Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Savage irony

That's how Eamonn Dunphy described the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina. "Savage irony" because (I think) the US didn't sign the Kyoto accord & this storm may have (big may) been aided by climate change. What an ignorant moron.

I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the US is actually closer to complying with its limits under Kyoto than is Ireland, which actually signed up. If true, then it would be savage irony if Dublin were evacuated due to flooding and towns from Belfast to Wexford were destroyed with hundreds of lives lost.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Reducing class size – a waste of money?

A new Canadian report seems to indicate just that. I've come across this before, accidentally (I may have mentioned this before). Years ago I was helping my wife's friend, who was not computer literate, polish off her dissertation on autism for her MEd with the latest in Word Processing technology.

Anyway, in one of the appendices of her report was a reference to a study of London primary schools that indicated that smaller class sizes provided no appreciable benefit. I was surprised by this because it ran counter to everything I'd ever heard about schools and the need for smaller classes.

I don't know if there have been similar studies done here, but this report from Canada has some interesting facts. Try this:
It is far from clear, however, that reducing class size is the most costeffective strategy available to raise young pupils'’ achievement, particularly in the case of the later primary and secondary grades, where smaller classes have not been shown to produce tangible achievement gains. Those likely to gain most from smaller classes generally are teachers whose work-loads are eased somewhat with fewer students.
Whoa! Teachers unions won't like that. And, what's more, even though the youngest children do get some benefit from smaller classes, those benefits are small and they vanish by the time the children have finished the second or third grade (age 8 or 9).

Some countries, such as "South Korea, with very large class sizes, routinely outperform richer countries, such as the U.S. and Canada, where classes are much smaller". Of course, why this should be is important. The author offers some evidence to show that the quality of teachers declines as class sizes shrink. Smaller classes means more teachers, which means you must lower your standards to fill the new jobs.

If our government wasn't so firmly in the grasp of the teachers' unions, we might have a proper debate on this issue. However, teachers are one of those professions that dominates our political class (along with publicans and lawyers).

NOTE: if you read the report you'll see a reference to another report that talks about the experience in Ireland. However, this is a misprint as it is Iceland and not Ireland that is mentioned in the other report.

Little orange box

Just realized that when I was working on the RSS feed for the Newshound that I made a comment about the "little orange box" in the lower right column indicating that an RSS feed was available.

Thanks to an e-mail from a friend of mine today, I realize that the little orange box – – is not a feature of Internet Explorer. I so rarely use IE these days that I had forgotten to check it. Stupid really, since more than 90% of the Newshound users are still using IE.

Anyway, the orange box is a feature of Firefox that allows you to use live bookmarks. I see it as a sign that a site has an RSS feed, but I'm probably wrong to so closely associate the two.

Any help?

I've been having this odd problem lately and was wondering if anyone out there has any ideas as to (a) cause and (b) cure. When my laptop starts up (Win2000) the system date is wrong. It's always off by a month. Usually, it has moved on exactly one month. The most recent occurrence (this morning) was different. The month changed back to January and the clock was exactly an hour slow (making me think the clock reverted to GMT for winter month).

I've had this laptop for 3 1/2 years (Dell Inspiron 2500). Based on what I've learned over the years and what I've been able to find online, I suspect it's the CMOS battery. What I want to know is: do laptops have a CMOS battery and, if yes, how hard is it to replace one?

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Talk radio

For the past month or so I've been listening to a lot of talk radio from the US. Most of it of the "right wing" variety. I have to say, I'm disappointed (and, clearly, I'm not just another "left wing" person whining about talk radio – I had high hopes).

The whole political talk radio phenomenon happened after I left the US. I've heard Rush Limbaugh occasionally on vacation, enough to recognize his voice and I've heard of many of the others. I've even listened to them intermittently since I got broadband in the summer of '03.

It's only in the last month, however, that I've really spent time listening. I guess I didn't really know what to expect, but I suppose I was expecting some form of radio version of The Corner.

I read "right wing" online publications and generally enjoy them. Although there's a lot of agreement, there's also a good deal of debate. The positions, whether I agree or not, are generally reasonably stated and supported with arguments and evidence. From what I've heard of these radio programs they are so much less than that.

Maybe that's to be expected. Maybe the audience for National Review or Weekly Standard or even New Criterion is simply not the same as the audience for these talk radio programs, I don't know. Rather than engaging the listener most of it seems to be battering him into submission. Sean Hannity in particular just rubs me up the wrong way.

Programs I've tried:

Benedict XVI & Muslims

David Quinn, in a column in last week's Sunday Independent, claims the Pope doesn't believe that Islam and democracy can co-exist. Quinn's focus is the Pope's recent meeting with Muslims in Germany where he spoke about terrorism and his views on Turkey's bid to join the EU. Quinn also mentions a 1996 book where the Pope expressed doubts about Islam living with democracy.
Eight years ago, in the book Salt of the Earth he expanded at some length on why Islam, unless it changes radically, in reality becoming something other than Islam, will always have difficulty co-existing peacefully with democracy.

He pointed out that Islam has no concept whatsoever of Church/State separation. Christianity has always accepted that certain things belong to Caesar, and certain other things belong to God, even if Church and State have often fought bitterly over the exact lines of demarcation.

But Islam thinks everything belongs to God, that nothing belongs to Caesar, and that the law must reflect this in its totality.
I suppose this isn't news and I know there are a lot of people who believe this as well. I have friends here who were anti-war for a host of reasons, partly because they believe that Muslims – in Europe (where they'll become violent in response to decisions they don't like) and in the Middle East (where despotism is 'natural') – are incapable of being democrats.

I guess what surprises me about the Pope's view is that Catholics were once similarly considered incapable of being democrats. Unthinking loyalty to the Pope was all they could manage.

I reject all of this. Sure they may be elements of Islam that conflict with democracy, but there are elements of Catholicism that conflict with democracy too. People cope. I just don't accept that Muslims would be any different with regards to (a) wanting a say over how they are governed and (b) wanting some basic guarantees on human rights, etc. Sure, some of those rights may be a little different than those we insist on in the post-Christian west, but so what?

Everything I've seen in the Iraq debate convinces me that Muslims can do democracy, but they might have difficulty with the cobbled together Arab states they've been bequeathed. These problems are not much different than those that have arisen in Europe once or twice in the past.

World Youth Day

Yesterday at Mass two girls of about 17 or 18 gave us a summary of what they saw and did at World Youth Day in Cologne. They seemed like very nice girls, but as they were talking my mind drifted back to when I was 17 or 18.

When I was 17 or 18 people like these girls used to put me off. I could never be so earnest. Or, even more difficult, was being so nice. Being nice never came naturally to me. Sure I could be nice when I really thought I had to, when the situation really called for it, but I couldn't do nice 24/7. Too much of a strain.

That was (and is) my impression of people like these young girls. They're always nice. One of my best friends in high school (a Protestant) used to go to Protestant Youth meetings at the urging of his mother. He wasn't that upset about it, however, because one of the best looking girls in school was a regular attendee.

I remember telling him (and he had less of a capacity for nice than I had), "Even if you succeed (with the girl) will you be able to endure all that pleasantness? I just couldn't do it".

That's my impression of World Youth Day – a million nice people in their late teens and early twenties. I hope the Germans coped better than I could have.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Just in case you think I hadn't noticed . . .

The NY Mets are surging. Front and back page of today's NY Post.

UPDATE Aug 29: Reality intruded on our dreams this weekend.

Old toys

I've been dutifully doing my part in the minor repairs and renovations around the house this past few weeks (is painting the walls a woman's job or a man's job? I really don't know — not that I could get out of it anyway). Lots of cleaning and getting rid of old stuff too.

Thanks to the on-going aging of our children we are left with a lot of toys (at least three black bags full) that are now redundant as the youngest has outgrown them. None of these toys is brand new, but all are in working order. If I thought there was a charity that would take them, I'd clean them up. Failing that, can toys be recycled or should I just throw them away? If they can be recycled, where do I need to go with them? {Within reasonable range of south Dublin, of course.}

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Seminoles, Illini, etc.

It's good to see that sense has prevailed in the NCAA. The Florida State Seminoles will be removed 'from the list of universities banned from using what it called "hostile and abusive" mascots and nicknames during postseason play'. Florida State had the backing of the local Seminoles and those in Oklahoma.

The NCAA has said it will now handle appeals on a 'case-by-case' basis. This is a step in the right direction, but an even better idea would be to take Florida State as a model and see if other colleges and universities can work out similar arrangements with those tribes from whom they took their nicknames and mascots.

I understand that many of these nicknames and mascots were born of bigotry and racism, but most of that is gone today and the nicknames actually represent an opportunity for the tribes to get some recognition. For example, if it weren't for watching college basketball I'd have never heard of the Illini.

Objecting to names like Redskins makes sense to me, but protesting against names like Fighting Illini or Fighting Sioux seems counter-productive. The name Fighting Irish was born of bigotry, but is now a source of pride among those who are descended from the victims of that bigotry. The same should be possible for the indian tribes.

And, another thing about those EPO tests

Why not go back and test other athletes' samples? What about, say, the winners of the French Open from 1999 or other years? Or, even better, why not test the winners of the 1998 World Cup, which was held in France. Surely those samples are still available, no?

Maybe anti-Americanism isn't the motivation for this move against Armstrong, but until I read that L'Équipe is investigating some other big name, non-American athlete I'll remain suspicious.

Another thing about the Armstrong tests

Why wait until now to test his 1999 sample? It could have been tested at any time. In fact, I wouldn't be shocked to learn that the Tour director and others knew about this for years. However, they kept it to themselves waiting for when Armstrong had retired so that (a) they could discredit him, but (b) not lose out on all that American money that Armstrong brought to the Tour.

Cynical? You bet. Like I said, something about this stinks to high heavens.

Armstrong victim of witch hunt?

This is a tricky one. I've never been convinced that Lance Armstrong was 100% clean, but that was mostly because I didn't believe anyone in cycling was clean. I wasn't a big enough fan of the sport to really have opinions about individual cyclists and the reason I didn't care about individual cyclists is that every time cycling made headlines in the 90s it was thanks to drugs cheating.

So, maybe Lance is guilty and maybe he's not. Regardless, that doesn't change the fact that he is definitely the victim of a 'witch hunt'. He's being singled out.

It seems pretty clear to me that the Tour director was none too keen on Armstrong. Why else would he back the report that Armstrong took EPO in 1999 despite all the problems in this whole procedure (noted by Ciaran in his comment to my post below).

What I want to know is how many other cyclists' samples were tested as well? Was the entire '99 field tested? Even the top 20? If only Armstrong's sample was tested, then it's pretty clear that this was intended to damage only Armstrong.

If L'Équipe was really interested in testing samples from winners in the 90s they should have tested all the Tour winners during the decade. Why not? EPO existed before 1999.

Testing all those Tour winners or even a large selection of riders from the '99 Tour would have further damaged the Tour itself, possibly fatally. In that situation, Armstrong would have been damaged, but it would have had the look of legitimate journalism. Instead, all we have is one 'witch' caught in the 'witch hunt'.

L'Équipe is owned by the same company that runs the Tour. Could there be some conflict of interest here, perhaps? I'm not saying Armstrong is as pure as the driven snow, but something about this sure stinks.

{I think this is a great column by Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe. He touches on so many aspects that tie into this story.}

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Bush & Steroids

Boy, does George Bush pick his sports friends. First, Rafael Palmeiro and now Lance Armstrong.

There's as least one Slate writer who wondered aloud about whether President Bush was on steroids last year, which might explain his relationship with professional athletes and the use of performance enhancers. Bruce Reed speculates that the President's weight loss this year is the result of coming off the juice.
Bush's sharp, sudden weight loss since the election raises a far more disturbing paranoid theory: Was the president using steroids?

Mark McGwire's congressional testimony showed the world what someone who allegedly used steroids looks like after they allegedly stop—a lot thinner. Bush bulked up during a campaign that was based entirely on showing voters he was stronger than his opponent. This season, like many baseball players afraid of baseball's new random steroid testing, he shows up suddenly looking a lot thinner.
Okay, some tongue in cheek comments, but in his 2004 State of the Union address the President discussed the need for professional sportsmen to set a good example for children.
To help children make right choices, they need good examples. Athletics play such an important role in our society, but, unfortunately, some in professional sports are not setting much of an example. The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football, and other sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message -- that there are shortcuts to accomplishment, and that performance is more important than character. So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches, and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough, and to get rid of steroids now.
Is defending one man who's been caught and another about whom serious allegations have been circulating for years helping lead in this effort? Now, it's entirely possible that Armstrong is being stitched up and is innocent of all the charges against him. However, my own sense is that presidents generally steer clear of anything that might look bad down the road. I can't understand Bush's willingness to get together with Armstrong in light of the accusations.

Iraq & the 1937 Constitution

The Irish Constitution contains the following in the preamble.

In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred,

We, the people of Éire, Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial,
Gratefully remembering their heroic and unremitting struggle to regain the rightful independence of our Nation,
And seeking to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured, true social order attained, the unity of our country restored, and concord established with other nations,
Do hereby adopt, enact, and give to ourselves this Constitution.

There are a couple of Articles that should also be read:

Article 41-2
  1. In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.
  2. The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.

Article 44-1

The State acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God. It shall hold His Name in reverence, and shall respect and honour religion.

These two sections of Article 44 were removed after a referendum in 1973:
  • Section 2: The State recognises the special position of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church as the guardian of the Faith professed by the great majority of the citizens.
  • Section 3: The State also recognises the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Religious Society of Friends in Ireland, as well as the Jewish Congregations and the other religious denominations existing in Ireland at the date of the coming into operation of this Constitution.
Article 41-2 was used for years to discriminate against married women here. I believe that both divorce and contraception were were made unconstitutional by the 1937 Constitution (both were allowed under British law, which the Irish Free State inherited in 1922).

Again, I know that to many people in W. Europe these sorts of clauses are distasteful and unwelcome. Ideally, Iraq would be Denmark already. Still, Ireland in the 1950s was not as monstrous as Iraq in the 1980s and 90s. Even if the new Iraqi constitution appears to be a step backwards in some areas, what's important is that the Iraqi people are allowed to make their own way. They have to recognize that change is possible and that it is the people who have the power to make changes.

Ireland was a 'priest-ridden' country and 'run by the Bishops'. If the Iraqis get something similar, why is that such a problem?

Islam and the Iraqi constitution

I said it before and I'll say it again. If the Iraqis end up with a constitution similar to what Ireland had when the current constitution was adopted in 1937 then that's great.

Renault Megane

I'm sick of that ad for the Renault Megane on the t.v. in the middle of the day. I can't remember if I saw it on an Irish or British channel, but it seems to be everywhere. You know the one (and if you don't, don't worry about it): it features the song I See You Baby. It seems to be on constantly.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Bells! The Bells!

The power went out here about 10 minutes ago. Of course, this means a chorus of annoying alarms and moaning mutts.

Fortunately, I still have the ol USB broadband modem or I'd be off-line. I shudder at the thought. I hope it comes back before my battery gives up the ghost.


Thanks to some suggestions and tips from Dick and CH I've tried to build an RSS feed for the Newshound. Actually, it's not that hard to make the page, but what's really frustrating is checking the work. When you create a new web page, you can load it into your browser and click refresh/reload every time you tweak it to correct for minor errors. I don't seem to be able to do that with any of the RSS readers I've tried (Newsgator, Bloglines, MyYahoo).

Anyway, I've created a feed for my site. The address is Thanks to Eoin, I also tried Feedburner. That service looks pretty interesting. It seems to allow me to do some things that I'd never manage on my own. I'm not sure what the down-side is yet. Anyway, the feedburner feed address is

I'd be grateful if some of you could have a look and let me know if it looks like it's working. Remember, all I provide are headlines so no summaries here.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Global warming – deal with it

I intended to mention this yesterday, but forgot. Iain Murray of NRO reminded me today.

Charles Dumas of Lombard Street Research says that ending global warming would cost half of the world's GDP.
"It follows from any cost-benefit analysis that nobody is going to do anything serious about global warming," he says.

"The cost of any serious measures would be orders of magnitude greater than whatever is needed by way of defences against a 15-foot rise in sea levels and freak weather insurance.

"In reality, no-one seriously proposes a cure for global warming, because adequate measures would cause economic catastrophe and probably world war. We are going to have to live with it," Mr Dumas says.
Case closed. Do a little to slow it – perhaps. But, the real truth is that we'll just have to deal with a warmer planet. It's happened before and people survived, why can't we imagine surviving today?

No summer sports in London in 2012

I'm really glad London, and not New York, got the 2012 Olympics. I hadn't realized that one of the stipulations of hosting the games is that the host city ensures that no competing sporting fixture takes place during the Games.

Maybe this isn't mandatory, but it's definitely something London promised.
London's candidate file, the document that outlines arrangements for the 2012 games, states that "no important national or international events will take place in London or the vicinity of any of the other competition sites during the games or in the week before or following the games".

The London Olympics are scheduled to run from July 25 to August 12, which means the affected period would stretch from July 18 to August 19, and covers events in London's boroughs, local authorities outside the capital's hosting venues and the devolved administrations of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, all of which have agreed to honour the commitment.
Actually, there's no way New York could have made such a promise. New York could not have imposed such a "blackout" on surrounding areas nor do I think baseball would have agreed to no games in New York for four weeks during the summer.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

"Excessive zeal"

Okay, when I was talking about the need for priests to show some backbone, I'm not sure this is what I had in mind:
Father Giuseppe Mazzotta, parish priest at Marcellinara, near Catanzaro in Calabria, said that he had denied a Christian funeral to Maria Francesca Tallarico, who died of breast cancer at the age of 45, because she had lived with her partner but never married him. Her partner was separated and had an 11-year-old daughter.

"She lived with her lover, so she was a public sinner," Father Mazzotta said. "I decided not to celebrate an official Mass for this woman, who was not in communion with the Church."

Father Mazzotta said that he had performed the liturgy of absolution for the dead. He added that he was close to the dead woman's family and had offered them "words of comfort".
I like that – "words of comfort". He's essentially telling this woman's family she was a sinful whore and that he won't bury her, but 'may God comfort you'. I'm sure that went down a treat.

Thankfully, I can't be held accountable for this priest's actions. The article is dated July 22 and the priest in question is in Italy, so the Irish Eagle is not responsible for this.

I can understand when priests refuse a funeral for a mobster, but this seems unduly harsh. I have to agree with Fr. Sciortino, Editor of Famiglia Cristiana, that Fr. Mazzotta was showing "excessive zeal". Maybe Fr. Sciortino and I are too soft.


A while back I announced that I was now using Firefox rather than Microsoft's Internet Explorer. However, until this week I didn't realize you could add "extensions" to Firefox. Some of these are great.

I now have even more tabbed browsing options, can control which sites I allow to run JavaScript, and have added FoxyTunes, which allows me to have control of my music in my browser – no need to tab back to the player just to pause or fast forward. There are many, many extensions available. I haven't finished reading through them yet.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Dorm room accessories

It seems that today's college student has a much more luxurious existence than I experienced in the early to mid 1980s (and I'm sure we had more than the generation before us). It's not an issue really, but if college kids are getting all that space how are they learning the following:
Given a room 12' by 10' how do you fit the following items while still leaving enough room for a party consisting of a dozen people or more?
  • two beds
  • a stereo & two record collections
  • a television
  • a fridge
  • a couch (that folds out to form a bed)
  • a fish tank
  • two desks, two chairs and two book shelves
  • enough storage space for two students' wardrobes
I have half a memory that we had a lazy boy chair too, but now I'm not sure.


I've been wondering today why I am suddenly interested in all these details regarding the 9/11 Commission Report. I think the explanation is that I've come to think of that report as the final word on what went wrong that led to September 11. If the Commission omitted something, it had best be for the right reasons.

Now, suddenly, there are all sorts of rumors that the Commission might not have been as thorough as it should have been. Until this past week or so I've been able to keep my suspicions in check, but now I'm doubting the Commission. I was dubious about it to start, mostly because I never thought much of Governor Kean when I lived in NJ. However, I decided to trust the Commission and thought it had done a good job.

The fact that the Commission is bi-partisan is both a strength and a weakness. The strength comes from the fact that neither party can play politics with it, but the weakness is that if both parties have a vested interest in keeping some things from being revealed they can do so.

9/11 Commission Report – more unraveling

There are two different threads being pulled from the 9/11 Commission Report with regards to what the Clinton Administration did to capture Osama bin Laden and protect the homeland. It's possible these threads will do no damage, but it's also possible that the entire thrust of the Report's information on what was done during the 90s will unravel.

One thread is the Clinton White House's response to bin Laden's move from Sudan to Afghanistan in 1995. According to today's NY Times recently declassified documents show that the State Department recognized the threat bin Laden posed.
Before 1996, Mr. bin Laden was regarded more as a financier of terrorism than a mastermind. But the State Department assessment, which came a year before he publicly urged Muslims to attack the United States, indicated that officials suspected he was taking a more active role, including in the bombings in June 1996 that killed 19 members American soldiers at the Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

Two years after the State Department's warning, with Mr. bin Laden firmly entrenched in Afghanistan and overseeing terrorist training and financing operations, Al Qaeda struck two American embassies in East Africa, leading to failed military attempts by the Clinton administration to capture or kill him in Afghanistan.
A second thread deals with "the Wall" that the Clinton Administration erected between intelligence and prosecutors. It seems that one Clinton appointee, US Attorney for Manhattan Mary White, was dead set against this policy when it was first proposed. Deborah Orin in today's NY Post provides some of the details from a memo that White sent to then deputy Attorney General and later a 9/11 Commission member, Jamie Gorelick.
"This is not an area where it is safe or prudent to build unnecessary walls or to compartmentalize our knowledge of any possible players, plans or activities," wrote White, herself a Clinton appointee.

"The single biggest mistake we can make in attempting to combat terrorism is to insulate the criminal side of the house from the intelligence side of the house, unless such insulation is absolutely necessary. Excessive conservatism . . . can have deadly results."

She added: "We must face the reality that the way we are proceeding now is inherently and in actuality very dangerous."
There is one other possibly related thread and that's the current "Able Danger" controversy. This one, too, may reflect very badly on the Clinton Administration or it might fizzle out or it might lead to fingers being pointed at Rumsfeld's Defense Department. We'll have to see.

Maybe all of this will blow over and maybe it won't, but a second edition of the 9/11 Commission Report is getting more probable by the day.

No show at Slane

Eminem has cancelled his show at Slane (and all other European venues) because he's too tired. The shows are supposedly going to be rescheduled, but you can't simply postpone an outdoor concert in Ireland by 6 weeks or whatever. By then it'll be November and we'll be deep into the rainy season (mid October through early May).

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


Brian Kenny, 39 from Dublin, says "I don't go to church, and I don't know one person who does. Fifteen years ago, I didn't know one person who didn't." Eighteen years ago when I came here as a student I met many, many Irish Catholics who didn't go to Church much, if at all. And, today I still know plenty who go weekly or at least regularly. Seeing as Mr. Kenny and I are nearly the same age I'd have to say he seems to swing fairly wildly between monolithic groups.

I don't really have any quibbles with the gist of the USA Today article, I just thought that guy's quote sounded a bit extreme. The Irish Church is in serious decline, I don't think there's any argument about that.

However, what annoys me is the defeatism that is all too obvious in many of the priests. Okay, so times are tough. Then get tougher. What does Billy Ocean say?

My impression is that many of the priests have simply rolled over. They seem to presume that nobody under the age of 70 really cares. This problem seems more pronounced among those priests who are "younger", say under 60.

Moaning about early Mass is a symptom of this problem. Rather than moan, priests should recognize the changes in society and have two masses before 8am. It's not impossible.

Priests need to lead. They need to get into the schools and pitch the priesthood and other vocations to children. They should take a stand against those who use the Church for their own purposes, but who are really only members in name only. Denying a church wedding to those who never see the inside of a church from one end of the year to the next would be a start. I know this might be difficult and might not even be the right approach, but priests need to stand up for those who do attend regularly and do contribute to parish life and who are increasingly feeling used.

I've read all the horror stories about the fear that some Catholic priests used to instill in people in the old days, but we've come full circle now. I think the Church needs to reach out to lay people, many of whom have a lot more backbone and fight than do the priests.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Million Dollar Bore

I don't read movie reviews too often for the simple reason that I usually don't get around to seeing any movies until they come on t.v., which is years after they're released. So, when I someone loaned me Million Dollar Baby, I had half an idea that it was supposed to be pretty good.

How wrong I was. I don't think my wife has forgiven me yet. Not only was it one mind-numbingly tedious movie, but it's over two hours. It was probably a good idea for a film short – about 20 minutes or so would have done it.

Atta & Wayne NJ

National Review has a link to an article in yesterday's Bergen Record in which the writer talks about Mohammed Atta's time in Wayne, NJ. I got the feeling from the National Review writer that this was the first he'd heard about a possible Wayne, NJ connection, yet it sort of rung a bell with me.

I picked up the 9/11 Commission Report again and browsed through Chapter 7, which I hadn't read before. This is the chapter that talks about the hijackers movements before September 11. If Wayne is mentioned there I didn't see it.

Anyway, when I read the Bergen Record article from yesterday it triggered a memory I have regarding Wayne and Atta. So, I went looking for it and what I found was a Bergen Record article from June 2003.

New Jersey State Police Superintendent Joseph R. Fuentes testified that Mohammed Atta "had lived in the Wayne Motor Inn on Route 23 for a year". This is the head of the NJ State police's testimony, yet nothing about Atta in Wayne appears in the 9/11 Commission Report. What on Earth is going on here?

Although this Wayne, NJ memory was there, it had receded far back because everything I'd read since told me that Atta was in Florida on flight training. If Wayne seafood store owners recognized Atta (& al Shehi) when asked by FBI agents, then it seems fairly likely that the two hijackers spent a lot of time in the area.

I'm beginning to think the 9/11 Commission glossed over the big mistakes made by the government and that people from both parties were culpable, which is the only way to explain a bi-partisan cover-up.

Precious Priests

There are times when I just wonder if some Catholic priests have any idea at all. At the end of yesterday's Mass the priest told us the schedule for the Masses today, a Holy Day of Obligation. The priest moaned about Mass at "cock crow" – 7:30.

What is this man thinking? Doesn't he realize that many Dubliners are either at or well on their way to work by 7:30? Is he expecting sympathy from his parishioners because he has to struggle 20 yards from his house to say Mass at 7:30? There are, after all, only a half dozen Holy Days each year. Surely he'll cope.

Not that long ago I heard a different priest complaining about having to say Mass at 8:45 on a Sunday morning. Huh? Isn't saying Mass on a Sunday morning part of the job spec when you become a priest? What's he doing on a Saturday night that he finds it so hard to make his way to Mass at 8:45 on a Sunday morning?

I think this kind of nonsense can turn off more people than the big scandals. There are times when I just want to shout "Get real!" at the priests.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Intelligent design

The August 5 Irish Times had an editorial (sub. required) on President Bush's views on intelligent design. The editorial linked Bush's views on what should be taught with regards to evolution and intelligent design to the Scopes trial.

The editorial featured the following:
in bowing to the religious right as he has also done on issues from stem-cell research to abortion and prayers in schools, the president has displayed a willingness to toy with Biblical fundamentalism. It is also reflected in his rhetoric of good and evil in dealing with terrorism.

Yet his views do reflect those of one third plus of the population which identifies with evangelical Christianity, the home of the electoral troops of the Republican Party.
What should or shouldn't be taught in American schools is rightfully a debate that should engage Americans. Why does the Irish Times feel the need to chime in? Only to further embed the idea that Bush is a simple-minded buffoon? Maybe, but maybe not.

In early July Cardinal Schoenborn of Vienna recently wrote the following in a New York Times column:
In an unfortunate new twist on this old controversy, neo-Darwinists recently have sought to portray our new pope, Benedict XVI, as a satisfied evolutionist. They have quoted a sentence about common ancestry from a 2004 document of the International Theological Commission, pointed out that Benedict was at the time head of the commission, and concluded that the Catholic Church has no problem with the notion of "evolution" as used by mainstream biologists — that is, synonymous with neo-Darwinism.

The commission's document, however, reaffirms the perennial teaching of the Catholic Church about the reality of design in nature. Commenting on the widespread abuse of John Paul's 1996 letter on evolution, the commission cautions that "the letter cannot be read as a blanket approbation of all theories of evolution, including those of a neo-Darwinian provenance which explicitly deny to divine providence any truly causal role in the development of life in the universe."

Furthermore, according to the commission, "An unguided evolutionary process — one that falls outside the bounds of divine providence — simply cannot exist."
This is the real focus for the Irish Times. The Irish Times knows full well that President Bush's views on education are nowhere near as influential in Ireland as the Catholic Church's views. The Irish Church is the real target of this piece. The Irish Times wants its readers to know that only buffoons like President Bush and "the electoral troops of the Republican Party" would believe in intelligent design.

To be honest, I don't know the details of the debate. My own view is that life on Earth evolved and is evolving, however I've always believed that this is part of God's plan. I'm not sure if my science or theology is "wrong", but it's how I've married the two. I doubt my thinking is that unusual among Catholics.

Friday, August 12, 2005

IAAF World Championships

Sometimes I wonder if Europeans realize just how minor events like the World Championships are in the US. The 2005 Championships are only barely on tv in the US.

I've dipped in for some of the events this week and it seems to me the Yanks are cleaning up. All those gold medals and I doubt there's one athlete in the US team who has any name recognition in the US whatsoever. Even double sprint gold medalist Justin Gatlin is probably less well known than the average bench-warmer on the Kansas City Royals. Obviously, I have no stats on this, but that's my gut feeling.

9/11 Commission Report, 2nd Edition

Back in May I mentioned I was finished reading Chapter 3 of the 9/11 Commission Report. After that I got through Chapters 5 & 6, but never finished it. Now I'm glad because it looks like the second edition will be more complete than the first.

Second edition? Yes, it seems that the 9/11 Commission decided to omit a fairly big piece of the Mohammed Atta puzzle before it published its report. A Defense Department intelligence unit had identified Atta and Marwan al Shehi (the pilots of the planes that struck the twin towers) as members of a New York al Qaeda cell in the summer of 2000. This intelligence unit decided not to share the information with the FBI because it would violate a "1995 order creating a "wall" that blocked intelligence on terrorists from being shared with law enforcement". The author of the order, Jamie Gorelick, was a member of the 9/11 Commission.

Post-modern Celtic Tiger

I've seen arguments about what gave birth to Ireland's booming economy before, but I've never read anything that suggested it was all down to spending taxpayers money on the arts. Scottish Arts Council chairman, Richard Holloway, wants the Scottish Executive to spend 1% of its budget on the arts in order to "usher in an era of cultural and economic self-confidence for the nation". Was this the strategy that led the way in Ireland?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

July 7 & our trip

After July 7 we did toy with the idea of going to London even though we'd already decided not to. Both my wife and I agreed that if it just been us traveling we'd have definitely gone to London. We hemmed & hawed for a while, but in the end we decided to stick with our plan because (a) I wasn't sure how my kids would feel about getting on the Underground or a London bus and (b) the clincher – it was just too expensive. We've been to London with the children before and we'll go again

Airport security

The worst thing about all the increased security is that I can't bring a razor on these short trips unless I want to check my bag. That just slows everything up way too much. I guess I could consider an electric razor, but I never had any interest in one before.

I also don't understand why every passenger at Dublin Airport must remove their shoes and take the laptop out of the carrying bag, but at Stansted they make no one remove their shoes and leave laptops in the bag. Is Stansted using better equipment or just not as worried about security?

No more free Wi-fi

I was very disappointed to find that I couldn't use Dublin Airport's Wi-fi for free this time. Look, I can hardly argue with the logic of charging for something people want, but I had gotten used to getting the Wi-fi for free.

I only wanted it for 15 minutes, but by the time I had gone through the rigmarole of paying for an hour it would have been time to close down and board the plane.

North & East of London

Originally we were going to go to London. When we first came up with the mini-breaks idea, the last trip was London. During June, while were planning the Belgium trip, I got the idea that maybe we should see somewhere in England that isn't London. Other than a few business trips, my total time spent in England outside of London consisted of two days in Chester in the early 90s and one day in Canterbury before that.

I'm pretty sure our travels were confined to the counties of Essex, Cambridgeshire & Suffolk. The highlights were:
  • Colchester castle – the city of Colchester wasn't all that nice, but the castle, which is a museum, and the surrounding grounds are well maintained. The museum had just the right mixture of good artifacts, information and 'hands-on' things to do for the kids. I didn't know anything about the Roman history of Colchester, which was the highlight for me.
  • City of Cambridge – Cambridge is a very nice city. We didn't spend enough time there, but we walked around the colleges and also took a bus tour. I think the city should make a little more effort to tell the story of all the great scientists who are connected to the University. So many of them were odd, interesting characters and really Cambridge could do more to tell visitors about what was for centuries the most important city on Earth, as far as scientific advances are concerned.
  • Imperial War Museum, Duxford – I'd been to the Imperial War Museum in London before, but I hadn't even realized that there was a big facility north of London. This is a World War I & II airfield with many old and fairly new planes and some other large pieces of military equipment. There was also a Spitfire flying display, which was nerve-wracking. I found it a bit odd that the American Air Museum (part of the Duxford complex) made the other hangars look like the poor cousins. They are building a new facility, which will remedy this situation.
Overall, we had a good time. We were all worn out by the end of the two days. No more short breaks for a while.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


In the middle of the last of the family's three short breaks this summer. First Edinburgh, then Wallonia now, well, I'm not really sure what this region should be called, but we're seeing the bit of England that is just east and just north of Stansted Airport.

Until yesterday, I'd heard the word "chav" a few times, but never really understood it. After walking around Colchester for a couple of hours I think my daughter has helped me to identify a "chav" on sight. She decided to elbow me every time she spotted a first rate specimen of the species. Although our time in Cambridge yielded virtually no elbows, two and a half hours in Colchester and my rib cage is bruised.

More later on what we saw/did, but I just thought I share that little bit on my great cultural awakening yesterday.

Monday, August 08, 2005

NYC & back in a day

A few weeks ago I wondered about the recently published stats that showed there were thousands of Irish people who traveled from Ireland to the US and back in one day. The Irish Independent sent a journalist on just such a shopping trip.


Hiroshima & Nagasaki

Was it right or not?
Vincent Browne says the bombing of Hiroshima & Nagasaki was terrorism. Hiroshima survivor says Japanese would have fought until the bitter end.
Guardian columnist says the idea bomb was necessary is now discredited. National Review columnist says that the view the war was essentially over by Aug 1945 doesn't take the Okinawa experience into account.

Irish Independent says that as time has passed it's increasingly hard to justify using the Atomic bomb. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review says recently released documents show that those who ran Japan at the time had no intention of surrendering.
This is a debate that will never go away. I figure that any attempt to evaluate the decision to use the Atomic bombs without taking the whole, long, murderous war into account is simply childish. Tens of millions of people were killed during the war. By the time August 1945 came around, the outcome may not have been in doubt but the duration and final toll was far from clear.

I'm sure President Truman didn't like making such a decision, but I doubt he really considered it much of a choice. He wasn't a philosopher or a theologian. His role was to end the war and that's what he did. And, he was a civilian. Some of the military men might have figured that the bomb wasn't necessary, that the army & marines could do the job, but Truman knew that even the unnecessary loss of 100,000 American sons, brothers & husbands in an invasion of Japan was untenable. People may not like it, but Truman's job was to protect the United States to the best of his ability, which using the Atomic bomb did.

War is grotesque.

Benefits system exploitation

An undercover journalist from the (London) Sunday Times has been listening at Islamic extremists' meetings since mid-June. He attended regular lectures and sermons, sometimes attended by school children, where he heard the London bombings referred to as the "Fantastic Four".

It is interesting reading, to say the least. However, one small section caught my eye and has me wondering if the whole social welfare system will have to be rethought:
[i]ntegration with British society is scorned, as is any form of democratic process. Followers are encouraged to exploit the benefits system. They avoid jobs which could bring them into contact with western women or might lead them to contribute to the economy of a nation they are taught to despise.
It's bad enough that there is a fifth column inside Britain, but the British taxpayer is underwriting the operation. This has got to be tackled, although I doubt it can be done in a way that doesn't cause at least some hardship for many others.

Now that's cricket

I wish I had the time to watch more of the Ashes, but I saw some of this weekend's match and yesterday's great finish. I don't really understand cricket, but I do enjoy watching it.

Saturday, August 06, 2005


Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was sworn in as Iran's president today. Nothing I've read about him (and, it hasn't been a lot) has given me any reason to suspect that this could be good news for the US particularly or the west generally. Nothing, until today.

Amir Taheri, who I generally like, is well short of despondent about Ahmadinejad's election. Taheri's column is much more hopeful than I would have expected.

Taheri dismisses the allegations that Ahmadinejad had been one of 1979 hostage takers in Tehran. Taheri is also not overly worried about Ahmadinejad's "closeness" with the the mullahs. Taheri paints a picture of a pragmatic politician whose primary goal is to serve the people who elected him.
[to] label Rafsanjani and Khatami as "moderates" and Ahmadinejad as "conservative" is to miss the point. A better label for the two previous presidents is "opportunist" while Ahmadinejad could best be understood as a "radical."

Ahmadinejad's victory may well be the beginning of a long process of "de-mullaization" of the system. This may be reflected in the Cabinet he is scheduled to unveil next week. My guess is that the mullas will lose some of the key posts they have monopolized for the past quarter of a century.
I'd like to believe this is not merely wishful thinking by Taheri, but his view seems a long way from what Ahmadinejad said today when he was sworn in.


For all the talk about promoting liberty and democracy, it seems that one country may have already withstood all the liberalization pressure that the US plans to employ. The NY Times reports today that the US is more dependent on Saudi Arabia than ever before.

There's no doubt that the US hoped that an independent Iraq would help reduce its dependence on Saudi oil, but that obviously hasn't happened. If it did happen that would have the effect of undercutting the profits being earned in all the other oil-producing countries in the region, which may help explain why its neighbors don't seem too worked up about the instability in Iraq.

I really wish there was another way. Making Saudi Arabia's elite wealthier cannot be anything other than bad. I can only hope that this time they use the money to invest in a real economy built on entrepreneurship and not just oil production and consumption.

Friday, August 05, 2005


On a related note, I thought this article from the Hong Kong Standard is an illustration of how multilateralism can work great to prevent liberty.
In the joint statement, China and Russia sent a clear message: Washington poses a threat to Central Asia's sovereignty; China and Russia can offer a similar economic and security package, only it will be designed to preserve the status quo not change it. Fearing democratic revolutions similar to Ukraine's recent about-face, Central Asian states were all ears.
The article presents an interesting summary of the challenges the US faces in Central Asia. When reading things like this, my isolationist instincts make me wonder why the US is worried about Central Asian politics and nation-building in Afghanistan.

Our S.O.B. – no more

One of the fundamental changes in US foreign policy is that the US is no longer happy with ruthless dictators who are "our SOB's".

The National Security Strategy (Bush Doctrine) makes support for liberty and democracy a fundamental element of US foreign policy.
In pursuit of our goals, our first imperative is to clarify what we stand for: the United States must defend liberty and justice because these principles are right and true for all people everywhere. No nation owns these aspirations, and no nation is exempt from them. Fathers and mothers in all societies want their children to be educated and to live free from poverty and violence. No people on earth yearn to be oppressed, aspire to servitude, or eagerly await the midnight knock of the secret police.

America must stand firmly for the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the absolute power of the state; free speech; freedom of worship; equal justice; respect for women; religious and ethnic tolerance; and respect for private property.
President Bush has (many times) said that in the past the US was too tolerant of regimes that mistreated their own people and that this was short-sighted.

I've mentioned this to people here occasionally and they've dismissed this as a cosmetic change. They didn't believe it when the President starting putting pressure on the Saudis and Egyptians. Now this policy has (seemingly) cost the US some important military bases in Uzbekistan. The eviction came 4 days before a US diplomat arrived to "pressure Tashkent to allow an international investigation into the Andijan protests, which human rights groups and three U.S. senators who met with eyewitnesses said killed about 500 people".

I'm not convinced that this devotion to liberty will best serve US interests, but it seems beyond doubt that the Bush Administration is serious about this policy.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Lord Haw Haw

Watching Ayman al-Zawahri on tonight's BBC news I was struck by how much this reminded me of what I'd read about William Joyce's (Lord Haw Haw) broadcasts during World War II. I see no reason for the BBC or any station to broadcast these messages. What purpose does having them on the news serve?

The Vikings reply

Okay, not the Vikings, but the Danish navy. The Danes have dispatched a ship to Hans Island.

Again, this will give you some idea as to what it is the Danes and Canadians are arguing over:
"If we manage to reach the island, we will hoist a new Danish flag. We're trying to change the flags as often as possible because they are quickly torn apart by the strong winds," [Danish navy spokesman] Mr. Jensen said by telephone from the Danish navy base on Greenland's west coast.

"As it looks now, the ice situation may not allow us to reach the island. But we will try to get as far north as possible," he said. Danish navy ships have been able to visit the island only three times since 1988 because of the thick Arctic ice around it.


The (London) Sunday Times had an extract from a new book on Jimi Hendrix in this week's edition. Good reading, if you find the 60s music scene interesting.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Steven Vincent

I'll be honest, when I first read that Steven Vincent had been killed I didn't know who he was. It was only when I clicked through to some of the articles he had written and his blog that I recognized him. I had read his article in Sunday's NY Times.

20 Marines have been killed in the past two days, so the death of a journalist is hardly surprising. However, I don't think it's a coincidence that his death followed so closely after Sunday's column, in which he said that the British weren't doing enough to prevent the place being taken over by hard-line Shi'ite organizations.

I thought this post from Vincent's blog was excellent. Here's his last column for NRO on the power problems in southern Iraq.


Anyone in baseball who wants to know what happens to a sport that fails to clean itself up should have a look at professional cycling in Europe. When I first came over here cycling was a big sport. The Tour de France used to get live daily coverage in Britain and Ireland. Sean Kelly was probably the most famous Irish athlete at the time.

However, cycling was riddled with drugs use and it all came to a head in 1998 when a team car was caught with all sorts of performance enhancing substances in it, but the damage had started long before that. Little by little before that seminal event drugs had corrupted the sport. Today, many people are skeptical of everything that goes on in cycling and interest is not what it was (in Britain & Ireland anyway). Although few in the US seem to doubt that Lance Armstrong has accomplished is anything short of a great story, I think there are very few on this side who really believe. This has nothing to do with his being American and everything to do with the nature of the sport and the damage it did to itself.

This is what baseball can look forward to if the union and owners don't make a concerted effort to rid the game of steroids and other drugs now.


Hard to understand how a guy who had everything to lose by taking steroids would do so. Rafael Palmeiro has had a great career and a great reputation. He's been mentioned in steroid rumors before, but his testimony in front of Congress convinced many people that he was on the up and up. Not now.

Palmeiro tested positive in a recent test for stanozolol, according to today's NY Times. This is a drug that is not available in any dietary supplement or whatever, so if true Palmeiro was lying in his conference call on Monday when he said he "had never intentionally used steroids". I'm pretty sure he was lying when he testified before Congress last March too, but prosecuting him for perjury is unlikely.

Palmeiro got a 10 game suspension, which is a joke. Fifty should be the minimum. And, a lifetime bar from the Hall of Fame should be part of the penalty. It's time the union realized that its members have a stake in getting this out of the game and stopped pussy-footing around the issue. Baseball is not automatically "forever". Sports can be ruined by this and it's time the players union recognized that fact.

Earth rod box

I'm not a gifted handyman. In fact, using today's educational parlance, I think I would be referred to as a handyman with 'special needs'. I can barely do the basics and even then I rarely do them well.

Yesterday I finally got around to a task that has been staring me in the face for a week. In reality, I've actually been trying to ignore it for a couple of years at least.

The Earth rod is in a small box set into the cement path that goes around the side of our house. The lid of this plastic box has been cracked for a long time, but last week it opened right up.

First I had to drill the stripped screws that hold the lid on. Once the lid was off I had to remove the clamp. Of course, the box was full of water (probably for a long time) and the clamp was totally corroded. It took me forever to get thing off. Once I had that done I had to get the broken box out. That also took a long time because (I think) the box had been inserted into the hole before the surrounding cement was dry.

Finally, I was ready to put in a new box. Off I went in total innocence to the local electrical supplies store. I figured I'd get another box that would slot right into the existing hole. Fool.

For reasons that I'm sure are clear to someone with greater insight, the boxes available today are slightly smaller than the one that was used when our neighborhood was built ten years ago. And the placement of the rod and wire were not quite right for the box I bought so I had to make different holes. ERRR.

After about 4-5 hours (for a job that I thought would be 20-30 minutes) I had the box in. The hole is still slightly too big, which means I'll have to put in a little cement – someday. For now, I have wedged some slim rocks between the hole and the box to keep it fixed in place. It'll be full of water again soon, but that's not a bad thing – as long as I never have to change the box again.

All of that is an explanation as to why I had no time for the Irish Eagle yesterday.

Monday, August 01, 2005


Not sure if it's all the N. Ireland news/analysis/opinion I've been trying to digest over the past few days, but I'm just not coming up with much at the moment. Maybe later or maybe tomorrow.