Thursday, August 28, 2008

It's time to declutter the Olympics.

A letter in today’s Irish Times makes a plea for Beach Volleyball to be taken more seriously as an Olympic sport. (roll eyes)

I freely confess that I include it with “sports” such as Synchorised Swimming, Synchronised Diving, Gymnastic Streamer Twirling etc in the long list of sports which, I feel, have reduced the Olympics to little more than a 5-ring circus.

Would you believe that gold medals were awarded in 302 events at the Beijing Olympics? How many of these events could be dropped without most people noticing?

A new process is urgently required to trim this growing circus to more manageable proportions and determine which sports should be allowed. Thankfully, the selection criteria are already described in the Olympic motto: "Citius, Altius, Fortius" (faster, higher, stronger). Any sport where victory does not depend on one or more of these three attributes should be automatically ineligible for inclusion in the Olympics.

This would reduce the number of events to something far more manageable and, most importantly, more credible as real sports.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Rugby ELVs & Lansdowne 10-year Tickets

What impact will Rugby Union’s Experimental Law Variations (ELVs) have on the success, or otherwise, on Ireland’s international team?
Thirteen changes in the existing rules will be effective for the 2009 6-Nations competition. Several of these ELVs result in the awarding of a free kick, rather than a penalty.
In the past several years, Ireland has been particularly dependent on the penalty-kicking ability of Ronan O’Gara to keep the scoreboard ticking over, but also to advance our forwards up the touchline. If, as now proposed, many of the infringements will only result in a free-kick, this source of points or territorial advance will be severely curtailed.
This comes at a time when our backline seems to have lost it’s cutting edge, it’s ability to breakthrough the opposition defence. Denis Hickey and David Humphries have retired, Ronan O’Gara couldn’t break out of a paper bag, Brian O’Driscoll has turned into a very good back-row forward and Gordon Darcy has completely lost his form for the past couple of years.
How will Ireland fare in this new rules environment? Where will the points come from?
Will the new Lansdowne Road become the venue for routine away victories for the Italians?
Will those who paid €15,000 for 10-year tickets wonder how they could have been so dazzled by the sun shining out of the backside of the Celtic Tiger?

And speaking of those expensive 10-year tickets, here’s the awful scenario that awaits the holders of those €15,000 duds:
Either Ireland are crap, routinely vying for the wooden spoon, and play to sub-capacity crowds in Lansdowne Road, where getting a ticket is no longer a problem, thus rendering the expense of the 10-year jobs a needless extravagance OR
Ireland play well, attracting more demand than the 50,000-seater Lansdowne can accommodate and the bigger rugby fixtures are routinely transferred to Croke park, to avail of the 83,000 capacity there.
I have no doubt that the GAA will be quite amenable to the extra revenue, having gotten over the moral issue of garrison games on sacred turf some time ago.
Either way I sleep soundly in my bed, thankful that I missed the opportunity to fork out €15,000.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Willie O'Dea & the Temple of Gloom

Defence Minister Willie O’Dea demonstrated his usual facility for vulgar abuse in his recent attack on Enda Kenny, following the opposition leader’s critique of Brian Cowen’s performance as Taoiseach in his first 100 days.

We’ll have to await the return of the Dail to see what the Grumbleboor of Tullamore will pull out of the hat to silence his growing band of critics.
It will hardly be a dove, too symbolic of peace for a man who clearly prefers aggression, but let’s hope it’s not just that tired old white rabbit named Willie.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Times. I can't believe it!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bush & Co in the Kremlin

In a letter published in yesterday’s Irish Times, Senator David Norris highlighted the irony of President Bush lecturing the Russians that “bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy”, with regard to that country's actions in Georgia.

It doesn’t require any great leap of the imagination to see Messrs Bushkin, Cheynedvedev and Rumsfeldski acting and talking tough from the Kremlin, ably represented at the UN by Ambassador Boltonov.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

3rd Level Fees - who should pay?

Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe has, predictably, stirred up a middle-class hornet’s nest with his proposal to review the possibility of a re-introduction of 3rd level college fees.

Clearly, many people will have planned their finances on the basis of not paying 3rd level college fees and the re-introduction of such fees could be a heavy financial burden for an extra 3-4 years per student.

The paradox is that many of those who object to paying 3rd level fees are the very people who have chosen to send their children to fee-paying secondary schools, rather than free schools. It is argued that the current system has merely allowed some parents to subsidise 6 years of secondary education by avoiding 3rd level fees.

This includes the use of grind schools, the ubiquitous “institutes” which enjoy a roaring trade in seeking to maximise Leaving Cert CAO points. In turn, this drives up the number of points required for entry toUniversity courses, creating a further barrier to those from disadvantaged backgrounds – the very people who were supposed to be the main beneficiaries of free 3rd level education.

In Dun Laoghaire, 3 “free” schools have closed since the introduction of free 2nd level education – CBS Eblana Avenue, Dominican Convent and, most recently, Presentation College Glasthule. That’s several hundred “free-school” places lost as local parents have chosen to send their children to alternative schools – mostly fee-paying.

So here’s my proposed solution: Pupils who attend free second-level schools will receive free 3rd level education as heretofore. Those who attend fee-paying schools and/or grind schools will, subject to a means test, be liable for 3rd level fees. Such fees might be capped at the same level as the fees paid in the student’s final year at 2nd level, depending on the parents annual income.

The passing of Ronnie Drew

Today’s media are filled with glowing tributes to Ronnie Drew whose cancer finally caught up on him. Ronnie was 73, but who would have believed he’d survive that long given the alcohol-fuelled and cigarette-fumed lifestyle “enjoyed” by The Dubliners for decades.

Ronnie was a genuine legend in his own lifetime, beloved by several generations of all classes. This despite being an often grumpy git who didn’t suffer fools.

With Ronnie passes the Irish ballad scene, which has been in steady decline since the heyday of the Dubliners. Now it survives in tourist-trap pubs in Ireland and in the thousands of “Irish Bars” throughout the world. Come to think of it – would any of those “Irish Bars” exist today if it wasn’t for the ethos created by the Dubliners?

Let’s hope the many musical tributes we’ll be hearing in the coming week will be Ronnie and the The Dubliners performing, rather than that poxy “Ballad of Ronnie Drew” recently recorded as a tribute by an array of musical “stars”. It’s a cringe-making effort which should now be consigned to the jukebox known as dustbin.

I’m sure Ronnie agrees – “hey Ronnie, knock once if you think I’m wrong.” There, I told you.

The wife was collecting a neighbour from St Vincent’s Private Hospital last Tuesday. While she was waiting, a very sick-looking man was brought through in a wheelchair. When she got home she told me she thought it was Ronnie Drew and, if it was, she didn’t think he was long for this world. Sadly, it looks like she was right – for once.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

A pet is for life.

My sister and her partner suffered the demise their much loved Ella earlier this year, a dog they’d had for about 12 years. There was much upset, the loss of Ella was a bereavement in the family, a traumatic experience.

They quickly determined to get a new dog and a 12-week old springer spaniel pup has now arrived. However, assuming that the new arrival is held, in due course, in similar affection to Ella, the trauma of the death of a well-loved pet will inevitably be repeated in 12-15 years time.

This got me to thinking that, in order to avoid such upset, it would make sense to choose a pet which will outlive you.
The giant Gal├ípagos tortoise is one possibility, though taking it for a walk in the evening might be a tedious affair. But they live to 150+ years, and they’re quite a manageable size for the first 30-odd years.

But you get the gist of my proposal, it’s up to each individual to identify a long-living pet s/he will enjoy. It should be entirely possible Google “animal longevity”, with a view to finding a suitable pet which should outlive you.

And here’s the twist – rather than facing the inevitable loss of a pet, instead you’ll find yourself worrying about who’ll look after him/her when you’re gone!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Russian invasion of Georgia - questions for Ireland

Russia’s invasion of Georgia poses some interesting questions for Ireland’s policy on energy security and neutrality .

The need to ensure European energy security, currently heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas, is likely to mean that nuclear energy will become a much more attractive option than heretofore. Ireland cannot be immune from such considerations. Minister Ryan’s promised “debate” on nuclear energy may not prove to be the foregone conclusion he appears to think it is.

Ireland’s neutrality is copper-fastened by our commitment to only become involved in foreign missions which have been sanctioned by a resolution of the UN Security Council. Yet what is the basis for the moral authority of that body, as currently constituted?

China, France, Russia, UK & USA, the five permanent members of that Council, each holds a veto over any such resolution. China is in the dock over human rights in general and Tibet in particular. France has recently been indicted by the Rwandan government over its alleged complicity in the 1994 genocide in that country. Russia has demonstrated in Chechnya that it will be utterly ruthless in defending its own interests. Russia’s action in Georgia, to date, is only in the halfpenny place compared to Chechnya. UK & USA bypassed the UN for their 2003 invasion of Iraq, while the USA continues to defy international law through the ongoing operation of Guantanamo and its policy of extraordinary rendition.

Churchill’s famous dictum that “jaw jaw is better than war war” is still valid and it is undoubtedly worthwhile to have a forum such as the UN for “jaw jaw” among the major powers.

The moral authority of the Security Council must now be threadbare at best, it’s almost as if the lunatics have taken over the asylum Surely it’s time for Ireland to behave like a mature democracy and take its direction from our own moral compass?

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Times.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Are you watering your lawn?

Two facts:

1. The Government has recently announced cutbacks in Departmental spending on advertising and PR, as part of a wider programme of cost-cutting measures.
2. This is one of the wettest summers on record, with typically 3-4 times the long-term average rain fall in June & July, with the forecast for August no better.

Yet we’re currently being treated to a series of radio ads warning people not to waste precious drinking water by watering their lawns.

It’s simply unbelievable that people would be watering lawns this summer, given the volume of rainfall the entire country has been drenched with. In fact, owners of lawns have been hard pressed to get a couple of dry days in which to cut their grass!

So what idiot decided to create and air these completely irrelevant ads at public expense? Is it simply another case of utter incompetence in the public service? Or is it some cynical civil servant showing two-fingers to the Government and, more pointedly, his/her own line minister?

Whichever it is, someone should be getting a boot up the backside.

PS: I've subsequently spotted some large billboard (48-sheet) posters promoting the same idiotic message.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Gordon Brown - rewrote "loyalty to leader" rules.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown & the Labour Party seem to be in a spot of bother, according to all the polls, and the political pundits in the UK seem to think that Foreign Secretary David Miliband has shown his hand as a putative successor.

Brown supporters in the Labour party have accused Miliband of disloyalty and now demand that he be demoted as punishment for this heinous crime.

This is laughable.

Almost from the day Labour won their third successive general election in May 2005, Brown and his acolytes plotted the overthrow of Tony Blair and used every available opportunity to undermine him and hasten his pre-announced but undated departure. Multiple plots and attempted political coups were evidenced before Blair finally went in June 2007.

So Brown himself rewrote the rules of the British Labour Party with regard to loyalty to the leader and perhaps he’s now about to reap the whirlwind.

Tony Blair must have mixed feelings about the current situation. No doubt he allows himself a wry smile as he watches Gordon discover that it’s not that easy to be PM, but Blair cannot be happy to see his party face a future, and quite possibly a long one, in opposition.

But I’d like to be a fly on the wall whenever Blair chats with Alistair Campbell about Gordon’s tribulations. The cup of human kindness might not exactly be overflowing, I suspect.

Brian Cowen - the Lisbon impasse!

Stephen Collins has shocked some Irish Times readers with his recent proposal that the Dail, rather than the electorate, should now ratify the Lisbon Treaty.

However, the likelihood of Brian Cowen taking the political risk involved seems even less than the likelihood of him actually getting a second referendum successfully past the post.

Finding our way out of the Lisbon impasse seems as far away as ever, particularly now that Mr Cowen has managed to further damage the cross-party political consensus in favour of the treaty.

Having been very late out of the traps, due to the distraction of Bertie Ahern’s extended lap of honour, followed by his own coronation and victory lap, Mr Cowen still felt it appropriate to give a very public slap in the face to Fine Gael, his largest political pro-Lisbon ally. That party’s natural resentment can be viewed in a new light, as analysis of the advertising spend on the campaign shows that Fianna Fail invested only a small fraction of the amount spent by Fine Gael.

Then the Taoiseach sought to exlcude the leaders of the two main pro-Lisbon opposition parties in the meetings with President Sarkozy, on his recent visit, thus relegating them to the same status as the unelected faction leaders on the NO side, who were each invited to make a three minute presentation at the French embassy. Only the public refusal of Messrs Kenny & Gilmore to accept this sidelining caused a last minute change of heart and averted a highly embarrassing diplomatic gaffe.

So when President Sarkozy came to call, he didn’t have to travel far to find the main reason for the failure of the referendum and the main obstacle to a successful re-run; it greeted him on the steps of Government Buildings.

Unless Brian Cowen demonstrates an ability to build rather than destroy political consensus, there’s no possibility of the Lisbon Treaty being ratified in Ireland.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Times but, sadly, they chose to edit out the Sarkozy bits (in italics) which I thought represented the most recent and relevant Lisbon concensus cock-up by Cowen.

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