Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Parable of the Snake

There's an old joke about the two friends, Mike and Rory, trekking through the jungle when Rory steps on a snake which jumps up and bites him on the bum. Mike immediately uses his mobile phone to call the emergency services and talks to a snakebite specialist.

The specialist quickly identifies the snake as being lethally venomous, Rory will be dead within an hour unless action is taken immediately. He tells Mike to locate the fang marks on Rory’s bum, use his knife to make an incision between those marks and suck out as much blood as he can for about 5 minutes, taking care to spit it out. This exercise will, with luck, extract sufficient venom from Rory’s system to avoid the bite proving fatal.

By this time Rory is writhing in agony on the jungle floor and he asks plaintively “what did he say?” “You’re going to die” comes the almost instant response.

Recent events with an elderly relative requiring the application of medication in a particularly unpleasant and intimate way made me realise that the story is not a joke at all, it’s actually a parable for our modern world.

Some day, each of us will become the snakebite victim.

The Real Culcheral Capital

Today marks the final day of Cork’s year as European Capital of Culture.

Tomorrow, January 1st 2006, Cork reverts to its normal role as Culchie Capital of Ireland.

There are no prizes for guessing which role it is better equipped for.

They’re arrogant culchies too. As the saying goes, “Cork people are like lawyers*, they have no real idea how much the rest of the country genuinely dislikes them.”

* insert here the profession or employee group you most despise, or that of the person in your immediate company who you’d most like to insult. E.g. bankers, teachers, Microsoft employees etc..

Adiós Siesta

A much loved bulwark of spanish culture has fallen victim to the insatiable monster that is globalisation.

Spain has introduced a new law which limits civil service lunch breaks to one hour, effectively ending their “siesta culture“. Mr Jordi Sevilla, Minister for Public Administration and a father of three, said the aims of the law were to put an end to the “chaotic hours” worked in the civil service and allow Spaniards to reconcile work and family life.

He said he hoped private sector companies would follow suit. “We are trying to set an example by rationalising the working hours of civil servants,” he said. “Henceforth, lunchtime will be from 12 to 1pm, like the rest of Europe, instead of between 2 and 4pm. This will allow civil servants to leave work at six, instead of eight or nine in the evening.” Mr Sevilla said he wanted civil servants to “achieve the same amount of work in less time”. Let’s hope they haven't heard of bench-marking!

The Círculo de Empresarios, a business lobby group, said Spain’s long lunches were an inefficient way to break up the day. “This is costing the economy as much as 8 per cent of gross domestic product”. Spain ranks 10th in the number of hours worked per year, although productivity lags far behind countries that work fewer hours.

Some companies have already adapted. Coca-Cola Ibérica employees get 45 minutes for lunch and clock off at 6pm. Still, change will not be easy. “The lunch is the main way personal relationships are established,” says Alejandra Moore, a communications consultant. “I cannot imagine achieving anything meaningful over a 45-minute lunch.” Presumably he’s talking about chatting up a stranger and having sufficient time to close the encounter with a leg-over.

The wife will be happy if it means that shops are actually open in the afternoon, when she wants to shop. We’ll be able to drop the pretence that we’re very interested in church architecture, when all we’re actually looking for is a cool place to kill some time during the hottest part of the day.

Hopefully this will also change the Spanish habit of having dinner very late at night - presumably leading to chronic indigestion and disrupted sleep patterns. Well that’s what I experience when I attempt to copy the local habits.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Publication of 1975 Government Papers

The simultaneous release of Irish and British state papers for 1975 provides some fascinating initial insights, not just into the political situation itself but also the different elements which influenced the perspectives of the two governments.

Not only were there natural differences in strategic interests, but the analysis of each side was also coloured by the perception of the other sides perceived political objectives and possible tactics.

Adding another layer of complexity was the perception by each side of the key players on the other side - sometimes reflecting a lack of respect for the integrity and/or capability of counterparts.

In short, the ingredients that go into most situation where humans interact, but on a somewhat grander scale.

A collated edition of both sets of papers should form part of the curriculum for any school of journalism and should also be compulsory reading for current correspondents and media pundits.

This might improve media standards and lead to a more considered discussion of the major domestic and international issues of the day. We might reduce the often simplistic moral posturing, the demand for a Yes/No answer, the insistence on politicians and others speculating on possible outcomes while still involved in delicate and sensitive negotiations.

It would also help if politicians were less willing to submit themselves to the sometimes ridiculous demands of the media for instant analysis and simple answers to complex situations.

A robust “get stuffed” might usefully supplement the more anodyne “no comment”, I suspect the population would understand and respect them more for it.

New Year Resolutions

It's time to firm up on the New Year Resolutions and I always think of the wise sayings of the warrior philosopher guru, Donald Rumsfeld:

If you always do what you've always done, then you'll always get what you always got.

While you inevitably focus of the "known knowns" and possibly factor in some contingency for the "known unknowns", it's always the "unknown unknowns" that bite you in the bum.

In summary, life is what happens to you while you're busy planning something else.

Bring on the Chat Chopper

RTE's Morning Ireland recently had a couple of experts discussing societal/technology trends over the next 15-25 years, including one who was described as BT's "Futurologist" (I recall that some American company had a guy whose title was "Chief Imagineer" - brilliant).

The futurologist explained that BT are working on advanced new chips which will add sensory feeling to a phone call. BT believes they are on track to develop technology which can interact with the nerve endings of the phone users so that they will be able to experience the sensations of, say, a handshake or a hug. He expounded on how good this would be for older people talking to family members who were away from home etc..

All I could think of was that this will be the phone as a lie-detector, betraying all your baser feelings - insincerity, contempt, fear etc. and exposing all those little white lies you tell about prior commitments when someone invites you to some activity or other. It will destroy entire business empires if the ability to tell a lie by phone - to colleagues, customers or competitors - is interfered with.

Anyway, I've written to BT asking them to abandon this nonsense and concentrate instead on some really useful innovations like the Mollox Chat-Chopper © . This cunning option will be fitted as standard to all mobile phones issued to women and children. Very simply, it automatically cuts off any call after 15 minutes and prevents the same number from being re-dialled for 24-hours.

The Chat-Chopper © will not only save money, but will also aid marriages and relationships in general. Because it will teach women and children to be more considered and concise in conversation, it will make living with them a less bothersome task for men, who generally prefer to watch sport on tv without interruption.

Who knows, it may also help to finally remove nature's barrier to women becoming historians.

It is widely acknowledged that the reason there are no famous female historians is because it usually takes a woman longer to relate the story than it took the actual events to occur.

It's Tanfastic!

Watching Mary Lou McDonald on TV the other night, it struck me as odd that she should be using the same Brussels tanning salon as Robert Kilroy-Silk.

Is that all they're sharing? Watch this space.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas thoughts

Well Thank God that's all over for another year.

I've banished the bathroom scales to the garden shed and it won't be coming back out for a couple of months - at least.

Bah, humbug!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Woman of the Year Nominee

Brenda Pickering, ex-Microsoft employee, is my nominee for Woman of the Year.

I've been slightly following her High Court case against Microsoft, who she was suing for constructive dismissal etc.. I found some of the evidence incredible e.g. she wanted to manage a unit of 350 people from her holiday home in Spain.

Lucky thing that I avoided a career in the legal profession because I thought she hadn't a snowball in hell's chance of winning this. In fact, the further the case progressed the more silly she was made to look.

And then the verdict - she was a victim of "constructive dismissal" with damages to follow. RTE reported that she expressed her satisfaction with the outcome - from Spain!

Sudden and complete rethink required: If she can win a High Court action from Spain, then managing a Microsoft unit from there would be an absolute doddle.

Game, set and match to Brenda, as they say in golfing circles.

Gott in Himmel!

While most of us smiled at the sight of Pope Benedict in his Santa outfit, predictably Senator David Norris fumed.

"That's the uniform of the Afrika Korps he's wearing under the Santa gear" he shrieked. Norris added that he will, in future, refer to the armour-plated Popemobile as "the Papal Panzer".

It must be acknowledged that Norris is a leading authority on men in uniform.

What would Darwin know about it?

On Tuesday, a federal judge barred a Pennsylvania school district yesterday from promoting "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolutionary theory. In a scathing opinion, he criticized local school board members for lying under oath and for their "breathtaking inanity" in trying to inject religion into science classes.

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III, a Republican appointed by President Bush, did not confine his opinion to the inanity of the local school board. He also sought to debunk “intelligent design“, which argues that aspects of life are so complex as to require the hand, subtle or not, of a supernatural creator.

This theory, he said, relies on the unproven and unprovable existence of a Christian God and therefore is not science. "The overwhelming evidence is that Intelligent Design is a religious view, a mere re-labelling of creationism and not a scientific theory. It is an extension of the Fundamentalists' view that one must either accept the literal interpretation of Genesis or else believe in the godless system of evolution."

This case arose because the school board in Dover voted last year to require ninth-grade biology teachers to read a four-paragraph statement casting doubt on Darwin's theory of evolution and proposing that intelligent design offers an alternative theory for the origin and evolution of life.

Well just hold on a minute there, Your Honour!

If we accept the evolutionary model as espoused by Darwin, then it’s not just survival of the fittest but supremacy of the best. The Alpha Male is the leader of the pack, the top dog. He will typically be either the best physical specimen and/or the most intelligent animal.

So let’s look at the human race. The most powerful man on the planet, the Alpha Male, is George W. Bush. Not a stand-out success for the evolutionary model, is it? You might argue that it also doesn’t do much to support the “intelligent design” theory either, until you remember that, if God really is a woman, logic would not be a critical success factor in the design.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Anyone for farming?

The recent EU Budget and WTO negotiations highlight once again the relatively bleak future facing agriculture.

Competition will come from all quarters e.g. South American beef producers and North American grain producers operate on a scale which is incomprehensible here. You only have to read of dairy herds of 1,000 cows in New Zealand managed by a single person to guess the ultimate impact of globalisation on the most profitable sector of the Irish farming.

Peter Mandelson voiced the opinion that the future for farming in Ireland lies in specialisation and added value product, rather than trying to compete in commodity markets where economies of scale will inevitably win out. I’m sure he may be right, but the problem with his proposal is that it probably won’t be the farmer who sees the bulk of the financial benefit of specialisation.

The Value Chain

The three main players in the value chain are the producer of raw material, the processor who turns the raw material into added-value product and the retailer who sells to the ultimate customer. In commoditised markets, the producer of the raw materials tends to get the lowest share of the profits available and holds the least pricing power. In addition, the scope for an individual producer (farmer) to create added-value product and garner the financial benefit is quite limited.

Major Strategic Mistakes

Farmers “sold their birthright for a mess of potage“.

Farmers used to control the food processors when they owned the Co-operatives. Starting with Kerry Co-op in 1986, most of the larger co-ops have gone the PLC route and, in the process, control has passed from the local farming community to the investment community.
Capital intensive, low margin businesses such as cattle slaughtering have been abandoned by most co-ops, to the benefit of large scale operators like Goodman. Competition from huge international brands such as Nestle and Danone has forced dairy co-ops here to make business decisions which have not always favoured the milk producers. Major Irish agri-food business now invests more outside Ireland than at home. This includes publicly qouted companies such as Kerry, Glanbia, IAWS & Greencore all of which either currently earn the majority of their profits from overseas activities or are planning to do so.

Farmers chose PLC shares, which allowed them release the value of their holding, over control of the processor of their produce, thereby reducing themselves to the lowest level of the value chain. They are price-takers, with little ability to negotiate better prices for the raw materials they produce.

The farming community has been very poorly served by the Government, the farm organisations and the lack of foresight of farmers themselves. It's been like watching a car crash in slow motion. All the participants can see exactly what is going to happen but all seem incapable of taking evasive action.

Instead of recognising the inevitability of the current situation, they have continued to pursue the Brussels money and kept producing traditional but increasingly uneconomic outputs.
Investment should have been ploughed into farmer education and research and development of farming product niches.

Testing the viability of new food segments and categories etc which would be directly beneficial to the farmers themselves, rather than just benefiting the processor and retailer elements of the value chain, should have been a top priority.

Developing and testing scaleable business models might have led to a re-formation of smaller niche co-operatives, owned by farmers in common enterprise clusters, to enable them to produce the added-value products for market.

A body such as An Bord Bia might have overall charge of actively marketing the produce internationally, as Bord Bainne did for years for the dairy industry.

It’s probably too late. Activities such as "farmers markets" are very limited in scope as currently formatted. They're an overpriced minority outlet for spotty vegetables which appeal to the middle-classes who want to make a lifestyle statement and are prepared to pay vanity prices for the privelege. They will never provide a meaningful income for a large number of producers unless they also become big, regular weekly markets in all towns, selling ordinary produce to ordinary shoppers at competitive prices. None of your organic nonsense, unless it's clearly segregated into a "Poser's Corner".

Future Hypothesis

Ireland’s indigenous manufacturing industries have already been decimated as low-cost labour in the far east makes it uncompetitive to produce low-added value goods here.

Currently our farmers are paid by Brussels regardless of what, if anything, they actually produce. If they simply stop farming in the morning, the cheque will still continue to come in the post until 2013.

Post-2013, when the current CAP is reviewed, and doubtless heavily modified, and when trade-distorting subsidies are removed, it’s entirely possible that Ireland will not have any meaningful indigenous manufacturing or agricultural activity.

We will be a nation of service providers.

Raising The Rising Sun

The government decision to raise The Rising Sun in a final effort to recover the body of Pat Colfer is a profligate waste of public money. Doubtless the exercise will cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of taxpayers euros while also involving some risk for those working on the salvage operation.

The initial tragedy of the sinking with the loss of 2 crew members has already been compounded by the death of a very experienced volunteer diver, Billy O‘Connor.

I’m frankly bewildered by the attitude of the family and the dozens of sub-aqua divers who volunteered their services and have been highly critical of the naval services for not allowing them risk further lives looking for the dead bodies. This might have been understandable were it not for the loss of Billy O’Connor on an earlier dive.

While understanding the natural desire of the Colfer family to recover and bury the body of Pat Colfer, it is ridiculous to risk further lives and incur huge expense for the taxpayer in this latest exercise.

The Price of Love

Daddy goes Santa shopping for a Barbie doll for his daughter.

He's trying to choose between Beach Barbie, Office Barbie or Party Barbie all priced at €29.99, when he spots Divorced Barbie priced at €299.99.

Assuming it's an error, he points it out to the shop assistant. However, she explains that its actually correct as Divorced Barbie comes with Ken's House, Ken's Car, Ken's Boat and 50% of Ken's Pension rights.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Centre for Public Inquiry

There is clearly a need for a Centre for Public Inquiry, but whether it is the current self-appointed body is seriously open to question.

Any such body must itself be completely transparent and open to public scrutiny. It must apply to itself the highest ethical standards. Its motives and integrity must be beyond reproach and its political non-alignment must be beyond question.

Whatever one thinks about Minister McDowell's actions, Frank Connolly now has some very serious questions to answer.

Former justice Fergus Flood does little for the credibility to the CPI, or himself, by demanding the standards of evidence required in criminal proceedings.

Indeed, his naive failure to comprehend the reality of the current situation suggest that he too might consider his position.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Colin Powell admits UN white powder was not cocaine

Colin Powell has admitted that some doubts were expressed within the US intelligence community about the WMD capability of Iraq, but that these doubts were not communicated to the political decision-makers. It’s exactly the same case as was made by the UK government.

The anti-war brigade won’t accept this because they claim to have known all along that Iraqi WMD didn’t exist, so surely the US & UK governments must also have known.

Perhaps it’s worth recapping a couple of the relevant details:

Dr David Kelly, the leading UK WMD investigator whose suicide was the subject of the Hutton Inquiry, believed that Iraq had WMD. His main issue on “sexing up” the UK government dossier was with the claim that WMDs could be deployed within 75 minutes and also the failure to correct media interpretation that Iraq had a medium-range delivery capability i.e. could hit British bases in Cyprus.

Dr Hans Blix, chief UN weapons inspector, never publicly expressed a view that WMD did not exist prior to his mission being terminated. I’m not aware of any claim that he expressed such a view privately either. Yet in the wake of the US-led invasion and the failure to find WMD he becomes blessed with 20:20 hindsight (blixight?) where he knew all along that they wouldn't find any WMD. He does a tour of world media promoting his book on the topic. Isn't it a pity he didn’t think to tell the world of his doubts in advance of the invasion, he might have saved a lot of lives, but probably sold a lot less books. Frankly, it looks like opportunistic bull to me.

Then you’ve got Clare Short, Tony Benn, Michael D. Higgins and all the Irish anti-war groups telling us they also knew all along that no WMD existed. Richard Boyd Barrett claims that the 150,000 (!) peace marchers in Dublin also knew.

Conclusion: The anti-war lobby can lie and spin with the best of them.

Xmas present for the Middle-East?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran, has recently called for the population of Israel to be resettled in Europe or America. He might be closer than you think to a possible solution of the long and painful Israel/Palestine conflict.

Here's a possible straw-man solution, all elements to be implemented concurrently:

a) Israel renounces its independence and becomes a fully-fledged state of the USA. Israel withdraws to its pre-1967 borders, handing over existing settlements intact to the Palestinian authorities. Existing jewish settlers are offered the option of staying in the new EU state or relocating to Israel with generous compensation packages, underwritten by the US. Compensation will be reduced in the event that property is destroyed or damaged by evacuees.

b) Palestine is granted membership of the EU. Special long-term budgets for reconstruction and development are agreed by member states. Safeguards are built in to minimise corruption and grants are dependent on an ongoing democratic government.

c) Jerusalem becomes a UN-administered city, with policing and security provided by Blue Berets. The UN Headquarters is relocated from New York. Both Israel and Palestine are permitted to locate their state legislatures in the city, with each assembly granted diplomatic status. This would effectively give them the status of embassies and permit the respective governments to provide their own armed security for their own premises.
Government ministers, elected deputies etc would also enjoy diplomatic status in Jerusalem, making them immune from arrest in the city.

What would be the likely effect of these steps?

The territorial integrity of Israel would be guaranteed, no neighbouringsovereignn state would dare attack a state of the USA.

EU support and aid, combined with easy access to European markets, would rapidly help to transform the Palestinian economy and, hopefully, the political situation. It would also help to consolidate the democratic institutions of the state and, being a member of the EU, lead to a more considered relationship with its US neighbour - and vice versa.

A peaceful neighbour in Palestine would ultimately provide greater border security for Israel, though it could take generations to overcome the resentments of the last 60-odd years.

Moving the UN headquarters to Jerusalem would provide a huge economic injection to the region, with thousands of well-paid diplomats and functionaries providing a major ongoing boost to the local economy.

Locating the UN in Jerusalem, where East meets West, might also make it more effective in bridging differences between the West and the Muslim world.

Having both a US and an EU presence in the middle-east could also provide greater security for the West.

However, countries such as Iran and Syria would be very hostile to such a solution which would give the US and EU much greater influence in the region, as well as placing them within easy striking range of the US forces.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Hell hath no fury like a short woman scorned

Clare Short appears regularly on BBC news programmes such as Newsnight and the Daily Politics. She routinely peddles the line that the US is constructing permanent military bases - 12 of them - in Iraq and this, for her, provides conclusive evidence of their bad faith and duplicity.

I've recently heard Tony Benn trot out the same line on the same station. Neither is ever challenged to support this bold assertion - clearly the BBC is sympathetic to the antiwar, anti-Blair, anti-Bush camp. Still smarting from Hutton, revenge is still top of the agenda.

On RTE's Morning Ireland last Monday, Baghdad-based Patrick Cockburn of the London Independent - neither journalist or journal could be accused of pro-war sentiments - expressed the view that the US was most unlikely to seek any long-term military presence in Iraq.

Clearly the truth is what you want to believe and the rest is spin. The anti-war lobby can lie and spin with the best of them, and is facilitated by a national broadcaster that is far from neutral.

Email has been a great boon for cranks, it's possible to register an instant complaint - as I regularly do - to RTE, the BBC and Channel 4 News. It's rare to get any customised response, though on occasion I have annoyed Andrew Neill and Vincent Browne enough to get a personal reply.
Most programmes send you an automated response acknowledging receipt of the email. I particularly like the BBC's Today programme - their auto-response contains the following instruction: If you are making a formal complaint about the programme which requires an official BBC response, please forward your e-mail to . John Humphrys clearly has quite a fan club.

The Limerick Leader

Today, Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea attended a parade at McKee Barracks, Dublin which honoured Ireland’s 50-year membership of the UN and the honourable record of the Irish Army in UN peacekeeping missions in many trouble-spots.

Watching Mr O’Dea inspect a guard of honour, it struck me that it should surely be a requirement that any Minister for Defence would at least attain the army’s minimum height requirement.

Mr O’Dea took the opportunity to explain the circumstances surrounding his recent faux pas, when he was photographed pointing a gun at the media pack. “When the photographer asked me to pose with a magnum, I thought I was getting a feckin’ ice-cream.”

God is a woman - it's official!

The following letter was published in yesterday's Irish Times.

The recent Vatican statement on homosexuality has caused considerable controversy, much of it beating about the bush.
There are two possible basic standpoints on this subject. One is that if we believe that we came into existence as a result of an intelligent creator, the division of the human race into two groups of people, male and female, is a perfect division.
It follows logically that homosexuality is unnatural; there is no grey area.
On the other hand, if we accept the scientific version of our genesis, evolution, the division in question cannot be perfect. That would be completely alien to the evolutionary process, which must be defective. It follows logically that homosexuality is natural.
I would be interested in any further hypothesis on this subject but I doubt that there is another credible one.
Yours, etc,
TOM WILLIAMS, Goldenbridge Avenue, Dublin 8.

Well, Tom, as you’ve invited comments, here goes:

I think that both scenarios you describe are flawed and your conclusions are illogical.

In the “Creation” scenario, God gave us “free will”. This free will was first exercised in the Garden of Eden where Eve was unable to follow a simple set of rules. The consequence was that the bloody woman got us all kicked out and we‘ve suffered the consequences ever since.

The bible is full of instances where imperfect human beings commit sins, are tested by the Lord etc.. Why, for example, would a perfect race need the Ten Commandments? Clearly there has never been a pretence that mankind is perfect in any way. Indeed, the chaotic and dysfunctional behaviour displayed by mankind over many millenia is, frankly, incontrovertible proof of an intelligent but illogical, easily bored and sometimes malevolent Creator.

In short, God is probably a woman.

In the “Evolution” scenario, Tom’s hypothesis is even more flawed.

At it’s simplest the problem is this: Surely any species whose natural sexual activity is fundamentally incapable of achieving reproduction would inevitably be doomed to extinction? Sooner rather than later.

Would that be checkmate, Tom?

They'll obviously publish any old guff in the Irish Times these days.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

McDowell leak to Irish independent

The latest revelation that the Minister for Justice gave a copy of the forged passport application, allegedly on behalf of Frank Connolly, to the Irish Independent leaves me stranded in a moral no-mans land.

I’m delighted that McDowell has been so robust in his regular assaults on Sinn Fein hypocrisy. These verbal assaults provide ample opportunity to witness “the devil citing scripture” as the Shinners demand the application of rules of fairness and law that they themselves have always felt free to ignore.

I fully support McDowell using the opportunity of Finian McGrath’s Dail question to “out” Frank Connolly. Connolly’s position as Executive Director of the Centre for Public Inquiry requires that he should be above any suspicion of active involvement in nefarious IRA activities.

However, a Minister for Justice selectively leaking documents to a friendly journalist must surely go beyond acceptable behaviour in a democracy. This compounded the earlier breach when the garda file appears to have been shown to Chuck Feeney of Atlantic Philanthropies.

While some justification for the “leaks” might be offered on the basis of the enormity of the implications arising if Frank Connolly did indeed go to Colombia in the company of a senior IRA bomb-maker, the precedent it sets opens up all sorts of “appalling vistas” for future behaviour.

Imagine a Fianna Fail/Sinn Fein coalition Government with a Sinn Fein Minister for Justice. What standards in public office might we expect from a party which still aspires to subvert the state. For all the Sinn Fein blather about their “democratic mandate”, people should not be fooled into thinking that it makes them a democratic party. It’s worth remembering that the Nazis came to power in a democratic election in 1933. Today that democratic mandate isn’t mentioned too often by historians.

McDowells’ actions have opened Pandora’s Box. He’s managed to cause terminal damage to Frank Connolly’s credibility while at the same time shooting himself in the foot.

Sadly, I believe it’s time for him to offer his resignation.

A bird-watching acquaintance assures me that Colombia is indeed a twitcher’s paradise. He is satisfied that the Colombia 3 could well have been in FARC-controlled territory on the entirely innocent basis as they and Catriona Ruane have always claimed. He’s planning a bird-watching trip to the same region himself and I’m now offering to help pay for the trip, on a one-way ticket basis.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Relativity of Iraq casualties

The Iraq Body Count website gives a reported deaths total range since 1st May 2003 of 20,084 minimum to 23,593 maximum. (They also add 7,299 deaths to each total, representing coalition-inflicted casualties during the major operations phase of the conflict pre-May 2003.)

Taking their maximum post-May 2003 casualty figure, this averages 761 per month in the 31-month period up to and including November 2005.

In the same 31-month period, an estimated 111,000 people died in road accidents in the USA. On average, 43,000 die each year on US roads, almost 3,600 per month. That’s almost 5 times the number of deaths reported in Iraq.

The recent earthquake in Pakistan is reported to have left over 100,000 dead with a similar number now at risk through exposure to the harsh winter conditions, having been left homeless by the quake.

The response of the international community, particulary France and Germany which have been to the fore in the anti-war brigade, has been both slow and ungenerous. The UN had to organise a number of donor conferences in order to raise aid commitments and, unusually for the UN, their spokesman has been publicly very critical of the western response.

Perhaps moral outrage doesn’t apply to certain types of death?

David Norris and the Nazi Pope

In a Sunday Tribune interview (11th December 2005), David Norris is quoted as saying ”I will not take moral instruction from anyone who, like the present Pope, wore the swastika on his arm while people like myself were being put alive into ovens at Auschwitz simply for being gay.”

This latest attack on the Pope (who was 6 when the Nazis came to power in 1933 and 12 at the outbreak of WWII in 1939) is a typically over-the-top contribution from the pompous and posturing Norris, which frankly does little to promote rational debate about the role of gay clergy in the catholic church.

Legal recognition of gay rights has progressed significantly in the past 20 years and, in fairness, David Norris has played an important role in that advance. There is widespread acceptance that there is further to go, particularly with regard to granting legal status and rights to partners as the essential next step.

There should be no logical reason why a homosexual priest cannot be as celibate as a heterosexual one. But could it be that gay literature, tv & film output and celebrity media coverage promote an image of a very flamboyant lifestyle, one which is often very sexually active, opportunistically predatory and highly promiscuous?

In the rush of freedom after centuries of repression, has the gay community been badly served by what might appear to be an over-emphasis on hedonism and licentiousness? Mind you, it is acknowledged that gays typically have greater spending power and leisure time than straights, given that they generally avoid the cost and commitment of rearing a family.

If “gay” seems to synonymous with “sexually active” in public perception then surely it’s up to the gay community to correct this perception (unless it’s true) if it causing difficulties for that community? It’s reminiscent of that movie where a white guy challenges a black guy - “how come that’s the only racial stereotype you people never object to?”.

Given the recent spate of sexual scandals that have so damaged the church, it's hardly surprising that they would adopt a conservative approach in this area. They’re frankly in a “no-win” situation - they’ll be crucified by sections of the media if they’re seen to be pro-gay (neutral) or anti-gay. Look at what's happening in the "liberal" Anglican church over the elevation of a gay bishop.

The latest edict allows for the ordination of gay priests and for existing gay priests to continue in the ministry - surely not a position that would have been anticipated by David Norris when the present Pope was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.

I, for one, won’t be taking any moral instruction from David Norris.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Is there a doctor in the house?

The recent controversy about the validity of PhDs awarded by PWU highlights a curious anomaly.

While many professionals and academics aspire to the title “Doctor”, many real doctors actually aspire to the title “Mister”.

Funny old world, innit?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Justice for the Dublin North Central One

Another brave FF warrior crucified on the cross of political correctness by a cruel, cynical and manipulative media with a sinister agenda, Ivor Callely has finally fallen on his sword, joining the burgeoning ranks in the Great Pantheon of Fianna Fail Martyrs.

He joins illustrious colleagues such as Charlie Haughey, Ray Burke, Liam Lawlor, Pee & Beverly Flynn, Denis “Ansbacher” Foley, Sean Doherty and, of course, the grandaddy of them all, Eamon De Valera.

The curse of the Fianna Fail culture goes all the way back to the founding father of the party. In 1931 when De Valera raised capital in the USA to set up The Irish Press, he devised a share structure which gave him total control over the assets of the newspaper despite the fact that his own investment in the paper was nominal.

Although the newspaper ceased publication in 1995, the current Eamon de Valera, grandson of the founder, still draws 6-figure annual directors fees.

The Long Fellow wasn’t just a cute political hoor, he could also have given finance lessons to Eddie “Rip-off” Hobbs. And that "cute-hoorism" continues to be the very life-blood of Fianna Fail.

When Ivor considers the largesse showered on his former leader Charlie Haughey, he may rightly feel aggrieved to get screwed for a miserable couple of grand.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Budget to promote Traditional Catholic Families

I buy L'Osservatore Romano every Sunday, but I tuck it into my News of the World in case the neighbours might see it. Next week I anticipate banner headlines announcing that the Vatican has welcomed the Irish Budget, with His Holiness Pope Benedict calling for other countries to follow “this visionary charter for catholic mothers”.

He will, of course, be referring to the new provisions for maternity leave announced today in the budget. These extend paid maternity leave to 26 weeks and unpaid leave to 30 weeks, making a total of 56 weeks in all.

With a little judicious family planning, it will now be possible for catholic mothers to conceive, gestate and give birth while actually on maternity leave, triggering a further 56 weeks of paid and unpaid leave. Thus a couple can now plan to have a traditional “steps of stairs” catholic family with the female spouse not having to return to work while rearing the family.

In each 56 week period she will be paid, on average, at least 66% of her normal gross salary when social welfare entitlements are included. This will result in a very modest impact on after-tax income with the added benefit that the crippling costs of childcare are avoided. The net result should be income-positive for the household! This scenario will obviously provide a substantial financial incentive to reproduce on as large a scale as possible over a prolonged period.

Clearly the phone lines to All Hallows are not only open but also buzzing. Surely this is Bertie's way of saying "Up yours, Liz!", while side-swiping Mary Robinson at the same time. Now that's what you call killing two birds with one phone (call).

Vive la Republique

The primary focus of the constitution of the Irish Republic is the promotion and protection of the rights of the ordinary citizen. Yet our tax regime penalises the ordinary citizen in order to benefit the corporate entity. Today’s budget only serves to highlight, once again, the glaring anomaly that is the structure of the tax regime of this Republic.

Tax Rates
Joe Public, a PAYE taxpayer, is subject to much higher levels of tax than the corporate entity, even though many of the latter are not even Irish. Personal tax rates of 20% and 42% contrast sharply with a Corporation Tax rate of only 12.5%.

In most other European countries the Corporation Tax rate is higher, often much higher, than the Standard Personal Tax rate.

Tax Liability Calculation
A company pays Corporation Tax only on its operating profits, which are arrived at having deducted virtually all day-to-day operating expenses. Insurance, rent, transport, bank interest, lighting, heating, travel, wages, training, waste collection etc etc can all be deducted. A company can also deduct expenditure for office furniture, PCs, motor cars etc (by way of depreciation) before arriving at a tax liability. And then it’s only 12.5%.

Joe PAYE Public, on the other hand, pays tax on his gross income, less some modest allowances. He has to pay all his bills from after-tax income, with some relatively minor claims allowed for expenses such as medical, dental and bin charges. But try claiming for your ESB, your motor or home insurance, your car loan interest, your school fees, child-care costs, your Swedish au pair or your Xmas card costs and you will be laughed out of town.

Joe Public pays VAT on every product and service he buys, much of it at 21%. The company, on the other hand, can reclaim VAT on its purchases, offset against the VAT it charges its own customers.

Are we really Republicans? Are we, f**k!

Centre for Public Inquiry - Frank Connolly

The allegations, made in the Dail yesterday by Minister for Justice Michael McDowell, that Frank Connolly travelled to the FARC controlled area of Colombia in April 2001, using a false passport and accompanied by his brother and a senior IRA man, have today been categorically denied on RTE by Connolly. However, he refused to account for his whereabouts at the time he is alleged to have been in Colombia.

His general tone on RTE was one of outrage at being hounded by the media on this matter - which must have amused some of the targets of his own journalistic output.

Connolly is Executive Director of the Centre for Public Inquiry, funded by Chuck Feeney’s Atlantic Philanthropies. It is reported today that, in light of these allegations, Atlantic Philanthropies has decided to withdraw its funding from the Centre for Public Inquiry.

The whole situation is unfortunate as recent revelations about the Gardai, Government incompetence etc., illustrate the real need for an independent body with the skills and resources to investigate matters that an administration might like to keep covered up.

However, the integrity of such a body must be beyond reproach and, if the McDowell allegations are subsequently proven to be true, it would surely be a FARCical situation to have a fellow-traveller of the Provisional IRA investigating the application of justice in the Republic.

Watch with interest to see if Frank turns up as an applicant for a Presidential Pardon under the proposed OTR arrangements!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Irish Ferries Dispute

Presumably Irish Ferries management believe that they are pursuing a logical business strategy, but the tactics they are employing are repugnant to most observers and seem to put the entire business at risk.

In choosing the nuclear option, they have rejected the alternative September 2005 proposals developed by consultants Greg Sparks and Martin King.

Their proposals included a 5% salary cut, reduced manning levels on ships and the outsourcing of cleaning and catering staff. They also commented critically on the state of internal staff/manangement relationships within the company and the urgent need to repair these if the company was to successfully manage the ongoing change necessary for the company to survive.
SIPTU had indicated they would accept these proposals, a clear indication that the union recognised the need for concessions and acceptance that the current operating model is not sustainable in the medium to long term.

Given this union acceptance of the need for change, is it not puzzling that these alternative proposals appear to have been also rejected by the Labour Court? Their latest recommendation that the company simply maintain the status quo was surely issued in the certain knowledge that it could not be acceptable to the company.

If the industrial relations machinery of the state operates in an apparently illogical fashion, it’s hard to envisage any middle-ground resolution of this ugly dispute.

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