Friday, November 20, 2009

There can be no replay

Any sports fan can understand the frustration and the anger that the referee's decision (or non-decision) caused the other day. I was annoyed and frustrated too. I watch all sporting events with a great intensity and the other night was no exception. Many times in my sports-watching life I've felt that sickness and anger that comes when you watch your team throw it away or when the referee takes it away.

I can fully understand how every Irish fan was feeling on Wednesday night. I felt a lot of it myself. I couldn't get enough of the post-match coverage yesterday. You want to feed that anger.

Still, by the end of the day I was feeling a bit sheepish because I thought too many people were heading off the deep end. Not that they were too angry - I don't think you can be too angry after what happened - but they were seeking justice via a replay of the game. That simply cannot happen.

There is injustice in sports just as there is in life and everyone who was rooting for Ireland on Wednesday simply has to accept that the Irish team lost. It's over. That they lost due to an injustice is now part of the memory, part of the pain of being a fan.

Calls from the FAI and, worse, the government, for a replay are wrong and pretty embarrassing actually.

Besides, this is probably the best possible result. If there is a replay two things are possible, neither as attractive as what we have now: (1) the team might be seriously humbled by the French and/or lose in a less noble fashion and (2) they might win, which would undoubtedly lead to thousands of people spending money they don't have to go to S. Africa.

By the way, the most impressive moment of the whole game was the way the Irish team tried to rally the Irish fans just before the start of the second half of extra time. They knew the chances of scoring in those last 15 minutes were pretty slim and they must have been dead on their feet, but rather than getting down and feeling sorry for themselves - they saved that for later - they got up for one last desperate assault on the French goal.

Some of the 'pictures' here (click on the cartoon) are pretty good.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The President's cringe-making absence and video

The other day I posted on Twitter that I was "embarrassed by President Obama" while I watched the celebrations from Berlin.

During the period 2001-2009 I heard lot of Americans living here say that they were "embarrassed" by the President. They were embarrassed by his religion, by his accent and manner, by his administration's policies. To be embarrassed by the man's religion, accent or manner is simply snobbishness or insecurity, which afflicts many Americans in Europe. They worried that their 'sophisticated' European friends, colleagues and neighbors would think less of them if they failed to denounce President Bush (even though many European leaders were guilty of the sort of corruption the scale of which is unimaginable in America.)

As for President Bush's policies, well I don't expect any American to support every policy pursued by an administration. As in any democracy, you disagree and you say so. You can even get angry. You want to be embarrassed by policies that's your choice, but policy is not something that embarrasses me although it can enrage me.

No, as far as I'm concerned nothing President Bush did was as stupidly embarrassing as what President Obama did this week. His failure to turn up in Berlin was a calculated snub of an ally - Germany - and really all of eastern Europe. The President's behavior was on a par with Donald Rumsfeld's ridiculous characterization of France and Germany as "old Europe" back in 2003.

But it was more than a snub to an ally. It was also a snub to America's own past and the efforts of the country over 45 years to confront the threat from the Soviet Union. That's what made his decision so embarrassing. His failure to show wasn't just saying to Germany, "We don't really care that much about your reunited country" or to eastern Europe, "Your struggles weren't all that important," although those were two messages from his absence. No, it was also saying, "I don't care much for that piece of American history" (our stand against Communism).

A snub for every President who stood fast against the Soviets from Truman through to Bush. A snub of the airmen who died bringing supplies to West Berlin in 1948-49 and all the sacrifices the people of America made to protect western Europe.

It was cringe-making watching President Sarkozy take the podium as the lead speaker knowing that the President of the United States should have been there. If in 1989 you'd asked anyone in E. Europe what country more than any other was responsible for the collapse of the Soviet system they'd have said the United States. If you had asked any Berliner in 1989 what foreign leader should speak first at the 20th anniversary celebrations they'd have said the President of the United States.

The President should have been there to represent the country and honor the efforts made during the Cold War. And any European or American would have realized how ridiculous it was that the President of the United States wasn't there. Instead we had the Secretary of State trying her best to sound enthusiastic when she introduced the cringe-making video. It was like a scene out of some science fiction movie where the leader is only ever seen on a video screen.

It was bad enough that the President didn't show, but the video - Uggh. Embarrassing.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Irish Times jumps at the chance to wave its finger at America

President Obama has cautioned "against jumping to conclusions until we have all the facts" with regards to the killings at Fort Hood. That didn't stop the Irish Times jumping to its own conclusions, however.

The Irish Times has concluded that the killings are - again - the result of America's lax gun laws. That may be true, but only if the investigation concludes that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was simply deranged and not carrying out a planned terrorist attack. If it's the latter, then the gun laws are irrelevant as mass terrorist killings have been carried out in all western jurisdictions, including those that have very tight gun laws.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Let's pay more taxes to punish the rich!

This morning's Irish Times reports that taxpayers forked out €100m to "support" private fee-paying schools. Sounds like a scandal in these economically straitened times. Yet ...

The implication of the Times' report is that this is money being provided to the rich. Well, to an extent maybe it is, but there are aspects of this funding that the Times overlooks that should be included in any discussion on whether this money should be withdrawn.

First of all, there are many people who choose to send their children to such schools despite not being rich. These people forgo some of life's luxuries for the sake of their children's education that other people in their income bracket can afford because they send their children to free schools.

Next, let's imagine a scenario where all the state money is withdrawn from the fee-paying schools. What then? Obviously the fees at these schools will have to go up - way up. Teachers - all ASTI members - will have to be let go; some of the state-mandated nonsense would be jettisoned (think CSPE, etc); and class sizes would have to be increased.

Perhaps, however, the most telling impact would be an instant increase in demand for places in the free secondary schools because without question many of the parents would need to take their children out of the fee-paying schools. That would immediately lead to problems. Places in the free schools would be at a premium because they wouldn't be able to cope with demand.

As parents withdraw their children from the fee-paying schools, some of those schools would be forced to close, creating more pressure on the free schools. Or the fee-paying schools would abandon their fees and join the free sector.

That last scenario is probably more likely for many of the fee-paying schools and possibly the most costly option for the state. The capitation grant available to a fee-paying school is less than half that for a free school (€212 per pupil vs €557), which would mean that the school would get an €345 per pupil from the state. In addition, the pupil-teacher ratio in each of the now free schools would mean that the state would have to foot the bill for a new teacher for every 400 students.

What benefit, exactly, does the state derive from the move to punish fee-paying schools? Well, we get the joy of seeing some high-fallutin' people punished. I mean, after all, some of those kids are probably bankers' children. They deserve it as do their children. Who cares if the decision costs us taxpayers millions?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Child benefit - odd figures or evidence of fraud?

The Sunday Telegraph reports today that people are claiming child benefit in the UK for 50,000 children who live outside the UK. This is an issue that's been getting more airtime and column inches here lately, what with all the talk of cuts to child benefit, etc. Something in the order of 10,000 children are resident in another EU state, but being claimed for from here.

There are two issues here: (1) should people whose children reside in another state claim child benefit here simply because they work here and (2) are some of these people claiming child benefit for children who live elsewhere committing fraud.

I listened to a discussion on the radio earlier this week where one speaker - can't remember who what was now, but from the Labour Party - indicated that they thought fraud was an issue. The other speaker on the program said there was no evidence of any fraud in the benefit system.

Most of the discussion was about those children who are living in E. Europe, but the Sunday Telegraph's report has some interesting numbers for the discussion here. The Telegraph says that of those 50,000 UK claimants, 1,800 live in Ireland (presumably they mean the Republic).

What interests me is that the rates in the UK are a lot lower than the rates available here, so why would anyone whose children live in this state claim in the UK? For example, a single child in the UK gets approximately £87 per month (€100) whereas the same child would get €166 if the claim is made here. If you claim for two children in the UK you get £144 (€170) per month. Here the rate is €332. See what I mean?

Those figures lead me to believe that there's a strong possibility that some people are claiming twice: here and in the UK. Otherwise, why would anyone with children living here claim the UK's lower benefit?