Monday, June 23, 2014

Stephen Donnelly: Ireland's Ralph Nader

Nader was vilified and heavily criticised
at first, but his book transformed the car
industry in America.
The first Chevy Corvair launched in 1960 was a roaring success. Jack Kennedy was President, Elvis Presley was on the radio, and America was fighting the Communists in the dark corners of Eastern European cities. It was a sleek designed power grunt of a machine, with swing-axle suspension. That meant that it needed a significant tyre-pressure differential between rear and front tyres, which resulted in a dangerous amount of over-steer. In lay mans terms, that means that when you turn the car left, the wheels turn much more left than you had intended. There was a significant danger of 'tuck-under', where the left front wheel in a left turn could essentially flip under the car, causing an accident.  Many people died as a result, though the car industry was unperturbed - driver error, was the response. If you drive at a safe speed, you're fine.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Next Anglo-Scale Crisis Will be in Data Protection

Billy Hawkes has his work cut out for him
I've argued for some time that the problem in Ireland is not one of light-touch regulation, but of culture. The failure that led to such catastrophic circumstances was not down to Lehman Brothers, or the Global Meltdown, or Anglo, or the Financial Regulator, but culture. A culture that said 'go on sure you'll be grand,' a culture that basically said take what you can get away with, so long as you don't get caught, a culture that told politicians - jovially - that the only thing, the *only* thing they had to protect was their seat.  That caused an abdication of leadership and responsibility, an absence of ownership, and a complete abandonment of the principles of the nation. So we are - as they in Leinster House so wearily put it - where we are. The implication of that phrase, of course, is that we do not learn from our mistakes, we forget about the past, and we fix the problem we are faced with rather than contemplating the uncontemplable - that we are fundamentally wrong about all sorts of important stuff that's really hard to fix.

Friday, February 07, 2014

The Liberal Left and the New Religion

Narcissists? We've been heading
in that direction for some time.
In an over-used and most likely incorrectly attributed quotation, when asked what the influence of the French Revolution had been on Western Democracy, the Chinese Foreign Minister replied that is was too soon to tell.  Given the apocryphal nature of the story, and the layers of invention that the Internet places on such stories, we don’t know if Zhou Enlai smiled as he said it.  The most significant shift that happened with the French Revolution – and the Enlightenment generally – was the shift from peoples and tribes to individuals and rights.  The Cartesian fundamental coigito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) had made its way through the corridors of time and consequence from arcane academic existential consideration to politics, and war, and statecraft.  If Millenials are accused of being all about me, me and me on the cover of Time Magazine, it’s only because we've been heading that way for several hundred years.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Why Ireland Needs Drones

Drones come in all shapes and sizes, not just Predators
with sidewinders attached.
Drones have got something of a bad press recently, what with all of the extra-judicial killings and what not, and Human Rights Watch, the United Nations Special Rapporteur, and all sort of other folks getting concerned about the automation of lethal force.  Much of the focus is on the US, but it should be noted that there are dozens of countries deploying their own drones now, and not just for pre-emptive strikes on irksome alleged terrorists outside state borders.

Monday, January 20, 2014

More Unbelievable Truths from the CRC?

Ham Goulding's attempt to clear the air in a series of interviews at the weekend, in an attempt to pour water on the raging fire of the Central Remedial Clinc scandal, appears to have failed.  The Public Accounts Committee still wants them all in, and Mr McGuinness will have his show.  Goulding claimed that the settlement was an attempt to save money, because keeping Kiely on as Chief Executive would have cost €2.1m over six years.

Let's do the math.  First, the settlement of €740k means that the net saving would have only been €1.36m over the six years, which Goulding acknowledges.  However, they then immediately agreed to appoint Brian Conlon on a salary of €125k (later reduced under pressure from the HSE).  That's a total of at least €750,000 over six years, which leaves the benefit at €610,000 at most.  Therefore, adopting Goulding's logic, they paid €740k in order to save €610k.  This is despite the fact that one board member went so far as to have it noted in the minutes her reluctance to agree to the departure of Mr Kiely - being such a fine Chief Executive - but for it appeared that he was resolved to leave.  Go figure.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

NAMA: Rebadging Failure as Success

Photo Credit: Google Images
Fintan O'Toole calls out the economic failure in Ireland in today's Irish Times (and, incidentally, in The New York Times also) and in particular those politicians who hold the country up as an example to others. The debt has soared, public services have been slashed, and quality of life has deteriorated for all but those who have emigrated in the last five years. Things are admittedly pretty awful, and made worse by rich men in expensive suits praising the country for its prudence and fortitude.

NAMA was actually designed to do this.  Its model works thus: you have a property worth $50m, for which a developer has a loan of $100m, you pay the bank $20 for the loan, re-capitalise the bank for the $80m shortfall (i.e. repay the German inter-bank lender) through off-books sovereign debt, then sell the property for $30m, making (ahem) a $10m 'profit'. So NAMA then is a success, because it drove a profit from its loan book. The State, meanwhile, is crippled.

Anyone can be successful if they are allowed to define the rules for success themselves.  Small minds are destroying this place.


A No-Vision Rest Home for No-Vision Politicians: The Conservative Reform Alliance

Didn't get the memo then?
In Susan Neiman's 2008 Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists, there is at least some part of the answer to why we are all so cynical these days.  Neiman talks of things like reason and hope - not incompatible, it seems - and says of aspiration that so long as it is limited by the actual, no other idea has a chance.  Good bedtime reading for Lucinda Creighton, one suspects.

Her fall from high office has been well documented, losing the whip on the abortion bill, and subsequently forming the Reform Alliance, an entity not quite a political party, but registered for fundraising and populated by politicians.  Today, it emerged that several high profile independent TDs would not be supporting the breakaway movement, dealing a significant blow to the Alliance, and seriously undermining any ambitions it may have had to real power. Which is a shame.


Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Ireland: Land of the Blind

Just when you think it really can't get any worse.

It's bad enough that we pushed the national debt towards €200m, or roughly four times what it costs to run the country every year.  Furthermore, we've destroyed the construction industry, crippled the property market, and plunged anyone who bought a house in the last ten years into negative equity.  We're cutting our way to growth, which seems insane, insisting on paying all of our debts - notwithstanding the systemic flaws in the Euro structure that have been at the heart of Ireland's inability to recover.  We have acceded to the decimation of our population and its future through youth emigration, of a type that we have never seen before - it's not financial, and these ones don't intend on coming back.  This is no mere release valve for unemployment with some of them going because they're young, free, and up for a bit of an adventure.  It's not a lifestyle choice, it's a life choice.