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.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Seanad Result: An Irish Identity Crisis

There are those who would argue that the Seanad result is a vote against the government, a protest vote. Others say that it is a vote in favour of reform. I think it runs deeper than that, however. What we are seeing in this country is a pattern of negativity and absence in our politics that has become progressively worse over the last ten years.

The problem is that there is no vision, no direction being articulated by our elites.  Elites have never been a problem in this country, we are a people seemingly happy to subjugate ourselves before our betters, whether that's the British, the Catholic Church, or Fianna Fáil, though each of them found that there was a limit to our patience.  Each represented a kind of vision, an identity, a belief that we could attach ourselves to.  With the British, we were a part of Empire; with the Church, we were a Catholic Leader country, with education, healthcare and the entirety of our social fabric tied up in the Church; and with Fianna Fáil it was the political extension of the late nineteenth century Gaelic Revival, a kind of Irish exceptionalism, we saints and scholars, a cult of the extraordinary that was almost fascist in its design.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Retaining the Seanad: Vote No!

I was unsure about this referendum.  The Seanad has long been a bit of a wasted opportunity.  A landing spot for failed Dáil candidates; Bertie's appointment of Eoghan Harris; the famous 'weekend Senators' who get appointed for a couple of days at the end of a term in order to get past-members' parking rights and all that other bullshit.  Generally speaking it is a failed institution, and in truth we won't miss much if and when it's gone.

I'm voting to retain the Seanad.  Why?  Because of the cynical, populist, and arrogant way in which the Government has decided to execute its campaign.  This isn't reform, it changes nothing.  The problem is with the concentration of power, and this does nothing to address that.  This is nothing to do with saving money - no permanent jobs will go, and no buildings will go.  Yet the Government has said that this is why they are doing it, and, according to the Irish Times poll on Monday, that is why most people are in favour of abolition. Kenny and Fine Gael may have trumpeted the abolition of the Seanad loudly as a policy platform in the run up to the election, but they never once mentioned cost.

The abject lack of reform in the Dáil is what is being swept under the carpet here.  Once this has been put to bed, electoral and Dáil reform will be off the agenda for the remainder of the Dáil term.  The whip system will remain.  The electoral system will remain the same.  The excoriation of the Dáil as a relevant chamber will persist.  The concentration of power in the executive, in the top of the executive, will endure.  The government has succeeded in creating an effective dictatorship, without checks and balances, without accountability, and doomed to repeat the same mistakes that we made the night of the Bank Guarantee.  The government is too close to see it, and the rest of us are either blind or disinterested.  Sure, we have elections, and we can change who the dictator is.  But the song remains the same.  

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dealing with the Data Protection Commissioner

My case went in an official 'file' in a 'filing cabinet' :)
So, I started getting these funky emails from a job coaching crowd called Jobcare.  Unsolicited, unwanted.  I told them to stop.  They didn't.  Then, they started sending me emails with all the other email recipients' email addresses - including mine - exposed.  I told them to stop, then I copied everyone and told them to stop, saying this was spam.  They didn't.  So I told them they could deal with the data protection commissioner, who I alerted.  Here's what happened:

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Fine Gael and The Will To Power

Abolishing the Seanad is an intellectually lazy and
populist move that will compound our system's failure
I shared a plane journey to New York yesterday with a man working with NGOs, in the area of global co-ordination.  We talked about how difficult it was to control egos where righteousness levels seem to know no limit.  "People get into this," he said, "with the best of intentions - then they forget about why they're there, they forget about the children, and the starving, and the organisation becomes an end in itself.  You can get a lot done when you remind them about why they're there."

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Jail Politicians who Drink before they Vote

Tom Barry: Drinking and Voting
Tom Barry has admitted that he had been drinking in the Dáil bar the night of the abortion debate, when, as the Guardian describes it, he 'grotesquely pull[ed] a woman colleague on to his lap.'  Many were complaining that the Dáil was debating the issue until 5am, and still more complained that the bar had remained open. Now, some representatives - including Professor John Crown who called for zero alcohol in the Dáil and breathalyser testing to be sure.

Last Thursday night's votes were extremely important to many people.  While your correspondent is of a view that it was mostly inconsequential, many people were of a view that the votes had implications for the lives of thousands of defenseless human beings, and still more were of the view that they had serious implications for the personal freedoms and health of women in this country.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Wallabies vs Lions Player Ratings; Team for Second Test

One swallow doth not a summer make - North scored an
undeniably classy try, but the rest of his game left something
to be desired.
We've referenced rugby in this parish in times past, and notwithstanding the vociferous accusations of inconsistency that will inevitably emanate from this contribution, we here at TSWI feel compelled to offer a view on today's First Test from Brisbane, where the Irish and British Lions stole a series lead from a battered and brave Wallaby side.  Player ratings and next week's team prediction after the fold.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Irish Times Campaigning for Pro-Choice Again?

The Irish Times has a massively misleading headline on the website this evening, I'm disappointed in them.  The headline reads "POLL SUGGESTS OVERWHELMING SUPPORT FOR PROPOSED ABORTION REFERENDUM." In the piece, it explains that: "Asked if they were for or against the heads of the Bill to legislate for the Supreme Court X judgment of 1992 permitting abortion where a mother’s life is in danger, 75 per cent said Yes, 14 per cent said No and 11 per cent had no opinion."  In the second last paragraph, however, it adds "Asked if abortion should be allowed where a woman is threatening suicide 52 per cent said Yes, 29 per cent said No and 19 per cent had no opinion." 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Real Question the NSA Needs to Answer

The tech companies are begging the NSA to let them say how many requests they've acceded to, and my bet is that they'll concede.  It doesn't really matter what the number is, it will be tiny relative to the number of users, and it will seem insignificant to most law abiding, voting citizens.  It seems to me that the plan is that at that stage it will all go away. However, they're answering the wrong question, a favourite tactic of politicians: if cornered, and asked a question you don't want to answer, answer a different question. 

Sunday, June 09, 2013

PRISM: Big Data and Pre-Crime

Fantastic Universe, February 1956:
Pride of my Collection
In February 1956, the Science Fiction magazine Fantastic Universe published a short story from a young writer called Philip K Dick, called The Minority Report.  Stephen Spielberg made a fine movie of the story in 2002, the latest in a series of Dick's stories to be converted to the screen, including Blade Runner and Total Recall.  Dick's account of bureaucrats predicting when people were likely to commit crimes - and arresting them before they did - was extraordinarily prescient.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Shatter's Folly

The Minister has some work to do in making himself popular
The Minister for Justice and Defence Alan Shatter is being accused of an abuse of office for digging up some Garda dirt on a political opponent in order to undermine him during a television debate.  Government Ministers Joan Burton, Richard Bruton and Brian Hayes have been out defending the Justice Minister, but whatever the outcome, they are going to be privately acknowledging that this incident has begun to damage an already poor public view of the administration. But more on the politics later. This is not the first time Minister Shatter has brought the dignity of the office into question.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Another Idea to Boost the Economy that Won't Be Done

Mrs Merkel's Runabout: the BMW 320d SE Touring
Cars in Ireland are some of the most expensive in Europe. A BMW 320d SE Touring costs around €43,220k here.  In Germany, the list price is €37,400.  In Spain, €38,900.  In the UK, €35,200 (converted using The additional cost is exclusively in taxes, which ultimately seem to make their way back to Germany anyway.  This year, we introduced a new vehicle registration system to accelerate the newness effect.  Back in 1987, the auto industry was delighted when the year of acquisition was stamped on every car; I am awaiting statistics but I do expect them to confirm that car sales rose at a rate higher than the expected rate.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Free Will, Human Rights and Abortion Law in Ireland

Savita Halappanavar: her death has
prompted fierce debate on abortion
legislation in Ireland
The recent tragic case of Savita Halappanavar has re-focused the spotlight in Ireland on our anachronistic abortion laws.  In that case, Ms Halappanavar died from septic shock during a miscarriage, when she was prevented from having a termination despite her having requested on on a number of occasions.  One doctor went so far as to say it was highly likely that she would have survived had she been granted her request for a termination.

Alongside the timeline of these tragic events, the Fine Gael / Labour coalition government on the back of their Programme for Government had agreed to legislate for the X-Case.  In that case, a young girl who had been the victim of rape was deemed to have a right to an abortion if there was "a real and substantial risk" to  her life.  Crucially, that risk included the risk of suicide.  While the government, and the population generally, are of a view that the "real and substantial risk" test was appropriate, the question of suicide was for many a step too far.  Some argued that no one could clinically diagnose such a risk, that it was entirely within the gift of the woman herself to declare such a risk, and therefore such a provision would be wide open to abuse.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The SIPTU Moment: Are We On The Brink of Industrial Armageddon?

Croke Park: Fine Stadium, No Deal.
The rejection of the Croke Park agreement, coming as it does the week of Margaret Thatcher's death, presents the government with a tremendous opportunity.  Combined with Labour's shattered confidence, here's what could happen now*.

Enda Kenny announces in the Dáil that he has formed an agreement with Micheal Martin (resurgent, forgiven, and hungry to get back into power) to form a Randian Correction Coalition that will over the next two years restore the fortunes of the country.  The alternative would be at least ten more years of pain. Ireland announces a unilateral re-designation of the national debt in its various layers, and enters negotiations with its debtors to formalise those arrangements.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

How to Butcher a Metaphor: The Cypriot Bail-In

So, let's get one thing straight. Cyprus is neither a bail-out, nor is it a bail-in. Either metaphor fails, and the tortured extension of the metaphor to 'bail-in' illustrates the poor grasp of language by a) the people who came up with it and b) the people (mostly journalists) who gaily leapt on it.

The first deployment of the metaphor was in relation to the 'bail-out' of Greece, then Ireland and others. The metaphor was OK - like a boat in trouble, taking on water, the troika were providing assistance in relieving the problem. In cash terms however it was a reversal - the cash was coming in to the country, while the water would have been hurled out of the boat. Nevertheless, the assistance (in terms of muscle for the bailing, so to speak) was inbound, so the metaphor was sustainable.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Neo-Feminist Nonsense

OMFG can you believe he said
that! Well, no, he didn't.
The manufactured outrage over Leo Varadkar's off the cuff comments in relation to personal insolvency legislation is another example of over the top, reactionary nonsense coming from the Women's lobby in Ireland.  It's about time that we all got a grip of ourselves and started being a little more sensible about things. Varadkar said that working for less money than the cost of childcare in order to keep a career going "a legitimate thing to do but if you can’t pay your mortgage as a result or you can’t buy your groceries as a result well then that’s something that needs to be taken into account in any insolvency arrangement.”  Cue public anguish and a complete distortion of a headline in the Irish Examiner screaming "VARADKAR: WOMEN TO CHOOSE CAREER OR MORTGAGE"

Ivana Bacik on Morning Ireland cried foul as it was not in the interests of the country to push women back out of the workforce.  Orla O'Connor from the National Women's Council said Varadkar's comments were anti-women, and anti-children.  Twitter, erm, melted.  It's entirely nonsense.

Monday, March 11, 2013

RTE Hypocrisy. Again.

The blood boils when it comes to RTE and its hypocrisy.  Claiming its place as a public service broadcaster, it distorts the private media and advertising markets, monsters the business, and - when attacked - claims public interest, like some Grand Poobah on a big solid gold throne.  This week, it's alcohol advertising.

Following a public health report which recommended banning advertising before 9 o'clock, RTE have stormed to the head of the opprobrium queue, claiming it simply couldn't work.  According to the report in the Irish Times, such a regulation would not work because it would only apply to Irish media; and because it would replace the old guidelines which require a 75% over-18 audience threshold before permitting alcohol advertising.  John Mulligan head of operations at RTE television, claimed that the new proposed rules would mean they could, in theory, place alcohol ads into the Toy Show.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Sindo Poll: An Inconvenient Truth

Fianna Fáil back in the lead, but
leadership is in short supply.
The Sunday Independent today published the second poll in just over a week to confirm the reinstatement of our erstwhile nemesis Fianna Fáil as the largest party in the land, coming as it did shortly after the Irish Times published broadly similar results.  In both instances, the don't know category was enormous, being 27% today and 34% last week, which gives some comfort.  But most don't know groups tend to break broadly with the trend, and therefore we need to presume that they're not all going to some consistent non-Fianna Fáil group, whether anti-bailout - a la Sinn Féin - or conservative pro-European - a la Fine Gael. Labour, I'm afraid, is indistinct.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Cameron's Folly

Ich bin ein Englander,
Frau Merkel!
One of my favourite pieces from Yes Minister is the piece where Jim Hacker, brushing off a local issue of seemingly little importance, has it explained to him that the issue could compromise him electorally.  He suddenly reassesses his interest, slips his hand inside the lapel of his jacket, and proclaims "but they are my people, and I am their leader!  I must follow them!"  David Cameron could have said as much today as he launched what his advisor should have called a brave initiative.  

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Oh No, Not Again...

Lord Moulton of Forgettery
We've discussed Britain's problem with history before, or rather its predilection for forgetting when it comes to its past indiscretions.  But a segment on the Channel 4 News last night was utterly astonishing.  Their business correspondent Sarah Smith nabbed a doozie with what might best be referred to as a proper posh toff from the city in discussing the extensive investments of the Qatari sovereign wealth fund in London.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Twitter Trolls: Permanence, Insanity, Defamation and Forgetting

Daniel Sickles, the first man acquitted by
reason of temporary insanity in the US
Daniel Edgar Sickles died in 1914 at the age of 95.  He had had a successful and long life, as a military leader at Gettysburg, US Ambassador to Spain, and Congressman.  He also had a colourful life, plagued by scandals, the highlight of which - if it can be called such - was his acquittal for the murder of his wife's lover, for the first defence in the US courts of temporary insanity.  While there was some unease with the verdict, the public outcry was most pronounced when it became known that he had returned to his wife, who he had publicly branded a harlot.  The people of 1859 were fickle, it appears, and not all that well grounded in legal philosophy and considered righteousness; plus ca change, then.