Monday, March 31, 2008

Do a private test

I may have missed this in the national press or maybe this is simply not true, but the Wicklow Times had a front page article a few weeks ago that the pass rate at the privately run driving test centers is 63% while the pass rate at the state run centers is 54%. So you have a better chance of passing if you go private. The article provides all sorts of (not unreasonable) explanations for the difference in the pass rates, but still I think if I had to take my test I'd look for a private test center.

The electricity bill

I'm not averse to the notion of saving a bit of money. You can count on me to click on any headline that reads similarly to How to make energy savings. One item on this short list caught my eye: "Don't use dishwashers or washing machines during weekday evenings (5-7pm)".

Do we pay more for electricity used between 5 and 7 each evening? I don't see any breakdown on my bill indicating that I'm paying extra for my usage during those hours.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

It gets serious from today

I like reading George Will, but I love reading him when he's writing about baseball.
Washington was the setting for "Damn Yankees," the most stirring drama since Shakespeare, who didn't do musicals. Opening in 1955, it concerned a Senators fan who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for one terrific season as a Senators outfielder. This is supposedly a Faustian bargain, but such bargains are presumed to be bad. What is a mere soul when weighed against such a season?
The season starts today (I'm discounting the aberration in Tokyo the other day). Finally something important to be concerned with after a winter of nonsense (I'm talking about Hillary & Barack).

The Mets begin tomorrow. Never has a new season been more welcomed. All of us Flushing Faithful are hoping that this year will remove the bitter taste of what happened last September. Patience will be in short supply this spring. Any hint of what happened at the end of last season will require sacrificial lambs.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


I know you're on edge waiting for my next pronouncement on the state of Ireland, the state of America, and/or the state of the world. Unfortunately I have only a limited amount of time and this week is all about one thing and one thing only: preparing my selections for the annual fantasy baseball draft on Saturday. I hope you can endure this gap in service.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Lamb-fisted protest

This was not football the way that Johnny Lam Jones used to play it. I've seen people throw hot dogs, ice cream, beer, soda and, once, a whole crowd throw candy bars (although not in protest).

But, on Saturday a new one.

Somebody protesting a referee's decision threw a lamb's leg during a post-game protest at a game in Ballymena. I wonder how the leg-thrower explained to the missus when he got home that he had put the Easter dinner to alternative use on Saturday. I bet by then he was feeling pretty … sheepish. (Couldn't resist.)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Rush is not a "shock jock"

Today's Observer refers to Rush Limbaugh and other "right-wing talk show hosts" as "shock jocks". This labeling happens all the time. So often, in fact, that I had to check to make sure I wasn't wrong in thinking that the term "shock jocks" applies to people like Howard Stern, not Rush Limbaugh.

I went to Wikipedia for an answer:
A shock jock is a slang term used to describe a type of radio broadcaster (sometimes a disc jockey) who attracts attention using humor that a significant portion of the listening audience may find offensive. The term is usually used pejoratively to describe evocative or irreverent broadcasters whose manners and on air behavior is offensive to the listener.
I'm sure Rush's politics are shocking to the editors of the Observer, but he doesn't engage in the vulgarity that is the trademark of the "shock jocks".

Friday, March 21, 2008

Obama will not be President

It's all over for Obama. The Democrats would be nuts to nominate him. The process we've had so far can be dismissed by the party at the convention. This pastor thing has killed his candidacy. His support is ebbing among Democrats and Jeremiah Wright has provided too much material for the Republicans to work with in the fall.

Yet, maybe Hillary can't prove her case to the party either? I can't help wondering if the Gore supporters are buffing up their Gore '08 buttons for the convention. Imagine the fun if Obama recognizes the impossibility of his realizing his Presidential ambitions and asks his delegates to support Al Gore?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Obama & religion

Obama's not a Muslim. I wonder if he half wishes he were for all the trouble the Trinity United Church is causing him. As I said, I thought Obama's speech on race wasn't bad. In fact, I liked it, at least parts of it.

However, the more I read about the Trinity United Church the more I think this could be a bigger problem for Obama than the racist stuff. From the web site:
We are a congregation which is Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian... Our roots in the Black religious experience and tradition are deep, lasting and permanent. We are an African people, and remain "true to our native land," the mother continent, the cradle of civilization. God has superintended our pilgrimage through the days of slavery, the days of segregation, and the long night of racism. It is God who gives us the strength and courage to continuously address injustice as a people, and as a congregation. We constantly affirm our trust in God through cultural expression of a Black worship service and ministries which address the Black Community.
I know this this doesn't fit the stereotype, but Obama has a real appeal to many evangelicals. Many have been drawn to his candidacy and this has not gone unnoticed in the media. From the Washington Post (Feb 25):
The role of evangelical voters in the November elections will be one of the most interesting things to watch this year. We already have seen evangelical party affiliation change in the past three years. In late 2004, 50 percent of evangelicals were registered Republicans; that's now down to 40 percent, driven largely by younger evangelicals who are becoming independents and Democrats. If Barack Obama were the Democratic nominee, there would be good reason to think those younger evangelicals might support the Democratic ticket in November; a recent poll by Relevant magazine (for young evangelicals) found that Obama was the biggest vote-getter among the magazine's readers.
The theology of the Trinity United Church is way outside mainstream Christianity, however. The Church is "unashamedly Black", etc. This is the kind of thing that will turn off his Evangelical voters in a hurry.

I read more about the theology of this church here. I'm not going to get too worked up about it, but I think there are going to be a lot of people wondering if Obama's really a Christian after all. He might get the Romney treatment from liberal Evangelicals.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's pastor speech

It's already been beaten to death, yet he only made the speech today. I didn't hear what Barack Obama had to say, but I read it.

I may read it again, but I'm not sure this speech is going to accomplish what Obama wants. Obama will be slated because he didn't disown the pastor of his church, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Yet, I admire him for not disowning this man and there are parts of the speech I like (and parts I don't like).

What I don't like is all that easy corporate-America-bashing, the repetitive health-care refrain or even the (brief) reference to the "war that never should've been authorized and never should've been waged". I know it's politics, but I had thought this speech would be different and devoid of such boilerplate. And I really didn't like his attempt to link Geraldine Ferraro's recent remarks to what the Reverend Wright has said.

I like the fact that Obama believes in families and that "welfare policies for many years may have worsened" the position of black families. But, what I really like is Obama's refusal to disown this man who "has been like family to me". Reverend Wright has views on race that, it seems clear to me, Obama doesn't share. Case closed. Reverend Wright's not on the ballot paper so what do I care? It's Obama's views that matter. He judges Wright on everything he knows about him and not just on the remarks that have been in the media lately.

Obama has touched on race in a real way, in a way that the media (and most politicians) run a mile from today. He's saying that you don't have to turn on family and close friends who express views and ideas that you don't hold. He also says:
[n]ot once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect.
Even those who say stupid, racist things can be redeemed (at least somewhat) by the way they interact with people of other races. And let's face it, for most of us what we do is far more important than what we think or say.

And, lastly, I like the fact that Obama acknowledges that poor white people don't feel privileged by their race.
In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. … So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.
If Obama wasn't running for President he would never have made this speech and/or nobody would have cared. Yet, because he's running for President he has tried to tie it in with some standard campaign themes, which weakens the thrust of what he has to say.

The core of what he's saying about race - let's be real, things are improving, but we're not there yet and let's judge individuals by the totality of who they are and that white people have some understandable resentments - is a message for all of America. It's almost a shame he has to run for President to be heard. It would be better if he could travel the nation speaking, debating others and working to get this 'real' discussion on race going.

Czechoslovakia vs the US

Ridiculous little item in last week's Guardian by Tim Dowling comparing today's USA with Czechoslovakia in 1975. This was inspired by the 'news' that Martina Navratilova has regained her Czech citizenship after declaring that she is ashamed of the United States. (Note: she isn't so ashamed that she renounced her American citizenship.)

Dowling lays out all sorts of nonsensical comparisons between today's US and the past's Czechoslovakia. Here's something he should have considered. {From the San Francisco Chronicle in 2006.}
Overall, immigrants now make up 12.4 percent of the nation's population, up from 11.2 percent in 2000. That amounts to an estimated 4.9 million additional immigrants for a total of 35.7 million, a number larger than the population of California.
Yup, that's an extra 5m people entered America in the years 2001-2005. A million a year. I don't have any stats before me, but I'm pretty sure that Czechoslovakia didn't experience anything like this during the time when people like Navratilova had to defect in order to find freedom.

The Boston Irish

I finished reading The Boston Irish: A Political History. It was actually a lot better than I had anticipated when I picked it up. From the first arrivals from Ireland through the busing battles in the 1970s the story is interesting and the book is well written.

I've just started Antony Beevor's Berlin. Other than watching The Unknown War when I was in high school I haven't paid much attention to the war between the Nazis and the Soviets before. This book grabbed me from page 1.

Friday, March 14, 2008

REMade as Irish

REM's new album is "Irish music" according to the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland. I can't understand how we get away with this protectionist nonsense, which is what this Irish music requirement for radio stations is all about.

I also can't imagine that Irish bands want or need the state to nurture them this way. If they're going to succeed they need to be able to compete with the best the world has to offer, not be cosseted by the nanny state. You wanna be in a rock band? Well it's tough out there. Deal with it.

So, I don't really care whether REM's album is "Irish" or not. What I do know is if this album is as sleep-inducing as the last one I'm sure the people of Athens, GA will be just as glad that the Irish have claimed this production as their own.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Going, going, gone

Just listening to Governor Eliot Spitzer resign. I don't have a strong feeling about this because I don't know that much about him. I know he was the "sheriff of Wall St" and governor for the past 15 months. I don't follow NY State politics that closely, but I have something of a sneaky regard for Spitzer's archnemesis in New York, Joe Bruno. I like Joe just because he's a fighter even though I know he's far from squeaky 'clean'.

I can laugh when I read or hear something amusing at Spitzer's expense, but I have nothing amusing to say about the whole sordid affair. I can't help feeling bad for his wife and, especially, his teenage daughters. What they must be going through. It's all so unnecessary. He is a complete idiot and I have no sympathy for him.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Don't apologize for charging

According to the Derry Journal, a priest in Derry has had to defend "his decision to charge £50 per wedding in his parish, saying it was a 'token' amount compared to the overall amount spent on tying the knot today". What does he have to defend? He should be charging £250 for a wedding.

This drives me crazy. People just assume that the churches are some form of public space that they should be able to use for free. Regular churchgoers pay the bills that keep the churches going. Why should they underwrite weddings for people who are willing to spend thousands, often tens of thousands nowadays, for all sorts of nonsense that seems part of the modern wedding?

Priests need to stop apologizing and remember that those people who pay the bills do not object to charging for the use of the church for special functions. £250 is not too much for the use of a church for a wedding. In this particular case, the church in question is St. Eugene's Cathedral. I can see why it's popular with people who aren't parishioners. The priest should probably charge more than £250.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Florida & Michigan - what Obama should do

I've been thinking about the Florida & Michigan issue and I think the best move for Obama would be to drop his objection to those delegates being seated. Here's why.

He has nothing to gain from a re-vote there and a lot to lose. If he concedes those delegates to Hillary he should still have more delegates heading into the convention, so the story remains essentially the same. His argument is that he'll have more delegates, have won more states and (probably) received more votes (excluding those cast in Florida & Michigan where he wasn't on the ballot).

On the other hand, if he loses those two states' replay primaries in the run-up to the convention that would be a big cloud over him. Better to just get that out of the way and look to finish strong after Pennsylvania votes. I think he'll just about run the table after Pennsylvania votes. A strong finish is what he needs, not two tight primaries. He should be magnanimous and let her have them. Phrase it so that she looks small. Could work.

Doing whatever it takes

I'd like to be a tough guy, but unfortunately I'm a little squeamish. I don't really like the uglier aspects of politics. The back-stabbing, the mud-slinging, the dirt-digging is not really for me.

Despite what the media tells us this is hardly new in politics. In fact dirty politics has a long-established record of success in America. I see the Clintons as part of this history, although I sincerely doubt that Hillary will refer to Obama or McCain as a "hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman", as the Jefferson campaign said of John Adams in 1800. (You know, the funny thing is I laughed when I first read that and I'm laughing again. I guess I just don't like that sort of thing in current or recent elections.)

Despite all that you've read here the past few weeks/months, there is a part of me that admires Hillary Clinton. She's tenacious. She's aggressive. She's obnoxious. (I know it's not a winner with many, but I kind of like that.) And - as is pretty darned obvious - she simply doesn't quit. Whatever about being President, I wish to hell she'd have been managing the Mets last September.

{I also think a winning gambit for her would be to bluntly state that 'this is NOT a marriage proposal, but if you want someone you can count on to get in the face of America's enemies, cracking heads among the allies or fighting for you here at home there is no one more suited to the job'.}

There are things she stands for that I just don't like, but I also am fairly confident that she's not going to simply walk away from Iraq or free trade or do some of the other things she's been promising lately. And all Americans know this. They know that Hillary Clinton wants to be President very, very, very badly and will do or say whatever it takes to win.

Everyone who's voting for Clinton knows that the campaign promises aren't worth a damn, but they admire her and are voting for her because they trust that she'll do a good job. If she manages to win in November there will be some Democrats who will moan about the broken promises, but deep down they'll know, the media will know, we'll all know that the promises were just part of 'whatever it takes'.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

It lives

Yes, I called it right. I should be thrilled, right? Why do I have that queasy feeling in my stomach?

I think it's because I'm nervous that Obama has failed to drive a stake through Hillary Clinton's heart. He injured her, but he failed to finish her off and now she's on the prowl again. She can taste his blood. She'll be more dangerous now than she was in January, when she thought dismissing Obama as a lost lamb would work, or February, when she retreated licking her wounds looking for a new way to attack.

I can't imagine this ending before the convention now. And, at the convention, it'll be just like starting over, only instead of friendly smiling Hillary it will be the Clintons, off the leash, taking turns snapping at Obama behind closed doors. Obama simply has to prove he's thougher than he so far appears to be or he'll just be the young meat before the Clintons turn their attention to the old meat.

By the way, is Bill in seclusion or is the media just paying less attention?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

They think it's all over …

… but, it's not. Hillary will win both Ohio & Texas today (although, maybe not get more delegates than Obama in Texas). Take it to the bank!

The campaign will continue because she has only two hopes of being President. "Slim and none"? No, wrong answer.

The obvious one is that she wins all the big states and convinces the super delegates that they should back the candidate who has won the big states and not cleaned up in states that the Democrats won't win in November anyway. She gets the nomination and beats McCain in November.

The second, less obvious, possibility is that she loses the nomination, but she beats up on Obama so much that she leaves only a bloody pulp for McCain to finish off in November. McCain, who will be 72 on Inauguration Day, may decide that he wants to be only a one term President or he may not be very good and Clinton comes back in 2012. Her last chance.

The second hope is a long shot, but if Obama wins in November then it's all over for Clinton's presidential ambitions. I believe her ambition trumps her party loyalty, although if she loses one of the two big ones today the party will close ranks against her and she'll have to suck it up and accept that her only hope is McCain.

The first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox

Matthew Ryan of the Irish Hotels Federation wants Easter's date to be fixed in order to "avoid disruption to business and bookings".
"From a business perspective, a fluctuating Easter makes it difficult for forward planning, budgeting, cost control and general efficiency," said Mr Ryan.
I find it hard not to laugh when I read that passage. I keep picturing Pope Benedict reading that article and calling Mr. Ryan to ask him if there are any other changes to the way the Church operates that might improve Irish hotels' budgeting and efficiency.

It's not quite as outrageous as it sounds, however. The Second Vatican Council :
The Constitution declares that there is no objection to fixing the date of Easter – provided other non-Catholic Christian communities reach agreement.
Still, I suspect that the difficulties faced by the Irish Hotels Federation due to the "fluctuating Easter" will probably be well down the list of concerns if the various Christian churches decide to take up this issue.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Prone to error

Two bad columns in two different newspapers in the space of two days. Terry Prone probably needs two weeks off.

Although her failures regarding Bill Buckley might be understandable, her comments on sports range from the ridiculous to the "cannot be excused".

First the ridiculous. Prone says that televised sports is like pornography.
Now, however, the trend is to stay at home and watch other people doing it. Which is a definition of pornography. But, whereas most pornography is watched in sneaky private, golf and other sports are watched openly.
So, watching an activity on television is pornography? Surely the same argument would hold true for those who watch others garden, cook, trek across the Russian steppes or even discuss politics. Nonsense. None of that is pornography nor is televised sports. It's the content that defines pornography not the fact that people are staying home and watching "other people do it".

Most of her unhappiness seems to be connected to golf, which I've rarely played and don't watch, and rugby, which I've never played and rarely watch. So I can't complain too much, but there's one paragraph that's just out of line.
The sustaining myth of sport, justifying its promiscuous presence, is that it's good for the nation, starting with the kids who are forced out onto fields in winter in their own best interests, the assumption being that they will learn fair play and sportsmanship.
Why do kids have to be "forced out onto fields"? I can't speak for Irish kids in 2008, but I had to be dragged in - no matter the weather - when it came to sports. Baseball in the rain, basketball in snow showers and hockey games played when the temperature was under 10° (that's Fahrenheit, -12° or so on the Celsius scale. I remember one woman yelling at us to put our coats on while playing because it was 8° and there was a stiff breeze. We ignored her.).

Go ahead and knock the over-involved parents that surround today's youth leagues. Too many of them are excessively invested in whether a kids' team wins or loses and others are so worried about injury and aggression that sports are practically being played with balls of cotton and a gentility more befitting an afternoon tea.

Ideally kids should play sports with a minimum of parental involvement. They should give their best, play to win and (at least) be annoyed when they lose. The desire to achieve is what drives achievement. If it doesn't matter if you win or lose why should it matter if you get an "A" or a "D"?

Okay, maybe fair play and sportsmanship are learned more in theory than in fact (I don't know if I believe that), but there's one more lesson learned on the sports field - teamwork. Teamwork is essential in sports and kids do learn that on the ball field far more than they'll learn it through contrived group-work in school.

Maybe Prone wasn't very good at sports when she was a girl or maybe she just had a bad week, but I'm keeping score and she's 0 for 2 in March.

On no, Terry

Terry Prone couldn't be more wrong this week. Answering my call for something in the Irish media, her column in today's Irish Examiner is about Bill Buckley. She says she's read his books, which is admirable, but she knows little of Buckley's influence. She finishes with this.
The paradox of Buckley’s work (which ended with his death last week) is that, despite constant presence, unceasing media access, money, education and a mind as well-stocked as the Internet, albeit more selective in its content, it would be difficult to point to any individual, let alone a large swatch of people ever persuaded by him to share his right-wing views.

He was media-savvy before media-savvy was cool. Readers got hooked on his style and skill, but regarded his political positions in much the same way as tourists regard the Galapagos Islands. Great place to visit. But you wouldn’t want to live there.
This is from last week's New York Times obituary.
His most receptive audience became young conservatives first energized by Barry Goldwater’s emergence at the Republican convention in 1960 as the right-wing alternative to Nixon. Some met in September 1960 at the Buckley family home in Sharon, Conn., to form Young Americans for Freedom. Their numbers — and influence — grew.

Nicholas Lemann observed in Washington Monthly in 1988 that during the Reagan administration "the 5,000 middle-level officials, journalists and policy intellectuals that it takes to run a government" were "deeply influenced by Buckley’s example." He suggested that neither moderate Washington insiders nor "Ed Meese-style provincial conservatives" could have pulled off the Reagan tax cut and other policy transformations.
I can't tell you how many times over the past few days I've read that without Buckley there'd have been no Ronald Reagan.

Donald Lambro's column echoes much of what I've read/heard about Buckley over the past few days.
William Buckley's pioneering influence in the creation of the modern American conservative movement has been well documented since his passing last week.
Bill Kristol says, "Buckley was, simply, the indispensable man of modern American conservatism".

I don't know how Prone might define "a large swatch of people", but creating a movement that changed American politics and helped elect one of the more successful Presidents of the 20th century sounds like a big enough "swatch of people" to me.