Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Anthropomorphism gone mad(dog)?

As you know, anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics to animals, plants (ask Prince Charles) etc., often to pets.

Currently Pedigree are using this concept to promote their dog teeth-cleaning product “dentisticks”.

The radio ad features a guy visiting a doctor/dentist (D) who asks him to “open wide” and then discovers the patient (P) has very bad breath.

D: “When did you last brush your teeth?”
P: “I tried it once years ago but I didn’t like it. So I gave it up”.
D: “What does your girlfriend think?”
P: “Funny that, I’ve never had a girlfriend”.

Clearly the objective is to imply that, if your pet’s breath smells, it will seriously inhibit his social activities and attractiveness to lady dogs.

Now correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s generally the nether region, i.e. the opposite end of the dog, which is the object of attention for other sniffing dogs. In which case, it seems to me, it’s highly unlikely they will be put off by mere bad breath.

Also, the doggy love-making position doesn’t seem to involve much scope for mouth-to-mouth contact, unless they’ve developed a new variation that I’m unfamiliar with.

Now if they could develop a similar product for humans which obviated the need for teeth-brushing, they could be on to a real winner!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Rationing the Media & Politicians

I have long held a healthy contempt for much of the media, particularly the broadcast variety. This contempt has grown exponentially with the growth of the 24-hour media monster and its seemingly insatiable appetite. I get worked up when I see politicians either actively seeking exposure on such media or allowing themselves to be doorstepped/ambushed, particularly when they allow themselves to offer instant answers to unexpected questions on topics which are clearly not part of their own brief. When is the last time you heard an honest “I don’t know” answer from a politician?

But the media technique which causes me most irritation is when a guest is invited to speak on a specific topic, but is then ambushed with questions about some totally unrelated, but currently hot, topic. Having caught the interviewee off-guard, s/he is then badgered to say something controversial or forced into a corner to take a specific, previously unannounced, position. Then, and this is what really pisses me off, the next news bulletin opens with the exclusive news that Deputy/Bishop X has told RTE that Minister/Father Y should do Z. It’s presented as if the interviewee had issued a press release calling for some specific course of action, an approach which is deliberately misleading. That, to me, is tabloid journalism at its worst. RTE routinely do it.

I long for the day when politicians are strong enough to say “that’s not my area of expertise and I won’t give you a top of the head view”, or “I’m not here to discuss that “ or, and this is too much to hope for, give the journalist a “John Prescott”, i.e. a right hook to the face.

How much of a politician’s time is wasted on media appearances, particularly Government ministers? Consider the additional time spent on preparation/briefings to anticipate questions, both on your own brief but also on other current political topics, both domestic and international. The politicians have, by default, allowed the situation to develop where they are supposed to be up speed on every aspect of national and world affairs and fair game for media questions on almost any topic that could be considered even peripherally relevant.

So here’s one possible solution:
All politicians are issued with a ration book of “media coupons”.
Each book will contain separate coupons for use on local, national and international media.
The number and mix of coupons will vary by the nature of political office held e.g.
- Govt ministers will have more national & international coupons than your local
- TDs will have more local media coupons that a Govt Minister.
- Local councillors will have mainly Local Media coupons.

Here’s how it works:
Every media interview, whether initiated by the politician or the media outlet, requires the cancelling of an appropriate ration coupon. When coupons are exhausted, no further interviews can be accepted.
This should make politicians more selective in their proactive publicity seeking activity, and also reduce the number of top-of-head views offered in doorstepped situations. Instead, “no coupon” could replace “no comment”, without any of the possible negative connotations which “no comment” often generate.

Indeed, it might also make sense to include media outlets in a similar rationing system, with each outlet restricted to a specific maximum number of political interviews/interviewees per day/week, across all programmes/publications. Think of the money the media would save and the number of cub reporters they could let go.

If both sides - media & politicians - have to ration themselves, by definition the interactions should become more selective. “ I want to talk to you but you don’t want to talk to me” would become quite commonplace - and acceptable.

The main benefits I see would be:
- better and more considered media coverage of politics
- politicians freed up to do the work they’re elected to do, rather than merely being fodder for, mainly broadcast, media.
- better, more in-depth overall news coverage, without all the easy fillers.
- fewer journalists, fewer media outlets, less noise, more clarity

We’d need to provide a mechanism to prevent a politician facing allegations of corruption etc from refusing interviews on the basis that s/he has “no coupons”, but that shouldn’t be insurmountable.

Empty Bus Lanes beside choked traffic lanes.

This morning at c. 7.20am on RTE, AA Roadwatch reported that the busiest stretch of road in the country was in Blackrock, Co Dublin. This seems to be regularly the case.
And I’ll bet that one of the least busy stretches of road at that time of the morning is also in Blackrock - the new bus lane.

In calculating the investment/cost of public transport, does anyone factor in the huge capital value of such a piece of road?
Does Dublin Bus measure and report bus frequency and/or passenger volume numbers for each bus lane? Are there any minimum targets set for bus frequency/passenger numbers?
Or is it just a relatively arbitrary process, in part intended to force cars off the road by, in most cases, halving the number of traffic lanes available to them?

Given the capital value of these key road routes, and the massive capital investment proposed for Luas, Metro, interconnector etc., surely the first priority must be to maximise bus lane usage in order to justify the conversion of hugely valuable road assets into bus lanes?

And if a bus lane in not performing - either because Dublin Bus is not providing a sufficiently frequent service on it or they simply cannot attract enough passengers, then there must be a standard mechanism which causes that bus lane to be automatically dropped and revert to normal traffic use.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What is RTE thinking about?

If you can get past the current RTE schedule without having to reach for the bucket, you’re someone with a strong stomach but questionable taste.

Currently, the absence of taste/talent is highlighted in shows such as

Podge & Rodge
Livin’ with Lucy
Celebrity Bainisteoir
Marry Me

If someone could identify what aspect of this tacky rubbish could be categorised as “public service broadcasting”, I might at least not feel quite so ripped off funding it through my licence fee.

RTE would undoubtedly defend this crap, perhaps explaining that the “hard of thinking” are also a key audience segment which must be catered for.

Monday, April 21, 2008

BOI missing laptops - RTE spice up the story!

Bank of Ireland is suitably embarrassed by the news that 4 BoI Life laptops containing personal details of c. 10k customers have gone missing in the past year.

The bank says that there has been no apparent attempt to use the data for fraudulent purposes in the interim, and the gardai have assessed that the unconnected thefts appear to be opportunistic in nature - someone just taking the opportunity to steal and sell a laptop - rather than any effort to exploit potential data on the laptops.

The media has, not unnaturally, sought to hype this story to maximum effect and RTE has outdone itself in this regard. On last nights 9.00 tv news, RTE revealed that it's not the first time BOI has had problems with computers, recalling that former CEO Mike Soden was forced to resign when he was found looking up a US escort agency website on his office computer, in May 2004.

Where the connection/relevance is between the two stories escapes me for the moment, but it certainly says a lot about RTE going tabloid in its news/business department. Scraping the barrel with your bottom?

Lisbon Treaty leads to 4rd Reich?

Ulick McEvaddy, multi-millionaire, has come out on the NO side of the Lisbon Treaty referendum campaign.

Interviewed on Pat Kenny’s RTE radio programme today, McEvaddy repeatedly said that we’re being asked to approve a treaty that will determine Europe’s future for “1,000 years”.

Then Pat Kenny read a message from Jim Dorney, another “NO” voter who‘s something significant in the construction industry, who also used the phrase “1,000 years”.

I suspect this may well be part of a concerted marketing effort by the “NO Lobby” to create a subliminal impression that we’re being asked to sign up to something equivalent to the 3rd Reich.

Is anyone, even those the NO Lobby, stupid enough to believe that anything enacted in 2008 will last 100 years, never mind 1,000?

When the Shinners and the millionaires are united in advocating a NO vote, it only reinforces my determination to vote YES.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Dun Laoghaire Plage - update

The detailed drawings, including cross-sections, for the two concepts are now on display in Dun Laoghaire Town Hall until 16th May.

Concept A, which includes the Lagoon Beach, is costed at €126.5m.
Concept B, which features an open-to-sea beach at Newtownsmith, comes in at €92m.

Unsurprisingly, I favour Concept A, as the Lagoon Beach element most closely resembles my original “Dun Laoghaire Plage” proposal.

Concept A implementation is proposed in 4 distinct phases.
Phases 1 & 2, which include the 500 space underground car-park, are collectively priced @ €76m.
The Lagoon Beach is only Phase 3, which is priced @ €32m.

However, given that Minister Dermot Ahern (?) recently announced that there isn’t a red cent available to build a new hospital in Navan, it’s hard to see central Govt providing major funding for either of these concepts.

It’ll be interesting to see if any elements of either concept ever get beyond the display stands in the Town Hall.

Meanwhile, local socialist activist Richard Boyd Barrett was holding a public meeting in the Kingston Hotel tonight (Mon 14th) which I was unable to attend. I await media reports with limited interest.

Carpe Diem, Brian!

The death of Paddy Hillery provides a timely reminder that, over the decades, there have been many FF politicians who were, at least by Irish standards, paragons of probity and focused on enriching the national rather than the personal purse.

Charlie Haughey seems to have been an infection of major proportions, some of his close associates have been shown to be “on the take”, and the cloud of suspicion hangs over others, most notably Bertie Ahern, our current Taoiseach. The fish rots from the head and inevitably, if low standards are the norm at the highest levels of the party, junior acolytes will assume that’s the way business is done, particularly if (a) you seem to get away with it and (b) the electorate seems relatively indifferent.

I have no doubt that many serving FF politicians are hardworking, honest and motivated by the purpose of public service.

What I find interesting about the tribunal revelations in the past decade is the reaction of the Fianna Fail party and its senior members. Rather than acknowledge the obvious corrupt practices, the diversion of party funds into personal pockets etc, and the need for root & branch reform, blind loyalty to the party has instead caused a circling of the wagons, and created an ethos of defence and denial. If it hasn’t been proven definitively in court, it can and will be denied.

It reminds me of the catholic church reaction to charges of physical and sexual abuse. Blind loyalty to the institution caused many good men to deny the offences and prevented them from outing and ousting the offenders in their midst. We now know how that particular story developed. I’m sure that many clerics today regret that they suppressed their own ethical misgivings out of loyalty to the institutional church.

Brian Cowen has the opportunity to perform that “root & branch” reform of standards in FF, though Beverly’s return surely sends out the wrong signal. However, Cowen’s selection, at his press conference, of Sean Lemass as his role model could be a sign that he intends to revert to the straight standards of FF of an earlier era.
Cowen should learn the lesson of the catholic church and the long-term damage it has suffered, largely because of its earlier approach to dealing with its own scandals. Clear the cupboard of all those Haughey-related skeletons and set out a new ethical course for FF.

Carpe Diem, Brian.

Has Bertie Ahern been deliberately snubbed by the Hillery family?

Has Bertie Ahern been deliberately snubbed by the Hillery family?

It seems that the family has asked Tanaiste Brian Cowen to deliver the late president’s graveside oration on Wednesday next, rather than inviting the incumbent FF Taoiseach to do so.

After all, Bertie did a particularly fine job at CJH’s funeral, I almost had a tear in my eye. Vincent Browne certainly had in his.

It is widely believed that Haughey and his cronies were behind the scurrilous and untrue rumours widely circulated about the Hillery marriage. It’s probably safe to assume that there was little love lost between Paddy Hillery and CJH. So the family are unlikely to want that gurrier’s chief gofer delivering his funeral oration.

Mind you, this is not without precedent. In 1999, the Lynch family asked Des O’Malley to deliver the graveside oration for former FF Taoiseach Jack Lynch, rather than inviting the then current FF Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to perform the tribute.

Draw your own conclusions.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The last time our currency hit stg 80p

Many moons ago, after we broken the exchange link with sterling, but long before the advent of the euro, the punt had dropped back to a value of stg80p.

At the same time, the price of the pint was increasing, through a combination of excise duty increases and the brewers/publicans margins, and rapidly approaching the then almost unimaginable price of 80p (god be with the days!).

I recall a TV sketch at the time featured Eamon Morrissey, studying his pint at the bar and, shaking his head in wonder, asking: “Who’da thought the punt would hit 80p before the pint?”

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, and neither is the real price of the pint.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Greens and the Weighting of Ethics

On some political websites, Green Party participants don’t talk about political pragmatism when justifying continued participation in Govt, despite all the revelations at the Mahon Tribunal of unaccounted sums of money, including foreign currency, washing through the Taoiseach’s hands and accounts linked to him.

Instead, they talk about applying “ethical weightings” to the dilemma, justifying staying in Govt on the basis of getting Green policies enacted, rather than acting as moral watchdog on Fianna Fail. (Pat Rabbitte recycled an old political joke on radio this week: “Faced with the choice of saving the planet or keeping FF straight, the Greens have taken the easy option.”)

But here’s the real problem with Green Weighting of Ethics:

Into one pan of their scales the Greens put “Saving the Planet“, which means that you could put the foulest things imaginable into the other pan and they could still justify their actions. So political corruption, war, famine, pestilence - “bring them on, we’re saving the planet, we have to hold our nerves and our noses and persevere in Govt”. They could have served with Pol Pot on that basis!

And yet, even if Ireland does reach the target of 15% reduction in emissions by 2012, what micro-fraction of 1% reduction in the overall global warming problem will that achieve?

When the Greens work out that micro-fraction, is there any chance they might put it in the pan of their ethical scales and see what level of political corruption can be carried in the other pan before it reaches the tipping point?

Friday, April 04, 2008

More of the same.

Regardless of one’s own political affiliation, it is a matter of national shame when a Taoiseach resigns under a cloud of suspicion, particularly as this is not the first such event in modern times.

Activities which are perceived to demonstrate a lack of ethical standards at senior Government level reflect badly on the country as a whole and the political classes in particular.

The anticipated elevation of Brian Cowan to the office of Taoiseach should have provided an opportunity for a fresh start and a commitment to new and higher standards.

However, the speedy re-admission of Beverly Flynn to the ranks of Fianna Fail suggests that, instead, we’re merely in for “more of the same”.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Times.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Bertie Ahern - the latest victim of The Curse of the Good Friday Agreement

So Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is the latest leader to fall victim to The Curse of the Good Friday Agreement.

Almost all the other major players have already fallen from grace since the signing of the agreement 10 years ago and, in some cases, their political parties have suffered severe reverses.

Tony Blair - forced out by his own party.
Bertie Ahern - victim of the Mahon tribunal.
David Trimble & UUP - decimated at elections by DUP.
John Hume & SDLP - easily outflanked by Sinn Fein
Bill Clinton - disgraced and almost impeached.
John Alderdice - hated even by the Alliance Party
David Irvine RIP
Gary McMichael & UDP
Monica McWilliams & The Women's Coalition

Each of these men would claim the GFA as one of their outstanding political achievements, yet all essentially left office under a cloud of one sort or another.

So who’s left standing? Of the main leaders in Castle buildings, only Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams. And rumour has it that Gerry may have just cause to feel nervous.

And look who’s going to outlast (just) Bertie - the Rev. Ian Paisley, who’s hanging on as First Minister until after the NI Investment Conference (7-9 May).

Who would have thought, witnessing the abuse of Paisley by fellow loyalists on the night of the GFA signing, that he and the DUP would be cock of the walk in NI politics today?

That politics sure is a funny game.

What odds Gerry to be gone by end 2008?

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