Thursday, June 30, 2005

Fire

A report in today's Irish Times states that "The Ringsend incinerator will not open until 2010 - Thousands of tonnes of waste are set to be exported from Dublin to other counties because of delays in establishing the proposed Ringsend incinerator and a new landfill site in north Dublin". and that "Capacity at the existing Dublin waste facilities is due to run out by December 2007." Yet "Councillors have made a further objection to the incinerator in their submission to the replacement Waste Management Plan for 2005-2010."

Well congratulations to the NIMBYs on this one. Politicians pandering to the local electorate rejecting science in favour of scare-stories and people's deliberate ignorance and self-interest. No doubt the letter writers will insist that there's a third way, the magical "21st century" option where everything can be recycled, like rotting meat, shitty nappies, sanitary wate and the rest and people living in city centres can be relied upon to compost in their apartment buildings.

Do people realise the cost of exporting waste to other countries? It's huge. Do they realise that this cost will be passed onto them? Well it should be. Will they then take to the streets like before? When it comes to matters of the wallet, unquestionably. No to incinerators; no to landfill; no to waste disposal charges. Who's going to square that circle? A bit of political leadership is needed when the electorate turns populist, but will we get it?...

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Daddy's Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car

Question for Cork people

Do you people have any fucking idea what the white line in the centre of the road is for?...

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Original Of The Species

The reason I started this blog lark was to try to have an online diary, on the one hand, and to both capture and articulate my thoughts for posterity on the other. I also wanted to present a little bit of confessional to the world, for whomever might be interested - mini mental ehibitionism, I suppose - though I haven't done as much of that in a while. As such I don't pretend to be an authority on anything I write about and I'm sure a seasoned observer would be well able to drive trucks through some of the holes in my arguments.

Kind of by accident, the blogs I read are about US/Global politics, Ireland in general and pro-Enlightenment thinking (few sport for some reason). One thing I've noticed in the two years I've been browsing blogs is the increase in the number of previously unheard of (at least by me) blogs specialising in niche political commentary that suddenly appear and become the source of choice as events unfold. It's as if, when something happens, someone identifies that something as a blogging opportunity in the hope that the mainstream bloggers notice and link, thus raising the profile of said blogger (nothing wrong with that of course). I first noticed it on Instapundit, he of the multiple "Read the whole thing" links (Why? You've just given me the gist and relevance of it, haven't you!?) then after the multi-million Northern Bank robbery in Northern Ireland before Christmas and also during the Ukrainian crisis.

So now there is a new blog run by Gavin Sheridan called Irish Corruption. Now not for one second do I suggest that this is not a worthwhile or an important or a necessary exercise. In fact, if the right sources become available, this site could become very valuable and a leading player in terms of highlighting and thus fighting corruption in this country. But at the same time I'm irked by the constant rush in Ireland to portray ourselves as "the most corrupt..." this, that and the other. We nearly seem to fall over ourselves in the rush to rank ourselves in terms of other countries. It bugs the crap out of me. Why can't we deal with our own issues without drawing stupid analogies with tin-pot dictatorships or aspiring to be as honest as the Scandanavians or whatever? And why is it that we allow the likes of Sinn Fein and its media apologists (I'm looking at Daily Ireland and The Phoenix here) to engage in whataboutery - finding moral equivalence between the brutal crimes of the Provos and petty corruption among some southern politicians. Liam Lawlor may be a crook but he's not an apologist for gangsters and murderers.

In the recent clamour to label African nations as being too corrupt to recieve aid, Will Hutton made the all-too-obvious point that western capitalists are the real trailblazers in terms of corruption. Any analysis of the topic would show that planning abuses in South County Dublin, for example, or cost overruns on state projects are chicken feed in global terms. Yet one contributor to this post about leading Irish construction materials company, CRH, doing business in Poland makes the ridiculously general, and impossible to back-up statement that "most corruption scandals come from mainly catholic countries [like] Italy, Poland, Ireland." I know that's only one opinion but it's similar to what we all, surely, hear every time we go to the pub or get in a taxi.

As I highlighted before, the French demanded the watering down of sanctions against Burma by the EU in order to protect the multi-billion dollar interests of French oil national, Total, in Burma and its brutal military dictatorship. Yet we all turn into taxi drivers at the suggestion that a councillor has rezoned land to suit himself or a buddy. It's wrong, of course, and should be dealt with, but it doesn't make us the king of corruption scandals. So might I suggest that Irish Corruption will be a very worthwhile enterprise, but only if it's kept sober, to the point and backed up with hard facts and evidence and good sources. If it just becomes a medium for hearsay, conjecture and innuendo (as I suggest that the CRH story is and will remain without any evidence), in order to bulk-up the catalogue of corruption, then it may get the site hits and increase the profile of its editor, but it won't deserve to be taken seriously, which I'm sure is what its editor really wants.

Safe European Home














It's funny because it's true...

Drowning Man

It takes no great skill to come across a story and link to it, but this one made me laugh so I'll share it...

Beer advert angers women

Women's groups are angry with a beer company which said the difference between a wife and a lover was 30 kilos.

The line was in a television advertisement by Regional beer in Venezuela, reports El Universal newspaper.

Women's rights groups in Venezuela say the advert is misogynist and are demanding a public apology from the company.

However, Regional beer is standing its ground and says it won't apologise unless it is forced to do so by the courts.

A spokesman for the company added: "I bet all these women's groups are run by women who are at least 30 kilos overweight."

Running To Stand Still

I am all over the shop. The last 56 hours or so have been surreal. I got home to Dundalk after the Saturday U2 gig at about 3am Sunday; was up again at 10am to try and keep the body clock right; went back to bed at 10pm and got up at 3:30am Monday morning to drive back to Cork. I was in work for 7:15 yesterday. So far, so not very out of the ordinary. Then I decided that I would take a chance and go to U2 again, without a ticket so I took the 5:30pm train back to Dublin, got to Croke Park by 8:30pm and there were dozens of people on the trawl for tickets - i.e. I hadn't a chance.

I watched the gig from behind the stage in a car park, which wasn't too bad, then I legged it back for the train that was meant to leave at 12:30am but didn't leave for nearly another hour; got to Cork at 4am this morning, every taxi had disappeared off the face of the Earth so it was about 5am before I made it back to my gaff. I had a shower, breakfast and have come straight to work again. Including dozing on the train I've managed about 8 hours sleep since I got up on Sunday morning. I'll be in bits later, but it was all worth it!

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Last Gang In Town

I'm knackered but exhilarated. At 9:25 on Friday night I was nearly in tears - and not tears of joy. U2 had just belted out Vertigo, I Will Follow, Electric Co., Elevation, New Year's Day, Beautiful Day, Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For and Wild Horses. They never play Wild Horses live and that's up there with my favourite songs, particularly the more acoustic single version. So what was wrong? Well my seat was in the lower tier of the stand behind the second of speakers and, whether it was a time delay problem or the sound was bouncing off the stands, there was a rotten echo that ruined all those songs for me. I tried to move away from these speakers and then, when City of Blinding Light started it all seemed to be sorted. The rest of the gig was fantastic, especially the Zoo TV throwback encore so I got over it.

Last night the weather was better, I had better seats (no sound problems) and a great view, albeit a long way from the stage. It was fantastic - every song was nailed and the place was hopping. Before the gig I was looking down on the pitch and saw some lad being wrestled out of the ground by the Garda. I don't know what he did but I felt sorry for him. He put up such a struggle that they eventually needed four Gards to sit on him, cuff him and carry him away. A second lad ran onto the pitch from the stand during New Year's Day. I could see him leg it for the crowd and a steward took off after him. The lad ducked and dived and thought he'd gotten away but the steward caught him and rugby tackled him. The Gards hauled him off too and the other stewards gathered round to give the first fella a pat on the back. I did't see anyone else try it!

I don't know if this was staged or not but Bono took some guy out of the crowd, a Canadian (big cheer...?) who'd been holding up some sort of placard, and he gave him a guitar and they all played Partygirl. That was very cool. I don't have my ticket for tomorrow night anymore but I'm thinking of going back to Dublin on the train and waiting til the gig starts before trying to hit the touts for a reasonably priced ticket. We'll see!

Friday, June 24, 2005

All I Want Is U2

Today's the day. Tomorrow's the day as well. Monday could well be the day too - haven't decided. Yes, U2, The Greatest Band In the World, are making their Olympian return to Croke Park (Olympian as in they seem to play Ireland every four years at the moment and I can't think of the word for every four years... quadrennial, maybe?). It feels like only yesterday that I was lying on the street all night in order to get my hands on these gold-dust tickets. I've a feeling they might never tour again, at least on this scale, after the Vertigo tour so I intend making the most of it.

The British Lions will be hoping to give some ex-colonials a damn good thrashing before breakfast tomorrow morning in yet another overhyped re-enactment of trench warfare. The colonial egg-chasers will probably engage in some pre-match Morris Dancing to intimidate their ex-imperial masters but, considering I've as much Maori blood in me as a lot of the New Zealanders, it's kind of hard to take them seriously doing their Riverdance with tongues stuck out (not that I'd stand in their way, don't get me wrong, bloody animals). Anyway, literally, I won't be losing any sleep for it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Stay Free

I've never been a fan of Amnesty International. Every time you find yourself agreeing with their stand on genuine human rights abuses, like Burma, they come out and say something stupid like Guantanamo Bay becoming the "Gulag of our times". It makes you feel like shaking them and screaming "Cop on!" in their faces until they start to cry. All they have managed to do with this nonsense is let the American administration off the hook with regard to detainee abuse. A litany of reports details the real and continuing physical and psychological abuse of muslim detainees by American forces and their proxies - as outlined regularly by Andrew Sullivan - yet the debate has moved to, and is stuck at, Amnesty's use of the term "Gulag".

Because of the ridiculous "Gulag" analogy people like the loveable Mark Steyn are able to belittle prisoner abuse and make a laugh of those who genuinely see such abuse as eroding the moral high-ground America undoubtedly holds with regard to Islamo-fascist terrorism. He's able to state (in today's Irish Times) that "...the world divides into those who feel the atrocities at Gitmo "must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime-Pol Pot or others" (as the Tribune's hometown senator, Dick Durbin of Illinois, charged the other day), and the rest of us, for whom the more we hear the specifics of the "atrocities" the funnier they are." Well, Markie, I'm in neither camp for a start.

From there he's able to state that "There's certainly a discussion to be had about how to categorise these people. As things stand, they're not covered by the Geneva Conventions - they're unlawful combatants, captured fighting in civilian clothes rather than uniform. As a point of "international law", their fate is a matter entirely between Washington and the state of which they're citizens (Saudi Arabia, mostly)." That is simply wrong. They have not, by any means, all been "captured fighting in civilian clothes". We don't know how or why they have been detained, which is a large part of the point.

However we can certainly say that a number of those captured (a large number I'll guess, but neither I nor anyone else knows, obviously) have been captured far from any battle zone, which means they are suspected of commiting crimes, not being unlawful combatants. But we don't know, because they're being interned indefinitely without being charged with any crime and their details are unavailable. If America believes it has a right to intern people indefinitely without charge and "pressurise" them into revealing information, if America really wants to be that country, well there's probably bugger all the rest of the world can do about it until they finally overstretch themselves taking on North Korea or Iran or Syria.

But, in the meantime, if anyone believes that a universal approach to the principles of human rights doesn't mean burying our moral compasses in the ass of ridiculous equivalencies, they should try to deal with fact and ignore the shrill rubbish that Amnesty comes out with, which often does more harm than good.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Safe European Home

Fintan O'Toole, the man many people think of when someone shouts "bleeding heart liberal", takes a right pop at our fair isle in today's Irish Times. Basically he thinks that we (by which I presume he means the Irish and British economic experts who have spent years slating the French and German economic models as being inferior to our own, dynamic systems) are being too smug in the wake of France's Non to the EU treaty. Well, how dare we criticise the French (it's not like they lost every war they ever fought or anything... but then so did we... although we never tried to invade Russia... I digress). Just because 10% of them are unemployed and their economic stagnation has led to a pensions time bomb, the rise of fascism and racial tensions doesn't mean we have anything to crow about, obviously.

Some choice quotes...
  • We have one of the worst male mortality rates in the EU, and the worst male life expectancy. Our perinatal mortality rate is the worst among the old EU 15. Our death rate from respiratory diseases is the worst in Europe for both men and women. On the European continent only Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have more deaths from lung cancer, asthma, pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease than ourselves and the UK.
  • We are also the worst offender in Europe for controlling the emissions that affect climate change. Ireland's drinking water standard is among the worst in Europe. We have the worst record on standards of domestic energy conservation in Europe, with less than 40 per cent of Irish homes having insulation.
  • Our adult illiteracy rates are among the highest, not just in Europe but in the developed world. Political illiteracy is also well advanced: voter turnout among young Irish people is now the worst in Europe. Only 40 per cent of first-time voters cast their ballots in Irish elections compared to 97 per cent in Belgium.
  • In terms of social standards, only Italy among the European nations can match our record on child poverty: nearly 16 per cent of our children live in poverty. The percentage of Irish people in general who live in poverty after State transfers have been taken into account is the worst in the EU.
  • Dublin has achieved the worst traffic in Europe, and indeed on a worldwide basis second only to Calcutta in the length of time it takes to make a simple business trip.

Fintan finishes by saying "These are all achievements that place us at the leading edge of failure. If the lazy French and the apathetic Germans, with their inability to generate true dynamism, want an example of what can be achieved with a determined national strategy of public incompetence, they need look no further." Well, that's told us then.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Deny

Just another conspiracy theory book, so why do I link to it? Well, because the author isn't some wacky American with a college degree bought for $5 over the internet, but a friend of mine, a guy I lived with for a year in college (and he despises the term "another conspiracy theory"!). Here's a link to his own website. The book hasn't been released yet but he tells me it's due soon. He's pretty much attempting to write a Fast Food Nation of American medicine. Now I'm not going to bash the bloke behind his back (I don't tell anyone I know that I keep a blog) but I will point out that, while I was dossing my way to a science degree, Niall was earning a BComm, which isn't exactly the education you require if you decide to write an exposé of modern science or modern medicine or modern food production.

I remember, about 5-years ago, seeing Niall for the first time in about a year and he looked fantastic - he'd lost weight, had a great colour and just radiated good health. He had been converted from a pizza chewing layabout by one of Ireland's biggest quacks, Tony Quinn. Now Niall could never be accused of doing things in half measures and he had subscribed to the Tony Quinn philosophy in full, spending huge amounts on food supplements, reading the books, listening to tapes, doing certain exercises and eschewing many foods. However I was pretty convinced, and I told him this, that his new diet (pretty much a combination of Atkins and GI - lots of lean meat, fish, fresh fruit and vegetables, no flour, no dairy and no coffee or tea) and the extra exercise were probably doing the work more so than the books and supplemements but, as I say, he had been converted.

My own brush with Tony Quinn came when I was a teenager and was quite depressed with my acne. My mother had been told that liver supplements from Tony Quinn's store would help and bought them. I think I was supposed to swallow a dozen pills a day, or something, after food. Anyway all they did was make me throw up. A year later, and after six months taking Roaccutane, a clinically proven pharmaceutical compound, my acne had cleared up. There have been scares about Roaccutane, it has been blamed for teenage depression and suicide based on coincidental evidence alone, so I find the statement on that website both succinct and apt - "There is a great deal of inaccurate and misleading information about medications on the internet written by people without medical/healthcare training."

Shortly after I saw Niall that time he was made redundant by the IT firm he worked for in Dublin and moved to California. Next thing I knew he was writing the book. What set him off was the belief that big Pharma is suppressing natural cancer treatments to maintain their own profits and from there he moved on to his other targets as can be seen on the website. I do believe that he's researched the topics he says he has, and I have yet to read the book, but the truth is (and I haven't told him this) is that his lack of a scientific rooting has clearly led him to cherry-pick the studies that suit his opinions without applying the necessary rigour of the good experimentalist or analyst. Niall himself has said that studies can prove anything you want them to, which is true, but only if you lack the analytical skills to tease such studies apart, which is most of us, hence the new-age nonsense that is becoming more and more mainstream.

I want Niall to succeed as a friend and I don't want him humiliated when more informed people inevitably attack his findings, but I despair that yet more people will believe these scare stories. It's one thing suggesting that, for example, mobile phone use is harmful because not using a mobile phone hardly matters but when the logic is extended to, for example, vaccines and children start getting nasty, dangerous and wholly preventable diseases like measles because their parents are taken in by people who don't know what they're talking about then that is dangerous and needs to be stopped.

When will the scientific community strike back?...

Sunday, June 19, 2005

The Wanderer

You may or may not have heard of Rod Liddle. He's the former editor of BBC radio's flagship Today programme, currently with The Spectator and often writes for the Sunday Times. You may also have heard of Rachel Royce, currently a Daily Mail columnist. Well they were partners for a number of years before getting married in early 2004. They then separated six months later when Rachel discovered that Rod was having an affair with his secretary (blond and half his age, of course).

It is the most public celebrity break-up in years (by celebrity I obviously mean famous in their own circle of the British broadsheet media as opposed to famous by being on the front page of Celebrity Quickie TV Chat magazine). Rachel writes regularly, warts and all, about the break-up and subsequent divorce proceedings and Rod sticks his boot in fairly regularly too. It's compelling stuff in a car crash kind of way.

This week Rachel wrote about seeing Rod's new house and her fears that her two boys might see that home, his new woman and her baby (she's expecting a girl) as their "real family". It's the first of all the articles I haven't found myself laughing at. Her pain and fears are very obvious. Today the Observer's Carole Cadwalladr writes about Rachel's article that "Rachel revealed the moment when her mortification became complete. Not when she found out that Alicia has Rod's bun in her oven, no. It was when her son let on that his father had bought a new house with 'two acres of land'."

She then goes on to write that "What Rod'n'Rachel demonstrate is that, just as it was once claimed that rape was not about sex, but about power, the same holds true for property. It's why couples get their knickers in a twist about houses and singles can't be arsed. Property is the means by which couples demonstrate their place in the world and compare themselves with other couples. ...I say, show me the single person who can be bothered to re-grout their bathroom and I'll show you a homosexual male. The rest of us are too busy worrying about whether we'll ever have sex again and if anybody will ever love us as much as our mummies."

Interesting. I never thought of it in exactly those terms before, but there's definitely truth there, though I don't think the English have the same obsession with property and land ownership that the Irish have. Still, someone else has managed to articulate my non-interest in home ownership for me from a very unlikely topic!

Friday, June 17, 2005

Egg Chasing Time

Geordan Murphy, Irish egg chaser with the British Lions in some ex-colony, speaking to The Guardian - "...At least it has given us an excuse to have some fun. If there is any perceived niggle in training, we've now instigated a rule on the bus home: either the players involved have to pay a fine of NZ$200 (£83) into the tour kitty or they have to kiss on the lips. All I can say is this must be a very tight bunch of rugby players because very few people have paid the fine..."

I knew it all along.

By the way Gerry Thornley in the Irish Times reported that "...there were clear signs that the increased intensity on the training ground - as evidenced by a reputed punch-up between John Hayes and Gordon Bulloch - bore immediate benefit." I see, and when footballers have a punch-up (once in a blue moon) they're branded as thugs.

A Sort Of Homecoming

I'm currently sat in the business lounge in JFK Airport waiting for my delayed flight back to Shannon in Ireland. It looks like I'll be leaving at 9 p.m. local time (about 3 hours from now) and landing at about 8:15 a.m. Irish time. I'm sinking wine to try and make me sleep on the flight because normally I just can't sleep on planes and I want to drive to Dundalk (160 odd miles) when I land. I've bought Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond to keep myself entertained for the next ten hours or so. I've also just bought two Litres Smirnoff blue label for $27 and two tins of Ghirardelli chocolates for $33. Something odd there wouldn't you think...

Speaking of Ghirardelli chocolates (made in San Francisco), when I posted the other day (14th) I'd forgotten it was eight years to the day since I had flown to San Francisco to begin my J1 summer of mayhem. In the mid-90s every student seemed to head for the States for a summer but I think interest has waned in recent years. I'll never forget that summer though - I had the time of my life and fell in love with the States (California and Hawaii anyway). A drink fuelled nostalgia buzz is kicking in as I type. I turned 28 on Wednesday 15th too, which has added to it all. I spent June 15th 1997 lying absolutely shagged out on the floor with jet-lag while my buddies (six of us shared a 1-room apartment on Jones/Geary near Union Square for $100 each per month) celebrated on my behalf; whereas June 15th 2005 was spent lying shagged out with jet-lag in a $250 per-night Marriott hotel room following a 10-hour meeting...

Everyone is glued to the TV at the moment - a chopper has just crashed into the East River here in New York near the UN building...

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

In God's Country

I'm going to the States today (Connecticut) on a business trip for three days. Non-stop meetings, which is going to wreck my head (I usually start shifting uncomfortably in my seat within 15 minutes of a meeting starting, so how I'm going to handle three ten-hour days of meetings I don't know. There's a good chance I'll be transferred there for the last three months of the year. It's a "challenge" and an "opportunity" and all the rest of that guff - i.e. I'll be expected to go over and work my hole off. Still it'll be a change, though I'm not sure if Connecticut in winter is much to look forward to...

Friday, June 10, 2005

Drug Stabbing Time

Katha Pollitt, in last week's The Nation, laments the current sexism in America when it comes to sexual-drugs. The gist of the piece is that women are being discriminated against when it comes to the development, approval and supply of lifestyle sexual drugs. I can say with certainty that drugs are in development for both premature ejaculation - i.e. the prevention (delay?) of - and "Female Sexual Dysfunction", for example. You have got to hand it to big-Pharma, they really know how to coin medical conditions people don't know exist until the marketing departments get moving...

Anyway the development of the former is a lot further down the road than the latter. Pollitt does ask "Where's the female viagra they're always promising us?" Well, believe me "they" are trying and trying damn hard. In order to maintain profit growth the future of the pharmaceutical industry is to persuade people with more disposable income than sense (i.e. the Western World) that our lives are suffering in one way or another and that we need treatments for what ails us. Assuming that all people can be persuaded that they are not fulfilled by life for some reason or another (i.e. emotional problems, wherever they might manifest themselves; the bedroom, the mirror, in company, alone, pain, anxiety...), various treatments can then be developed and marketed and lots of money made. Obviously drugs are still being developed for clinical diseases but it's these lifestyle drugs where the mega-bucks are expected to be made, simply because the symptoms are so vague anyone can be diagnosed or even persuaded by good marketing to believe that they are "suffering".

I went off the point slightly there but, with regards to Female Sexual Dysfunction, the problem for the R&D departments is that sexual arousal in women is virtually exclusively stimulated by emotional factors, i.e. sexual arousal is in the brain, and that implies that, to arouse a woman that isn't being "turned on", mind stimulating drugs would be required, which would be, obviously enough, a little bit taboo. Viagra works best for men who are mentally aroused but not physically. Making women who aren't mentally aroused physically aroused is bugger all use, hence the lack of a "female viagra" to date.

Pollitt also mentioned that the FDA turned down an application for a testosterone patch for women who had had their ovaries removed on both health grounds and a fear that there was a potential for "off-label" or recreational use. Well, the FDA are incredibly strict about what can and can't be approved. There are huge numbers of people currently denied access to, for example, a proven multiple sclerosis drug (Elan's Tysabri) and a proven arthritis treatment (Pfizer's Bextra) because of isolated reports of fatalities, which are yet to be proven to be as a result of taking these treatments. I'm not suggesting, by the way, that either the testosterone patch might result in fatalities or that the FDA shouldn't be that strict (Tysabri and Bextra are drugs that were approved and later pulled because the clinical trials did not suggest these side effects were present), I'm just making the point that getting approval for any drug is immensly difficult. If, however, the "off-label" reason was a deciding factor then, frankly, that is a disgrace. I would imagine, though, that Proctor & Gamble, the developer, would resubmit for approval if that's the case.

Finally Pollitt makes the point that the cost of, for example, Viagra is covered by private health insurers in the States while the birth control pill is only covered (with loopholes) by legislation in 21 states. Again that is a disgrace too. I actually don't know if the birth control pill is covered by Ireland's Drug Payment Scheme but it should be as should all contraception and the "morning after" pill.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Hate And War

Returning to the Ireland game on Saturday, I believe an attempt was made to hold a pro-Palestinian protest outside and inside the game. Well I'm delighted it failed (watching on TV in Budapest I saw no placards, so I take it that it failed). I shouldn't have been surprised considering the guff being spoken around the time of the game in Tel-Aviv.

Tom Humphries of the Irish Times, who I have enormous time for as a sports journalist, wrote a piece yesterday along the lines of... All these decades on and we have the new apartheid. Most of us haven't the energy or the cojones to stand up to it but the least we can do is not go chugging past singing "Football Not Politics."

We didn't even have a debate this time around about the necessary mingling of football and politics, about the implications of one state's representative team playing against another state's representative team regardless of what the other state represents.

Most of us had a few uneasy thoughts about the Israeli state when the draw was made and the fixtures were announced but we shelved them conveniently. Inside the ground on Saturday night, we old guilt-toting lefties were pleased to see a good scattering of Palestinian flags about the place. Some people had been more engaged than us. Thumbs up to them! We had a chuckle at the recordings of the two captains for Saturday night reading out a scripted statement for the Football against Racism campaign. Plenty of ironies there if you were a Palestinian listening in, heh, heh...

So here we are in this little country bedevilled by a history of occupation and religious extremism and acidic sectarianism and dividing walls and collectively we are chanting "Football Not Politics!"

My sympathies would lie with the Palestinians, to a large degree, though I'm inclined to blame the likes of Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia and, to a lesser extent, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt for their troubles from what I've read and seen. But it's obvious that, to most Europeans, the Israelis are the villains of the piece and that everything is black-and-white, cut-and-dried. I should be surprised that Irish people get taken in by this one-sided view, after the thirty years of pointless misery inflicted in our name by scumbags, fanatics and criminals but, considering the green-tinted glasses through which even recent Irish history is being viewed, I'm not one bit surprised that there's plenty of anti-Israeli feeling out there.

Whataboutery in Ireland is a right pain but I feel the need to engage in it here. Where were the protests when Ireland had to play Iran?... or Turkey?... or Russia?... or Serbia?... or Croatia?... or Saudi Arabia?... So why Israel now? By boycotting (or whatever) the Israelis in this instance we were asking our football body to make a political decision. That is not their job (they're making a piss-poor attempt at doing what is their job). The Palestinian supporters groups also tried to co-opt a (largely) ignorant football crowd with their version of the Palestinian conflict into a highly visible display designed to hurt and infuriate the people of one of the most embattled nations on Earth watching on TV.

Despite the latent anti-Semitism in Europe there seems to be no political will to stand up to Israel, if indeed Israel is as "guilty" as the likes of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Committee (Belfast-based, don't you know, but no relation to the Shinners I'm sure...) contend. Maybe that's because the situation there is not as clear cut as is being implied? Well if the EU won't countenance any sanctions against Israel, if they are not requesting Fifa or Uefa to penalise the Israeli national team for the actions of the IDF, and if our own government is not interested in such gestures of "solidarity", then the Palestinian supporters groups should go back to lobbying politicians or engaging Israelis in informed, balanced debate for our benefit. In the meantime they should leave our, and the Israeli, football teams alone.

And Tom should realise that there is no irony in protesting about tens of thousands of Spaniards making monkey chants at Ashley Cole and not protesting about a people (over?) reacting to the second threat to wipe them out in 60 years. (It is the stated aim of a number of Middle Eastern Islamic nations, and alos the PLO to wipe Israel from existence). Also, Tom should try and remember what happens when sport does get mixed with politics...

Another Time, Another Place

I'm in warts 'n all mode so bare with me.

First thing to get out of the way is my apology to Dublin Airport - automatic check in kiosks so I had my boarding pass within three minutes of going in the door despite the Friday crowds; through security in a couple of minutes (even with my belt and shoes off) because they appear to have quadrupled the security staff; and through baggage claim last night within 15 minutes of landing. Sorry lads, I thought that level of efficiency was reserved for protestants!...

There's a big open air club in Budapest called Rio. It starts to fill around midnight (virtually all the bars in the city seem to close by 12) and stays open 'til dawn. Anyway the place was packed - there was a couple of thousand there easily, and we were sitting back and admiring the views. There were six of us in the end - my mate Steph has a German friend called Dennis who joined us, and then never stopped talking pure shite all weekend ("I am so vell known fur mein dancing in ze clubs of Beh-lin dat ven I enter ze floor ze spotlight shines on me..." is one of the more printable pieces of crap he came out with). At the end of the night we got split up and three of us made it back to the apartment only to find that the other three, including the only guy with a key, had decided to try and find a strip-bar. So, while we were waiting for those muppets, I fell asleep on the pavement in someones doorway and then the other two, Steph and the German, buggered off. I was shaken awake by the first three at about 8am, when they finally got back, and woke up to people stepping over my sprawled frame as they were going about their business. The other two only arrived later and there was an argument about who were worse - the first three for buggering off with the only key or the other two for leaving me asleep in a doorway. For good measure I had the mother of all headaches all day Saturday.

On Saturday evening it was mission hunt the Ireland match and we found an Irish pub showing it. There was a huge crowd of Israelis and local Jews there to watch the game as well as the standard paddys abroad. To say that the game ended in huge disappointment is an understatement. I was in a foul mood for hours afterwards. Y'see I knew I should have given up watching footie last week after the Liverpool miracle because I know I'm unlikely to ever witness such joy again. But I won't and, like I've said before, football has a habit of kicking me in the stones. What added to my black mood was that I was restraining myself from criticising the Israeli team and their cheat of a goalkeeper for fear of appearing anti-Semitic. It's funny, because I remember shouting "He Schweizer! Wo das Nazi Gold ist" at a bunch of Swiss when they screwed us before. Although one of my mates did wonder aloud if we had backed the wrong God. He's an Anglican, though, so we already know he's definitely going to hell!

Back to Rio that night and one of the other lads managed to stick his hand on a broken shard of glass and get a nasty puncture wound in between two fingers. He lost quite a bit of blood and I ended up escorting him while the paramedics carted him off to hospital. Unlike an Irish casualty ward / war zone on a Saturday night, I was the only person in the place for the couple of hours we were there - save for the two policemen who came along to arrest my friend because they'd assumed he was fighting. My (very) basic German and impressions of an idiot cutting his hand convinced them we were OK and they left.

The next night, our last, we were trying to take it easy but, as we were making our way home through the city centre, two girls stopped the German to ask if we knew where Beckett's Irish Bar was. They said they were Hungarian but not from Budapest and were looking for a late night drink. Before those of us with a brain in our head could react we were escorting these girls up the street. All of a sudden one of them said "Oh, here's a traditional Hungarian bar... etc" and in we went. To cut a long story short I knew we were in the process of being ripped off so after one round of beer (six 33 cL bottles of Amstel), one Schnapps and water for the ladies I asked for the bill. This was met with some protest from the German, who thought he and his new Hungarian friend were getting on like a house on fire, but he quickly copped on when our 34,000 HUF (or approx €142) bill was delivered by two blokes built like brick shithouses.

Ah well, you live and learn. Back to work today and it's just like I'd never been away.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Beautiful Day

I'm off to Budapest tomorrow afternoon for the long weekend - five friends from college in total. I was there last summer too, it's a very nice city if still quite poor. Lucky for them (probably) that they're already in the EU given the way things have gone this week...

Hope that shitehole we call an airport doesn't dampen things too much! (taking my shoes off? security my arse)...

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Where Did It All Go Wrong

First off, in the Observer on Sunday, was a cartoon that I still can't believe was published but it was CLASS! Most people (poor bastards) have now been exposed to Crazy Frog - a cartoon frog mimicking the noise of a moped, which is being used as a mobile phone ring-tone by chavs everywhere. Well the crazy frog is shown in the moped-riding position, mouthing "Non, non, non, non, non..." I've been searching for a link but I just can't find it - so use your imagination.

Anyway, apropos of nothing, the French said No to the European Constitution and the Dutch are about to say No as well. It certainly is a blow to the European project but surely it's not the crisis situation it's being presented to be. The EU constitution, as written, is trying to tie-up decades of ratified treaties (themselves often long-winded and complex - see the Treaty of Nice) and is trying to be all things to all people, effectively trying to tie the citizens of disparate nations, with differing world-views, to a common set of principles. Well, I'm sorry, but Europe in the 21st Century is not the United States in the late 18th, and this was never going to work the way it was attempted.

Apart from the fact that all the big governments in Europe are currently extremely unpopular with their citizens, which was bound to have a detrimental affect on ratifying the constitution, the 25-member states are worlds apart in what they want from European integration. In other words every country in the EU is a member of the club for their own national interests. Therefore, for every country, attempts to make Europe "work better" means giving up some advantage or other - vetos, commissioners, voting rights etc. France and Britain, to take the obvious examples, are worlds apart in terms of economic and social policy. The small countries have voting rights in excess of their national percentage of total european population, which is a source of frustration for France, Britain, Italy and Germany especially. There isn't currently 25 commissioners jobs to go around, yet having a high-profile commissioner is a badge of pride for the smaller countries.

So the French vote "No" because, essentially, they believe they'll be forced into an (as it's being called) Anglo-Saxon style market economy (less restricted labour laws, increased competition etc.) and they also believe their country will lose power. I should say now that French power over the EU is, in my humble opinion, a bad thing. Their complete mé féin-ism (Irish for looking after number 1), and lack of moral principle make the Americans look like they believe in all things to all men. For example, the EU's sanctions against Burma were watered down so completely by the French that the EU was too embarrassed to publish the renewal of the sanctions. The French did this so that they could protect the interests of ONE company - Total, the French national oil company. Of course only the yanks cause human misery over oil...

Holland will vote "No" for its own reasons - they feel they're bullied by the bigger nations (i.e. the Germans) and they're suffering a period of self-examination after a recent spate of race-related incidents following the murder of film director Theo van Gogh by (allegedly) a Dutch Moroccan muslim, who accused van Gogh of insulting Islam in his films. Incidentally that link is about the arrest of a Chechen in connection with the murder, which passed without much comment. I'm sorry for this tangent but I was always inclined to believe that Islamic fundamentalists had infiltrated the Chechen separatists like the Russians claim. Also Britain could well have voted "No" too in one of their fits of nationalism even if the constitution suits Britain, if what the French believe is true.

My guess is that the constitution will be redrafted following a period of renegotiation and will end up being pretty vague and non-threatening to any nation's interests. Then it will be put back to the people, together with a pile of promises about "listening to the will of the people" and "engaging the citizens of Europe in the European project" and all that guff and it will then be ratified. Europe is a bit directionless and, if it's to build on past successes, then some form of single rulebook does need to come into force. The various governments just need to work out how to persuade the people...
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