Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Save the dog = laughs

If I was a dog lover I probably wouldn't find this video ( so funny, but I'm not and I do.

I think whatever government body in Belfast that has taken Lennox the dog away from his owners should butt out and return the dog to his owners. However, no matter how you slice it we're talking about an animal and not a person.

A dog locked up - even unjustly - is not worthy of the sort of investment in emotion that this woman has invested in Lennox. I don't accept that "[t]here would be joy in the world, a time of celebration throughout the world" if Lennox were released this month. And while I'm sure Lennox would rather be with his owners than in Belfast's dog pound, I doubt he's really that worked up about missing Christmas.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dáil TV and Oct 27 referendum

Just wondering, but could there be a connection between our "coming soon" Dáil TV channel and next week's referendum on Oireachtas Inquiries? I mean, without all the extra inquiries that a 'Yes' vote will allow, how will our representatives fill all the hours of the new channel? They can't very well allow us to see hours of the chamber empty and unused or even hours of 3 people sitting there listening to another drone on. Can they?

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Church's influence over Irish education not what's often claimed

The Irish Times list of the 50 most powerful people in Irish education is interesting.

What really caught my eye, what really should get people talking about Irish education is the low listing of Fr Drumm - Chairman of the Catholic Schools Partnership - who is 30th and Archbishop Martin (36th). Apparently the Church doesn't have as much influence over Irish education as people like Ryan Tubridy would have us believe. As for Protestants or other religious groups - didn't make the list.

The head of Educate Together made the list - at 24, above anyone from any religion. Goes to show how certain perspectives are favored over others. That Educate Together is so high up the list demonstrates Labour's control over education.

Who else made the list? Many university heads (and ex-heads!), union heads, Department of Education mandarins. All of those groups have more influence over Irish education than does the Catholic Church. American money - multinational companies and philanthropist Chuck Feeney - is listed much higher in terms of power and influence than Fr Drumm and Archbishop Martin.

Next time someone talks about the Church's influence in our education system I'll cite this source as proof that its influence is nothing compared with loads of other interest groups.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Catching Hell – a decent first draft

First, I want to say that all sports fans will enjoy Catching Hell. You don't have to be a baseball fan to get something out of the ESPN (@ESPNAmerica) documentary.

Having said that, Catching Hell is far from flawless. It's part of the story, but ultimately incomplete. That the those who made the film didn't get the main subject – Steve Bartman – to talk to them isn't the primary flaw.

No, the biggest problem I have is with the non-participation of the Chicago Cubs. To my mind the biggest culprits in the story were the Cubs. The Cubs – the players, the manager and those in the front office – allowed Bartman to be turned into a villain. They let it happen. In fact, they caused it to happen.

We got a short interview with the lead supporting actor in this play, Moises Alou, but that was unsatisfactory too. He was never asked if he felt that he could have done more to save Bartman from the fans' ire I wanted to know if looking back at it if he wishes he'd done or said something more.

Other than Eric Karros we heard nothing from anyone else associated with the Cubs. Why?

Maybe they know now that they should have said or done more for Bartman. Maybe they're ashamed. Or maybe they defiantly believe that Bartman did really cost them Game 6 of the NLCS and maybe they still blame him. Whatever the players, manager and front office folks feel today is still a mystery.

There are other problems with the documentary. At two hours it's too long thanks to an excessive amount of Boston Red Sox stuff. It's unnecessary for the story. And as for the lengthy theological treatise on scapegoats ... that should have been cut to a sentence. Without Bartman, without his friends or family, without the Cubs an hour would have been better.

It's too good a story to remain only partially told.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Why are so many kids today allergic to nuts?

Are we going nuts about allergies?

My son came home from school with a note asking us not to send in any food containing "peanuts/nuts & cod-fish/shellfish." I had two reactions. First, who sends cod into school? Even shellfish seems a bit strange, but maybe a shrimp salad, I guess, isn't too odd. But cod?

Next, why does it seem so common for kids to be allergic to nuts these days? My son's been asked not to bring in nutty foods despite the fact that the child (children) with the nut allergy is (are) not in his class.

The note makes clear that even breathing the air with these foods around could cause Anaphylactic shock. For that reason every child in the school must avoid bringing in these proscribed foods.

If this was the first time we'd received such a note I might not find it so strange, but we've had these notes a few times with all our children. What's going on? Why are there so many children who are so violently allergic to nuts?

I went to a much bigger elementary school than any  of the schools my kids have attended. We ate in a massive lunchroom with - I'm guessing - 200 kids. Never were we told that food containing nuts might cause anyone an issue. And, peanut butter was one of the more popular sandwich fillers.

Given that you'd expect that we would have been under strict orders to not bring in peanut butter sandwiches or that there would have been fatal or near fatal incident on an almost daily basis in our lunchroom.

I'm not ready to dismiss these allergies as a nonsense, but really I don't understand where they were in the 1970s.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Does mainstreaming hurt educational outcomes?

Stephen Donnelly TD (@donnellystephen) says our the state of our education system is a "national emergency." To support that thesis Donnelly cites a 2010 OECD report on educational outcomes.

I read the report - it's really more of a summary of findings - and the overall message is that our standards in reading and math have slipped. Alarming. However, one finding in particular caught my eye.
The experts attribute some of the declines to changes in the profile of Ireland’s student population, including larger numbers of migrant students who do not speak English as a first language and greater inclusion of students with special educational needs in mainstream schools where the PISA tests were carried out.
What is this saying? It seems pretty straight-forward that the measures used showed a fall-off in standards due to too many non-English speakers and too many weak students in the classroom. But - and this is the key issue for most parents AND for the state - does this mean that the average student is achieving less due to these students being in the classroom with him/her OR are these children simply bringing down the scores?

If it's simply the case that they're bringing down the scores and making comparison with other countries less useful, then why not exclude the scores of those who are non-English-speaking or have special needs? Then we can compare like with like and get a better feel for how we're doing compared with other countries.

But what if the experts are actually saying, indirectly, that the influx of so many "migrants" and/or the mainstreaming of special needs students is actually having a negative effect on the education that most children get? Then what? I suspect these questions would be considered beyond the pale, not worthy of consideration because they're politically incorrect.

Donnelly, of course, doesn't go anywhere near the issue. He mentions 4 countries - Canada, Finland, South Korea and New Zealand - with better education systems than we have. I'd love to know how they handle these issues because the implication of the comment from the expert group is that they don't deal with these matters in the same way Ireland does.

When it comes to immigrants, I can't imagine that the experience in New Zealand and Canada could be much different from Ireland's. I'd love to know how they deal with non-English-speaking students and what impact they have on their overall educational outcome as measured by the OECD.

I'd also love to know how all four of those countries handle children with special needs. If these factors are not issues, then I want to know why our employed experts mentioned it in the first place.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Transition Year kills Mathematics learning

The Minister for Education is "concerned" about the poor results our students are getting in mathematics. He's going to "examine ways to improve" those results.

If all the Minister and his department examine is the curriculum then they've already failed. At a minimum he has to explore whether the fact that so few of the teachers who teach math at Leaving Cert level are actually qualified math teachers is having an impact. Although I'm not so worried about "qualified" as able: able to fully understand the material and able to teach.

Something else they should consider is Transition Year. Transition Year is a real problem when it comes to math.

Based on my experience Transition Year is a math killer. How? Well, from the time the Junior Cert is over until 5th Year begins, students do very little meaningful math work. The hard-won skills and knowledge acquired in the years leading up to the JC do a lot of atrophying during the intervening 15 months while students 'explore other avenues' or whatever the excuse is for TY.

Other than for the occasional Einstein, math is all about learning through repetition. You learn a concept; you work it to death until it's second nature then you introduce another concept based on those concepts already learned.

Yet, as just about any graduate can tell you, once you leave the classroom behind most of those math skills and abilities fade. There's little call for trigonometry or geometry or simultaneous equations in the 'real world.' Only, in Ireland, our students are having that graduates' experience during TY. Years of learning is lost in 15 months of mathematical brain inactivity.

And don't try and tell me that math is part of TY. It's not, not really. Not the sort of math that would prepare a student for the content of the Leaving Cert program, especially the higher level program. There are no difficult concepts presented and no hours of homework doing repetitive problems during TY.

There is so much material to cover by the end of the Leaving Cert cycle that there is no time for a few weeks of review when 5th year begins. The teachers hit the ground running as if the students can recall all that they've learned, as if they possess all the skills they had 15 months earlier. One week into the school year and many 5th Year students are already talking about "dropping down" or how they don't understand anything. Kids get left behind in a hurry.

What about my daughter? Well, she's lucky that I have the time to help her. So far we've had to work together on her homework every night.

I have a degree in Math so I kind of enjoy dusting off skills and knowledge I haven't had much call for in decades. I bet there are a lot of parents, however, who couldn't adequately explain trigonometry or what have you to their child. Their children are falling behind from the get go.

How many of those children will have to "drop down" thanks to the fact that they couldn't keep pace when the gun went off in 5th year? How many would have been better off if they hadn't had a year off? Thousands.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Data-mining governments - an annoyance, but not a real danger to democracy

I had to re-read Tom McGurk's column from this week's Sunday Business Post. I think this was because the headline – Legacy of September 11 corrodes all our lives – had me expecting something completely different than what he wrote.

McGurk's column is about all the personal data that our digital world has created and how it's stored and mined by various (nasty?) government agencies. He also notes that companies are storing a lot of information about each of us. McGurk claims - he could well be right, I have no idea - that these companies "want to exchange their information for the state’s information."

McGurk's thesis is that the government is gathering all that information in the name of security as a result of what happened on September 11, 2001. McGurk says, "the most disturbing legacy of that day, for all of us, is not on a global, macro scale, but on an individual, micro scale."

I guess my problem with what McGurk is saying is that he pins all of this on September 11. I just don't accept this. The vast amounts of information clearly would have come about if September 11 had never happened, but so would the state's impulse to warehouse and mine as much data as they could.

Maybe the voters in America would have been less willing to go along with this if not for September 11, but I suspect it would have happened anyway. Besides, if McGurk's thesis is true, this urge to accumulate information is not just American, but exists across "the west."

I think concerns about the amount of data that governments and companies have about us a legitimate concern, but it doesn't keep me awake nights. A government's first priority is to protect the citizens and for now many in the west are making a willing compromise - allowing the government to save and use all sorts of information on us in exchange for what we hope are better informed security forces.

Unlike the scare mongers who see conspiracies everywhere, I believe this can be changed if the public demands it. Maybe someday it will or maybe we'll all just learn to live with the knowledge that the government knows how many MB of data we download daily.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Leaving cannot be the be all and end all of college admissions

If it weren't so darned important, it would be easy to dismiss the Leaving Cert. The reason it's important is simply because it's the sole measure used to decide on a student's 'application' for college. Nothing else about the person matter, only the test scores from one three week period during June of their last year in school.

Nothing else matters.

Did they underachieve? Could she have done better with different teachers? Is there a potential scholar inside that girl who only did a middling Leaving Cert? Could he be a world beater as a geneticist but for his English & Irish scores? Was the fact that she was ill or he lost his mother during May a factor in their lower scores? Could they have done better?

None of that matters.

All that matters is that the student's Leaving Cert scores. It's well past time that was changed, but the Leaving Cert's a sacred cow.

Spread out the state exams over the last three years of school. Include other factors, including aptitude tests, in college entrance requirements. Encourage (compel?) students to make a case for their admission to a particular course. That might help weed out all those who choose courses just because they "got the points."

Scrap the points system - or at least lessen its importance - and we might actually get a better second level system and more devoted, more capable third level students studying for degrees that suit them rather than in programs for which their collective Leaving results direct them.

Monday, August 15, 2011

If Martin is best Fianna Fáil can do, they should fold up the tent now

Micheál Martin is a political lightweight, which was made all too obvious the past week. He's always been too keen to be seen as 'having his finger on the pulse' and this week he probably thought he was going to look really clever when he opted to ignore party stalwarts and try to hitch a ride on Gay Byrne's coattails.

Last Wednesday on Tonight With Vincent Browne, RTE's Derek Davis summed up why he thought Byrne wouldn't run. Everything Davis said made perfect sense. Davis said he didn't know Byrne that well, yet he was able to see that Gay Byrne was unlikely to run. How is it Micheál Martin didn't have the sense to put out feelers even to people like Davis, never mind those who know Byrne better, before he endorsed Gabyo?

My favorite part was that Martin had barely jumped onto the Byrne bandwagon before Byrne fired off his anti-EU broadside that proved that Martin had no idea who Gay Byrne, potential Presidential candidate, was. Right away Martin looked silly.

Three days later and Martin looks stupid. He backed a man whom he hadn't spoken to, whom he didn't know and in the process made it obvious that no one in his party was worthy of support. Even if a Fianna Fáil candidate were to emerge at this stage, why should the public support him/her if Micheál Martin considers him/her unworthy?

If this is the best they can do Fianna Fáil may as well call it a day right now.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

A Marshall Plan is not what the EU needs

A column in the Guardian calls for a new Marshall Plan to save the EU, but unfortunately the EU's dominated by leaders who believe in unconstrained free market capitalism, according to Mark Mazower. That's a load of twaddle.

The EU's problem right now is that EU enthusiasts ran too far out in front of the citizens of the various nations. They pushed for an integrated EU that required a lot more solidarity and a lot less nationalism than the people of the EU were ready for. Unfortunately they ended up with a fudge - a unified currency stretched over loosely unified national economies. It's stuck in between integration and a loose confederation, which is a disaster.

Mazower's call for an EU Marshall Plan is only a band-aid. The only solution now is for there to be one polity and one economy. The national identities need to be buried in favor of a new overarching European identity, one that accepts that the problems of Athens, Madrid, Rome, Berlin, Paris, Dublin - are everyone's to share.

I just don't see that happening. It will have to be forced on people or as the integrationists have done for the past 20 years sold to them under false pretenses. That's not a winning formula.

Oh, and as for Mazower's history, he talks about Truman and the Marshall Plan without once mentioning the USSR, which the plan was designed to thwart. Methinks his love of central planning blinded him to this side of the central planners' history.

Monday, July 04, 2011

National coffers boosted by training corrupt regimes' armed forces

So the Irish government got money for training the armies of dubious regimes. Isn't that one of those charges that's always flung at America - they're "America's creation" or "America's puppets."

I wouldn't want you to think that I'm criticizing the government for this decision. I just like the fact that this muddies the water for those who 'blame America first.'

Monday, June 27, 2011

Aer Lingus in T2 - better leave plenty of time.

I know Dublin Airport's Terminal 2 is new and this is the first time they've had to deal with the busy summer season and there are probably a few kinks to work out, but really the lines to check-in or just drop your bag at Aer Lingus this morning were ridiculous.

I would not be surprised if the people in this picture had to wait 30 minutes to do a 'bag drop.' I presume this has more to do with Aer Lingus than anything wrong with T2, but I'm not sure. I didn't see too many unmanned bag-drop desks – I didn't have to go to check-in desk – so maybe it's just that Aer Lingus was not allocated sufficient desks? Or maybe Aer Lingus has decided that T2 means fewer employees on duty?

Whatever the issue, I hope they get it straightened out soon. The only lasting impression for T2 made on departing tourists this morning was chaos and mismanagement.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Is the state considering confiscating church property?

A report in the Independent says the Department of Education will "take action on the divesting of schools if there was a delay in reaching agreement on a handover from Catholic-run schools to different patrons." What the report doesn't say is what action the government will take if the Forum on Pluralism and Patronage doesn't come to a speedy resolution of the issues that are currently being discussed.

It is intriguing to consider whether the state will simply confiscate church property in order to meet this "urgent" need for providing more diversity in primary education. I can't see any other option because to simply start opening new schools in temporary facilities while the Forum does its job would mean hiring a whole load of new teachers, which I would imagine our EU/ECB/IMF overlords would frown upon.

Until now I thought this process was going to be a voluntary one, but maybe not? Would Fine Gael back such a move? This could get interesting.

Friday, June 24, 2011

NY Times - American soccer's number 1 cheerleader

Another NY Times article on how hot the MLS and soccer generally is in America. This time the NY Times reports on the "hottest ticket" in Portland – the Timbers. I'm sure the Times isn't about how popular the Timbers are seeing as there's no NFL, MLB or NHL team there so competition is light. Only the the Trailblazers  offer major league competition. I don't know much about Portland so I can't say whether college football and basketball draw fans in Portland as they do in many American cities and towns.

The Timbers are a new franchise - this is their first season in the league - which helps make their games a bid faddish. This phenomenon is repeated in every town that suddenly finds itself with a new sports team.

The key is how popular the team is after the fad wears off. We won't know that about the Timbers for a few years yet. At the moment, revenue wise and franchise-value wise they're still far behind the local NBA team, the Trailblazers.

Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I don't wish the Timbers ill. I hope the franchise succeeds. In terms of weather and demographics - it's actually a pretty big market for so little major league focus - I would imagine soccer in Portland is a good fit.

It's just that the Times annoys me on the topic. They were too busy cheer-leading to offer much of a discordant note on the team's owners Peregrine Sports, LLC, which is controlled by Merritt Paulson. Merritt Paulson is the son of  Henry M. Paulson Jr. - ex-Goldman head, ex-Treasury Secretary, who we got to know very well during the financial melt-down in 2008. Henry Paulson owns a chunk of the team himself.

I guess I'd have expected a bit more of a critical eye on the Paulsons than the Times offers. The most Times offers is that the Paulsons "raised eyebrows" in the " left-leaning and sometimes insular city."

Peregrine roped the city into spending a $30m to renovate the stadium - it had been renovated at a cost of nearly $40m in 2001 to accommodate the the local minor league baseball team, the Beavers. Peregrine bought the Beavers at the same time as it acquired the franchise rights to the Timbers, but when the city didn't pony up for a new baseball stadium in addition to the renovations at Timbers' home field they sold the Beavers, which then relocated to Tucson.

I would have imagined some of that possibly jiggery-pokery would have merited a bit of attention from the Times, but no. The Paulsons basically get a free pass because they're running the "hottest ticket" in town - a soccer team. 

Leasing vs selling iPads for school

A Lisburn school is leasing iPads to parents for £170 (€190) per year. The Mayo school in the news at the end of last month is selling the iPads at €700. I think I'd be happier with the leasing arrangement, but really I don't see the need for them at all. I'm happy knowing my children will still be using dead tree products for their schooling.

By the way, despite all the hoopla over that St Coleman's in Mayo, Rathdown in South County Dublin introduced iPads months ago.

No kidding - where are the missing goats going?

Goats missing in Waterford may have been used to make bodhráns. I have half a memory of hearing of goats going missing before. Is this what's happening to them? Is this the dark side of one of Ireland's traditional instruments?

Irish newspapers back to free online

I don't think I've seen it commented on elsewhere, but in the long running battle between free and paid for online newspaper content many Irish local papers recently rejoined the ranks of the 'free' after another failed effort to get people to pay. Local papers on the platform were "premium" options, but are now simply free to all. The Bray People, Drogheda Independent, Sligo Champion, Enniscorthy Guardian, etc. are among the titles that can now be read online without charge.

Friday, June 17, 2011

America is not riven by hatred

Walter Ellis has followed up his Irish Times column from earlier in the week with a letter to the editor in today's paper. Ellis says Ireland looking to America for help would be a mistake because "the US is in desperate straits itself these days, uncertain of its place in the world, riven by internal hatreds."

Okay, I agree with the first point and can see the argument for the second (although I don't think this issue is much different than it has been since 1900), but the third point? Is America "riven by internal hatreds?"

I get over to America quite a bit and I haven't noticed any sudden surge in hatred. Political debates seem a bit more heated than was the case 25 years ago, but that's more a new media (talk radio, cable tv as well as online) phenomenon rather than anything all that real.

Too many people make that mistake, confusing the media world with the real world.

I would have thought Ellis, who lives in New York, wouldn't be one as I doubt he encounters anything like the hatred he must have experienced in his native Belfast. No, I would wager that the hatred Ellis is talking about is the excited language used in ratings-driven radio & television programs or in Facebook, Twitter and blog posts.

Real hatred would lead to real violence, but that seems, if anything, to be down from 25 years ago. Violent crime is in decline. Racial tensions are certainly in decline, although, again, politically motivated newspapers would never want that truth to be admitted. And general politically motivated violence? America experiences less of that than you'd get in Athens on what seems like a monthly basis.

America has been riven before and that led to 1 million dead. We're way short of that today.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Obama 2011 & Reagan 1984

I still cannot get over how so many Irish people found President Obama's speech inspiring or moving or just great. Whatever floats your boat, I guess. I mean, it's not like everyone here hasn't heard the same tale a hundred-thousand times from all the Irish-American visitors over the years. {I've actually been relieved to see some letters to the Irish Times expressing the view that the speech wasn't much.}

Anyway, the President's speech was never intended to be taken all that seriously so I don't have any real problem with it. I do wonder why the Irish government was so keen to organize a pep rally for the American President, but whatever.

It's not a great comparison, but just as a point of interest if you read (I'm sure there has to be video somewhere) President Reagan's 1984 address to the Dáil you'll hear a man who engaged in some blarney/banter, but who also addressed serious topics of the day. You'll hear him acknowledge that the people of Ireland disagreed with him on some matters, but he made his points as a respectful democrat in the manner of a man who believed he was addressing freedom-loving adults with whom he could engage in debate.

I'm only saying this because in the run-up to President Obama's College Green event I heard many commentators refer to Reagan's visit as if it was all Ballyporeen fluff. That clearly wasn't true.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I don't believe all I've heard about Osama hit

Maybe I'm just too cynical, but I don't believe the story about following the messenger who led the CIA to bin Laden. What I suspect is that after a good few years the CIA is now well and truly inside al Qaeda and that there was some definite, hot tip from a live body high up in the organization which led to bin Laden.

Funny enough, I'm also more willing to give Pakistan a bit of a pass than are most Americans. Yes, bin Laden was living near a military school and not far from Islamabad. Yes it seems kind of unlikely that he lived there for so long with no one in the Pakistani government or intelligence services knowing he was there. BUT, that same government and intelligence service delivered Khalid Sheikh Mohammed into America hands, although that was 8 years ago. Have things changed that much inside Pakistan? Maybe they have. Besides, I don't believe the story we've been told

The other thing to consider is that we didn't want bin Laden alive, which is what we would probably have had if Pakistan had moved in to capture him. If bin Laden was taken alive it would have meant (a) he would have to have been moved to some secret prison, (b) no formal announcement of his capture and (c) either a military tribunal to convict him or a circus trial where the host city was under constant threat of attack.

No, bin Laden could not be taken alive, which means from September 11 onwards the United States was doomed to lose the good opinion of Mary Robinson and the Archbishop of Canterbury. A tragedy.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Microtechnology revolution was foreseeable

Kevin Myers says no one in 1981 foresaw that "microtechnology was going to transform the world." I understand what he's saying, but my math teacher foresaw exactly that.

Our school had Apple IIe machines. I still remember some kid asking the teacher why we had to 'learn how to use these things' and he responded, "Because these things are going to take over your life. Your children will not understand life without them."

He could hardly have been more right nor was he the only one. Many people could see where this was going, which is obvious given all the investment in the 'new technologies' in the early 1980s.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Note to Fergus Finlay: serious social problems need realistic solutions

Fergus Finlay is asking why are young children and teenagers becoming increasingly violent. He doesn't cite any stats to show that teens and younger children are getting more violent, but I'll go along with him anyway because I suspect this is the case.

So who or what's to blame? Finlay says there's no easy answer; he wishes we could "just blame the parents, or society, or the Gardai."

Finlay then sets out the case that poverty is a big part of the problem and he then mentions the fact that most of the inmates in Moutnjoy Prison come from a few postal districts.
Those postal districts are associated, indelibly, with deeply embedded, multi-generational poverty. Ghettoised poverty. Stigmatised poverty. The kind of poverty that breaks down parenting, and that all too often turns the presumption of innocence into the assumption of guilt.
I can sort of go along with Finlay, but what's his solution? More social workers and playgrounds.

More playgrounds sounds doable. We should defund all programs that funnel money to professional athletes and use that money to build playgrounds. Celebrating an Irish gold medal at the Olympics just ain't all that important and even if we only get one playground for the money it will be worth it.

What about the social workers Finlay wants? They're expensive and there can be no extra spending. In fact, Finlay would have provided some service if he'd identified some aspect of public spending that could be cut to allow for the additional social workers he wants.

It's all well and good identifying the problem, which Finlay does. However, everyone living in Ireland could identify the problem. It's the solution that requires real insight. All Finlay has to offer is spend more money. Great. This is not 2004. Again, we are BROKE, which means this is one problem that will be put on the longest of long fingers as it will be YEARS before we can increase spending as Finlay suggests.

In the toughest of economic climates we have the Presidential candidate who has only pie-in-the-sky suggestions for a serious social problem. Yes the President is not where the action lies economically or politically, but we still need one who is realistic.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tremendous pressure on Moriarty get it 'right'

I just read this on Twitter (from @CharlieFlanagan):
Why would Judge Moriarty stitch up O'Brien, Lowry and Ben Dunne? This report is so scathing a criminal investigation should be held.
Now I'm not saying that Judge Moriarty took any of this into account, but let's face it he knew what the press and the public wanted. He knew what the mood of the country is given our economic collapse.

The word "stitch" is highly charged, but I could well imagine that Judge Moriarty knew the pressure was on to deliver a fairly damning report. This was not like hearing a case where a jury will deliver a verdict. He was judge and jury here. The pressure to provide a "result" must have been tremendous.

I have great sympathy for him and think the process is flawed, not the man. I believe Moriarty is beyond reproach, but I also will not be surprised when there are no prosecutions and the key findings are watered down following court action.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Wild horses couldn't drag me to Jesse Jackson event

If I wasn't so busy tomorrow night cutting my toenails I might have tried to get to see Ryan Tubridy interviewing Jesse Jackson at UCD.

Actually I can't imagine anything worse. Are students so starved of political ideas these days that they're willing to listen to a discredited ex-"radical" like Jackson? And Ryan Tubridy asking the questions? Have they no self-respect?

At least I could hope that the cringing would keep me awake.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Irish Mirror's stupid front page

I'm still shaking my head at the front page of yesterday's Irish Mirror. I only wish I'd taken a photograph of it so that I could relate it to you verbatim, but my memory will have to do. The front page was an attempt to paraphrase Japan's Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, with this, "The worst day since Hiroshima".

What the Prime Minister actually said was:
I think that the earthquake, tsunami and the situation at our nuclear reactors makes up the worst crisis in the 65 years since the war.
I have tried to figure out what drove the editor to make such a change to what the PM said. More drama? Maybe, but tens of thousands dead, entire towns missing, nuclear plant teetering on the edge of meltdown ain't enough for the Mirror's readers? If that's it then all I can say is that the Mirror's readers must be the kind who love jumping off a bridge with a frayed rope attached to their leg.

I don't know. Then I thought it was probably just an attempt to add to the editor's pacifist chic credentials. I guess that could be it too. I also toyed with the idea that it was a dig at America, you know, those war-mongering Americans who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

I have no idea what drove the decision to change the tone of the PM's statement, but I do know it was 100% stupid. Yes, stupid because whatever the motivation there is no way the Prime Minister of Japan would have been as ignorant of history as yesterday's front page showed the Irish Mirror's editor to be.

Hiroshima was bombed on August 6, 1945 three days before Nagasaki was hit with an atomic bomb (August 9, 1945). The editor either didn't know about Nagasaki or didn't realize that it was the second city destroyed with an atomic bomb.

Still the dates of the two bombs make yesterday's headline laughably stupid. Of course the Mirror's readers won't have had time to notice this; they're probably too busy playing chicken on train tracks to worry about historical accuracy.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Are women safer drivers or do they drive less?

"Women are safer drivers." That's the mantra in the Irish press these past few days following the ruling by the European Court of Justice that insurance companies cannot use gender to determine insurance rates. That's the mantra, but is it true?

Both David Quinn and Kevin Myers make this assertion in today's Irish Independent, but they're not alone. This is stated as a fact, but I've never seen any real data that backs up this statement. Sure women file fewer claims, but is that because they're safer drivers or because they drive fewer miles?

For a short while in the 1980s I worked at an actuarial firm that provided the statistics on which many car insurers set their rates. I remember how my boss showed me stats accumulated in an academic study of drivers in one or two states (might have been North Carolina & Virginia). Among the statistics collected was miles driven, which turned out to be a better determining factor with regards to claims than was gender.

However as my boss explained, getting accurate information from drivers on the number of miles they drove annually was really impossible. Gender was easier to ascertain and, well, women drove fewer miles than men. On average.

I don't know if it's still that case that annual mileage is not used as a factor in determining car insurance rates in America, but I'd like to know. I also don't know much about how car insurance rates are determined in Ireland, but I'd like to know that too.

What I do know is that I've played with insurance brokers' web sites, changing various factors to see how the rates are affected. What I've noticed is that it doesn't matter if I indicate annual mileage (kilometer-age?) of under 10,000 km/yr or 25-40,000 km/yr. The rates on offer are the same.

However, if I swap genders, I get a lower Comprehensive rate (3rd Party Fire & Theft are the same for male/female of my age/married/etc). Now why would this be? I presume it's because women file fewer claims than men do, which makes them better risks for insurance companies (but not necessarily "safer drivers.")

I find it a more than dubious assertion that a woman who drives 35,000 km/yr is a better risk than a man who drives 7,000 km/yr, all other factors being the same. Yet, that's what the insurance rates tell us, but I'd absolutely love to see the stats that back that up.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Labour cannot go into opposition

Okay, so Labour had their best election ever. I get it, but it would be a huge mistake for them to go into opposition now. They went into the election hoping to catch the mood, build momentum and come out the biggest party with Eamon Gilmore as Taoiseach. It didn't happen.

Half way through the campaign they changed tack, admitted defeat and pleaded for votes on the basis that Fine Gael couldn't be trusted with an overall majority. That was the new pitch: we need to be in coalition with Fine Gael to ensure they don't do all these 'nutty things they're promising.'

That seems to have worked as Fine Gael's upward movement stalled around the same time. So, credit to Labour for adjusting the message and managing to come out of the vote with lots of positives.

However, if they now decide to opt out of coalition with Fine Gael on anything other than the most solid, irrefutable grounds, they will be doing just as they did after the '93 vote when Dick Spring put Fianna Fáil back in power. Those who wanted a left wing opposition grouping have that, but I would bet that most Labour voters thought they were voting for a party they thought was actually going to serve in government, was actually going to do something other than complain and debate.

I can see the attraction, but if being the biggest party in opposition was their goal they should have campaigned against Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the ULA and not Fine Gael. They didn't do that and any move towards that now will open the door for Fianna Fáil to reclaim that space as the populist, center-left movement they've been for most of their existence.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

An education in Croke Park nonsense

My son startled me this morning. He declared that he "hates Croke Park." Seeing as he's never been there and has no reason to be anti-GAA I was taken aback.

"Why do you hate Croke Park?"
"Because, thanks to the Croke Park deal we have no more half days."

I'd forgotten. Until last week my son had a half day on the first Tuesday of every month. The students were dismissed early for teacher meetings. Now, however, thanks to the Croke Park deal, all teacher meetings must take place outside school hours.

Why is this? What benefit accrues to the state by insisting that all these meetings take place after school hours? I can't see how the state saves one penny from this. All I see is that my son, his classmates and children up and down the country can no longer look forward to the little treat of a monthly half day.

I know there are some educationistas out there who want their kids in school 9-5, M-F, January through December, but I'm not one of those. Yes, I want my children to get an education, but that doesn't only come in school.

I want my children to enjoy life too and half days are a part of that enjoyment. I see no benefit to my children from this 'deal' that forces the school to cancel these little treats for kids.

Children are the losers here and maybe the GAA. They may rue the day that they allowed the name of their stadium to be the nickname for extra time in school when kids would rather be out kicking a ball.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Poster vandalism is a denial of democracy

It kills me to say this, but I agree with Dick Roche. Not about everything, but about one thing: those who are defacing his posters don't have a firm grasp of what a democracy means.

The poster was vandalized, a new one attached and that too was vandalized.
This happened during the Lisbon Treaty too. Roche's posters are being targeted by those who have some vendetta against him.

And it really is only Roche. This poster is not isolated, but in an area full of posters, including big ones like this from Labour & Fine Gael. Only Roche's poster has been damaged.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Does Minister Ó Cuív understand the bank guarantee?

Éamon Ó Cuív has a really interesting letter to the editor of the Galway Advertiser. Ó Cuív's letter is in response to one published two weeks ago in which the letter writer describes Ó Cuív as "a high ranking member of the FF/Green government which has made the ordinary taxpayer suffer as a result of a banking crisis caused by individuals with greedy gambling habits."

Ó Cuív 's response to that was to defend the bank guarantee.
I would agree with Mr. Walsh's characterisation of some bankers. However, I cannot agree with his idea that we should have allowed, depositors (including depositors in Credit Unions, etc.), people with pension contributions and insurance policies of all types lose their money. To allow this to happen would have caused untold hardship to people over and above the present difficulties.
Or is Ó Cuív just spoofing or does just he have no idea what he's talking about? Bank deposits (including credit union deposits, I believe) were already guaranteed to €100,000 before the bank guarantee. If that was too low, why didn't the government just up the level to €500K or even €1m?

Ó Cuív's reference to pensions and insurance is even more baffling. Did we need to guarantee all those bank liabilities because some of the pension and insurance funds were invested in bank bonds? Surely pension funds and insurance companies are just as likely to be invested in Ryanair or CRH. Or even Diageo. Are we now going to guarantee every possible investment opportunity?

This is a cabinet minister. This is why we're in such trouble now and why Fianna Fáil needs to spend a long time in opposition weeding out all this dead weight.

Micheál Martin was impressive last night

I don't like Micheál Martin, although today I can't remember exactly what it is that caused me to dislike him. I know I was really fed up with his reaction during the Gaza flotilla, his righteousness, his anti-Israel bias, but I didn't like him long before he became Minister for Foreign Affairs. I didn't like him when he was Minister for Education or when he was Minister for Health either. Just don't like him.

However, I was impressed with him on Vincent Browne's program last night. I thought he gave a commanding performance and even when he gave answers I wasn't all that happy with at no time did I think he showed himself to be out of his depth discussing the budgetary and banking failures, which I've often felt with Brian Lenihan. Compared with what we had with Brian Cowen he was cool under pressure and a more than able communicator. (Although I really wish Browne had asked Martin if it was a mistake to join the euro and how in the euro will we prevent the rapid influx and outflow of capital that gave us the boom/bust we have.}

If I had any quibbles I think Martin should have answered Browne's question as to why should anyone vote Fianna Fáil in this election by telling Browne, 'Fianna Fáil is going into opposition, but the incoming Fine Gael government will need to be watched by a strong, capable opposition and that is what Fianna Fáil will provide.' Would have been an honest answer and one that anyone watching might have accepted a Martin-led Fianna Fáil in opposition would be.

I'm still not going to vote for them.

Monday, February 07, 2011

TV3 & Vincent Browne should not have injected themselves into the campaign

Enda Kenny looks more foolish every day as he trots out a new excuse for skipping tomorrow night's TV3 debate. First he wants all 5 party leaders; next it's that he doesn't like Vincent Browne because Browne said something mean about him last year; next it's that he's just too busy, can't work it into his schedule. Sheesh.

Ridiculous. Still, there's no doubt that Vincent Browne & TV3 entered the political arena when they fixed on their 3-way debate for tomorrow night.

Kenny was onto the right answer when he insisted that all 5 party leaders should be in the debate. If he agrees to a 3-way debate that has a number of positive effects for Labour & Fianna Fáil and negative impact on Fine Gael.

Labour has put up "Gilmore for Taoiseach" posters, trying to implant that radical idea in the minds of the voters. Having Eamonn Gilmore appear along side Micheál Martin and Enda Kenny serves to promote that idea. Why would Kenny go along with that? Makes no sense politically.

Secondly, both Labour and Fianna Fáil have something to fear from Sinn Féin. They definitely gain a lot by sidelining Gerry Adams, regardless of how he might perform. Fine Gael has nothing to fear from Sinn Féin as they're not competing for the same voters. Based on poll numbers, SF has more right to stand along-side Labour & FF in a debate than either of those two have to stand alongside FG.

I don't know exactly why Browne was so determined to have a 3-way debate, but there's no way he innocently stumbled into this. He must have known this was playing politics. Maybe he didn't care and just figured a 3-way debate would be better television, which it probably will be. Still, he shouldn't have joined the anti-Enda campaign (not that Kenny doesn't deserve almost all of what he's getting today).

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Phony Euromania has bitten the dust

If there is one big casualty in the financial mess / bailout it's Ireland's love affair with Europe, the EU. That's over. People have had the wool removed from their eyes.

Even the nation's most committed Europhiles no longer refer to 'our partners in Europe'. Partners! That was the word used by everyone in the main parties for the past two decades or more. Partners.

Partners don't do to a partner what's being done to Ireland, unless they're going through an acrimonious split. That's what this feels like only we're not splitting but being forced to eat dirt and say "Please sir may I have some more" after each whack of the stick across our national back.

We have no "partners" in Europe. Quite clearly we're on our own. On our own to pay off the debts incurred in Ireland by private banks across the EU. We're being punished for not regulating what the ECB also spectacularly failed to regulate. This is not how partners behave.

We have no partners. We had competitors, but they're gradually morphing into enemies. Every politician who calls to my door will have the same question put to him/her: Do we have partners in Europe? Anyone who says yes, will NOT get my vote.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Attention candidates - spelling & punctuation count

Despite the fact that I'm skeptical that independents will have anything like the effect that some of my fellow tweeters might hope, I'm still more than open to casting my vote for one. So I would have been open to voting for independent Thomas Clarke.

Note that "would have been." The other night I got a one page (A4) election leaflet. I don't mind the low budget aspect. In fact, in many ways it appealed to me. Unfortunately, as I read the leaflet I realized that either (a) he never bothered to proof-read his page or (b) he did, but didn't notice how badly written it was.

I'm going to discount the latter because I'm sure he never re-read what he'd produced. There are just way too many unreadable sentences. It's just a mess.

I could have lived with a few minor errors - such as his use of thrust for trust and policy's where he intended policies - but there are some gross errors. I'm sure there are some people who might not pay any attention to these errors, but I think these mistakes are telling.

Yes, I'm sure Clarke is pressed for time, but he really should have had someone read his letter before he distributed it to the voters. It gives an impression of someone who hasn't got time for details.

It's a shame too because I think policy-wise Clarke is someone I could have supported. Maybe somehow I'll find a reason to overlook this mess of a leaflet, but I doubt it.

No more teacher TD's

There's all sorts of talk about reforming the political system. The independent candidates seem particularly in favor. Great. I'm in favor too.

Here's a suggestion: ban TD's from holding open other positions in the public service. That is, if you get elected to the Dáil you have to give up your teaching job.

There are too many teachers in the Dáil and this distorts our democracy and our education system. {There are too many lawyers too, but they're more difficult to restrict.) Teachers bring to the Dáil a certain mindset, one forged in the state run and operated schools. They can't conceive of what it means to work in the private sector.

Don't get me wrong, if teachers want to serve in the Dáil that's great. However, they should take the same risks as any other working stiff who stands: the chance that voters will tell them they have to go looking for a job again.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Where is Jihad Jane story on RTE news?

On Friday night I read on CNN's web site that Jihad Jane, Colleen LaRose, was going to change her plea to guilty to all the charges against her arising from a terrorist plot broken up last year by the Gardaí in cooperation with the FBI. The charges are: providing material support to terrorists, conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, making false statements and attempted identity theft.

I'll forgive you if you don't recall the Irish media focusing on this Islamist plot based in Waterford over the weekend. I didn't see/hear/read one mention of it. And, yes, LaRose is American, but some/most of her co-conspirators were based here. Living here. 

Today LaRose formally changed her plea in a Pennsylvania court. It's all over the American media. It's on the BBC's web site, but it got no mention at all on RTE tonight. How can this be? How can a an international conspiracy based in Ireland intending to carry out a murder in Sweden of a cartoonist whose offense was drawing cartoons not be of interest to the people of Ireland? I'm really at a loss.  

Maybe it will make the Irish newspapers in the morning? We'll have to wait and see.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hollywood never heard of the Gulags

I don't go to the movies and don't read movie reviews as a rule. However a few headlines led me to believe that Colin Farrell's latest - The Way Back - ain't all that great.

Columnist Anne Applebaum acted as an adviser to the director and wonders if some of the reviews are due to the fact that the underlying story about Soviet Gulags is so unfamiliar. Director Peter Weir told Applebaum that people in Hollywood didn't know about the Gulags, "never heard of Soviet concentration camps, only German ones."

If true, that speaks volumes about Hollywood, bastion of stupid lefty views. How could Hollywood accept that the Soviet Union was capable of such institutionalized evil as the Gulags? Of course they couldn't so they ignored all the stories from survivors - Andrei Sakharov was hardly an unknown name in America - and references to the same by leading (mostly Republican) politicians, including and especially Ronald Reagan. To Hollywood if a Republican said it, it had to be untrue/ignored/denied.

Groupthink had a hold on Hollywood during the Cold War and it still does. They unlearn what's inconvenient.

Friday, January 21, 2011

March 11 is important, but so is St. Patrick's Day

We cannot afford for the government AND opposition to blow St. Patrick's Day in America and elsewhere. Many people put no value on these trips abroad for the national day, but those people are wrong. St. Patrick's Day is a vitally important occasion for us to be represented abroad. {More here.}

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Primary teachers need intensive math training, not Higher Level Math ability

The Teaching Counil wants all potential teachers (primary, I presume) to take Higher Level Mathematics in the Leaving Cert. This is only one of a number of suggested changes to the entry requirements for teacher training/B Ed programs.

I have no problem with interviews and aptitude tests to screen applicants for primary school teacher, but surely there's little need for such an emphasis on higher level math. I have a degree in Math and I love it. And it's vitally important.

I just don't see why someone who teaches children up to the age of 12 should be able to "Express μ and σ in terms of a" where "real numbers a, 2a, 3a, 4a and 5a have mean μ and standard deviation σ." (Last year's higher level Paper 2.)

I've encountered enough teachers who are challenged by 6th class math to realize that we have a problem here. However, I'm not sure this is the solution. Better to double the emphasis on math in the college course. Math understanding and math teaching (something that not everyone who is good at Math can actually do) are crucial and we need to ensure our teachers are up to it.

Maybe we should consider teachers specializing in math/science and english/irish/history from 5th class on. I had that from 4th grade (4th class).