Thursday, November 30, 2006

Boot Camp for Young Offenders?

RTE’s Today show (today) highlighted how little has been achieved in some key areas of public need, despite the unprecedented Exchequer wealth generated over the past decade. Geriatric care and rehabilitation of young offenders were just two of many areas that might have featured.

Defence Minister O’Dea, as expected, rubbished the Fine Gael “Boot Camp” proposal and, when challenged by Pat Kenny re the poor performance of the current Government, resorted to their standard defence that “all Governments since the foundation of the State etc etc…”. This ignores the fact that all previous Govts were effectively broke - the current coalition has been in office for 9 years now and has probably had more money to spend than all previous administrations combined.

As for the boot camp proposal - I have no idea whether this would work or not. However, the image presented by the media and Govt commentators is some brutalising “sgt-major” regime which will turn out "super-thugs". Mary Raftery, in her Irish Times column last week, was fairly typical. She cited the objective of army training as teaching young men to kill. I doubt if anyone, inside or outside the Irish Army, would describe it as a “lean, mean killing machine”. Many of the other negative contributions appear to assume that most of these young offenders are beyond redemption.

What is clear from the debate is that some form of proactive rehabilitation and vocational training programme is required for young offenders. This might well be provided by army instructors, perhaps in a non-military environment, who might well get more respect from the offenders than the normal “screw” would.

If nothing else, this Fine Gael proposal might prompt the Govt into taking some action - at last. But not if the media keep ridiculing it as a “hang ’em & flog ’em” approach.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Al-Qaeda & Papal visit to Turkey

"Earlier, the Pope's efforts to emphasize common ground between Christians and Moslems were sharply rebuffed by Al Quaeda, which accused him of aiding what it called a crusade against Islam."

This is an extract from the RTE website and consistent with the tone and content of the station’s many news bulletins on both radio and tv today.

RTE have today given far greater prominence to Al-Qaeda's hostile comments on the Pope's visit to Turkey than any other aspect of that visit. Why report/publicise their comments at all?

Al-Qaeda are clearly anti-western, anti-christian and unlikely to welcome any visit by a non-muslim religious leader. Has Al-Qaeda become an accepted representative group for any branch of Islam, other than the terrorist one, whose comments are now deemed to carry weight on religious matters by RTE?

RTE chose a tabloid approach, using Al-Qaeda to spice up its reports on the papal visit. In doing so, it accords a weight and legitimacy to that terrorist organisation which it does not deserve. This runs the risk of further influencing young Muslims in Ireland to regard Al-Qaeda and other radical groups as credible spokesmen for some mainstream strand of Islam.

RTE will claim that they are only reporting the news and adopt a “don’t shoot the messenger” stance. But surely even Montrose is aware that the media is an integral part of the terrorist strategy - to spread the word to fellow-travellers across the world, to spread fear among their enemies and mobilise public opinion motivated by that fear. This has long been a recognised fact - the terrorists feed media with spectacular content and the media duly feeds it to a much wider audience than they terrorists themselves could ever reach.

Standard media defence is that it’s on the internet anyway and therefore accessible to all. That’s fine in theory, but putting it on all major news bulletins ensures that it reaches a far wider audience that the small number of adherents who would actually know where to find it on the internet and then take the trouble to access and read it.

This nonsense has been an excellent example of completely unbalanced reportage and should not be repeated. Needless to say, I’ve emailed a strongly-worded complaint to the RTE newsroom - which generated the response below. I'm not holding my breath that it will have any impact.

Thank you for your e-mail. Your comments in regard to RTÉ's reporting on Pope Benedict's visit to Turkey have been logged and circulated for information and discussion to senior RTÉ Management and members of the Editorial Boards.
I am also forwarding your e-mail to the Senior Press Officer for News and Current Affairs who will bring your comments to the attention of the RTÉ News Editors.
Your feedback is appreciated and thank you again for taking the time and trouble to contact us on this matter.

With best regards
Nina Ward
RTÉ Information Officer

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Multi-tasking woman

We hear a lot these days about the special ability of women to “multi-task”.

This is often mentioned in the context of women juggling jobs, housework and children, but is also put forward by female professionals as a rationale for employing women rather than men.
They tell us that Professional/Executive woman can handle more issues, simultaneously and effectively, than her male counterpart. It seems that men are universally hopeless at this multi-tasking lark.

Where then does it all go wrong when wonder woman gets to the supermarket checkout? Here women are required simply to sequentially pack and pay, while perhaps talking to the checkout operator at the same time. Not only do they generally fail hopelessly to perform these tasks with any acceptable level of efficiency, they also become completely oblivious to those waiting patiently (or in my case, impatiently) in the queue behind.

Is it possible that insufficient demand is made by the checkout experience on their multi-tasking capabilities and they simply fall into a state of bored lethargy as a consequence?

Could supermarkets provide leaflets, videos, in-house training etc for these ladies or, if necessary, find the necessary mechanisms to trigger those famed multi-tasking skills at this critical point in the shopping experience?

Christmas Crib - continued

My complaint about the banning of Christmas cribs, nativity plays etc has drawn a number of responses, including the following in today’s Irish Independent:
Peter Molloy questions why atheists should feel offended at the sight of nativity cribs in public places (Letters, November 23).
Perhaps, like the Angelus and the Constitutional prohibition on atheists becoming the President or judges, it is yet another reminder to them they are not accepted as full active citizens in Irish society.
Let's reverse roles and imagine if atheists insisted that every public place display a sign saying: "God does not exist, religion is make-believe, the nativity is a myth" as an expression of their non-faith. Would Christians be offended by such signs, and demand their removal?
With the season that is in it, maybe atheists and Christians could come together in a spirit of inclusivity and harmony to foster respect and tolerance for the diversity and difference in our increasingly multicultural, multiracial, multiethical, multidenominational, and multidimensional society by accompanying every public display of a nativity crib with a sign dismissing it as superstitious nonsense.
If this is done, then neither atheist nor Christian could complain about religious discrimination because each would be equally offended by the public display of the other.

This prompted the following response, published in the Indo on 30th November:

I was worried that the phrase “atheist bigots” in my original letter of Nov 23rd might be a bit over the top, but Jason Fitzharris (Letters Nov 28th) has put my mind at ease on that one.

He identifies the Angelus as a reminder that atheists “are not accepted as full active citizens in Irish society”, a situation which is confirmed to him by the sight of cribs in public places.

While offended by the sight of cribs in public places, he sees an equitable solution in sharing that offence by attaching a sign to each crib dismissing it as superstitious nonsense.

There is a world of difference between being offended and being oppressed. Mr Fitzharris's multi-everything world must be a very bland place to live if every word and action must first be held up to the light by him to see if it might just possibly offend anyone else.

Readers can draw their own conclusions as to which of us is most “off the wall“. Regards, etc.

Supersize Me!

The McKenna Supreme Court judgement of 1995 means that, for constitutional amendments, the Government must provide equal funding to the “for” and “against” sides of the debate, regardless of what might be the apparent levels of support from either the political establishment or the general public.

It strikes me that it wouldn’t take much effort to have the courts establish that a similar even-handedness must apply to all public service promotions or advertising. This would open the door to some novel messages in our multi-media world.

You can just imagine what the pro-smoking campaign would look like. Think of the fun you’d have promoting the pleasures of getting plastered and then driving home. The boy-racers would have a ball demonstrating advanced speeding techniques, while the unhealthy eating, pro-obesity campaign could well provide a cameo role for yours truly. The unsafe sex promotion doesn’t bear thinking about. Etc etc etc

The list is almost endless - it would surely spell the end of the nanny state.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Last week's N11 cock-up

Last Wednesday’s major cock-up on the N11 remains a major topic of debate.

The main culprits and various Government Ministers have all found the same hymn sheet to sing off. We are told that it was a major systems failure whereby Dublin City Council failed to notify all the other interested parties about the scale of the disruption planned and, consequently, remedial measures e.g. a contra flow system, were not put in place.

However, the most worrying systems failure on that day was the inability to alleviate matters once traffic had begun to back-up severely from early afternoon. I passed these particular roadworks at about 2.30pm, having been delayed by about 30 minutes. Returning from Wicklow at about 7.30pm, the traffic-jam had worsened to almost unimaginable proportions. In that 5-hour period, no effective remedial action had been taken.

A situation causing the closure of the hard shoulder and one lane of the road could just as easily have arisen through unplanned circumstances - a multiple vehicle pile-up, a truck shedding its load, a spillage of hazardous chemicals etc.. Indeed, it’s a much more likely scenario and one that would probably occur with far greater frequency that a burst main beside the road. One can easily envisage all the lanes on one side of the carriageway being closed by fire brigade, ambulance and garda vehicles in such a situation.

Would we - will we- be faced with similar traffic chaos when such an accident occurs? There was no evidence of any effective plan or capability to recover the situation last Wednesday.

Developing such a plan and rehearsing its effective implementation must become a top priority for Gardai and local authorities.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Independent

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Wasting public money on the Dail

Friday’s Irish Times reports that construction of a new state-of-the-art Dail chamber is to be considered as part of a major review of the Leinster House complex. This is because the chamber will not be able to accommodate an increased number of TDs, anticipated in the coming decades as the population grows.

This same Dail chamber is largely empty for the vast majority of Dail sessions, on those few days each year that the Dail is actually in session. Anyone who regularly follows the TV coverage will be aware that most debates are attended by only a handful of TDs. On those rare occasions when the chamber might be filled e.g. election of a Taoiseach, budget day etc., the new arrivals can sit on the steps or stand. The idea of wasting more public money on further cosseting our overpaid politicians is abhorrent nonsense.

The IT also reports that a decision is imminent on the construction of a two-storey underground car-park in Leinster House. This will allow the restoration of Leinster Lawn which has been used as a car-park by TDs for many years, an act of public vandalism which confirms the shameful belief in the political classes that normal rules do not apply to the lawmakers.

Politicians were outraged when Noel O’Gara sought to convert Dartmouth Square, his own property, into a public car-park. He can fairly claim that it’s a case of the kettle calling the pot black.

Politicians are supposed to lead by example. Is it any wonder that we’re becoming a “mé féin” society?

Footnote:Published as a letter in the Irish Times, the Irish Independent and the Irish Examiner.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

My Christmas Crib

My letter published in today's Irish Independent:

The case of the British Airways lady suspended because she insisted on wearing her cross (Irish Independent, November 21) reminds me, with a groan, that we're entering the season when the "politically correct police" will be seeking to ban Christian symbols in public places for Christmas. Cribs, nativity plays etc in hospitals, schools, public buildings and open spaces will be the subject of heated debate and charges of causing offence to non-Christian minorities.

Some will argue that we are a secular state and therefore no symbols of any religious group should be sponsored by public funds. For example, Christmas cards must be devoid of religious content and carry the "season's greetings" message, if they are to be sent at all.

I'm at a loss to know what offence could be caused by cribs, nativity plays and so on, other than to religious fundamentalists and atheist bigots who insist on being offended. Nothing in them denigrates other faith groups. Indeed, I suggest that it is quite offensive, in itself, to Christians to claim that such displays cause offence.

Such Christmas activities have been long established by custom and practice in our country. If individual communities decide, preferably by plebiscite, that they don't wish to have such activities in their own hospital, school, or whatever, then that is perfectly reasonable.

However, there should be no blanket ban or diktat from Government, religious fundamentalists or the "politically correct police."

Footnote: On 27th Nov I had a call from the Gerry Ryan Show on 2FM inquiring if I would take a call from Gerry on this topic. Sad to report, I chickened out.
Also published in the Irish Examiner - on Dec 18th, almost a month after I sent it.

Worst ever traffic chaos on M11/M50

I was delayed for about 30-40 minutes by those roadworks near Bray yesterday afternoon.

I finally passed the actual roadworks at about 2.45pm, at which time a large hole had been dug beside the hard shoulder, but did not actually encroach onto it. However, both the hard shoulder and the inner road lane had been coned-off and all traffic was funnelled through the “fast lane”.

Even at that stage the tailback was at least a couple of miles long.

What crossed my mind was that it should have been possible, with judicious management/policing, to allow traffic through two lanes, closing off just the hard shoulder.

Returning from Wicklow on the same road at about 7.30 pm last night, I couldn’t believe the tailbacks visible as ribbons of light on both the M11 & M50.

Perhaps the roadworks extended further out onto the road at a later stage and it would then have been necessary to block the inner lane anyway.

But I wondered where was the Garda Traffic Corps and what exactly is their function? Are they merely there to enforce traffic laws re speeding, drink driving etc or do they also have some responsibility for ensuring the free-flow of traffic?

If they don’t they should!

Footnote: Aired by Pat Kenny on his RTE radio programme.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Low Tax Regime

You earned €100 overtime and had €52 extra in your pay packet at the end of the week, after deduction of tax (42%) and PRSI (6%).

You had 2 pints (€8) with the lads after work on Friday. On the way home you stopped for petrol (€30) and bought a bottle of wine (€7.50) and 20 fags (€6.50) for the wife.

That's your €100 overtime fully accounted for.

Between PAYE, PRSI, VAT & excise duties the Government had taken almost €77** of it. Plus some small extra proportion of the other €23 by way of corporation tax on the profits of your pub and the garage. If you paid by Laser or Credit Card you'll have been screwed already by the Govt for €10 or €40 in annual stamp duty charges - probably both.

Lucky you live in a low-tax economy!

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Independent and the Irish Examiner.

**Breakdown of above calculation:

PAYE/PRSI: €48 - PAYE @ 42%, PRSI & 6% of €100 Overtime

Beer: Govt take €2.32 of total sale price €8 (2 pints x €4)
Excise Duty €0.47 per pint + VAT @ 21%.

Petrol: Govt take €18.24 of total sale price of €30 (29.4 litres @ €1.02 per litre)
Excise Duty €0.44 per litre + VAT @ 21%.

Wine: Govt take €3.35 of total sale price of €7.50
Excise Duty €2.05 per bottle + VAT @ 21%

Cigarettes: Govt take €4.94 of total sale price of €6.50
Excise duty €3.81 per 20 pack + VAT @ 21%.

TOTAL Govt Take = €76.85

Al Pacino can act - sometimes

Al Pacino is in town, I think he's picking up some honorary doctorate or other.

I recently saw him play Shylock in The Merchant of Venice and was reminded that the guy can actually act.

I've grown sick and tired of watching him play the same character in far too many movies - the same hard-bitten, shouting gobshite whether he's a blind war veteran or an honest cop.

He should try acting more often.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens

I saw Yusuf Islam (a.k.a. Cat Ctevens) on the BBC’s Heaven & Earth programme this morning. He’s released his first new record "Another Cup" in donkeys years (30?) and was also promoting the charitable work in the Muslim community in which he has been actively involved. His message is one of peace and love.

I couldn't help remembering his appearance on RTE's Late Late Show about 15(?) years ago, after he had coverted to Islam and at the time of the fatwa on Salman Rushdie over his book, The Satanic Verses. Gay Byrne, the show's host, asked him if, as a Muslim, he would feel obliged to kill Rushdie if the opportunity arose. He admitted that he would feel obliged by his religion to do so. It was quite clear that he was very uncomfortable with the question. He wasn't advocating the cause and it seemed highly unlikely that he would be taking any steps to find Rushdie.

But it was a very disturbing answer from a man who had always been associated with peace and love. If that is the effect that Islam has on peace-loving converts, then its simplistic fundamentalism is clearly a danger to society and democracy.

It's as if it's a faith firmly rooted in the past, living by literal interpretations , sometimes the most extreme, of the Koran. Is there any respected moderate Muslim faith leadership which is prepared (i.e. physically brave enough) to denounce the fundamentalists and sustain that stand?
In the ongoing debate, we need to readily acknowledge that it's only 3-4 centuries since Christians routinely burned heretics and the inquisitions were a major source of terror. And God alone knows what horrors were perpetrated in his name in Europe’s colonisation of Africa, the Americas, Asia etc..

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Philip McContempomi

Watching Ireland beat South Africa, scoring four good tries in the process, was a pleasure slightly tempered by the reality that the Springboks were trying out several inexperienced players.

The weekend’s rugby pleasure was enhanced by the Pumas defeat of England at Twickenham and the Italians giving the Wallabies a good scare. However, the slaughter of France by the All Blacks suggests that southern hemisphere rugby is still well ahead of 6-Nations standard. It will be interesting to see how we get on against Australia next week and how England do against South Africa.

After the match, the debate about the 2007 World Cup focused on our lack of strength in depth in certain key positions, most notably at out-half, where David Humphreys has hung up his international boots though he’s currently playing out of his skin for Ulster. The RTE panel seemed fairly confident that he can be lured out of retirement for the World Cup - but at 35 he’s definitely nearing the end of his playing career, with no other obvious international-class out-half identified.

Which brings us back to the Pumas v. England where Felipe Contempomi had an excellent game. He’s been playing for Leinster now for several seasons and, given the failure of the Pumas to secure a slot in either the Tri-Nations or 6-Nations annual competitions, he might be persuaded to declare for Ireland. Just what are the residency/playing rules? I’m sure we can find an Irish grandparent (legitimate or otherwise) and getting him an Irish passport should be a doddle.

Incidentally, how does he spell his surname? If you Google him you get 1240 entries for “ContempoMi” and 967 for “ContempoNi” - so I’ve stuck with the former.

Onward Christian Soldiers

Tomorrow (Monday) it will only be 6 weeks to Christmas Day.

It must almost be time for the annual debate about living in a multi-cultural society and the potential offence given to people of other religions by our national celebration of this Christian festival. The politically correct (atheist or agnostic) commentators will start the rush to condemn us for our heritage and practices, in order to better display how liberal and open-minded they are. I suppose we can also expect to hear the calls for the removal of the Angelus from RTE TV & radio.

Multi-national companies will wish their employees and customers a “happy holiday” or “festive season”, avoiding the dreaded “C” word. Ditto many Christmas cards will carry no religious symbols or references to the “C” word.

Personally, I can’t see how anyone can take offence from the celebration of another religion’s festivals, unless those celebrations involve in some fashion the denigration of non-believers. Wishing a Jew, a Muslim or a Hindu “Happy Christmas” will only cause offence to those who insist on being offended.

Perhaps if we invented a suitable mechanism for demonstrating absolute parity of esteem on all religions it would defuse the debate. One possible solution springs to mind, though there are many others I’m sure.

Let’s convert Halloween! Every community will have a bonfire into which will be thrown an icon of each major religion. The purpose of this action is twofold: (a) the ceremonial burning will symbolise the lack of pre-eminence accorded to any one faith and (b) mankind’s free will in choosing to believe in any faith or none and also to practice his/her faith without interference or interfering with anyone else.

This will be known as “The Bonfire of Divinities”. Non-believers may choose to call it "The Bonfire of Inanities."

Saturday, November 11, 2006

McGurk v. Previn

Letter in today's Irish Times:

Madam, - Tom McGurk's live interview with music legend André Previn on RTÉ 1 this morning (Nov 10th) must surely rank as prime car crash radio.Having admitted that he had never seen A Streetcar Named Desire as a play, he then expressed strong but totally uninformed opinions on the play, on opera as elitist art and requested comments from an increasingly incredulous Mr Previn. Resulting in surely the most embarrassing few minutes in recent broadcasting. Stick to the rugby Tom. - Yours, etc,
NOEL DRUMGOOLE, Brighton Square, Rathgar, Dublin 6.

I missed the interview in question, but it sounds typical of McGurk's recent output when he fills the chair for Pat Kenny. Several decades ago, Previn appeared on the Morecombe & Wise show where they took the piss unmercifully, so at least the guy has a sense of humour. He probably just asked his agent to warn him in future when he's booking him on a comedy show.

McGurk also filled in for Kenny during the recent mid-term break and a couple of interviews spring to mind.

One was with the chief environmental advisor to the Bush administration. You always know what McGurk's opinion is because his questions come fully-loaded. So he launched into a top-of-the-head anti-Bush diatribe which was easily rebutted by his guest. The man reeled off several programmes currently underway, listing huge budgets, targets and achievements to date. McGurk was almost completely silenced, the only fact he seemed to possess was that the US has refused to sign up to Kyoto. You'd have been left with the impression that George Bush was the greatest living friend of the environment.

Another interview was about childcare and how to raise and discipline children. Again McGurk wore his heart on his sleeve - "a good slap never did anyone any harm" etc etc.. The tone and content of his questions was completely sceptical. But his contributor stuck to his course and dutifully demolished every statement/argument put forward by McGurk. Even better, he used each case to illustrate how McGurk's approach represented a failure on the part of the parent. McGurk kept digging long after he should have realised he was sounding like stone-age man.

What McGurk best illustrates is that opinions that sound authoritative in a pub are often based on analysis as shallow as a puddle of beer. It's slightly scary that he writes a weekly opinion column in the Sunday Business Post.

McGurk is far from being unique in Irish broadcasting and viewers/listeners should be constantly reminded that (i) asking questions is a lot easier than answering them (ii) generally interviewers know a lot less about the subject than the interviewee and (iii) many interviewers are trying to create headlines for their station’s next news headlines.

Monday, November 06, 2006

My dog's breath smells!

On the all-too-frequent occasions that the Minister for Justice appears on TV claiming to have been proven right on some topic or other, my dog licks his Michael McDowell.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Sisters guilty in headless murder case

Only Phoenix would do it. (Click on image to enlarge)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Cherishing all of the companies of the nation equally

When the history of the 3rd millenium is finally recorded, will the Irish Republic be accorded its proper due as a leader of that political movement which converted societies into economies?

The traditional adage is that you judge a society by how it treats it’s weakest members, but you won’t hear any of that outdated old guff from our elected leaders. Instead you’ll hear about GDP/GNP growth, levels of employment, inward investment, current rates of interest, inflation, taxation etc etc..

For his latest general election marketing campaign, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has decided that the rights of children should be more firmly enshrined in the constitution. The often mis-understood phrase in the 1916 proclamation springs to mind - “cherishing all of the children of the nation equally”.

The success of the Irish economy is largely attributable to the fact that we have become a tax haven for corporate enterprise. The Irish Corporation Tax rate of 12.5% compares with standard rates of 30%-40% which apply to companies in all our major EU partners, the USA, Japan, China, Australia etc etc.

However, Ireland is also the only one of those countries where the standard rate of Personal Tax (20%) is higher, and materially so, than that paid by companies. And remember, for ordinary citizens, tax rates are applied to gross income before deduction of normal living expenses whereas companies are taxed on after-expense income i.e. on their profits.

So any redrafting of our constitution should logically recognise the pre-eminence of the corporate entity rather than the citizen and the principles of any new constitution should reflect that new and more relevant aspiration of “cherishing all of the companies of the nation equally”, reflecting the new reality of the country we seem to be living in.

No-one in their right mind would wish a return to the days of the one-way mailboat ticket, but surely some of our politicians can articulate a vision of what the economy can do for our society, rather than the other way around?

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Examiner.

Bertie, a part-time republican?

Yesterday Taoiseach Bertie Ahern met with Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to discuss the current state of progress in meeting the November 24th deadline for agreement on the restoration of devolved Government in Northern Ireland.

The visit included a photo opportunity in the Taoiseach’s office, with a black and white portrait of Padraic Pearse hanging on the wall behind the Taoiseach’s desk.

However, on RTE News last night, the camera angle revealed a small framed landscape painting resting against the wall, directly behind the Taoiseach’s swivel chair. The implication was obvious - the Pearse portrait was a temporary installation for the benefit of the cameras and, perhaps, the Sinn Fein delegation. The landscape would be back in place after the meeting.

There’s not much you could teach Bertie about spin!

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Independent.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

That Iraq Joke

The most telling thing about John Kerry's botched Iraq joke is that George W. Bush's many detractors can no longer believe that he was the only idiot running for President in 2004.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Times & the Irish Independent.

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