Friday, November 30, 2007

99 barrels of beer in the haul

Actually, it was 450. Guinness was robbed of 450 barrels of beer yesterday. I know it's thieving and it's wrong, but still I find it hard to not to chuckle at the boldness of it all. Some guy just drives up in his truck, hooks up a trailer and drives off with all that beer.

Maybe this is the start of a new, daring, illegal temperance movement and he and his cohort have emptied the barrels down the drain.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

'White gold, Tipperary tea' ...

White is the new black. Or, according to the Irish Examiner, "milk is the new oil". The price farmers are getting for milk has risen by 30% in the past year. More shockingly, there's this.
Optimism among dairy farmers and those in the industry is being driven by a welcome increase in market returns for dairy products.
Optimism? Among farmers? Is that even allowed? I thought it was written into the contract that when you become a farmer you must never forget to moan incessantly whenever any non-farmer is within earshot. The moaning must increase by a factor of 3 whenever that non-farmer is from the media.

Behaving like the English

Ed West of the Daily Telegraph says that Irish drinking has changed.
Irish drinking patterns have gone through a weird process of Anglicisation.

The Irish used to drink in inter-generational groups, which has a civilising effect, while female drunkenness was frowned upon, as were overt displays of intoxication.

Now Irish women vomit at bus stops like good English girls, teenagers booze in packs, and alcohol-related violence has rocketed. Drunken Irish football fans even shout in mockney accents picked up from English TV, which carry a certain chav chic.
Is he right? I never really thought about it before, but there is something to his "inter-generational groups" comment. I remember when I first came here I was struck by the sight of young guys with long hair, etc. sitting there talking, joking with men who I imagined would frown on such haircuts. It was one reason I found the Irish pubs so appealing. (The lack of music was another, but sadly that's in the past now too.)

It's a short article, but one that is interesting for the manner in which it laments the changes in Ireland, changes that have led to the Irish being more like the English then ever before.
Ireland is now free, rich, drunk and Anglicised: English shops dominate the high street; that oxymoron, English celebrity culture, is everywhere; British tabloids have taken over; English football is the new religion; and Tesco has "pacified" the country way beyond Gladstone's wildest dreams.

This new Anglo-Irishness reflects a self-consciously vulgar New Brit view of the world in which drunkenness is something it never was before - shameless.
Generally Irish people hate being criticized by anyone English, but in this case West is criticizing the Irish for behaving too much like the "English".

I know he's overstating things, but generally I agree with him.

Abolishing college fees

According to today's Irish Independent tuition fees should be reintroduced. This comes from a survey of "175 leaders in higher education, research centres, Government departments and agencies".

I was opposed to free tuition when it was introduced and I still think it's wrong. However, I've been paying so that others' children could avail of this largess and now that my children are approaching the age when I'll soon be able to put my snout in that trough there's talk of taking it away. {And, now that my children are beyond it I'm sure that free college will be replaced by free child care.}

That's the problem with all this government spending: it creates a level of dependency. My wife and I haven't exactly planned for the thousands of euros that will be required of us if free tuition is abolished. And, I doubt we're alone among parents of teenagers.

Bruce must love Ireland

It took just over 2½ hours for three Springsteen shows next to sell out. And, 2 of those shows were only announced after the first show sold out in minutes. Over €8m ($11m) in ticket sales to fans who have to stand in a field (or sit far away) in a terrible venue, exposed to the weather. And, no, I didn't break down and buy a ticket.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Howard out, Rudd in

John Howard's defeat in the Australian election was greeted almost with elation in some quarters - Howard's defeat in some way represents a defeat for President Bush. Well, I suppose, but then how's he doing in those overseas contests?

Aznar, Blair and Howard all gone and replaced by less 'agreeable' leaders. Three losses for Bush. But, Schroeder, Chirac and Chretien are also gone each of them has been replaced by a leader who definitely tacks closer to America generally and even to Bush specifically. So, 3 up and 3 down. A wash.

I think the real lesson is that the great division of the early part of this decade is narrowing and I expect that Europe, America, Canada & Australia will find working together a little easier over the next few years.

Reality check

Steven King in today's Irish Examiner:
Therefore, with the 2008 elections and the subsequent removal of the bogeyman that is George W Bush, many believe – or, at least, pray – that transatlantic relations will begin to settle back to the cosy position they were in before the hated neo-cons were given their head.

The new administration, Democrat or even Republican, will surely be keen to distance itself from such an unpopular administration which – according to the conventional wisdom – has forfeited America's good name by abandoning the rule of international law and opting for military force as the first option, not the last.

There is something in this thesis. Name a leader who does not come to power promising change. But those counting down the days until January 2009 would be wise not to get carried away. There will be no revolution in American foreign policy doctrine. A softer, more contrite tone than that previously associated with George Bush, yes, but a wholesale rejection of the policies he has pursued, no.
No revolution. I haven't followed the debates religiously, but mostly what I've heard is that the style rather than the substance of America's foreign dealings will change.

Health service figures

Fergus Finlay, of all people, presents some facts on the health service that I haven't seen before. Maybe they're repeated often and I just switch off - the whole health service thing just turns me off - but just in case let me put them before you.
Just seven years ago, in 2000, the allocation for health was approaching €3.5 billion. By 2007, using the same comparison, the figure was significantly in excess of €14bn (a little more than half the budget was for pay).

In 2000, about 91,000 people were employed in the health service. In 2007, just about 133,000 people were employed between the HSE and the Department of Health.
From €3.5bn to €14bn in SEVEN years. Whoa. A 46% rise in the numbers employed by the health service and a 300% rise in the budget. Where has all the money gone?

Finlay then says that we're still not spending enough, but give me a break. We have a much younger population than most EU countries. We have the smallest proportion of population aged 50 or more in the EU. Our health spending should be lower than in other EU states.

Finlay looks back at the history of the health service and points out that the centralization program begun in 1970 might be part of the problem. I'm sympathetic to this point of view. However, in order to reverse this situation the central government would have to be willing to cede control over both the operation of the health services and the funding of such services.

Local taxes should pay for local services. Towns, counties, regions can work together where the population is too thinly spread to allow for a "centre of excellence" in whatever area of health provision.

Learners and penalty points

In a comment written during the heady days of the diving test fiasco (only a month ago, but it's about two major government scandals in the past now) I said I was looking for statistics that would compare the accident rates of those who drive on provisional licenses with those who have full licenses. Today's Irish Independent gives us an answer to a different, but possibly related question.
Since the system was introduced five years ago, one-in-six qualified drivers, or 311,000 drivers out of 1.8 million on full licences, have got penalty points.

However only one in 10 provisional licence-holders have so far got penalty points, a total of 44,000 out of 420,000, it has been learned.
I'm not convinced that the penalty points regime is all that great at making the roads safer, but it's what we have. And, for what it's worth, learner drivers have been caught (on average) less often than have those who hold full licenses.

Now, Indo, how about some stats on accidents and fatalities.

The 'new' nuns

They're a dying breed. Nuns are rare sights in America and even here in Ireland, where they seemed to be pretty plentiful when I first came here in the mid 1980s. In America the average age for nuns is 69. There are virtually no young women entering the convent these days. No argument, right?

Well ...
Although the number of religious sisters in the United States has plunged since the 1960s, resulting in an average age of about 70, there has been an increase in recent years among traditional, habit-wearing orders, including the Nashville-based Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, which has 226 members and a median age of 35. It recently raised $46 million to expand its chapel because the sisters were spilling into the hall.
The more traditional orders are growing. Today. In 2007.

Just looking at all the young women Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia's web site is an odd experience. I suppose I never expected to see young nuns again.

Time magazine reported on this phenomenon a year ago.
And although the extreme conservatism of a nun's life may seem wholly countercultural for young American women today, that is exactly what attracts many of them, say experts and the women themselves. "Religious life itself is a radical choice," says Brother Paul Bednarczyk, executive director of the National Religious Vocation Conference in Chicago. "In an age where our primary secular values are sex, power and money, for someone to choose chastity, obedience and poverty is a radical statement."
Maybe there was something to all the traditions that were tossed aside during the 1960s. Maybe.

Skipping Bruce

I only just remembered that Springsteen tickets went on sale this morning for his concert (actually, concerts - just found out he's added two extra shows) next May. I don't know. I don't seem to be in any hurry to buy tickets.

The new album is undoubtedly a big part of it. In the end, I bought a copy of Magic and, well, it's okay. I actually find it kind of dull. I played it a lot when I first got it and just sort of lost interest. I thought it might grow on me, but it didn't. Like I said, it's a very political album.

Is this why I don't like it? I don't know to be honest, but there's a sameness to the album that bores me and there's a sense that this is Bruce's attempt at atoning for past 'sins'. None of his early albums, released during the last years of the Vietnam War, were as political as this one.

But, there's more to it than the new album. I think I'm just getting too old to want to pay €87.60 (just under $130) to stand in a field for 3 or 4 hours. I guess if I knew the weather would be sunny that would be worth something, but even that probably wouldn't be enough to get me to buy a ticket.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Child abuse by teacher

One of the great myths pedaled in Ireland is that as soon as the Church is out of education we'll be rid of the scourge of child abusing teachers.

Yesterday a teacher in my hometown pleaded guilty to molesting 8 of his first grade students. A quick perusal of sites like Teacher Smack Down and Teachers and Trash Education demonstrates that child abuse goes on in public as well as Catholic schools.
Comparing the incidence of sexual misconduct in schools with the Catholic Church scandal, [Hofstra Professor Carol] Shakeshaft notes that a recent study by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops concluded 10,667 young people were sexually mistreated by priests between 1950 and 2002.

In contrast, she extrapolates from a national survey conducted for the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation in 2000 that roughly 290,000 students experienced some sort of physical sexual abuse by a public school employee between 1991 and 2000.

The figures suggest "the physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests," said Shakeshaft, according to Education Week.
I doubt the situation is any different anywhere. I would bet it's true in Ireland, but incidences of non-clerical abuse don't attract anything like the publicity that those abuses by priests and religious do. This is partly because the media loves bashing the Church and partly because for many in the media and Irish society as a whole abuse by priests is somehow more shocking than by teachers or anyone else.

However, that doesn't alter the fact that there are parents out there who seem to believe that their children are safer in secular schools than in Catholic schools, which I doubt has any basis in fact. For this I blame the myth-makers, in the media and in politics.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Climate change - you start.

I'm not trying to be funny, but yesterday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had two editorials. In one the paper argues that the local airport should work at getting more flights into the airport, which is under-utilized and directly below ran an editorial claiming that the United States needs to act on climate change by cutting greenhouse gases.

This is how I see almost all climate campaigners. We've got to do something now, so you start. We need our air traffic (or cars or cattle or whatever), but you don't. Pittsburgh should get more air traffic and everyone else needs to start cutting back.

And the award for Worst Imperialist goes to ...

How can I disagree? I've said it so many times myself. America is the worst imperialist power ever. So when I saw this headline - "US is 'worst' imperialist: archbishop" - I thought, "Too right".

I mean compared with other empires throughout history the United States just doesn't do a good job. As an imperialist power the US simply doesn't do anywhere near enough to enforce its will.

Instead what you get is a muddle of democracy, human rights and free trade mixed with a subtle (or even not too subtle) "favor us" (politically, economically) message. You either have to do it right - full subjugation and exploitation - or not do it at all - ignore how other nations govern themselves, ignore their warring and simply bargain hard for mutual trade agreements. In other words, use the 'blind eye' or simply accept that 'it's none of our business'.

Unfortunately, when I read the article from today's Sunday Times I realized the Archbishop of Canterbury wasn't talking about the United States failures to build a proper empire. Instead, he was simply pandering to a Muslim magazine audience. Uggh.
Rowan Williams claimed that America's attempt to intervene overseas by "clearing the decks" with a "quick burst of violent action" had led to "the worst of all worlds".

… He said the crisis was caused not just by America's actions but also by its misguided sense of its own mission. He poured scorn on the "chosen nation myth of America, meaning that what happens in America is very much at the heart of God's purpose for humanity".
Too much violence and too much God. At least he amuses me.
He contrasted it unfavourably with how the British Empire governed India. "It is one thing to take over a territory and then pour energy and resources into administering it and normalising it. Rightly or wrongly, that's what the British Empire did — in India, for example.
That "normalising" didn't entail any sense that Britain was the "chosen nation" and never required violence, right? Please.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Day Parade

I can't believe that NBC doesn't make the Thanksgiving Day Parade available through its web site. Maybe it would be too popular? I'm not sure I would have watched it all, but I'd like to have gotten a flavor of it and shown my son a bit.


I was in Belfast yesterday. Didn't get a chance to see much because (a) I was busy and (b) it was MISERABLE. I had thought I'd go for a good long walk after my meeting was over, but it was just too wet. And dark. Even at 2:30 it was like the day was done. I had even brought my camera, but I took only one picture (at around 10:15, before my meeting).

I hadn't been in Belfast since 1999. What a difference. The center of the city just looks so much fresher. Even Belfast City Hall somehow looked better, although I doubt that's possible. And, wow is that a big building. I walked around it and half-way around I thought to myself, "this is bigger than City Hall in New York".

Yesterday (and for the next month) there was an outdoor market on the grounds of City Hall. It was better than I expected when I first wandered over to it. That's probably because it mostly food and not beads and belts. And, there's a massive Ferris Wheel, which nobody was going into thanks to the weather (I guess).

Happy Thanksgiving

This is the fifth Thanksgiving since I started posting here. I haven't got much to say that I haven't already said in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006.

And, in case you're wondering, no, Ambassador Foley didn't invite me for dinner today. Again. I feel a bit like one of the toys on the Island of Misfit Toys.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Irish Times & Kindle

You can subscribe to the Irish Times via Kindle for $5.99 per month, which works out at €48.60 for a year. That's a lot less than the €79 they charge for access through the internet. Hmmm.


I just saw Amazon's announcement about their new electronic book reader, Kindle. I can't say that I think it's a terrible idea. If I had one of those I bet I would never forget to make sure it was with me after I had checked my luggage.

Amazon is pitching the device with very low cost books. I saw one book I was interested in that costs $25 on 'dead tree' was only $10 for Kindle. That appeals. And, Amazon says that there are "more than 88,000 books available" for Kindle. Also, Amazon says you can get access to newspapers, including the Irish Times and "250 top blogs", although I don't know how that can be seeing as I don't think that includes the Irish Eagle.

You can read a newspaper for 75¢. It's not clear if you have to pay to access blogs, but the fact that they specifically mention free access to Wikipedia makes me think you will have to pay for blogs (not worth it if you can't get Irish Eagle). The Times says it can play MP3's as well, but that's not mentioned on Amazon's page.

In theory I like the fact that you can download just about anywhere as the device connects via the same technology that cell phones use - 3G . You're not stuck looking for WiFi hotspots. I don't know if it will work in Europe, but there's no date for making it available here.

Even if I could get one, I'm not sure I would want to carry another device, particularly one that costs $400 and seems a sure bet to be left behind on a train or whatever. I don't know. I'm of two minds on Kindle. I would still want traditional books (meaning ones with paper), but I think I could live with an electronic reader so long as the print was easy to read and there was minimal flicker.

UPDATE: Found it. Costs $1-2 per month to subscribe to a blog, which isn't that bad really. Now to get Irish Eagle included there!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Novelty and tradition in America

Ahh, Mark Steyn - the man people love to hate or hate to love. I'm more the latter than the former. He makes me laugh.

Today's he's writing on Thanksgiving, the Constitution, a lot of stuff. He's all over the place, but I really enjoyed this.
… Continentals who grew up on Hollywood movies where the guy tells the waitress "Gimme a cuppa joe" and slides over a nickel return to New York a year or two later and find the coffee now costs $5.75, takes 25 minutes and requires an agonizing choice between the cinnamon-gingerbread-persimmon latte with coxcomb sprinkles and the decaf venti pepperoni-Eurasian-milfoil macchiato. Who would have foreseen that the nation that inflicted fast food and drive-thru restaurants on the planet would then take the fastest menu item of all and turn it into a kabuki-paced performance art? What mad genius!
He then discusses the Europeans' love of novelty in their forms of government and finishes that with, "If you're going to be novelty-crazed, better the zebra-mussel cappuccino than the Third Reich".

Economic woes and the EU 'not a Constitution' Treaty

Something that hadn't occurred to me before now. How will the Irish people vote on the EU Treaty if the economy is really in full retreat by the time voting takes place? I suspect that the only hope of this treaty passing is if the referendum is held very early in 2008. The longer the government waits, the more likely it is that the people will start to see things negatively.

Not only could it cost the government the referendum, but there's always a risk that anti-immigrant sentiment could come to a boil during the campaign. If I were Bertie I'd postpone that referendum until mid-2009 and then retire in June of 2008. Let someone else handle that aggravation.

Dr. Joe Barry & Price Elasticity

There are times when I hear people say something on the radio, something I think they've actually thought about, but that I think is just wrong or unproven that I start pondering what they've said and never hear another word they have to say.

That happened to me this morning when I heard Dr. Joe Barry on Morning Ireland talking about the HSE's proposal that excise duties on alcohol be raised by 10%. Dr. Barry's argument was that this rise in price would cut alcohol consumption because, he said, alcohol had a high price elasticity. Then a minute or two later he argued that raising the price would increase the amount the government takes in.

Well, how does he know? If the elasticity of price is as he says then it's entirely possible that a tax hike on alcohol would cause consumption to fall sufficiently so that the government would find that its take on alcohol could actually fall. I don't know what might happen, but I do know he contradicted himself.

Maybe he had a point. Maybe duty on alcohol should be raised, but all I could think about after 90 seconds of his interview was that he could easily be wrong that the tax take would increase. Point lost with me due to misuse of economics.

Circle of Life

One of the drawbacks to listening to the radio while driving is that your attention has to necessarily fade in and out. So, I can't say who I heard making the point (on Newstalk on Saturday) or how credible his source was, but I nearly lost control when I heard him say that the Irish economy was heading towards unemployment rates of over 7% by the end of next year.

Well, that's that then. Apparently the construction industry expects 60,000 job losses (did I hear that right?) in 2008.

Remember when the Celtic Tiger was but a cub? It seems now all we're left with is the possibility of gnawing on our own paw before the Irish economy becomes worm food.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Chasing Fr. White

I'm sure Fr. White's not amused, but after the appalling news out of Omagh the past two days, I have to admit that this story makes me smile. It seems so ridiculous.

Apparently the secretary for Queen of Peace parish thought Fr. White was the cat's pyjamas. Fr. White, however, wasn't of a mind to reciprocate the secretary's feelings.
Fr White said he felt 'uncomfortable' when he received gifts from Ms O'Hehir, including a key ring he felt was inappropriate, due to what it depicted.

He said she also told him that she loved him and sent him Valentine's cards.
Now, what amuses me is that this is a Bray parish and I've seen Fr. White in action on many Sundays. He does not strike me as a "Father what a waste" that the women used to talk about in days past. And, by no means is he a dynamic or electrifying personality when he's on the altar.

Maybe one-on-one it's a different story, but from where I usually sit Fr. White comes across as a man whose greatest excitement is a cup of cocoa on a Friday night. I just can't get over the fact that this woman seems to have vacated her sanity over him.

{I hope he can forgive me for enjoying a small chuckle at his expense. This is the kind of story you need when the news is so dire elsewhere.}

UPDATE: I just re-read what I wrote and I want to amend it a bit. Like I said, I don't know Fr. White, but my impression of him is of a very nice, courteous, mild-mannered man. I can well imagine he was genuinely horrified by this woman's behavior. It's this perception that made this story amusing to me. And, the fact that Fr. White sent the woman to a psychologist because she was so smitten with him.

Dinner for 12 please

Every so often I come across an American who has only recently arrived here. The conversation always goes in the same direction - talking about all the things that are different here, most of which have long since faded to the background in my mind. I always find it enjoyable to be reminded that there are still people out there who are taken aback by traffic flowing the opposite way to what's expected or that "the jacks" is the mens room or that Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Ireland.

That last one can really cause homesickness in the recently relocated American. Most Americans I know here try to adhere to tradition with the turkey dinner. The only catch is you have to "book" your turkey.

You see, turkeys in Ireland are bred for Christmas dinner, not for a late November feast. Butchers and supermarkets just don't stock turkeys this time of year. You have to call in advance ask them to have one ready for you. Of course, newbies don't know this.

But, if you're new to Ireland and you're reading this, now you know. Get on the phone and call the butcher or supermarket and order your turkey for next week. (By the way, I'm pretty sure Superquinn in Blackrock is the most Thanksgiving knowledgeable store in Ireland.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Today's Irish Independent reports that the EU's "consumer affairs watchdog" is investigating some European airlines, including Ryanair apparently, for "irregularities, in particular relating to price indications, contract terms and clarity of proposed conditions" on their web sites.

Do these people never rest? Ryanair is fantastic value. Why does so many people hate it?

The only amusing aspect to all this is that the EU is not going to publish the names of the airlines for 4 months. I suppose all those Eurocrats want to be sure they get home for Christmas and back on Ryanair (and pocketing the difference in the cost of using other airlines) before they try to name & shame the airline.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I should add ...

I don't really believe that Aer Lingus passport scanners can be faulted for the fact that some of the type face is missing from my passport. I believe my passport was a shoddy product sold to me by the US Dept. of State. The scanner may have rubbed the ink off, but that was because the ink or the paper was no good to start with.

If there was a general fault with the scanners I'm sure this would have been an issue by now.

Fun times with Homeland Security

Friday night, Kennedy Airport and I'm in plenty of time. I have my book and I figure I may as well go through security and head to the gate. All very relaxed.

That soon ended. The first Homeland Security person looks at my passport and boarding card and waves me on. The next, however, gave me a look like he was Elliot Ness eyeballing one of Capone's gang. I was told (not asked) to wait right there.

After a couple of minutes he returned with a colleague and they stood staring at me then my passport, then me, then my passport. Thoughts started running through my head. Was it because I lied on my application? I mean it's been two years since I got that passport and I've probably gone a little less "brown" since then.

Eventually the supervisor type guy said that there was something wrong with my passport and that it looks like it may have been tampered with. Well, that changed the mood because I was pretty sure that tampering with a passport was a crime and he was basically accusing me of having done just that.

Next he asked me how long I'd had the passport.

"What passport? That one in your hands or an American passport? I've had a passport since April or May 1985, although I was on my mother's passport back in the late 60s. I was born in Jackson Heights and what the hell is wrong"!

By now I was mad as hell. He wouldn't tell me what was wrong with the passport. I told him that the passport was fine when I entered the country three days earlier.

Then he went off for a while and I was left to stand in their special holding pen surrounded by people getting through screening without difficulty. Finally he returned.
"You will have to get this problem sorted when you return to Dublin".
"What problem"?
"I can't tell you that".
"What do you mean, you can't tell me that? How am I supposed to get the problem sorted if you won't tell me what the problem is"?
"That's not my problem".
"What do you mean it's not your problem. This passport was issued by the government and now you're telling me that something's wrong with it".
"I have nothing to do with issuing passports".
And, that's how he left me, except I was then told I had been selected for extra screening and had go through the whole shoes-off, pat-down, every-item-in-my-possession-given-extra-scrutiny treatment. At least this task was undertaken by another person and not either of the two who I seriously wanted to injure right then.

{I'm not sure if what I'm about to say is acceptable to the race police these days, but what the heck.}

It's been my experience in America that when dealing with the inhumane forces of government and the excessively self-important people who seem to fill many of those jobs that black people somehow seem able to hold on to their common sense and common decency. I particularly remember an immigration officer in Newark whom my wife and I had to go to back in the late 1980s.

And, Friday night. The young black guy assigned to give me the extra screening seemed almost apologetic. He probably thought I was going to have a pop at him (although given his size and youth there was no fear of that). I looked at him and said, "I don't mind the extra screening. In fact, I think it's more than fine. It's necessary. But, if they could have just told me what was wrong with my damn passport I'd be able to understand".

So he took my passport, saw the problem and showed me. On the right hand side the words "United States Department of State" have been somewhat scraped away. He asked me if I'd washed the passport, but I hadn't. I couldn't figure out how it had happened, but then a possibility occurred to me. I asked him if Aer Lingus's passport scanners might have rubbed the words away. He looked at it and nodded and said that could be it. It's the only possibility I can think of.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Reading Bryson

I know how guys like Bill Bryson get rich. Last Friday evening I was all set for my flight. I checked in and was free with only my laptop on my shoulder. Great. Five minutes later it dawned on me. I had left the book I was going to read in the front pocket of my case where I'd put it because it was too much hassle to carry it and it didn't fit properly in the laptop bag.

I couldn't face the 6½ flight (not counting the always fun 90 minutes on the ground at Kennedy before take-off and all that pre-boarding time) with no book to read. I had to buy a book from the small bookstore in the departures lounge. Once I had mentally eliminated all the romance novels and self-help books I was left with a pretty meager choice.

I saw one book I really wanted. It was the next book of three by Rick Atkinson on the US Army during World War II. I had read the first on the N. Africa campaign earlier this year. But, this was a hardback book and I didn't want it in hardback for $35. So, after hemming and hawing I settled on a Bill Bryson book.

I wasn't enthusiastic, but he's light and easy and sort of fun and I know his brand. So, plumped down my $12 or so and got through most of it during the flight. He saved me the pain of Live Free or Die Hard, for which I'm grateful.

Still, this is the third time (I think) that I've bought a Bryson book in an airport. This is how these guys get rich. They know there are people like me out there who will check their book with the luggage and be forced to buy something to read in the small airport bookstore. We're trapped by their cleverness.

Assessing teachers

A new report from McKinsey indicates that class size and increased spending doesn't matter as much in a child's education as the quality of the teachers. Funny enough, I came across something similar in a report produced back in the early 1990s for authorities in London so I'm not quite sure how this is news, but whatever.

To my mind this is blatantly obvious, but how do you assess a "quality teacher"? I used to think that parents could always tell the good teachers from bad, but now I'm not so sure.

Last year my 5-year-old son had a teacher who we (my wife & I) thought was simply incredible. He learned so, so much and not just the three R's. Yet, I also know that some (possibly most) of the parents of my son's classmates didn't like this teacher. I can't explain it. {I wish she could take my sixteen-year-old for a year as I'm sure she'd have her functioning like a well-oiled academic machine and strolling through the Leaving Cert without worry.}

I suspect that the other parents didn't like the fact that this teacher didn't bubble over about their precious darlings and certainly didn't encourage parents to talk to her. She imposed order on the little monsters and then proceeded to open their heads and pour in more learning than my two daughters will acquire in their 12 combined years of secondary education. In fact, if my son could have had this woman for one more year he would probably have been ready to sit his Leaving Cert 11 months before he makes his First Holy Communion.

Unfortunately the modern parent wants their child to be "understood" and "loved" in school. They'd probably rate this woman as 'poor' despite the fact she is easily the best primary school teacher any of my children has had. The only answer to this question is that I, and I alone, should be allowed to rate the teachers my children have. There'll be no sentimentality and no marks for cuddles. We're competing in a global marketplace and there's no room for touchy-feely.

Anyway, I'm back from New York

As you might have guessed by the sudden activity around this place.

It was a very quick trip, maybe the shortest I've ever had. I only arrived on Tuesday afternoon and I was on my way back on Friday afternoon. One small error I made in planning only hurt me somewhat. Thanks to all the balmy weather we'd been enjoying here up to last weekend I forgot that an overcoat might be of some use in New York in November. Oops.

I've lived away for so long now that there are aspects to life in New York that are long past 'new' and, therefore, make me look like a tourist (which I guess I am).

Metrocards, for example. They're easy enough to figure out, but I don't know the associated local lingo. My blasé "4 please" - I was using the old token speak - led to my getting grilled by the seriously unbusy token booth clerk. Uggh. At least the public announcements are still unintelligible (maybe NY will have London-style signs with train arrival & delay information next time I'm in town).

Strangely, every cab I was in was driven by an English speaking, chatty, friendly, clean-looking driver who seemed to know where he was going. Whatever happened to the angry, filthy, ignorant drivers I remember?

Brendan O'Connor's property portfolio

Just wondering if Sunday Independent columnist Brendan O'Connor happened to see this article in last Sunday's (Nov. 4) paper. I hope he at least caught the headline: "Property price crash is now in full swing". I'm only wondering because he confidently asserted back in August that it was a "buyer's market". Funny how the prices are still falling despite the fact that property was "good value" in August.

I'm not going to pass myself off as any sort of expert. I can only say that the current dip in prices still smells a long way from having bottomed out.

'I don't know anyone who likes Sarkozy'

That's the gist of yesterday's Sunday Herald column by Joanna Blythman.
The French have flirted with Sarkozy and allowed him to start tinkering with some of their most cherished institutions, but seeing the divisive and profoundly un-French reality of what they have elected, they are coming down to earth with a bump. His poll ratings are crashing after only six months in office. The queue of aggrieved citoyens mutinying over attacks on their pensions and similar now includes civil servants, transport workers, teachers, prison officers and magistrates.
Unless things have changed dramatically since November 3, I think Blythman is spending too much time in certain Paris cafes where she she encounters only the elite left and/or members of civil service unions. On November 3 the AP reported that "if they could do it over again, French voters would still elect energetic conservative Nicolas Sarkozy president. A poll released Saturday suggests French voters do not regret their choice, six reform-packed months after the elections".

And, today's [London] Times reports that "[s]ixty-nine per cent of the public told an Opinionway poll last week that Mr Sarkozy must persist in reform".

The only thing "crashing" is Blythman's credibility.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Bray in the NY Times, again

I'm in New York at the moment, but not escaping Bray. Right there on the main page of the NY Times web site is a picture of the sea front in Bray. The picture is of Annie Enright, who, I just found out, lives in Bray. At least Bray looks better in this picture than the last time the town made the NY Times.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Equality Authority must go

It is long past time that the government pull the plug on the Equality Authority. They should simply write it off as a bad idea gone bad.
A new study from the authority included examining television advertisements, the 'Late Late Toy Show' and toy stores. It found gender stereotyping is deeply embedded in the marketing process. As marketing strategies target children extensively, it is important to examine both the obvious and hidden messages which are communicated, Niall Crowley, chief executive of the authority, said.

… During last year's 'Late Late Toy Show' on RTE "the main presenter persistently reinforced stereotypes of gender", according to the study. In the case of one toy, a human skull shown to ooze slime, the comment was uttered "made for boys, I think".
Really, if this is what they have to show for their efforts it's clearly past time that they wrapped things up and went away.