Tuesday, January 31, 2006

What if Hitler hadn't invaded Poland?

"How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing!" Neville Chamberlain, BBC Radio broadcast, 27th September 1938.

"I bring you peace in our time." Neville Chamberlain, 29th September 1938, following the signing of the Munich Pact, which betrayed the Republic of Czechoslovakia in an attempt to appease Hitler and avoid war.

January 1933: Hitler is appointed German Chancellor. Three months later, the "Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service" bans Jews from working in the public service, beginning the process of legal discrimination against the Jewish population which will, over the next 5 years, include removal of their citizenship rights, confiscation of their property for nominal compensation and barring them from professional practice.
(All of this was known to British and French Governments well before the signing of the 1938 Munich Pact.)
March 1936: German troops re-occupy the Rhineland, in contravention of the Treaty of Versailles. No effective action is taken by France or Britain.
March 1938: Austria is annexed. Meanwhile, tension is growing with ethnic German minority in the Sudetenland province of Czechoslovakia demanding union with Germany.
Great Britain, France and Czechoslovakia have a mutual defence pact while Hitler adopts an aggressive stance with regard to “defence” of ethnic germans in Sudentenland.
September 1938: the Munich Pact is signed following quadripartite negotiations between French Prime Minister Deladier, Chamberlain, Hitler and Mussolini. This Pact ceded the Sudetenland to Germany. The Government of Czechoslovakia was not involved in the talks or consulted before the agreement was signed to hand over a critical part of her national territory.
November 1938: Following the Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass") pogrom of November 9-10, Jews are barred from all public schools, universities, cinemas, theatres and sports facilities. In many cities, Jews are forbidden to enter designated "Aryan" zones.
March 1939: The Czech provinces of Moravia & Bohemia are invaded and turned into a German Protectorate. Slovakia became a supposedly independent state with a pro-German government. The dismembered Czechoslovakia effectively disappears from the map of Europe.
September 1 1939: Germany invades Poland.

France and Great Britain finally declare war. The rest is history.

But what would have happened if Germany had stopped after Czechoslovakia and had not, in September 1939, invaded Poland, thus avoiding WWII?

Revised Scenario
The enlarged German Reich, Italy & Spain form the most powerful economic bloc in the world. A variety of treaties have created a single economic market with free movement of goods and labour.
Without the economic impetus of a World War, US industry has grown at a normalised rate and the US economy is considerably outstripped by the European Fascist Bloc.
Without the costs of a continental war, and on the back of a fast-growing and successful economy, Germany invests huge resources to develop nuclear weapons.
By 1950, Prof. Werner Heisenberg and his team have developed stable, functional nuclear weapons, capable of delivery by aircraft or missile.
In parallel, Werhner von Braun’s well-funded missile programme has rapidly progressed beyond the early V-1 & V-2 rockets. His Wolf II rocket is capable of targeted delivery of a nuclear or conventional warhead over a range of 1,500 kms, with an accuracy of +/- 0.5km. This puts all major European population centres within range of German missiles.
In the absence of a war and its major weapons investment, US & Russian physicists are still years away from developing viable nuclear weapons.
Fascist conventional armed forces have a combined strength and capability that easily surpasses the combined strength of the WWI allies.
J Edgar Hoover marvels at the efficacy of the Gestapo in maintaining internal security. FBI agents are seconded to the Gestapo to learn best practices that can be implemented in the USA.
Europe is divided between two opposing ideologies - Fascism and Communism. Societies have become polarised around these two extremes, political violence has become the norm, even in countries which would historically be considered bastions of democratic process.
The economic success of fascist bloc, bloated by effective international propoganda, fosters growth of like-minded parties in other countries.
The British Union of Fascists has become a major force in British politics, a coalition Government partner of Chamberlain’s Conservatives following the 1944 general election. Sir Oswald Mosley is appointed Home Secretary.

In France, …….
In the USA……

Internationally, fascist parties are funded by the Reich for both political and subversive activities. The USSR is also employing the same tactics, often in the same countries, leading to significant political violence and instability.

1950: Armed with the atomic bomb and missile technology capable of delivering warheads as far away as Moscow, the Third Reich is now immune from external aggression or military intervention.
The Nazi Party begins to implement its “final solution” to the “Jewish question“. Despite an international outcry and the lodging of formal diplomatic protests, no attempt is made to intervene militarily on behalf of the Jews. No country offers a safe haven for jewish refugees.
Homosexuals, the mentally & physically handicapped, and any remaining political opponents are openly rounded up and exterminated.
1951: An ultimatum is delivered to the Polish Government demanding the return of the former Prussian territories, ceded under the 1918 Treaty of Versailles. Following the firing of a number of warning missiles armed with conventional warheads, hitting Warsaw and Krakow, the Polish Government capitulates to German demands.
1952: British Government negotiates the return of German African colonies confiscated after WWI, together with reparations for lost revenues.
1953: Following the death of Stalin in March 1953, The Third Reich declares war on international Communism and launches a preemptive nuclear missile strike against Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev and Stalingrad.

The rest is history. Fill in your own nightmare here.

“For evil to flourish the only thing necessary is for good men to do nothing” Edmund Burke (1729-1797)

"The more things change, the more they stay the same". (Anon. 20th Century)

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Deus Caritas Est

So, the rottweiler German Pope has produced his first encyclical on the themes of love and charity.

For some it’s a conservative “Table d’Hote” menu when they want, but presumably don’t really expect, the “a la Carte” version that will validate their own liberal views and/or lifestyle choices. Others complain that he didn’t tackle more philosophically challenging but relatively obscure theological subjects of church dogma. However, Hans Kung has given it a guarded welcome as a good start, while urging the Pope to go further.

Rome wasn’t burnt in a day, as Nero was apt to say, so there may well be further shifts in future encyclicals.

I’ve only read extracts and analysis published in the press, but it seems to be a promising start from a Pope who was painted by the media as an arch-conservative, cold but highly intelligent man. I also think it’s interesting that, rather than demonstrate his considerable intellectual muscle by tackling some intricate theological conundrum, he has chosen to go back to basics on themes, and in language, that are relevant to and can be understood by ordinary people, even if they won’t necessarily agree with his analysis and/or conclusions.

On the topic of sex he says “Eros (erotic love), reduced to pure ‘sex’, has become a commodity, a mere ’thing’ to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity.” This is self-evidently true, you only have to consider the label “The Sex Industry” which is now in common use to describe prostitution, pornography, lap-dancing etc.etc..

This term has been promulgated by a media which owns and profits from the distribution of pornography and a by so-called liberal society which believes that there should be no restraints on personal freedom. By calling it an “industry”, those who benefit financially also seek to sanitise and normalise it in society and prevent the silent majority from bringing undue political pressure to bear in having it outlawed or overly regulated.

It’s widely accepted that many of the women involved are effectively enslaved, trafficked and traded across borders and between brothels and pimps, and that youngsters are groomed and abused almost routinely to sustain the conveyor belt of new flesh, but all this seems fairly irrelevant to much of society.

I propose a test: You should use the term “Sex Industry” if you are happy that your mother might work part time in a massage parlour, your wife or sister as a prostitute or an extra in porn movies, your daughter in a lap-dancing bar or with a web-cam installed in her bedroom. Substitute father, husband, brother, son where appropriate. If you consider these to be perfectly acceptable career choices for your nearest and dearest, then it genuinely is the “Sex Industry” to you.
However, if you’d hate to find them involved in any of the above, revert to calling a spade a spade. Please.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Independent.

The great internet lie?

For years we've been told that you can't censor the internet, that there's no way of blocking the flood of pornography and gambling that keeps popping up unsummoned or is accessed with ease by children and teenagers.

Now it seems that China can and has been doing it, and so can Google when there's an economic incentive.

It's time the public now demanded that all this pornographic and gambling content be segregated and made accessible only through some sort of secure system. Major penalties should be applicable to any content provider caught bypassing such systems.

To satisfy the liberals, they can segregate the religious content too if they want.

A sign of the times

My mother's next door neighbour had a big home improvement job done last year, with workmen swarming over the house for about 3 months. Many of them conversed in some eastern european language, or possibly mix of languages.

Now the house across the street from her is getting a make-over. The company doing the work is called Abhaile, the irish for Home.

I couldn't help smiling this morning when 3 workmen got out of their Abhaile-branded van, chatting away in foreignese.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Wayne O'Donoghue Manslaughter Conviction

Following the conviction of Wayne O'Donoghue for the manslaughter of Robert Holohan and the mother's dramatic intervention before sentencing, the media has bene having a field day speculating on what might actually have happened at the time of Robert's death.

No more so than RTE's Radio 1 where almost every talk programme has speculated on the matter or invited listeners comments.

Last evening's 5-7 Live invited listeners to participate in a phone-in poll on the topic. This prompted the following email to the programme:

Ever since Marian Finucane re-tried Tim Allen by radio poll, I've thought that we could save a lot of taxpayers money by simply trying sensitive cases via RTE.

Morning Ireland could start the ball rolling, Joe Duffy could allow the opinionated vent their spleen on air and finally 5-7 Live could finish the case off with a phone-in poll.

The main benefits would be
A speedy trial
A happy public
A happy RTE - all that free content!
A happy taxpayer, with major saving in legal costs

Serious/capital offences could be tried over 2 days, the second day could be dedicated to the appeal.

Does RTE recognise any limit to it's powers?

Footnote: The following letter was published by the Irish Independent:

Sir - In sentencing Wayne O'Donoghue, Mr Justice Paul Carney listed the considerations he had to take into account in arriving at a four-year sentence. He omitted to mention the RTE re-trial process.
Will this need to be factored into future decisions or are there actually some limits to RTE's powers? Yours etc..

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Chomping on Chomsky & the 50-Years War

"And still they gazed and still the wonder grew,
That one small head could carry all he knew"

Oliver Goldsmith - The Village Schoolmaster

Noam Chomsky was certainly among friends and preaching to the converted in Dublin, the vast majority of his audience being anti-Bush, anti-war and a substantial number just anti-US.

However, Chomsky’s critique is couched in such OTT rhetoric that you have to suspect his motivation is publicity-seeking rather than actually influencing and achieving change. While he quotes from a wide variety of sources to support his arguments, the complete absence of balance is proof that he is shamelessly selective in what he presents and suppresses any source that doesn’t support his hypothesis.

US Civil Society
It’s easy to agree with much of what he says when he talks about aspects of domestic policy in the richest nation on earth - the gap between rich and poor, the absence of a national healthcare plan, proper welfare etc., even if you disagree with his diagnosis as to political motivation and finger-pointing as to culprits.
His audience love to hear this “proof” that Bush is uncaring and in the pocket of big business - but it’s worth pointing out that there have been 11 post-war presidents, with 5 Democrats in the White House for 7 of the 16 post-war presidential 4-years terms. The social inequities and deficiencies in US welfare supports did not begin under the Bush administration.

Human Rights
It’s also hard to disagree when he attacks human rights abuses and points out the creeping relativism with regard to human rights. Co-incidentally, the current Pope also abhors relativism, but the two men hardly appeal to the same audiences.
The US seems to have a systemic problem in this area - you’d have to ask whether the US judicial and prison systems actually contribute to institutionalised abuse of human rights, quite apart from the death penalty. The focus seems to be on retribution rather than rehabilitation and the prison population is predominantly black and/or poor.
The post-war fear of communism, fed by McCarthy and the popular media, coupled with involvement in “dirty wars” worldwide in the long fight against communism, have fostered and justified a “fight fire with fire” mentality which has not been covered and condemned with sufficient vigour by the US media. One result has been that operating on an extra-judicial basis became almost an expected norm for US agencies e.g. the CIA has clearly operated on an extra-judicial basis for decades under all administrations e.g. the Bay of Pigs in 1961 happened on Kennedy’s watch, the overthrow of Allende in 1973 on Nixon’s. Oliver North and the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980's happened under the Reagan administration.
This “fire with fire” mentality is routinely portrayed in US popular culture - books, film and tv feature heroes who regularly break the law “to save America“.
There can be no excuse for systematic breaches of human rights by a western democracy, but it is hardly a uniquely Bush excess. However, his administration has definitely expanded the unsavoury and unacceptable aspects of “relativism” in their ongoing war on terror.

International Affairs
It’s when you come to Chomsky’s assessment of foreign policy that he starts to come completely unstuck. His standard anti-American diatribe would lead you to believe that the US has been operating in a vacuum, with no other protagonists and the rest of the world simply reacting to US provocations.
A timely reminder of his comments on Iran’s nuclear programme: they’d be crazy not to want to develop a bomb - when threatened by the US and Israel. In other words, the most natural reaction for any country is to respond to perceived threats. Remember that when you see the sample of communist-led aggressive actions later on.
The 50-Years War, aka the Cold war, was waged on a number of fronts - political, economic and military between the Western democracies, primarily the USA, and the communist bloc countries, primarily the USSR and China.
Ultimately the economic sphere proved the most effective and successful for the West, with the collapse of communism in the USSR following the fall of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991 and the subsequent unravelling of the communist bloc sphere of influence.
The 50-Years War began in 1945 with the Russian annexation of all of eastern Europe, up to and including East Germany, while the Chinese communists were successfully concluding their battle with the Nationalists, who were ultimately banished to Taiwan in 1949.
Post-1945 the Russians engaged in an active policy of supporting Marxist nationalist resistance movements, mainly in the colonies of war-weary European powers, a safe and cost-effective way of expanding their sphere of influence and political ideology into South-East Asia, Africa and the Americas.

Evidence of the aggressive nature of communist expansionist activity include
1948-49 Soviet blockade of Berlin
1948-1960 Malaysian anti-British insurgency
1949 Chinese invasion of Tibet
1950-53 invasion of South Korea, involving Chinese Red Army and Soviet Air force
1950-75 Pathet Lao rebellion in Laos
1954 Viet Minh defeat of the French in Vietnam
1956 military suppression of Hungary
1957-73 North Vietnam invasion of South Vietnam
1961 building of Berlin Wall
1961 Cuban military support to Algerian rebels
1962 Soviet attempt to install ICBMs in Cuba
1964-65 Cuban troops, including Che Guevara, fighting in Zaire & Angola
1965-74 Guinea-Bissau war of independence with Cuban military involvement
1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia
1975-91 30,000 Cuban troops in Angola, transported by Aeroflot, supporting MPLA
1974 Marxist coup in Ethiopia supported by USSR
1975-79 USSR support Khmer Rouge (CP of Cambodia) responsible for 1.7m deaths,
1979 Grenada - New Jewel Movement coup with Cuban support,
1979-89 Russian invasion of Afghanistan.
1989 Tiananmen Square massacre

In addition, Soviet and/or Chinese support could be counted on by any resistance group which either espoused socialist or Marxist ideals and/or was involved in fighting in a country within the Western sphere of influence.

These included the ANC in South Africa, Frelimo in Mozambique, the Mau Mau in Kenya, the Uruguayan Tupamaros, the Argentinian Montoneros and ERP, the Colombian M-19, FARC and ELN, the Chilean MIR and Frente Patriotico Manuel Rodriguez and the Peruvian MRTA.
Key soviet ally and surrogate Cuba, under its Department of the Americas, provided training, supplies and military advisors to these groups in a sustained effort to export revolution to Central & South America. It was in such a role that Che Guevara was killed in Bolivia in 1967.

This list is very far from being exhaustive, but illustrates a geographically widespread and sustained Soviet/Chinese effort to actively promote the spread of communism and/or their own sphere of influence on a worldwide basis. An added benefit of this approach was its ability to maximise the disruption to Western interests in these areas of conflict.

This is not intended to be a potted history or even a balanced view of the 50-Years War, but rather it is a partisan riposte to the ultra-partisan Chomsky view of the world.
Chomsky has lived through all of this period, but it appears that it is only instances of US aggression that he has noticed. I suggest that any impartial observer, perhaps looking in from Mars, would have to concede that The Communist Bloc, rather than the West, has been the prime instigator of political violence on the planet since WWII. Given that Chomsky can clearly see the rationale for Iran’s desire to develop nuclear weapons in response to a perceived threat from the US and Israel, it’s inconceivable that he cannot see that a US response was inevitable in face of sustained military action in pursuit of the ideological expansionist strategy of the USSR and China

And if Chomsky thinks that opposition to the spread on communism was unwise or uncalled for (his doctrine of non-intervention by the US), let us remind him that it is now generally accepted that the two greatest mass-killers in the history of humanity were Mao & Stalin. In each case, it was their own peoples who constituted the majority of their victims.

In the context of the 50-Years War, Vietnam can now be seen in a wider context - a battle lost in a war that was ultimately won. Without US willingness to take on communist expansionism wherever it appeared, the map of the world would look considerably different today.

Ultimately, it was the USA’s ability to bear the economic costs of the prolonged ideological battle which allowed it to prevail. The USSR, with it’s inefficient command economy, simply couldn’t support the cost in the longer term and collapsed like a house of cards in the end. The cost of the 50-Years War has probably been, to a significant extent, borne at the expense of US healthcare and welfare systems.

Along the way, human rights rules have been bent and broken by both sides. Whilst the communist side has been the chief offender, it cannot be acceptable for the USA/West to stoop to their base standards.

It was President Eisenhower (a former general and a Republican!) who warned about the long-term ongoing struggle against communism and, as importantly, first identified the major threat posed to US democracy by the increasing influence of the military-industrial complex. That threat is as great now as it ever has been. The following are extracts from Eisenhower’s 1960 farewell address on leaving office. He was clearly a man of greater intellect than many of his successors.
Perhaps a study of the selected extracts would be of benefit to both Messrs Chomsky and Bush.

“Throughout America's adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt both at home and abroad.
Progress toward these noble goals is persistently threatened by the conflict now engulfing the world. It commands our whole attention, absorbs our very beings. We face a hostile ideology -- global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method. Unhappily the danger is poses promises to be of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there is called for, not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle -- with liberty the stake. Only thus shall we remain, despite every provocation, on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment. “

“A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.
Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.
Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well.
But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. “

Monday, January 23, 2006

Any chance of a start?

The recent calls for a change in regime for workers from the new EU entrants in Eastern Europe appears to have hit a chord with the public. According to a new survey published in today’s Irish Times, 78% of the public favours the introduction of a work permit system for such workers.

This follows the huge influx from Eastern Europe, particularly Poland with estimates of over 100,000 immigrants from that country. Our second largest immigrant community are the thousands of Chinese with visas to attend non-existent language schools. They’re now the back-bone of the office-cleaning industry and increasingly appear as shop-assistants etc..

The desire for restrictions on foreign workers was significantly higher among less well-off sections of the population than among the better-off. This could become a highly incendiary topic and it’s with concern I hear Ned O’Keeffe of Fianna Fail talking about the need to protect jobs for Irish people. If we’re not careful this could produce an anti-immigrant backlash with very ugly consequences.

The issue legitimately raised by Pat Rabbitte was whether (a) such immigrant workers were being exploited by Irish employers and paid less than the National Minimum Wage, or (b) used to displace existing Irish workers at lower that “the going rate” for certain types of work, although such reduced rates might still be above the National Minimum Wage.

Frankly, I fail to understand how a work permit system would address either of these situations, other than by the crude mechanism of slowing down the inflow of workers and thereby reducing, but not eliminating, the opportunity of employers to exploit the surplus labour available.

Surely for (a) above, the solution lies in a much more active use of inspectors to enforce the existing employment legislation and provision of information and feedback channels for immigrant workers to ensure they know, and can seek enforcement of, their rights. These situations typically arise in cases of unskilled, manual labour and often where the worker is here illegally in the first place, thus reducing their willingness to complain to the authorities.

For (b) above, the workers are usually semi-skilled or skilled e.g carpenters, plumbers, block-layers etc employed in areas such as the construction industry. It might well be that demand for labour in these areas has pushed costs to levels that will prove to be unsustainable in the medium to long term. Certainly, it has added substantially to the cost of house-building. Allowing these new market forces to determine wage rates might be beneficial to the overall economy, even if it means some pain for incumbent workers who have benefited from inflated pay rates in recent years.

Anecdotally, employers claim that many of these immigrant workers are more highly skilled and better motivated than their Irish counterparts. Consequently, employers can afford to pay them the same rates as the Irish workers but still enjoy better productivity.

The latter point is easy to believe. The building boom in Ireland in the past decade seems to have overstretched the available local skilled tradesmen. The standard of finish in many holiday homes, apartments and tax-break hotels can be literally painful to behold. Rough and badly planed timber will leave you with grazes, poorly fitted doors and units, uneven tiling, sloppy decor etc would make you wonder about the standard of work in areas you can’t see - wiring, plumbing, central heating systems etc etc..

On balance, the influx of immigrants has been very good for Ireland, and not just for economic reasons. To date, most of these visitors seem to have had a fairly positive experience in Ireland - though there will always be a minority of unscrupulous cowboys who exploit situations. It would be a shame if politicians and media create a negative perception of the impact of these immigrants on prospects for Irish workers and a backlash that sours realtions between the native and the immigrant communities.

Media standards - RTE & Eamonn Casey

Dr Martin Drennan, Bishop of Galway, was asked on RTE radio if he thought that Eamonn Casey should apologise. Faced with such a leading question, what answer could he give, other than responding in the affirmative?

Subsequent RTE news bulletins announced that Bishop Drennan had called on Eamonn Casey to make a public apology, as if the Bishop had issued a formal statement to that effect.

This is a serious mis-representation of Dr Drennan‘s contribution and the result has been a subsequent media feeding frenzy on the subject of the apology. Joe Duffy's Liveline on RTE will manage to get several days content out of it.

However, this is representative of a regular tactic of RTE and the broadcast media in general, as they routinely manipulate the news in order to create ongoing controversy and generate further content.

Low standards in low places.

Footnote: This was published in the Letters column of both the Irish Independent and the Irish Examiner on 25th January 2006.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Vincent Browne monopolising the media

The following letter appeared in Friday's Irish Times.

Madam, - Vincent Browne (January 18th) calls for the introduction of a rule that no single legal entity can own or control more than a single media outlet in the country. May I propose an extension of this rule to cover the number of media outlets a single columnist can appear in each week? - Yours, etc,
EDWARD BROPHY, Nutley Avenue, Dublin 4.

which prompted the following response. I doubt they'll publish it but it was fun to write.

Madam, - Edward Brophy (IT letters 20th Jan) suggests placing a weekly limit on the number of organs to which Vincent Browne can contribute. Personally, I’d prefer a weekly limit on the number of times he can recycle the same material.
As a lapsed listener to Vincent’s nightly radio kangaroo court, I’d like to offer RTE a suggested change in format which might win me back: the installation of an independent but silent chairperson, seated within armslength of Vincent. The sole function of the chairperson would be to hit Vincent with the gavel whenever he gets out of hand.
I would be happy to help pilot the concept. Yours, etc.

Footnote: As expected, this wasn't printed by the Irish Times, so I emailed it to Vincent Browne's RTE radio show. I'm not holding my breath that it will change his approach.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Chomsky proves Newton's Law

Noam Chomsky addressed an audience of about 1,000 in UCD last night. I would have liked to see him in action but the event was sold out weeks in advance. Hopefully, the lecture will be broadcast on TV at some future date.

According to the Irish Times he lambasted the British and US administrations, as well as most of the media. Well, at least we might have agreed on the latter point.

He’s also reported as saying that Iran would be crazy not to want to develop nuclear weapons when it feels threatened by two nuclear powers in the US and Israel. I doubt if either is contemplating a nuclear strike but clearly “conventional” military action is not ruled out.

However, he’s pointing to something important and almost universal. I suggest it’s Newton’s Third Law of Motion: To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, but adapted for political application.

Thus the reaction may be neither equal or opposite, but will almost invariably be disproportionate - too much or too little, too early or too late. The important thing is that action or the perceived threat of action will inevitably generate a reaction of some sort. The risk of rapid escalation is significant, as each side's "defensive" moves are perceived as "offensive" by the other side, creating a dangerous action/reaction cycle.

Chomsky would probably recommend the initial part of Newtons First Law of Motion as a model for international relations: Every body continues in its state of rest or motion in a straight line unless compelled to change that state by external forces exerted upon it.

I have little doubt that the rise in religious fundamentalism in the US is, at least in part, another example of Newton’s Third Law of Motion - fueled by the rise of the permissive society and the consequent decline in moral standards.

Burton's New Suits

Nationwide Conference (effectively 5th Div) minnows Burton Albion are set to make a fortune from their 3rd round FA cup clash with Man Utd.

Having held Utd to a draw last Sunday week in front of a full house at home, they are reported to be earning an additional £500k from tonight’s replay at Old Trafford.

In addition, Burton have maximised the money-making opportunities of this glamour tie by selling sponsorship of their playing gear on a once-off basis for the fixture. Thus, Paddy Power bookmakers feature on their shirt-fronts, The Sun newspaper on their shorts and Sanex cosmetics on the back of the shirt.

Tonight will undoubtedly be the end of the FA Cup road for them, but they’ve probably earned more from this one fixture than their entire earnings from the rest of the season.

No flies on these boys.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Decentralisation exposes cracks in the political system

The current decentralisation plan, unveiled by Charlie McCreevy in his December 2003 budget speech, illustrates some very fundamental flaws in the Irish political system.

Firstly, it highlights the huge potential for abuse of power by a sitting Government or individual minister. The proposed distribution of up to 12,000 civil and public servants to the four corners of the country must surely rank as one of the most glaring examples of opportunistic political patronage since the foundation of the state.

Not only are the vast majority of these posts going to locations which do not feature as gateways or hubs in the same Government’s much heralded 2002 National Spatial Strategy, but the resistance of the majority of existing job-holders to follow their jobs must surely result in a huge loss of experience and expertise. The knock-on effect must be a significant disruption in Government services and a huge re-training burden which will ultimately have to be borne by the taxpayer.

The political beneficiaries of this initiative will be those Fianna Fail and PD politicians to whose constituencies the civil servants are moving.

The financial beneficiaries will be the property developers, builders and estate agents who regularly fill the infamous Fianna Fail tent at the Galway races. Large fortunes will be made selling sites and new offices to the civil service throughout the country and redeveloping vacated office blocks in Dublin.

Secondly, this decentralisation programme highlights the conflict of interest for sitting TDs in having to choose between National and Constituency interests. On the one hand, Opposition TDs rightly want to condemn the naked political opportunism and lack of planning of this entire decentralisation proposal, yet find it virtually impossible to denounce an individual decentralisation move to their own constituency without putting their Dail seat in serious jeopardy.

Thus, Enda Kenny recently made the gaffe of describing the overall decentralisation plan as a mess, while simultaneously urging the rapid movement of 160 civil servants to Knock.

A similar dilemma arises for TDs when it comes to the siting of traveller accomodation, dumps, incinerators, prisons etc..

This whole decentralisation process should now be put on hold and handed over to an independent body, whose remit should be the review and revision of current proposals in the context of the National Spatial Strategy, Transport 21 and the willingness of appropriately skilled public servants to relocate.

Decentralisation should not be rushed simply to suit the general election needs of the current administration.

In addition, no future Government of individual Minister should have the power to personally direct the location or relocation of any facility. Of course they must retain the power to set out the desired strategy, but implementation decisions should be the responsibility of a non-political body.

Too much public money is spent by Government ministers on vanity projects in their own constituencies. It’s our money, not theirs.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Times. An abbreviated version read by Pat Kenny on his RTE radio programme (in May 06).

Stringfellow's Dublin Club

In light of the recent decision to grant permission to Peter Stringfellow to open a lapdancing club in Dublin, RTE's Today with Pat Kenny sent a reporter to check out his London club.

Her report was broadcast today, prompting me to send Kenny the following email:

"Who chose Valerie Cox to review a lapdancing club?

When this item was being set up and Stringfellow's PR department saw the name of RTE's envoy, they surely assumed she was either an Irish porn star or you were taking the piss."

In the interest of balance

In the interests of balance, here’s a direct quote from a self-professed liberal, who permanently inhabit’s the highest moral ground on all issues:

“No its actually two dumb fucks George & Tony plus anyone who really believes W actually makes the decisions / knows what’s going on / why they went to war / what’s the strategy etc etc etc…………………………..”

I think the context is clear, you have here a most succinct summary of the moral view.

Note (a) the absence of room for self-doubt and (b) the certainty of the insights regarding “the enemy”.
You'd have to wonder how many of George's political opponents over the years have woken up scratching their heads the morning after an election.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Barcelona Ramblings

Just back after 4 days in Barcelona. The prominence of oriental staff working in the various restaurants we tried was noteworthy, given the large numbers of spanish working in Irish hotels and restaurants in recent years.

Eating out:
The best value is the lunchtime "menu del dia" where you can get 2-3 courses plus a beer or glass of wine for €10-12. It's widely available, even in many up-market restaurants. A queue of locals is a sure sign of value, and often a clue as to what might be worth checking out for an evening meal.

Our preference is for lively, bistro-type restaurants, rather than hushed temples of haut cuisine. If you prefer the latter then ignore the following:

On C. d’Enrique Grandos, Flamant and La Polpa were enjoyable as was La Rita on C. d’Arago. La Rita was unbelievably cheap but I recommend you avoid any dessert “smothered in chocolate”. Citrus, above TapaTapa (avoid), on P. de Gracia was also fine.

From a visit last year, the hard to find Café de l’Academia, off C. de Jaume 1, is worth finding and Senyor Parellada on C. de la Argentaria was also enjoyable. La Crema Canela off Placa Reial was fine, though lunch at the adjacent Les Quinze Nits was disappointing (perhaps we were unlucky in our menu selections) even though it is always busy.

However, if you’re one of the “Beautiful People” or simply a “Grade A Poser“, then the restaurant for you is Moo at Hotel Omm, a couple of blocks further up P. de Gracia. If only I was 20 years younger and 20 kilos lighter….

Schilling bar on C. de Ferran is a good spot to people-watch while relaxing over a beer/wine/g&t, though it can get busy. Across the road from Schilling is a small off-license where you can buy Powers Gold Label whiskey for €12.50 - about half what you'd pay for it here. Jameson is even cheaper at €11.50 - but it's quite unusual to find Powers anywhere abroad.

The cheapest beer in Barcelona comes with one of the best views. This location was discovered last year by a Mr Kelly who'd lick drink off a scabby dogs leg.
A 40cl glass of beer will cost you only €1.80 (Coke is 10c dearer!) in the top-floor self-service cafeteria of El Cort Ingles on Placa de Catalunya. The food's is typical Arnott's, and most restaurants offering a menu del dia would be better value, but the view is great. A good place to read your newspaper and have a beer on a cold or wet day - or kill an hour while your other half is shopping downstairs.

Golf without balls?

Michelle Wie missed the cut by four strokes last week in a men's golf tournament played at her home course. Annika Sorensen has failed a number of times to make the cut in men's tournaments over the past couple of years.

Lady golfers in Ireland are still trying to force their way into full membership at Portmarnock, the last bastion of all-male membership in the country.

It strikes me that men and women play tennis on the same size courts, swim competitively in similar sized 50-metre pools, run over the same distances in athletics. So why should they play over two different course layouts and lengths when it comes to golf?

There must be considerable savings and benefits in terms of course building and maintenance, not having to facilitate both mens and ladies tees. It would also facilitate a more meaningful discussion after a mixed round of golf. In many cases today the ladies tee effectively takes several course hazards out of play, the ladies are often playing a substantially different course to the men.

The other benefit would be a more realistic comparison of relative performance between ladies and men. Ladies handicaps would be more realistically pitched in the 40-60 bracket, and their actual scores per round would, even at professional level, rarely better 100. Indeed your average lady handicapper would probably be hitting 150+.

This might bring a dose of reality to the world of ladies golf.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Lighthouse in a bog?

Radio reports today that a committe chaired by Minister Tom Parlon has come up with some helpful proposals to ameliorate the impact of flooding on households.

(i) Don't lay expensive carpets downstairs
(ii) Keep all your valuables, including furniture, upstairs.

Living in a bungalow, I'm having some trouble convincing the wife of the merit of these proposals.

He's wasted here, truly a lighthouse from a bog. An alternative measure might be to send this national treasure to New Orleans, where he can advise on the reconstruction of the city and the flood-proofing of buildings there.

I look forward to photos of Louisiana bedecked with "Parlon Country" posters. He'll be at home among the red-necks, I can almost hear the banjos and the squealing of a pig.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Heaven or Hell?

The Sunday Times reported yesterday that the Vatican is expected to abolish Limbo in the near future. This will still leave Heaven, Hell and Purgatory for believers to worry about.

Any such worry must surely give rise to consideration of what proportion of the world’s population ultimately end up in Heaven and, conversely, how many are doomed to Hell?

If there is a Heaven, I personally reject the view that only members of any one religion can qualify for entry, as this would seem to constitute a fundamental contradiction in any concept of a loving God.

Hypothesis - Key assumptions

(a) there is a Heaven and a Hell
(b) that everyone on Earth has a right of entry to both.
(c) that not everyone gets to Heaven, some go to Hell
(d) in this initial scenario, 75% get to Heaven, 25% go to Hell.
This % can be readily tweaked to generate a range of possible results.

Automatically Qualifying for Heaven will be those
(i) who die in infancy
(ii) who die of famine or disease, not caused by lifestyle choices
(iii) who die as innocent victims of war
(iv) who endure lives of oppression, repression etc..
(v) who endure lives of hardship and poverty
(vi) who dedicate their lives & talents to the welfare of others

World Population

The UN estimates the World Population at approx. 6.5bn. They categorise this population into 2 main categories
More Developed Countries” (MDC) account for 20% or 1.3bn people
Less Developed Countries” (LDC) accounting for the remaining 80% or 5.2bn.

We can assume that Europe, USA/Canada & Australia/New Zealand represent the bulk of the MDCs, with total combined population of 1.135bn.

LDCs would include
China 1.3bn
India 1.0bn+
Africa 780m
SouthEast Asia 500m
South America 365m
Mexico/Central America 140m

The bulk of those qualifying automatically for heaven under conditions (i) to (v) above would obviously come from the LDCs. Indeed, a very high proportion of the populations of those countries would seem to automatically qualify for Heaven under those same conditions.

Going back to our original assumption of 75% Heaven and 25% Hell, here’s what happens to the proportion of the population of MDCs who get to Heaven, depending on the assumption you make for level of automatic qualification from the LDCs:

LDC.................MDC..............Total (75%)
Qualifiers........ Qualifiers...... Qualifiers
90% (4680m).......15% (195m).......4875m
85% (4420m).......35% (455m).......4875m
80% (4160m).......55% (715m).......4875m

The table above illustrates that we in the “More Developed Countries” face a significant challenge in qualifying for Heaven, under the assumptions set out already. If the bar is set higher e.g. 50:50, then we’re almost all doomed to the eternal flames.

Indeed, it seems that our only hope is that the bar is set at a low level, with only a minimal percentage going to hell.


Most of us seem to think that the Hippocratic Solution of “first, do no evil” will be sufficient to see us right. We add to that occasional charitable donations, perhaps even a standing order or two for a feeling of permanent grace.
However, we need to consider a couple of relevant parables; The servant who buried his master’s talents and, expecting praise, was chastised when he failed to return them with some value added - so much for “do no evil“. Then there’s the story of The Widow’s Mite to put the generosity of your charitable donations into perspective.

It’s clearly those silent but deadly Sins of Omission that will be the undoing of most of the denizens of the More Developed World.

Remedial Actions

Finding myself ticking all the wrong boxes, I decided some time ago to take out what I hope is fool-proof insurance: I’m leaving the bulk of my estate to charity. It seems like the perfect each-way bet.

Hopeful nephews and nieces please take note.

Working like blacks

Mary O’Rourke’s praise for her Athlone selection convention team, saying that “they worked like blacks” has become a media event.

It’s an old expression, I often heard it in my youth, that has become outlawed through a combination of justifiable concern about racism and the overweening bullshit that is political correctness.

Paradoxically, it is a compliment to the work ethic of “blacks”, surely far more desirable than the often derogatory comments about “lazy scroungers” etc which epitomise the language of racists.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Tony Banks

Tony Banks, the former Labour UK sports minister has died in Florida having suffered a massive stroke, aged 62. He was a well-known Chelsea fan, so it’s not entirely bad news.

Courtesy of the London Times, here are a couple of his colourful contributions:

Of Margaret Thatcher: “she has the sensitivity of a sex-starved boa-constrictor”.
Of John Major: ‘He’s so unpopular, if he became a funeral director people would stop dying’
Of William Hague during the 1997 Labour Party conference: ‘Foetus’

During a Commons debate: “Mr Speaker, will you confirm that you actually have the power to order the fat bounder to be dragged from the Chamber.” When the Speaker intervened he went on: “Well in that case, corpulent gentleman.”

‘Living proof that a pig’s bladder on the end of a stick can be elected to Parliament’ referring to the Tory MP Terry Dicks

"Woolly-hatted, muesli-eating, Tory lick-spittles’ referring to the Liberal Democrats

‘Some people say Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson don’t get on. I asked Gordon about this and he said he didn’t know because he hadn’t spoken to Peter for 18 months’

Angela Merkel - still in her first 100 days

"An institution like Guantanamo can and should not exist in the longer term," Angela Merkel said in an interview with Der Spiegel. "Different ways and means must be found for dealing with these prisoners." Asked about the comments at a news conference, she said: "That's my opinion and my view and I'll say it elsewhere just as I have expressed it here."

However, she made it clear that she would not demand the immediate closure of the detention centre when she meets President Bush next Friday. "My talks with leaders of other countries don't consist of my expressing demands but of exchanging views," she said.

Merkel has vowed to repair ties with the USA, with relations badly strained over the U.S.-led Iraq invasion, which Gerhard Schroeder strongly opposed. It will be interesting to see what reaction she gets from the Bush administration, who might also be wishing that they had developed a different solution.

Merkel’s comments also seem to acknowledge that suspected terrorists, potential suicide bombers and irregular combatants are not readily amenable to the application of normal civil law or the terms of the Geneva Convention.

Chancellor Merkel made a very positive impression at the December EU budget negotiations and was widely acknowledged as having played a pivotal though low-key role in bringing these to a successful conclusion.

She’s clearly made an impressive beginning on the international stage, but her biggest challenge will be the domestic scene where the economy is in urgent need of major and painful reform, particularly in the funding of the German welfare system. The German economy, for decades the powerhouse of Europe, has been struggling to achieve growth in the past decade, further hampered by the huge costs of reunification.

If Germany bites the bullet, it may make it politically easier, though still hugely challenging, for Jacques Chirac’s successor to follow suit in France.

To date, Merkel looks like a serious, heavy weight politician whose balanced public pronouncements on Guantanamo and discreet but effective diplomacy in Brussels augur well for the future. Who knows, her approach and demeanour might actually rub-off on some of the bigger egos in the EU and we might get less posturing and megaphone diplomacy and more constructive development of EU structures and policies. Such a change in climate might even help voters accept a future version of the EU constitution.

There are many fascinating political situations, challenges and players in some of our major European partners. I wish the Irish & UK media would focus more resources on quality reporting and analysis of these areas.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Ariel Sharon - an enigma in a paradox?

Held responsible for the 1982 massacre of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon by an Israeli commission of inquiry, Ariel Sharon might justifiably have ended his career at The Hague, convicted of war crimes.

Instead, his current health crisis is widely seen as a blow to peace prospects in the Middle East.

However, no-one seems to be clear on what exactly constituted Sharon's ultimate vision for the Israel/Palestine border and, as importantly, their ongoing economic and political relationship.
His unilateral approach to disengagement in Gaza, allied to the building of The Wall and the ongoing expansion of existing West bank settlements near Jerusalem sent very mixed signals - most probably a "take it or leave it" Pax Romana solution.

The political situation is clearly not helped by the apparent weakness of the Mahmoud Abbas leadership on the Palestinian side. It doesn’t look as if any deal Abbas might agree with Israel could be sold to his own people.

Only time will tell if Sharon’s demise is a political tragedy or the prolonged start to a new beginning. Hopefully the middle-ground in Israel will win the upcoming elections.

Sharon will make a fascinating case study for future political scientists. War criminal or peace-maker, history will have to be the judge.

One piece that amused me was a TV vox pop with members of the Israeli public: “He’s George Bush’s puppet” opined one contributor. There’s no fooling some people.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Pope Benedict - RTE Profile

An RTE documentary on Pope Benedict last night included an interesting contribution from Dr Hans Kung.

Dr Kung was Professor of Fundamental Theology at the University of Tubingen in Germany when he was censured by the Catholic Church in 1979 and banned from teaching as a Catholic theologian, though he continued to teach under secular rather than Catholic Church auspices.

Dr Küng's problems arose from his challenging views on areas of core, traditional Catholic doctrine such as the divinity of Christ, papal infallibility and the dogma of the Virgin Mary. It can hardly be surprising that he lost his Catholic accreditation in those circumstances.

It was Dr Kung who recruited Josef Ratzinger to the staff of the faculty at Tubingen, who later turned against him, accusing him of failure to interrogate or criticise liberal left wing views with anything like the vigour he brought to bear on traditional catholic teachings.

Pope John Paul II consistently refused to meet Dr Kung to discuss the issues, despite repeated requests over the years for such a meeting. On the death of John Paul II, Dr Kung determined to request a meeting with the new Pope, whoever he might be. It turned out to be his former academic colleague, Cardinal Ratzinger, who readily agreed to meet and appears to have made a relatively positive impression on Dr Kung with his openness and civility.

However, the consensus view emerging from the various contributors to RTE’s profile of the Pope was that his long-standing opposition to relativism - the ongoing re-interpretation of truths to suit changing societal trends and demands, rather than the existence of unchanging, fundamental truths - means that Dr Kung is unlikely to see his own views featuring high on the list of Papal initiatives in the near future.

It was also suggested that Pope Benedict is preparing the church for the inevitability of a major down-sizing exercise over the coming decades, willing to sacrifice quantity of members for quality of belief.

Such a position would be entirely incomprehensible to most media commentators, who thrive on “market share”, and self-styled "liberal" catholics (often the most illiberal people you could possibly meet) who want to live the á la carte version of catholicism.

Interesting times ahead.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The threat of Avian Influenza

I suspect I may be coming down with a dose of the dreaded "Bird Flu".

I find I'm displaying some of the classic symptoms - talking far too much and having great difficulty parking the car.

Who really owns Public Assets?

The controversy over plans to redevelop Dun Laoghaire baths raises some interesting questions about ownership and use of public assets and monies.

I’ll try to curb my dislike of Richard Boyd Barrett and his infiltration of every possible cause with his SWP agenda. I’ll attempt to hide my contempt for the protest marchers, most of whom didn’t use the baths when they were open and wouldn’t use them in future if they were re-opened. Some indeed simply don’t want them re-opened under any circumstance, they would prefer retention of the current eye-sore rather than see hordes of Northsiders arriving on the DART. You know the ones I’m talking about - shirts off with tattoos on display and their toddlers walking because their buggies are full of Dutch Gold lager.

The real issue with funding the baths goes back to the 1970’s when Fianna Fail abolished domestic rates in one of their brilliant election manifesto strokes. If, thanks to the protesters, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown Co Council now find it politically impossible to involve private investment in much needed redevelopment of the baths and the sea-front, they must go cap in hand to The Minister for the Environment, Heritage & Local Government seeking a capital grant and ongoing funding to meet the annual running and maintenance costs.

Alternatively, they can leave matters as they are - the cider, drugs and underage-sex parties can continue as usual at the back of the East Pier - currently a no-go area for most people, even during day-light hours.

The Real Issue

A couple of hundred yards down the seafront from the baths is the harbour itself. This public asset is owned and managed by the Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company, a semi-state company whose sole shareholder is The Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources. The Harbour company made a profit of €2.5m in the year to December 2002, the last accounts on their website.

However, the Harbour company has some interesting developments in train:
The Harbour Yard, located on Crofton Road behind the Town Hall, is currently being redeveloped as a major office, apartment and retail complex - due for completion in 2008.
The Carlisle Pier - currently in the planning phase with an application for a major residential, office and retail complex on the site of the old mail-boat pier.
In addition, the new Marina has been a major success for the Harbour Company, providing a strong and growing annual revenue stream.

In short, the Harbour Company has a strong and growing revenue stream, with major incremental revenues due from the Harbour Yard and Carlisle Pier developments which are underway. These assets are all owned by the taxpayer, but the revenues generated are ring-fenced and only applied to the actual areas under the direct control of the Harbour Company itself.

The company could, in theory, decide to spend that money on the East and West Pier refurbishment, using fine Italian marble and gold-plated handrails. There does not appear to be any current mechanism for it to transfer surplus funds to the Co Council for use in refurbishing the rest of the sea-front.

Perhaps an alternative solution would be for Dun Laoghaire Co Council to transfer ownership of the sea-front to the Harbour Company?

Now what would Boyd Barrett and his bird-brained followers find to protest about there? I’m sure they’d manage to find something to object to.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Chill Out

I want to deny rumours that my wife is suffering from stress.

However, I can confirm that she is a carrier.

Recycling pays dividends for Vincent

Some months ago I sent an abusive email to Vincent Browne when his nightly RTE radio programme was, once again, an almost verbatim regurgitation of the contents of his weekly Irish Times column, which had been published that very same day.

He’s a qualified barrister, so I asked him if it constituted fraud to accept a fee from both RTE and The Irish Times for the same material on the same day. Needless to say I didn’t get a reply.

I see that my least favourite commentator on Northern Ireland, Ruth Dudley Edwards, has now taken him to task in the Indo for exactly the same activity - only this time he’s been caught putting expanded versions into his Villager weekly magazine. Vincent would probably claim that it’s the same as syndication, but without the attribution.

As for Ruth Dudley Edwards, it’s good to have some southern commentators who are sympathetic to the Unionist cause in order to provide some semblance of balance to coverage here. However, it would be better if she was more trustworthy.

My problem with her credibility stems from an interesting broadcasting co-incidence during the Drumcree stand-off some years ago.

RDE was on a phone-in link to Saturday View on RTE radio, where she was describing the efforts of the worthies of the Portadown Orange Lodge to ensure that there would be no trouble at the police barricades. She was high in her praise for the content and tone of the messages urging restraint by the Lodge District Master Harold Gracey.

Simultaneously, I happened to be watching a live UTV broadcast which showed the same Orange worthy bellowing defiance and whipping up members to march on police lines and leave them in no doubt about Orange marching rights.

The contrast between RDE’s benign description and what I was actually witnessing could not have been greater. It highlights once again how information can be so easily distorted when a commentator has an agenda.

Time's Man of the Year controversy

Time Magazine’s decision to award its prestigious “Man of the Year” title to Bill and Melinda Gates and U2’s Bono has met with mixed reactions.

“Truly gatesque” was the verdict of Netscape shareholders, who warned potential 3rd World beneficiaries to be wary of the small print in user agreements attaching to any Gates-financed aid.

Meanwhile several professional associations have jointly commissioned a study to find a suitable alternative title for their “pro-bono” work.
“It’s bad enough doing it for free, without that little effer getting all the credit” explained a spokesman.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Not quite the end of the world, after all.

It's that time of year when the media fills pages by reflecting on some of the major events of the previous year, so why should I be different?

Nothing was more traumatic for Manchester United fans than the takeover of the club by the Glazer family.

Let me confess to being a long-standing but moderate ABU (anyone but United) but now I find myself turning against their fans too.

Remember all the hype in early 2005 when Malcolm Glazer was organising his takeover of Manchester United? Glazer’s effigy was burned, supporters picketed Old Trafford, death threats were issued, his family needed a police escort to get out of the ground etc..

“Shareholders United”, who claimed to represent 17% of Manchester United shareholders, promised to uses their votes to block Glazer’s plan. Sadly, it turned out that these shareholders actually held less than 1% of Man Utd shares between them so that threat ultimately came to nothing.

Once Glazer’s bid was successful, the protesting supporters announced a boycott of United matches and plans to set up a new football club.

I haven’t heard much since about how the new club was getting on, but I thought I’d check up on the boycott. Yesterday, United played Bolton at Old Trafford, not one of the glamour ties of the season. Official attendance was 67,858 - that’s 23,000 more than Liverpool had at Anfield and 27,000 more than Chelsea had at Stamford Bridge.

Now that’s what I call a successful boycott! Clearly Roy Keane was right about the prawn-sandwich brigade who now constitute the United fan base.

Despite all the anguished tears and breast-beating at the time, the Manchester United world hasn’t ended with the arrival of the Glazer clan.

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