Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year's Day

Not quite, but an obvious title (for me). I'm at work at the mo but should get away soon enough. I've a night of Playstation and cups of tea to look forward to (the joys of being on call)... unless I decide to come back in to work for a bit of company... (the violins are striking up, can you hear them?). Happy New Year anyway, have you nothing better to do than read this? At least I've nothing better to do than write it!

Cork is finishing off its year of culture the way it began - with a fireworks display. For the vast majority of the locals this will be their first exposure to the City of Culture since that first day. Debates have been raging about whether it has been a success or not but the fact is the organisers have utterly failed to involve the local population in the endeavour.

For a start 'culture' seems to have simply meant 'the arts', and the high arts at that. Speaking for myself, as someone whose appreciation for the arts is virtually nil, I tried my best for the first 9 months of the year to see and take-in as much as I could. But the whole thing felt like a chore. Even sifting through the events guide trying to work out what was on and when became a chore.

I'm far from populist (I run a mile from any display of paddywhackery normally) but I just feel that the organisers have suffered from the same artistic snobbery that seems so rife among Ireland's 'artistic' elite. It should have been possible to find a happy medium between diversity (obscurity?) and popularity. Instead the artsy clique seemed to decide that they would put on as many highbrow events as possible and that it would be the fault of the proles if they failed to appreciate it.

For me, a good measure of how successful this year has been is the Irish Times Weekend supplement today. There's a middle page spread reviewing Cork 2005 then there's a two page guide to the 25 must-attend events of 2006. Of the 22 location-specific events previewed one is located in Cork city exclusively, one is the West Cork music festival and one takes in Cork as well as Dublin and Galway. It didn't escape my notice, by the way, that nowhere else outside Dublin fares any better - but that's beside the point.

Anyway I've had a great 2005, despite the whimpering end. Here's to 2006 (raises metaphorical cup of tea in salute!)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas

My trips to Mass are restricted to Christmas, Easter and funerals (I don't do weddings!). But the Christmas service in my home parish is usually quite decent. Last year's child-centred service wasn't repeated. Instead the priest focused his sermon on the search for spirituality in lives left cold and empty by the material world we live in.

He spoke about the lyrics to the song You Raise Me Up written by Brendan Graham and how he was friendly with the girl the song was originally written for. He then said that she told him that the song was about more than his (Graham's) love for her - that it had a spiritual aspect too (to be honest I found it hard to believe a priest needed to be told there was 'deeper' meaning in the lyrics)...

When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary;
When troubles come and my heart burdened be;
Then I am still and wait here in the silence,
Until you come and sit awhile with me.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up... to more than I can be.

Unfortunately, the context of the sermon was that he was reminded of the song after receiving a gift of the new Westlife CD for Christmas from a parishioner. All I could think was "Jaysus Father! Way to alienate this catholic!!..."

Friday, December 23, 2005

Drug Stabbing Time

The advertising of pharmaceuticals is banned in Ireland (and most of the EU, I think). IMO this is a good thing, and having been to the States I'm even more convinced of that. Most people, I find, have hypochondriac tendencies to some degree or other; people with colds claiming they have the 'flu, for instance, or people claiming to have food poisoning when they just have an upset stomach or a dose of the runs; or the lunchtime conversations where one person describes how they're not well and suddenly half the people at the table are chipping in with their anecdotes about suffering the symptoms of whatever.

Particularly for the more newly-identified ailments that should be (but aren't) categorised under the broad titles 'stress' and 'fatigue', drug ads can be highly suggestive and are designed to compel the potential customer to leg it to their GP demanding a prescription for a branded drug on the grounds that they *know* what's wrong with them (having just seen the ad). And so it is with an advertising blitz by GlaxoSmithKline in the US for RLS - Restless Leg Syndrome. If ever an ailment was invented to sell drugs then this, surely, is it:

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) affects up to 10% of American adults. They may have difficulty lying down and sleeping, or sitting down and relaxing, because their legs just won't let them. Air travel and long car trips are a trial. Even enjoying a television show may be more than they can manage.

Restless Legs Syndrome can have a significant physical and emotional impact on sufferers. Symptoms may interfere with their sleep, and as a result, they may feel sleepy during the day, too tired to participate in their daily activities.

Restless Legs Syndrome is a real medical condition, like diabetes, depression, or high blood pressure. Many people are unaware that there is a name for their condition: It's called Restless Legs Syndrome.

If you've just identified yourself in that little blurb then read the How To Get Help section, it will explain to you how you can persuade your GP that you aren't stark raving mad. Those nice people at GSK have even provided a handy checklist.

A Sort Of Homecoming

Well I'm back in the Town and it feels great to be home, but things didn't work out as I planned. Seattle is a really nice place. I don't think I'd recommend visiting it (over other cities like New York or San Francisco) but it just felt like a great place to live. However, while I was there I got word that a good friend of mine, from when I lived in Shelbyville, was nearing the end after a long fight against cancer. I was just hoping she'd live long enough for me to visit her but it wasn't to be - she passed away in the early hours of Tuesday morning. I was due to stay in Boston on Tuesday night and fly to Dublin on Wednesday, but I managed to get to Boston in time to fly on a day early and land in Shannon instead - so that I could make the funeral in West Cork yesterday. Gemma was a good friend of mine - I'll miss her, RIP.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Gone

I was thinking a little more about the trenches after I wrote what I wrote yesterday:

Just think about it - two lines of men separated only by a patch of muddy field... a battle that seems to go on for ever and ever... so called 'tactics' that are just slight vatriations on 'hold the line and run at them'... levels of violence unimaginable away from those muddy fields... ferocious close-quarters fighting that may result in gains of only a few yards for incredible expenditure in human energy... toffs baying for more as men lie bleeding and broken... and fools who justify such conflict as 'heroic' and 'honourable'...

Yep, rugby really is a pile of toss...


I'm finished here in Connecticut now. Visiting Stiff in Seattle tomorrow, back to Boston on Tuesday and Dublin on Wednesday (Jebus, three six hour flights in five days...). Hitting Dublin Thursday night then back to The Town on Friday. I doubt I'll post again between now and then so... Sláinte

Overpowered By Funk

An excellent The Ticket today - music and film reviews for 2005. The boys are right - this has been a great year for tunes, not so much for mainstream cinema (although I should confess to about six trips to the cinema in the eleven years since Pulp Fiction hit the Big Screen). I just bought 11-odd songs of bands I don't already have anything of following the various reviews.

But, what has really caught my eye is a 5-star review of a new European film Merry Christmas - a story set around the Christmas Day truce of 1914. I wrote about that story last Christmas Eve - it's fascinated me ever since I saw the video for Paul McCartney's Pipes of Peace on Christmas Day 1983, when I was six. World War 1 itself fascinates me too. I realised a long time ago that, unlike World War 2, there was no clear cut 'Good versus Evil' aspect to the war. It was pretty much just a clash of mighty imperial ambitions - the most classic example of the victors writing the history of modern(ish) times, IMHO.

I must make sure to see it over Christmas...

Stay Free

I was in a mall this evening drinking a cup of coffee to pass the time when I was approached on my blind side by two guys in military uniform. Before I've even noticed their presence, one of them goes: "Son will you help defend freedom and join the Connecticut National Guard?..."

I snorted the coffee in my mouth out through my nostrils. That hurt. A lot.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Colleague

I've just got back to the desk from a yankee swap thingummy. The gist of it was that about 30 of the local staff bought $10 gifts, ordered in pizza for lunch and proceeded to swap gifts. The twist is that your name is drawn out of a hat and you select a wrapped gift. You unwrap it on the spot and can then opt to keep it or swap it for a previously unwrapped gift selected by someone else earlier. The first person drawn wouldn't get a chance to swap so they get the pick of all the gifts at the end. Therefore, from the second person onwards, your choice improves.

Both myself and Lenny bought engraveable New England Patriots (Go Pats!) mugs, which both came out of the hat early - both picked by women, neither of whom are from New England. Anyway, as bloke after bloke unwrapped things like lamps and chocolates, they all went for the mugs - so the mugs changed hands seven or eight times each. Bizarrely me and Lenny were the last two up. I got a voucher, which is of no use to me seeing as I'm finished here tomorrow, so I swapped it for a "You Might Be A Redneck If..." calendar; a) because I wanted something small and b) because Rick, the guy who had it, is sound, had been gutted to lose the Pats mug, and had been gagging to get rid of it.

Lenny, on the other hand, was well unimpressed with the selection on offer. So he swapped what he got (some kind of travel puzzle game) for his own mug back! Rick just looked at him and goes "Jeez, Lenny, dirty pool is one thing but dirty yankee swapping?!..." So I've just brow-beaten Lenny into heading over to Rick and swapping the mug for the voucher. Rick's delighted (he just rang the guy who took it off him, and later lost it, to give him abuse) and now we have a $10 Dunkin' Donuts voucher, which we'll use to get a box of donuts for everyone for coffee break in the morning as it's our last day. I'm not good at much, but I usually know my audience...

Electric Co

So it's cold, as I said, but the air is very dry - it's so dry that there is no ice on my car, or on the roads, despite the fact the temperature is now regularly dipping below -10 degC at night. Anyhoo, it being cold and all, I go to work today in my newly acquired, cheap Columbia fleece and then my day of pain begins. The WORST set of static shocks I've ever had! By the evening I was thinking twice about going out the door, holding a handrail or getting out of the car. I even gave a fella, whose hand I shook, a mad shock - which freaked him out! My hair (the same hair that looks ridiculous, as I've gone from shaving it once a week to allowing it to grow for three months) is all curled up at the ends making it look like I'm attempting some kind of mullet. All because the damn fleece was made of polyester. Ireland's 'damp cold' might be harder to take, but at least it doesn't electrocute you!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Colleague

"Brrrrr... I'm buckin freeezzzin', hey."

"really"

"Aww... d'y'know, that there is the coldest day since we got here, now."

"yeah?"

"Aww... the gerrrlzzz in Ireland wouldn't be able to handle this, d'y'know HAW, HAW, HAW!"

*silence*

"They'd really be smuggling peanuts in that weather, hey, D'Y'KNOW HEY! HAW, HAW, HAW!"

"Do you want to say that a bit louder? I'm pretty sure that not every woman currently glaring at you heard that."

"Gerrrlzzz in Ireland are always moaning about the cold there, d'yknow."

*so are you, ya bleedin' lemon*

"My feet are like blocks of ice there, hey... aww, I'm buckin' freeezzzin', hey."

"so you said."

"D'y'not think so, hey? Are you not buckin' freeezzzin' too, there?"

"Lenny. Will you shuttup! You haven't actually gone outside yet, have you?"

"AWWW... awww... well... maybe it's... well, it looks... cold... d'yknow."

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Fire

Well it only took 12 days for the good people of Cork to formulate a response to Susan Phillips fact-of-the-matter opinion piece of a couple of weeks back. Today Marcia D'Alton of Passage West town council attempts a rebuttal. She starts with "Let us get one fact straight. It is not two incinerators which have now got to virtual approval level, but three." - a line deliberately desgned to imply that poor old Cork is getting hard done by.

However it's true that there will be two burners - one for the municipal waste and one for the toxic waste. Cork industry generates the vast majority of the toxic waste currently exported from the state and Cork is the second largest urban connurbation in the state. The largest (Greater Dublin and the North East) is getting the Drogheda and (ultimately) Ringsend municipal waste incinerators. So what's her problem?

She then goes on to claim that "The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has already licensed the operation of 10 hazardous waste incinerators. Six of these are in Cork Harbour... the more serious industrial players - and major waste producers - have, quite correctly, chosen to deal on site with their own waste". Well she's wrong - that's just factually incorrect. The current licensed incinerators in Cork deal with VOC emissions (basically solvent vapours escaping from processes) to burn these emissions to CO2 and water. The quantities involved are a fraction of the toxic waste generated by the pharmaceutical industry. 99% (i.e. everything that stays in the reactors, or gets condensed back to liquid form before escaping up the vents) is still getting shipped to Germany and Finland. To be burned.

I won't go on. Ms D'Alton deliberately clouds the issue for people not up to speed with the engineering aspects of the project. For example she compares the incinerator capacity of Austria and Ireland in terms of total population. That comparison is duff - it means nothing. Does she tell us the extent of Vienna's pharmaceutical and chemical industry, information that might be relevant in making such a comparison, for example? Of course not. Does she compare the Austrian population's attitude to preventing waste accumulation with the Irish population's attitude? Of course not. Would it be relevant to mention that recycling centres only become financially viable when massive quantities of material from high population density districts are available? Yes, but it wasn't.

And then the Utopian concept, beloved of those fearing a drop in their house prices - 'zero waste'. I'll say it again Ms. Dalton; what about the shitty nappies?

Know Your Rights

Really glad I stayed out of it! You always forget that not everyone who reads this blog stuff knows your personality - they don't necessarily know how you turn a phrase or when your tongue is planted firmly in your cheek. So the chances of me 'contributing' without managing to offend someone were pretty remote. Hence studious topic avoidance up 'til now! I think I link to five women bloggers (having just counted), and they're some of the blogs I read the most. The sex of the blogger has hitherto meant nothing to me, probably because I can't see the person whose thoughts I'm reading. Hence the thoughts are all that matter - and surely that's the best thing that can be said about this lark?

A Sort Of Homecoming

Five more days in Connecticut then a three night stay with my mate Stiff in Seattle and then I'm going home. I've done a bucket load here - and not taken a single day off work to do any of it (so there can be no accusations of vacationing on company time!) But I'll be glad to be back in Ireland. Since Thanksgiving I've started to miss my family and friends back home. Three months is plenty long enough to be away. I have to work my ass off this week to cover all the bases (guff alert!) to work on my project back in Cork, but I should be fine.

However I'm a little unhappy at the amount of time I've spent doing developing. I've had to learn C++ and SQL databases on the fly over here when I was supposed to be configuring a finished programme and learning how to use it. When I complained that this was a waste of my time, the lead project guy back home informed me that I could have "a positive or a negative attitude". So remember that next time you go to the showroom to pick up your new car and get informed that you have to fit the engine yourself.

Friday, December 09, 2005

You'll Never Walk Alone

Would anyone like to partake in a little caption competition for me? First prize is the DVD...

Clampdown

Well now I'm definitely getting tested. Apparently there's an inter-union row over Christmas cover in the plant back in Cork. You see, it's too expensive to shut the place down yet everybody wants to be off, so what they do is set everything 'safe' then have 4-hour stints in which one person comes in to mind the place from 8pm Christmas Eve until 8am on the 27th - 15 4-hour stints altogether.

The thing is that the 4-hour stints are paid well (holiday OT plus 'inconvenience' bonus) so most of the union-types are happy to do it - a spin into work and a 4 hour break from the family - dossing on the 'net, watching the control systems and walking around a bit. So a row has broken out over how the slots are allocated (they're supposed to sort out themselves who does what).

There's a good chance the company will pull the cover from the union-boys this year and get us techie non-union types to do it instead. So I got a call just now to tell me that I'm going to be provisionally alloted a 4-hour stint for that time period, which for me means 4-hours to Cork, 4-hours work and 4-hours back home. I'm not entitled to OT, I should remind you.

Cork people are so blessed when it comes to investment - I don't think the rest of Ireland realises just how much Cork is awash with the cash of the big pharmaceutical companies (and now there's another two on the way). I'm used to their general arrogance now, I don't notice just how clique-y they are anymore (and I've forgiven their French-esque capitulation in the face of a fairly pathetic Shelbyville onslaught last Sunday!); but I'll never get over the greed and stupidity of their labour force.

Either they have the memories of goldfish or else their arrogance has rewritten history but Dunlop eventually buggered off because of worker unrest and Ford did the same a few years earlier. Back then the city was on its knees - in stark contrast to the way it is now - but times change. Good times come and good times go, and the yanks won't hang around for long once the Eastern European and Chinese tax laws are relaxed, if this behaviour keeps up.

Oh, and in case I forget, good enough for you Mickey. You cnut.

Oh, and Lenny got a slap from a girl for staring at her too much in a bar last night. Funny.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Gone

Meetings...

Lots of...

Guff central...

Bucks Passed... Stopping here... Mockery...

Must... not... lose... temper...

Man Yoo... SAF... Ha Ha Ha...

Philadelphia tomorrow...

Snowing here... A lot...

Lenny can't hack the cold... Big wuss...

Monday, December 05, 2005

Career Opportunities

I got a scary mail from management back home today - they're holding a 'review' of our job function at a meeting during Christmas week, which I won't be back for...

'The aim of the inquiry is to build a picture of what support and development is required going forward and to identify value and non-value added activity currently undertaken. A working team will be formed from these inquiry sessions to process the information gathered and to make recommendations for the future.'

(management guff underlined)

It sounds innocuous, but it isn't. My job function lists off pages of responsibilities before concluding with the line 'and any other roles or functions as deemed necessary by Production Management', which basically means 'you do as your told'. In a job like mine (non-union, non-management, salaried technical) you're given set targets and it's up to you to meet them. This means that while the clock-watchers, who are paid by the hour, are out the gap at 4.25 pm every day; the likes of me, who get no OT, can be in 'til any time of the day or night. On many more than one occasion I've fallen out of bed at 3am to go to work to fix some stupid cock-up - and I'll never see a brass cent for it, you do it out of professional pride and no more.

However, one of the management myths that's dumped down on the likes of us to keep us in check is that working long hours is not the company's fault - it's our own fault. Once, two years ago, when I was virtually covering the place on my own because my boss had allowed three people take holidays at the same time, I was informed that I needed to go on a Time Management Skills training course. I told the smug HR clock-watcher that if he'd like to hang around for some time-and-a-half I'd be up around 6pm to stick his training course up his hole. He left at 4.25.

So this meeting is ostensibly designed to find ways of reducing the so-called 'non-value added' workload, which in our business means investigating cock-ups and doing regulatory paper work. The thing is, the company has consciously allowed our QA department to dictate what production regulatory requirements there are (there are few hard and fast rules, just issued guidelines) and has no intention of rolling these back. Instead they want to reduce the time we spend explaining deviations by reducing the number of them. Unfortunately the method they intend choosing is introducing a 'buddy' system for the people at my level. This means that as well as being responsible for my own work I'll be partly responsible for a colleague's as well (they intend doubling the man hours without doubling the number of people), thus increasing my workload exponentially.

The implication is that delays and deviations are always our fault and that this method will reduce them, thus making the time investment 'worth it' - but, in fact, they rarely are. The mistakes are made by the unionised workers who don't give a damn and are plain careless and the delays are caused by lazy-ass clock watchers who choose being out the door on time over completing a ten-minute job that allows me to get my work done on time. But it's always our fault by extension because our 'instructions weren't clear enough' or 'training was lacking' or 'there wasn't enough notice given' or some other shite that allows management dump on us and avoid a confrontation with unions.

I have no interest in promotion so I'd happily tell the managers where to go if I was at this meeting. However too many of my colleagues are over-ambitious, jumped up lickspittles, like Lenny (who will be back in time) so they're going to say stupid things along the lines of 'teamwork', communication', 'meetings', 'metrics' and any other shit that fills their heads - basically they're going to bend over and let themselves be ridden lest they affect any future promotion opportunities. Management know this right well too, so I just might as well go with the flow I suppose.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

NOOOOOOOOooooooooooooo

%$£&*@# Shelbyville! Damn!! Cork win the League, Shelbyville win the cup. League of Ireland football exists to cause me pain - the only explanation. %$£&.

Back In Ireland

I'm so glad I'm not at home this weekend. The FAI Cup Final is on and it's Cork City v Drogheda Utd. The worst possible Cup Final pairing as far as I'm concerned but at least it'll probably be over by the time I raise myself on Sunday. The thoughts of the nation's most arrogant people picking up another national title is hard enough to accept but the thoughts of Shelbyville ever winning anything ever is just distressing! *Sigh* I suppose I'll lean for Cork to keep Drogheda's trophy cabinet drier than the Gobi desert, and keep them in their place.

I should point out that Dundalk City ladies are playing in the women's FAI Cup Final against some crowd from Galway. Another bit of silverware would be nice - especially in the most popular women's team sport in Ireland (camogie is just two-county nonsense). However, the chant "You're supposed to be at home" seems quite apt...! (sorry...)

Stories For Boys

Or probably not. Maybe one for the ladies. Depends, I suppose.

Outside a Calvin Klein outlet store in Waterford, Connecticut there's a 12 foot poster-ad of Freddie Ljungberg in his smalls. It fairly stops you in your tracks. Two girls were drooling over it when I said, more loudly than I intended, "Jayyysus Freddie, wtf?" Cue a demand to know who and what Freddie is. So I stand there, beside Freddie's 12 foot frame, explaining to some girls who he is. Not how I planned to spend some time today...

Friday, December 02, 2005

Silver And Gold

I don't get to read David McWilliams much at the moment but I trust the guy's analysis. Maybe it's the clarity with which he explains economic matters that makes me like his journalism. Anyway I've just spotted his article from last Sunday - 'We All Contribute To The Rip-Off' - and, for what it's worth, I believe he's right. Complaining about 'Rip-Off Ireland' is a nonsense. Nobody forces us to spend money like there's no tomorrow. In three months in the US, in some of the wealthiest states, I haven't seen any more rampant consumerism than I've seen in Dublin or anywhere else in Ireland any given Saturday of the year; and, with the SSIAs starting to mature in the next 6 months, it's only going to get worse. Well not me. I have one small loan that covers my car and that's it. I refuse to be up to my tits in debt just to buy into Ireland's home-owner, home-improvement lemming-oscopy. I'm not loaded but I can cover my ass for a few rainy days and that's way better than most. One day I'll be on the outside looking in with satisfaction when it all falls apart. Then I'll open a soup kitchen, because I'm not such a heartless bastard. Although the egg-chasers can feck right off if they think they'll get any of my soup.

Freedom For My People

A fitting tribute, surely?...

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Unforgettable Fire

A Susan Phillips has an op-ed piece in today's Irish Times favouring "burning over burying". Like me, she thrusts the example of shitty nappies into the faces (metaphorically) of those who pretend that recycling can solve our waste management problems. For the sake of argument approx. 61,000 children are currently born each year in Ireland. Assuming that each of these children needs to wear nappies until they're at least 2 1/2 (ok, I admit, I have absolutely no idea how long toddlers need to wear nappies for), that all these babies survive that long, and that they each soil at least two nappies a day; then we in Ireland currently send some 111,325,000 nappies to landfill each year. Smelly.

Article in full (forgive me Ms Kennedy):

'The burning of waste with energy recovery is the only sensible system available to us now, writes Susan Philips

The recent decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to issue licences for incinerators at Carranstown on the Meath/Louth border, and Ringaskiddy in Co Cork may at last mark a change in our treatment of waste. Both projects will be operated by Indaver Ireland, a subsidiary of a Belgian company which specialises in waste management.

For those who continue to oppose incineration, only a successful challenge concerning wrong procedural practices in the planning process can reverse the decisions. The EPA states that it is satisfied that the operation of both facilities will not endanger human health or harm the environment, so why all the fuss? Unfortunately what should have been a scientific debate has sunk into a political point scoring exercise where fear is fuelled by ignorance, egged on by political opportunism.

Modern technology uses fancy names to define various disposal methods for the increasing volumes of waste brought by an affluent society, but they all fit into the slogan "reuse, recycle, burn or bury". Going back as far as 1998 the Government policy statement, Changing our Ways, endorsed the European model of "a hierarchy of waste" where incineration is placed above landfill which is shown at the bottom of the pile.

Since then, some strides have been made in the area of recycling, and the general public, faced with high refuse bag charges, have seriously bought in to the concept. But it is the burn or bury part of what remains of the waste which so exercises our imaginations.

Faced with this choice, Ireland remains the only EU member state prepared to ignore technological progress in favour of consigning to Irish fields and valleys billions of dirty nappies annually along with other disgusting unmentionables such as dead cats, soiled mattresses, scraped up motorway badgers, and every other form of household and municipal waste. The fact that waste takes decades to rot, that methane rises and poisonous leachate descends, seems not to bother the green lobby, transfixed as they are with the mantra "zero waste policy" and anti-incineration rhetoric. Yes modern landfills have made enormous strides with liners and operational procedures, and they are all we have, but the main beneficiaries include the local vermin, the lawyers and the operators.

But change could be on its way. At Carranstown, a municipal incinerator could burn the vast majority of the area's household waste, and in addition heat local factories and homes. A fair deal you would imagine, unless of course we fail to catch the dioxins, the by-product of any incineration process. All three basic components of chlorinated dioxins (carbon, oxygen and chlorine) are everywhere present in nature, but with incineration, dioxins are formed as a result of too low a temperature burn, or inappropriate gas-washing equipment.

The American Federal Environmental Agency reported recently that household trash burned in one backyard barrel may release more dioxins, furans and other chlorine-containing pollutants into the air than hundreds of tonnes of trash burned by a major municipal waste incinerator. So how do the Europeans assess their options?

It is unlikely that the Viennese would be sufficiently ignorant to allow dioxins to be rained down upon their highly successful parade yet they have chosen to embrace the latest technology available by placing their plant with its art deco chimney facade bang smack in the centre of their city.

"It cuts down the truck travelling" is their rationale and an electronic chart visible from the passing trams informs the public daily on what the vapour contains, information which the Viennese take seriously and believe. In complete contradiction to Ciaran Cuffe's recent opinion that incineration leads to the perpetuation of waste generation rather than elimination, Austria is way up the scale of recycling whilst goody two shoes Germany, the arch recycler of Europe, has banned any untreated substance from what few landfills remain.

Meanwhile, Switzerland the Clean dug up her remaining landfills in the 1990s and trucked the contents to incinerators rather than pollute their valleys further.

But when we turn our attention to the removal of hazardous waste, we do not have the luxury of running it into the Cork drains or countryside. In order to keep the pharmaceutical and industrial plants of Ireland open, the vast majority of these chemical byproducts are exported to Continental venues for treatment and disposal. Recent EU policy states that such treatment must be near to the source of supply, and since these directives now have teeth to bite, Ringaskiddy in Cork was chosen as the venue for Ireland's first toxic burner. Hundreds of thousands of jobs, mainly in the southeast of the country, depend upon us getting this right.

So why has it taken so long to get two incinerators, one municipal, and one toxic, to virtual approval level? Yes, we have a protracted method for obtaining permission for both planning licences, and we have An Bord Pleanála to settle the appeals.


But the heart of the answer lies in our election system which necessitates politicians being all things to all people, imbued as they are in the knowledge that to avoid an anti-incinerator meeting, or to attend and speak against the flow, might well lose them the all important 7th preference votes. The public knows this well, and fuelled by misinformation concerning severe health hazards, the lobby takes on a power and force of its own.

Why otherwise would so many local Cork representatives blatantly condemn the Ringaskiddy plant as "gambling with the health of the people of Cork" whilst hypocritically allowing the same toxic waste to be trucked off to inconvenience the townsfolk of Dusseldorf?

If recent legislation had not been initiated to transfer most waste management powers away from the councillors and into the hands of unelected managers, both proposed incinerators would have long since died a natural death in the chambers of elected power.

We must all face up to the reality that with waste treatment, tough political decisions have to be made. To assume that "zero waste" is the solution is about as ridiculous as telling Mary Harney that the answer to crowded hospital corridors is zero illness. The burning of waste with energy recovery is the only present sensible system available to us. No doubt in the due course of time, innovative systems will include enclosed plants.

Susan Philips is a former independent member of Wicklow County Council'

.................
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Lenny was quiet this morning, save for the gassy belches (you know he doesn't even realise he does it?!). Then, before lunch, he hit me with "Awww... d'you think I eat a lot, hey?"
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So I say "What's wrong with you now?"
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"Awww, last night you reee-marked in the pizza place about how fast I ate my Cal-zone-eee, d'y'know."
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"Well, you said you didn't want to go, that you weren't hungry and then demolished it in less than 5 minutes while everyone else was still unfolding their napkins, then asked me for a slice of mine."
.
"Awww, it wasn't that big, hey."
.
"It's supposed to feed two people."
.
"Maybe I was just more hungry than I realised - my stomach has been acting up again, d'y'know."
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*damn right I bloody know* "So what's your problem?"
.
"D'y'know... I'm just wondering if you think I eat a lot, hey."
.
"It's lunchtime, you probably ought to wipe the chocolate off your chin from that slice of cake you had before we head over..."
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