Posted by Jason O on Jun 30, 2010 in Books
Just finished “Winter Kills“, by Richard Condon, who is most famous for writing the (twice filmed) thriller “The Manchurian Candidate.” The book is set and was written in 1974, and is the story of an investigation by the younger brother of President Timothy Kegan into his brother’s JFK style assassination in 1960. It’s basically a secret history of the JFK killing, and follows the brother’s efforts, alongside his Joe Kennedy-esque father, to discover who really killed the president when a dying man confesses to being the second shooter.
It boasts a salty, sexist humour and the story rattles along nicely, taking the reader up and down so many false or possibly false leads that you’re not sure who is telling the truth about anything. It’s an entertaining journey which goes full throttle right to the last heavily symbol laden page. Incidentally, it was made into a movie starring Jeff Bridges and John Huston in 1979.
Posted by Jason O on Jun 29, 2010 in British Politics
The recent slump in the Lib Dems’s poll ratings indicates a situation that is typical in many a coalition situation. Those who support the coalition naturally gravitate towards the larger partner, and those against vote for the opposition, thus leaving the relatively nuanced junior coalition party squeezed, despite its achievements at modeating the behaviour of the main party. What is even more worrying for the Lib Dems is the fact that in most coalition systems PR exists, allowing those parties to at least deliver for their key constituencies, thus shoring up their base vote. Unfortunately, this is hard to do under first past the post, and possibly even more difficult under the alternative vote.
Yet, the Lib Dems still have options. In both Ireland and Germany, small liberal parties managed to counter the challenge of “coalition suffocation” by appealing directly to the moderate voters of the main party, asking them to lend them their votes to ensure that the coalition remains moderate. It’s a tricky manouvere to pull off, especially as it means the Lib Dems effectively identifying their coalition choice before an election, but it can work. Ironically, a bust up, with defections to Labour, may actually help the Lib Dems convince moderate Tory voters to help keep the coalition in by voting Lib Dem 1, Tory 2 under an AV system. Stranger things have happened.
Posted by Jason O on Jun 29, 2010 in Just stuff
, Latest News
Just back from Prague, where I spent a gorgeous weekend with the love-of-my-life. I won’t give a travelogue, as there are those capable of being far more comprehensive than me, but a few observations.
Stayed in the Park Inn (www.prague.parkinn.cz) which, although a little further out of the city centre than you’d like, is well served by a tram that can get you in, in less than 10 minutes. They do a nice breakfast (I always judge a place by its scrambled eggs, and they passed with flying colours) and it is worth getting a “business-friendly” room for it’s airiness.
Took an evening dinner cruise, which was slightly naff, but the food was good and sitting on a open deck on a warm summer evening going through Prague is really very pleasant, and a good way of getting your bearings.
Had a meal in Dynamo (www.dynamorestaurace.cz/), where the service was a little slow, but the modern European food was excellent, and reasonably priced, and the murderous decor has to be seen to be believed.
Prague is a great city to stroll about on a warm summer evening, absolutely jammers with small pubs and restuarants full of character. One tip: The tram system is very handy, but plan when you want to get it, as tram ticket machines aren’t that plentiful (mostly in metro stations) and keep your coins, as the machines don’t accomodate note laden tourists.
Posted by Jason O on Jun 26, 2010 in Irish Politics
I was 37 this month, and whereas I may look it, or going by the rapidly expanding grey in my beard, may look like I’ve overshot it, I don’t feel it. That’s a common reaction. The fact is, due to better healthcare and diets we do not age as harshly as our forefathers. Sixty today is not what it was, bad hip and cataract inflicted, 30 years ago. We’re living longer, and as a result it makes sense that there has to be some sort of linkage between retirement age and life expectancy.
So, why not sweeten the bitter pill? Why not let people who are eligible for the state pension continue to work, if they wish, and in return for postponing claiming the state pension not require them to pay income tax. Obviously, we’ll have to have upper thresholds to stop the creativity of the Irish turning the whole thing into a tax fiddle, but the logic is sound, surely? It saves the state money, because it does not have to fork out a pension for a few more years. It gives the citizen a substantial boost before retirement, and helps reduce pensioner poverty. And it keeps someone still willing to make a contribution in the workforce. Surely it is worth at least discussing?
Of course, one of the anomalies we’ll discover is that many people will be surprised to find that they didn’t actually pay that much tax in the first place, and will be pointing the finger at those who did, roaring about “unfairness”. Perhaps they will even demand compensation for not having been heavily taxed enough?
Posted by Jason O on Jun 25, 2010 in Irish Politics
Listening to Sinn Fein’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin talk about the possible visit of the British queen, he made an odd point, saying that her role as commander in chief of the British Army made her unwelcome. This is purely a symbolic role, in that she does not actually makes decisions. But if he does believe that the symbolism is of importance, then surely the fact that the vast majority of Sinn Fein elected representatives are paid by the British government means that, symbolically, most shinners actually work for Mrs Windsor? But then, as the Stakeknife affair proved, that isn’t really much of a surprise.
I’ve never understood the obsession with her visiting. We did actually win the war of independence, and as such, having the head of state of another friendly power visit isn’t that big a deal. I actually think Sinn Fein are smart enough to recognise that whilst they will formally object, if only to keep their knuckle dragging wing happy (the sort of people who would have a fight with an English muffin) they’ll probably keep a low profile during the actual visit, as having her hit by an egg (or something worse, like a 7.62mm round) will not actually do them or the country any good. They’re smart enough to realise that, as in the UK, some of the queen’s most enthusiastic supporters tend to be working class. Don’t forget, this woman has spent 57 years of her life doing this, and if there was to be a row between Sinn Fein and the aul wans of Dublin, I know who I’d put my money on. Having said that, watch as the whole “curtsy” debate kicks off. Should female ministers curtsy? I say no. It’s not our tradition, and it is, after all, our country. It’ll also be funny to see if Brian Cowen does a Paul Keating and slips an arm around her.
Posted by Jason O on Jun 24, 2010 in Irish Politics
Just watched Sam Smth’s “The PDs: Boom to Bust.” Brought back a lot of memories, but what really struck me was the fact that what others deemed Thatcherite when referring to PD policies back then is now the norm, particularly on tax and competition. FF, FG and Labour’s policies today are far closer to the hated PD policies of 1985 then they are to their own policies of the time.
The other interesting thing was the failure of the PDs to actually identify and solidify a loyal PD vote. In my own mind, I think this is partially due to our electoral system which pretty much demands candidates try and minimise the differences between them and other candidates, and that in turn means that after a while voters begin to ask what is the point in actually voting for the likes of the PDs or Greens, especially when so many of the candidates (particularly true of the PDs in later years) are not really “PDs” in the sense of actually subscribing to a unique PD identity. It also raises a question about the psyche of the Irish voter. Small parties like Labour (Yes, historically, Labour have been a small party) the PDs and the Greens have attracted voters who tend to be quite purist, and so drop the party faster when it compromises, which it has to, being as we live in a coalition system. This is a challenge the Greens are going to have to face very soon.
The documentary did make one interesting point about Michael McDowell. His party support in Dublin South East was incredibly loyal to him because Michael was incredibly loyal to them. At every party meeting, Michael would make sure that every member got their say with him, and it’s an image that jars with the incorrect public image of him. I have to say that I find the images of Michael losing his seat the most distressing, even though by then I had quit the party because I disagreed with him. The reality of Michael McDowell is that he was what Irish people always said they wanted their politicians to be: Straight about where he stood on issues, personally honest, and one of the few people in Irish politics who actually took a pay cut to be involved in politics. I disagreed with his “left baiting” and his growing euroscepticism, but I never doubted that he was in politics out of a belief that he could make the country better for the people who live in it. You just can’t say that about every politician.
One other point: A lot of attention was given to Mary Harney’s remarks about social welfare and single mothers during the 1997 general election, and how they “damaged” the party during the campaign. My memory, during canvassing in both middle class and working class areas, was that the proposal had a neutral effect, being welcomed and attacked in equal measure. It was the public sector cuts that really did in the party, because it mobilised anti-PD transfers without mobilising pro-public sector reform votes in favour of the party.
By 2007, was there any room left for the PDs? The voters obviously didn’t think so, and it has to be said that the PDs struggled to give them a reason why they should stay with the party. Although the party hated the “watchog” label, the fact was, it was an identity that PD friendly voters could identify with, and the fact that the party, for various reasons, failed to “take out” or even try to remove Bertie after his finances became public seriously hurt the party. In policy terms, the party that had been a trailblazer on church and state issues and tax reform and competition (and the environment, something people forget. Mary Harney got rid of the smog in Dublin and set up the EPA) had run out of new ideas, or rather, had become too comfortable with its existing ideas. Inside the party, the only thing that was ever talked about with vigour was cutting taxes, which was all well and good except that at this stage, even the Labour Party supported tax cuts.
Finally, did the PDs drop the ball on public spending? There’s an argument for this, but we have to remember that advocating cuts in public spending pre 2007 would not have been just brave, but would actually have come across as being weird. We have the money, the Irish voters would have said, why not spend it? The fact is, this country is just not big enough to sustain a party that would have wanted to do the right thing for the long term. Benchmarking, on the other hand, and Mary Harney has admitted this, was where the PDs did fail, not ensuring results for the vast sums of money paid out. But again, people forget: When the PDs did advocate public sector reform in 1997, they lost half their seats.
Posted by Jason O on Jun 23, 2010 in Irish Politics
You can't have a mortgage because it's, eh, raining.
The Financial Regulator, Mr. Matthew Elderfield, has launched an investigation into the provision of mortgages by Irish banks after a number of complaints were lodged by mortgage seekers. An unnamed source remarked: “A citizen complained that one bank refused approval because the house did not have “solar shielding, like in that film with Cillian Murphy about the spaceship that went to the Sun.” The Banks are running ads saying that they are providing mortgages, presumably to reassure the public who have baled them out. Yet people who are approved for mortgages are finding that the banks are using spurious reasons to deny final approval despite agreeing to nominal approval.”
Some customers have complained about bank’s refusing on the grounds that “the concentration of oxygen in the house is a fire risk” and that “gravity inside the property exceeds EU standards.” Other houses have been refused funds because “the feng shui is all wrong”, “Jupiter isn’t in line with Aquarius” and “the house feels kind of yocky.”
A spokesperson for the banks has denied the allegations, stating that the reasons given were no more fantastic than the reasons used for normal banking practices such as justifying loans to directors.
Posted by Jason O on Jun 22, 2010 in European Union
Imagine it was 1945, weeks after the first use of atomic weapons, and a parliament had sat down to discuss a country’s national defence policy in this new world. Imagine that parliament then got embroiled in a furious row over what colour uniforms their nation’s cavalry officers should wear.
Welcome to Europe, 2010. We live in a world where economic crisis, global warming, sex and drug trafficking and terrorism is caused by global factors. Where religious fundamentalism of all hues threatens liberal “live and let live” values. Where one party state capitalism dictatorship, in the form of China, is the coming power of the new century, as it attracts other countries to its model as opposed to the “messy and inefficient” western model of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.
Meanwhile, in Europe we still clutch to red pencil lines drawn on a paper map in 1945 to protect us.
More and more, The French, British, and Germans just don’t really matter anymore, and if they’re struggling to be relevant in the world, just imagine how hard it is for Ireland. But what really brings a bright red burning hue to our cheeks is the fact that all of us as Europeans think that we do actually matter. The British think they matter in Washington, yet Iraq (and more recently, BP) has shown that they have marginal influence. The French swagger about the world pretending to still be a great power, yet when Kosovo and Bosnia needed military might, France was as useful as a man with an ice cream mickey staring into a furnace. Germany has just settled for having a nice middle class lifestyle and hoping nobody tries to break in through the bathroom window.
We haven’t walked off the pitch: the pitch has moved and we are too dumb to notice the goalposts have been carried away by a load of diligent Chinese and Brazilians. Europe is willingly becoming to the world what Leitrim is to Ireland. Nice, occasionally heard of, but not at the centre of things, and certainly not where the big decisions are made.
As the Chinese model of one party dictatorship gathers supporters across the world on a daily basis, and international air traffic transmits diseases across the planet in mere hours, we clutch to scraps of paper with words like “national sovereignty” on them and worry that someone wants to look at our budget and see how many paperclips we buy each year.
Eurosceptics and unenthused Euro-integrationists still seem to think that the big choice is between remaining self-empowered nation states, or being part of an integrated, united Europe. But it’s not. As Timothy Garton Ash said recently, this century will be “an age of giants” The choice is between Europeans pooling our power, or else teaching our kids how to show proper respect to their new Chinese masters, the men (and it will be men) who will run the 21st Century through sheer economic will, if we choose to let them. We stand ready to let the euro, one of the great achievements of European co-operation, fragment and possibly self-destruct because we are not willing to make the final step towards fiscal union that can save it, clutching still to those red pencil lines. Will a return to the Franc and the Punt really be liberation for us, or toss us out, bobbing in the waves in our respective dinghys in the path of the juggernauts?
Europe: As the rest of the world is unveiling its automated attack drones and stealth weapons and wielding its economic might, it is time we stop proudly pointing at the glistening, highly polished buttons on our horses’ saddles.
Posted by Jason O on Jun 21, 2010 in Not quite serious.
Kim Jong il, dictator of North Korea, has reportedly been so alarmed at the deterioration of his country’s image and reputation in the world that he has decided to appoint a globally renowned figure to represent the Hermit Kingdom in New York.
A North Korean source said: “We’re a laughing stock in the world. We needed someone who will make us look more like a normal regime, and when the Great Leader met The Joker, it was hard not to see the synergy between the two men. Now the world can look at our UN ambassador and say to itself: Ah, I see where these guys are coming from. As well as that, The Joker has promised to fund the position himself. I don’t know where he gets the time, what with his obsessive fascination with the internal architecture of banks and vaults. The Dear Leader, seeing this, remarked to me that “I hope this guy isn’t some sort of nut. We don’t need to be associated with some wacko.” Curiously, that’s almost exactly what one of The Joker’s henchmen said to me about the Dear Leader. Great minds, eh?”
In an unrelated move, the White House has confirmed that it will be appointing Gotham City industrialist (and early Obama fundraiser) Bruce Wayne as UN ambassador. The move came as a surprise, given Wayne’s playboy reputation. President Obama, a lifelong friend of the billionaire, praised Mr. Wayne’s many talents, stressing that the ambassador-designate had many hidden skills.
Posted by Jason O on Jun 20, 2010 in Irish Politics
We'll show dem bastards up in Dublin.
“Mayo has it!” A Fine Gael councillor shouted outside Leinster House on the news that Enda Kenny had won the motion of confidence. Mayo has it? It’s a telling remark, because it highlights an issue that has been there, is noticed, but doesn’t get as much attention as it should, because it has a significant effect on Irish politics. I’m talking, of course, about the urban-rural divide, and in particular, the Greater Dublin/Everyone else divide.
There have been quite a few people who have voiced an opinion to me that the move against Enda is a Dublin Four conspiracy, and in particular, media driven. Is there a Dublin bias against country politicians?
Not if you ask Mary Hanafin, Eamonn Gilmore, Lucinda Creighton (born in Mayo, elected in D4), Joe Higgins, Tom Kitt, Pat Rabbitte, Richard Bruton, Olivia Mitchell, Mary Upton, Joe Costello or Finian McGrath, all of whom have been elected to represent Dublin constituencies. Maybe we should ask all those born and bred Dubliners elected to represent non Dublin constituencies. Like…em…eh. I see. (By the way, I struggled to find someone born and raised in Dublin elected outside Dublin, but am ready to be corrected)
But aside from that, the other issue is one of culture. Dublin elected Charlie Haughey and Ray Burke and Liam Lawlor and Ivor Callely, so Dublin isn’t perfect. But it also denied Haughey a majority, and sacked Liam Lawlor and Ivor Callely at election time.
But then, consider the Flynns and the Healy-Raes and Michael Lowry. The fact that the Flynns and Lowry and Healy-Rae were held in such low esteem in Dublin almost certainly helped them get elected. To show Dublin. There are voters who voted for the Flynns and Jackie Healy-Rae and Lowry to say to Dublin “F**k you. This is who we are.”
And you know what? Dublin looks at the Healy-Raes and the Flynns and Michael Lowry and probably agrees. But let’s be honest. There are faults on both sides. The country is undoubtedly Dublincentric, and one only had to look at the situation when Galway had its water crisis. If that had been Dublin, population difference notwithstanding, it would have been declared a national emergency.
But the other side is that Dublin sees someone like Dick Spring sacked by Kerry voters the same day they elect Jackie Healy-Rae (Two different contituencies, admittedly) and wonders about how parts of the country see themselves. And there is also the fact that in a political system that is dominated by non-Dubliners (Only one party leader is a Dubliner, and name all the FF cabinet ministers who are Dubliners, I dare you) who is responsible for centralising all power in Dublin anyway? Why didn’t our Taoisigh from Offaly, Meath, Longford, Cork or Clare create proper local government for the rest of the country to run their own affairs without Dublin interference? Was it because non-Dublin never asked? Or was it because they wanted taxpayers from other counties than their own to pay for it? Or is it because deep down they know that the rest of the country dominates Irish politics more than Dublin does?
And what about D4 trying to force its ways on the rest of the country, then?What ways? When Dublin voted Yes to Divorce in 1986, the rest of the country vetoed Dublin. But what Dublin values has Dublin forcibly imposed on the rest of the country? What strange, alien, unIrish ideas has D4 tried to subjugate the rest of the country to? Trying to fight political corruption, and asking politicians to account for taxpayers money? Trying to stop ministers committing perjury? John O’Donoghue’s expenses were paid by Kerry taxpayers every week through PAYE. Do those same taxpayers really believe that it’s just D4 being “all fancy” asking questions about what happened to the taxes of Kerry taxpayers? Seriously?