Tuesday, November 20, 2012

EU Presidency, the G8 - The Gathering is a guaranteed "success" for the Irish government

I have to admit I'm slow sometimes, but the penny well and truly dropped for me & The Gathering with today's announcement about the G8 coming to Fermanagh.

The Gathering is a government initiative. The Government is in charge of it: setting the goals and strategies and also providing the statistical evidence that will show whether they met their goals or not. Keep that in your mind at all times.

You, me, the whole country have been led to believe that The Gathering is some form of giant family reunion, that 2013 will see Ireland overrun with the Murphys of Peoria, Illinois and the O'Connors of Perth, Western Australia and the Lynchs of Hamilton, Ontario and the Brennans of Blackburn, England. Right?

And vaguely that is the plan. HOWEVER, success will not be measured in how many of the Murphys, O'Connors, Lynchs and Brennans actually do "return" for The Gathering, but in the numbers who come through the airports and seaports to spend a bit of time in Ireland.

For the past few weeks I've been trying to figure out why is this happening in 2013. It's all so rushed. Many of those who have argued that The Gathering is a great idea have pointed to the success of the Notre Dame vs Navy game. That was a success, but you know what? That game was first announced in 2005! That's right - they allowed themselves 7 years to get the planning and promotion right so that the game was a huge success. That was one great weekend, planned over 7 years. (Yes, I was not in favor of the idea in '05, but things changed in the interim.}

To my mind, to really get The Gathering right as a massive tourism project*, the great family reunion, we should have had years of planning and promoting the idea. Why such haste?

It only occurred to me today: the EU Presidency. Ireland holds the EU Presidency in the first 6 months of 2013. Although I can't put a figure on it, I am sure that means many, many more people coming to Dublin and elsewhere for official EU business. Politicians, civil servants, journalists - they'll all be coming for the EU Presidency. I'm not saying that the EU Presidency will deliver all the promised 300,000 extra visitors, but it does provide a head start of tens of thousands of "extra" visitors.

They may only stay a day, but each of those people will arrive, be counted as a visitor and boost the chances of The Gathering being a "success" for the government. That Herr Schultz of Frankfurt and Ms Nielson of Stockholm were only here for a night for some EU-level finance meeting will not be noted in the statistics. They will officially be here for The Gathering.

Now today David Cameron has tossed a bouquet of flowers at Enda and Co because the G8 will mean many, many more people coming through the airports and seaports to the summit in Fermanagh§. What a boon to the government. They must be thrilled. More people they can count towards the success of The Gathering even though they aren't coming for the big family reunion. The stats won't be taking details on that, however.

All that matters is that the government be able to point to the "success" of their initiative. I was very much in favor of The Gathering, but now I see it as something of a sham. Not as Gabriel Bryne sees it, but one which the people of Ireland are being asked to break their hearts trying to woo the O'Connors and Lynchs and Murphys and Brennans at short notice while the government has fixed the game to ensure its success in a bid to make themselves look good.

* The Gathering should have been so, so much more. I should really just reel off a series of blogs on it.

§ I'm still not clear on how those coming and going through Belfast count or not for The Gathering. Is The Gathering an all Ireland initiative? Tourism generally is, but I'm not sure The Gathering is. Regardless, many of those coming for the G8 will come through Dublin.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Engineers can be math teachers

If Irish engineering graduates don't have sufficient mathematical training to qualify as math teachers at second level there is either something wrong with the education our engineering students are getting or something wrong with the Teaching Council's process of evaluating potential math teachers.

That's the only conclusion I can come to after reading this letter from a member of the Teaching Council. Writing in response to an engineer who said that the Teaching Council did not accept engineering degrees for math teachers Tomás Ó Ruairc noted that the Council has "identified a number of  pathways by which engineering graduates can address the shortfalls in their qualifications as they relate to the teaching of maths."

Huh? I can't imagine engineering graduates would have any "shortfalls" that would need to be addressed when it comes to teaching mathematics. All over the country we have people with business and biology degrees teaching math and many of them are challenged by the material at the Leaving Cert level. Engineers would be far more mathematically capable.

This should be easy for the minister to fix. Get those engineering degrees certified as acceptable for math teachers. Then do the hard job and start getting all those biology and business studies teachers out of the Leaving Cert math business.

{This is not about whether engineers can teach. They would still have to be qualified teachers.}

Friday, June 29, 2012

Landfill overflowing? Charge by volume, not weight

The Irish EPA is wrong to recommend that customers be charged by weight for trash collection if they are genuinely concerned about landfills filling up.

The Environmental Protection Agency says landfill space is running out and that more than half of the 28 landfills will be full in 3 years. The problem, according to the EPA is that too many homeowners are paying a flat annual fee. They don't say it outright (or at least it's not mentioned here) , but the implication is that those who pay a flat annual fee make little effort at recycling.

So, scrap those annual fees and charge people by the weight of the garbage they produce.

Yet the issue is that the landfills are filling up, not that they weigh too much.  So why charge by weight? It makes much more sense to charge by volume.

I would doubt many in Ireland make the effort I make to recycle. All paper, plastic, cartons, etc are now recycled. I've been encouraged to do this by our local refuse companies. We have a number operating in this area, one of which charges €8.80 each time you put out the 240L trash can. (Okay, bin!)

I put mine out once a month and when I do it is very heavy. It's heavy because most of the weight in a family's waste production is in heavy, damp food waste. Plastic bottles take up a lot of room, but they don't add a lot of weight. By ensuring that everything that can be recycled is recycled I have a food-waste-laden can each time I put it out to be collected.

If everyone did this our landfills would fill up much more slowly. The other advantage to this method is that most of the garbage people throw out will be natural, food waste. Charge by volume and you get landfills filling more slowly and the waste there breaking down more quickly. A double winner.

* I store our recycling and every month I fill the car and go to the local recycling center rather than pay to have it collected.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Do we need a 3rd option on the EUref ballot paper?

I don't use foul language as a rule. I prefer anything I write to be "PG" at worst. Yet, the more I think about the coming referendum the more one word keeps coming into my head and that word starts with an 'F.' I guess my problem is that 'Yes' or 'No' we are totally "stuffed" either way.

I don't think I'm alone in feeling this way. In fact, if the ballot paper included a third choice with this curse word as the third option along with 'Yes' and 'No' I think it might actually top the poll.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Only Merkel can beat Obama in November

I know I said it on Twitter, but that's like exhaling on a cold day. Your breath is only visible for a short time before it vanishes for good. Twitter posts are the same.

So, I'll say it again: only Angela Merkel can scupper President Obama's reelection. Yes that flies in the face of all the good vibes that those on the American right are sensing, but I don't think there's much Mitt Romney can do to beat Obama in November. Anglea Merkel can, however.

The G8 summit this weekend showed how important it is that Obama convince Merkel to open Germany's coffers to underwrite European debt and save the euro – for the rest of 2012 anyway. Obama desperately needs Greece to remain the euro.

If Greece left it would trigger all sorts of uncertainty that would have unpredictable knock-on effects. Would other countries have to leave the euro? If yes, which? Ireland? Portugal? Spain? Italy? Could the euro survive even if Ireland left?

In the end these effects might only have a minimal impact on America, but the uncertainty would last through the summer. That would be enough to put the November election in doubt. That's why Obama is working overtime on Cameron & especially Hollande to "isolate" Merkel. He needs 10 months of certainty and only the Germans can give him that.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Bridge - sort of worth watching

I know people were enthralled by The Bridge a few weeks ago, but I have to assume the decline in tweets about it indicate that many feel as I do: it's all right, but nothing special.

If it weren't for the DVR I wouldn't be watching The Bridge. The DVR is new to me and recording a series is so easy that I thought I'd record the BBC4 program that seemed to be all the rage on Twitter. I really enjoyed the first two episodes, but I think that was mostly because of the way the show looked and not because of the actual content.

I liked the dreary Scandinavian backdrop, but it sure as hell can't be doing their tourism any good. Other than the bridge that connects Malmo & Copenhagen - and that gives the show its name - is there anything attractive to look at here? I have to believe the two cities aren't as dreary as they're portrayed in The Bridge.

What are my main issues with The Bridge?
  1. Saga Noren. I'm supposed to believe this half developed human being is a top investigator. I don't see how that could be possible. She may be smart and good at thinking, but her complete lack of empathy would make her completely incapable of conducting an interview or even just asking basic questions. She's a cartoon character. Oh yeah, but we're supposed to get the idea that she may be learning how to understand other people now because she's exposed to Martin. Stupid.
  2. Martin's behavior with the rich widow was too indifferent to his job while he's on the case of a lifetime. And there is nothing about her that shouts irresistible. Too dumb, too senseless.
  3. It was obvious early on that the bad guy had access to their main communication systems, but somehow they seem surprised that he knew where to find a key witness after they talked about her over their internal comms system. {& what was she doing walking in a parking garage?}
  4. Daniel the journalist is also too dumb. I don't think for one second he'd go out clubbing, taking drugs. He'd be on a professional high. Less dumb than some of the above, but still seems beyond credible to me.
I like the insights it gives into life in these two European cities. I generally have no idea what language people are speaking. Swedish or Danish? I don't know, but I get the idea that Danes all understand Swedish, but the opposite is not quite true.

There are other little things that I like and things that have annoyed me. I'll keep watching, only it'll be like last night where I fast forward through stretches of it.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Michael D - causing drowsiness in the 'city that never sleeps'

Yesterday I checked around because I thought 'd like to see what sort of local coverage President Michael D Higgins was getting in NYC. The answer: not a lot. All I found was a blog post on the web site of a local Westchester County paper and an interview with WNYC.

The interview started badly - for the interviewer & his audience - and got worse from there. The first question was "How are things in your country today?" and Michael D was off. We're "coming out of a number of assumptions" ... unemployment is the biggest problem, people are "hurting from adjustments" to income and services, but "Ireland is doing well."

That was news to me. I thought we were still crippled with massive debts, beholden to our EU/ECB/IMF paymasters and basically looking at a decade of low growth and economic malaise, but no we're "doing well."

To be fair to Michael D (I swear I'd written Pres Higgins, but sounds so wrong) he qualified that by pointing out that we've "gone back to doing what we do best: agri-business, exports" and whatever it is "highly-educated young people can do." He then segued (without pausing for a breath) into "we had a very false version of economic growth for between 10-15 years."

He then waxed lyrical about the lack of bank regulation. He mentioned Glass-Steagall, but admitted our problems were caused by our own regulatory failures.

The interviewer, Brian Lehrer, played into Higgins' hands by asking him something about Ireland needing "a new set of values." Oh, did Michael D lap that one up.

Two things are happening on this score, apparently:
  1. We are "recovering sense of interdependency and the old decencies because you know during Celtic Tiger years we valued people by their possessions, properties." This all happened due to the overspill of the "assumptions of something that happened all around the world, that deregulation led to growth and less reg led to more growth." This was happening in an international atmosphere and within that you had the Irish property bubble. What he's concerned about, what he got a huge mandate for (in a way) was a program of inclusive citizenship. "I've been around the country and people are removing barriers to participation in a creative society... creative in everything we do, not just the arts." *

  2. We are also creating an Irishness we might be proud of, an Irishness that takes global responsibility e.g. soldiers in peace-keeping, aid workers
After that it was mostly stream of consciousness stuff. I was sure I heard Lehrer scratch his head, rub his eyes, stifle more than one yawn. When Michael D started quoting the Irish Constitution in response to a question (he had to interrput) about the Fiscal Compact Treaty I think I heard Lehrer put his finger to his head as if it was a gun. Or maybe that was just me. I'm not sure now.

Finally, around the 13th minute the interview ended. I bet Lehrer and his team were relieved. I know it's a public radio station, but even WNYC doesn't like to lose too many listeners, especially to simple sleepiness. That's a total no-no in New York.

* I did my best to faithfully reproduce what he said here. He moves very quickly.

{Listen to the whole interview. You'll be crying and laughing, sometimes simultaneously.}

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Water charges will mean only the suckers pay—again

I'm opposed to the proposed water meters/water charges. For two reasons: (1) no one is ever going to have their water cut off and (2) some people will not have to pay no matter how much they use.

Let's start with number two. You know and I know that if we have water charges some people will get free water. That's just the way with these things. There are always people who "can't afford" heat/electricity/food/garbage collection charges/household charge/whatever. Water will slot right in here. Only water will be free. There won't be concessions or whatever it's going to just be free. Those who don't have to pay for water will be able to use as much as they like while my family cuts back on washing the car, washing the dishes, washing the children, flushing the toilet, etc.

How do I know these folks will have unlimited free water? Because of (1) above—nobody will ever be cut off. Now I know Enda 'Macho Camacho' Kenny is talking tough, saying people will be cut off if they don't pay, but that's the kind of talk aimed at people like me – weak-kneed, lily-livered law-abiders.

He knows, all of Fine Gael knows, everyone in the Dáil knows, everyone in Ireland knows that there's not a chance in hell that they'll cut off anyone's water. Can't you see RTE showing some mother taking her children door-to-door asking people for glasses of water? Or the gritty scenes when TV cameras show us the unflushed toiled in someone's house?

Never gonna happen. NEVER. So, let's have no more of the sort of faux machismo that we got from the Taoiseach this morning or from Phil Hogan regularly. Just tells us straight: "The EU says we gotta charge for water even though water's about as finite here as sand is in Arabia. It's stupid, but we gotta do it. Oh, and you suckers who paid the Household Charge, you we will pursue for non-payment of water charges. The others are too much trouble."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Associations of Catholic Priests' unscientific survey

The Association of Catholic Priests (Ireland) commissioned Amarach Consulting to survey Irish Catholics on a whole range of issues - mostly those that worry the ACP. Unsurprisingly, the results are exactly what the ACP wanted: priests should be allowed to marry, women should be allowed to be priests, the new Mass is not as well-liked as the old, the Church's teaching on sexuality, etc is basically irrelevant.

Now these views may well represent the majority, even the vast majority, of Irish Catholics on these matters, but this survey doesn't prove anything.

First of all, of the 1000 interviews only 187 were conducted face-to-face. The rest were conducted online.

Frankly, I wouldn't trust any online survey and I don't trust this one. Why online? Why not over the phone? Online is (a) self-selecting (easy to treat unseriously, easier to ignore) and (b) not available universally, evenly across the whole population. For example, broadband penetration is much greater in urban areas than in rural areas. Did this bias affect the survey results?

Also, the survey results report says the 187 face-to-face interviews were all conducted in the Republic of Ireland, although 280 online interviews were conducted in Northern Ireland.

Why no face-to-face interviews up north? Is it because the face-to-face interviews were all conducted within a few miles of Amarach's HQ? I don't know, but I doubt they went to rural Donegal for any face-to-face interviews and didn't go to any location north of the border. More bias?

Of course no one in RTE or the Irish Times  – or the Irish Independent or Irish Examiner for that matter – even mentioned that the survey was conducted mostly online. I wonder if anyone at any of those news publishers even wondered about those face-to-face interviews. I kind of doubt it.

No need to query a survey with results that suit their editorial lines. They've given us the "Who?, What?, Where?, When? and Why?". Who are we to ask "How?"?

Thursday, April 05, 2012

New broadband means the Mets live & in color on my laptop from today

I didn't so much dream about this day as see it clearly in my future. Back in 1994 when I got my first e-mail address and had my first taste of the World Wide Web I looked into the future and saw this day more clearly than any other future event.

Today will be the first time I've been able to use my laptop to watch the Mets. I'm so far behind the times that I thought it would seem anti-climactic when today arrived, but I'm really excited. Until this year my broadband wasn't good enough to really watch live video, especially not sports. Too jumpy and too prone to freezing. I've spent the past 6 seasons listening to hundreds of baseball games, but this year I plan to listen less and watch more.

A few weeks ago my broadband was upgraded (thanks UPC) and I can watch live sports video on my laptop. I tried it out a little during the NCAA basketball tournament, but today is the day. Today at 6:10pm I will be able to do exactly as I excitedly described shortly after surfing the web for the very first time. I knew it would come and it has.

From now on I'll be able to watch the Mets and ruin my dinners just as if I was in New York. Only I'll either have to stay up through the nights or watch on delay and ruin my breakfasts. I don't care. This is far greater than sliced bread.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Cutting education costs by cutting degree requirements is a bad idea

Sloppy mistake from a NY Times blog. The headline of the blog post reads: "State of Indiana Tries to Make Education More Affordable By Limiting Credits." However, the state isn't trying to make education more affordable, just college degrees.

What they're really doing is reducing the number of course credits someone would need in order to receive a degree. That is reducing the amount of education a person needs to graduate. In no way does that make education more affordable.

As for the issue raised in the blog...

I can understand the motivation among the governor and legislators to reduce the state's education costs, but this proposal just strikes me as silly. Cut wages, make the class sizes bigger, reduce the number of options, whatever, but don't just cheapen the degrees offered by Indiana's colleges and universities.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Look before you Leap ... card OR dumb @IrishRail

I didn't need to get a Leap card. I got it cause I thought it would be more convenient than having to buy a ticket each time I took the train. Also, it would be of use on those occasional bus or Luas journeys I make.

I was wrong. The Leap card is not convenient. First thing I learned is that you can't buy one at the train station. Stupid. You can't top up at the train station either, but you can't top up online I was told.

Okay so I drove to the nearest store to buy a Leap card. I paid to park, went in and bought the card. Ridiculously inconvenient, but a one-off I figured. Wrong. I learned from Twitter yesterday (@dickobrien) that you can't really top up online.

Oh yeah, you can buy the credit online, but you can't put it on your card. You have to go into one of the few stores that sell Leap cards and top-ups in order to get the credit added to your card.

The whole thing is so badly thought out that it boggles the mind that this is what we've been hearing about for years. How great this was supposed to be. It's awful. Even the swiping on and off seems buggy, but that could be just me getting used to it.

Still, I may not stick with it. To get the Leap Card I had to pay a €5 deposit. When my credit's gone I'll probably seek my deposit back. Wonder if I can do that where I bought it?