Sunday, July 31, 2005

Viva Italia!

Off on my holliers today - to Italy if that wasn't obvious from the title! I'll be off work three weeks and do I need this break...

Flying to Bergamo and staying in Lake Como (I laugh when I say that out loud) then near Genoa. We're going to take in Tuscany and Rome as well.

I'd be more excited only I have a hangover...

Friday, July 29, 2005

Somebody Got Murdered

Food for thought in a letter to the Guardian

"Hundreds of thousands of deaf people travel on tubes and buses like everyone else. They would not stop if the police shouted at them, because they simply would not hear..."

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Deny

In these days of *big* news stories, plenty of others are slipping through the net. However, in these times of increased NIMBY-ism in Ireland (protests about gas pipelines, electric pylons, mobile phone masts, landfill sites, incinerators, Traveller halting sites) this incident caught my eye: ADM, a chemicals company manufacturing here in Cork, managed to spill about 250 tons of Sodium Hydroxide (caustic soda) into Ringaskiddy harbour on the night of July 2nd. Now that sounds like a lot but, because it was spilled in the sea, the dilution factor is enormous.

The company notified the Irish EPA by 6am the following morning and they, in turn, made the assessment that the spillage posed no threat. 36 hours after the spillage the EPA inspectors arrived and found no trace of the spill - the tides had carried it away. So no issue, right? Well a local councillor heard about the spill from a "concerned constituent", which, to my cynical eye, means "acquaintance working in the factory regaling the pub with tales" and obviously said councillor decided to try and make hay with the issue. So first he, and then Cork County Council, has publicly admonished the EPA for not alerting the local population to the potential risk.

So what was the risk? Well, in the time it takes to dissolve and dissipate, it is possible (but unlikely) that localised marine life could be killed and people swimming could suffer burns. Despite the quantities we're talking about any risk would be very short term and very localised - a couple of hundred square meters at most - until all of the caustic is dissolved and dissipated by the tide.

Ignoring the fact that you'd need to be some clown to go swimming in a busy shipping lane in the middle of the night, it can be reaonably assumed that any risk, such as it might have existed, would be gone by the time the tides had changed - a matter of hours. Amazingly Cork County Council have claimed that "there can be no independent verification that the spill did not pose a risk, as most of the spill had been washed away by the time the EPA inspector arrived 36 hours later".

In other words "Peoples' health was put at risk because we have no way of knowing if there was a risk or not, because there was no trace of a risk when the risk assessor arrived". Fantastic logic!

Hate And War

Is it finally over?...

In a statement, the Provisionals confirmed its armed struggle would end from 4pm today and that all IRA units have been ordered to dump arms.The organisation also confirmed that it had instructed its representative to complete its disarmament process in a way which would enhance public confidence and to do this as quickly as possible.

I suppose we can look at it this way; if any "volunteers" do commit a crime they can be banged-up without fear of early release under the terms of the Agreement. Other than that I suppose we have to take it at face value. They are now, in my eyes, just another gang of the ghetto for disaffected youths to fall into.

Worst Nightmare?

Mine anyway, from today's Irish Times

Cremation today for homeless Irishman
Kitty Holland

The funeral takes place in Britain today of a Co Down man who had been homeless for "about 20 years" and who died without any family or friends around him.

A death notice in yesterday's Irish Times appealed for "any friends or relatives" of Jim O'Hare (64) to contact the James Paget hospital in Great Yarmouth, where he died on July 3rd. He will be cremated this morning and a hospital spokeswoman said yesterday no one had been in contact about him. Mr O'Hare was from Warrenpoint, Newry, and had been admitted via the A&E department about two weeks before his death. The spokeswoman said no one had visited him during that fortnight and that he "seemed like a very nice chap".

A couple who run a pub in the town but who did not want to be named said Mr O'Hare "would just sleep where he could" and "loved to just chat".

Monday, July 25, 2005

Going Underground

After the Omagh atrocity in 1998 many Irish people, myself included, were willing to accept draconian anti-terror laws and increased police powers on the basis that terrorism simply couldn’t be combated by the ordinary rule of law. Well those increased powers have bitten us in the ass. The only conviction ever secured has since been quashed due to police abuses of their power and the leaders of the terror gang responsible have been locked up on dubious convictions that may yet not survive a Supreme Court challenge.

Since September 11 2001 the US authorities have wilfully and arbitrarily ignored peoples’ human rights both at home and abroad and most Americans don’t bat an eyelid. People are being interned indefinitely without charge (and tortured in captivity) to reveal information they may (or may not) have. Furthermore, in deciding that September 11th was an Act of War rather than a crime, the US response to being attacked has left many thousands more of innocent people, and nearly 2,000 US soldiers, dead – paying for the actions of unconnected others with their lives.

This really should bother the American people but, like a punch-drunk with a sore head, they still insist that it’s all acceptable if it’s preventing a repeat of September 11th. Americans barely pay lip-service to foreigners suffering due to their War on Terror – particularly those in captivity even though many of these appear to have committed no crime at all. Indeed, if you were to ask the old question “Is it OK for one innocent man to be imprisoned to prevent ten guilty men being free?” they would answer “Yes”. If you were to ask “What if that innocent man was you?” they would say “It would not be me – I would not put myself in a position where a question mark over my innocence could arise.”

So the death of an entirely innocent young Brazilian in London brings all of this into a microcosm for me. No connection to anything whatsoever, yet executed by a policeman put in the position of being judge, jury and executioner. I feel sorry for the policeman because in some ways the logic at work, where the police need to take instant action to deal with a suicide bomber, makes sense. But this dead man is now the personification of all the innocent lives that have been lost because of an acceptance that it is necessary to step outside the norms to combat the new enemy. Is it a price worth paying? Is it OK that a man can lose his life like this to prevent an even bigger number of innocents losing their lives to terrorist atrocities?

My head and my heart say no. We can’t round up and intern hundreds of people who have not demonstrably done anything wrong simply because they are hostile to us, we can’t go obliterating entire communities even if people who would do us harm are hiding within them and we can’t execute people for wearing jackets, listening to iPods and running away from policemen. We can’t because we are civilised even if the enemy is not. But it looks like we will anyway. This might seem flippant, but what’s going to happen when the winter comes and young Muslim students wearing coats and carrying rucksacks will be all over the Transport System?...

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Stay Free

"It was learned last night that Sinn Fein party president Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein's chief peace negotiator Martin McGuinness and Dail deputy and convicted gun-runner Martin Ferris have all resigned from the seven-man IRA army council. The ground-breaking decision means that all links between the leadership of the political and military wings of the Provisional movement have been severed." - as reported in today's Irish Independent.

The Shinners have finally exhausted the Peace Process, in that they've managed to drag it out for seven and more years gaining concession after concession from governments petrified of a return to violence. And if there was a return to violence who would get the blame? The governments of course, because the Irish people, as has been so ably demonstrated over the last couple of weeks, blame governments for the actions of terrorists.

So this is the next step in the road to electoral respectability in the South. The North is pretty much sewn up as much as possible for the time being so the next target is coalition government in the South. As the Indo piece puts it - "the changes in personnel are also seen as part of the "sanitisation" process within Sinn Fein as the party prepares to present itself as a democratic body that is ready to play a full part in political developments north and south of the Border."

So, as I wrote before, the masterplan is coming to fruition. The IRA will cease to exist in "military" terms, but its members won't just retire, they'll become another band of gangsters whose booty will fund the new war - the fighting of elections in the South. The Shinners can now claim that any criminality is nothing to do with them and enough dumbfucks in the Irish electorate will believe them. Bugger.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Deny

I heard a very sad yet all too predictable story on Matt Cooper's Last Word yesterday (roughly 15 minutes into the 1 hour clip). It followed on from an Irish Times story about a GP - Dr Paschal Carmody - who was being prosecuted by the Irish Medicines Board for selling prescription only products without a licence. He has already been struck off but is still allowed to practice alternative (i.e. bogus) medicine because it remains unregulated.

However the radio interview was with a woman whose husband had cancer and who had, in desperation I believe, turned to Carmody for assistance. It's worth listening to - if only to be reminded that for every "it worked for me" story many others do die anyway. My aunt has just gotten cancer again after being in remission following a mastectomy. Unfortunately, because the cancer has returned, she too now wants to try the "alternative" route. Because no one else in my family has anything resembling a scientific background they're easily taken in by the claims and the "it worked for me" stories. Therefore I'm the one doing all the protesting and relationships are strained.

To make my point I dug out the story of Mineke Kamper, a Dutch homeopath living in Mayo who came to attention back in April at the inquest to the death of a man from treatable throat cancer. His wife said at the inquest "Mineke Kamper had repeatedly said to us that we had a choice but if we did get medical treatment [the man] would die and that she could and would cure him". Well he did die and the consultant pathologist who carried out a postmortem at the request of the south Mayo coroner told the inquest [the man's] tumour was localised and could have been removed, treated by radiotherapy or chemotherapy to provide a longer and better quality of life.

This is a bit cowardly but I'm afraid to really knock the alternative crap on the head in case the worst were to happen and emotional family members turn against me. So instead I've suggested that she sticks with *sigh* conventional medicine and does the alternative thing in tandem. I've also made her family promise not to use any quacks that suggest, as Kamper did, that medical treatment will kill my aunt. If she goes back on the chemo and takes a homeopathic remedy (i.e. a drop of water or alcohol) on the side then how bad?...

Friday, July 15, 2005

Crazy Dane

The Danes are not known for their pizza, especially. In fact, they're not known for anything much at all outside of lager, pastries, large slobbery dogs and Hamlet, their notorious procrastinating prince. Oh, and bacon. But one particularly uppity Danish pizza-peddler went to prison on Tuesday in the process of defending his bastardised Italian comestibles from cheese-, tomato-, basil- and pepperoni-eating surrender-monkeys.

Being fervently pro-war, Aage Bjerre posted a friendly sign in his window in February 2003, depicting two human figures in the colours of the French and German flags with lines drawn through them. Next to these, the welcoming words 'No Admittance'. 'I'm doing it to show my sympathy with the United States,' Bjerre told the press. 'It shows how seriously I mean it.' One precipitous drop in sales, several acts of vandalism to the pizzeria and a refusal to pay a 5000 kroner fine later, and Bjerre is spending a week in prison. 'But,' bleated Bjerre, 'one should also remember that eight days is a small price to pay when American soldiers go to Iraq and risk their limbs and lives.'

Keeping him company in his cell is an American flag, a photograph of George'n'Laura and some of the many, many fan letters he has received from some of his proud American cousins. Fan letters. To a man who refused to serve French and German tourists. We give up.

*Nicked from The Friday Thing*

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

English Civil War

On the day of the attacks in London Richard Delevan posted this. There was a lot of response in his comments, which he seems to have disabled. One quote that caught my eye, and is slightly relevant to the letter I wrote below, was "Go where they come from. Stop them there. Persuade, cajole, bribe or if necessary force change in the societies that produce them. So that the clearest path to paradise doesn't run through twisted metal and mangled flesh." Now maybe I'm wrong, but I remember the article as being more forceful than that. Has it been edited since?... Anyway a comment I posted was along the lines of "what happens if it turns out that 'there' is Bradford?" Well that now seems to be the case and its potential consequences are frightening.

Only the foolish and the truly ignorant can now believe that this is just about Iraq.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Walk On

So the attack in Bali was because their government supported the war in Iraq? Stupid ignorance, no? Yet that's the claim made by a letter writer in today's Irish Times. My letter got published (sub required) even though I didn't think it would - I thought it looked untidy when I read it again. They left out my bin Laden quote, which makes the "fascism" claim look out of place. Still, they lead with my letter, where I make the point about the East African attacks of '98, then follow it with someone insisting only countries involved with Iraq are being attacked. Maybe I'm boasting, but, if you accept my points, the letters below mine look a bit daft!...

Monday, July 11, 2005

Until The End Of The World

What a craven bunch of cowards some people in this country can be. Reading the likes of "The no-warning bomb attacks on London by suspected Islamic fundamentalists are an indication of what could happen here if the Dublin administration continues its current military and political alliance with Britain." and "It is nauseating to hear Mr Ahern's hypocritical bleatings over the barbarism in London, seeing that he supported the greater slaughter of Iraqi civilians by the British and the Americans..." (both from the Irish Times Letters page last Saturday) has me fuming.

I sent them this letter in response this morning - I'll see if it gets published...

Dear Madam,

The reaction of some in this country to the events in London last Thursday has been predictable yet still maddening. It has been claimed that, by assisting or associating with the US and British military, we in Ireland also risk attack by radical Islamic terrorists. For this to be believed one of two positions must be held – either that the US and its allies as one party to a conflict, and the radical Islamists as the other, are moral equivalents and that we in Neutral Ireland should not be seen to take sides; or that the radical Islamists are indeed fascist terrorists but we in Ireland should not be seen to take sides lest they turn their murderous ire in our direction. The former is craven in the extreme, the latter is cowardice made all the more embarrassing by the stoic resolve shown by Londoners since last Thursday. Both positions are reprehensible. We in Ireland don’t have to believe that current US foreign policy is the correct response to dealing with its radical Islamist enemies. But it does not automatically follow that we should make the mistake of affording the evil responsible for the atrocities in London, Madrid, Bali, New York, East Africa and elsewhere a legitimacy that obstructing the US could give it.

It has also been claimed that it is hypocritical to be overly exercised by the death and destruction in London when a far greater number of civilians are being murdered weekly in Iraq. This implies that the conflict in Iraq is directly responsible for the attacks in London however for this position to be held one must believe that radical Islam is a 21st century phenomenon. The murder of 225 people, almost all local civilians, in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, for example, gives lie to this fallacy. Furthermore when the followers of al Zarqawi commit mass murder outside Shia mosques and police recruiting stations it is hard to see why, exactly, the occupying troops should be blamed for the ongoing death and destruction in Iraq. Does anyone believe that their extraction would bring peace to Iraq and save lives?

Wahhabi radical Islam, the belief that Allah’s pure message transmitted by Mohammed has been obscured over the centuries, has been in existence since the mid-eighteenth century. Al Qaeda is not a hierarchical organisation with easily defined, limited, political goals in the vein of the IRA – bin Laden is more of a cult figurehead than an actual leader. Radical Islam is disparate and has many local as well as trans-national aims throughout the Islamic world. However bin Laden was quoted in 1998 as proclaiming that he and his followers would “render all possible assistance to [Allah] for the supremacy of Islam, for the stability of Islamic government, for the enforcement of the law of Allah till the time that all dissension [and] conflicts come to an end and Allah’s religion reigns supreme”. There is no one person or group to negotiate with and, indeed, no concessions that would ever satisfy this fascism. So we in Ireland would do well to re-examine our desire to bury our collective heads in the sand.

Friday, July 08, 2005

London Calling

The humour has already started (I love British humour)...

LONDON OLYMPIC SLOGANS REVISED

LONDON: Where no matter what happens, and how many people are dead, there'll always be some cunt with a camera phone taking pictures.

The people of London have been amazing. Listening on the radio this morning (Morning Ireland 8/7/05), the RTE journalist interviewing people in train stations began to sound almost incredulous at peoples' insistence that they had no fear of using public transport and that they weren't going to let terrorists affect their day to day lives. There's no sign of the collective hysteria or mass outpouring of emotion that characterised the Madrid bombings or even some of the attacks carried out in this country. I'm not judging either way, it's just that the contrast is stark. I'm sorry for the trite analogy but it reminds me of the scene in the Blues Brothers where Carrie Fisher blows up the Brothers' apartment building and they just clamber out of the debris, dust themselves down and carry on without even mentioning what just happened.

More from The Friday Thing...

At the time of speculating, a previously unknown organisation calling itself the Secret Organisation Group of al-Qaeda are claiming responsibility, but then they would. Less likely perhaps, but still in the picture are the following...

EVENS: THE FRENCH. Chirac hates us. We know that. He hates out food, he hates our cattle, and he is hopping mad that we got the Olympics. Also, in footage of Blair and the rest of the G8 delegates at around 1 o'clock, Chirac was standing to the left of Blair and we swear, he was biting his cheeks so hard to keep himself from smiling, that blood was starting to seep out of his eyes.

10/1: G8. Things were getting just a little out of hand. People's voices were being heard, climate change and poverty were beginning to overshadow international terrorism as the world's number one issue. Something had to be done to allow George Bush to say this: 'The War on Terror goes on.' It was. He did.

50/1: RANDOM TERRORISTS. Jealous of the press coverage generated by Edinburgh-based anarchists, random terrorists decide to win back some coverage for the capital.

100/1: POVERTY. Depressed at the possibility of being made history, poverty strikes back and attempts to make London history.

1000/1: POWER SURGES. Right.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Numb

It's not yet confirmed, but Islamic terrorists are surely responsible for what has happened in London this morning. There's no way ID cards won't be introduced now, unfortunately. Hopefully the death toll will stay low (it's two at the moment but that's inevitably going to rise somewhat). The British Government have been saying for three years that this was a matter of "when" not "if" and finally, inevitably perhaps, they've been proved right.

Two questions thrown up, of course, would now be 1) Has the invasion of Iraq reduced the chances of Islamic terrorist attacks or exacerbated it or even made no difference at all? and, 2) Could Britain/the US/the West have adopted a different foreign policy to reduce the chances of Islamic terrorist attacks in our countries. Soberingly, the answers for me are that this would have happened at some stage regardless of the Iraq invasion and there is nothing we can do to completely prevent these people from attacking us.

Having read Jason Burke's excellent Al Qaeda book I've come to realise that there'll always be just enough hardcore fanatics, who believe they are implementing the will of God, who believe in jihad against the west, to cause this death and destruction - no matter how many of the political grievances in the Middle East are resolved.

Until The End Of The World

Holy shit, what has happened now?...

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Miracle Drug

I get a newsletter from the US Food and Drug Administration every week. Most weeks there's nothing special in it ("Carlito's Peanut Butter being withdrawn due to undeclared peanuts" type of thing) but this week they've responded to claims for Green Tea...

FDA Issues Information for Consumers about Claims for Green Tea and Certain Cancers

Under the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) "Consumer Health for Better Nutrition Initiative," the Agency is announcing the results of a review of qualified health claims that green tea may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. Based on a systematic evaluation of the available scientific data, the FDA intends to consider exercising its enforcement discretion for the following qualified health claims for breast and prostate cancer:

"Two studies do not show that drinking green tea reduces the risk of breast cancer in women, but one weaker, more limited study suggests that drinking green tea may reduce this risk. Based on these studies, FDA concludes that it is highly unlikely that green tea reduces the risk of breast cancer"; and

"One weak and limited study does not show that drinking green tea reduces the risk of prostate cancer, but another weak and limited study suggests that drinking green tea may reduce this risk. Based on these studies, FDA concludes that it is highly unlikely that green tea reduces the risk of prostate cancer."

The FDA also concluded that existing evidence does not support qualified health claims for green tea consumption and a reduced risk of any other type of cancer.

Guidance on qualified health claims for conventional foods and dietary supplements was issued by the FDA in July 2003. FDA will continue to evaluate new information that becomes available to determine whether changes in these claims, or in the decision, are necessary.

Of course the people inclined to believe that drinking beverages made from certain types of plants are nature's "way" of preventing our bodies from malfunctioning will doubtless ignore or dismiss theses findings.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Remote Control

This is an interesting wee story in the Irish Times today - "Large African rats being used to find landmines in Mozambique"...

A species of large African field rat has become the latest recruit in the fight to de-mine one of the African continent's mine-infested regions.

The animals are being used in Mozambique to detect landmines and unexploded ordnance that is still threatening hundreds of thousands of people and hampering economic activity 13 years after the end of a brutal war that claimed up to one million lives.

Trained to sniff out the chemical traces associated with various types of explosive, the large rat is led by a handler across a suspect land area that has been cordoned off for de-mining, and segmented using lengths of string along which the rats are guided.

Hands up if you thought the rats blow themselves up? You bad people!...

"This method not only saves time, but money and the lives of people who would otherwise be searching for the mines themselves. The rats are too light to set off the mines and the species chosen has a high curiosity level, which gives it a longer attention span than sniffer dogs are likely to have."

Drug Stabbing Time

Andrew Sullivan, writing about his viral load (he's HIV+):

Got new data this week about my virus. You may recall that I went back on meds because my viral load, after three years of stability at around 20,000 copies per mililiter of my blood, went to 60,000 and then 140,000. After ten days of medication, it came down to 1,500. By now, it should be zero. The drugs are amazing and I barely notice them at all any more the side effects are so minor. I guess I should add that these not atypical results show that although basic scientific research must be funded by government, the "evil" pharmaceutical companies are, in fact, among the most beneficent organizations in the history of mankind and their research in the last couple of decades will one day be recognized as the revolution it truly is. Yes, they're motivated by profits. Duh. That's the genius of capitalism - to harness human improvement to the always-reliable yoke of human greed. Long may those companies prosper. I owe them literally my life.

I suppose when you have a cut-and-dried viral infection like HIV or Malaria or Hepatitis, the temptation to dabble in New Age bollox like Homeopathy or "faith healing" or "bio-energy" or whatever, is reduced somewhat - because it's bloody obvious those treatments are utterly worthless and could get you killed. With other ailments, especially those whose symptoms are unseen to some degree, or cancer, which is always thought of as one disease but is, in fact, a whole host of diseases grouped under one name, it's a lot easier for the snake-oil salesmen to convince the ignorant that medicine is failing them and that the mystical alternatives (I hate using the word alternative - it implies an equivalence that is wholly undeserved) are genuinely going to help/cure the person. More stories like Sullivan's should be quoted to send the charlatans out of business.

Mad Frenchman


Ever wondered who actually buys that Crazy Frog single?

Well I snared these two middle age women in a record shop in Cork buying that tripe yesterday. There should be laws. Some people should be banned from buying music. These two are guilty as charged.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Silver And Gold

Irish Eagle highlighted an article by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, discussing European economies and comparing our fabled Celtic Tiger favourably with, what is being termed, a Franco/German economic model. Anyway I've trawled around a little and I've seen that Friedman's series of columns has come in for quite a bit of discussion in a number of places (i.e. American blogs). The added comment pieces are well worth reading on each site in order to give the grey matter food for thought.

Daily Kos highlights Matt Yglesias' take on the French aspect of the piece. Basically the suggestion is that just because the French economy is stagnant, as the so-called Anglo-Saxon economists would have it, it doesn't mean that there is anything necessarily wrong with the French attitude to work and the economy. In Matt's words "...while it's clear that the French have less stuff than we do, they have more leisure time, and it's not obvious that our situation is better. Indeed, it's not clear what "better" would even mean in this context." The rest of the article and associated discussion threads on both sites argue the pros and cons of this attitude.

One comment in particular on Yglesias' site caught the eye - a criticism of the Social Darwinism at work in the competitive environment that exists in modern capitalist economies and the emptiness it can leave in the soul. I remember, for instance, a letter writer to Prospect asking whether the (British) state education system should simply be a competition, a tool for grooming children to get ahead in the world (and, therefore, ahead of their fellow man) , or should it be a system that teaches our youth to actually learn and understand the world in which they live. I also remember my own disillusion when I was turned down for a promotion just over a year ago.

What isn't addressed, though, is how the French are going to be able to maintain their "quality of life" approach to living and also maintain a high standard of public services. Someone has to pay for it, so if the economy is not growing and a large percentage of the population are net takers from government coffers, how will everything be maintained? Furthermore the pensions time-bomb in Europe isn't addressed but, apart from the fact that there won't be enough young workers contributing to the government coffers to help support the elderly, pensions themselves are reliant on the perpetual expansion of economies.

The pensions of citizens in the First World rely on companies maintaining profit growth. To achieve this consumption must perpetually grow, so personal spending must perpetually grow. The U.S. economy is built on ever increasing consumption. If we stop spending, or there's less of our children around to spend, then there'll be less money to be divvied out when we're all relying on our maturing pensions to survive. I've gone off the point now, but western economies will come to rely on both immigration from the current second and third world, and increasing consumption in those countries, to keep the whole house of cards standing for another couple of generations.

Crooked Timber concentrated on the Irish aspect of the piece and claims that "there’s a very strong argument to be made that it is exactly the non-Anglo-Saxon features of the Irish economy – and in particular the systematized concertation between trade unions, management, government and other social actors – that was at the heart of Ireland’s economic success in the 1990’s". While Brad DeLong thinks that "Ireland in the past decade and a half looks, I think, more like a Scandinavian economy than like Great Britain."

Meanwhile a Jim Glass hammers both of them - "what is unique about the Irish example is that it was the labor unions who embraced old-fashioned, Anglo Saxon-style capitalist economic policy in strong form by embracing these parameters, as a part of the "systematized concertation" of reform... Ireland reminds us of any of those Scandinavian economies that over the last 20 years have cut their size of government by half, and their tax burden by a third (to 20 points of GDP, or a good 40%, below that of the Scandinavian economies), to fuel accelerated economic growth that has taken them from per capita GDP of only about 50% of the Scandinavian economies a generation ago to 20% more than the Scandinavian economies today."

I didn't realise we were so interesting... anyway, not being an economist my opinion isn't worth squat, but here we go: Ireland has been a success story because American companies in industries willing to pay relatively high salaries have moved here. They have done so because of a government that is business friendly, very generous up-front incentives and a low tax regime - and speaking English is an obvious bonus. Secondly the population is young and a population bubble (of which I would be a part of) born in the mid to late '70s swelled the young adult graduate population in the late '90s, which was able to find high paying careers with relative ease. Coupled with this, low interest rates for a number of years has made credit dirt cheap and has allowed those same young adults (those that are still the pretty side of 30) to spend and consume on a level unimaginable even 10-years ago. This spending feeds money back into local economies (bars, restaurants, shops, car-dealers etc.) thus increasing the tax take from VAT (tax on spending) and allowing income taxes to be cut further, which has only prompted more spending.

We got away with this because European subsidies flooded money into our government's bank accounts when the country was on it's knees in the '80s and now, by being so much more attractive to do business in than our big neighbours, we are screwing them for investment and jobs. Low interest rates, designed to stimulate the sluggish economies, are just more petrol on the flames of our fire, hence a housing price bubble that is, frankly, ridiculous and is just waiting to blow up in our face. We are ridiculously dependant on American industry, which we delude ourselves into thinking is going nowhere because we are "so well educated" etc. but will in fact bugger off as soon as the sums add up and we're not in a position to be self-sufficient - so it could all go horribly wrong yet. But squeezing us into a particular model or trying to create analogies is, it would seem to me, rather pointless in that I don't see how the factors that benefitted us can be replicated elsewhere - rich neighbours giving us hand-outs while we simultaneously screw them out of jobs for our younger population. Can't see it anywhere else.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Elvis Ate America

To post about a trip to Burger King or a gas pipeline? Especially after calls have been made for the government to interfere directly with the judiciary - abhorrent in any democracy - I'd like to write about the jailing of five Mayo land-owners for contempt of court. They refused to give undertakings not to obstruct Shell from doing their preparatory work for a gas pipeline coming onshore from a field off the west coast of Ireland. My sympathy would lie with the company, because I'm pretty sure we're looking at NIMBY-ism again, and the indications are that the locals don't seem interested in letting Shell address their concerns (in case they're shown to be in the wrong perhaps?) but I don't know all the details or what the (genuine) risks are - and 345 bar is a LOT of pressure.

Instead I'll quote the back of the packet my Burger King chips came in last night:

"Your Fries Your Way

"You can eat these fries any way you want. You can dip them in ketchup or your drink if that turns you on. You can stuff them in your sandwich or you can play pick-up-sticks with them if you really want. Or, hang on, here's a thought, you can even eat them like a normal human being."


Is it just me or is that a truly bizarre piece of marketing? I know what they're trying to say (and it's lame) but that last sentence is just odd.
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