economy is much more tightly integrated to the other dollar states than is Ireland's tied to the other euro states.

Our biggest trading partner is outside the euro and overall we have by far the lowest percentage of inter-euroland trade of all the euro countries. In fact, we have less inter-euroland trade than many non-euro states: Denmark, Sweden, Poland, ...

We may not leave the euro, but such talk is in no way analogous to Texas and the dollar.

Carbon tax will make us poorer

The carbon tax will put our exporters at a disadvantage and make imports more attractive to Irish consumers, according to the Irish Dairy Industries Association. This is so obvious that I can't believe how little conversation the carbon tax has generated.

Now the current low level carbon tax will have an effect, but not a drastic one. However, it also will have essentially zero impact on our emissions so if the logic is to reduce emissions then we must face up to the fact that our carbon tax will have to be a lot more punishing, which will mean that our small, underpopulated island will be able to export fewer and fewer physical goods.

They haven't even started working on airplane costs. Once those are brought into the 'carbon tax' net we'll be in deep trouble. Even manufacturing drugs here might be economically untenable. At the very least, each addition to the carbon tax will require an equal reduction in some other cost, probably wages.

We either find a lot more U2s and Iona Softwares or we're going to get a lot poorer.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

De Burca not on board EU gravy train yet

Deirdre de Burca says she hasn't been offered any EU job. I guess the Wicklow Times was a bit 'premature'. The WT said that de Burca "did not deny claims she would not be continuing her role as Senator in the New Year." She then told them, "I am under pressure for time. Goodbye."

Maybe she could have spent a minute longer clarifying her non-denial?

Slowing down the trains

Is Iarnrod Eireann advising New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority?

Two months ago the NY Times reported that those who run New York's subway system had hired the London Underground authority as consultants. Today I'm wondering if they haven't also hired the folks in charge of the DART. Why?

Try this. A new phenomenon is delaying subway trains - fallen leaves. Now where have I heard that one before?

Praise for Going Rogue where I least expected it

Words I never thought I'd read anywhere at NYTimes.com: Sarah Palin's autobiography is "compelling and very well done." Stanley Fish also wrote that Palin's voice is "undeniably authentic," and that "perseverance, the ability to absorb defeat without falling into defeatism, is the key to Palin’s character."

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Sharing the pain must include pension cut

If the budget includes no cut to the state pension then all talk of Lenihan being "brave" is proven to be nonsense. All the talk of everyone having to "share the pain" will be shown to be nothing but waffle.

There is no argument for not cutting the state pension if those in their 20s & 30s, who are probably enduring the pain of the current downturn more than any other group, are going to suffer cuts to child benefit, carbon taxes to make their drive to work more expensive and long term negative equity. That's not even counting all those young people who've lost their jobs.

De Burca abandoning Wicklow

Maybe I missed it in the national press, but the Wicklow Times says our former local councillor Deirdre de Burca is abandoning politics here for a nice, safe, well-paid (€120K pa) job in Brussels. The WT says de Burca will be working "alongside" Maire Geoghean Quinn.

And still there are people who think the Greens were mad to go into coalition with Fianna Fáil.

Friday, December 04, 2009

From the Phoenix Park to the Governor's Mansion

Oh, in case you were wondering, my phone never rang. I never received the call. You know, the call. From Ambassador Rooney. Inviting me over for Thanksgiving Dinner.

Seems he picked up one very bad habit from his predecessor.

While I'm talking about ambassadors here, let me say 'Good luck' to that aforementioned predecessor, Tom Foley, who announced yesterday that he's running for Governor of Connecticut. I'm sure he won't mind me dropping in when he's ensconced in the governor's mansion in Hartford.

New model

I'm working on a new model for this blog, which explains the silence. It will be less essay-like and more twitter-like. Good thing, bad thing - I don't know.

Friday, November 20, 2009

There can be no replay

Any sports fan can understand the frustration and the anger that the referee's decision (or non-decision) caused the other day. I was annoyed and frustrated too. I watch all sporting events with a great intensity and the other night was no exception. Many times in my sports-watching life I've felt that sickness and anger that comes when you watch your team throw it away or when the referee takes it away.

I can fully understand how every Irish fan was feeling on Wednesday night. I felt a lot of it myself. I couldn't get enough of the post-match coverage yesterday. You want to feed that anger.

Still, by the end of the day I was feeling a bit sheepish because I thought too many people were heading off the deep end. Not that they were too angry - I don't think you can be too angry after what happened - but they were seeking justice via a replay of the game. That simply cannot happen.

There is injustice in sports just as there is in life and everyone who was rooting for Ireland on Wednesday simply has to accept that the Irish team lost. It's over. That they lost due to an injustice is now part of the memory, part of the pain of being a fan.

Calls from the FAI and, worse, the government, for a replay are wrong and pretty embarrassing actually.

Besides, this is probably the best possible result. If there is a replay two things are possible, neither as attractive as what we have now: (1) the team might be seriously humbled by the French and/or lose in a less noble fashion and (2) they might win, which would undoubtedly lead to thousands of people spending money they don't have to go to S. Africa.

By the way, the most impressive moment of the whole game was the way the Irish team tried to rally the Irish fans just before the start of the second half of extra time. They knew the chances of scoring in those last 15 minutes were pretty slim and they must have been dead on their feet, but rather than getting down and feeling sorry for themselves - they saved that for later - they got up for one last desperate assault on the French goal.

Some of the 'pictures' here (click on the cartoon) are pretty good.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The President's cringe-making absence and video

The other day I posted on Twitter that I was "embarrassed by President Obama" while I watched the celebrations from Berlin.

During the period 2001-2009 I heard lot of Americans living here say that they were "embarrassed" by the President. They were embarrassed by his religion, by his accent and manner, by his administration's policies. To be embarrassed by the man's religion, accent or manner is simply snobbishness or insecurity, which afflicts many Americans in Europe. They worried that their 'sophisticated' European friends, colleagues and neighbors would think less of them if they failed to denounce President Bush (even though many European leaders were guilty of the sort of corruption the scale of which is unimaginable in America.)

As for President Bush's policies, well I don't expect any American to support every policy pursued by an administration. As in any democracy, you disagree and you say so. You can even get angry. You want to be embarrassed by policies that's your choice, but policy is not something that embarrasses me although it can enrage me.

No, as far as I'm concerned nothing President Bush did was as stupidly embarrassing as what President Obama did this week. His failure to turn up in Berlin was a calculated snub of an ally - Germany - and really all of eastern Europe. The President's behavior was on a par with Donald Rumsfeld's ridiculous characterization of France and Germany as "old Europe" back in 2003.

But it was more than a snub to an ally. It was also a snub to America's own past and the efforts of the country over 45 years to confront the threat from the Soviet Union. That's what made his decision so embarrassing. His failure to show wasn't just saying to Germany, "We don't really care that much about your reunited country" or to eastern Europe, "Your struggles weren't all that important," although those were two messages from his absence. No, it was also saying, "I don't care much for that piece of American history" (our stand against Communism).

A snub for every President who stood fast against the Soviets from Truman through to Bush. A snub of the airmen who died bringing supplies to West Berlin in 1948-49 and all the sacrifices the people of America made to protect western Europe.

It was cringe-making watching President Sarkozy take the podium as the lead speaker knowing that the President of the United States should have been there. If in 1989 you'd asked anyone in E. Europe what country more than any other was responsible for the collapse of the Soviet system they'd have said the United States. If you had asked any Berliner in 1989 what foreign leader should speak first at the 20th anniversary celebrations they'd have said the President of the United States.

The President should have been there to represent the country and honor the efforts made during the Cold War. And any European or American would have realized how ridiculous it was that the President of the United States wasn't there. Instead we had the Secretary of State trying her best to sound enthusiastic when she introduced the cringe-making video. It was like a scene out of some science fiction movie where the leader is only ever seen on a video screen.

It was bad enough that the President didn't show, but the video - Uggh. Embarrassing.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Irish Times jumps at the chance to wave its finger at America

President Obama has cautioned "against jumping to conclusions until we have all the facts" with regards to the killings at Fort Hood. That didn't stop the Irish Times jumping to its own conclusions, however.

The Irish Times has concluded that the killings are - again - the result of America's lax gun laws. That may be true, but only if the investigation concludes that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was simply deranged and not carrying out a planned terrorist attack. If it's the latter, then the gun laws are irrelevant as mass terrorist killings have been carried out in all western jurisdictions, including those that have very tight gun laws.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Let's pay more taxes to punish the rich!

This morning's Irish Times reports that taxpayers forked out €100m to "support" private fee-paying schools. Sounds like a scandal in these economically straitened times. Yet ...

The implication of the Times' report is that this is money being provided to the rich. Well, to an extent maybe it is, but there are aspects of this funding that the Times overlooks that should be included in any discussion on whether this money should be withdrawn.

First of all, there are many people who choose to send their children to such schools despite not being rich. These people forgo some of life's luxuries for the sake of their children's education that other people in their income bracket can afford because they send their children to free schools.

Next, let's imagine a scenario where all the state money is withdrawn from the fee-paying schools. What then? Obviously the fees at these schools will have to go up - way up. Teachers - all ASTI members - will have to be let go; some of the state-mandated nonsense would be jettisoned (think CSPE, etc); and class sizes would have to be increased.

Perhaps, however, the most telling impact would be an instant increase in demand for places in the free secondary schools because without question many of the parents would need to take their children out of the fee-paying schools. That would immediately lead to problems. Places in the free schools would be at a premium because they wouldn't be able to cope with demand.

As parents withdraw their children from the fee-paying schools, some of those schools would be forced to close, creating more pressure on the free schools. Or the fee-paying schools would abandon their fees and join the free sector.

That last scenario is probably more likely for many of the fee-paying schools and possibly the most costly option for the state. The capitation grant available to a fee-paying school is less than half that for a free school (€212 per pupil vs €557), which would mean that the school would get an €345 per pupil from the state. In addition, the pupil-teacher ratio in each of the now free schools would mean that the state would have to foot the bill for a new teacher for every 400 students.

What benefit, exactly, does the state derive from the move to punish fee-paying schools? Well, we get the joy of seeing some high-fallutin' people punished. I mean, after all, some of those kids are probably bankers' children. They deserve it as do their children. Who cares if the decision costs us taxpayers millions?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Child benefit - odd figures or evidence of fraud?

The Sunday Telegraph reports today that people are claiming child benefit in the UK for 50,000 children who live outside the UK. This is an issue that's been getting more airtime and column inches here lately, what with all the talk of cuts to child benefit, etc. Something in the order of 10,000 children are resident in another EU state, but being claimed for from here.

There are two issues here: (1) should people whose children reside in another state claim child benefit here simply because they work here and (2) are some of these people claiming child benefit for children who live elsewhere committing fraud.

I listened to a discussion on the radio earlier this week where one speaker - can't remember who what was now, but from the Labour Party - indicated that they thought fraud was an issue. The other speaker on the program said there was no evidence of any fraud in the benefit system.

Most of the discussion was about those children who are living in E. Europe, but the Sunday Telegraph's report has some interesting numbers for the discussion here. The Telegraph says that of those 50,000 UK claimants, 1,800 live in Ireland (presumably they mean the Republic).

What interests me is that the rates in the UK are a lot lower than the rates available here, so why would anyone whose children live in this state claim in the UK? For example, a single child in the UK gets approximately £87 per month (€100) whereas the same child would get €166 if the claim is made here. If you claim for two children in the UK you get £144 (€170) per month. Here the rate is €332. See what I mean?

Those figures lead me to believe that there's a strong possibility that some people are claiming twice: here and in the UK. Otherwise, why would anyone with children living here claim the UK's lower benefit?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Everyone should read Frank McNally

Frank McNally is a genius. I've been meaning to say this for months now. His Irishman's Diaries in the Irish Times are often the only thing worth reading in the paper.

Today he writes about Halloween, which is big business here now. But it wasn't always so. Now that it's a big deal, County Meath is claiming to be the birthplace of the festival.
Essentially, as is the fate of all developing economies, we exported the cheap raw materials for the festival, lacking the inclination or wherewithal to process them ourselves. Then the Yanks developed the ingredients into a more sophisticated product, with slick packaging, and exported it back to us at a large mark-up.

It is control of this value-added product that Meath is now attempting to seize with its bold “Home of Halloween” strategy. At the very least, the county could secure the Irish franchise, under license. But with enough ambition and clever marketing, the people behind the festival could soon have tourists flocking to it not just from the US but all over the world.

There is a helpful precedent in the form of St Patrick’s Day. For centuries, this wasn’t so much celebrated here as endured. Then the Americans turned it into into something saleable. And in the 1990s, belatedly realising there was a market for large-scale celebrations featuring the colour green, Dublin reinvented itself as the home of Paddy’s Day. Now at last the world is buying that product from us: which is only right, after all.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I prefer to get my humiliation for free, thanks

The Olympic Council of Ireland President Pat Hickey says that any cutbacks to the government largess that his sports currently receive will mean that "[w]e’ll have a humiliating Games, and that will be a disaster for the country." A disaster for the country.

We're up to our eyeballs in debt, classrooms are bursting at the seems, health care is being rationed and the unemployment lines are now being measured in KM (much like the gaps between the Irish middle distance runners and the race leaders in recent Olympic games), but if the government decides to cut the amount it spends on supporting professional (& I don't care if they're even semi-professional) athletes. I can live with the humiliation of not seeing Irish medal winners at the '12 & '16 games.

And speaking of that 'humiliation', what exactly has been achieved by the OCI over the past decade or more? Well, Michelle Smith won a bunch of golds. No humiliation there. Right? Oh yeah, we had a gold in show jumping thanks to Cian O'Connor on Waterford Crystal, but, well, that didn't end up right when the horse tested positive for a banned substance and O'Connor was stripped of his gold. No humiliation there.

Look, the only Olympic sport that might merit the money from the government is boxing. Why? Because Olympic boxing is still strictly amateur and boxing keeps refusing to humiliate the nation the way other sports do.

The government should cut the sports funding and then redirect what's left towards real amateurs and, more importantly, school age sports, which provide a lot more benefits for society than the few who compete at the Olympic level.

That goes for the GAA, IRFU & FAI too. All that government money should go to providing facilities for as many people as possible, not for a privileged few.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bank workers' wages must be cut

Let's cut to the chase: the banks need to cut their staffs' wages because they no longer work for the private sector. Bank staff are public sector workers in all but name and, therefore, they need to endure the same pain as every nurse, teacher, civil servant and other state worker. This must happen.

This morning's news that AIB is going to increase the wages for their workers is an out and out scandal. It's indefensible. It's indecent. It's infuriating. It's immoral.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Spandau - everything their fans hoped for

I wasn't supposed to be going in the original plans. I had never imagined going to a Spandau Ballet concert. I wasn't a fan in the 1980s and, in truth, never imagined that any man was a fan of theirs. But, last night I found myself at the Point Depot, oh sorry, the O2, for Spandau's first concert since their acrimonious break-up 20 years ago.

Before the show started I was relieved to see that I wasn't the only husband at the show. Us males were outnumbered by a count of about 4 to 1, but still it was better than what I'd feared: 10,000 women and me. And sitting right in front of us was a middle aged man on his own!

The show started with a video intro that was a welcome trip down memory lane for the band's thousands of 30+ fans in attendance. I know it was welcome because it elicited shrieks that I'm sure most of those ladies thought they'd never know again. And the guy in front of us? Well, he was in tears, overcome with the emotion of seeing the band together again.

I'd like to be able to give you details on the set list, etc., but I can't remember now and I don't really know the names of their songs anyway. All I can say is that the band sounded great. A lot more rock-n-roll than I'd have imagined. I think the first song was To Cut A Long Story Short, but I really can't remember. The first three songs were pretty exciting. I hadn't anticipated anything like it.

Fortunately (for me at least) I knew most of the songs because they were mostly right off their greatest hits album. I know if I was a music critic I'd have to slate them for their slavish adherence to the nostalgia theme, but I was entertained for two hours, which is a lot more than I hoped for. The band plays with a lot of energy and if they tour long enough no doubt lead singer Tony Hadley will lose a couple of chins and the 25 pounds (plus!) he's added since the band's heyday.

There was very little chatter from the band. They don't seem to go for a lot of talk, no little political asides (TG), a number of jokey references to the years that have past and the troubles the band had in the 80s. They dedicated True to Stephen Gateley.

My biggest disappointment was that the guy in front us left about half way through. He'd been dancing in his seat for a good hour or so, but I think the obnoxious people sitting next to us drove him away. I'm sure today he's exhausted, what with the emotional toll of seeing Spandau together again after so long. Me, I'm just exhausted what with the toll of being out so late on a Tuesday night. It was 11:30 when we got home! I can't believe I was in my 20s only 20 years ago.

UPDATE: 3:20pm You can find the set list and a clip from the show's opening here.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

What didn't the IOC like?

I mentioned George Will's column on Twitter, but I'm not sure if anyone is looking at the box on the right or if Twitter's really worth it. Will takes the Obamas apart for their speeches in Copenhagen last week. Will says that the Obamas talked mostly about themselves in their bid to entice the IOC to award the 2016 Olympic Games to Chicago.
In the 41 sentences of her remarks, Michelle Obama used some form of the personal pronouns "I" or "me" 44 times. Her husband was, comparatively, a shrinking violet, using those pronouns only 26 times in 48 sentences. Still, 70 times in 89 sentences conveyed the message that somehow their fascinating selves were what made, or should have made, Chicago's case compelling.
Will doesn't leave it with the vanity charge either. He asks that the White House speech writers eschew the "egregious cliches" that seem to be overlooked by the "tin-eared employees in the White House speechwriting shop."
The president told the Olympic committee that: "At this defining moment," a moment "when the fate of each nation is inextricably linked to the fate of all nations" in "this ever-shrinking world," he aspires to "forge new partnerships with the nations and the peoples of the world."

Good grief. The memory of man runneth not to a moment that escaped being declared "defining" -- declared such by someone seeking to inflate himself by inflating it. Also, enough already with the "shrinking" world, which has been so described at least since Magellan set sail, and probably before that. And by the way, the "fate" of -- to pick a nation at random -- Chile is not really in any meaningful sense "inextricably linked" to that of, say, Chad.
I know a lot of people will dismiss this - the Olympics pitch - as not all that important, believing that maybe the President didn't give it his best shot. That's possible, but that only confirms that he shouldn't have gone in the first place.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Stick to the science in science books

My daughter's science textbook says the following: "Corrosion is an undesirable process ..." What sort of nonsense is this? Why is a science book taking sides on whether a natural process is desirable or not?

Corrosion just is. As far as science should be concerned it should be neither desirable nor undesirable. I'm sure a many scientists have earned a good living trying to devise new ways to prevent or overcome corrosion. Was corrosion undesirable to them?

And, what about all those scrapped cars, planes, trains? Don't we 'desire' corrosion for them? Aren't we glad that mother nature will return giant chunks of metal (small pieces too) back to the earth? I just don't understand why such nonsense should be in a school textbook.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Pres Obama burns up his climate-change credentials

I haven't seen any footage yet, but I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that President Obama didn't buy a ticket on a commercial airliner for his trip to Copenhagen today. I'll bet he flew Air Force One to and from Denmark.

For what? To "win" - could be one that Chicagoans will regret winning - the 2016 Olympics for Chicago? Simply amazing. And ridiculous.

Why should the President of the United States care who hosts the Olympic Games?

But what about the flights themselves?

The President has promised to lead America into some form of carbon-neutral, emissions-control future, but he has just dashed all his moral authority on that score. When he lectures Americans about taking "unnecessary trips in their car" they'll think back to today's massive emissions burn on what is clearly his "unnecessary trip". And when he lectures business on the perfectly good substitute for business travel that video conferencing represents, they'll think back to today and how the President of the United States needed to fly his personal 747 7,000 miles to make a sales pitch.

Yup. No one's gonna listen to him on this score now.

Monday, September 28, 2009

You can do WWI tour for a lot less than €600pps

I saw this ad for a WWI tour in Friday's Irish Times.

I've seen a few of these ads lately. Visiting the Western Front must be gaining in popularity.

What interested me was the price: €627 per person sharing including flights and three nights in a three star hotel. Now you get bussed around the various WWI sites of interest and there's a "professional historical guide for the duration of the tour." So what they're offering in no way compares with the trips - yes trips, Did I mention we returned to Ypres in late Aug? - that I went on this summer with my family.

Let me assure you that if we had to pay anywhere near €627 per person sharing we would not have been going. It can be done for a lot, lot less if you're willing to drive yourselves around in a rental car and do your own research to know where to go and what to see. A lot less - like €2,000 less for the four of us based on €627 per person.

I'm coming and going

"Where've I been?," you ask. Well, I don't know. Busy, but also elsewhere. No, not out of the country - well, a little bit - but writing for Irish Central. Most of what I write is aimed at an American audience, but still -- it's ME!

I've also been toying with Twitter. I know most people seem to want to dismiss it, but I'm so sure. Yet. Anyway, my twitter name is irish_eagle (not irisheagle, who is a Phillies fan of all things!).

I may try to put a little twitter box on this site somewhere, but not sure where that might be yet.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Humility is a lost virtue

And, if you're sick of Nama - and am I the only one who isn't? - then this column from David Brooks about an aspect of modern America is excellent.
On V-J Day, Frank Sinatra appeared, along with Marlene Dietrich, Jimmy Durante, Dinah Shore, Bette Davis, Lionel Barrymore, Cary Grant and many others. But the most striking feature of the show was its tone of self-effacement and humility. The allies had, on that very day, completed one of the noblest military victories in the history of humanity. And yet there was no chest-beating.

… Today, immodesty is as ubiquitous as advertising, and for the same reasons.

… This isn’t the death of civilization. It’s just the culture in which we live. And from this vantage point, a display of mass modesty, like the kind represented on the V-J Day “Command Performance,” comes as something of a refreshing shock, a glimpse into another world. It’s funny how the nation’s mood was at its most humble when its actual achievements were at their most extraordinary.

Don't bet on property returns

One of the biggest problems with Nama is the presumption that the property market will one day recover. Why should it? Every day people are leaving the country. Each person who leaves is one less residence we need, one less apartment or house. And when they leave they take their spending with them, which will only add to our troubles and encourage more to leave.

Our boom was made by (a) a booming American economy and role as the 'gateway' to the EU for American companies, (b) cheap credit from an economically stagnant Europe, and (c) cheap labor from E. Europe. None of those three is likely to return to levels like those we experienced between '02 & '06.

We could stagnate for some time and all the while people will continue to leave. If the UK economy picks up even slightly young people looking for opportunities will be drawn there. America will be a real possibility if the visa swap scheme actually comes to pass. Australia's Chinese-funded boom will attract some Irish people too. And so on. We all know the drill.

I expect the population here to decline for a number of years, which means it's entirely possible that all the undeveloped property that the state takes in through Nama will NEVER be developed.

The ECB is not an independent voice in the Nama debate

Henry McDonald writing in today's Guardian says
Irish taxpayers will hand over tens of billions of euros to the republic’s banks in order to write off high risk loans owed to them by the country’s builders and speculators.
That is not actually correct. The banks are not "writing off" the high risk loans. They're off-loading them. Those who owe will still owe, only they will no longer owe the banks but us. The builders and speculators are not (necessarily) being bailed out with Nama.

So who's winning here? The banks, obviously, but not the developers and speculators unless you don't believe the Minister for Finance and others in the government. {And, by no means am I questioning your disbelief. I share it.}

But what's really gnawing at me is the banks. What is this €54bn for? Is it simply because they lent money to people and they want it back? No, clearly not. They want the €54bn back because they owe it to others, but who are they?

I'd like to see the figures, but my gut says that most of those "others" are European – mostly German – banks I'd wager. If that is true then the European Central Bank's endorsement is not that of an interested, but independent party as the Minister for Finance would have us believe. No because let's face it the ECB is really run by the Germans and they want their banks repaid.

I wonder how much pressure our "European partners" have put on us to find a means to see those loans repaid.

Won't the €54bn cost us anything?

I like Brendan Keenan and feel unqualified to question his analysis, but something he's written about Nama in today's Irish Independent is really bothering me.

Keenan argues, rightly, that the €54bn we're paying for the banks' bad property loans cannot be lost entirely because short of a complete economic collapse "those loans are worth something." True.

He then asks
will the loans be worth €54bn in 10 years' time? If they are, there is no cost to the taxpayer. If they are not, there will be a cost. If they should turn out to be worth more, the taxpayer will gain.
Well ...

Won't this €54bn cost us something? I mean, we have to borrow this money, don't we? Doesn't that mean the loans have to be worth €54bn PLUS the cost of borrowing the money?

If I borrow $100 at 5% per annum and lend it to someone who pays the $100 back in 10 years I'm out $62.89 (I hope I remember my compound interest formula correctly).

We taxpayers will have to borrow the €54bn to buy these wonderful property loans from the banks. I know this is a rough calculation, but ten years at 4% interest on €54bn will be about €26bn. Don't we have a right to expect to get that back too?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Gambling still at the heart of the banks

The share price of AIB has risen by 430% (or so) over the past six months. Bank of Ireland is up over 890% in the same period!

Why? Has the economy recovered so magnificently in Ireland to warrant such rises in the banks' share prices? Eh, no, just in case you were in any doubt.

No, the reason the price of the shares has gone up so much is because of all the government's plans, which means that all these people buying the banks' shares know that the government's intervention - that is, Nama - will be so kind to the banks that profitability is only around the corner. And, it means that gamblers are still a big force in the banks.

How do I know? I know because all these people buying the banks' shares are betting on the government actions. They have not been buying with a view to a return to the Celtic Tiger days and profits all around. No, they are simply making a bet on what Brian Lenihan will do today.

Unless the Minister for Finance stings these people pretty severely today, we can all expect that the banks will - in short order - return to the sort of blind lending as described by Colm Keena in today's Irish Times.
Although your average customer seeking a loan is asked to give a complete account of his or her financial affairs, this was not the case with major developers at the height of the property boom.

“In the 2004/2005 to 2007 period, the borrower dictated the terms in which they did business with the banks,” according to the source. “The banks were told: ‘This is the way I do business and if you don’t give me the loan I will go to someone else who will’. And that was usually Anglo [Irish Bank].

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

No Sept collapse for this year's Mets!

It was just about this point in the season the past two years that the Mets began their end-of-season run for second place, having calculated that first place was simply too much hassle. Thankfully, they got their collapse out of the way early this year and there's absolutely no tension left to the season.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Avoiding the wildlife on Dublin's roads

A month ago I was driving through Saratoga County late(ish) one night and I was on edge as I was worried about the number of spindly-legged young deer I saw along the side of the road. Every clump of trees seemed to be shielding a pair of deer and every so often one of them would bound across the road in front of me. You have to be careful with deer because if you hit one they can do a lot of damage to your car and to yourself if they happen to fly up over the hood, as they're prone to do.

Well late(ish) last night I was driving through Dublin and I had a similar experience. Only instead of the spindly-legged young deer, I had to take care due to the number of wobbly-legged young dears who were everywhere. Every clump of parked cars seemed to shield a pack of young dears and every so often one would stumble out in front of me. You have to be careful with the young dears because if you hit one ... Uggh.

It's more than past time to cull the young dears population on Dublin's streets.

Friday, September 11, 2009

FÁS — What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

It's well past time that FÁS was wound up. FÁS sums up so much that is wrong with government intervention in the economy. Well-intentioned short term solutions become permanent fixtures; the mission keeps expanding - as does the budget; objectives become long-term, vague expressions of hope; corruption takes root because nobody is really holding the organization accountable; etc.

I know some people might argue that the current economic climate is exactly when we need FÁS - I doubt it - but if that's true, then fine. Close FÁS and start a new organization, one with a limited life-span, tight controls and small budget.

I agree with Winne Mandela (sort of)

Sheesh. What's the world coming to? I can't help but agree with Winnie Mandela, who says that gold medalist Caster Semenya is a victim in all this arguing over whether she should have been allowed to compete in the women's 800m race at last month's World Championships.

Mandela says "She did not make herself. God decided to make her that way and that can't be held against her."

True. It can't be held against her. This is so far removed from a doping scandal, where cheating athletes have tried all sorts of excuses. "Ginseng tea," anyone? I hope they let her keep her gold medal.

However, if these reports are true there's no way that Semenya can be allowed to compete against women again. The advantage she had this summer will only increase as 17 turns to 18 turns to 19 and so on. Semenya will soon be winning by half a lap. Nope, there'll be no more women's races for Semenya.

While I understand her mother's desire to protect her daughter now, she knew and has known about these issues since her baby was born. Perhaps she was too naive to realize that the truth would be public knowledge some day, I don't know. I feel bad for the family because I think they were probably lying to themselves and misled by those who should have known better – like the Athletics authorities in South Africa.

I cannot for the life of me understand what those people were thinking. They surely knew this would be an issue and they must also have been aware that it could be pretty rough for a teenager to go through such scrutiny. I hold them responsible for this mess and for the troubles that Semenya now finds herself in.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The 9/11 season on t.v.

There is a 9/11 season for television. From Sep 1 through the 11th there are just so many documentaries on September 11. It's been this way since 2002. Channel 4 definitely has the most 9/11 documentaries this year and, I think, every year. Last night they showed 102 Minutes That Changed America, which is shocking, jarring actually.

I know it aired on the History Channel last year. I'm not sure if it was ever on over here before, but it sure brings it all back.

I'm sure glad that I wasn't in front of anyone's camera on the day itself. Some of the people who spoke to the camera after watching the first building fall said things that maybe they would rather have been simply lost forever and not preserved on film and shown on television. Maybe.

Another great documentary that was on over the weekend dealt with the conspiracy theories about the attacks. This one was on the National Geographic channel and I know it's been on before, but I never saw all of it. Anyway, it was tremendous in debunking one nonsensical myth after another and had a great line from one contributor who said the "truthers" were playing Whack a Mole - every time one of their notions is shown to be nonsense, they come back with another.

Friday, September 04, 2009

If you speak Flemish (or Dutch, I guess) ...

You'd think that seeing as I was born in New Amsterdam I'd be fluent in Dutch, but unfortunately not. If you can read Flemish (Dutch - not sure how different they are) can you help me out?

I'm trying to understand this (especially the bold bits).
Om 15 uur is er in de Sint-Medarduskerk is er de Pontificale Eucharistieviering voorgegaan door Mgr. Roger Vangheluwe, bisschop van Brugge. In de kerk worden alle aanwezige missievrienden waaronder gouverneur Paul Breyne, burgemeester Bernard Heens, OCMW – voorzitter Lieve Avet begroet. Dit Diocesaan Zendingsfeest wordt muzikaal ondersteund door het koor Hoogland van Wijtschate onder leiding van Marc Lewyllie en Hubrecht De Gersem. Omwille van de heiligverklaring van pater Damiaan, de grootste Belg, zingt het koor ook het Damiaanlied. Naast de missionarissen, zijn alle jongeren uit de buurt die actief zijn in een ontwikkelingsproject uitgenodigd, alsook de jongeren die vorige zomer pelgrimeerden naar de Wereldjongerendagen in Sydney Australië.

Om 16 uur stelt pater Michel Coppin, directeur Missio, aan de gelovige gemeenschap de missionarissen voor die weldra terug vertrekken en ontvangen zij het zendingskruis van onze bisschop. Het zendingskruis wordt speciaal gemaakt in een tinfabriek in Frans-Vlaanderen en is een Iers-Keltisch kruis. In de Wijtschatestraat in Wijtschate staat er zo’n groot kruis bij de ingang van het oorlogskerkhof. Dit is een granieten kruis in keltische stijl. Het werd ontworpen door generaal Hickie (commandant van de 16de Ierse divisie. Het oorspronkelijke kruis “Ginchy Cross” werd in hout vervaardigd van oude eiken balken en planken gevonden op het slagveld aan de Somme. Het stond gedurende de oorlog 14-18 tussen Ginchy en Guillemont in Frankrijk. Naar model van dit houten kruis nu bewaard in het Islandbridge War Memorial in Dublin (Ierland) werden slechts 3 granieten kruisen gemaakt en geplaatst op de voormalige slagvelden van de Ierse troepen, in Wijtschate (1926), in Salonica (Macedoniê) en Guillemont (Frankrijk). Een paar jaar terug vernoemde Koning Albert II op de televisie dit kruis dat enig is in België en dat staat in Wijtschate.

Tijdens de viering ontvangen alle aanwezigen een gebedskaart met foto van het zendingskruis. Het zendingskruis is een verwijzing naar de oorlog 1914 – 1918 waarin Wijtschate volledig verwoest werd. Het gebed op deze fotokaart werd geschreven door Mgr. R. Vangheluwe. De uitleg over het kruis werd geschreven door heemkundige José Depover uit Wijtschate.
I tried using Google translate and Babelfish, but couldn't quite make sense of what was happening.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

"We don't need Nama"

Three cheers for Sean Barrett. I know there have been lots of columns putting Nama down, but for me this is the best one. Straight-forward, simply-written and deadly.
The builders will be relieved of their gambling debts on high property prices. The bankers will be relieved of the costs of their incompetent lending and senior regulators will no longer have egg on their faces but be reinvented as neo-Keynesian economic heroes who save the economy.

It will be so easy. Nama pays off the builders at a bit less than bubble prices, builders pay off the unreformed banks and banks will immediately begin investing in productive economic activities and will never be codded by builders again, really. Nama is a macroeconomic three-card trick to refinance incompetent Irish bankers and reflate a property bubble without addressing reform in the property market, banks or bank regulation. It has dire microeconomic consequences for these sectors and adverse consequences for the rest of the economy.

… The proposition that Nama should pay more for impaired assets because it alone is aware of their long-term economic value is at best a gamble with public money founded on a belief that Nama knows something that no one else in the market knows about these items.

This way of doing business has been agreed, we are told with some pride, by the IMF, the ECB and the EU Commission. This might be as simple as international bureaucrats rescuing national bureaucrats from a hole of their own making. We also need to know whose version of this crisis was communicated to the international bureaucracies.
I love his take on the bureaucrats involved. More than anyone, they're getting away scot-free.
We need competence in financial regulation across the Central Bank, Financial Regulator and Department of Finance, with massive management changes in all three bodies. We must solve the present crisis in the three sectors that caused it, bad builders, bad bankers and bad regulators.
The only quibble I have with Barrett's piece is his reliance on the Canadian model. We don't control our own currency, Canada does. I'd love to ask Barrett about the euro's role in the crisis and our regulators' failure to grasp how the old rules don't apply when you have a currency priced to suit an economy to which we're only loosely tied.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Can't we skip the stupid in this referendum?

Everyone knows that the truth is stretched during political campaigns, but it seems that EU referenda really bring out the most outrageous lies and distortions. I was driving through Dublin on Sunday evening and saw signs advocating for a No vote, claiming that the minimum wage could be lowered to €1.84 if we vote Yes.

As any of you who've been coming here for a while know full well, I'm hardly a big fan of the EU. I voted No to Lisbon last June. I'm open to reasonable arguments - from both sides. This is one is simply stupid.

There is ZERO possibility that the minimum wage will be forced down to that level (or anywhere) by any EU Court. Now it may be true that subcontractors from poorer member states may earn less while working here, but that's not the same as what is implied in their ridiculous signs.

Nor can any moves by the government in the current economic circumstances to reduce the minimum wage - and I don't remember hearing anything other than suggestions from outside the government - be anything other than a national response to a national crisis. The EU won't force it down (although if we default the ECB may well do so. That won't be due to Lisbon, but Maastricht, which is not on the ballot.)

This referendum is way more important than the one last June. Last June the issue may have been the same - whether to ratify Lisbon or not - but the situation has changed dramatically. Now the question is: will Lisbon be a good or bad thing with regards to our current crisis and the recovery period. I'm not sure yet, but I'd like to think we can consider the matter with at least a minimum of rationality.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I'm sick of "fair"

I get so tired hearing how this isn't fair or that isn't fair. It's bad enough when little kids pout about something being "not fair." But, when the newspapers start whining in the same tone I just want to shout, "Grow up!"

The other day it was the Irish Independent and the new aptitude test for medical students here, today it's the Belfast Telegraph and the so-called "hidden" airline charges. Okay, it's not actually the paper that's doing the moaning, but they give space to moaners such as the Consumer Council.

Now we all know that Ryanair is the target for this sort of thing even though they're not named here. And we all also know that the fare that Ryanair advertises may not bear much relation to the final cost of your flight, but that's not due to hidden charges. Before you buy you get to see those extra costs add up. It may be annoying, but it's not theft or any form of injustice. And, as I've said many, many times, you can avoid those charges if you play by Ryanair's rules. (Yes, you can get round trip air fares for less than €10. I don't think I've ever paid more than €20 for a round trip on Ryanair - INCLUDING all the so-called "hidden" fees.}

The other day I wanted to buy a book online. The company I was buying from was one I'd bought from many times in the past, but I'd never bought a book before. Anyway when it came time to check out I discovered that they add a book shipping supplement. Needless to say, I abandoned the purchase at that stage. I was a little annoyed, but it didn't occur to me to moan about the unfairness of this last moment additional cost. I just bought the book elsewhere.

Haven't these people heard, "There is no such thing as fair."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Fairness and social mobility" are irrelevant in choosing doctors

Dr Sean McDonagh says that the new aptitude test that students must take in order to study medicine seems to "violate the State's policies on fairness and social mobility." McDonagh says the test puts "poorer and rural students at a disadvantage."

My reaction is: so what? Unless McDonagh believes that this new aptitude test will result in a disimprovement in the medical care available in Ireland why should I or anyone else - rich or poor - care. Surely the best policy is one that will lead to the best doctors, no? And that is the idea behind the new medicine aptitude test that all would-be medical students now have to take.

Yesterday's Irish Independent had a few articles about students who had scored 600 points on the Leaving Cert not getting a place to study medicine while some with scores as "low" as 520 did manage to get a place. And this should bother me?

Honestly, I don't need my doctor to be able to write poetically about Macbeth or be able to speak fluent French or regurgitate long passages in Irish. No, all I need is for my doctor to be a competent doctor. The math and science scores have to be good, but everything else can be adequate.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The missing 35,000 people

Supposedly there were 50,000 people watching the Bray air show yesterday. That's what RTE says, that's what the Irish Independent says and I'm sure others are saying the same. Well, based on what I saw from the top of Bray head, in order for there to have been 50,000 people watching the show you'd have to count pretty much everyone who was in Bray at the time because I would doubt there were many more than 10-15,000 actually down at the sea front.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Atheists in the trenches

There's been quite a bit in the Irish Times about atheism lately. John Waters' column on Friday and Shane Hegarty's on Saturday are only two examples. Anyway, it got me thinking back to something I saw when I was in Belgium.

Most of the headstones in the WWI cemeteries have crosses on them. The Americans, French and Germans actually use a cross-shaped stone as the marker.
{French cemetery near Ieper in Belgium.}

Every so often in the American and German cemeteries I was in (back in '07) I came across a grave with a Star of David headstone. And, in the French cemeteries I saw some for their Muslim dead. But, how did they mark atheists' graves? I never came across anything that might have answered that question.

The British used a rectangular-shaped stone with a rounded-off top rather than the cross-shaped stone. The British headstones have a cross (or Star of David) etched into the stone. However, it was only in the British cemeteries that I came across stones marking what might have been atheists' graves.

Obviously, I have no way of finding out for sure, but this grave of a soldier from the Royal Irish Fusiliers looks so bare that I just assumed he had made it known that he wanted no cross or any religious marker on his grave. And they say there are no atheists in foxholes.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Moonwalk video

When I saw this Washington Post headline - "Video of Moonwalk From 1969 Restored" - I thought to myself, "Geez, haven't we seen enough of Michael Jackson already?" I bet I'm not the only one who'll have that reaction to that headline.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The First Pitch

Oh my God. I can't believe what I just saw. I'm sure there are millions of comments of a similar nature all over America, but I can't get over the fact that Barack Obama throws so badly. {Yeah, I'm nearly 24 hours late, but I didn't have a chance to watch last night's game until now.}

I don't care about bullet-proof vests and all that. He can't throw. I was mortified watching him. I can't help thinking his wife would have done a better job.

MORE: Okay, I found it on YouTube and it doesn't look as bad as I thought when I saw it on the television. He did go to the rubber, so points for that. Still, he looks very uncomfortable, which I hadn't anticipated.

If you're going to go on strike ...

I can claim no expertise with regards to industrial relations, but surely one rule of thumb for a union is that you should not go on strike if it's even vaguely possible that your employer would be just as happy to close the operation where you work? Well, the employees at our (publicly funded & run) local recycling center went on strike about two months ago and there seems to be little appetite to reopen the place. I can imagine that the County Manger is enjoying the added "revenues" he's getting so long as the center is closed. And, seeing as (a) it's not really essential and (b) it was probably only used by 20% (or so) of the local people (and that estimate is probably high) the workers may have overestimated their power.

The truth is I don't really know the ins and outs of the dispute. It's entirely possible that the workers are being so mistreated that a strike was the only option. I don't know, but the fact that I don't know and I was a fairly regular user of the center and even I've gotten over the center's closure shows how slight the workers' hold over their employer was.

Something else that I was interested in is the nature of going on strike. In the picture I pasted above there is no human being near the center; yet that was the middle of a workday when the center should have been open. Shouldn't the workers have been picketing there?

The strikers had left a few of their signs on a bench near the entrance and that was the only sign that the center wasn't simply closed down. That's not my impression of being on strike.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

In Flanders Fields

I spent two days touring WWI sites last week and can't wait to go back. The fact that you can get to Charleroi for €8 round trip - everything included - may see me back there sooner rather than later.

I wrote about some of what I saw/did over here, but basically we toured cemeteries and monuments around Ieper (Ypres), Bethune in France and Thiepval. The original plan was to stick to the area around Ieper, but when we got the information we needed to locate my wife's great-grandfather's plot in Bethune, we went there.

Some observations:
  • The British cemeteries are a different experience to the American ones. The number of visitors is far, far greater. I guess that's to be expected given the distances involved, but still when I was at the American WWI cemetery near Chateu Thierry in 2007 we were the only people there during the entire time we were at the cemetery. This goes back to what Charles Krohn said about how few Americans visit the WWI cemeteries even though thousands go to Normandy.

  • The British do a much, much better job of explaining what happened in the various locations. Now, maybe that's because WWI had a much bigger impact on Britain than it did on America. I don't know. But, you can learn what happened at the various battles near each cemetery and there are many. I mean many. At some road junctions you might see half a dozen signs pointing in every direction. Next junction same again, but different cemeteries.

  • The 50,000+ names of those British (including Irish) soldiers whose bodies were never identified that are listed on the Menen Gate are overwhelming. Same goes for Thiepval.

  • Most of all, the Irish involvement. I know this is probably going to sound confused, but somehow being at Ypres and at the Somme - for a little while - and visiting my wife's great-grandfather's grave has really made me reconsider my view of Irish history for the period 1912-1922. I can't say I've come to any conclusions yet and I doubt it will be too shocking to me, but just the thought that far more men of Ireland were killed serving in the British Army than were in the IRA during the War of Independence never really occurred to me before last week. {And, that ignores all those Irishmen, like my grandfather, who served in the American Army or the armies of Australia or Canada or New Zealand.}

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

This is what we pay a license fee for?

First of all, I cannot believe RTE is showing the Michael Jackson show. I mean, really, gimme a break. This is a total farce, but what's worse is that the whole thing is commercial free! What, they couldn't get Guinness or whatever to sponsor it? I bet they didn't even try.

Well, if they have the money to burn on hours of revenue-losing nonsense then they should cut our license fee pronto.

We don't accept online bank statements

"It looked very nice." That's how Ireland looked to Ben Whitehurst from Texas as he was heading skyward after being denied entry to Ireland following his flight from America last week. Whitehurst was traveling with two other young guys and the three of them intended to backpack around Europe. The immigration authorities turned the three of them away, forcing them to spend $1,800 each on flights back to New York.

When I read the story in the local Texas paper I had two thoughts: (1) these guys were pretty naive and (2) this is pretty much how I looked and acted when I was their age and setting off on my first visit to these shores. The law says that visitors must prove prove they can support themselves while they're here. Fair enough, but I can't see why the immigration people wouldn't accept an online bank statement if they would have accepted a printed one. There has to be more to this story.

And, of course, these sorts of things are pretty darn common for young Irish travelers to America. So, it's not like the Irish authorities are unique in this.

Monday, July 06, 2009

$100 for your bag

Wow! Aer Lingus is introducing a $100 charge for that second bag on your Transatlantic round trip flight.

Thank God for Continental.

No quotas, thanks.

The Irish Times reported recently that women politicians want a quota system to ensure that a minimum number of Dáil deputies are women. Former Progressive Democrat TD Liz O'Donnell said that "without women in politics, our democracy was unfinished." Well, if women should be guaranteed a certain percentage of seats, what about other underrepresented sections of the population: people under 30; immigrants; people who haven't finished their Leaving Cert; people who are not teachers, lawyers, publicans; etc.

And, the truth is, our democracy will surely be finished if we start adopting quotas in a bid to deny the electorate their democratic rights to vote for whomever they want. Just as many women as men are eligible to vote. Why don't these women ask why this fact alone doesn't guarantee 50% of the Dáil deputies are women?

Don't mess with ESPNA

The NY Times says that British soccer fans are uneasy at the prospects of ESPN broadcasting English Premier League matches. Well, as a subscriber to ESPN's American sports network here (ESPNA), I'm concerned that they're going to add soccer to our prime-time schedule and ruin the American sports nature of the channel.

I haven't heard if ESPN is going to launch a new channel on which to broadcast their soccer so I'm fearing the worst.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Fooled by the Irish Examiner

I saw this article this morning and thought it was something. The headline is pretty eye-catching in itself - "Majority would oppose Papal visit, finds poll" - but the rest of the article is just as certain. Newstalk carried out a poll, which found that 51% of "the public" is opposed to a visit by the Pope.

That may well be true, but the Irish Examiner left out a fact that was included in the Irish Independent's report on the same poll: it was an online survey. Uggh. Read this from the Examiner's report.
The poll, carried out by Newstalk radio, found that 51% of 1,108 people questioned would not welcome Pope Benedict if he were to put an Irish trip on his itinerary any time soon.
I thought it was a proper poll with an appropriate attempt at selecting a representative sample of the population. A poll conducted via Newstalk's web site is open to all sorts of non-random selection issues.

Are Newstalk's listeners representative of the nation as a whole? Are those who are online representative of the nation as a whole? Are those who are motivated to respond to such a poll representative of the nation as a whole? Can those who do respond do so more than once?

For all I know the poll is an accurate reflection of the views of the nation, but if it is that's just pure dumb luck. And, I'm not criticizing Newstalk becuase I have no idea how they presented their poll and its findings. The Irish Examiner, however, clearly misrepresented what the poll was.

Worse than that, they fooled me and I included this nonsense on the Newshound today. For that reason I'm angry.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

What if Michael Jackson was a Catholic priest?

I always thought Michael Jackson was creepy - major league creepy. I still cannot understand how any parent allowed their child to get near him. Was he a pedophile? I don't know, but if I hear people saying so in the next few days I sure as heck won't immediately dismiss them.

What's been annoying me is the attitude in the press (& the Irish Examiner is pretty representative of what I've seen in the Irish & British press this morning) that seems to say, "Sure he may have molested boys, but (a) he had a tough childhood and (b) the music was sooo good that we can overlook his dark side." What? How many people would accept the following in a newspaper editorial: "Yes the allegations of child abuse were unseemly, but he was a gifted priest and ..."?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Jackson Will

I remember reading something early this year about Michael Jackson leaving the Beatles songs to Paul McCartney in his will. My thought was, "So what? He's about 15 years younger than McCartney. McCartney will never get those songs back." Well, just goes to show that you never know. Looks like McCartney will soon be able to sing Hey Jude without having to send a small check to Neverland (or wherever it was recently).

2010 World Cup

One thing that that's instructive about the Confederations Cup is that the weather may be about as favorable to an Irish team as they'll ever get at a World Cup. They won't have to worry about wilting in the heat the way they did in America in 1994 and in Korea in 2002.

Also, someone better do something about those annoying horns. I had to keep putting the volume on mute because of that drone.

It's not 1980

Of course I was rooting for America as I watched the second half of yesterday's Confederations Cup semi-final. It was great to see them win. Soon as it was over I just figured I'd check twitter to see what was being said and there were a lot of posts comparing the win with the 1980 Olympic hockey team's accomplishments. Today, George Vescey, who is old enough to know better, continues with that theme, although at least Vescey merely says this is the "second-biggest upset by an American team" in any sport.

First, there is no comparison with 1980. For it to come anywhere near 1980 you would need the following conditions:
  1. a team comprised totally of amateurs;
  2. the competition to be more a lot more meaningful (like the World Cup);
  3. the whole nation riveted, watching and rooting for the guys wearing USA on their chest;
  4. a semifinal match-up with the world's greatest national team and that team to just happen to be from America's primary rival on the world stage (the USSR).
Is this even the "second-biggest upset by an American team" as Vescey contends? Well, of course, America isn't as involved in the sports that feature international competitions so maybe it is. However, I would say that the following are bigger upsets (given the stakes and the competition);
  • 1-0 win over England in the 1950 World Cup;
  • 1960 Olympic hockey gold.
I think I would probably say that the win over Portugal in the 2002 World Cup was bigger and also, maybe, the 1996 win over Canada in the final of the World Cup of Hockey, although that wasn't really much of an upset seeing as America had great players at the time. Still, this was the Confederations Cup and, well, let's face it it's not that prestigious a tournament and the fact that the stadiums are only half full tells a big part of the story.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The 1911 Census

I know there are a lot of people over 60 in this country who are resistant to the internet, but if there's one sure-fire way to get them interested in the web it's the 1911 census. The archives of nine counties are now online and the other 23 counties will be added by the end of this summer.

I've seen the reaction a few times already. It isn't just the raw data that's interesting, but the fact that you can view the actual form that was filled in back in April 1911. When today's elderly person sees a parent's name and, often, a grandparent's hand-writing they're hooked.

Public libraries should advertise the 1911 census on the internet and encourage older people to try searching the records.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ads on the jerseys

American sports teams are testing the water, to see how people respond to ads on the uniforms.It goes without saying that I'm 100% opposed to this development. The jerseys don't need ads. Ads on the outfield walls is bad enough.

Starting this summer the NFL is going to try out small ads on the sleeves. On their practice jerseys only. {For now.}

Okay, so I hate that idea, but sports continually adopt ideas I hate. (And, once, dropped a bad idea -- artificial turf is nearly completely gone from baseball. Yahoo!)

I know the ads on the NFL jerseys will be small, but I doubt they'll remain small. What use would that be? I expect they'll gradually grow to European soccer proportions, which I think would be a mistake.

European soccer clubs have sacrificed their own brand development potential with the ads on the jerseys. I gotta figure that's why you don't see Manchester United tee shirts, etc Unless it's an official team shirt or shorts or socks - whatever - you don't see it. The sponsor's logo is the real visible trademark. For example, the Manchester United crest is so dwarfed by the advertiser's logo that it's insignificant. AIG could probably sell red tee shirts that would satisfy Manchester United fans.

I know that there is an awful lot of Manchester United merchandise available, but I still think their branding takes a hit with that big AIG in the middle of their jersey. I mean, who wants to be associated with AIG these days? (Or Citibank - don't talk to me about the Mets' new home!)

Another reason I don't do direct debits

Bord Gais admitted last night that the banking details of 75,000 people were on a laptop that has been stolen. The information wasn't encrypted. Typical.

The customers affected are those who switched from ESB to Bord Gais for their electricity supply. That includes me. Oh yeah, as a by the way, the information has been in criminal hands since "last Friday week" (June 5? not sure). Hey, at least they only made us wait two weeks before telling us, right?

Customers should be entitled to sue BG for this sort of negligence. They should be compensated for the aggravation and, yes, the worry over something that has arisen because "it's not that big a deal" is the prevailing attitude at Bord Gais (and the banks too. Remember?). What price will BG pay for this? Not much to be honest. It's a bit of a PR headache right now, but that will pass quickly. Meanwhile all 75,000 customers now have to wonder if their bank details are in the hands of people who could use them for their own criminal ends.

Fortunately I didn't sign up for direct debit with BG so they don't have my bank details. And, now, fortunately, neither do the criminals. Just another reason why signing up for direct debit is a bad idea: you're giving important information to people who simply don't care enough to take care of it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sports obsession pays off

I knew that following sports wasn't a waste of time. Yesterday my daughter, who is a keen sports fan, got a bit of an advantage on her Leaving Cert Spanish exam thanks to her sports knowledge. The listening part of the test was all about Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal. She had all the answers written down before they even started the playing the short recorded biography of Nadal.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Posters between Bray & Dublin

Driving into Dublin last night I was surprised by how many posters were still up a full week after the vote. I thought there was some form of fine for posters that were not removed after seven days following the election.

I also noticed that most of the posters were Sinn Fein posters, particularly Mary Lou McDonald. Is it because they handle the posters differently - who puts up/takes down posters; - or is the party sort of demoralized by McDonald's defeat. Just curious.

Time for license fee cut

RTE is looking for an increase in the license fee because their ad revenue is falling, according to the Irish Examiner. This is despite the fact that the license fee is supposed to be linked to inflation, which means the license fee should be cut.

The Examiner has another story saying that the cost of living has fallen by 4.7% over the last year. Therefore we should be getting a €8 cut in the cost of our television license. There is no argument for anything other than reduction in the license fee. And the government should tell RTE to drop dead.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Will Europe miss Bush?

I don't want to claim any special insight into the views of European governments just because I live in Europe, but I gotta say I kind of doubt Ralph Peters has it right with his column today. Peter says that "[a] big chill has hit the trans-Atlantic atmosphere," referring to relations between the Obama administration and various European governments.

Peters says that during his trip to Europe last week Obama "brushed off Sarkozy", looked like he had just been divorced from Angela Merkel and treated Gordon Brown as if the British had "just burned the White House -- or a Kenyan village..." Peters says America's relations with Europe were better in Bush's second term than they are now.

Peters finishes up saying that Obama's upbringing was in the third world and that he just has it in for Europe on a personal level. Peters believes that, "Europe is going to miss George W. Bush."

I haven't got that sense at all. Maybe someday Europeans will turn on Obama, but we're a long, long way from that. I suspect that goes for the leaders too. However, I would imagine that (a) some of the European leaders are a bit miffed at Obama's popularity in their countries and (b) I'm pretty sure Merkel is none too happy with the way the administration and the fed are treating the dollar.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Whither ESPN America?

It looks like Setanta Sports is on its way out. The company's founders - need to raise £100m immediately or the company will go into administration. STV reported at 6:00 that Setanta would go off the air tonight. Setanta has since denied that, but the Guardian's web site says
that the company has stopped taking subscriptions and that the "wind down has begun."

Now what makes this really important to me is that I get my American sports fix through a subscription to Setanta. Setanta set up the North American Sports Network six years ago and sold it to ESPN last year, but ESPN America (as NASN is now known) is still sold through the Setanta pack. So, my question is, what happens to ESPNA if (when) Setanta vanishes?

Monday, June 08, 2009

Nobody would take Irish & Polish

I know, I know. The Leaving Cert is on my brain. It's hard to believe how much your child's Leaving Cert takes over your life. Your whole family's life.

At least I'm gaining some insight into another aspect of Irish life. Today I found out that the Polish exam was scheduled for the same time as Irish.

I guess the state assumes that all the Polish students here either came after they were 12 and, thus, can opt out of Irish or that they haven't reached Leaving Cert age yet. Well, I heard about one poor boy who has to do his Polish exam after his Irish. And those two are following a morning of Math. That makes about nine hours of exams this kid has to endure today and he has to be ready for another 3'20" of Irish in the morning. It seems so cruel and unnecessary.

The number of kids doing Polish and Irish is only going to rise rapidly in the coming years. Same goes for all the other E. European languages. Would be a good idea to consider the possibility that some children are going to need to take both Irish and Polish exams and set schedule accordingly.

Friday, June 05, 2009

The death of Grasshopper

Is it true that David Carradine was best known for the Kill Bill movies? To me he was, and always will be, Caine or Grasshopper.

"When you can walk the rice paper ..."

Thursday, June 04, 2009

I'm not "the quality"

Our local gentry are getting special treatment at the polling booth tomorrow, according to the local free sheet the Wicklow Times. Apparently those who live on the Kilruddery Estate, including Lord & Lady Meath will have their own special polling station. The Wicklow Times says that Lord & Lady Meath and the other 28 or so people who live on the estate - extended family - have their own polling station and when they're done voting that box is opened in private, unlike all the other boxes.

Actually it's not quite as bad as that sounds. The Meaths' little place lies just outside the town boundaries, so they don't get to vote in the local town election. That explains the separate polling station. And there is a law that says any box containing fewer than 50 votes must be opened in private.

So disappointing. I was looking forward to being outraged.

Unquiet Man

Just to let you know, I'm also blogging here. These posts are really aimed more at an American audience.

Rescheduling the English exam

One more thing about the rescheduled English test: why couldn't they have simply put the Engineering test on this morning and the English test this afternoon? The Engineering students were already facing a full day, all that would have been different would have been the order of their tests. And, if the English test was set for 3:00, say, the state could have ensured that every school received the contingency papers by then.

Anyway, enough of the Leaving Cert. I'm sick of it.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Leaving Cert fiasco

If you don't really know the Leaving Cert this will seem like a minor detail. If you know the Leaving, but aren't involved in this year's exams you'll at least understand why it's big news. However, if you're in my boat, you'll know that this is really, really big. Canceling tomorrow's English paper can really throw a student for a loop. The more hard wired to planning your student is, the more this could be a game-changer.

The state says that they couldn't do anything other than cancel it because they couldn't get the contingency paper to all the schools on time. Yet every school is online now, right? Couldn't they have simply put the contingency paper online at 9:30 or whatever and let the students work from that?

I don't know if that would have worked, but postponing the exam until Saturday is no better. Maybe there was no viable alternative. This sure is one massive foul-up.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Church was the cheaper option

Was the state "supine"? This is a question that's been nagging at me for a few days. Was the state cowed by the Catholic Church? Was that why there was all that abuse in Church run institutions?

Mary Rafferty says it was.
Today, the Government faces a clear choice: will it continue its supine and cowed attitude – so disastrous in the past for the children of Ireland – or will it at last on our behalf stand up to those who have bullied and intimidated us all for so long?
Well, this partial sentence taken from a letter from Department of Education (Vol I, Ch. 16) makes me think that, perhaps, that it wasn't just a matter of the Church bullying and intimidating the forces of the state*.
… it is a general experience that for an institution of the kind management by a religious order is more economical than lay management …
The state was using the Church for its own ends. It was cheaper to outsource the management of the industrial schools, etc. to the Catholic Church than it was for the state to provide them.

*Really that is a ridiculous notion. As if the Church had more power than the state. The Church's power derived solely from the devotion of the people of this Republic. The state had an army and the police. The Church had men in cassocks and women in habits.

E-Day comes before D-Day

I never heard of The Messenger (not to be confused with the Sacred Heart Messenger) until yesterday when I received a copy of the Wicklow Election Guide '09 through my door. The Messenger is a local paper for Gorey in Wexford and Arklow in Wicklow.

Anyway ...

The first sentence of the introduction to their guide is
D-Day will be the 5th of June once again, but this year they won't be hitting the beaches, they'll be prowling the polling stations, as candidates ....
Oops. D-Day was the 6th of June (and yeah, I know it was originally supposed to be the 5th, but in the end it wasn't.)

Regardless, the guide is kind of useful. It would have been a whole lot more useful if it had spelled out where the various candidates differ. From what I can tell they all want the same things. Or they tell you nothing of what they would do if elected. Two or three candidates have called to the door and I couldn't tell you one thing that any of them said that wasn't said by the others. 'Vote for me, I live nearby' is a summary of what they all seem to have to say.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Fr. Flanagan mentioned in the Ryan Commission Report

Where have I been? Well, I've been doing a lot of other things, most of which are of no interest here. Today I spent most of the afternoon sitting in the backyard simply enjoying the weather.

I have written a few things that were published on Irish Central. This one on the Ryan Commission on Institutional Child Abuse might be of interest.

I really had the sense that those who composed the Ryan Report didn't really understand how well known Fr. Flanagan was and how highly regarded he was - among all Americans and not just Catholics. If the Ryan Commission did understand who Fr. Flanagan was they seriously downplayed the significance of the state's decision to ignore and denigrate him.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Best player in the world

As most of you know, I don't claim any real knowledge of soccer. Still, I was surprised by this article in today's NY Times. I had thought the idea that Ronaldo was the best player in the world was mostly marketing hype that few took seriously. Is there a real debate as to who is better, Ronaldo or Messi?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Partying like it's 1962 (again)

The Mets lost last night. Hardly earth-shattering news, but the manner of their defeat is pretty shocking. They lost because they played like they were a Little League team playing an early spring training game.

They made numerous errors in the field - dropping balls, throwing them away, that sort of thing - they failed to do simple things with the bat - like bunting (letting the ball hit gently off the bat) - and in a crucial situation, when it looked like they were going to escape with an undeserved victory, one of their professional players, a guy making $2.8m a year, failed to touch third base on his way home to score the winning (okay, go ahead) run in extra innings. And he was under no pressure to make it home as there was no hope of a play on him.

Honestly, there isn't a Little League coach in America who wouldn't have been embarrassed by such a display. It was as if the Mets channeled their inner '62 Mets. The Mets were in their first year and they are renowned for being the worst team to ever play in the major leagues.

The only saving grace as far as I'm concerned is that I only had to endure the audio description on delay this morning. I can't imagine how I'd have felt if I was in New York and stayed up til 1am to watch that debacle.

"Conclusive scientific evidence" that some people are nuts

The people of Newcastle, Co. Down can, apparently, enjoy free WiFi in at least part of the town. And not everyone is happy about this (& I'm not talking about disgruntled commercial internet providers, whose grudge I could well understand).

No, the Newcastle Sustainable Community Planning Forum organized a public meeting on the issue.
According to a NSPCF spokes-woman, the outcome of the meeting was an overwhelming majority vote for the cessation of the pilot operation until ‘conclusive scientific evidence of safety is established’, a request that Down Council allow a NSCPF presentation on the health risks associated with Wi-Fi, and that councillors be urged to review their decision.
I really don't know what to say. "Conclusive scientific evidence of safety?" I mean, do any of those people ever go swimming because I bet there is no "conclusive scientific evidence" that swimming is safe. Or eating meat. Or walking along the road. Or climbing a wall. Or ... You get the idea.