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.