Monday, April 16, 2012

The Nerd Stuff - I Love Switches

So as I may have mentioned below, I'm a little beat at turning 30. In particular, my long-held ambition (that I was seriously just about to get around to doing) of becoming a military pilot is now beyond the ability of my feeble elderly reflexes to pursue. So what shall I do instead?

A mature course of action would be to take up a new hobby- perhaps learn French, take up sailing, or beginning knitting a quilt. All of which are highly productive activities, which would add a line to my otherwise barren CV (except the quilt knitting - I don't see employers taking me seriously with that one).

Of course, the key word there is mature. If I was mature, would I seriously be writing this blog during office hours, just so you, the guy who was googling "quilt porn" could read this?


So instead of doing something productive with my time, I'm going to do something time-consuming, mentally taxing, and ultimately completely unproductive instead.

I'm going to learn to fly (or play, really) Falcon 4 and DCS Black Shark - at the same time.

In full realism mode.

That's right, full realism mode. And I realise that for most of you, that makes absolutely no bloody sense whatsoever.

Suffice to say, both of these games (games? Works of art more like) are incredibly nerdy, with the player/ allegedly responsible adult masquerading as a pilot having to flip numerous switches and toggles just to get the damn engines to start (seriously, in Black Shark you have to manually open the cockpit door to talk to the imaginary ground crew).

I loved these games when I was a kid, loved the in-depth knowledge required, loved the excessive obsession with detail (it's shocking I wasn't invited to more parties).

At first glance, two things jump out at me:

1) How the hell did 16 year old me (let alone 12 or 11 year old me) memorise this many buttons?

2) Was younger me as comfortable with the very true-to-life campaigns in these games? In Falcon, you take part in a NATO campaign over Yugoslavia (closely resembling the real thing) or in a campaign against North Korea (reflecting the near future, perhaps). In Black Shark you are, no kidding, taking part in a Russian campaign in the Black Sea region, against Georgia. Was teenage me at all perturbed by the thoughts of my digital missiles mirroring the flight of real-life missiles? Or is this just the thinking of an addled, 30 year old Guardian reader?

The Oddest Age: Turning 30

From, ironically.

I know that it's not old, really. These days reaching 30 means that, on average, you still have well over half of your life to run. But in many respects 30 is the age when the doors of childhood dreams do start slamming shut on you, and you are left with the sort of life options that your school guidance councillor would applaud, but that teenage would view as the worst of bourgeois sell-outs ('cos teenage you is, like, totally a communist).

Admittedly, when I say childhood dreams, I do mean childhood - a mature adult would have put these childish hopes away by now. But I am no liar, and I have never claimed to be mature. So, it is a bit sobering that at 30, the odds of Glasgow Celtic calling you up to begin a glittering career in top flight Scottish hooliganism football, are slim. At 30, you are probably cutting it fine if you are hoping to become a war correspondent, and leaving it a bit late to begin a sparkling career as a field archaeologist who later goes on to discover the lost city of Atlatis. Your hopes of becoming a fire-fighter cowboy astronaut millionaire are also slim. Most galling of all, I am now unable to pursue my long cherished ambition of becoming an elite fighter pilot, throught the fatal combination of being too old, fat and short-sighted to possibly fly a fast jet - up till now I had only been too fat and short-sighted. And I could have dealt with those problems, if only I had the time. If only I had the time!

But worst of all about turning 30 is that, while the ridiculous goals of youth, the ones torn sloppily from Boys Own with only the thinnest veneer of reality to convince yourself they are possible, are now gone, the sort of "ambitions" adults have are still far from your grasp. At 30 you can decide that far from bringing mankind's presence to Mars, your hopes now rest on becoming Regional Sales Director for Insurance and Assurance Products, with a special focus on Reinsurance for the Meat Processing Industry, with administrative responsibilityfor staff throughout the greater Des Moines urban area - the only problem is, at 30 you've still got a lot of work to do to reach this dull, grey goal. At 30, the banks won't lend to you to start your bespoke cup-holder company. At 30, you are either still renting, or you own a starter home - i.e. you're starting here, so you sure as hell don't want this to be where you finish. Life has told you what you can't do, but is still teasing you about what (if anything) you can.

30 is the oddest of ages, all the good doors are locked to you - and all the others are not really worth opening.

As you will see above, I intend to address this 1/3rd life crisis through the medium of nerdism, and excessive switchology.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Creeping Censorship in Greece

Have you ever heard of Yanis Varoufakis? I have to confess that until recently I certainly hadn't, but I'm glad that I've now found his blog. As a Greek economist, who can clearly see the fundamental flaws of the EU's response to the financial crisis, he provides an insightful analysis of why Europe is fighting a losing battle in shoring up Greek (and Irish and Portuguese and Spanish) debt, and in effect, underlines that we in Ireland are not crazy to question the bail-out - on the contrary, we are insane to go along with it. Additionally, reading his blog is a refreshing antidote to the suggestions emanating from northern Europe that Greece is in the position it is because of the inherent "fecklessness" or "irresponsibility" of its population - on the contrary, the citizens of Greece, like their counterparts in Ireland and indeed throughout the EU, are suffering because feckless or irresponsible investors are not being burned.

Varoufakis's latest blog post is quite disturbing, however, suggesting a creeping censorship developing in Greece that is attempting to hush up those who are suggesting that the EU and the Greek political elites are on a losing path. What is truly worrying, however, is that much of the subtle silencing of dissent that Varoufakis describes is already clearly practised in Ireland. Witness RTE's apology over a report on a jokey portrait of Biffo (understandably - why would the national broadcaster report on a protest against the government! Nothing to see here folks, move on), and we are well used to the media and government teaming up in serious group think (be it regarding the property boom, the banking guarantee, the need for Nama, or the Lisbon Treaty). The trouble is, in a crisis like this dissent is the most valuable commodity you can have. Only by considering every option can you truly decide what path is correct - and in such a time of extraordinary difficulty, the apparently maddest policy might actually turn out to be the best path forward. Don't forget, in 1940 "sane and sensible" voices were urging Britain to make peace with Germany - Churchill was seen as a warmonger for wanting to continue fighting.

Despite the many flaws Europeans see in the American system of government, one area in which the US beats Europe hands down is in freedom of speech. No matter how distasteful your views, whether you want to burn the Koran or protest against homosexuality at the funeral of fallen soldiers, you are allowed to do so. And the inherent competion in the US media ensures that no matter how crazy your beliefs, be they on the far-right or the far-left, you will be heard. Exposure to public opinion acts like natural selection for theories and beliefs - the weakest are killed off, while the strongest are recognised by wider society as having some merit. In Europe, we seem to be intent on developing a plan for dealing with the economic crisis via ideological creationism from on high - only it is very clear that the divine touch is clearly absent.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Paddywhackery and the Death of Irish Ambition

POTUS arrived today - I've just watched Barack Obama land at Dublin airport with an aerial entourage of Chinooks and Blackhawks larger than the Irish Air Corps. This visit, like that of the Queen last week, represents a major opportunity for Ireland to portray itself as a modern nation, and not just the newest, most bankruptiest lander of Germany. But unlike the visit of Her Majesty last week, it seems we are intent on squandering the exposure of Obama's trip on cheap paddywhackery.

Her Majesty's itinerary included a visit to the Tyndall Institute in Cork, a leading research facility in Ireland. She went to the GAA's headquarters, Croke Park, which is the site with great historical resonance of course, but also exhibits the abilities and capabilities of one of Ireland's greatest civic organisations. Even when we did play the old "luck of the Irish" card with Lizzie, we brought her to places like the Guiness Brewery and the National Stud, which while playing up to the national stereotypes of the Irish as hard drinkers who like the races, at least also exhibit Ireland's industrial prowess in two commercial sectors in which we have real form. In Britain, Ireland has been portrayed as a great place to visit - but also a perfect site for investment or research collaboration.

But where will President Obama go? I don't spite the people of Moneygall in Co. Offaly their visit from the leader of the free world - the visit will do great things for their area, and I hope the capitalise on it (I see one entrepreneur is doing great business selling T-Shirts to the US printed with the phrase "Is Feidir Linn" - the Irish for "Yes We Can"!) . But on the way back to Dublin could we not see if Marine One would drop in to Intel? Or maybe into Microsoft in Sandyford? True, I know that a Democratic president might be reluctant to highlight American companies investing in jobs abroad - but such a stop-off on his tour would at least highlight that Ireland offers Amercia more than just pubs and great, great grandfathers.

All the talk around this visit has been about boosting tourism, encouraging American desires to visit Ireland. In the short term that is a laudable goal, and will bring some money into the country - but nations do not get rich on tourism alone. The world leaders in tourist numbers last year were France, the US and China. But, to take China as an example, tourism has not produced that nation's stunning economic performance - rather, the growth in its tourism sector has been fuelled by gains won in other sectors first. Ireland should encourage tourism - but we need to develop all sectors of our exporting economy. After all, we all know what happened the last time our economy became a one-trick property pony.

Ah, maybe I'm just being cranky. I suppose I just don't like the leprechaun cliches too much - especially as the stereotype never seems to extend to the Irish having pots of gold.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ireland Gets Schooled in International Affairs

One of the most interesting revelations from the article by Dr. Doom (known to mere mortals as Morgan Kelly) in last Saturday's Irish Times was the role played by the United States in "torpedoing" (to use DD's phrase) a plan by the IMF to offer Ireland a bail-out on terms far less onerous than those subsequently secured under the actual ECB/IMF deal.

At first, I was shocked that Treasury Secretary Geithner could stab us in the back so ruthlessly - et tu Timmy? Sinking Ireland's recovery just because you don't like the idea of burning bondholders? Worried about the questions it might raise about your own government's policies?

My emotive gut-reaction was almost to engage in a bout of anti-Americanism - quite a change from a week earlier when I had been tempted to join in with the chants of "USA! USA! USA!" following the events in Abbotabad. I am, for an Irishman, a sufficient right-wing nutjob that America can do little wrong in my eyes. Which makes it all the more painful that the US has tag-teamed with the German's and Brussels to stamp all over us, and pin the poor investments of European bankers on the Irish taxpayer.

Of course, my initial teary-eyed whinging soon gave way to more sober realism - this is what nations, particularly powerful ones, do. They protect their interests. In fact, this is one reason why I admire the United States - it stands up for its interests, and pays heed to the international community only as a means to make to get its ends accomplished. When such international structures get in the way, they are ignored. The SEAL operation in Abbotabad was, at least as a violation of Pakistani sovereignty, illegal. But it was in America's best interests, so international law be damned. It might be brutal, but you have to admire the almost elegant pragmatism.

The problem with our politicians in Ireland is they actually believe this "international community" guff - they think the EU is a happy club of European nations that aims to treat all members equally, rather than a structure for the major European powers to exert their soft power. We have benefited greatly from membership of the European club - but Germany has also done well out of the Union. After all, where would Germany's export economy be now without the wider Eurozone to dampen down the inflationary pressures? How much would a Merc cost if it was manufactured in a Deutschmark economy. Similarly, at the 4th attempt (counting the Franco-Prussian War), Germany is now able to exert real political power throughout Europe, almost unopposed by any of the other formerly great European powers. And without the, eh, unpleasantness of the last few attempts.

Germany is a big country, and big countries like to exert influence; there is nothing inherently wrong with that. The injustice lies in the fact that our political elite feel that there is some moral onus on them to meekly accept this influence. Today, we are witnessing the massive price Ireland has paid for missing out on the Second World War (admittedly, there would have been some downsides to taking part!). Nations of similar size and political weight to us, such as Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands, didn't get to skip the whole "apocalypse made real" thing between 1939 and 1945 - they had to deal with a war, not just an "Emergency". As such, they know that sovereignty and independence are precious, but also fragile. They know that a nation can be here today and Anschlussed tomorrow. What's more, they understand that if you engage in messy governance, wink at corruption, or ignore systemic economic problems, you are increasing the risk that you will lose your say over your own country. Great powers are always looking to gobble up more territories, and will add you to their empire/sphere of influence/bloc or whatever they're calling it these days, if you present them with an opportunity.

But in Ireland, our leaders don't see that. They think the Finns are listening to Timo Soini because of anti-immigrant sentiment. They assume the Danes stayed out of the Euro because of small-minded obstinancy. They think the Dutch Finance Minister is backing Ireland's low, low corporation tax because the Dutch are just nice guys. The simple fact is the Finns don't want to pay for a Euro bailout, and voted accordingly; the Danes realised that their "small, open economy" would be derailed by a common currency, and the Dutch are thinking "hang on, if the Irish aren't allowed set their own taxes, how long till we start getting told how to run the show here?". These countries take their national interests, their sovereignty as states, seriously, because not that long ago they were nearly wiped out. In Ireland, meanwhile, the great and the good want to keep Europe happy, on the off-chance they might be made EU Commissioner for Science and Innovation.

C'mon guys - whip out a copy of "the Prince", learn to bluff, and go give Brussels the "Blazing Saddles" defence. We are going to suffer economic Armageddon regardless - let's see what happens if we play the Big Boys (and Big Girls, Angela) at their own game. Threaten to visit financial hellfire on their heads, and see if they are worthy of the status of "Great Power". Otherwise, get use to being relegated from "national leaders" to "provincial politicians". If you want to lead a nation, get to know how the real world beyond our island actually works.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Time to Saddle Up the Old Blog Burro Once More...

So, there has been a slight, tiny lapse in my blogging. A small gap, of only a wee 6 months or so. A mere blink of an eye! Sure what did I really miss while I was away, distracted by work, ground under yet further by the cruel wheel of capitalism? Well, they caught that fella from Family Guy, anyway, which was good - his cameo in South Park wasn't great. Whether it has any impact on the War on Terror is yet to be seen, but it will certainly help Obama's poll ratings.

Further back, a bunch of gobshites, who no doubt consider themselves "patriots", decided to further the cause of God knows what by murdering a policeman in Northern Ireland. No doubt we can expect more from these fools while Lizzy is over in a week or two.
What else? Well, of course the Irish people visited swift and vicious revenge on the Fianna Fail government, by voting in a Fine Gael/Labour government that seems intent on following the exact same economic plan as their predecessors - ha ha, take that you scoundrels! The people of Japan showed the world how to be calmly dignified in the face of horrific suffering, while their government displayed the sort of denial normally found in Irish property developers.
But did it really matter that I wasn't blogging? Does anything any of us do on this island matter in the wider world? Isn't Ireland, and each one of its citizens, now irrelevance made real?

On the plus side I finally finished a campaign in Empire Total War - take that real world! On my computer, I am a king!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Final Ignominy - Taiwan Laughs At Us.

To be fair, they had a number of spot on cultural references; Father Ted is obviously big in Taiwan.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Doesn't This Just Sum It Up? Pictures of the IMF in Dublin

11.23am: We're getting the first pictures of the IMF officials who have flown to Dublin for bailout negotiations.

IMF officials in Dublin  
Photograph: Peter Morrison/AP  

Here you can see Ajai Chopra (on the left), the deputy director of the European department of the IMF, walking towards the Central Bank of Ireland where the talks are taking place. We can't immediately identify his colleague, I'm afraid, but once we have a name I"ll let you know. Unless you've got an idea?

The foreign financiers walk past an Irish beggar as they swoop in to clean up the mess Fianna Fail has made of this economy.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

And Now For An Announcement By The Government

You can even buy your own at

America and China - Watch Out! We're Coming After You Next!

Take that, snooty continental bird!

According to Herman Von Rompuy, European President, the European Union is in a survival crisis. Way to go Ireland!

Yes, truly our incompetence knows no bounds. Little ol' Ireland, through its corrupt practices, terrible handling of budgets, and neo-gombeenism, may now have actually killed off the European project. More than 50 years in the making, bringing together the most bitter of enemies and cementing peace in a once war-torn continent - but still brought down by the innate selfishness of the Irish political class.

But why stop there? I say let's keep going, until we have managed to undermine and destroy every single superpower, multi-national community or alliance in existence. China, America, NATO, the UN - Ireland could take them all down.

If America exports democracy (admittedly through Marine Expeditionary Units), if China exports a "harmonius society" to Africa (ahem), and the UN exports excessive, well-coiffed bureaucracy - why can't Ireland export failure? It'll put us on the map!

Truly, this is a proud day for this island. I feel absolutely no shame in being Irish. Not even a tiny ounce. And certainly not massive, herculean doses of scarlet faced embarassment at how we have let ourselves down.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Storm Clouds Brewing?

Oh no, don't worry...I'm not talking about that article by Morgan Kelly. I already know Ireland is basically fecked (thanks Bertie!), and I know that you all know about the basic truth of Ireland's coming economic apocalypse. Admittedly, I am a little ashamed as to how my smartarse, joke predictions of what life in Ireland will be like under German or IMF rule may actually come true.

No, in writing on storm clouds I am actually casting my glance further afield, to Asia, where China seems to have now decided that it should flex some muscles. You will of course be aware of the existing stand-off between China and Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, the arrest of a Chinese fishing crew by the Japanese Coast Guard for (allegedly) colliding with a Japanese vessel while (allegedly) drunk. Allegedly? Look at the video below!

China's growing confidence is further underlined by their response to Hilary Clinton's offer to mediate between China and Japan over the island chain, and the case of the drunken sailors. Does anyone know what the Mandarin for "Piss off Hilary" is?

But China's not alone in displaying a ballsy attitude while dealing with its neighbours. In a suitably ironic response to China's own "String of Pearls" strategy, Vietnam is now offering Cam Ranh Bay Naval Base, the much beloved former shore leave destination for generations of Soviet sailors, to foreign navies. Apparently, all foreign navies.

I'm sure such a move could not possibly backfire. After all, it's not like the Vietnamese need to be seriously concerned about being the stage for a clash between the great powers. I'm sure deploying a strategy of containment and encirclement against China will be greeted with a totally cool-headed and reasonable response in Beijing.

See, suddenly Morgan's article doesn't look that bad, does it?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Fresh Start?

Many of the people I have been speaking to in Ireland over the last two years have complained about how "all these parties are the same" and of how "I wish there was a new party" that would address whichever issue has the commentator particularly riled up; unemployment, corruption, the ineptitude of the banks, whatever.

Well, two new parties that I have had my eye on are edging closer towards a meaningful existence. The Irish Democratic Party has announced what is, to my knowledge, there first actual meeting:

"The Irish Democratic Party is delighted to announce its first ever Public Meeting. Entitled "Rebuilding Your Republic" the purpose of the meeting is to bring our growing membership together in the one room and to make ourselves known to our fellow citizens. This event will take place in The Church Cafe/Bar just off Mary Street, Dublin on Tuesday, 16 November 2010 at 8pm."

Meanwhile, the Irish Liberal Party is rumoured to be holding a public event on the 21st of November, details to be confirmed.

So there you have it. You can either go along to one event or the other, or you can stay at home and watch Desperate Housewives. I won't blame you if you choose the latter, but if, after the election, politics in Ireland remain, well, rather samey, you don't really have the right to complain, do you? After all, you didn't even sacrifice one evening of Eva Longoria's company in order to try and bring about change.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Even I, A Right-Wing Nut, Was Shocked

Can't say I agree with the students; not everyone should be entitled to free 3rd-level education, and the system as it stands now is a hand-out for the middle classes and takes money away from investment in 2nd-level.

But frankly, the violence shown by the Guards in the below video is a little shocking - and does not bode well for future protests, when people are truly angry over what will be revealed in December's budget. (with due thanks for the footage to Cathal Furey and

Insert Dragon Cliche Here - China's New Colonies

The Dragon's talons extend into Europe! The East is Red - Eastern Europe that is! Chairman Mao's Magic Wok Hits Sofia! Pun-laden stereotypes aside, China's presence in Eastern Europe is steadily growing. Also, I could have had a glorious career as tabloid headlines writer. Sigh...

China has now (as I have been predicting for ages. Well, two months anyway!) seriously begun to take advantage of the economic chaos still gripping the economics of the Western world, by using the hunger among European and North American economies for hard cash to snap up some cut-price investments. The Asia Times reports on China's growing business interests in Eastern Europe, with Great Wall Motors establishing a factory in Bulgaria, while Huawei and ZTE are heavily involved in the strategicly sensitive upgrade of the country's telecommunications network. Interestingly, Bulgaria has a corporate tax rate of 10%. So if the EU does push our tax rate up from 12.5%, Ireland is really in trouble.

True, like any tabloid hack I may have overstated the case by claiming that Bulgaria and its ilk east of the Carpathians are now colonies of China. After all, this is only economic engagement; yellow stars on a red background do not yet fly over Sofia, no Xia class subs patrol the Black Sea, and no J-11's roar of runways near Bucharest. But is such a thing possible?

Judging from China's engagement in the "Developing World" (to use what I believe is now the PC term) military engagement can follow economic investment. has a great post on the so-called "String of Pearls", China's system of naval bases throughout the Indian Ocean (not to be confused with a "Chinese pearl necklace", which is very different, and only allowed in some "nightclubs" in Hong Kong). It is important to remember that these facilities have tended to go hand-in-hand with infrastructure developments in the countries concerned, for example Hambantota, which represents both a commercial investment by China in Sri Lanka, and the development of a PRC military presence in the country.

But, and let's not be politically correct here, these are all poor countries that China is investing in, right? No rich, Western country would be so desperate for cash as to open its gates to that kind of investment! Oh by the way, did I tell you that Ireland's bond yields today are at 7.68%?

It's certainly something to bear in mind as Ireland slowly goes broke; just what will we be desperate enough to do if and when the ECB cuts off our funding? Could we see considerable Chinese investment in Ireland's economy, and what military strings would come attached to the commercial goodies concerned? What would a cash-strapped, hard-pressed US be able to do about a Chinese military presence in Europe (alright, maybe not Ireland, but possibly in Eastern Europe)? After all, Chinese bases in Europe (especially Western Europe) would be an awesome comeback for that whole Opium War thing.

Suprisingly, China failed to see the funny side.
Have I gone mad? Probably. Or do I really see a Xia class out there in the Irish Sea?

Oh my God! The sea view from Dalkey is, like, totally ruined!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Charade Just Got Charadier.

The news that Jim "Wrong-Way" McDaid has just resigned his seat will heap further pressure on the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, to stop acting like the Generalissimo of a Banana Republic and allow the people of Donegal South West, Dublin South, Waterford and now Donegal North East bye-elections to select new representatives to replace those lost to Europe, ego, a bad back and political cynicism, respectively.

Of course, Cowen can be forgiven for not wanting to hear what the Irish people have to say at the poll booths, and his fingers are still crossed that these bye-elections can be put on the long finger until after Christmas, and more importantly, the budget. Yes, with every day that passes, the idea that Ireland is a proper representative democracy becomes more and more ludicrous. And what is particularly sad is that our democracy seems to have been sacrificed for little benefit - Mr. Cowen argues that to hold the bye-elections would "distract" the government from "tackling our financial situation" - yet despite the fact that this government lingers on, thumbing its nose at the people, the markets are hammering us. As I write this, our bond yields are climbing higher and higher, and are now comfortably above 7%. A dull, dry figure perhaps, but what this means is that you, dear reader, wherever you are in the world, whether you be drunk, high, or shrieking "Death to the Infidels" in the caves of Tora Bora, can almost certainly borrow money more cheaply than the Irish government. The markets trust you, YOU, more than the Irish State. That's how bad things are.

So the Government has sacrified the principles of Irish democracy for nothing - do they use this stay on  democracy to achieve real change, say by cutting back on wastage in the public sector, perhaps by cutting the ESB bossess salary from €750,000 down to something sane? Do they use these freedom from the demands of the proles to push through reform of Ireland's electoral system?

No. No they don't. And the cold, hard titans of the financial markets can see through our sorry charade of a Republic.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

China-Bashing: All the Cool Kids Are Doing It!

How freaky is this video:

This message makes me less afraid of China then of the confrontational mindset that is clearly growing in US political circles. "America has problems, and they are China's fault!"

However, frightening though the above video is, the below parody by liberal group Campus Progress is actually more terrifying:

Chinese Professor from Campus Progress Action on Vimeo.

For while the "Yellow Horde" fears betrayed in the first video are what one would expect from the Right in America, that a liberal, and I would presume left-wing, group would also bang the China-fear drum shows how entrenched such a negative view of the PRC has become in American society.

Ironically, such an opinion is probably more dangerous now, while China's military strength is considerably below that of the US, then I suspect it will be in coming decades when many expect the two nations to reach parity in terms of military might. After all, economic fears can quickly give rise to military action, and a more belligerent US might be tempted to put China in its place before its too late, leading to significant loss of human life.

If you are American, and wish to combat China hatred in the US, might I suggest you do the following:

1. Buy a Mao suit
2. Acquire a copy of the "Little Red Book".
3. Wear said suit to work/college/church, while waving the LRB, loudly proclaiming that "Chairman Mao is the red sun in our hearts".

I feel certain the above steps will calm fears of China in the US, and lead to more harmonious relations.


I'm Sure America Is Ecstatic at the Mere Possibility...

A new front has opened up in Ireland's ongoing war with reality, with the otherwise generally sane Mike Soden (former Bank of Ireland chief and member of the Central Bank Commission) suggesting that we simply become the 51st state of the United States. Budgetary problem solved - simples!

After all, seceding from the EU should be relatively straight forward, and I'm sure that heavily indebted, bouncing-along-the-bottom America would welcome Ireland (and its skewed public finances) with open arms. Considering how easy it is to become an American citizen, and how readily the US opens its borders and doles out Green Cards (wasn't there a film about that? Didn't Gerard Depardieu simply arrive on a plane, settle in America, and end his days as an insurance salesman in Des Moines, with no conflicts or challenges to overcome? That was the story, right?) actually becoming part of the US must be a breeze!

Ireland just doesn't get it - we are not that desirable. No one wants to pay our bills, or let us join their club, or be nice to us, no matter how much fun we are, or how much craic we have. Time to grow up, realise that we need to be big boys and girls now, and face the mistakes we made. I don't want the Fed or the ECB fixing our problems - I want us to do it. Because if we are going to rely on charity, or on our innate importance and brilliance, to get us out of this mess, then we will be waiting a long time.

While we are casting around, looking for someone to pay our bills, so that we can escape a cut in our living standards and go on pretending we all live in a slightly drizzly episode of Sex and the City, the rest of the world is getting on with tackling their problems. For once, the Government seems ready to face reality with its recognition that we need €15bn in cuts if we are to get going again. That's why Mr. Soden's suggestions are so dangerous - there is no one who can, or will, bail us out. We've got to face our medicine by ourselves.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Aitor McDonagh Aircraft Carrier Index (Patent Pending)

Following my post below on the Royal Navy's cutbacks, and a far better researched and thought out contribution by Starbuck over on Wings Over Iraq (damn you and your edumucation!), I am reminded of one of the few examples of original thought in which I engaged in college - the Aitor McDonagh Aircraft Carrier Index (Patent Pending). In effect, the thesis behind the Aircraft Carrier Index is that the political intentions and aspirations of a nation can be measured by its acquisition of aircraft carriers, and inversely its decline is signalled by its relinquishment of aircraft carrier forces.

So, "big deal!", you say. As countries get richer they build bigger militaries, as they grow poorer, they reduce their military expenditure. But aircraft carriers are about more than mere defensive concerns, or the desire to project power. Aircraft carriers are about a nation's image of itself, and of its place in the world. As a start, consider that most mighty of naval powers: Canada.

You might think that this is sarcasm; it is not. At the end of WWII, Canada had the third largest navy in the world, with three aircraft carriers flying the Canadian colours. Canada looked to be on the cusp of playing a major military role in world affairs - subsequent involvement in the Korean conflict seemed to confirm this. Yet as the twentieth century progressed, and as Canada slipped from Britain's orbit, the need for aircraft carriers seemed to diminish - more importantly, Canada's own view of itself as an important military power also disappeared (hence key projects such as the Avro Arrow were cancelled).

Similarly, Australia commissioned three carriers between 1944 and 1945, with the last of these, HMAS Melbourne, only leaving service in 1982. Again, a fading power realised it could no longer justify a carrier force. But what is more significant is recent suggestions that Australia might get back in the carrier game. While it would seem that these dreams have faded since John Howard left office, they do signal that an Australia facing a newly resurgent East Asia, and with a booming economy of its own, the ability to project power is once more a sought-after tool - but more importantly, Australia sees itself once again as "one of those nations that have aircraft carriers", i.e. a regional power. Canada, Australia and the Netherlands all sacrificed their carriers after the Second World War - but only Australia has seen fit to consider bringing carriers back into its fleet.

Nowhere has the carrier as a focus of national ambitions been more clear than in South America. Argentina, which once strutted the Latin American stage as the preeminent power, acquired a carrier in 1959, and continued operations with its most recent ship the ARA Veinticinco de Mayo until 1999. Then, the economy took a tumble, and Argentina realised it couldn't run with the big boys anymore. But just to the north, Brazil has now adopted the mantle of regional big shot, and has bought a new(ish) carrier off the French - the old Foch becoming the Sao Paolo.

Most importantly, you must remember just how useless most of these carriers are - Argentina was flying ancient Super Etendard jets off its ship until decommissioning, while the Brazilian's were making do with prop-powered anti-sub aircraft until very recently (they now use the hardly-cutting edge A4 Skyhawk). This indulging in maritime fantasies isn't just an emerging power thing either - who did the French think they were fooling flying F-8 Crusaders iin the year 2000? The only thing more antiquated than an F-8 is an actual Crusader (like, a guy in mail on horseback)!

But of course, carrier ownership isn't about operational ability. It's about running with the big boys. And that's why, if you want to know who feels like a big shot, see what they have as a flag ship. And that goes doubly for seeing who thinks their glory days are behind them.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Silent Service Obviously Needs to Speak Up.

In a development that can only add to the confusion within me between the red-blooded Irish nationalist and the military history geek fascinated by the heritage of our nearest neighbour's armed services, the Financial Times had quite an interesting little article in its weekend magazine on Saturday in which Matthew Engel goes aboard the frigate HMS Kent.

As Engel makes clear, the Royal Navy is clearly feeling the pinch under Britain's current defence review, and is suffering from the effects of what the article terms "sea blindness" among the UK's population. For a nation whose existence was once so clearly tied to the sea, Britain now tends to forget that it is an island, assuming that airlinks and the internet will keep it safe from blockade should a worst-case scenario ever arrive. Similarly, the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are not, in the eyes of the public, "naval wars", and the Royal Navy's contributions to these operations are overlooked (despite the fact that the Royal Marines have suffered considerably in both theatres, and are part of the navy. Similarly, the Fleet Air Arm has contributed to Britain's air operations in Afghanistan). So overlooked has the RN been, that there are dark mutterings that some are calling for its disbandment under the current defence review. 

While I suspect that such a fate will be avoided, I do find a certain sadness in the Royal Navy's current predicament. After all, while the British Army has, over the course of Britain's imperial history, been on the frontline of colonial enforcement (or oppression, depending on how you look at it), the Royal Navy has tended to have less complicated, more readily heroic image. Spared from being placed in the sort of positions that led to Amritsar or Bloody Sunday, the Royal Navy finds itself with a more positive heritage, from association with Trafalgar to the anti-slavery operations of the 19th century. Indeed, even in the relatively complicated politics of the late 20th century, the RN steered clear of controversy (with the possible exception of the sinking of the General Belgrano).

The Royal Navy will survive these cuts, that is fairly certain, but what emerges on the other side of the slashing of budgets will be a much truncated service. Indeed, it seems a growing likelihood that Britain's most prestigious and impressive naval assets, aircraft carriers and the warheads on sub-launched ballistic missiles, will be jointly operated with France. A sad, and disappointingly low-key, fate for the Silent Service.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Why I Won't Vote David Norris for President.

Following on from my awkward post which looked at racism in Ireland (in an embarassed, shuffling sort of a way), I will examine yet another question of bigotry today by looking at homophobia, gay rights in Ireland, and how this will impact on David Norris's campaign to be President. More specifically, let me tell you why I won't vote for David Norris, and why if he does become President, it will represent a shallow, pyrrhic victory for Ireland's gay population.

Off the bat, let me state that I think Norris is a pretty decent guy. He believes in things. He fights for things. He stands up for things. The only problem is, he is about as out of touch with everyday life in Ireland as you can get. Born in the Belgian Congo, Norris himself now represents Trinity College Dublin (yes, that bastion of the common man) in the Senate. Norris is also a Joycean scholar of note, and every Bloomsday can be found strolling about Sandycove in a straw boater.

None of the above is typical of everyday life in Ireland. More to the point, none of the above is typical of everyday life in Ireland if you are gay. What I have learned from the handful of gay relatives, friends and colleagues that I have known well over the years is this - they are broadly just like me, only they are gay. They have the same worries about the economy, the same fears about our crappy health service, and the corruption in this country drives them as mad as I do. They grumble about taxes, they hate to see wastage of public funds, and they just want someone to provide us with some bloody leadership.

True, unlike me, they have to put up with small-minded bigots and bullies. But for the most part, unlike (with all due respect to him) Mr. Norris, they have to face these tribulations in far less supportive environments than Dublin academia. Coming out must be incredibly difficult even in relatively liberal Trinity - imagine what it must be like in rural Monaghan. That's not to suggest that rural areas are any more homophobic - but if you do face bigotry, the sparser population means your support network is smaller and more widely dispersed. A sense of isolation develops far more easily.

So the fact is that Mr. Norris neither reflects the views of the wider population nor, I feel, the typical experience of a gay person in Ireland. Is he committed? Undoubtedly. Does he have strong morals, a strident voice, and the desire to work for what he believes - quite certainly. But at a time when there is widespread feeling among the Irish population as a whole that politics and the institutions of the State are out of touch, Mr. Norris would only reinforce these views. He has never worked in business, never worked for "the man", and his experience outside the Seanad is limited to Trinity. He is, in the nicest possible way, one of the elite - but more importantly, he cannot bridge the gap between the elite and the ordinary fella (i.e. me).

What's more, Norris should not want to be President - he can achieve much more outside the Aras than within. Part of the job description of President is to, basically, keep your mouth shut. You are a figurehead, and hence can't really stand up for what you believe. In a recent interview with Ivan Yates on Newstalk, Norris couldn't promise that as President he would stay silent if something cropped up that he didn't agree with. What if there is another NAMA, or if Mr. Norris disagrees with social welfare cuts, or refuses to meet his opposite number from China/Iran/Turkey because of concerns over human rights? He may be right in all these circumstances not to hold his tongue - but that's an argument for a reform of our political structures, to produce a more active President, and not why he should run now.

Which is preciselt why Norris should continue fighting for what he believes in via the Seanad, and should not hamstring himself by running for the Aras.  In the Seanad he can address every issue that is dear to him, from questions of social justice to the demand for greater respect for human rights. What's more, President Norris would not really represent the triumph of the gay community over bigotry, nor could he speak to the nation as a whole on the issues arising from our descent into economic chaos. Worst of all, he would be prevented from standing up for what he believes in. And while I don't always agree with him, his is a voice I would not like to see silenced.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Tullamore-Beijing Axis

It may be the case that finally, FINALLY, the Irish Government is beginning to recognise that China has had a wee economic miracle over the last few decades, and that Beijing now has some moolah to spare. Coming fast on the heels of Biffo's meeting with Chinese propaganda chief and Politburo number 5, Li Changchun, our man Brian met with Premier Wen Jiabao in Brussels last week.

According to Pravda, the Biffmeister recognised that this summit (on the 4th and 5th of October):
"provided an excellent opportunity to meet in the margins with a number of Heads of Government of participating countries, including Premier Wen Jiabao of China."
This may seem like a minor point, but at least the Taoiseach is recognising that during the coffee break at this European shindigs he now needs to be offering Premier Wen the last digestive biccy, rather than listening to Nicholas blather on about his insanely hot wife, or trying to stammer apologies to Angela for all the bailing-us-out she has had to do.

The only person at this event that really mattered was Wen. Everyone else was either representing a waning power (helloooo France, Germany and Japan!) or a developing power that has not quite made the grade - yet (i.e. India, South Korea). Time was, however, that our leadership would have still wasted time chatting to the dusty old Europeans, rather than cutting to the chase and going to kiss-up to the big boys.

We need to raise our China game - and for once, it may seem that the Government has copped on to this reality. C'mon boys - take the next step and expand the IDA's office network in the PRC, and let's see what we can offer the next superpower by way of opportunities in Europe.

P.S. And before anyone brings up human rights etc. - who are the Chinese most likely to listen to? Former European colonial powers who were telling the Qing how cool free trade was in the 1840s, just before screwing China for all it is worth? Or a small, China-friendly, freedom loving bunch like ourselves, who are offering China a gateway to the EU? We can show China why human rights will make their nation stronger - and they will believe us, because we do not threaten them, and because we work with them.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Blame Ye Not the Nurses or the Teachers - Blame the Snooty Children

Picking over the ruins of long dead civilisations, archaeologists often ask themselves "What went wrong?" A similar question is on the lips of the Irish these days, as we wonder how we managed to blow our economic boom so completely that we are now spending €18 billion a year more than we are taking in. It's not unsual to be feckless with money, it's just unusual to be that feckin' feckless.

Many will point to the banks, understandaby, while others will point the finger at giveaway budgets. Any suggestion that Ireland's public spending is a wee bit out of control inevitably ends in a row, however, amid hilarious bouts of name-calling. On the one hand, Thatcherite puppy-killers (i.e. me) begin claiming that ALL public servants are lazy, and they should ALL be fired, and "I knew someone once whose sister worked in a hospital, and her only job was to count pens, and she was able to phone in sick to work for 10 years, and she was given a bonus. Also, she got free biscuits with her tea."

On the other hand, we have the smugly self-righteous socialists (who love assonance, apparently) claiming that they know a teacher who is working 20 hour days, every day, for 5 years, and whose pay has been cut by 90%, and who is paying a breathing levy imposed by the government, and is having to use her own blood as ink in the classroom, while her classmates (who, gasp, didn't even go to college!) are working for a bank now, and drive a gold Ferrari powered by €500 notes and caviar.

Enjoyable though contests of hyperbole are, they distract from the fact that we are wasteful with public money, and that there is a massive need to trim the fat. And my God, what fat! Before we go anywhere near the exhausted teachers, knife-dodging guards, or even possibly-surplus administrative staff, why don't we examine the necessity of this little service:

That's right - an ad, starring children, telling us that we need to exercise and eat nice foods if we want to be healthy. Breaking news indeed. Pity that, as well as having a blindingly self-obvious message, the ads themselves are so incredibly ineffective.

Now, maybe they thought that by having children act as snooty, Green Party-voting, philosophy graduates who have part time jobs in Art Galleries as they try to break through into the burgeoning haiku-writing scene, that the whole irritating pantomime would be cute or funny. It is not. It is merely irritating and annoying.

Perhaps the two (yes two!) quangoes involved in producing this ad thought that, by using kids, they could convince young people to "be cool and eat right!". Only problem, children at the stage of those in the ad eat what they are given by their parents. Children older than those in the ads are going to think any message supplied by younger kids is inherently wrong and uncool. So a big fail there then, as well.

I don't know how much this cost, but if the wastage in FAS is anything to go by, we may be picking up the tab for a cool half mill. €500 k for something that tells me I'm fat, and I need to eat healthy. I'm married, I don't need this ad. So next time someone says we need to trim the budget, don't look at the guards, don't look at the teachers, don't look at the nurses. Start looking at the bleedin' obvious - or at least advertising budgets aimed at promoting the same.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Do Not Adjust Your Sets

If RTE were honest about Government influence over the station:

H/T to Bi Ciuin on

Am I Racist?

I was back in Dublin over the weekend there, and while walking up O'Connell street a little incident occurred that taught me a lot about how the human mind works - or at least how my mind works. For those of you who don't know, O'Connell Street is the "Main Street" in Dublin, sort of like the Irish Champs Elyseé - although I don't think the Champs has an Ann Summers outlet, or Supermacs. In other words, O'Connell Street is where the ridiculously grandiose rubs shoulders with greasy tack.

It was realtively early on Saturday morning, but there was a fair smattering of people walking about, looking in the shops etc. About five metres in front of me, an old woman was shuffling along, wearing one of those all-enveloping blue rain-coats beloved of Irish grannies. As said granny struggled along the footpath, she passed a young Roma woman, babe in arms, whose free hand was extended to each passing pedestrian in turn, begging them for spare change (I know, I know, can I really be sure she was a Roma? Isn't that just a tired stereotype, the Roma beggar? Maybe she was an investment banker who begs as a hobby on the weekend? For the purposes of this post, just take my word for it in any event.)

When this young woman caught sight of the shuffling granny, she made a bee-line for her. Nothing strange there, she attempted to intercept everyone who passed her by. But not only did she ask the granny for money - she began to follow her, pulling on her sleeve, and traipsing after her for a good 10 metres along the path. Remember, this granny was not hugely agile, it took her a long time to cover those 10 metres! And all the while, she had the beggar in tow.

Eventually, the pensioner ground to a halt and, defeated by the harassment, produced a purse from her handbag, ready to offer up a few coins in exchange for some peace. I contemplated stepping in or telling the beggar off - but I'm ashamed to say, my middle-class mind was immediately seized both by a ridiculous sense of liberal guilt (after all, why should I feel any guily? I had no problem with the race of the beggar - merely the harassment to which she subjected said granny) and by the usually intense Irish middle class fear of causing a scene (what if people start looking?!).

While I was wrestling with my own moral cowardice, a young woman stepped in, placed her hand gently on granny's shoulder, and quite politely told the beggar to go away. I applaud her dignified, quiet heroism, and am frankly still ashamed of the lack of backbone I displayed. As I retreated from the scene of my defeat, I began wondering how things would have played out had the aggressor not been Roma - would I have intervened if the beggar had been just another homeless Irish person? Would I have stepped in if the beggar had been an Irish Traveller?

The issue is clouded by the fact that, pathetically, I really do not like making a scene. But it does raise the question of what is racism, and what are the legitimate demands that we place on immigrants? After all, is it not racist to give immigrants a carte blanche to engage in begging , a fundamentally dependant act from which they will most likely never wean themselves, and which represents the destruction of ambition? I do not think begging is of benefit to an Irish person - why should I accept that a foreigner can settle for it as an activity? And by refusing to stand up to bad behaviour from one individual from this immigrant's background, am I not tacitly accepting and furthering a stereotype that all Roma will behave badly?

These issues are becoming more pertinent now, as our own economic crisis deepens, and the likelihood of Ireland's default increases. It is not only the native Irish who are caught up in this disaster - the many thousands of immigrants who came here during the boom, who joined our communities, worked beside us, dated us, married us, and raised children with us; they are suffering too. How will we handle our immigrant population now, without the grease of money to ease any friction between immigrants and the wider community? Can we accept that the dole, social welfare and other state supports are not only for those born on this island - but for all who contributed to our good times, and are now suffering with us in the bad? Will we also have the bravery to admit that, if this nation is to survive, we must all display a sense of responsibility and self-sacrifice as citizens of this Republic - and that goes equally for those not born here?

Ah, the smug middle classes - what difficut moral questions we tangle with.

But then I, loike, went and had the, oh-my-god, best latté ever, and I, loike, totally forgot all about racism.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Then the Revolution Died - How the Unions Have Betrayed Their Roots.

There is a sad irony to the fact that, just after Joe Duffy's campaign to have James Connolly named "The Greatest Irish" person, there are growing revelations about how SIPTU have failed to live up to the legacy of one of Ireland's first and most noted socialists. That Union officials may or may not have misused public funds to go on jollies and junkets abroad is certainly depressing; what is more depressing however, is that such a revelation is not surprising.

However you view the Unions (and I, being a foaming at the mouth right-winger, am clearly no fan) there was always a certain romantic allure to the revolutionary red in which they clad themselves. That there is injustice in this world is not in question, nor can their be any doubt that the owners of capital exploit the worker, that the rich grow wealthier at the expense of the poor. What has always been in question, for me anyway, is whether socialism and stultified, regulated labour markets are the best way to combat this inequality. The Unions, rather than making the case for the organised labour, have through their actions over the last 10-15 years actively betrayed the weakest and most vulnerable in society, and developed the sort of hunger for filithy lucre usually displayed by the fat cats. They have undermined the case for the left through their hypocrisy and their aping of the actions of the elite.

Today, the sight of Jack O'Connor or David Begg before Leinster House protesting against this cut or that cut to wages or allowances is not uncommon, and the Unions seem more than ready to march or strike to protect the status quo. Yet where was this revolutionary fervour during the good times? After all, even in the days of plenty there was much to fight for - our children were being schooled in portacabins, patients were lying on hospital trolleys in our Accident and Emergency wards, and our public transport was ineffective and poorly ran. But the Unions did not strike for better conditions then - they seemed happy to settle for the wage increases the Government kept offering under social partnership.

My understanding of a Union is that it is there to better the plight of its workers - not simply raise their wages. Giving teachers better classrooms, nurses emptier casualty wards and bus workers newer, cleaner buses would lead to better conditions and a healthier working environment for all. But pay raises kept the Union membership happy, and the government were glad to pay out - after all, higher wages means more votes. And if the public at large suffered from cramped classrooms, less than hygenic hospitals and little to no public transport - too bad. Social justice wasn't in the Unions remit.

Now, the Union's stance is having a serious impact on social justice. Listen, the rich will never suffer from lack of investment in social services - they can send their kids to private schools, visit private hospital consultants, and don't need to take public transport. But there are many in Ireland who have to rely on public services, and the Union's obsession with pay over all else during the boom years is now directly hitting the most vulnerable, and those who have to depend on the state. The Government is cutting back on services because the Unions cannot countenance any reduction in the national wage bill. So the service user suffers.

Similarly, we see graduates leaving Ireland in their droves, including many newly-qualified nurses, teachers, physiotherapists and other key service workers. Because of the Union's "pull up the ladder behind us" attitude to state employment, these young people will never find work in the State. Instead, the Unions protect the rights of existing public workers over all else - and not just those state servants who do their job honestly and well. The Unions also feel that the incompetent, the lazy, the corrupt and the greedy have the right to a job for life - so long as they work for the State, and are a member of a union. So get on those planes, graduates.

The revolution is dead, and in case you need to ask - the Unions killed it.