Saturday, October 24, 2009

Everyone should read Frank McNally

Frank McNally is a genius. I've been meaning to say this for months now. His Irishman's Diaries in the Irish Times are often the only thing worth reading in the paper.

Today he writes about Halloween, which is big business here now. But it wasn't always so. Now that it's a big deal, County Meath is claiming to be the birthplace of the festival.
Essentially, as is the fate of all developing economies, we exported the cheap raw materials for the festival, lacking the inclination or wherewithal to process them ourselves. Then the Yanks developed the ingredients into a more sophisticated product, with slick packaging, and exported it back to us at a large mark-up.

It is control of this value-added product that Meath is now attempting to seize with its bold “Home of Halloween” strategy. At the very least, the county could secure the Irish franchise, under license. But with enough ambition and clever marketing, the people behind the festival could soon have tourists flocking to it not just from the US but all over the world.

There is a helpful precedent in the form of St Patrick’s Day. For centuries, this wasn’t so much celebrated here as endured. Then the Americans turned it into into something saleable. And in the 1990s, belatedly realising there was a market for large-scale celebrations featuring the colour green, Dublin reinvented itself as the home of Paddy’s Day. Now at last the world is buying that product from us: which is only right, after all.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I prefer to get my humiliation for free, thanks

The Olympic Council of Ireland President Pat Hickey says that any cutbacks to the government largess that his sports currently receive will mean that "[w]e’ll have a humiliating Games, and that will be a disaster for the country." A disaster for the country.

We're up to our eyeballs in debt, classrooms are bursting at the seems, health care is being rationed and the unemployment lines are now being measured in KM (much like the gaps between the Irish middle distance runners and the race leaders in recent Olympic games), but if the government decides to cut the amount it spends on supporting professional (& I don't care if they're even semi-professional) athletes. I can live with the humiliation of not seeing Irish medal winners at the '12 & '16 games.

And speaking of that 'humiliation', what exactly has been achieved by the OCI over the past decade or more? Well, Michelle Smith won a bunch of golds. No humiliation there. Right? Oh yeah, we had a gold in show jumping thanks to Cian O'Connor on Waterford Crystal, but, well, that didn't end up right when the horse tested positive for a banned substance and O'Connor was stripped of his gold. No humiliation there.

Look, the only Olympic sport that might merit the money from the government is boxing. Why? Because Olympic boxing is still strictly amateur and boxing keeps refusing to humiliate the nation the way other sports do.

The government should cut the sports funding and then redirect what's left towards real amateurs and, more importantly, school age sports, which provide a lot more benefits for society than the few who compete at the Olympic level.

That goes for the GAA, IRFU & FAI too. All that government money should go to providing facilities for as many people as possible, not for a privileged few.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bank workers' wages must be cut

Let's cut to the chase: the banks need to cut their staffs' wages because they no longer work for the private sector. Bank staff are public sector workers in all but name and, therefore, they need to endure the same pain as every nurse, teacher, civil servant and other state worker. This must happen.

This morning's news that AIB is going to increase the wages for their workers is an out and out scandal. It's indefensible. It's indecent. It's infuriating. It's immoral.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Spandau - everything their fans hoped for

I wasn't supposed to be going in the original plans. I had never imagined going to a Spandau Ballet concert. I wasn't a fan in the 1980s and, in truth, never imagined that any man was a fan of theirs. But, last night I found myself at the Point Depot, oh sorry, the O2, for Spandau's first concert since their acrimonious break-up 20 years ago.

Before the show started I was relieved to see that I wasn't the only husband at the show. Us males were outnumbered by a count of about 4 to 1, but still it was better than what I'd feared: 10,000 women and me. And sitting right in front of us was a middle aged man on his own!

The show started with a video intro that was a welcome trip down memory lane for the band's thousands of 30+ fans in attendance. I know it was welcome because it elicited shrieks that I'm sure most of those ladies thought they'd never know again. And the guy in front of us? Well, he was in tears, overcome with the emotion of seeing the band together again.

I'd like to be able to give you details on the set list, etc., but I can't remember now and I don't really know the names of their songs anyway. All I can say is that the band sounded great. A lot more rock-n-roll than I'd have imagined. I think the first song was To Cut A Long Story Short, but I really can't remember. The first three songs were pretty exciting. I hadn't anticipated anything like it.

Fortunately (for me at least) I knew most of the songs because they were mostly right off their greatest hits album. I know if I was a music critic I'd have to slate them for their slavish adherence to the nostalgia theme, but I was entertained for two hours, which is a lot more than I hoped for. The band plays with a lot of energy and if they tour long enough no doubt lead singer Tony Hadley will lose a couple of chins and the 25 pounds (plus!) he's added since the band's heyday.

There was very little chatter from the band. They don't seem to go for a lot of talk, no little political asides (TG), a number of jokey references to the years that have past and the troubles the band had in the 80s. They dedicated True to Stephen Gateley.

My biggest disappointment was that the guy in front us left about half way through. He'd been dancing in his seat for a good hour or so, but I think the obnoxious people sitting next to us drove him away. I'm sure today he's exhausted, what with the emotional toll of seeing Spandau together again after so long. Me, I'm just exhausted what with the toll of being out so late on a Tuesday night. It was 11:30 when we got home! I can't believe I was in my 20s only 20 years ago.

UPDATE: 3:20pm You can find the set list and a clip from the show's opening here.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

What didn't the IOC like?

I mentioned George Will's column on Twitter, but I'm not sure if anyone is looking at the box on the right or if Twitter's really worth it. Will takes the Obamas apart for their speeches in Copenhagen last week. Will says that the Obamas talked mostly about themselves in their bid to entice the IOC to award the 2016 Olympic Games to Chicago.
In the 41 sentences of her remarks, Michelle Obama used some form of the personal pronouns "I" or "me" 44 times. Her husband was, comparatively, a shrinking violet, using those pronouns only 26 times in 48 sentences. Still, 70 times in 89 sentences conveyed the message that somehow their fascinating selves were what made, or should have made, Chicago's case compelling.
Will doesn't leave it with the vanity charge either. He asks that the White House speech writers eschew the "egregious cliches" that seem to be overlooked by the "tin-eared employees in the White House speechwriting shop."
The president told the Olympic committee that: "At this defining moment," a moment "when the fate of each nation is inextricably linked to the fate of all nations" in "this ever-shrinking world," he aspires to "forge new partnerships with the nations and the peoples of the world."

Good grief. The memory of man runneth not to a moment that escaped being declared "defining" -- declared such by someone seeking to inflate himself by inflating it. Also, enough already with the "shrinking" world, which has been so described at least since Magellan set sail, and probably before that. And by the way, the "fate" of -- to pick a nation at random -- Chile is not really in any meaningful sense "inextricably linked" to that of, say, Chad.
I know a lot of people will dismiss this - the Olympics pitch - as not all that important, believing that maybe the President didn't give it his best shot. That's possible, but that only confirms that he shouldn't have gone in the first place.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Stick to the science in science books

My daughter's science textbook says the following: "Corrosion is an undesirable process ..." What sort of nonsense is this? Why is a science book taking sides on whether a natural process is desirable or not?

Corrosion just is. As far as science should be concerned it should be neither desirable nor undesirable. I'm sure a many scientists have earned a good living trying to devise new ways to prevent or overcome corrosion. Was corrosion undesirable to them?

And, what about all those scrapped cars, planes, trains? Don't we 'desire' corrosion for them? Aren't we glad that mother nature will return giant chunks of metal (small pieces too) back to the earth? I just don't understand why such nonsense should be in a school textbook.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Pres Obama burns up his climate-change credentials

I haven't seen any footage yet, but I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that President Obama didn't buy a ticket on a commercial airliner for his trip to Copenhagen today. I'll bet he flew Air Force One to and from Denmark.

For what? To "win" - could be one that Chicagoans will regret winning - the 2016 Olympics for Chicago? Simply amazing. And ridiculous.

Why should the President of the United States care who hosts the Olympic Games?

But what about the flights themselves?

The President has promised to lead America into some form of carbon-neutral, emissions-control future, but he has just dashed all his moral authority on that score. When he lectures Americans about taking "unnecessary trips in their car" they'll think back to today's massive emissions burn on what is clearly his "unnecessary trip". And when he lectures business on the perfectly good substitute for business travel that video conferencing represents, they'll think back to today and how the President of the United States needed to fly his personal 747 7,000 miles to make a sales pitch.

Yup. No one's gonna listen to him on this score now.