Monday, March 05, 2007

Media as Opiate: Internet Television, Satellite Television, IPTV...

So, here's why it won't work. People like to be told what to watch. People think, occasionally, jeeze, I'd love to see an episode of the Simpsons right now. But the waiting, the channel hopping, the yearning, is all part of the experience. How many people have massive DVD collections, but never watch them? Or have taped movies on VHS or DVD burners or whatever, but won't watch them? They are the same people who will get excited about the fact that the Godfather's on tonight, and sit in and watch it (and the ads), and get popcorn and make an event out of it, even though they have a recording with ads on VHS, an original copy of the movie on VHS, and the box set of the trilogy on DVD. The fact is that people like to be told what to watch. They like how the programming directs, and affirms their lives. The cyclical nature - see on TV, do in real life, watch on TV and smile smugly. Smugness. That's what it's all about. And, like goldfish, how quickly we forget. We see the Devil wears Prada previews on TV. We save up and buy the Prada bag (well, my wife does). Then we watch the movie when it makes it to air, and we feel smug - this movie is telling people to go out and buy what I already own.

Sheep. Stupid, woolly, opiated sheep. Happy Monday.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Europe and America

The rivets are popping, according to The Economist, in the relationship between Europe and America. The article pulls no punches. Labelling the invasion of Iraq 'bloody and incompetent', and abdicating any predilection for equivocation on the rendition scandal, it refers to 'astonishing amnesia and lazy prejudice'. Almost like something I'd write, and certainly not to be expected of the Economist. Well, we all know it's politics, but even this is going a little too far.

Question is, if all of these diabolicalisms are destroying the historical relationship between Europe and America (Sam Huntingdon would no doubt disagree), whither next? Do we re-enter a period of isolationism? That is perfectly impossible. Even China has a massive influence over Europe and America these days, to say nothing of the effect they have on each other. Modern capitalist democracies are economies first, societies second, the theory being that one pays for the infrastructure that delivers the second. Questionable philosophy, perhaps, but nevertheless exposes the nation, the country, the region to disproportionate external influence. It is the way that countries, economies and regions are organised that precludes isolationism. Even DPRK, even with its ideological differentiation, its social alternative, could not resist integration and did the deal. We're all in this together.

So if we can't hide in an isolationist shell, where do we go next? Truth is we have to get on with it, and the further truth is that we have, in fact, been getting on with it for some time.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Trial of Kareem Amer

It is such a pitiful thing. We may criticise our governments, and chastise our venerable Minister for Justice for his neglect of Human Rights, but we're really not all that badly off.

Kareem Amer, whose real name is Abdel Kareem Soliman, was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison in Egypt yesterday. He was improsoned for three years for 'insulting Islam and inciting sedition', and to one year for insulting President Hosni Mubarak, whom he called a dictator.

Michael McDowell is a mad mullah dictator who oppresses people and should be deposed as Minister for Justice in favour of anyone else. There. I said it.

But there is no courage in rant, no bravery in rage, and no conviction in blogging in a democracy such as the one it is our privilege to inhabit. Sure it's imperfect, but I won't be looking over my shoulder when I pull up outside my house tonight. Even if Michael McDowell is trying to make us think crime is a real issue :)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Sergeant Arrested and Questioned...

Did I hear this right? On the One O'Clock News? That a Garda has been arrested for sharing information with a non-Garda about a criminal proceeding?

Why don't we wheel out the old Frank Connolly precedent, and put that in the investigating officer's pipe and have him smoke it. If Minister for Justice Michael McDowell can do it, anyone can do it. Right?

Look at this post from the height of the Frank Connolly scandal. Look at this line, quoted by Professor Walsh in the Irish Times:

“The principle of innocence until proven guilty is fundamental to civilisation throughout the world. Leaking documents from a criminal investigation to a particular newspaper – that’s subversion of the State,” Professor Walsh says.

Unless, that is, you happen to be the Minister for Justice.

And while we're at it, let's arrest Sam Smyth as well.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Hospital Consultants of Death

Now, this is a little different. Nothing to do with Michael McDowell, and a complement for his party colleague and erstwhile nemesis, Mary Harney. The hospital consultants.

Back in 1999, the consultants voted unanimously in favour of hiring more consultants. In 2004, Harney allegedly drew the battle lines with the consultants because they were bottlenecking the system and not delivering enough into public practice. They threaten industrial action over insurance, and then disciplinary procedures. Further problems arise over the HSE's refusal to offer new 'hybrid contracts', allowing consultants to work as much as they like (pretty much) in private hospitals, reinforcing the two tier system.

Here's the thing. Irish Hospital Consultants run a cartel. They are all earning three, four hundred thousand euros a year, because there are not enough of them, and because they protect their cartel status. And they even have a union - I mean, if you thought the ESB was bad, with average wages of around 80K per annum, these guys are nuts!

In ye olde times, gentlemen became either barristers or consultants, they were the only two professions that were respectable. (Barristers are going to get it in the neck shortly as well, as soon as McDowell gets one in the ear) Consultants don't work for anyone, essentially, they work for themselves. And so do barristers. There is a niceness to it all that is a sickening throwback to empire and class. It does two things - it makes the consultants very, very rich, and it protects their riches from encroachment by the great unwashed. Similarly, that layer of arbitrary protection compromises the health service, and because of their greed people die.

These consultants are earning millions, millions, millions of taxpayers money in most cases, and they are taking the money and letting people die. Brian Cowen knew it, and ran away from what he called 'Angola'. Mary Harney had the cohones to take them on, and has done so. Fair play to her, I hope she bursts them good and proper.

One final spit-in-the-eye from the IHCA - on the website, the following is what they are about:

The Association was established to promote, encourage and support the advancement of the practice of Medicine, in all specialties and areas, and the improvement of the Health Services in Ireland.

What a load of absolute horse shit. There. I did it. The first swear word on my blog. The secondary 'oh, by the way, we also dabble in a bit of this' line is the following:

It also seeks to promote and protect the interests of Medical and Dental hospital consultants in Ireland.

Does it really? Here's the thing. The only thing that this organisation is about is representing their interests, protecting the cartel, assuring their futures and keeping riff-raff out of the profession. And as for the 'practice of Medicine'? Well, their steadfast defence of their cartel has resulted in people dying. Where's your hypocratic oath now? Shoved up the fat arse of Mr. I-Don't-Give-A-Flying-Fiddlers-Fuck-How-Many-People-Die consultant.

More rage. And not even a mention of McDowell, apart from the mention at the start that it had nothing to do with McDowell.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Rugby. A Diversion.

The arguing over Norn Iron and how demonic McDowell actually is makes on depressed. But the rugby energises me.

Looks like we'll have a full complement from which to select for Saturday's game against England at Croke Park. The English are not exactly firing on all cylinders, and notwithstanding Wilkinson's rest weekend, I don't think they're going to have enough. One wag suggested to the Irish Times that whatever about beating the English 19-16, it would be horrendous to lost 19-20; Can I suggest a more futuristic result - 36-11, perhaps.

Garrett Fitzgerald, and David Adams

Two stories from the Irish Times (sub reqd), on Friday and Saturday respectively. The first, David Adams - our enlightened Unionist faux-intellectual doorknob - suggests that the media in the South have not been sufficiently critical of Mary MacAleese (aka El Presidente) when she brings up the pain of her Northern Nationalist upbringing in seeking a point of empathy with the less well off. She probably overstepped the mark when comparing Unionists to Nazis - while there were undoubtedly some similarities, there were a great many things that were unique to Naziism. In any case, the First Lady was pilloried on both sides of the border for that particular pas trop loin. But the instance in question that sent our venerable Mr. Adams into a tizzy was a speech in Scotland where she was addressing some people involved in combatting homelessness, and she again went to the well in search of a personal point of reference, coming up with the time when her family were burned out of their home in Belfast.

Now, there are a series of issues here. First, she can't be prevented from drawing on her personal history to empathise with others, which is what she needs to do in order to do her job. I suspect Mr. Adams would have been equally aghast had she brought up the famine, and how thousands of Irish families were turfed out onto their bare arses, because that was too provocative as well.

Here's the central point - Unionists don't like being reminded about how oppressive and violent and discriminatory and illiberal and racist and snobbish they were in the past. In particular, they don't like being reminded of it by an uppity taigue who managed to escape the appalling conditions that her family was subjected to, rise above it, and be nice to the same people who tried to beat her down.

In the same paper, on the same page, but on a different day, Garrett Fitzgerald blames the IRA for having dampened economic development in the North. Have ranted about this a little over at slugger. Let me go a little further here. There is a time when the establishment says 'can't we just let everything be', and it is wrong to say OK. It is wrong to let everything be, because everything is very much not OK, and the establishment is wrong. Garrett Fitzgerald presents a one dimensional econometric argument that is poorly weighted and deeply imbalanced, and proceeds to infuse the conclusion with personal comment ('I resent', etc.) that has no place.

The man may have had his time, and perhaps that time has passed.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Thursday, February 15, 2007

McDowell Launches Poster Campaign Lauding Rights Restrictions

Michael McDowell today launched a new poster campaign listing all of the things Michael McDowell has done since becoming Minster for Justice. "In my tenure, I have overseen deep resentment in the Gardaí over undertrained revervists in a vain effort to make up for my own failure in recruiting more Gardaí; massive corruption in the force in Donegal; abusing the rights of Irish citizens in nursing homes; deporting Irish born babies; exponentially increasing the gap between rich and poor; undermining the judicial process by denying Frank Connolly a presumption of innocence; directly compromising the separation of powers by telling the judges what to do when considering bail terms; lowering myself to ego-baiting against Richard Bruton; mis-representing the will of the Irish people, and embarrassing the nation by not buying a wig."

He continued "we look forward to your support in the next general election."

The PD's did nothing, apparently, and if you look at the home page there is a vague reference to health turning the corner, but apart from that it is justice, crime and Michael McDowell.

How the party must hate him - he may well manage to have himself and no one else elected to the Dáil next time out.


The new 'in' word is DPRK. When conversing with people about the state of the world, an Iraq conversation, say, then toss in a sentence like 'this DPRK thing has me so freaked out.' DPRK, of course, is the acronym for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. It's troubling because the United States appears to have secured a withdrawal from the nuclear brink by Kim Jong-Il and his communist friends, but t a massive price. Apparently, they're giving them something like a billion tons of oil or something like that. Like, lots of the stuff.

And they are now not officially on the axis of evil any more. Presumably Iraq has also now been removed from the axis, which leaves Iran, really, as a Point of Evil. An evil constructs go, a point really isn't all that bad. I mean, everyone knows that there's evil in the world, and to identify one point of evil as more important or offensive than the next, well, that's almost racist, isn't it?

Now here's the other thing. Bush has consistently referred to two groups in his presidency. The first, the axis of evil, is now a point. The second, the Coalition of the Willing, is decidedly frosty now, but I guess with the Brits still committed to Afghanistan and Iraq, remains a coalition. Question is, should the other countries be put into a box - one, for example, where we could place DPRK. They're certainly not going into the good guys box - the Coalition. Even for a squillion tons of oil I doubt we're going to see Kil Jong-Il's boys taking on Moqtada Al-Sadr any time soon. So I guess we could call the middle ground the Alliance of the Distinctly Average. We're not evil (just like Google), and we're not good either - at least not to the point of invading Iraq (or Iran for that matter - that will probably need a Coalition of the Coerced). We're just kind of OK.

Did anyone mention rendition? Oh no, here we go.

Slugger and the Rugby

Slugger O'Toole, our friend up North, has a penchant for stirring things up a little, but one has to admit it's strange the things that stir the soul of the less thuggish element of society (assuming in an entirely elitist kind of way that most blog contributors are at least marginally less malnourished and fractionally better educated than the great unwashed, and therefore capable of rational thought and reasonable dialogue). In this instance, it's the rugby, with its 32 country protestant origins and the symbolism attached thereto.

Ironies abound in this one. The all-island nature of the game, the 'true' provincial separations and national unification with the oval ball, came about through privilege. Rugby, an English game for the fee-paying schools and young men of the social elite, has always been the protestant game. And because the protestants ran it, the protestants in the North could agree with the protestants in the south how best to run the game. And so we have this clarity of purpose, undimmed by politics, unclouded by cynicism and blind loyalism, that has brought us to a point where we have an extraordinary day out in Croke Park.

If in the six counties GAA is dominated by the Catholic nationalist, and soccer by the protestant loyalist, for so long rugby has been in the preserve of the progressive unionist. Not, of course, the late lamented David Ervine's breed, but rather the gone-but-not-forgotten David Trimble variety. These are ordinary unaspiring pragmatists, the undogmatic and pea-eating middle classes who don't even ask 'why everyone can't just get along' when politics comes up at a dinner party, they rather recoil into themselves and ask whether anyone would like more coffee. These are good people.

Now, there's a quote from Edmund Burke that goes along the lines of 'all that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.' The implication is that we all have responsibilities that extend beyond ourselves into the broader realms of society; this is altogether true. However, some people are weak, one could perhaps argue cowardly. Whether that is a failing in themselves, or within their culture is not for me to say, but there is a certain amount of that shirk of responsiblity in all of us, and we should therefore not be too quick to judge.

So, back to the rugby. These good people took it upon themselves to organise games across the island, and upon partition chose to ignore politics and acknowledge that the political division of the island could not separate the sporting ambitions of men who had more in common than not. That it has persisted to see the day when rugby is welcomed into Croke Park is indeed encouraging.

But such a skirmish on Slugger. The only organisation on the island with the cohones to push a compromise anthem through, leading the way for others to follow, and it is pilloried. Such demented, enraged, mind-numbingly myopic (an innovative construct, I grant you), and pitiful arguments, occasionally descending into farcical name calling, often boiling over into heated and vitriolic rejection of another man's point, one wonders where it will all end.

One wonders whether the inanity of the subject matter gives space to the intellectual rejectionists - for example, if a Catholic kid is blown up by a Protestant pipe bomb, it is intellectually (or perhaps sensitively) repulsive to use that subject to exercise one's politics. Even arson attacks, as have happened all too often of late - dangerous, potentially deadly acts that everyone needs to condemn.

Yet for a sporting event, the most measured, meek, mild-mannered men come over all tattooed and loyalist. The calm, collected, considerate folk of 'the republican tradition' don the balaclava of indignancy and the kalashnikov of struggle. And they have a set-to.

There is a latent division, something that we all have to recognise, something that we all have to open ourselves to, that needs to be wiped away. I'm not talking about the border, I'm talking about our comfort with ourselves. There is a tribalism that is too exclusive, an identity that is too defensive, on each side that must find solace and reason.

But I guess at least we're only arguing about it, mostly, and not killing each other any more. And maybe robbing the odd bank.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Dying Town

In the early 1980's, the first impacts of globalisation hit the Cork seaside town of Youghal when Youghal Carpets closed its doors, as the textile business moved to the far east. People were aware then that there was competition in textiles, and put it down to experience. What people did not realise was the massive competition in labour which was to follow, empowered by massive changes in technology and travel. So the manufacturing jobs that the government worked hard to secure for Youghal have all gradually disappeared as well. One local TD David Stanton estimates that 2,000 jobs have been lost in Youghal over the past seven years. According to the Census estimates from 2006, Youghal has a population of 6,420.

The litany of closures and announcements is staggering. The most recent announcement at Elba was just the latest, and one of the smallest. What is not seen is the massive damage being done to the town and its people. Small shops are closing. 'For sale' and 'to let' signs are on all of the prime locations around the central Clock Tower. Building work is slowing.

Here's a look at some announcements:
55 jobs - Elba
160 jobs - Artesyn
200 jobs - Eastman Kodak
243 jobs - Technicolour Home Entertainment
86 jobs - Couristan Carpets

The list goes on, and on, and on, and on. And as mentioned above, the part time staff in the shops, the cleaners of these facilities, the people who make the sandwiches for their lunch breaks, it all amounts to a devastating cycle of impoverishment. Some jobs have been created - such as the new Tesco and Lidl, though I suspect that other shops closed down as a result of these behemoths making their presence felt.

A few years ago I tried to get a few people interested in building a marina in the town to attract
tourism and jobs. All I got was a pat on the head and a patronising 'don't call us'. Part of it was because I didn't live there any more. Well, now I'm back. I felt that the first thing to do was to invest myself in the town - I have done this. Now, to plan.

Makeover version 1

So, again for posterity, here's a new look.

We're going to stick with this for a little while, and see how we feel.

Raging on McDowell

Again. This time over on

It's getting old. The election will be over soon though, and he will be defeated.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Makeover on the way

Sheesh, this is an ugly blog. Righto. Time for a change. I have put the elves to work, and newness shall com. for the sake of posterity, I am attaching a series of screenshots so people can see the before and after stuff.

Election Auction!

My old friend Michael McDowell is at it again. Deceit on a grand scale. This morning on morning Ireland he was asked whether he was engaging in auction politics by offering OAP's €300 per week if they were re-elected, in response to Pat Rabbitte's stupefyingly brilliant 2% reduction in the lower rate of tax. You can tell when the government is spooked as first the Tánaiste, and then Brian Cowen, finance minister, get wheeled out, as the latter did on the news at one.

Anyway, back to McDowell. He of course denied the allegation, saying instead that this represented a fair deal to OAP's, a genuine slice of the wealth of the country that tehy were entitled to. The interviewer woefully failed to ask the logical follow-on question: you have been in government for ten years, why did you do nothing about this in all that time? Why have you this Pauline conversion now? (to twist Cowen's barb from the previous Sunday directed at the aforementioned Rabbitte) When exactly did you come to the conclusion that this was an appropriate amount for pensioners to receive, and why, for example, was it not €301 or €299?

This is not just auction politics, it is thoughtless politics. There are no considerations gone into this thing. Do Fianna Fail agree with this? Is this a policy that they share? The PD's don't have a programme for government, nor do they have a pact with Fianna Fail - who, by the way, are resting so hard on their laurels it's just not funny - so they can't implement anything they promise anyway.

McDowell. Makes the blood boil. A supposedly intelligent man, but devoid of idealism, of vision; a man poisoned by power, a galloping fool of a politician who will do well to hold onto his own seat, let alone the power of his party.

And as for the Fianna Fáil point - of all grassroots activists, Fianna Fáil have the oldest. They are getting older. They are more attached to the civil war than any other party, Fine Gael included - Fine Gael pretty much rid themselves of that baggage in that near existential moment in 2002 where people talked pompously of an opposition defeating themselves, an opposition voted out, and all that rubbish. Fianna Fáil after the Bertie money scandal have an air of superiority that is unparrallelled, an air of confidence, complacency and abject derision for the dissenting voice that makes one want to wretch. For God and Ireland I hope they get dumped into the ditches.

Maybe we can get better at the rugby then too, and have a Taoiseach who speaks English. I haven't forgotten his spelling mistake either - one careless, two unforgivable, and for a sitting, non-senile taoiseach? Capital.

The Rugby

Bitter. And twisted. 90 seconds to go, I mean, how cruel was that. And to think they had come so far! Not just in terms of the game, resurrecting themselves as they did from that infernal slump that has infected every start in every game of any significance for the past two seasons. But in terms of their development from a group of undoubtedly talented footballers in 2000 to a seasoned, hard team of winners, moving beyond nearly men with a Heineken Cup win against Biarritz that they owned - notwithstanding a poor start. They had come so far, and needed to beat France to prove that they had moved to the next level. They have not. Pretenders. Will they beat England? Maybe. Otherwise, dammit, this team may have peaked in the Autumn of 2006 instead of in the Autumn of 2007. Maybe, just maybe, it's a ruse by Eddie O'Sullivan. Maybe it's all about the WRC for him. Maybe it's a plan to get at the French, to bestow upon all comers a false sense of security. Maybe we'll beat the hun 48-0 on Saturday week. Or maybe we just came up short. Again.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Job Cuts

There's a worrying trend beginning to emerge. Motorola, Thompson Scientific and now Pfizer are cutting jobs in Ireland, and rebalancing the labour cost in emerging economies. It's globalisation, and that's fine. However, these are skilled jobs. What started to happen thirty odd years ago in unskilled labour is now hitting its first generational cycle. The money that was injected into the economies of the far east and other developing economies has now educated and upskilled the follow-on generation, and they are now seeking to take skilled labour from mature economies. India is generating one million engineers per annum. One million. That is colossal. If Europe is generating 100,000 engineers per annum then it is doing exceedingly well.

What does that leave us with? Hard to say. The jobs can't all go. Can they?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Health Crisis. Again.

Repeat after me - 'This Is Not Angola'. And again. Brian Cowan famously referred to the Irish Health system as Angola, and I thought it would be interesting to examine the state of the Angolan Health system. Admittedly, it's not great. However, a USAid report in 2005 noted that Angola ' an enormously wealthy country. Angola is the world’s fourth largest producer of rough diamonds; diamonds represent 95 percent of non-oil exports, and production is expected to reach $1billion in 2005, with Angola’s diamond deposits still largely untapped (Partnership Africa Canada 2004). More importantly, Angola is the second largest oil producer in SSA and the seventh-largest supplier to the United States. Production currently stands at 1.6 million barrels per day and is rising. Oil accounts for almost half of gross domestic product (GDP) and about 75 percent of government revenue.'

So it's a rich country, who's health system is rubbish. sound familiar?