Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Soccer players in the NFL

Today's Guardian discusses soccer players who played in the NFL. In my mind every kicker who played in the late 70s had adopted the "soccer style" and most seemed to be ex-soccer players. {The focus of the article was guys who had been pro soccer players, but it got me thinking about NFL kickers generally.)

Jan Stenerud started the "soccer style" craze, although Stenerud was actually a ski jumper (this seemed to get a mention once a season).

Efren Herrera and Garo Yepremian are two other guys who I assume were ex-soccer players who aren't mentioned in the article. I have no idea at what point in their soccer careers they abandoned soccer for the NFL, but these guys always seemed totally out of their depth when something came up that required that they perform as regular football players. (Although I do seem to recall that the Seattle Seahawks employed Herrera in a couple of trick plays where he had to catch a pass.)

I'm kind of surprised that the Guardian didn't mention Mick Luckhurst, who had a fairly successful career with the Falcons before he started annoying Irish soccer fans during the 1990 World Cup.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Career in childcare

Doireann O'Connor of Sligo Institute of Technology (SIT?) wants young men to consider a career in childcare. That's not going to happen, at least not in any meaningful way.

First of all it's not considered 'manly' work, which rules out a big chunk of the young male population. Is this right? Who cares? It's true.

Next, the fact that men no longer want to teach at the primary level indicates that (a) there are more desirable jobs out there and (b) men are no longer comfortable working with small children due to all the high profile pedophilia scandals we've heard endlessly about over the past decade or so. If men aren't comfortable teaching, what makes anyone think they'll want to work in a job where trust and transparency are more difficult to establish than in teaching?

Third, women don't trust men as much as they trust women when it comes to minding their children. Is this right? Doesn't matter; it's true. Sure a woman will often trust a man she knows well more than a woman who's a stranger, but when weighing up two strangers to mind her children, a mother will be naturally inclined to choose the woman. And, you know what? Fathers will feel the same way only more so. Whatever about women not trusting men, men really don't trust men in such roles.

So, if we have a shortage in childcare suppliers we'll have to (a) convince more Irish women to take up the job, (b) import more women to take those jobs on or (c) reduce demand for childcare.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Pinochet in Piccadilly

Okay, now I know a little more about Pinochet and Chile than I used to. A friend of mine loaned me a copy of Pinochet in Piccadilly (he warned me - left-leaning author, etc.) and I finished it over the weekend.

I thought it was all right, actually. The author, Andy Beckett, provides details of the links between Chile & Britain going back to the early 1800s. Some of it I found hard to believe - like his description of the fear in Britain of a Pinochet-style coup in the mid-70s - but mostly I thought it explained a lot about why Chile is such a hot topic in Britain (and here too, I suppose).

I'd still like to know more about Salvador Allende and his government and the involvement of the CIA/American government in deposing that government. Beckett mentions it as a given without providing any evidence or background. He also dismisses fairly lightly the notion that Allende's rule might have been or become like the centralized/totalitarian regimes that Marxists seemed to favor in the 70s.

{This 2003 article by Andy Beckett, on the Chilean "internet" from the Allende days is interesting.}

One headlight

I was driving along last night and I couldn't get over how many cars seemed to have a headlight out. I've noticed this before and I was wondering if this is a problem that is somehow getting worse.

I know it happens to all of us that we're driving along and suddenly a headlight will just go black or maybe the light just "blew" when the lights were turned on. You drive on because you have to get somewhere.

Now, my car's not particularly new so maybe there's something about changing the headlight bulbs in recent models that makes the job more expensive (€3 or €4) or time-consuming (10 mins max to replace).

I always change the bulbs as soon as I can (generally the following morning). Everyone else cannot be doing the same.

If a bulb lasts two years (my guesstimate) then every car will, on average, have one night per year with one headlight. That means that approximately 1 of every 365 cars should have a blown headlight on any given night. Yet, my own observation would be that it's closer to 1 in 20 cars is missing a headlight. What's going on here? Are people just not bothering to change blown bulbs?

Friday, January 26, 2007

I wonder if he'll get 100,000 welcomes in Ireland

"1st Lt. Sean Healy of the 2nd Infantry Brigade Special Troops Battalion is one of 12 American recipients of the George J. Mitchell scholarship. Healy will use the scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in International Securities and Conflict Studies at the University of Dublin."

Of course, congratulations to Lt. Healy, but I'd love to read about his daily/weekly experiences. The Echo or Voice should get him to write about his time studying in Ireland. I'm curious about the reaction he gets when he begins his studies next September at Trinity.

UPDATE Jan 29: According to this page, Lt. Healy is not going to Trinity, but DCU. And, Lt. Healy isn't the only West Pointer coming to Ireland in September on a Mitchell Scholarship. Erin Stevens will be studying Cultural Policy and Art Management at UCD.

100 year old Playboy

One hundred years ago today The Playboy of the Western World opened at the Abbey Theater. No, I'm not going to go all literary on you (because I can't), but I read this play in college and can still remember my answer to the first question the teacher asked, "What did you think of it?"

I put my hand up and said, "It's outrageous. I don't for one minute believe any group of people would celebrate a man who they thought had killed his father." The teacher then explained that when the play opened in Dublin in 1907 there were riots in the theater. "Good for them", I said. (I wasn't a shy student.)

He also explained that the language was at least as much a cause of upset as the plot. The word "shift" caused a firestorm. Needless to say my late twentieth century mind, saturated with all sorts of sexual imagery and language, had missed that completely. Besides, I didn't know what a shift was and the reference went right past me.

Anyway, I should probably read it again (number 3,653 on my list of things I should do). Despite the fact I found it "outrageous", I remember that I enjoyed reading it and got through it pretty quickly.

{And, no, I'm not in any way related to William Fay who played the lead on that famous opening night.}

Thursday, January 25, 2007

"Excess of youth"

The new Ireland is again the subject of an article in the New York Times, although today it's more about the population experiences of different countries in the EU. According to the article, Ireland "and a few other places" have an "excess of youth".

Maybe - I said maybe - there are regions inside other EU states that have "an excess of youth", but Ireland does not and it is the only EU state with an average age under 35. Compare the population stats for Ireland, the UK, Spain, Portugal, France and the US.

Although there are obvious differences in scale, the Irish population structure and growth rate is more similar to that in the United States than it is to any other EU state despite the attempts in the article to try to paint a picture where you have some younger and some older EU states. That's wrong. Only Ireland (& possibly France) could be said to have close to the right amount of "youth".

The article also tells us that 36% of Ireland's population is under 25, but throughout the 20th century that figure was over 40%. Ireland's population is aging, but it is growing rapidly, which is causing a few problems. Those problems are not, however, due to an excess of youth. An "excess of growth" would be a lot more appropriate, but that would imply an "excess of immigration", which the Times could never countenance.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Understanding the challenges of immigration

Enda Kenny says that the people of Ireland "understand better than most the special challenges of immigration and integrating new communities". In fact, Enda, Irish people understand less than others the challenges of immigration and integrating new communities.

Until recently, Ireland had virtually no experience of 'foreigners' moving here. You have to go back to the Ulster Plantation to find an era where Ireland has experienced any serious influx of people. I doubt there's another country in Europe with less experience in this matter.

Kenny is doing as so many do here when discussing immigration and somehow trying to say that the experiences of those Irish who left for the US or Britain have somehow - never sure how this is supposed to have happened - been absorbed here. Well, as those Irish always seem so keen to point out, the 'Irish' in the US or Britain are not really the same as the Irish in Ireland.

Americans of Irish descent who have, over generations, gone from immigrants to 'natives' have the experiences and understanding that Kenny talks about, but very few people born and raised here do.

{I should add that I don't really think "understanding" or "experience" or what have you matters a damn with regards to how a country responds to immigration.}

Cheating Face

Dirk Benedict - Face from the A Team - is (I think) violating the rules of Big Brother. I was under the impression that you weren't allowed to wear clothes with blatant logos on them, but I saw a clip of him wearing a Boston Red Sox cap.

Of course if was wearing a quality cap I wouldn't even think of mentioning it.

Quebec & Royal

Ségolène Royal has made a few missteps since launching her bid for the Presidency of France. Her latest was the other day when she all but declared her support for Quebec's independence. Needless to say, the Canadian government is not impressed. Yesterday, Royal was trying to damp down the fire she'd started.
"What I said, and I am confirming, is that, as in any democracy, people who vote are sovereign and free," Royal, the Socialist candidate in this spring's election, said yesterday about the latest stumble in her trouble-prone campaign. "And so Quebecers will freely decide their destiny when they're asked. It's not for France to impose on Quebecers or on Canadians what they must do, but on the other hand the principles of sovereignty and liberty strike me as completely indisputable."
I really liked this editorial from the Montreal Gazette, which dismisses Royal as "unsophisticated" (Is there any greater insult to someone from France?) and then points out the flaw in her clarifying remarks.
Royal, the Socialist candidate for the presidency of France, had a 15-minute courtesy meeting with Parti Quebecois leader Boisclair. Afterwards, asked for her thoughts on Quebec sovereignty, she gave an answer that suggested she had never before devoted two seconds to the issue: Her thoughts, she said, were "in accordance with our shared values, that is to say the sovereignty and the freedom of Quebec. I think the influence of Quebec and the place it has in the hearts of the French point in that direction."

How laughably unsophisticated. The late president Francois Mitterrand, mentor to Royal and her politician-husband, Francois Hollande, was consistently noncommittal about Quebec's future, perhaps in part because he was not eager to have foreigners stirring up trouble in Corsica, Brittany, and other regions metaphorically far from Paris.

… By yesterday, Royal and Hollande were back-pedalling hard: Her initial comment signalled neither meddling nor indifference, she claimed. Quebecers would decide their future, but the principles of sovereignty and liberty are incontestable. (Oh yes? Then as president, would she amend Article 1 of the French constitution, where it says "La France est une Republique indivisible"?)
It's always nice to see that a Presidential candidate making a mess by speaking without thinking is not a uniquely American quality.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

CCTV sales

I sometimes wonder who writes the news for the various "breaking news" services. The Irish Examiner provides one such service and who wouldn't want to give a pat on the back to whoever provided this dryly written report.
Drew Barrymore loves visiting Ireland because she shakes off the pressures of Hollywood by running through fields naked.

… She said: "I'll drive in Ireland and park my car and run out into the field and rip all my clothes off and just run in the wheat fields naked."

It is believed the revelation could provide a boost to rural CCTV camera retailers.
I love that image of farmers throughout the land erecting CCTV cameras around empty fields in the hope that Drew Barrymore might happen to stop by.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Smokin Joe

A short article from today's NY Post about Joe Frazier reminded me of boxing. It's almost non-existent today. How many kids go to school talking about who's the 'greatest'? I was a Frazier fan in the early 70s. I have only vague memories of talking to kids in the yard when Frazier beat Ali in their first fight. I remember being disappointed when Frazier lost the title to Foreman and then when Ali won the Thrilla in Manilla - not that I saw any of it live. It's another example of how boxing shot itself in the foot, putting all its best fights on pay t.v. I think the Thrilla was on regular t.v. on the following Saturday and I still watched it even though I knew who was going to win.

Fuel surchages

Last spring Aer Lingus added a fuel surcharge on their long haul flights. It's not reflected in the ticket price, but rather is one of those extras that you only find out about when you get close to paying for the tickets. The surcharge is €80 (about $104) on a round trip ticket, which is around 20% of the cost of a round trip ticket to the New York these days.

The fuel surcharge was implemented because oil was trading at around $75 per barrel. Today, oil is close to $50, so when will the surcharge be reduced or dropped? Great to see Ryanair make an issue out of the surcharge yesterday, even though Ryanair is the king of extra charges. Just forcing Aer Lingus to say that they're monitoring the situation is better than just wondering if the surcharge is a permanent (sneaky) feature of Aer Lingus's air fares.

I wish I'd invented that game

I keep thinking back twenty years to a party I was at. It was a good time, but late in the afternoon Pictionary made an appearance. I had never played it before and after about 10 minutes I realized I'd have been just as happy to have kept things that way.

Still, I was curious about the game because it was such a huge hit at that time. Half way through the game a girl of about 14 blurted out excitedly, "I wished I'd invented this game". Looking at the excitement on her face and thinking about all the money that suckers across the country were paying for Pictionary I was, of course, thinking exactly the same thing.

The reason I'm reminded of that moment lately is because I had the same thought the other night when I saw my first clip from this year's Celebrity Big Brother. Three days ago I wasn't even aware that it was on again. 'Ignorance is bliss', they say, but never more so than when it comes to Big Brother.

Now it seems that CBB is all anyone is talking about. It's on the news, talk radio, and it's discussed between songs on the music stations. Nothing else is going on in the world, apparently. It was mentioned in the New York Times yesterday, which demonstrates the extent of the genius behind the marketing of the program. {I'm convinced that the whole controversy was whipped up by the program's makers, who know full well how to control and direct the people in the house. They're getting exactly what they needed.}

Just as with Pictionary, I can't abide Big Brother, but my God do I wish I'd have come up with the idea.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

"Relaxed Fit"

I had to buy a new pair of jeans recently. What an uplifting experience. The jeans I bought are exactly the same size as I bought when I was in college (34 x 34 - if you must know). It's as if Levi Strauss made those 20 pounds I've added since college just vanish.

When I was in college various 'fits' either didn't exist or I just never noticed that I bought one particular 'fit'. Anyway the jeans I bought the other day are "relaxed fit", which is obviously fashion industry code for, "Yeah buddy, we know you've packed on the weight, but we're humoring you".

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Download RTE programs?

I read something in a newspaper over the weekend about downloading the Hidden History program off the RTE web site, but I haven't been able to find any link. Are RTE programs available for download?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Hidden History - Part II

Tonight's episode was not all that interesting except for the Albert Folens interview. The other featured "Nazis" were either (a) not that involved in Irish society or (b) not guilty of being involved in anything too heinous. Even Otto Skorzeny was only wanted for the crime of employing captured American jeeps and uniforms during the Battle of the Bulge. The fact that the Allies had done something similar on D-Day helped free Skorzeny after the war.

Folens was the focus and this program really only left me wanting more, although I doubt I'll ever get it. He admitted working as a translator for the Ausland-SD, which is fairly damning to my mind, but I was more interested in his comments on Roosevelt. He referred to Roosevelt as stupid and ignorant. This is the core of what I was saying about Folens - that his anti-Americanism permeated the books he published. I'd love to be able to go back through them - particularly the history books - to check that theory.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Debt of gratitude

I haven't poked around the news and blogs sites to see what others are saying, but I doubt I'm alone in being annoyed by President Bush's remarks about the Iraqis owing a debt of gratitude to the American people on last night's 60 Minutes. Is he serious? Did the United States go to war in order to earn the thanks of the Iraqis? Good God, I hope not.

If the Iraqi people ever feel grateful for having had Saddam's regime removed by the US and its allies (I doubt they're there yet), that's fine by me, but as an American it's not something I want to hear the President demanding. The United States should only go to war, spending lives and treasure, when vital national interests are at stake.

I believed that vital national interests were at stake in March 2003 and that's why I supported the war then. I think vital national interests are still at stake, which is why I support the continuation of the war. But, if we're there only to get a big, warm hug and a giant thank you card with a large red heart on the front, I'd say, "Let's get out now".

Oh God, there are times when being (generally) a Bush supporter is so, so hard.

{And, I'm overlooking his atrocious English during the 60 Minutes interview. "I think I am proud of the efforts we did," Bush said. Ahhhhhh.}

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Star in the Galaxy

My inexpert view of David Beckham's move to the Los Angeles Galaxy is that it's a great deal for Beckham and the beginning of the end for the MLS. Beckham will be able to further promote himself and, by extension, his wife, who I believe is a marketing/promotions genius. He has some name recognition in the US now, but that could go much higher if Mr. & Mrs. Beckham play their cards right. (And, I believe they will). The $250m contract Beckham signed with the Galaxy is already a great deal, but I think the Beckhams will do better than that.

As for the MLS - Beckham's not good enough to single-handedly lift the league. He's not Wayne Gretzky or Michael Jordan. I mean, this will be the first time he's been the best player on his team (even that I really don't know for sure), right? So, his name (known more from Bend it Like Beckham than anything else) will help raise the league's profile, but he's not going to provide loads of highlights and big headlines.

Listening to Football Focus today and reading what Arsene Wenger had to say, it seems that people over here expect Beckham to be only the first in a list of high-priced, big-name stars to go to the MLS. The big egos & salaries and fading abilities of those who do go will generate trouble within the squads and almost certainly not generate sufficient revenues to meet the salaries.

Hasn't professional soccer in the US already gone down this route when Pele, Beckenbauer, Cruyff and others played in the NASL? This doesn't sound like positive news for the league. I suppose the league is gambling that the millions of kids who've played soccer over the past 20 years or so will now, as adults, pay to see some of the biggest stars in the world. We'll see.

Friday, January 12, 2007

"Last throw of the dice"

That's apparently what President Bush's plan to send another 20,000 troops to Iraq is. I've read/heard that expression many times the past two days. But, clearly there is at least one more 'throw of the dice' if this plan doesn't work and that's the plan most people want - remove the troops and see if that makes Iraq better. He could also try engaging with Syria & Iran, which is demanded by some people, in an attempt to stabilize Iraq.

I guess this strategy is the most likely to succeed (of the three above), but I don't have a lot of hope. Removing the troops is simply opening the door to, first, anarchy and then, later, tyranny. Dealing with Iran and Syria is simply capitulation, which I would hate to see. Even that possible plan doesn't preclude anarchy as it is likely that Iraq's Sunni dominated neighbors may not go along with a plan to make Iran the master in Iraq. I was going to read all the words of all the opinions on this new strategy, but then I decided that it wasn't worth it. Right now praying feels more appropriate than analyzing.

"Shaped the minds" of Irish schoolchildren

I belatedly found this article written by Kim Bielenberg in last Saturday's Irish Independent. Bielenberg shares my 'unease' that Albert Folens was publishing books for schoolchildren, which is a completely different matter than if he'd been allowed into Ireland to work in a meat factory or as a shop assistant.
Chillingly, one of the Belgian Nazis, Albert Folens, helped to shape the minds of generations of Irish schoolchildren as one of the country's leading publishers of school textbooks.
Even if "he absolutely refused to pledge an oath of allegiance to Hitler" as Mrs Folens claims in her court papers filed yesterday, that doesn't change the fact that Folens was a Belgian who collaborated with the Nazis. He then came to Ireland to "shape the minds of generations of Irish schoolchildren". Chilling is definitely the right word.


Albert Folens's widow has been granted an "interim injunction" in order to try and prevent RTE from broadcasting the interview Folens gave to a journalist 20 years ago.
Counsel for Ms Folens, John Rogers SC, said that, in 1987, Mr Folens, who is [was, he's dead now — IE] a Belgian national, gave an interview to journalist Senan Moloney, who at the time worked for the Sunday Tribune newspaper.

… Mr Rogers said that a representative of the newspaper, Mr Moloney and Mr Folens had signed an agreement that allowed Mr Folens to see any article before publication, and gave the interviewee the right of reply.

His client was seeking an injunction restraining the defendants from using, broadcasting and publishing the subject matter of that interview, otherwise than in accordance with the particular terms of the agreement in 1987.
I'm no legal expert, that's for sure, but it seems a mighty stretch to demand that an interview not be used without granting the "right of reply" to a dead man.

I hope this doesn't stop next week's broadcast.

Ireland has its candidate

Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Roundstone, Co. Galway has joined the 2008 race for the White House.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Lights out in the Electric City

Schenectady, NY - the Electric City. Even when I was a teenager I thought the nickname was supposed to be ironic because a city with less electricity I couldn't imagine. In fact, if not for the fact that Amtrak ran a train from Schenectady to New York called the Electric City Express, it's likely that I'd have just believed that the nickname Electric City was only a local affectation.

Yet, Schenectady is (was, more appropriately) the Electric City. It was headquarters to General Electric, which was founded there by Thomas Edison in 1892. I used to go into Schenectady regularly 25 years ago when I was in high school. The city seemed dead to me, but the huge buildings that housed all of the GE plants were obvious signs of long gone better days. A few aging buildings still buzzed with activity, but I remember at the time thinking who would ever want to work there.

It seems that today Schenectady is even deader now than when I was in school. US News & World Report features Schenectady in its article about aging industrial cities in upstate New York.
Once known as "the city that lights and hauls the world," Schenectady has become a dim bulb and the first stop in a long, bleak road that runs through much of upstate New York, a countryside pockmarked with a series of eerie industrial relics and shuttered mill towns.
Not a very bright picture for the Electric City.

Lights please

According to the Irish Examiner, the Road Safety Authority is going to request that the law be changed to mandate the use of headlights when driving in daytime. That's great, but don't they think it would be a good idea to convince people to use their headlights at night before they start worrying about daytime? I can't tell you how often I see/walk out in front of some guy - and it's nearly always men, often taxi drivers - driving at night with nothing other than the sidelights on. Does anyone ever get ticketed for driving without lights on?

Next, how about lights on when it's a dark, rainy, winter day. Lights on when the wipers are on is an excellent suggestion. After that we can talk about always on headlights.

200,000 tonnes of garbage goes missing

The EPA claims that 25% of households are dumping their waste illegally. 25%! TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT! Are they kidding me? (By the way, all these figures come from the recently-published 2005 report.}

We've been here before. In fact, it was a year ago that I suggested that the Department of the Environment didn't know what it was talking about when it claimed that 60,000 tonnes of waste was being illegally burned in backyards each year.

This year, the EPA is claiming that 202,940 tonnes are being burned/dumped illegally/eaten by slave children/whatever. But wait, that may not be quite right. Here's what the Irish Independent says in today's article on the EPA's annual report:
More than 24% of Irish households have either no access to collection services or don't use them, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Waste Report for 2005.

This means that 202,940 tonnes of household waste are being secretly disposed of - either burnt or handed over to illegal fly-tippers.
And, here's what the EPA says in its press release:
The report highlights that 24 per cent of Irish households have either no access to collection services or choose not to avail of them. This results in an estimated 202,940 tonnes of "uncollected" household waste. Considerable work is being done by local authorities to gain an understanding of how this waste is managed.
It's not the same thing to say that the EPA has an estimate of "202,940 tonnes of 'uncollected' waste" as "202,940 tonnes of household waste are being secretly disposed of". The first leaves open the possibility that the estimate may not be accurate and the second claims mass illegal dumping is going on.

Based on a quick perusal of the actual report (see p. 21), I suggest that most of the problem is in the estimate. It just isn't credible that 200,000 tonnes of waste is not being disposed of properly. The report acknowledges that 15,000 tonnes of illegally dumped material was cleaned up by authorities during the year. That means over 90% of the supposedly illegally dumped material is not even being found! That's just not happening.

I think it's clear the EPA has to tighten up its estimate for "uncollected waste" and even clearer that the Irish Independent is way too sloppy in its reporting. First we're killing dogs that don't match the new settee and now we're all burning and dumping our waste - including those unfortunate hounds - illegally.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


The Polish Church is convulsed by revelations about collaborators among their bishops, priests and nuns during the communist era. What a mess. Until these details started emerging the Church was generally accepted to have been heroic in its stance against communist tyranny. John Paul II was obviously the leader of that effort, but there were other lesser known acts of defiance by priests towards the regime. The most well known of of these priests was Father Popieluszko, who was murdered by the secret police.

Now the lid has been lifted on all sorts of pro-regime activities by thousands of priests. The international trigger for interest in this story was the resignation of Warsaw's new archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus on Sunday.

I can't believe the Polish Church authorities & the Pope didn't conduct an investigation as soon as all those secret police files came to light. Why didn't they want to know who among them was untrustworthy? Who had betrayed them? Did they really think that nobody would ever start digging? Didn't they realize that there was every possibility that a situation such as has arisen with regards to Bishop Wielgus would arise?

In some ways its analogous to the bishops' response to the sex abuse scandals we've seen here. They only saw the individual sin and the need to forgive those who are truly sorry. And they didn't want any public scandal. They didn't see that others would quite likely see this a serious political issue that needs to be addressed. They also never seemed to consider that their collaboration with an evil regime was more than a personal sin. They had betrayed the people. At a minimum the Church should have outed these people. Then the Church could have argued for forgiveness when the people had learned what it was these traitors had done.

There should be no place for those who would collaborate with tyrannical regimes in the Church whether we're talking about Nazis, fascists or communists.


Probably the most overused & misused word on Irish radio. Daniel Finkelstein in today's Times (London) provides a good summary of the origins of "neoconservativism" and what it really means.
Neoconservatism is thought to be a doctrine of the Right. It isn’t. It is a critique of the Left. And the difference is important.

On RTE last night

Last night was unusual. I don't generally watch t.v. – especially not outside baseball season. However, last night I stumbled on one program and purposely sat down for another.

The first program was about the bombing of Philippine Airlines Flight 434. I knew something about the bombing before last night – in particular the involvement of the mastermind behind the 1993 WTC bombing, Ramzi Yousef – but I didn't know the details about the bombing. I doubt there was anything overly revealing about the program, but the whole discussion of where Yousef put the bomb reminded me of the downing of TWA 800, which was brought down by an explosion in the fuel tank. I won't jump on the conspiracy bandwagon, but it is interesting how much that PAL 434 attempt sounded like what eventually did happen to TWA 800. {The conspiracy theories are all mentioned here.}

The second program was Cathal O'Shannon's Hidden History program Ireland's Nazis. I found it interesting, damning, and uncomfortable viewing. The program provided good background on the Nazis and collaborators who made it to Ireland after the war with the help of the government and the Church. I liked the way O'Shannon named those people whose behavior was particularly vile.

You couldn't help but be moved by the testimony of Joe Briscoe, who found out years later that a man who his father had considered a friend and sympathetic to his request to allow Jewish refugees into Ireland was, in fact, a virulent antisemite. Peter Berry was secretary of the Department of Justice at the time and he argued vehemently against letting any Jewish refugees into Ireland.

O'Shannon didn't pull any punches either, letting it be known that antisemitism was par for the course in post-war Ireland and that had the government made any move to allow in Jewish refugees it would have been opposed by the population. In fact, De Valera got the Red Cross to agree to refer to Jewish orphans from Vichy France as simply children so that there would be no uproar.

A long way from Ireland of the Welcomes, that's for sure.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Publishing school books

Did I ever mention my daughter's sixth class (sixth grade) history book? I think I did, but I can't find the reference anywhere. I also can't find the book in our house these days. Regardless, I remember what I read.

One day (this was about 4 years ago) I was thumbing through her book and stopped when I got to the section on WWII. My memories are vague now, but basically the description of the war was pretty limited, which I didn't think inappropriate given that it was a book for 12-year-olds.

What struck me was one section where they had written a brief account from the perspective of an old woman remembering the war. The old woman recounts that the war was terrible, but she focused on the bombing of Hiroshima as a particular evil. She was supposedly particularly shocked by the bombing.

Of course, I hit the roof. I started ranting about how the use of the atomic bomb was simply inevitable given the speed at which weapons were developed and hardly remarkable given all the other weapons developed and used during the war. And, of course, as I shouted then, the gas chambers were far and away the most horrific development of the war. The intent, the scale, the execution of the plan to exterminate a race of people was beyond anything else done in that war or since.

If the publisher wanted to focus on one war event as particularly shocking, the opening of Auschwitz (or any camp) was the only real choice. I remember calling the publisher to complain, but getting no satisfaction at all. I only wish I could remember the publisher now. I'm nearly sure it was Folens, but I could be misremembering. And, boy does it matter.

Albert Folens was, according to an RTE program, a member of the Gestapo before he landed in Ireland and founded his educational publishing company. Beautiful, huh? How many Irish children were slipped little capsules of Nazism down through the years? Folens only died in 2002 so I would expect his influence in that company to have been immense and continuing.

I'm going to ask my kids' schools to avoid Folens books from now on. At a minimum all their history books should be unwelcome in any Irish school.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Celtic tiger eats dogs

Today's Irish Independent has a story about how affluent Irish folks are getting rid of their dogs because, supposedly, the dog doesn't match the new kitchen. Or some such.

Look at the headline: SSIA-rich owners dump dogs that don't match new suite of furniture. Now, I'm sure the two people from the animal shelters are genuinely worried about abandoned pets. And, I'm sure there are some people who do abandon their pets for all sorts of stupid reasons, but I doubt there's a real fear that large numbers of people will just abandon their pets when their SSIA accounts mature because the dog won't match the new furniture.

I know this makes for a great headline, but really this is just silliness. I really don't understand why any newspaper would print such Gar-bage.

ATM receipts

I always get a receipt (when available) from the ATM machine. I never throw them away or let them blow around. The fact that it's an option has always made me wonder why so many receipts end up on the ground or whatever. I just can't understand why anyone would print a receipt and then just let it fall on the ground.

Anyway, I see that those of us who would never allow a receipt to blow around are going to be punished by the government and the banks for wanting receipts. You know this suits the banks just fine because (a) they don't to provide the paper and ink required for receipts and (b) they'd just assume nobody kept a record of their transactions.

Just as with the plastic bag levy, the law-abiding consumer is being penalized because the government can't find a way to enforce the litter laws.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


I had to laugh today when I read the following on a bar of soap, "Use within 36 months of opening". 36 months? If someone isn't using a full bar of soap within 36 months don't they have bigger issues than whether or not their soap has lost its effectiveness?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Holiday season

Valentine's Day is just around the corner. I wouldn't have realized this except that I went into Wal-Mart yesterday (Dec 31) and was instantly met with aisles of heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, paper plates, and other nonsense. Wal-Mart – where the "holiday season" never ends.

I just wish I'd understood the WEEE's impact in Nov

In November I ordered a small battery-operated train, one I couldn't find in Ireland, as a Christmas present. I have no evidence that this is the case, but I strongly suspect that An Post intercepted my non-WEEE complying train shipped from Buckinghamshire in the UK that I had bought through eBay. The reason I suspect that this is the case is because I also ordered two small non-electrical toys from the same seller. Those arrived in a few days, but the train is still missing.

At the time I bought the items I didn't even consider the WEEE. Now, I've learned my lesson – when I want small electrical items, buy them whenever I'm outside the state.

A WEEE bit of protectionism

At the end of November I mentioned that Amazon seemed to be freezing Ireland out on some product lines. Frank commented that the dreaded WEEE was the reason. And, sure enough, a few weeks later Amazon said as much.

WEEE is the result of an EU directive. It's representative of what's so annoying about the EU. On the one hand the EU's primary benefit was the creation of a single market.

The combination of the single market and the growth on online retail should have vastly expanded the choice for Irish customers. But, the WEEE undermines all that the single market provided because what non-Irish online retailer is going to put up with all the administrative work involved in levying the required charges, etc.? So the Irish consumer is left without any non-Ireland based retail option. The Irish retailer is protected from any online competition by the WEEE.