Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Child benefit allowance

I hadn't thought about this before, but the child benefit system is ripe to be ripped off - B I G—T I M E. The government pays €460.50 each month to the parents (the mother, generally) of any family with three children. If you have a child under 6, you get an extra €1,000 per year. This money is not taxed.

This is the government's way of helping parents cope with the costs of raising children. There are essentially no tax breaks for children.

Fair enough, I guess, but if you've moved here from Poland or Latvia, that's a tidy sum each month. Now, if the Latvian family is living in Ireland then there is no issue. However, Fine Gael claims that €150m in child benefit payments will leave the country as many E. European workers here have not relocated with their families. This is all legal and how the system was designed.

However, what's not mentioned is how easy it would be to go on collecting the child benefit payment even after the worker has returned home. You only have to claim every six months and the cost of the flight will be far less than the payment.

I can't think of any way the government could easily prevent this, unless they start paying visits to the homes of E. Europeans who have registered for child benefit. And, if they find a house with 7 Polish men living there, how will they know that one of them is or is not the one whose name appears in the benefit book? This could get ugly. You have to bear in mind that wages in Latvia, Poland, Lithuania, etc. are LOW. {The average Lithuanian hotel worker earns €237 per month, for example.)

Burning the flag

According to this morning's Times there were demonstrations and flag burnings in Islamic countries yesterday. Ambassadors have been recalled and boycotts are under way.

The flag they're burning is the Danish flag. Yes, Denmark's flag. Sort of hard to imagine in many ways, but apparently this all goes back to some cartoons that appeared in the Danish newspaper Morgenavisen Jyllends-Posten back in September. The Saudis want the Danish Prime Minister to apologize, but he has refused. It actually sounds serious.
The Danish Government warned its citizens about travelling to Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Syria, and withdrew aid workers from the Gaza Strip.

Last night EU foreign ministers issued a statement in support of Denmark, and the European Commission threatened to report any government backing the boycott to the World Trade Organisation.
Now, I understand getting a little ticked when some wiseacre takes a poke at your faith, but there does seem to be a lack of proportion here.

Anyway, it seems the editor of the Jyllands-Posten is a tad uneasy about it all and has published an almost surreal letter to (the) Honourable Citizens of The Muslim World. (What? Do Muslims come from Vulcan?)

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

A copy of the The Da Vinci Code landed in my lap over the weekend. So, I started reading it and I was surprised (and not just by my willingness to damn my soul for all of eternity). No, I guess I was under the mistaken impression that it was a good work of literature. It isn't. The prose is pretty bad, although I'll admit to being well short of a knowledgeable reviwer of literature.

It's sort of a cross between a travel guide and a John Grisham or John Le Carre novel, although I don't think it's as good as Le Carre's best work. It's fast-moving and exciting, which is fine by me, just not what I expected. I can't understand why there was so much fuss about it.

Wrong headline

Here's part of a headline from this morning's Guardian: "In baseball, a 'triple threat' is someone who can pitch, catch and run". And, here's part of the first paragraph from the same article:
Baseball has a great phrase for this kind of multitasking: such people are known as "triple threats". In baseball, though, triple threats are rare gems: men who can catch, hit and run brilliantly, making them the perfect player.
How on Earth did the editor come to substitute "pitch" for "hit"? Was it too difficult to follow those two sentences?

Friday, January 27, 2006

'Don't worry, Granny can look after herself'

According to the latest figures from the state of Louisiana, 71% of those who died due to the effects of Hurricane Katrina were over 60 years old. 85% were over 50. As a rough reference, according to the 2000 census, 11.7% of the total population was 65 or older.

The race issue was a red herring, because the age, and not the race, breakdown was always where the real story was. This may sound harsh, but I'd love to know how many people didn't bother to go get Granny and/or Grandpa when they were high-tailing it away from the storm? Over 700 people aged 60 and over are dead. How many of them had younger relatives near-by who evacuated before the storm hit?

Sure, the government - all levels - has to take some responsibility, but I can't shake the feeling that America is reluctant to face up to the fact that many people simply don't really care that much about their mothers, fathers and grandparents. I bet if Katrina had hit Mexico or India or Bangladesh, the death toll may well have been higher, but not so disproportionately elderly. Outsourcing your parents' medical care is one thing, but it seems like some Americans have outsourced love and concern for them as well.

Burning waste

According to the CSO there were 1,287,958 households in the state in 2002 (latest figures) housing 3,791,316 people. Recent estimates say that the population is now closer to 4.2m which, if we use the same percentage increase, would give us approximately 1.43m households in the state.

Bear that in mind.

The Department of the Environment "estimates that up to 60,000 tonnes of waste is being burned illegally in backyards every year". 60,000 tonnes, which is 60,000,000 kg (132m lbs).

Is it really possible that the average household is burning approximately 42kg (92lbs) of garbage each year? I sincerely doubt it.

I don't burn any garbage in my yard, which would mean my neighbors would have to be picking up my share. Yet, as far as I can tell, none of the 200 houses within "smelling distance" of my house is burning any waste. So, are there entire neighborhoods picking up the slack for my neighborhood? Are there vast housing estates where most people are burning their waste on a regular basis? I doubt it.

If we assume that no more than 10% of all households are burning waste in a single year (and that is a gross over-estimate, I believe), that would mean that each of the waste burners is burning 420kg of waste per year (at a very rough guess, I'd say that's got to be near 25 full kitchen-size bags of garbage). Is it really possible that people could get away with burning that much waste? And, what if my 10% is way off (as I believe) and it's closer to 2%? That would mean each burning household would have to burn more than 2,000kg of waste per annum. That doesn't seem feasible to me.

So, I've got to ask, does the Department of the Environment know what it's talking about at all?

NOTE: I'm not very good with the metric system, so if I've messed up one of these numbers please let me know.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

No such thing as bad publicity?

Apparently that old adage doesn't hold water in the tourist trade, at least as far as Bundoran, Co. Donegal is concerned. The most recent edition of the Lonely Planet travel guide describes Bundoran as "one of Ireland'’s tackiest holiday resorts, a kitsch assortment of half-baked fairground rides, flashing arcades, fast food diners and overpriced B&Bs". Funny enough, that's exactly how I remember it (only the ocean is right there, which is really nice), but I haven't been to Bundoran in at least 8 years or so.

I just heard on the radio that Bundoran Town Council may sue Lonely Planet for libel. All I can say is 'good luck to them', but they should bear in mind there is always a possibility that they could lose. A jury of Irish people may well agree with the Lonely Planet.

I should add that Bundoran as I remember it is not unlike Bray, only without the overriding sense of menace that descends on my town with nightfall.

Day off for the BT?

The Belfast Telegraph's web site never published the January 25, 2006 paper. The 24th and the 26th are there, but the 25th is missing. Even web sites need days off, I guess.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Bad day for George

We've all had bad days, but right now George Galloway is in the middle of what seems to be the 'mother of all bad days' - one lasting about 40 hours or so. Yesterday morning, a team from the British Serious Fraud Office returned from a trip to the US "with what a source close to US investigators calls 'thousands of documents'" relevant to the oil-for-food scandal. The SFO will be producing a report in 4 weeks, which may recommend criminal proceedings against Galloway (among others).

Then last night Galloway exploded at his fellow house mates in Celebrity Big Brother. After he settled down, he sulked, reading the Communist Manifesto. (I recommend reading the whole article here - I'm sure Karl Marx is rolling in his grave.)

Today, Galloway "faces ruin" if his previous victory over the Daily Telegraph in a libel suit is overturned. As well as having to return the £150,000 he won in the suit, he may have to pay the £2m in legal costs. And, to top all of that off, he will almost certainly be evicted from the Big Brother house tonight, after which he'll find out all the other things going on in his life, including the fact that he's now the subject of a fatwa issued by Omar Bakri Mohammad.

A few scotches might be in order tonight, George. Someone please keep him away from the gun cabinet.

UPDATE 11:30 - Galloway avoided "ruin" today, the Telegraph lost its appeal. Next up, avoiding eviction. And, a nice picture of Galloway with one of the indefatigable one's sons (Uday) was published today.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Zorn to Largent

No, I'm not a big football (gridiron) fan. It wasn't always the case, however. I used to live and die with my favorite team.

For reasons that I can't quite explain myself, I was never a fan of either of the two New York teams, the Giants and the Jets. For a while I was a fan of the Minnesota Vikings, but I adopted the Seattle Seahawks shortly after they arrived on the scene.

They weren't very good, but they were unpredictable, exciting and always flirting with being good. And, they always beat the Jets, which was worth a lot to me in my high school days. I went to high school wearing Seahawks tee-shirts and a (probably somewhat unsightly) green-blue-silver Seahawks jacket sent to me by my Aunt in Seattle.

I loved the Seahawks in those days, particularly Jim Zorn & Steve Largent. On February 5 the Seahawks will play the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl. I know virtually nothing about this Seattle team, but I'll be rooting for them. Just, well, it would have been so much better if this had happened in 1982.

Monday, January 23, 2006

New Look

I see this sort of post on other blogs from time to time. Usually the person in charge of the blog has decided to go with a new look because (a) they can now do more with their site or (b) they just wanted a change. I'm in a (to me) new category this evening. My blog has a new look and for the life of me I can't explain why. I haven't done anything, but my site looks completely different to me in Firefox (my browser of choice). However, things look more or less the same in IE and Opera, so you may not see anything odd. Or maybe it's just me. Who knows?

UPDATE: Okay, everything appears as normal again this morning. Anyway, Ed tells me this is the most boring post ever, which is an accomplishment in its own way.


In October 2003 I claimed that an increasingly isolationist America would be the end result of failure in Iraq, if that came to pass. I still believe that, but now I believe it's inevitable, even if Iraq does come good.

Peter Beinart of believes it too. He cites statistics showing a growing isolationism in America.
In the past year or so, however, it has grown increasingly clear that while Sept. 11 merely intensified an old mood, Iraq is producing a new one. Public isolationism has jumped sharply since 2002. Even more striking is the change in elite opinion. According to a recent Pew study, the percentage of security experts who say the United States should be highly assertive around the world has dropped from 75 percent in 1993 to 53 percent today. Among leading scientists and engineers, it has dropped from 55 percent to 32 percent. Among top religious leaders, it has fallen from 57 percent to 36 percent.
Some of the rest of Beinart's column seems a bit far fetched - I don't think there's much of a connection between the reaction to the Miers nomination and isolationism - but I think he's on the right path overall.

Two readings on celibacy

I'm sure there are thousands of documents I could read that would provide me with the same information, but I enjoyed these two that I found this afternoon: one on the history of celibacy and the other on the spirituality of celibacy.

Thoughts on Celibacy

Despite what I wrote below I'm not really opposed to allowing priests to marry. Here are a few things that ran through my head over the weekend.
  1. Scandals: Eliminating celibacy will not reduce the number of scandals involving priests. We'll just have different scandals. Instead of priests breaking their celibacy vows, we'll have priests violating their marriage vows. I figure that it'll take about three weeks from the end of mandatory celibacy before we have the first tabloid headlines shouting that 'Fr. Murphy has left his wife and 3 children to run off with his 22-year-old lover'. Human nature is what it is. And, we'll still have child sex abuse scandals, only these will involve priests and their own children. However, I do believe that the systematic failures with regards to child sex abuse would have been less likely to have occurred if there had been married priests. Any sane father would have demanded that his Bishop recognize that these abuses are nearly as serious as murder from a parent's perspective.

  2. Loneliness: The media loves anything to do with sex and any person or institution that tries to swim against the tide in our sex-soaked culture is inviting scorn as far as the newspapers, etc. are concerned. Sex is only a small part of the celibacy problem, however. Loneliness is a much bigger issue. A priest's life has always been lonely, but it's even lonelier now. There are fewer priests around and many live alone. And, thanks to the scandals and changes in society priests are less involved in the lives of Catholics today, other than maybe with the elderly. Priests are no different than anyone else - they don't want to spend all day, every day talking only to people over 70. They want to be involved with people of all ages.

  3. Vocations: It seems logical to assume that allowing priests to marry will lead to an increase in the number of priests, but it's not going to be automatic. The Church will still need to go out and attract men into the priesthood. Sitting back, waiting for men to hear 'the Call' is simply not good enough any more. I've said before that the Church is not trying hard enough to find new priests. It's a noisy world; some men might not be hearing 'the Call'. Allowing married priests is not a solution to this problem.


I used to love the West Wing, but it really has gone down hill the past few years. I'm not surprised it's been canceled. RTE has only just started showing the last season, but it's pretty clear that they don't hold it in high regard because the series returned with no build-up whatsoever. I only stumbled on to it last week.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Outing Fr. Dillane

On a related note to my post below, why was Fr. Dillane's name (and his girlfriend's) in the media at all? For Catholics this is a scandal, but for the secular media this is nothing more than destroying a couple's privacy for a little tittle-tattle excitement.

This couple's relationship is less of a public interest than would be a relationship between a university lecturer and his (or her) student. Maybe we should name those people because that's a public scandal in our state-funded universities. Maybe we should hear about the relationships among those in the media, particularly those that involve senior and junior staff members?

Celibacy debate opened (again)

Every time a priest is found to have abandoned his vow of celibacy the media begins the "we need married priests" chorus again. The argument is always the same, the Church is losing good men due to the celibacy commitment. Although I rarely have the feeling that too many of Ireland's journalists are overly committed to the Church, that doesn't seem to stop many of them from ensuring that only one viewpoint is presented during these "debates".

This week it was all about Fr. Maurice Dillane, who has left his parish to be with his 'girlfriend' and their new baby. The Irish Independent assures us that "there has been an understandable massive outpouring of public sympathy" for Fr. Dillane. This "outpouring" took place over the air waves, which, of course, does not mean that a majority of Catholics in Ireland are all that sympathetic to the 73 year old priest. Maybe they are and maybe they aren't, but radio phone-ins are not representative of anything.

"Many of the callers to those radio phone-ins said that priests should be allowed to marry, that the Church's strict rule of celibacy may have to be questioned".

How many of them are weekly Mass-goers who pay their share towards the up-keep of their local church and the salaries of the priests (and other Church employees)? And, how many of those would be willing to hand over a substantial chunk of change to fund the priests' families?

Oh yeah, there are consequences, but these are never mentioned when the papers/radio shows get into one of these frenzies. How will people feel when their priest separates/divorces? They'll have to pay up to meet his maintenance costs too. Consequences of ending the vow of celibacy - the great unmentionable.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


What a conundrum? On the one hand, I'm drawn to the ostrich in the sand approach. I have a strong isolationist streak in me. Iran is a problem for Israel, Sunni Arab states and Europe more than it is for the US. Let the Europeans handle this one seeing as most of them were none-too-pleased with how Iraq was handled by the US. Long before Los Angeles is within reach of President Ahmadinejad's nukes Athens, Berlin and Rome will be inside Iran's range. Europe needs to resolve this now, but the US can probably wait, at least a little while.

Unfortunately, if Ahmadinejad's public utterances are taken seriously, then not long after Iran's nukes are ready Israel will be in the gun sights. At that stage Israel will have a choice between annihilation or complete surrender. Not a happy choice, which probably means that Israel will HAVE to act before Iran's nukes are ready. How far away can that be? And, what will the consequences be? How will the Arab states react? What about Pakistan? Turkey? Indonesia? How strong are the bonds of the "Islamic world"? I guess we'd find out.

How bad would it have to get for the Israelis before they unleashed everything at their disposal? Just imagine what the reaction would be if a nuclear bomb explodes in Tehran or Riyadh or Cairo or Mecca?

So, I suppose as much as I'd like to ignore this one, it just can't be done. There seems to be little option other than preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Yet, there also seems little hope of achieving that. I don't think sanctions will have an impact. There probably isn't enough time to foster an internal rebellion to overthrow Ahmadinejad & the Mullahs. Air strikes will probably accomplish a lot, but at the expense of high civilian casualties and still we wouldn't be sure that we had knocked out their nuclear program. Invading Iran, toppling the regime and occupying the country just seems an impossibility.

And, if all of that weren't reason enough to be gloomy, we're still 72 days from the opening of the baseball season.

Saint Noam comes to town

Not unintentionally, I missed yesterday's on air celebrations of 'Bring a Noam Chomsky to work day' on Eamonn Dunphy's show. I haven't yet found any blog report on the big event. Chomsky, "perhaps the world's best known liberal intellectual", was in town to tell a gathering of his disciples that the US is a "leading terrorist state". Yet, he continues to live there. He is fearless; no - he's a martyr.

Clonycavan Man

Today's Scotsman has a picture of what Clonycavan man - one of the two bog men - might have looked like. I love his hair, although I don't see much gel there.

Disappearing "Blarney"

Yesterday when I first saw the NY Times article on Niall of the Nine Hostages, the headline read "If New York's Irish Claim Nobility, Science May Back Up the Blarney". Yet, sometime later that headline was changed to "If Irish Claim Nobility, Science May Approve". I wonder why they changed that? I'd love to imagine that it fell foul of their pc police.

I've left the original on the Newshound history page.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Spooking the paranoid

Ariel Dorfman made up a story about being detained by agents from the Department of Homeland Security at Miami Airport. He told the story to 2000 "intellectuals" at a forum. He told this story because he was trying to highlight the "contradictions of intellectual life in our times of turmoil". He apparently figured he'd put enough clues in his story - that is made it absurd enough - that everyone would realize it was a fabrication. He was wrong.
It finally dawned on me how deeply my fictional account of detention by Homeland Security had resonated with unbridled fantasies inside the heads of so many of my colleagues. I doubted any were about to be sent to Guantanamo Bay.
Great idea. Show up intellectuals for the self-obsessed loons many of them are, right? Well, unfortunately that's not what Dorfman wanted to do.
Yet there was no denying that my tale had tapped into a deep paranoia. If entirely rational men and women, experts in literary interpretation and ironical readings, believed me, it was because they had already imagined such a possible world. Not one of my friends and associates at the convention or afterward dismissed my tall tale as patently absurd. When I lamented the naivete of my sophisticated audience, the response was unanimous: I was the naive one.

Maybe they were right. My fraudulent yarn was apparently terrifyingly plausible in a country where citizens can be held indefinitely without charges, where wire-tapping without warrants is rampant, where the vice president defends the use of torture, and where the president invades another country under false pretences.
Gimme a break. Dorfman's logic is flawed where he assumes that these people are "entirely rational". What evidence does he have for that? That they're "experts in literary interpretation and ironical readings"? I think I'll need more than that, thanks.

Dorfman has done a public service by proving that many intellectuals are paranoid, egotisticalfantasistss even if he chooses not to accept this. If he had been speaking at a Star Trek convention he would have received a more rational response.

More children than you can shake a stick at

Two ancient history items to mention today. First, it seems that 4th century king Niall of the Nine Hostages is not just a myth. Not only did he apparently exist, but he has as many as 3 million descendants world-wide, according to a report from a Trinity College genetics team.

The other item is the recently reported find of two bodies dating back 2300 years. Both of the men had been murdered and were found in bogs. One man was wearing hair gel - "a little dab will do ya" must be an old Irish expression - and the other had manicured finger nails. The 'new man' ain't so new after all.

I love this bit about one of the two murder victims, "Oldcroghan man was preserved so perfectly that his discovery sparked a police murder investigation before archaeologists were called in". I can't help wondering how many of the "usual suspects" were shaken down before the Guards realized that the 'stiff' was over 2000 years waiting for justice to come calling.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

George! George, come back!!

You know, it never occurred to me that some people would be so upset at George Galloway thanks to his antics on Celebrity Big Brother. Oh sure, I presumed his constituents would be annoyed and that some of his more conservative Muslim supporters would be repulsed, but I didn't expect lump-in-the-throat, tears-in-the-eyes distress from anyone (other than, maybe, his campaign manager). Yet, that's what we have from the Irish Green Party.
Greens chairman John Gormley said the Respect MP is demeaning himself by behaving like a cat and arguing about cigars with fellow contestant Michael Barrymore. "Mr Galloway is a brilliant orator and campaigner but these talents are not on display on Big Brother. Galloway should cut his losses immediately and get out of this freak show," the Dublin TD said.

Mr Gormley also accused Mr Galloway of demeaning himself and discrediting the anti-war movement with his on-screen behaviour.
After reading that passage, I couldn't rid myself of the image of John Gormley as the young boy crying out after Shane in the last scene in the movie.

Abscam II

Back in the early 1980s the FBI set up a sting operation designed to catch politicians who would be accept money to do favors for an "Arab sheikh". The operation was known as Abscam in the media. Abscam sailed close to the wind legally and certainly the ethics of it were questionable. However, at least there was the argument that the intention was to root out corruption among powerful politicians.

Flash forward to January 15, 2006 and we have another powerful man caught out by a similar scheme. Only this time the man is Sven Goran Erickson, manager of England's national soccer team, and the sting was carried out by the News of the World and the intention was to catch Eriksson saying things he shouldn't have. The News of the World set up a false job interview for Eriksson with an "Arab Sheikh" in Dubai. And, what do you know? Erickson said some things that he shouldn't have.

First of all, almost nobody has taken account that Erickson was seeking a new job when he talked to the "sheikh". His employer knows he won't be in the position come mid-July, so I see nothing wrong with Erickson trying to line-up something new to do from mid-July.

Also, it was a job interview (as far as Erickson was concerned). Who knows if what he said is what he believes? He may have done what everyone else does - say what he thinks the interviewer wants to hear. Anyone who's ever gone for an interview can recognize that behavior. (And, based on what I've read, he hardly said anything that was Earth-shatteringly revealing.)

So, is this a big deal? Well, it is to my mind. It's 100% unethical behavior by a newspaper to set up such a sting. There was too little public interest (other than trying to destroy one man) and too much that smells of entrapment. I'd like to imagine that the public will shun this publication after this, but I'm pretty sure that's not going to happen. Almost none of the discussion I've heard has questioned the paper's methods. Eriksson's future is now in doubt, but not the paper's or the editor's.

Bullying & snobbery in modern Ireland

Actually, Brenda Power's article is more serious than my post below would lead you to believe. I think it's an excellent commentary on the coarsening of our society, its effect on children and the way people blame the technology whenever these sorts of incidents - bullying children via the web or mobile phone - make headlines.

In some ways, the issues surrounding the web site and phone text bullying are similar to the uproar over ratemyteacher.ie, which was such a hot topic last spring. Technology may be facilitating new techniques for the bully to employ, but the essence of bullying as described by Power in this article sounds pretty familiar to me. I doubt there's much that's new, although I'm willing to believe that the language is coarser and more sexually explicit than it would have been a generation ago. Snobbery and bullying are, unfortunately, familiar to anyone who's ever been a teenager.

Brown paper bag chic

If there was one item that I would have assumed would never attain 'cool' status, it would have been the brown paper lunch bag. I brought one to school pretty much every day from 4th grade until 12th (except when the school lunch was pizza).

Brenda Power informs us that the brown paper bag is now a must have in Dublin schools:
My 12-year-old daughter has informed me that when she starts secondary school later this year she will no longer need her lunch box. The fashion these days, you see, is to carry your grub in a brown paper bag.
Where's that picture of me (c. 1977) heading out to the bus stop with school books in one hand and lunch bag in the other?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Hey Mess, give me a call when you're over

It was great watching the ceremonies from Madison Square Garden Thursday night as Mark Messier's number 11 was retired. One of the gifts presented to Messier was a family trip to Ireland in 2006. So, all you hockey (ice variety) fans in Ireland, keep your eyes peeled for one of the game's greats and a true hero of New York sports.

Galloway on Big Brother

The only way George Galloway's decision to take part in Celebrity Big Brother makes any sense is if he knows that his political career is over. I suspect he sees the Oil for Food writing on the wall.

Friday, January 13, 2006

I cannot tell a lie . . . I was saving the Earth

George Washington was onto something. 260 years (give or take 10 or so) before Kyoto he was trying to save the Earth. He chopped down that obnoxious cherry tree to help clean the air.

Trees contribute "10 to 30% of the world's methane emissions". Just when I was going to abandon the car for the bicycle the easier answer of chopping down a few trees presents itself. Dairy farmers are happy about this too. Trees' emissions are far greater than cows'.

Seriously, if this is true and science has missed it until now, what else are they missing in those climate models? Planting trees was a key part of Kyoto, but now it seems that planting trees may not be such a great idea after all. Back to the drawing board, I guess.

We want it, so we'll take it

I can't say I'm a great believer in nationalizing privately owned assets. I can understand how in times of crisis some governments may nationalize key sections of the national infrastructure and I can understand why some basics, such as the provision of water, might have to be nationalized at times. There are other cases where I can see people making a valid case for nationalization.

However, I can't see how anyone could make the claim that nationalizing the television rights to a golf event is anything other than theivery. Yet, that's what the Irish government may well do - steal the assets of SKY television so that all Irish viewers can watch the Ryder Cup without having to subscribe to SKY.

I'm not a fan of golf and couldn't care less about the Ryder Cup. I won't be watching even if it's "free to air" (I love that phrase - does that mean I don't have to pay my license fee?). But, even if I was really keen to see the Ryder Cup, I'd recognize that what the government is considering is unjust and unjustifiable. You want to see the Ryder Cup? Get SKY, get to the pub or get over it.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Favorable view of America

Eighty-one percent of the Afghan people have a "favorable view" of the US. Based on prior experience I would expect this percentage to be in the high 40s by 2060.

Rooting for the bad guys

I'm reading "The Bad Guys Won!" by Jeff Pearlman. I could talk endlessly about the 1986 Mets - the subject of this book, but I'm not sure that this would be of much interest other than to one or two of you coming over from The Eddie Kranepool Society.

I loved that team even though I didn't love some of the players (Carter, Strawberry & Knight). The book doesn't just recount the season, but also provides a lot insights into what was going on off the field, which when you read about it makes the on the field success all the more remarkable.

Anyway, I think it's a great book - easy to read, funny and full of insights and memories.

EWTN & Chorus

Cable company Chorus is going to add EWTN to its offering in 2006, according to this late December article in the Irish Examiner. The article claims the station will be available to 200,000 homes, which must mean it will not be on digital cable only.

I get EWTN as part of my digital cable package from NTL. However, I'd be pretty sure that the biggest audience for what EWTN offers would be among older people, few of whom I'd expect to have digital cable. Making it available through the analogue service is a good idea.

To be honest I don't watch EWTN all that often. It was great to have it last spring when John Paul II died and Benedict XVI was elected. EWTN's coverage was simply fantastic, but the past few months I've rarely tuned in to the channel other than for special occasions - World Youth Day & Christmas. It doesn't help matters that they have prime time programming in German with no subtitles, but some of the Church history programs I stumbled on to were really well done.

Keep Cuba out

Roberto González Echevarría says that's exactly what should be done about Cuba's participation in the World Baseball Classic. His argument is that the players are slaves and that Cuban sport is racist. I like this column. I like how he uses the relatively unimportant issue of ballplayers' lives to illustrate greater truths about Cuba - it's run by a cruel dictatorship.

Yet, I think he's wrong. He's described the problem with Cuba very well, but the remedy shouldn't necessarily be with the government. If the American government bans the Cuban team, that will only serve to feed the 'Castro government's a victim' publicity machine.

It would be far more effective if the players and managers of the other teams recognized the truth of Echevarria's description and decided among themselves that Cuba should be barred unless their fellow ballplayers are treated with respect by the Cuban government and allowed to go abroad to seek the best competition. Yao Ming plays basketball in the NBA, why shouldn't Cuban baseball players play in the Major Leagues?

Bank charges

There's a lot of press about Ulster Bank's decision to scrap bank charges for its personal customers. The bank's made an announcement and the papers/television/radio news editors think it merits space/air time/etc. However, it's not twelve months since Ulster Bank scrapped free banking for its personal customers, which occurred with almost zero publicity. I know this is true because I was one of their customers who was stunned to find a large, previously unseen fee levied against my account when it happened.

Based on what I've heard, I'm unusual in that I keep close check on what the banks do with my accounts. I've caught them out on errors in their favor on at least four different occasions over the past decade or so. So, when they stealthily imposed fees on my account I was all over them. I called up enraged and hung up with an agreement that my account would remain fee-free. I got my fees refunded and haven't had to pay any fees for my checking account over the past year.

Why does the media play along with this nonsense? Surely there has to be at least one person working in the media who's aware of the fact that free banking was only recently abandoned by Ulster Bank and that this change of policy represents a climb down as much as anything.

Gibney in the US

Why is George Gibney still in the US? I've never heard that he's an American citizen, but I can't think of any other explanation that makes sense. That he abused young swimmers seems to be beyond doubt, even if the passage of time before the allegations surfaced allowed him to escape prosecution. If he's not an American citizen he should be deported yesterday, at the latest.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Talk about big brother

The Environment Protection Agency wants local governments to investigate those people who do not pay for their garbage to be collected. Are they kidding me?

I love government people. I can see the scenario now:
EnviroCop: Okay, buddy, you're coming downtown.
Me: For what?
EnviroCop: You know for what. Don't play dumb with me. You haven't paid your €400 to Greenstar.
Me: What? Of course not, it's an extortionate charge for 12 collections per year.
EnviroCop: You know you're going to get back that €100 - it's only €300 for your 12 collections.
Me: Oh yes, my mistake. Of course, you're forgetting about the cost of the use of the money for 12 months, which Greenstar keeps.
EnviroCop: Uhhh, what? Don't be smart with me. Now let's get down to business. What did you do with it? Where are you hiding it? We know you have it somewhere.
Me: Ahhhh, yes. What?
EnviroCop: What did you do with all that rubbish?
Me: Umm, I brought it to the dump.
EnviroCop: Have you got any receipts?
Me: No
EnviroCop: That's all I need. Book him, Dano, Enviromurder 1.

Rowing back

Okay, last night I decided to do a little searching to see what I could find about the expression "working like blacks" or "working like a black". As I said yesterday, I'd never heard the expression in the US so I wasn't sure what to make of it when I first heard it here.

What I found is that the phrase is not just an Irish one, but is also used in Britain - apparently arising out of the British experience in Africa. The use of the phrase by one of the contestants in the last Big Brother series caused some upset. It also appears in Madame Bovary, which means it was once probably common in France too. (Maybe still is?). It's also apparently fairly common in Latin America, in Spanish and Portuguese. Regardless, it's not considered a positive phrase, which means that the benign explanation I was given in the 80s was wrong.

I was wrong about the phrase.

I found two uses of it in the official Dáil debates records. Both by James Dillon of Fine Gael. First reference was from 1937 and the second was from 1959.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

"Working like blacks"

I don't remember where I was when I first heard that expression here, but I remember the explanation I got when I asked the man who used it what it meant. He told me that it was a reference to the fact that most men worked outside in the old days and those who worked the hardest got the darkest. The 'blacks' were those who worked the hardest of all.

I had no idea whether he was right or not. I was a twenty-year old student from New York and very tuned in to any racial overtones in language, which is why I asked. A few days later a woman described her son as 'black' from being out in the hot sun. The fact that the temperature was in the mid 70s and this guy was paler than any of my Italian friends in mid-January was irrelevant. He was no longer ghostly white and, therefore, 'black'.

'Black' is a relative term in a country where sunglasses are necessary at the sea-side so that the sun's reflection off the sun-bathers doesn't cause eye damage (and, yes, I fit in perfectly here on that score). And, although there are a fair number of black people in Ireland today, when I first came here there were, for all intents and purposes, none. I didn't see one black person during my three weeks here on vacation in 1985. Nor did Muhammad Ali, who famously asked where were all the "brothers" when he was here in 1972.

So, I was surprised by the minor ruckus caused by Mary O'Rourke's use of the phrase the other day. Some people would like Mary O'Rourke to apologize for her racial slur, which would be odd if the explanation I was given was correct. It would hardly make sense for O'Rourke to apologize to black people for using an old expression that really has nothing to do with black people.

Richard has followed this one closely and believes that O'Rourke has shown herself to be a racist in some of her interviews given subsequent to her remark. He may be right, but that doesn't necessarily mean the expression itself has anything to do with race. It may now be understood that way by a majority of the young, cosmopolitan, predominantly indoor-working Irish people, but that doesn't automatically mean the use of the phrase is a sign of anything other than the fact that the speaker may have grown up in a different Ireland. An Ireland where 'black' meant any shade darker than milk.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Porn Lingus

One thing that really annoyed me (and many other parents from what I was hearing) was the in-flight entertainment that Aer Lingus provided on our flight to the US. The movie was the Dukes of Hazzard, which even without sound was unsuitable for children. The movie was only a part of problem. Most of the rest of the programming that Aer Lingus provided - with no means of escaping the visual onslaught - was equally inappropriate.

I've never understood why airlines feel they must always show a recent release, no matter how bad it is, rather than an older classic movie. Given that we were traveling during the Christmas period, I don't understand why Aer Lingus couldn't have shown Miracle of 34th Street or some such movie.

Back after the break

Normal service should resume here shortly.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Winter Wonderland

On a break in northern NY. Great to see snow on the ground, but really it's been pretty warm. Outdoor skating isn't really possible. There are only a few inches of snow on the ground, which is unusual for early January.