Monday, December 25, 2006


Mass for Sunday in the morning and Mass for Christmas in the evening. As I said to my children, we get a day-night doubleheader.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sing, choirs of angels …

I had the highlight of my Christmas yesterday. Took time out during the day to go to the primary school's carol service. Fantastic. There's nothing like hearing 300+ four to twelve year old children in a church belting out O Come All Ye Faithful, Away In A Manger, We Three Kings and many others. Appropriately, there was no mention of Santa Claus or sleigh bells.

During the service it struck me that my parents never had that opportunity. I can't say I didn't get a good education at our local public school, but I don't think there was ever anything as beautiful as that which I witnessed yesterday. I really wish I had a camcorder with me, although using those things always detracts from the experience.

Newshound issues

If you're looking for the Newshound this morning, sorry about that. Big problems at my hosting company. Actually, they say this is a 'planned migration' only I was never told.

Anyway, you can see something of a list for today at

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Hey you, take that hat off

A school bus driver on Long Island was asked to take his hat off by his employer because it "bothered" one of his passengers.

This is ridiculous. I just don't see how this guy's hat can be in any way bothersome to a passenger. I'm occasionally offended by what people wear (such as the guy I saw in Bray not that long ago who had a shirt that said, "Girls. S*** this!" with an arrow pointing down), but a red fluffy hat? I don't know.

Mark Steyn praises Irish people's resistance to the anti-Christmas brigade in his latest column. Maybe he's trying to worm his way back into the Irish Times?

Happy 60th

Loving It's a Wonderful Life is almost cliché these days, but I love it anyway. I love quoting it. I love talking about it. I love the insights into a moment in history - the darkness of post-war America. I love the humor.

This week marks the 60th anniversary of its opening to a lukewarm reception across the US.

Direct debit

Never, never, never sign up for a direct debit. That's how I've always seen it and I'm not alone. I'm not sure if direct debit is available in the US these days, but it wasn't when I left.

I remember being horrified when I first learned about it. Give the phone/electricity/gas/whatever company access to go to my bank account and take what they'd like? Surely nobody would do that. Well, it seems many people do.

I guess a trusting soul would feel assured that the phone company would only take what it's owed each month, but I'm not a trusting soul. And, I know that mistakes happen.

For me it is today as it's always been - NO THANK YOU when I'm asked to set up a direct debit. I'll pay the bills when I'm ready and the amount I want to pay.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Google it for yourselves

In his column yesterday Tom McGurk almost dares the reader to google information about his topic. Fair enough, but would it have been too much trouble for him to have done the same?
After the Castro revolution in the late 1950s, the Kennedy administration decided that one socialist hero in Latin America was quite enough and there wasn’t going to be another. They set up a remarkable place called the College of the Americas, originally in Panama and later in Fort Bragg in Texas (Google it on the internet and read on).
I've said before I don't know a lot about the S. American politics during the Cold War and the US role in it. However, as soon as I read this I thought to myself, "Isn't Fort Bragg in N. Carolina"? And you know what? It is. It's in Fayetville, NC.

As for the College of the Americas, I didn't find a whole lot about that. What I did find told me that it was, apparently, located at Fort Benning, which is in Georgia. But, don't believe me, google it for yourself.

Friday, December 15, 2006

How's the weather in Clonakilty?

Twice in the past two days I've gotten calls from Talk Talk trying to sell me their phone service. Nothing strange there, but there's a new twist this time. Each call has come from someone with an Indian accent, but they tell me they're calling me from Clonakilty.

Yesterday, when I got the first call, I figured that it was simply a case that an Indian man had happened to be living in or near Clonakilty. But, two different Indian people in Clonakilty working for the same company calling me on consecutive days?

It's possible that these Indian people are living and working in Clonakilty, but I suspected not. So when 'Connie' finished explaining that she was calling from Clonakilty, I suddenly asked her how the weather was there today. She said it was beautiful. Hmmm. Maybe, but it's absolutely miserable here in Wicklow and according to Met Eireann it's not supposed to be that great in Clonakilty either.

Don't get me wrong. If there is a small Indian community in Clonakilty who are finding work at a Talk Talk call center, then good for them. However, I think Talk Talk is lying to me and that annoys me.

Ringaskiddy baseball

Is there another Ringaskiddy? I mean, other than the one in Co. Cork. The reason I ask is that the other day I got an e-mail from John Fitzgerald - The Emerald Diamond guy - directing me to this photograph. It's a picture of a baseball game from the 1920's and at the bottom it says "Baseball diamond, Ringaskiddy".

This is why I ask if there is more than one Ringaskiddy on Earth. Maybe one in the US or Canada? That would explain a lot. Look at the picture closely. This is no mere exhibition. You can see how the field is worn in a pattern familiar to anyone who knows baseball.

I find it hard to believe there was a baseball league in Ringaskiddy, Co. Cork back in the 20s. One possible explanation I could come up with was the US Navy. Did the US Navy have men stationed here during/after WWI? Other than that, I can think of no good reason to suspect that Ringaskiddy was a baseball hot-spot in the 1920s.

Two thumbs up

I can understand why so many people rave about A Christmas Story. I can also understand why my daughters don't like it. I enjoyed it, but I bet I'd like it even more if I were talking about it with my brothers. I can easily imagine the conversation and all the connections to what we did as kids.

It's definitely a movie for any man who fondly remembers being a boy. And, like I said yesterday, all those winter scenes are great for any of us men who've moved away from real winters. Who doesn't remember some kid getting his tongue stuck on a car door or mailbox or whatever?

Ralphie is a great character with his innocent face and constant scheming. The mother's patience and understanding are a little overdone, but good here. And, Mr. Parker. He was my favorite. I know I've seen him here and there over the years, but to me he's always been the Night Stalker. Now I'll probably think of him as "The Old Man".

It's the recognition and the honesty that makes the movie great. And, even if I didn't see me or my brothers in every scene, I'm not sure there was any scene where I couldn't remember a friend or a neighbor who fit the bill. I can't wait to watch it again, maybe with a brother or two.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Bye bye BUPA

Spare me the arguments about risk equalisation. BUPA's decision to leave the Irish market is a disaster for Irish consumers. We had some semblance of competition in the health insurance market, but now we're back to none.

BUPA has 22% of the Irish market, but it's somehow been deemed to be dominant to the extent that it has been ordered to pay hundreds of millions to the VHI, which has seen its market share fall to 71% from what it was a decade ago (100%).

What should the Minister have done? How about wind up VHI? That would have been an open invite to other competitors to enter the Irish market and all would have been forced to offer their products at the same price to customers regardless of age, gender and/or health (that's community rating).

All Bran

Am I the only person who enjoys eating Kelloggs All Bran? The reason I ask is the way they sell the product makes me wonder if I should try something else. For a long time their ads featured old people talking about the benefits of eating All Bran. Whenever I saw these ads I felt like they were telling me that I'm starting my days with, basically, a bowl of milk of magnesia. Not a happy thought, but I got past that.

Now we're on to something new. The recent ads feature women - exclusively - most of whom are younger than I am. They all talk about how they sometimes feel "bloated" and how All Bran helps them with this. So now All Bran is some form of feminine product about which, of course, I should know nothing and should want to know nothing. It really is making me feel like I need to find a new cereal.

The end of winter?

I was watching A Christmas Story last night (more later) and thinking about all those scenes of snow, ice and cold. Made me nostalgic for winter. My kids have never really experienced it. That scene where the kid sticks his tongue to the metal pole, ahhh … That sort of cold.

Today's British newspapers are full of stories about how 2006 is the warmest year on record. I doubt it's much different here. We still haven't had a cold day and it's mid-December. There hasn't been any frost on the grass yet.

Like I said, I was thinking back to my childhood and the cold days of winter while I watched A Christmas Story. I was wondering if kids in my old neighborhood are having a good winter, but then I had a look at and I see that so far there's real no winter there either. No snow and no snow in the forecast. Not even a decent cold day.

Is this the future? Are we doomed to winterless existence thanks to global warming? And, will people mourn the passing of winter? I somehow doubt that too many people are going to be that upset if they don't have to endure the numbing cold that I'm nostaligic for. I guess those who run ski resorts will have to find new employment, but really how many people are going to miss winter?

I guess if I need to experience winter, I could always go to Edmonton.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Best dictator of the century

I like this column from John O'Sullivan. I can't really assess it for accuracy, but I like how he compares the policies and tallies up the dead of the 20th century's dictators to arrive at the conclusion that Augusto Pinochet was "the most successful dictator" of the 20th century.

He doesn't claim that the deaths are excusable, but simply compares a selection of the century's dictators and how they're perceived in the media.
It should be clearly understood that there is no connection between the 3,000 murders and Chile's economic success — any more than between the tens of thousands murdered by Franco after the civil war and the subsequent modernization of the Spanish economy. Murder and torture — contra Lenin — are not economic weapons. If murder and torture were employed in Chile, as they were by the forces of both Allende and Pinochet in its civil war, then an even-handed justice should have pursued both or an amnesty should have protected both. Pinochet cannot cite economic growth statistics in a murder trial.

Yet if that number of deaths had produced those results in Stalin's Russia or Mao's China or Castro's Cuba, we would be constantly assured that the murders were historically justified by the subsequent prosperity. Eric Hobsbawm, the distinguished British Marxist historian (who holds the high rank of Companion of Honour), goes to the extent of arguing that Stalin's murders were justified even though the prosperity never materialized. Uncle Joe's good intentions were enough.
If he's got his facts wrong, then he's got his facts wrong. I don't know enough about Pinochet to discuss that. What I like is his attempt to show that there's a double standard in how various dictators are judged. Even today there's been little effort to defend Pinochet while we are simultaneously sending best wishes to Fidel Castro. The passing of each is to be welcomed as far as I'm concerned.

"Christmas" comes and goes

The Daily Telegraph has been highlighting what it claims is the disappearance of Christmas in Britain. The Telegraph says references to the nativity are more often than not absent on Christmas cards and Christmas is disappearing from the British store front.

I noticed that the big windows were uninteresting last week when I was there, but I just figured that was because there are so few children in the UK. I just assumed adults were more attracted to the displays I saw rather than those with Santa, elves, reindeer, etc. I didn't think it had anything to do with trying not to offend non-Christians.

As for the nativity-less cards, again, I would have thought this unsurprising for a nation that, for the most part, is post-Christian. Fewer than 5% of those in the majority denomination attend church in any given week. Only a third of all British people consider religion important.

So, it's hardly shocking that many people prefer non-Christian Christmas cards. I'm not sure what Christmas means to those who don't consider religion important, but if that's what they want then that's what they want.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Christmas is making a come back according to the Christian Science Monitor.
Signs have appeared of a "return of Christmas" in the culture. Big-time retailers including Wal-Mart, Macy's, Target, and Kohl's have responded to demands to resurrect a "Merry Christmas" theme in their stores. More cities are approving the inclusion of nativity scenes in holiday displays on public property.
Update: I was thinking about this and I just don't see that a nativity scene on the card is a huge issue, really. My own cards come from a batch that contains nativity, Santa and winter themed cards. It's pure chance as to who gets which.

Please take me back, RTE

Okay, okay, I admit it. I ADMIT IT. I have abandoned Newstalk, at least during the week. I don't listen to their morning or lunch time news programs any more. I was never a regular in the morning, but whenever I did get a chance to listen to the radio from 7am, it would have been Newstalk. From the day that station was born I put up with ineptitude and political bias because I was just so happy to have an alternative to RTE. Newstalk was different and much better in particular dealing with business and economic issues. But that's no longer the case.

These days Newstalk could be more usefully known as Kidstalk. The ineptitude and bias are still there but with Ger Gilroy in the mornings and Eamon Keane from 12:30 we also get the manners of a spoiled, know-it-all child. I just can't take it. I've gone back to RTE, but I'm not happy about that either.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

FR 202

I flew Ryanair for last week's trip to London. You just cannot beat their prices. But, I am curious to see how poor their customer service can get before people figure that they'll pay a bit more to use a rival airline.

The seats on the flight I was on were the narrowest I've ever had to use. And, there was insufficient leg room to allow me to get my legs in front of me. Now, I'm neither tall (just under 5'11") nor fat (about 177lbs) so I wouldn't have thought that I would be 'over-sized' for any airline, but I was pretty close the other day. Ryanair's seats don't recline and have a hard plastic back which makes it impossible to wriggle yourself into anything like a comfortable position. I could put up with it for one hour, but I honestly don't know if I could do two.

There are also no pockets on the seat-backs, which means there are no sick bags. This usually wouldn't occur to me, but due to the bad weather our flight was very bumpy and one of the children was looking fairly green around the gills. Fortunately, we landed without anybody losing their breakfast.

If I were traveling alone, I'd certainly pay a premium for more comfort. How much more? I can't say until the time to travel comes again.

Thanks, Dick

From today's Irish Independent:
ENVIRONMENT Minister Dick Roche has lavished his home town of Bray with a massive increase in funding.
Dick, that check for €100 was worth the vote I cast in your favor last time out. You can count on me again that's for sure. {Maybe €150 next year? The price of those PlayStation games sure goes up fast.} Gee it's wonderful having the Environment Minister come from your town.

Monday, December 11, 2006

London tornado

I was in London on Thursday, the day of the tornado. I was in London with the whole family on one of our exhausting days of touring. We were near the Tower of London when I saw the sky darkening to the northwest. A few minutes later and we were in the middle of a good thunderstorm. Thunder and lightning, but nothing that I would have considered extreme. No hail, no vicious winds such as I've experienced during severe storms at home. I couldn't believe it when I saw some evening papers later that day talking about homes wrecked by a tornado only five miles from where we were walking around.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Playing for a draw

The 'beautiful game'. Ha! I'm watching the final seconds of what is an embarrassing sporting spectacle. The fans are booing both teams for making no effort to score because both teams need only 1 point to move on. I know people here often laugh at Americans' inability to accept ties (draws), but you know what? At least that prevents the kind of garbage that Porto and Arsenal have provided this evening.

Oh, it's over now. 0-0. The referee ended the game out of pity for the viewers and those poor fans who paid to get into the stadium for this game. They should demand a refund.

A Christmas Story

I love Christmas movies. I've seen my two favorites - It's A Wonderful Life & Miracle on 34th Street - many, many times. I've seen many others too, including quite a few of the more "recent" (that is, color) ones. The Santa Clause, Santa Claus the Movie, Jack Frost are three that come to mind right now.

One movie I've never watched is A Christmas Story. And, funny enough we have the video in the house. One of my brothers bought it for the children, but they didn't like it and I never thought about putting it on for me. Maybe I should do that?

Today's NY Times compares the movie to It's A Wonderful Life in popularity. Wouldn't have thought so, but the house that featured in the movie is now a museum and expects 50,000 visitors annually. Of course, there's always the possibility that those tourists who for some reason find themselves in Cleveland go to this house because there isn't a whole lot to do there. Still, 50,000 is a lot of people.

Nail-biting time

Setanta Sports is selling NASN. Before NASN was launched us European-resident baseball (& hockey & basketball & football) fans had to live without television coverage. Today, of course, you can watch on the PC, but the quality is nothing like a genuine television signal coming into a television. Someday, maybe, but not yet.

So, now NASN has been sold to ESPN, which is well known to all American sports fans. There are three reasons I'm uneasy about this deal:
  1. if ESPN is looking to develop a big presence in Europe I don't really see how offering what is not much more than a service for expatriate Americans & Canadians is helping them in this regard

  2. Setanta has in the past few months begun using its other channels to broadcast extra American sports programming after midnight, which allows us to choose which game we want. I can't see this arrangement being continued

  3. Setanta's deal with my cable company - NTL - has kept the subscription down below what others pay for NASN. Again, I doubt this will continue when ESPN takes over.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Tickets please

I see that a parish in Dublin has decided that its Christmas Eve Mass is to be a ticket-only affair. Apparently some people in the parish are none-too-happy about this. I can understand why people find this a bizarre and irritating step, but the Christmas Eve Mass in our parish has been dangerously crowded the past few years and obviously it's not much different in Rush, Co. Dublin.

Every family with young children wants to go to Mass the night before Christmas because it's nearly impossible to drag them away from the goodies on Christmas Day. That makes the early Christmas Eve Mass far too popular. Personally, I'd prefer to go to Midnight Mass, but that's simply not possible with young children.

I like the fact that the parish tried to reward those who attend more regularly by announcing the ticket policy in the church bulletin and distributing the tickets this past weekend. Maybe it could have been handled better, but there should be some reward for turning up more than once a year.

Still, I can't help wondering if the scalpers (touts) will make a killing on the tickets for Mass. "Who needs tickets?" might be the only thing heard outside the Church before Mass.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Gas project

One thing I spent some time over a few nights trying to verify was this often voiced claim from Bord Gais, "Natural gas prices in Ireland are already below the EU average …"

I decided to see if I could find any evidence that this was true or not, but I couldn't. I guess I'll just have to take their word for it.

What I can say is that it's not easy to find out what any power company is charging for natural gas. They clearly don't want people doing too much looking around. I found one UK company that was easy to see was charging less per kWh than Bord Gais, but there may be other costs that I'm not seeing.

I can say that compared with the rates charged by the local power company where I grew up, Bord Gais is charging an absolute fortune.

Niagara Mowhawk charges 1.19¢ per kWh, which equates to €0.0089 per kWh. Bord Gais is charging me €.04005 (5.34¢) per kWh. NiMo's connection charge is $29.42 (€22.07) for every two months and that includes 3 therms (87.93kWh). That compares with Bord Gais's supply charge of €57.14 ($76.23), which includes no gas usage.

Okay, so the cost of gas is more here. A LOT MORE. 349% more. [It will be just over 300% more when we get our big reduction.] But, okay, supply and demand and all that. But, what about the supply charges? Why is Bord Gais's supply charge 159% greater than NiMo's? (And let's just ignore those three therms.)

Now, I know that all these gas companies have all sorts of tariffs, etc. that confuse the picture, but I'm comparing the standard charge here with what looks like pretty much the only possible tariff with NiMO. 159%! That's a big difference.

{There were a lot of conversions here. Feel free to check my figures. I used for exchange rates and this page to convert therms to kWh.}


I think that's the word that describes our weather the past two days. Inclement: (of the weather, the elements, etc.) severe, rough, or harsh; stormy. Yes, that just about describes it. I was thinking of going out for a stroll just so I could "take a walk on the wild side".

Pass the smelling salts

I cannot believe that Bord Gais is going to LOWER its price by 10%. Of course, that reduction doesn't come into effect until February 1 allowing BG plenty of time to fleece us over the next two cold months. Still it's something, right? I can hardly believe that our state-owned monopoly is going to reduce its prices. Shock.

Honoring Ronnie

RTE2 is showing a special program on gold medalist Ronnie Delany at 7:30 tonight. It's fifty years since he won his gold medal in Melbourne. I hope I get a chance to watch.

Delany is the only Irishman to win an Olympic gold on the track. He was also a star at Villanova in the 50s and they haven't forgotten him there either. There's a nice article in today's Philadelphia Inquirer.
A 21-year-old economics undergraduate at Villanova, Delany became the last Irish athlete to win an Olympic track-and-field gold medal. Fifty years ago today, he captured the 1,500 meters on a warm, sunny afternoon at the Melbourne Games.

To put his achievement into context, he was competing in the most keenly contested event in the Olympic program during a golden age for middle-distance running.

Only two years earlier, England's Roger Bannister had achieved what many thought was impossible: the first sub-four-minute mile. And as a measure of how far the event had progressed by June 1956, Delany had become the seventh man to dip below that magic barrier at a meet in Compton, Calif.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Kelly under pressure

Ray Kelly is the Irish America's current Irish American of the Year. I met him briefly back in March when I was in New York for the ceremonies. This week he's under pressure due to that police shooting over the weekend.

I don't really know much of what happened, but just because I met him and he seemed like a decent guy I hope this thing doesn't ruin Kelly.

Jumping to football?

It seems that drugs-banned sprinter Justin Gatlin had a workout with the Houston Texans. (And, according to the Chronicle, the Texans aren't the only ones to have given Gatlin a shot.) I guess he doesn't have what it takes to play football because the Texans said that they're not interested at this time. I'm sure that if he looked like he would be any good there'd be no qualms about the fact that he's a drugs disgrace in Track & Field.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I didn't know that. Did you?

A woman writing in this week's Sunday Independent brought something to my attention that I had never realized before. It's illegal to use your mobile phone in your car even if you're not driving at the time.

She was caught up in last week's great M50/M11 traffic nightmare and figured she'd better send a text to let her child-minder know what was happening when a member of the Gardai stopped for 'a chat'.
I took out my mobile phone to text her, and as I did, the first garda I saw coming anywhere near the scene in almost an hour and a half, drove by on a motor cycle. He didn't appear to be in any hurry. He didn't have a blue light flashing. But he was certainly being observant, because he was able to look inside my little car and detect the terrible crime I was engaged in.

Having gone past me the length of a car or two, he stopped, wheeled around and headed straight for me. I rolled down the window and he told me I was not supposed to be using a phone in the car.

I pointed out that I was not actually driving, and had not been driving for some time. In fact, the engine was turned off.

Nevertheless, he said, I should not be doing it.
Is this right? Is it illegal to use the mobile phone in your car even if the car is off? If it is then I'm frequently guilty of this violation as are all those people who I see pulled off to the side to call or text someone.

Losing out on my purchases

Has decided that sales to Ireland just aren't worth it? Twice in the past week I've gone through the shopping experience only to find when I try to pay that .there's a problem with one of the items in my order'. The problem is that they won't ship any of the items I've selected to Ireland. I wasn't trying to buy books, but music, toys and an one electronic item.

Didn't matter in the end. With a little effort I found what I wanted elsewhere.

Legalizing drugs

Legalizing drugs is not something I'd be happy to see. The consequences of making it legal to shoot up or whatever could be severe. However, I'm not sure that keeping drugs illegal doesn't have more severe consequences for society than the ban.

To an extent it's not much different than the corruption that prohibition helped foster in the US during the 1920s. Only, with drugs most of the raw material is in poor countries where drug kingpins completely hold sway. And, in Afghanistan the illegal drug trade is feeding instability and helping fund the Taliban.

Again, I'm not sure. I guess you could say I'm open to the discussion.

Sister city

Dublin is twinned with San Jose, but really if there is one American city that Dublin should be twinned with it's Seattle. You've got Microsoft's HQ and all the other tech companies in the area. And, it's often gray and rainy.

Seattle is having an unusually wet November, but despite the rainy, gray weather, Seattle's annual rainfall is not that great. 38 inches a year, which is less than Boston, New York and others. "The rain here has made its name mostly through persistence, not volume. It plays bass, not lead guitar."

That's like Dublin too. In fact, Dublin's annual rainfall is less than Seattle's, just 29 inches per year. It's never the volume, it's the frequency that can get to you.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

O Tannenbaum

You always hear people complaining about how early Christmas starts, how early the Christmas decorations go up in the stores. Implicit in those complaints is that nobody wants to see the decorations up so early. Well, one of our neighbors had their tree up by this past Wednesday and I've heard reports - from my children - of at least two other houses with trees in the window. I guess not everybody thinks Christmas comes too early.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

We Are … ND

Notre Dame plays a big game tonight against USC (Setanta Sports 1, 1am). Today's NY Times provides some insight into the financial strength of the Fighting Irish program.
The university generated $61.4 million in football revenue and spent $17.9 million, according to a 2005-6 filing under the federal Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act. During the same filing period, U.S.C. generated $27.7 million and spent almost the same amount as Notre Dame.

… Notre Dame's deal with NBC is worth $9 million a year through 2010. Ken Schanzer, the president of NBC Universal Sports, said the network's commitment to the Irish was stronger than ever. He said the team's performance on the field this season has led to a second consecutive year of strong ratings.

"There are only a few legendary sports brands, and Notre Dame is among them," Schanzer said. "When they perform well, they become more significant. Notre Dame is everyone's second alma mater, or in some cases anti-alma mater. But they are an entry point to college football for committed and casual fans."

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Lincoln says it best

Everyone references this, but still I want to do it too. Lincoln's proclamation making Thanksgiving a holiday. Here's a snippet.
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
Sojourning in foreign lands. That's me, right? Okay, so I'm on a very long sojourn.

Message for Ambassador Tom Foley

Ambassador Tom Foley - I wouldn't have said 'no' if you had invited me for dinner today. Just thought I'd let you know. For next year.

Happy Thanksgiving

Despite what I've written below, it would be a good idea to have a Thanksgiving in Ireland. I know it's not really feasible, but a break in the 12 weeks of Christmas wouldn't be a bad thing.

Happy Thanksgiving.

British Thanksgiving

The Guardian wants Britain to adopt Thanksgiving and "hand the ghastliness of the imported Halloween back to the Americans". Won't happen. You know why? Thanksgiving is strictly cultural, not commercial. Those aspects of America that daily seem to be absorbed by Britain and Ireland are those for which the bottom line is king. There's a profit motive.

Halloween has become "Americanized" simply because there's money to be made adopting the American model. Store-bought costumes (for adults too!) and loads of candy, etc. are now part of Halloween on this side of the Atlantic. This is not because British and Irish people wanted to be like Americans, but because businesses here realized there was money to be made promoting the "American" Halloween. Other than the chance to sell a few turkeys, Thanksgiving offers no such opportunity.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

How bad could it get?

Tony Blankley looks into his crystal ball and sees the future after the US pulls out of Iraq. I agree with his analysis of where it will lead.
But if, as it is hard to imagine otherwise, our departure from Iraq yields civil war, chaos, war lordism and terrorist safe havens — it is very likely that Iran will lurch in to harvest their advantages, Turkey will send in its army to stop an independent Kurdistan and Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the other Sunni states will be sucked in to fend off Shi'ite Iran's hegemony. In that nightmare maelstrom, the 20 million barrels a day of oil shipped from the Persian Gulf — and the world economy with it — will be in daily risk of being cut off.
However, I'm not certain that Iran will welcome the chaos on its borders. I think Iran is much happier with the current state of play - the US taking a pounding while it struggles to prevent all out civil war - than with what might happen if the US 'bugged out' in the morning.

At a minimum Iran would have a refugee crisis inside its borders. A worst case scenario would see Iran drawn in to defend the Shiite population and confronting Saudi, Jordanian and possibly Egyptian military forces drawn in to defend the Sunni minority. All the while, Al Qaeda will be carving out a niche for itself and Syria would either tear itself apart or be compelled to side with the Sunni defenders against Iran. Turkey might even roll in from the north.

No, I suspect Iran would be none-too-keen on an all-out civil war in Iraq. Indeed, that might be the US's best bargaining chip right now.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Russians

When I was in high school I read The Russians by Hedrick Smith. (It was assigned to us; I didn't pick that one up for casual reading believe me.) I'd love to wow you with the quality of my teenage insights, but the truth is I'm not sure I remember a single thing I read in that book.

I'd like to have another go at the book just to see if Smith even mentions Muslims in his 700 pages (or whatever). The reason I bring this up is because today's little E. European population vignette comes courtesy of the Washington Times, which forecasts a Muslim majority in Russia by 2050.
Russia's Muslim population has increased by 40 percent since 1989, to about 25 million. By 2015, Muslims will make up a majority of Russia's conscript army and by 2020 one-fifth of the population. "If nothing changes, in 30 years, people of Muslim descent will definitely outnumber ethnic Russians," Mr. Goble said.
That's incredible. In just over 8 years the majority of Russia's army will be Muslim. Will those guys fight in Chechnya? Or any other predominantly Muslim regions that opt for independence? Doubt it. What then?

No way Smith ever imagined such a rapid change was vaguely possible. I'm sure he didn't even anticipate the collapse of the USSR, but he may have seen those cracks. Yet, here we are only a generation later and we can see how Russia is being transformed.

Losing the Times

The UN Human Rights Council is in trouble when its lost the New York Times.
The council is new, but its deliberations have already fallen into a shameful pattern. When it comes to the world’s worst and most consistent human rights violators, like China, Iran, North Korea, Myanmar and Sudan, there has been a tendency to muffle words and conclusions and shift the focus from individual and political rights to broader economic and social questions.

But when it comes to criticizing Israel for violations committed in a wartime context that includes armed attacks against its citizens and soldiers, the council seems to change personality, turning harshly critical and uninterested in broader contexts.

Not you too, Terry

I like Terry Prone. This week, however, she leaves me a little cold. She's talking about Michael Moore's A Liberal's Pledge to Disheartened Conservatives. Prone describes Moore's letter as
gently-written, in stark contrast to the bulk of his previous tub-thumping rhetoric. It nonetheless manages to deliver digs and reproaches, wrapped up in positives.
She is so wrong about this as Moore's letter is nothing other than a big "Up Yours" to conservatives. {Sorry, I couldn't think of a non-crude alternative for that.}

However, that's not what bothers me about Prone's column. Prone repeats what I believe is a near universally accepted truth in Ireland - that those who are in the US military are uneducated dupes, people who are not really capable of making responsible decisions for themselves.

Referring to Moore's movie Fahrenheit 9/11 she says that it made
the point [John] Kerry recently and critically failed to make: that it’s the under-educated underclass in America who are dying in large numbers in Iraq.
Today's New York Times Editorial on Representative Rangel's proposal to reinstate the draft explains that
the volunteer force in Iraq has been a truer cross section of America than the force created under the last draft, which ended in 1973, before the end of the Vietnam War.
In fact, those in the military are not that much different than the average for all people of the relevant age across America.
The slight dif­ferences are that wartime U.S. mil­itary enlistees are better educated, wealthier, and more rural on aver­age than their civilian peers.

Recruits have a higher percent­age of high school graduates and representation from Southern and rural areas. No evidence indicates exploitation of racial minorities (either by race or by race-weighted ZIP code areas). Finally, the distri­bution of household income of recruits is noticeably higher than that of the entire youth population.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Polish migration

The New York Times continues its investigation of E. European migration. This time it's the Poles. Poland is suffering severe shortages in labor thanks to the fact that over 800,000 people have left the country the past two years.
The exodus is believed to be one of the largest migrations by Europeans since the 1950s [should be 1850s - IE], when a wave of Irish crossed the Atlantic to escape poverty.

But in Poland, this huge movement of people has created a labor shortage so severe that the government may not be able to spend the money that is due to begin arriving in January from the European Union for projects like improving roads and the water supply.

"We have a fantastic opportunity to improve our infrastructure because we are due to receive billions of euros starting in 2007," said Bartlomiej Sosna, a construction analyst at the consultant group PMR in Krakow. "But how?"
So, what to do? Should the EU maybe reconsider sending all that money to Poland? I can't see the EU doing anything that will encourage those Poles who've left to move home.

The EU could encourage Poland to open its borders to hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Ukraine (a large Polish population), Russians and other non-EU E. Europeans. But, if Poland opens its borders to all those young, skilled Ukrainians, etc. where will Ukraine get people to replace those? Ukraine's population is already falling at a rate of .6% per annum. How many more young, skilled people can Ukraine afford to lose?

Murdering black pudding

Remember last month when I declared that I enjoy black pudding. I didn't think that was too odd a position until I read this:
Black pudding is about as carnivorous as it gets - fresh pig's blood and ox intestines go into a Lancashire speciality which was narrowly edged out by tripe and jellied eels in a recent survey of the dishes which the British find least palatable.
That simply cannot be true? How could people dislike black pudding so much that it's even included in the same sentence as jellied eels and tripe? Those people included in that survey don't know what they're talking about.

So, now we have a vegetarian version of black pudding. This is more palatable?
The Real Lancashire company's owner, Andrew Holt, explains how he substituted the meaty elements - blood, fat and ox intestines - of the pudding. We tried to make a liquid which would simulate the properties of blood and get the right colour as well. We used beetroot and caramel for the colouring, with GM-free whey and soya powders for the protein.
It definitely is NOT.

It me

I get the whole spam motivation. Basically, spammers are trying to seduce you with their promises of, well, money and women I guess. Seduce isn't the right word, however. There's really no subtlety, no seduction. It's a continuous bombardment in the hope of finding that one little weakness - it might be just a moment - when something in the look or the language just catches you wrong and you follow the malevolent instructions.

So, this is what I don't get. If you're involved in spamming as your life's work, shouldn't you at least try to ensure that you're using English either correctly or as it's spoken? For the past week I've been inundated with messages (over 300 a day) that have as their subject "It me {a name}". "It me?" Does anyone say this? Is there really even the vaguest possibility that any English-speaker anywhere would take such an e-mail seriously?

I know I should be grateful that they've made it so easy for me to filter out these messages, but the gross stupidity of that subject line is really annoying me.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


France last used the guillotine in 1977. I wouldn't have imagined that they were still using it until so recent a date. Interesting tidbit (& photograph from 1929) from this article about the differences in opinion between Eastern and Western Europeans on the issue of the death penalty.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Ireland is "strange"

I love this quote from a Bulgarian woman living in Ireland in an article in today's Washington Times .
"It is very strange, is it not?" said Chris, who spoke only on the condition that her real name not be used. "In most countries in the world, the men chase the women, but in Ireland it is the women who chase the men."
I think I'll just leave it at that for fear of getting in some serious trouble.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


I'm not sure they're great works of literature, but I enjoy the historical novels that have come from the Shaara family. Michael, the father, was a better writer than his son Jeffrey, but I read his books. I just finished reading Michael Shaara's Killer Angels. Before that I read Jeffrey's Gods and Generals and now I'll probably read Jeffrey's The Last Full Measure, which rounds out the "trilogy". {It's a little odd that Jeffrey decided to write a prequel & sequel to his father's novel, isn't it?}

Killer Angels won a Pulitzer, but to be honest I don't see a huge difference in quality between that book and all those written by Jeffrey. None of them is great literature, but if you're too lazy to read a history book you'll get something of what motivated those who fought on both sides of the American Civil War (War of Northern Aggression, anyone?).

Like I said, not great literature. Everyone is ridiculously noble and if you like your characters well-rounded, forget about it. But, so what? I think the books are enjoyable, which really is all that matters.

{I'm taking a break from Wagons West - about life on the Wagon Trails in the 1840s - because the book is just too damn dull. I expect I'll finish it before Christmas, but there is simply way too much detail here. You'd have to be a fanatical wagon trail enthusiast to enjoy this one.}

I don't want to be in the Dáil

A few minutes ago I happened to see a television showing today's (I think) proceedings from the Dáil. I have no idea why that was on that television, maybe whoever had it on just forgot to take it off when Knot's Landing finished. God knows.

Anyway, a tall, pleasant-looking white-haired man was speaking. I have no idea who he is or what he was saying, but just listening to his cadence and his droning voice made me glad I'm not an elected representative. Then his mobile phone started ringing and all us viewers were treated to that buzzing noise you sometimes get when your cell phone rings near the car radio or while you're already on a different phone. Simply television at its finest.

Russian invasion

According to today's New York Times, Russians are coming over the border to take jobs in Latvia that are being left undone thanks to the thousands of Latvians who have moved west since the country joined the EU. (These people are ignoring the "Don't go to Ireland; we need you" ads the Latvian government is running.)

I find this all very interesting. Latvians are uneasy because there is a large Russian minority (nearly 30% of the population) in the country left behind when the USSR collapsed and the Latvian government has been doing all it can to force these Russians to "become" Latvians. The last thing the government and many Latvians want are more Russians in the country.

Yet, the economy is doing well and employers need workers. So, you have illegal immigrants coming from Russia & Belarus. The numbers don't seem to be too large now, but that could change.

What happens if the Latvian economy really takes off over the next few years? Sure, Latvians may stop coming to Ireland, but a quick look at the demographics of Latvia indicates that they will need immigrants even if their young people stop 'going to Ireland'. It seems inevitable that most of those immigrants will be Russian-speakers, but this could cause a lot of strain in Latvia.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Do as I say, not as I do

Cardinal Martino of the Vatican says that the US proposal to build a fence along the Mexican border is "inhumane". I wish I could understand why someone building a fence around their property is "inhumane".

I know it's obvious and many have said this already, but doesn't the Vatican have a fence (okay - a wall) around it? I live in a country where every single single small garden is surrounded by a fence or a wall. Are all these landowners behaving inhumanely? Nearly all Church properties are surrounded by walls or fences. If fences and walls are inhumane shouldn't the Church start with its own properties before criticizing others?

And, what exactly is "inhumane" about a fence along the border anyway. I can understand the arguments that say such a fence will be ineffective or is unnecessary, but "inhumane"? That makes no sense to me. If a fence is "inhumane" then surely so are border guards and immigration officials. Those people are supposed to protect the border from unwanted intrusions, which is what the fence is supposed to do.

I've been trying to figure out what's going on here because this is one of the more bizarre interventions from the Vatican. Does the Cardinal believe that those who break the law (illegal immigrants) have a right to do so? If yes, I think that conflicts with the catechism's teachings on authority and the "rule of law". If not, what's his problem? The US is not closing off legitimate cross-border traffic with the proposed fence. The US is not preventing people from leaving the country (unlike the Berlin Wall which he references). There is no question that the fence will be entirely within the borders of the United States (as recognized by both Mexico and the Vatican). So, again, what's his problem?

We (don't) apologize for the break in service …

The News Letter just does not treat its web site well. Its web site has not been updated since November 3. This is not the first time they've given their web site some time off.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Embasssy upgrade

Well, color me surprised. I had to go back to the embassy today for another child's passport. Okay, the security is still really annoying, but I couldn't get over how friendly every single person was. Cheerful, even. Is it possible that the American government has been asking embassy staff to be more upbeat, helpful and considerate? And, the whole process was quick too. If it wasn't for the $82 I might have even enjoyed it.

If there's one thing about spending a few minutes in the embassy that I like, it's the selection of magazines. I found one from the Civil War Preservation Trust with a nice article about Fighting Tom Sweeney from Dunmanaway, Co. Cork. There was also a magazine there called Latin Mass. Not sure why it was there, but it was. Thanks to the efficiency of the embassy staff, I didn't have time to check it out.


The colors in the trees this year are great. I don't remember ever seeing so many bright colorful leaves here before. Must be all that dry, warm weather we had this summer and fall. Usually the leaves turn a sickly yellow before being blown off the trees after a day or two.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The fountain pen of wisdom

Yesterday I read about a school in Edinburgh that still insists that its students use fountain pens. (I know of one school here that does the same.) Bryan Lewis is the school's head and he says:
Learning to write in fountain pen not only results in beautiful presentation but also has the not insignificant bonus of developing children’s self-esteem.
I'm not too sure that a fountain pen boosts a child's self-esteem in a way that a ball-point pen wouldn't. Lewis sees the decline in hand-writing as just another manifestation of the decline in education.
Lewis believes handwriting is just one of the skills that has suffered as a result of the "progressive" teaching approach introduced in the 1970s.

"Modern teaching methods overwhelmed the curriculum in the late 1970s and early 1980s," he said. "They proved to be no more than an excuse for the lowering of standards of basic literacy and numeracy under the guise of freedom of expression.

"From that time generations of children were no longer taught to write properly, to recognise the importance of spelling, to read with expression and understanding and to master numbers."

Lewis claims that Scotland's school children are "reaping the whirlwind" of the liberal education ethos.
I don't buy it. I'm willing to go along with him on grammar, spelling and reading skills, but hand-writing isn't in the same league. I'll grant him that's a good discipline, but not necessarily related to the use of correct spelling and good grammar. So long as a kid masters basic legibility that's all that should matter. Everything else is demanding for the sake of being demanding.

US elections - good for us / bad for us

Yesterday's Sunday Business Post editorial made a small attempt at sobering up its Irish readers after Tuesday's euphoria.
Whatever about Bush’s discomfort, there are dangers for Ireland in last week’s results. Specifically, there is now a grave danger of an outbreak of economic protectionism in the United States. Many Democrats campaigned with an old-fashioned economic populism that may work well on the stump, but is not a tool for government in the age of globalisation.

One of the Democrats’ champions, Sherrod Brown of Ohio (a key swing state in presidential elections), has even written a book entitled Myths of Free Trade: Why American Trade Policy Has Failed. So the mood in the new Democrat-controlled congress will be worth watching.

This country has reaped enormous benefits from freer global trade (and from the visionary leadership of Bill Clinton in this regard) and from smart domestic taxation policies that have made it very attractive for American firms to do business here.

Free trade and American investment have brought hundreds of thousands of jobs to Ireland, lifted us out of poverty and brought us wealth undreamed of a generation ago. Gratifying and all as it is to see Bush’s nose tweaked, let us hope that the newly-empowered Democrats do not turn their backs on the free trade policies that he inherited and continued.
The Business Post should take some time to lecture Irish farmers and food processors. From today's Irish Examiner:
The success of the Democratic Party in taking control of both houses of the US is being seen as good short term news for food processing and farming in Ireland.

It is likely to further delay any world trade agreement which both sectors fear would include radical cuts in farm supports.

Stalled talks on a new agreement were expected to be revived in the aftermath of the US mid-term elections, having collapsed in Geneva last July over the crucial issue of agricultural subsidies.

Abacab redux

Maybe it's just me, but I honestly have trouble thinking of more than one person who I knew who was a BIG Genesis fan. I mean, really, aren't their songs just the background noise you remember hearing on those radio stations you turned off in a hurry?

I thought that Genesis's success in the 80's was just … I don't know … inexplicable. I just can't imagine 60,000 people packing a stadium to hear No Reply At All, Misunderstanding, and Invisible Touch again.

They're calling it the "Turn It On Again" tour. Is this really necessary?

Sunday, November 12, 2006


I drove through a Garda checkpoint yesterday. Nothing too unusual about that. I've been through far too many in the past. Usually they're checking for up-to-date tax and insurance. A couple of times during the summer of 2005 I was stopped on the M50 by armed police who were clearly trying to do something about the spate of kidnappings at the time. (Probably have to do something like that again).

Yesterday, was different. Most of us drivers were simply waved through, but the Gardaí had about 7 or 8 cars pulled over. Every single car had license plates from another EU state. Is there a crackdown on all those E. European cars that are on the roads here?

It's pretty obvious that most of those who own E. European-registered cars are not just visiting, which means they should be taxing and insuring those cars here. Taxing and insuring those cars in Ireland will make them a much less attractive proposition.

I don't have a problem with this as it does seem that E. Europeans are involved in a disproportionate number of fatal crashes here. In fact, it's not far from what I wanted done back in May.

Kerr for the US job

I was watching Brian Kerr on Tubridy Tonight last night and the thought occurred to me that the US Soccer Federation should make him the national team's manager. I don't know that Kerr is a great manager, but he is a character. I can actually imagine him getting a lot air time on sports programs, etc. because he's such a great interview. He would certainly help US Soccer in the PR department.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

For your listening pleasure today …

Johnnie, get your gun,
Get your gun, get your gun,
Take it on the run,
On the run, on the run.
Hear them calling, you and me,
Every son of liberty.
Hurry right away,
No delay, go today,
Make your daddy glad
To have had such a lad.
Tell your sweetheart not to pine,
To be proud her boy's in line.

Over there …
A great collection of music from World War I. Simply fantastic stuff. You can listen to the songs on recordings that date from the war itself. Nora Bayes, John McCormack, Eddie Cantor and many others. This is the kind of web page that makes the internet so great.

And, from NPR, a short snippet on the fourteen living American WWI vets. The youngest is 106 years old.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Not vengence, justice

Iraq's National Security Advisor, in Belfast on a fact-finding mission, gave a sharp "back off" to those who want Saddam spared from the death penalty.
Dr Mowaffak also hit out strongly at those who have disagreed with the death sentence on Saddam.

He said: "These people are interfering with justice in Iraq. This is not about retaliation or revenge. This is about implementing justice. It was an Iraqi trial on an Iraqi accused, applying our law. This is not American or British or European law. It is Iraqi law."

Dr Mowaffak also said that it was not "an eye for an eye.

"This is an eye for millions of eyes," he said.
I don't know. I guess I figured nobody would actually try to lecture the Iraqis on this one.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


I'm sort of surprised that the media here has not really mentioned the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger won easy reelection last night. Arnold's not my type of Republican, but it looks like he's a pretty good politician.

Beyond the pale in Tipperary

Tipperary Councillor Michael Fitzgerald has uttered words so reprehensible, so utterly fantastic that all right-thinking people are condemning him, practically calling for his head. But, are the right-thinking people right?

Councillor Fitzgerald essentially suggested that a seasoned drinker in a rural area could drive safely after 3 or 4 pints. He claimed that young 'boy racers' are the real threat on the roads, not old guys having a few drinks in the local.

To be honest, I'd never drive after 3 or 4 pints. In fact, these days I'm wary of driving after half a pint, but I would like to know if there are any facts that might support Councillor Fitzgerald. I've often thought to myself that people should be held responsible for how they drive, not necessarily whether they've been drinking. At the same time, I've seen a lot of stupid behavior by drinkers - all ages - so I'm not really opposed to the drunk driving laws.

Mid term fall out

First of all, I'm mildly disappointed by last night's results, but it doesn't hurt the way what happened on Oct 19 hurt.

It will be interesting to see what effect yesterday's vote has on Iraq and foreign policy generally. I suspect it will be a lot less substantial than people like Joe Higgins are hoping. My sense is that those Democrats who have 2008 Presidential ambitions will not be loudly proclaiming defeat by urging withdrawal, but rather they will want to push the White House towards a winning strategy.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Gas prices

Well, no, I didn't mean what I'm paying at the pump, although I have to admit it's nice to see prices of unleaded below the €1 per liter mark. Keep it coming down. We need to warm the Earth even more because …

The price of natural gas has exploded. I know it was in the news a while back, but it's when you get your own bill you really see it. What was 2.994c per KWh (.26c per m³) is now 4.005c per KWh (.35c per m³). That's a 33.4% increase - Yikes. {Oops - it's a 33.8% increase.)

{Memo to children: prepare to don another sweater because when winter finally hits it will be cool in the house. As for showering, let's cut back on that too.}

Election coverage

It simply amazes me how much coverage the mid-term elections are getting on this side of the Atlantic. I can't believe people care that much, but if that's what the print, radio and television news people want to focus on that's fine with me. I enjoy it. It just seems that Americans don't care that much if you consider that about half of the eligible voters won't bother voting today.

The Clash in Taiwan

The editorial in today's Taipei Times provides a clue as to the editor's favorite Clash song. President Chen is under pressure due to a corruption scandal. The headline on the editorial? "Should he stay or should he go now?"

Monday, November 06, 2006

There is a downside to global warming you know

That's right. I know, I'm a spoilsport, but as we enjoy another ridiculously warm and sunny November day I want you to understand that there is a price to pay for all this. Yes, the grass has to be cut in November.

This weekend when I should have been holed up in my living room watching miserable sports fans on t.v. and miserable passing pedestrians wrapped up against the rain, wind and cold all I could see were people in tee shirts and the occasional light cardigan. What fun is there in that? And, to top it off, I had to cut the grass in November. Dreadful.

Note to Tesco

For the mathematically challenged at my local Tesco, going to great lengths to let me know that you've reduced prices by a fraction of a cent is not a winner with me. All sorts of fruit & vegetable packages have stickers noting that you "save .50c" or "save .40c". Yippee.

Not the New York I know

One small part from a long article by SDLP councillor Martin Morgan caught my eye.
No one street in most parts of New York is the exclusive reserve of any one group and no single shop has only one colour or nationality of person working or shopping in it.
Okay, I don't live in New York these days, but I figure there are still ethnic neighborhoods in New York. And, I have to imagine that there are still all sorts of retail businesses that are pretty much the exclusive domain of one group/nationality.

… hang by the neck until dead

Saddam has been found guilty and sentenced to death. According to today's Irish Independent, Europeans have "reacted with deep unease" to the sentence. What are they uneasy about? Are they afraid that the wrong man will be executed? Or is it that they think hanging is too good for Saddam and that they'd prefer a ritual disemboweling or maybe drawing and quartering? And, which Europeans are opposed to Saddam's hanging? I doubt they're Romanians or Bosnians or any of those who know what it is to live under a tyrannical regime.
"This is very far from our ethics and the political tradition of this country, no matter how cruel the crime is," said Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi.
Far from the political tradition of Italy? Yeah, I guess, if 61 years defines "far". I wonder what Prodi thinks about the treatment Mussolini received in April 1945?

Saddam should have been executed long ago. I don't think anything positive has come from the long, drawn-out trial.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


I never realized until today that a child saying "eeeuww" was adopting an Americanism. Not everyone is happy about the Americanization of Halloween here.
Peanuts are out, it seems, as are apples, walnuts, hazelnuts and any other fruits of the autumn season. We searched their bags again, but could find nothing that had ever been alive. When these youngsters call at the neighbouring doors, they don't say, "any apples or nuts?" as we used to when we were nippers. They prefer the American catchcry of "trick or treat?".

They have also adopted the American custom of lighting their house up like Wembley Stadium and disembowelling pumpkins with murderous energy.
Lighting the house was not a Halloween custom when I was a kid, but I guess it may have become one over the past 20+ years. Clearly, many people here taken to it with gusto.

SF violence

I heard on the radio the other day that Halloween night was very violent in San Francisco. What did they expect considering that this was the first Halloween since the Charmed Ones retired?

Friday, November 03, 2006

October has come and gone

Julia Kushnir's lawyers must not have been able to act as quickly as they'd hoped. In June we were told that they "hoped to get an early hearing for the cases in the High Court, possibly as soon as next October". November now and I haven't seen anything about this in any Irish newspaper, so I'm guessing nothing has happened so far.

It's now more than a year since Liam Lawlor died and still nobody (from the press) has had a face-to-face interview with the only survivor of the car crash that killed him. I can't believe I'm the only one who thinks she might have some interesting details to offer on Mr. Lawlor.

'Because I'm worth it'

"I think the salary is sufficient for the job we do. We wouldn't be paid more than a carpenter or electrician". The salary is "sufficient" as far as Noel Dempsey is concerned. I guess he doesn't feel that our public representatives are underpaid at more than €100,000 per annum.
The average basic wage for a TD reached exactly €100,000 this year, and next year it goes up to €103,500. The Dail will only sit for 97 days this year – though that is five more than last year. If that sitting ratio continues in 2007, TDs will pick up €1,070 per sitting day.
Uggh. And, sometime in the not-too-distant-future we'll read/hear one of our 'sufficiently-salaried' TD's moan about the hours they work, etc. What I especially love is how they go on and on about how it's "out of our hands" meaning that it's an All-party decision to overpay our representatives.

(Pardon me now while I go scream in a sound-proofed room.)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

South Africa's mortality rate

Sorry, I just realized I left that South Africa reference hanging there below. The reason I brought that up is because the mortality rate in S. Africa in 1991 was 8/1000 and now it's 22/1000. In 1991 births outnumbered deaths by 4.25:1. Today deaths outnumber births 1.22:1. What a tragedy.

I still believe dismantling the Apartheid regime was the right thing to do, but if post-Saddam Iraq is a failure after 3.5 years, then what about post-Apartheid S. Africa after twelve years?

On Iraq

I have more to say about Iraq than the posts about the Johns Hopkins studies. I just love playing with numbers.

I actually don't think that even if that study is completely debunked that changes the fact that (a) Iraq is a mess and (b) the Bush administration must change what it's doing. More later.

Birth & death rates

One other thing about those Johns Hopkins figures. In 2002 the CIA estimated Iraq's population at 24m (July '02). Today the CIA estimates that Iraq's population at 26.7m (July '06). If the Hopkins figures are an accurate representation of the Iraqi population (1474 births, 629 deaths, 12801 people over 4.5 years), then the overall population growth should have been around 1.4m (total population 25.4m), which would leave Iraq's population well below the CIA's July '06 estimate of 26.7m. Even stranger is the Hopkins study includes an estimate of 26.1m (not sure as of when) for the total population, which is well above where projections using their statistics should have had it.

{Please check my figures. I could have missed something as I've sort of rushed these calculations.)

Mortality rates

I was thinking about the "mortality rate" statistic that was used by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health for their examination of Iraqi death rates. The mortality rate is simply the number of deaths per thousand people in a given society.

Perhaps the most curious aspect of the Johns Hopkins study is that the pre-war mortality rate in Iraq was 5.5 deaths per thousand, which is also the CIA's pre-war estimate. What makes that estimate so hard to grasp is that before the war we heard so much about how Iraq's civilian population was suffering thanks to the sanctions regime. Yet, a death rate of 5.5/1000 is significantly lower than the mortality rates of the United States (8/1000), Ireland (8/1000), the UK (10/1000), or Germany (10/1000). It seems odd that Iraq's death rate would be so much lower than that which prevails in W. Europe or the US, but the population structure has a big effect on mortality rates and 'the west' is a lot older than Iraq (and the rest of the Middle East).

Anyway, the Hopkins information is based on Iraqi government statistics, which are also the source of the CIA's numbers. However, the current Iraqi government statistics (& CIA) figures estimate the death rate in Iraq at around 5.4/1000, while the Hopkins study puts the rate at 13.3/1000. Obviously, one of them must be wrong.

Another curiosity is that the Hopkins study "recorded 1,474 births and 629 deaths among 12,801 people surveyed". That gives a ratio of 2.34 births for every death. The CIA ratio for 2006 is just 5.995 births for every death (the CIA's estimate for the ratio in 2000 was 5.475). Another substantial discrepancy.

By the way, South Africa's mortality rate is 22/1000 (same as in 2000), which is far worse than the Hopkins estimate for Iraq.

Latin players & positive tests

The NY Times article about Mota's positive test informs us that Latin players are more likely to test positive.
Mota fits the profile of players suspended in 2006. Of the 39 who tested positive this season, 26 were from Latin America. Breaking down the 39 suspensions by position, 26 of the players were pitchers. Mota joins the Mets' Yusaku Iriki and Jason Grimsley, who had been released by Arizona when he was suspended, as major leaguers penalized since the punishment for first-time violators increased to 50 games from 10.

The number of positive tests has plummeted since last season, a sign that the tougher rules are deterring players from taking performance-enhancing drugs. In 2005, 93 players, including 12 in the majors, violated the policy. Of those 93 players, 44 were from Latin America. Broken down by position, 46 of the 93 violators were pitchers.
I wonder if these sorts of statistics could be used by the government to tighten the rules regarding visas for ballplayers from Latin America. It could be argued that these ballplayers are taking jobs that could (would) otherwise by done by Americans.

Positive test

I know I said that this post would be the last time I mentioned the Mets for months, but yesterday's news that the Mets' Guillermo Mota has failed a drugs test changed my mind. At the time the Mets acquired Mota (Aug. 20) they were already 14 games clear of the field and cruising to the post-season. Nothing Mota did in the final six weeks changed the final standings.

However, he was an instrumental member of the team during the playoffs. He wasn't outstanding by any measure, but he did get some key outs. If the Mets had actually gone on to win it all, I can't help thinking that their title would have been tainted by Mota's positive test. I'm sure most Met fans would not agree with me, but I'm kind of relieved that the Mets didn't win the World Series this year.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The new Halloween

I can't get over the effort people are making for Halloween these days. I've been going door-to-door for twelve years now. When I first started making my rounds, people were generally handing out a mixture of apples, nuts and sweets. Nowadays, very few people hand out nuts or fruit. Kids don't want it, so most people give out little chocolate bars and other little candies, which is what we got when I was a kid in New York.

The treats aren't the only change. Loads of folks are going to great effort to decorate their houses, some even add sound effects. Many adults are wearing costumes too, whether they're trailing along after the little tricksters or manning the fort. Back when I first started going around with my oldest, I felt like something of a pioneer - an adult who had participated in the 'new' Halloween as it was in Ireland at the time. Now I'm the stick in the mud who spurns the costumed look and insists on wearing a coat and sensible shoes.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Favorite Clash song

If someone asked me to name my favorite song, I'd be hard-pressed. My answer to such a question depends on my mood, the time of day, the season, the weather, whatever. Still, if someone pinned me down and forced me to proclaim one song as my favorite Clash song, it would be Lost in the Supermarket. At least, that's the answer I'd give today.

The Observer asked a few well-known people what their favorite Clash song is. Two votes for White Riot, which might have been my answer at a different time of day/season/etc.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Detention for the Minister

I love Brenda Power. Okay, love is a little strong seeing as I've never met the woman and am unlikely to. And, when I hear her on the radio something about her voice puts me off. But, when I read her columns on Sundays, ahhh …

Today she punishes Minister Hanafin for failing to do her homework. The whole column is worth reading, but I figure I can't quote the whole thing here. So, here are some snippets.
If it wasn’t for the students, their pesky parents, their inconvenient lives, their outlandish expectations and their utterly selfish residential preferences, we’d be able to enjoy the education system that is within the power of the education minister to provide.

If only we arranged our communities to yield neat homogenous class sizes across the country then the problem of overcrowded schools, for a start, could be solved overnight.

If only we didn’t allow the trivial distractions of work and mortgages and commuting distances to influence our life choices, we’d be far more considerate consumers of the education system.

… Despite not having access to the minister’s private intelligence on this matter I very much doubt that families moved to Newbridge because they fancied a superior quality of bathroom decoration. I doubt they even did it with the pig-headed intention of completely and freakishly derailing the minister's carefully drafted projections, although this is what she clearly suspects.

And to suggest, as Hanafin did, that the families moving to Kildare are just well-heeled flibbertigibbets, trampling all over the local infrastructure on a passing design whim, is hugely invidious and unhelpful.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Sergeant York

Lt. Col. Douglas Mastriano believes he has found the exact location of Sergeant York's heroic sweep down on German trenches in WWI. Mastriano has been researching this for six years and thanks to a large find of empty Colt .45 cartridges he believes he has all the proof he needs to be sure he has the right place.

York led a team of 8 that killed a couple dozen Germans before another 132 had had enough and surrendered. The legend has it that York captured all those Germans alone, but that's not the official record.

Of course, it's the legend that inspired Hollywood. If you haven't seen the 1941 movie Sergeant York, you should. It's great fun. I particularly love the early part of the movie before York is drafted.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Just noticing

Ever since I read that article about the EU's intention to wipe out the old style measurements, I've been taking note of those products and services still using inches/pounds/etc.

Two examples I saw yesterday: pizzas - generally still sold based on the size of the diameter in inches and rubbish skips, rental price determined by how many cubic yards the skip is. And, as Brendan helpfully pointed out in the comments, there are one or two people still using the pint as a measure in this country.

Stay where you are, the school's full

You know you've been in a job way too long when you're damning the citizens who vote you in because you're not capable of solving the problems you're supposed to solve.

The Minister for Education damned a lot of parents with these remarks:
"I really wish parents who are choosing to move house within term time would make arrangements for their children to be in a school at the beginning of the term."

She added it was "entirely unacceptable", in the educational interests of their children, that parents "checked out the colour scheme in the bathroom of their new house but would not have found out if a place was available for a child within a school".
Look, Minister, you're the one who's in charge of this excessively centralized education system so it's your fault if you can't move resources around sufficiently quickly to ensure that those areas that are experiencing rapid growth can have schools that grow with them. And, I don't remember hearing you say anything about decentralizing funding and control of education, so it's not like you can claim any "I told you so's" here.

People choose to move for all sorts of reasons. They buy a house that suits their budget, work, family-size, and, yes, taste. Often they don't have much choice about when they move. The state's monopoly on education (and don't talk to me about the Church, the Church has almost no say these days in building or staff numbers) means it's the state's responsibility to provide schools and teachers where people live.

For the Minister to condemn parents because they choose to live where she'd rather they didn't is an indication that arrogance and hubris are now setting the tone in the Department for Education.

Black pudding

Black pudding is something I've liked since I first came to Ireland in the mid 80s. Maybe it's fortunate that I found out what it was after I found out that I liked eating it, but knowing it's a 'blood pudding' hasn't put me off one bit.

Today's Washington Post reports that these scrumptious 'treats' made from animals' blood are even rarer today in American butchers' shops than they were 25 years ago, and they were pretty rare then. For what it's worth, I highly recommend the black pudding and blutwurst and would be willing to try most - maybe all - of the other national dishes made from blood.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Come Ye to Ireland

FÁS is advertising for people to come live and work in Ireland on the New York City subway this month. Thanks to Eddie for this picture, which shows the FÁS ad.

I had meant to say something about this last week, but that event about which nothing more will be said knocked it right out of my head. The reason this was on my mind, if only fleetingly, was because the New York Times reported on last week's FÁS jobs fair. According to the Times, more Americans moved to Ireland than vice versa last year. Quite a turn-around. When I first moved here people used to say that Boston (or the Bronx, take your pick) was the 33rd county. How long before I can claim that Ireland is the 51st state?

There isn't a whole lot to say about this, really. Ireland's got a booming economy so it's hardly a surprise that some Americans want to come try their luck here. I just wonder how many Americans at the jobs fair are hearing about the property prices here. I don't know what a middle of the range family home in the suburbs of New York might cost these days, but anyone moving to the Dublin area better be ready to fork out at least €600K or around $750K (and a lot more if they don't want 60-90 minute commute).

The Sunday Independent had a short piece this weekend describing how a New York area real estate agent was shocked to find out that top of the line properties here go for a lot more than they do in the New York area. Is it possible that the family home prices are also a lot higher here?

That's 84¢ you won't be getting back

Last week I cast my ballot in the elections for the U.S. Congress. On the same day the ballot arrived I received an election flyer from Sam Pitcheralle, who is running for Saratoga County Treasurer. Unfortunately for Sam, I'm not entitled to vote in any local or state elections so his flyer and postage (84¢) were wasted on me.

I hope for Sam's sake he doesn't find himself short of funds as the election winds down or he may regret all those letters to overseas citizens who are only entitled to vote in Federal elections.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Arrogance, ignorance & opulence

Yes, I'm getting old, but that doesn't mean I'm wrong. I still believe that a large number of the under 30s in this country are a let less gracious/considerate/intelligent than those who were under 30 twenty years ago.

Maybe this is a never-ending complaint, I don't know. I guess it's possible that if I wait another twenty years I'll believe that those who are under 30 in 2026 are less gracious/considerate/intelligent than those who are under 30 today. Maybe.

Anyway, I had another encounter with an arrogant under 30 jackass on Saturday at the local service station. He jumped into the space for the air pump ahead of me despite the fact I was waiting long before he arrived. His answer when I confronted him was, "What? You want me to wait?". (Seriously, that's what he said.) Of course, he was driving a smart, expensive-looking sports car. Money & ignorance - a lethal cocktail that too many seem to be drinking these days.

The only upside to the incident was that I was so angry that it took my mind off that recent event about which I'm saying nothing more.

Give em an inch . . .

Three years from now it will be illegal "for any products made in or imported into the EU to carry any reference to non-metric measures". Illegal simply to make reference to pounds, ounces, inches, etc.?

This is exactly the kind of excessive control that makes so many people absolutely despair of the EU. What purpose is served in banning service station air pumps from listing the PSI measurements for air pressure? How long will it be before it's illegal for someone like me to ask for a pound of steak or to talk about suit sizes in terms of inches?

Then there are the simple practical concerns of businesses that want to export from the US to Europe and vice versa. These sorts of changes are easy enough to deal with if you're a mega-conglomerate transnational corporation with vast resources to devote to new packaging and warehousing, but if you're a small Irish company selling boxes of hand-made chocolates, for example, such a law change can mean the end of selling to the US market and, possibly, the end of the line. What possible benefit does the EU derive from this?