Monday, July 31, 2006


I'm sure it's just my imagination, but it seemed like every time I turned on the radio this weekend I heard a member of the Green Party talking about the Middle East, Israel, the US, etc. It's always that "Israel is to blame; America's to blame". Always.

I read this article by former German Foreign Minister & Green Party member Joschka Fischer twice to make sure I wasn't missing the overt anti-Israel slant, but it's not there.
The war in Lebanon is not a war by the Arab world against Israel; rather, it is a war orchestrated by the region's radical forces - Hamas and Islamic Jihad among the Palestinians, Hizbullah in Lebanon, together with Syria and Iran - that reject any settlement with Israel. Conflict was sought for three reasons: first to ease pressure on Hamas from within the Palestinian community to recognize Israel; second to undermine democratization in Lebanon, which was marginalizing Syria; and third to lift attention from the emerging dispute over the Iranian nuclear program and demonstrate to the West the "tools" at its disposal in the case of conflict.

… Israel has a key role to play here. Twice, it withdrew its troops unilaterally behind its recognized borders, namely from Southern Lebanon and Gaza. Both times, Israel's land-for-peace formula resulted in land for war. Now, with Israel under threat, peace with its Arab neighbors seems a more distant prospect than ever.

Yet today's war in Lebanon can open up a new opportunity for peace. The sooner the guns are silenced in Lebanon the better. But let's not forget the war's starting point: the clash within Hamas over whether to recognize Israel. And let's not forget the attitude of moderate Arab governments toward this war and to the hidden intentions of those who sought it.
Why is it no one in the Irish Green Party ever expresses anything even vaguely as reasonable? I'd love to ask John Gormley what he thought of Fischer's article.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Who is Floyd Landis?

I didn't know the name until a few days before he won the Tour de France. Of course, now he's all over the news thanks to his having tested positive for unusual levels of epitestosterone.

This pre-Tour Washington Post profile is interesting. Landis comes from eastern Pennsylvania and was raised in a Mennonite community. Cycling was his escape.
Bike riding was freedom, the most freedom he had ever felt. And, as he found when he was 16 and won the first race he ever entered, he was awfully good at it.

Cycling was also a way to put his growing frustrations with his family's lifestyle behind him.
If Landis can put this scandal behind him (and that seems unlikely) there's a film in his story.
Landis long ago reconciled with his parents. In 2004 they took their first trip overseas to witness the peloton racing up a peak in the Pyrenees. There the route was clotted with screaming, liquored-up, flag-draped Basques, who had poured in from Spain by the busload. Amid this rowdiness, clustered together in their high-necked frocks and crisp white bonnets, sat Landis's mother, Arlene, and three of his sisters, holding up a hand-painted banner. On it was the modest assertion: "We Support Floyd Landis."
I just don't understand why he would have taken drugs. Surely he must have known he'd test positive. And, if he didn't take drugs, is it possible to duplicate the effort he put in on Stage 17 and then test him again? Is there any possible natural explanation?

Anyway, Simon Barnes of the Times (London) says the sport of cycling is finished.

Psalm 83

What is it about some people that they can't take an archaeological find (admittedly an exciting find) without seeing some message from God in the find? Well a day or two later and the National Museum throws cold water on all the message from God stuff by bringing some cold facts to the case.
However yesterday, before it all got out of hand, the director of the National Museum, Dr Patrick Wallace, issued a statement saying the text visible on the manuscript found in the bog does not refer to the wiping out of Israel but to the "vale of tears".

"This is part of Verse 7 of Psalm 83 in the old Latin translation of the Bible [the Vulgate] which....would have been the version used in the medieval period.

"In the much later King James version the number of the psalms is different, based on the Hebrew text and the 'vale of tears' occurs in Psalm 84.

"The text about wiping out Israel occurs in the Vulgate as Psalm 82" which equals Psalm 83 (King James version), he said.

"It is hoped that this clarification will serve comfort to anyone worried by earlier reports of the content of the text," Dr Wallace added.
No one is 'comforted' by this, but those who should be discomforted have been.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Freedom of the city

I missed the discussion on Newstalk106, but apparently a Dublin City councilor has suggested that the five anti-war protestors should be given the "Freedom of the City". Now if this was a reaction to the five's pledge to 'close Shannon' - competition for Dublin Airport - then I'd think, "Well that's hardball, but that's business", but that's obviously not the thinking behind the suggestion.

I'm working on the assumption that this won't go anywhere.

'We'll close Shannon'

One of the five anti-war protestors acquitted on Tuesday has vowed to close Shannon Airport if that's what it takes to end US military flights use of the airport.
"We would use tactics like blockading, trespass, occupation of the runway, appeals to the workers to go on strike and appeals to churches to organise around this issue. We're only limited by the power of our own imagination now."
That's as good a definition of 'emboldened' as I've ever seen.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"Lawful excuse"

I'm trying to understand yesterday's verdict that found that the five anti-war protestors were not guilty of "causing damage without lawful excuse to a naval aircraft". Obviously the 'lawful excuse' is the key seeing as the protestors admitted damaging the aircraft at Shannon.

So, what I'd like to know is what this 'lawful excuse' clause is and in what circumstances it can be applied? I have to figure that all US military planes and other equipment at Shannon are now not protected by the law. Are armed guards necessary to prevent further damage? Just how safe is other US government property in Ireland (e.g. the US Embassy). Could someone set fire to it and claim 'lawful excuse'? I really don't understand this.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

God's Army

I only read this article from the Sunday Times (London) last night. If Amir Taheri is to be believed Hezbollah is way beyond what I'd imagined.
Even if we add the cost of training Hezbollah fighters and equipping them with hardware, Hezbollah (the strongest fighting force in the Middle East after Iran and Israel) has not cost Iran more than £1.3 billion over two decades.

According to Naim Kassem, Hezbollah’s number two, the party has an annual budget of £279m, much of which comes from businesses set up by the movement. These include a bank, a mortgage co-operative, an insurance company, a travel agency specialising in pilgrimages to Muslim holy places, several hotels, a chain of supermarkets and a number of urban bus and taxi companies.

In its power base in southern Lebanon, particularly south Beirut and the Bekaa valley, it is possible for a visitor to spend a whole week without stepping outside a Hezbollah business unit: the hotel he checks into, the restaurant he eats in, the taxi that takes him around, the guide who shows him the sights and the shop where he buys souvenirs all belong to the party.

Hezbollah is a state within the Lebanese state. It controls some 25% of the national territory. Almost 400,000 of Lebanon’s estimated 4m inhabitants live under its control. It collects its own taxes with a 20% levy, known as “khoms”, on all incomes. It runs its own schools, where a syllabus produced in Iran is taught at all levels. It also runs clinics, hospitals, social welfare networks and centres for orphans and widows.
It's unpalatable, but Lebanon is not sovereign nation. Hezbollah is more powerful than Lebanon's army, which explains why Israel had to act. Lebanon could not.

Bless me Father for I have sinned

The Church of England Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, says that flying away on vacation is a "symptom of sin". On the one hand this is just silliness because surely there are all sorts of consumer choices that we make that could be called 'sins'. Is it more 'sinful' to fly to the south of Spain (or wherever) than it is to drive 250 miles with your wife and child for your vacation? Which is a greater waste of natural resources?

What I find interesting, however, is the obvious divide between Catholics and Protestants on this. The Protestant Bishop calls flying on a holiday a sin, while the Catholic Church actively works to organize tours to Lourdes, etc.

I guess I'm happy to be Catholic in this instance because I don't feel any need to add extra categories I need to cover when I'm examining my conscience, but if the Catholic Church went along with the Church of England on this it would provide little kids with an extra sin they could confess to. It can be daunting for the 7-10 year-old Catholic to try and think of something other than "I used a bad word" or "I disobeyed my parents" when in the confessional. Imagine how happy a kid will be to be able to add that he "failed to walk lightly upon the Earth" because he went to Spain with his family.

Monday, July 24, 2006

A billion viewers?

Bord Bia (a branch of the Irish government) claims that one billion people will watch the Ryder Cup this September. Hmmm. I'm pretty sure that's a slight exaggeration. I've heard similar figures thrown around a lot, but I'd love to see a more accurate assessment. My guess is that the audience will be closer to 20 million (5 million in the US, 8 million¹ in the EU and 7 million the rest of the world), but I can't find any stats to support any estimate. I hope Bord Bia didn't pay for the rights based on an audience of a billion potential Kerrygold customers.

¹Even this is, I'm sure, an exaggeration seeing as the Ryder Cup is on a subscription channel in the EU (or is it just in Britain & Ireland?).

No nuclear power here, thanks

I saw this while I was away and forgot about it until now. Low level Radiation may not be as harmful as scientists once thought.
Mike Repacholi, of the World Health Organisation radiation programme, said: "“People hear radiation, they think of the atomic bomb and they think of thousands of deaths. They think that the Chernobyl reactor accident was equivalent to the atomic bombing in Japan, which is absolutely untrue."”

… The main negative health impacts of Chernobyl were not caused by the radiation, but a fear of it, he said. "“We know that there were low doses of radiation received by a large number of people. We don'’t want to minimise the effects but we also know that the fear and anxiety about radiation was a much greater factor and it'’s this fear which has caused a huge number of health complaints that have overloaded the healthcare system."”
This sort of stuff has been in the press for a while now. I mentioned it last September, but still I hear the name Chernobyl almost in any of the recent debates about nuclear power in Ireland. There's an almost hysterical reaction to the very idea of nuclear power here.

A few weeks ago the Environment Minister, Dick Roche, tried to claim that the electricity we source in the UK will not be generated by nuclear power. Surely he must have thought about the feasibility – what? the British electricity generation companies are going to transfer the electricty bound for Ireland using a separate transmission system? – before he uttered such drivel? If he didn't it's because he knows that to be seen as even allowing nuclear power-generated electricity into Ireland is a mortal sin and he wanted to disassociate himself from such a grave error.

A few years ago there was a postcard campaign (paid for by the government, I think) to try and compel Tony Blair to shut the Sellafield nuclear power plant. The sentiments expressed in that campaign are part of the school curriculum here. The very idea of being pro-nuclear power is so preposterous that teaching kids that nuclear is bad is just fine. It will be at least a generation before there is even a possibility of building a nuclear power plant in Ireland.

Save Rattlebag

I mocked, but there's an online petition to save Rattlebag.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Rednecks, racists and NASCAR

What is it about some people in the Irish media? They're never happier than when they're putting down 'middle America'. I wish I had heard the interview referenced in this unattributed column from today's Irish Independent. The writer essentially says that NASCAR fans are KKK wannabes.
If the [Joe] Louis fight was one step forward, the craze for NASCAR racing looks sadly like two steps back. The NASCAR league's detractors jibe that the acronym stands for Non-Athletic Sport Centred Around Rednecks, and the number of Confederate flags flying suggest a widespread romantic attachment to the good old days when blacks knew their place.
Maybe he was just trying to be funny and failed. I don't mind redneck jokes as a rule, but the writer seems to consider the very existence of people in 'middle America' as a source of amusement.
The NASCAR circus looks disturbingly like a mass cloning experiment involving The Dukes of Hazard which has gone horribly wrong. Moving us ever deeper into the mental heartland of Cletus The Slack-Jawed Yokel, the star drivers rejoice in names such as Greg Biffle, Chad Blount and - yeehaw! - Travis Kvapil.
Obviously, just saying the name Chad Blount is hilarious.

I'm sure there are some NASCAR fans who are racist, but I feel pretty confident saying that the percentage of out and out racists at any NASCAR event is dwarfed by what the writer would find at an average European soccer game. That's what's so annoying about this sort of thing. An Irish columnist feels the need to denigrate a large section of the American population despite the fact that he needn't look so far away to find examples of rednecks or racists.

Bruton & books

I'm guessing that the demands on the EU Ambassador to the US are not as great as the demands on the leader of the opposition in the Dail. Today's Irish Independent has another book review by John Bruton. It's not even a month since the Independent published a review by Bruton. I'm not sure if he's written any others this year, but he clearly has some spare time on his hands.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Canadian Paranoia

In yesterday's column, Jude Collins discusses the state of US-Canada relations. He reproduces this quote without providing any context.
"The acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighborhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching, and will give us experience for the attack of Halifax the next, and the final expulsion of England from the American continent." –Thomas Jefferson, speaking in 1812.
Here's the context: (1) Canada was not in any way shape or form an independent nation at the time, but part of the British Empire. AND the United States was in (or about to be in) a state of war with Britain at the time; (2) Jefferson was not the President at the time, Madison was; (3) Jefferson often walked that fine line between genius and lunacy.

I don't blame Collins for reproducing this quote because he got it from the pages of a Vancouver newspaper (I couldn't find the reference) that is obviously in the mood to stir up some self-hating in Canada because the new PM referred to President Bush as "the President" while Bush referred to Prime Minister Harper as "Stephen". (Bush is wrong on this and should use the appropriate titles. Bush's forced folksiness drives me nuts.)

There does seem to be some small segment of the Canadian population that loves to labor under the illusion that their evil neighbor is just salivating at the thoughts of annexing Canada. Again, a small segment, but a nutty one (and all nations have a nutty segment of the population).

Thursday, July 20, 2006

MP3 players are bad for your ears

Read all about it, MP3 players can make you deaf. Says so in today's Irish Independent.

I wish I could find the reference, but I'm certain that I saw almost this exact same argument made in the NY Times 25+ years ago when the Sony Walkman became the 'must have' for every teenager. {I still have the Walkman I bought in 1982 and it still works. My children find it a source of amusement.}

The Independent also tells us that, "Y[oung] people who listen to MP3 players too loudly and too often run risk of going deaf 30 years earlier than their parents". But, their parents will be going deaf 30 years earlier than their grandparents thanks to all those hours with spent with the Walkman, so it seems to me that the average 20-year-old today will be going deaf 60 years before his/her grandparents went deaf. That should be just about now.


I've been trying to work out exactly what's going on in Lebanon. I really feel like we're still in the dark on this one. There are a lot of people who say that Israel has 'reacted disproportionately' to the abduction of its soldiers. I guess that would be true if Israel was solely reacting to this one action by Hezbollah. My sense is that this was more like the straw that broke the camel's back.

I pretty much missed the first week of everything that was happening - vacation etc. - but I find it hard to believe that Israel's only going to bomb Hezbollah targets for a week and leave it at that. They must be planning to invade - even if only to round up as many Hezbollah members and their weapons as can be found. Why else would they be trying to cut off the Hezbollah-controlled south from Syria and the rest of Lebanon? It makes no sense to bomb them for a week, but allow Hezbollah to remain in place.

Also, Hezbollah is Iran's ally (at least - probably more like a branch of the Iranian military) and Iran's President has not been shy about his desire to see Israel wiped off the map. That's pretty provocative in my book and no action could be disproportionate when a nation is facing a powerful enemy that wants to wipe it off the map.

Therefore, I reject the notion that Israel has acted 'disproportionately'. Whether it has acted wisely is, however, another question. We won't know that answer for a while.

Summer of 1914?

I've seen a few references to the possibility that we're heading towards a new world war and how current events may be playing out just as they did in 1914, but I don't have that sense at all. I presume a regional war is a real possibility, but I don't think there's any chance that anything even vaguely like the First or Second World War is erupting.

Now, if you believe that the Cold War was really World War III, then I think a case can be made that the battle between the west and the forces of militant Islam could become something of a 'World War', but nothing that's happened in the past week has really changed that formulation. The most you could say is that another battle in that war has begun.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Money for elite athletes

I know I've said this before, but spending any money on elite athletes so that they can win medals or whatever is so wrong as to be almost sinful. Why should taxpayers fund athletes? Why? What benefit does this bring the nation? Listening to George Hamilton wax lyrical when some Irish athlete gets a silver medal at the World Championships is insufficient recompense for even one penny of my money.

Scrap the Irish Institute of Sport and build decent playgrounds around the country. Or make it less expensive for kids to play sports (I know it costs around €180 per year for one kid on a basketball team). Or, even better, give me back my money so I can choose how I want to 'contribute to Irish sport'.

PE does no good in fight against obesity

Another blow to those who want to blame 'the government' or 'school' for the fact that so many children are overweight. According to this study, children who have fewer hours of scheduled Phys Ed will compensate outside of school. Kids are getting fat, but the 'government' is not to blame nor are the schools.

Controlling what children eat is not easy today when there's such an abundance. But, it has to be done. And, getting them to get out to run around, ride bicycles, etc. is also not automatic when there are so few other children to play with. And, too many kids are not allowed out to play because so many parents (& especially child-minders) are so worried about the dangers outside the home. But, these fears must be overcome and kids must be allowed out to play.

With zero scientific evidence to back me up, I firmly believe these are the primary contributing factors in the rise in childhood obesity. None of these is easily dealt with. There are no simple solutions.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Yesterday's editorial in Daily Ireland referred to Ireland as a member of the UN Security Council. As soon as I saw that I thought to myself, "That was a while ago, wasn't it"? So, a few clicks and 30 seconds later and I was able to establish that Ireland's no longer on the Security Council and hasn't been since 2002.

I guess I just don't understand how such a mistake could be made when Google makes it so easy to check such basic facts. And, given that the whole editorial is built around the presumption that Ireland is still a member of the UNSC I guess I'd have imagined that this would have been confirmed before the editorial made it to print.

Monday, July 17, 2006

World Cup wrap up

I didn't see as much of the last 10 days of the World Cup as I had the first few weeks. I missed one semi-final and most of the final (although I saw it later on tape).

It was sort of interesting watching the coverage on ABC/ESPN.

I know people from this side of the ocean get annoyed at the commentary and in a lot of ways I don't blame them. Using terms like PK's for penalty kicks, rather than 'penalties' as used more often here, is not a big issue for me. (PK's is better than the increasingly common 'penos', which I really hate. You know, "Becks scored a peno".) It sounds odd if you're used to the BBC or RTE or whatever, but that's all. No, what really annoys me is that the commentators never SHUT UP. They just keep talking. Their voices never stop.

On the plus side, the US commentary team had no problem talking about the bizarre decisions by the European producers to show slow motion replays of players drinking water or coaches waving their arms, which seem to be part and parcel of any soccer broadcast.

The Zidane thing has been done to death, but still, what was he thinking? I was talking about this with friends last week and we couldn't come up with one instance of a top-of-the-line player being dismissed from any major championship game in any major US sport. The closest I could come was Roger Clemens in Game 2 of the 2000 World Series when he should have been ejected for throwing a broken bat at Mike Piazza.

From the fire into the frying pan

Back in Ireland, leaving upstate NY behind to swelter. However, it's pretty warm here too.

Had a good break, including the highlight of the doubleheader at Shea. Mets lost the first and won the second, which was as much as I hoped for heading to the ball park.

I presume I'll get back to Shea once or twice in the next couple of years, but still it did occur to me that it might have been my last time there (new stadium due in 2009). Like most Met fans I have a love/hate relationship with the place. Cold as hell in the spring & fall (especially where I usually sit - way up), essentially character-less and generally filthy, but still it's the place where my best (& worst) baseball memories were made. I'll miss it when it's gone.

Most of the rest of the trip was relaxing at Lake George, but I did drag the children to the Saratoga battlefield, something I've been threatening for a while. I enjoyed it, but really it should be a lot better. It's nowhere near as interesting as a visit to Gettysburg, but it should be at least close. We also went to Cooperstown.

I took some pictures while away, but it seems my camera is heading for the scrap heap. The focus doesn't work right all the time - too many blurry photographs. None of my pictures from Cooperstown came out.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Off to Shea

Tomorrow I'm heading to Shea Stadium to see the Mets. Of course, they aren't playing as well lately. Happens regularly. Tomorrow I'm getting two games (for the price of one - Yee-haaawww). A few weeks ago I was counting on two wins, but right now I'll settle for one.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Roundabout heaven

I did warn them, but of course they didn't listen. Roundabouts now seem to be taking over parts of upstate NY only a short while after their first appearance. Yesterday, I had to negotiate 4 in less than a mile on Rte 67 in Malta, NY.