Friday, November 26, 2010

Elm Park was always going to be a failure

Back in June 2008 I wondered if the Elm Park development would someday be seen as "a symbol of everything that went wrong as the economy went into its inevitable property price crash."

That it isn't seen that way today has nothing to do with Elm Park's success, but rather those symbols are too numerous for Elm Park to be singled out for any special acknowledgement. Regardless, the Elm Park development - part of Bernard McNamara's decaying world of properties - will shortly have a receiver. I can't claim any great prescience in our misfortunes, but I knew as soon as I saw what was happening at Elm Park that it would end in tears.

Monday, November 22, 2010

To stay in euro we need to learn how to tax and SAVE

I've been looking for a robust defense of the euro, or more specifically, our membership in the euro following our financial/economic meltdown. I've found two recent columns (here and here).

They're both reasonable if the following assumption is valid: governments can tax and save. I have serious doubts about that, especially Irish governments. Money just seems to burn a hole in the pockets of people in government, partly because the electorate expects that hole to be burned.

I'd like to believe that our Central Bank could have insisted that the banks take a bigger chunk of their profits and put it towards a "rainy day" fund as is/was (apparently) done in Spain. That's the same instinct, though. The shareholders might not have accepted investing in a bank that was compelled to keep the capital ratios above the accepted 12% norm.

Even had the Central Bank done that would that only have opened the door wider to let foreign competition in to undermine the banks? This doesn't excuse the behavior of Anglo-Irish or our regulators or the government, but we should at least acknowledge that everyone was in a new situation - a currency union with countries that were not cyclically in synch with ours.

To be honest, of the three main players the one I blame the most is the regulators. They should have been more forceful with both government and the banks. They should have realized that the old capital ratio rules were at least somewhat in doubt in once we joined the euro.

We need a broader, more robust set of measures by which we assess the strength of the banks. And we need to learn how to tax and save as opposed to tax and spend, at which we've proven ourselves exemplary.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Better the euro dies than we leave it

Okay, call me nuts and I don't really believe that our government or Department of Finance folks have this sort of courage, but what if our government has suddenly realized that the euro doesn't suit our economy? Would it be better to leave the euro with our tail between our legs or to hope for the complete collapse of the currency?

The more I think about it the more I think we have nothing to lose. There's no reason for us to simply quit the euro like bad children being asked to leave the playground (although we should never have joined and never have been allowed to join).

Either the Germans (& others) stop pussy-footing around and pledge a genuine solidarity with us, one that includes sharing the pain of the bailout (which was made in large measure by their banks and our forbearance of the cost of German reunification on exchange & interest rates when euro was born) OR we refuse to play ball and trigger a complete collapse of the euro.

If the euro collapsed there would be economic upheaval throughout the EU, particularly in eurozone countries. However, I'm not sure it would be much worse here than what we're facing anyway.

I would never have had such thoughts if not for the noises from Herman von Rompuy today. He sounds like the guy running through a burning building screaming 'Don't panic' while he tries to find the emergency exit.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

One WWI story among tens of thousands - my wife's great grandfather

I read Lucinda O'Sullivan's post on her uncle who died during WWI I wanted to read my July 2009 post on our search for my wife's great-grandfather's grave. Only it's no longer on the system at Irish Central, so I reposted it here.

Cpl. Patrick Conway, d. 28-APR-16
One of the great things about studying family history is that you find that members of your family did things that make you wonder what they were thinking, what drove them. Often they did things that don't fit the general historic themes you learn about in school and through books.

For my wife and I this process started with regards to Patrick Conway back at the end of May when we first found her great grandparents' census form on the 1911 Census web site. Patrick was "head of family", a "bricklayer's labourer", had been married for nine years and had four children. The oldest child, my wife's grandmother, was nearly 7.

It wasn't even that anything we found was all that surprising, but my wife had never really thought about Patrick Conway other than as the man who was her father's grandfather and that he died in the First World War. The census somehow brought him to life.

We have few hard facts, but we believe Patrick served with the British Army in the Boer War in South Africa around 1900. We also believe he was a member of the Citizen's Army - a worker's militia born out of the Lockout of 1913.

Now that's interesting because in Irish history the Citizen's Army and the British Army ended up on opposite sides during the 1916 Rising, but that was all in the future when Patrick Conway enlisted in January 1915.

So, he was in the British Army, left, married, had a family, worked as a bricklayer, joined the Citizen's Army and joined the British Army again. As my wife thought about all these things and the fact that he was around 38 years old when he (re)enlisted in the Army, the main question was: why? Why did Patrick Conway, a 38-year-old husband and father of four decide to go to war?

And really there was only one answer. He must have been out of work. As a friend of mine said to me recently when I told him this story, "What employer would hire a 38-year-old militant trade unionist bricklayer's laborer?" So simple and straight-forward that it has to be true.

They were harsh times and he probably realized that the army at least offered a wage and, even in death, a pension. Something for his family to live on.

That man was the father of my wife's grandmother, somebody she knew well, but who had never talked about these things. This is why my wife had to go to Bethune, France to visit his grave. We were going to be too near to let the chance slip by.

Bethune is only about an hour over the border from Ypres so we changed our plans to include a visit there. Unlike all the other British military cemeteries that I saw, Bethune is a local cemetery, with a war graves section. It is mostly local French people who are buried there. The war graves aren't exclusively British either. Most of them are British, but there are French and German soldiers buried there as well.

The Commonwealth War Graves in Bethune Cemetery
We found Patrick Conway's grave and found that he was buried near four other members of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who all died within a day or two of each other. We guessed that they were all injured in the same engagement, but we have no way of knowing. More research.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Moneyball in the English Premier League?

John Henry is going to try to employ Moneyball tactics at Liverpool, according to today's Irish Independent. Henry is a hedge fund manager so he's clearly comfortable with numbers and his GM at Boston, Theo Epstein, is of the Moneyball generation.

Moneyball was all about Oakland's Billy Beane and the 'genius' he was, but truthfully I always thought more of Epstein than Beane. Beane's teams were competitive, but always seemed to lack the winner's instinct, whereas Esptein built winners. Beane's teams seemed a bit 'soft' in crunch time. And, yes, I know their budgets were vastly different, but still big budget doesn't guarantee much (see NY Mets for all the proof you need). Epstein built good & tough teams - and the Red Sox had to be tough to overcome the curse, the failure of 2003 and the deficit they faced in the 2004 playoffs against the Yankees.

I know nothing of Damien Comolli, who the Independent says is expert at spotting young talent AND "close to Beane." That closeness means Comolli believes in statistics. I guess we're going to learn whether a similar appliance of science can be made in soccer. {I heard the guys on Off the Ball discussing this very subject on Monday, but didn't hear the name of the MLS man they were speaking to about the application of stats in American soccer.}

One thing I admired about Epstein is that, unlike a certain General Manager who used to work in Queens, he recognized that the introduction of drugs testing in baseball would turn a lot of older star players into has beens almost overnight. His team got young quickly, which resulted in their championship in 2008.

Today Liverpool and the Mets are a lot alike. Spending lots of money for little in return. Henry's goal is to make them more like the Red Sox than the Mets. It's an experiment, but I suspect Henry will get Liverpool winning titles again.

{And we Met fans can hope that our new GM will mean a rapid rise back to success.}

Court should have stayed out of Donegal by-election issue

Other than Fianna Fail TD's - and probably not all of them - I think I'm the only person who is unhappy (or at least uneasy) with yesterday's ruling on the Donegal by-election.

Yes, the constituency should have 3 TD's and 16 months is an inordinately long time to wait for the by-election, but it's not like the people of Donegal SW are totally unrepresented - they still have local councillors, 2 TD's and 3 MEPs. The court should have left it up to the Dáil as to when the by-election takes place.

Don't get me wrong, I think we should have an election immediately. In fact, we should have had one in October 2008, but the Fianna Fail and Green TD's thought that an extra year or two for them in the Dáil was more important than the fate of the nation. They'll pay a price when the inevitable election comes. I just don't think this is the court's business.