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Sunday Independent Stupid Statement of the Week January 31, 2010

Posted by Garibaldy in Media and Journalism.
20 comments

In third place, Eilis O’Hanlon, for a fine example of ignoring who actually is responsible for the economic difficulties of the south in favour of the usual lazy scapegoat. And she has the cheek to lecture others about reality. How can she keep churning this out week after week?

Though even if they don’t, the public sector unions show every sign of managing the total meltdown of the Irish economy very well by themselves, thank you very much, as they engage on a nationwide work to rule to protest against reality… sorry, I mean pay cuts introduced in the last Budget.

In second place, Aengus Fanning, for a fawning introduction to an interview with Ray McSharry, that peddles the same old lies about the Celtic Tiger being the result of his anti-people cuts of the late 1980s.

THERE is a story that gives us a clue to Ray MacSharry’s character, to the man who, as Minister for Finance, laid the foundations in 1987 for the economic miracle of the following 20 years, the Mac the Knife who seemed to thrive on unpopularity.

In first place, Cathal MacCarthy, for giving yet another outing to the Muslim birth-rate scare story.

The French have decided to double-bluff the Islamic fundamentalism that uses that country’s freedom to publicly display symbols of its own religious intolerance and issues the kind of long-term threats designed to be picked up by anyone who cares to glance at the tables of Europe’s birth rates and the religious affiliations therein.

And a special mention for trying to spin the Tory tradition of playing the Orange card as an exercise in progressive politics while not knowing that Cameron was not part of the Tory-UUP-DUP talks on which the story is based.

A new take on Keynes and Hayek January 30, 2010

Posted by Tomboktu in Uncategorized.
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Directors’ remuneration: One long video January 30, 2010

Posted by Tomboktu in Capitalism, Economics, Ethics, European Union, The Far Right, Workers Rights.
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A few months ago, I posted an item entitled Directors’ remuneration: A few long videos with links to a set of videos from a roundtable that the European Commission held last March. Judging by the brevity of commenting (not helped by my failure to follow-up Worldbystorm’s question in the third comment), I guess few people might have watched the videos. I certainly didn’t send encouraging signals when I said of them “I think it is amazing how little attention is given to the the issue of social justice“.

If you had told me before this week’s conference in Davos that a debate at the World Economic Forum would be more — much more — positive from a Left perspective than one organised by the guardians of “Social Europe“, I would not have believed you. However, one of the sessions on Wednesday was on the topic of Rethinking Compensation Models. Speakers — with the exception of Shumeet Banerjii, who sees no problem with the levels of CEO pay — were more engaged with social justice issues, and the trade union speaker, Philip Jennings of UNI Global Union was impressive.

(I loved Jennings’s reply to one of the ‘middle ground’ speakers, who responded to his passion and anger by saying that “raising the temperature does not facilitate getting to the right answers”: “I see it as my job to raise the temperature.” And then he explained why: “What we are seeing is simply unacceptable”.)

No, I wasn’t in Davos for the WEF. I watched on the web this session. It does run to 78 minutes, but much more enlightening and hopeful than the event in Brussels last March.

This weekend I’ll mostly be listening to… Richard Butler January 30, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
4 comments

As you’ll know I’m not mad keen on nostalgia. That was then this is now, which is probably the response of the perennial nostalgic – isn’t it? So when some years back I heard that Richard Butler of The Psychedelic Furs and later Love Spit Love, had released a solo album, his first, I was unmoved.

Now, and I’ve mentioned this before on the CLR, I once had the disheartening experience of being part of a tiny crowd who turned out to see a later incarnation of the Furs at Vicar Street sometime in the past four or five years. It was a night U2 played Croke Park and one could, perhaps, suggest charitably that a good part of the Furs natural demographic were otherwise engaged. Or perhaps less charitably that their day had come and gone, although I see that they’re still piling them in in the US and elsewhere.

And to be honest the gig was pretty grim. Butler was laying on his usual ‘expressive’ vocal and gestural style to an extent that was nearly criminal, destroying songs through excessive facial and bodily mugging. Trust me, you had to be there. Or, no, you really didn’t have to be there. Meanwhile the guitarist was on an atonal day… something I’d never really clocked to prior to the gig. That man likes the discordant. A lot. Now I also like the discordant. But… there are limits. The keyboardist appeared to think she was at another gig entirely, which was odd because as I recall the keyboard was on the right and close to the front of the stage. The only ones making what I considered an effort were Butler the younger (his brother), on bass and the drummer. And I thought it telling that it was this latter Butler who mingled after the gig in the bar. So all told it was a relief to leave and I tell you no word of a lie if I say that I couldn’t listen to a PF album for the best part of two years until the memories had begun to fade…

Anyhow, long story shorter, I eventually got around to purchasing the eponymous Richard Butler solo album and was surprised at how much I liked it. It’s not the Furs, that’s for sure. Butler has always had his folk edge and this has that in spades as well as some nice electronica in the back ground. For this we can ascribe credit to Jon Carin, sometime collaborator with Pink Floyd apparently and therefore on principle purveyor of all that is wrong in popular music (I jest, but only to an extent – not being a Pink Floyd fan). But this is a soft, calm and meditative excursion. A few of the tracks are PF inflected, Good Days, Bad Days and Broken Aeroplanes perhaps to the greatest degree albeit they move along at a slow enough pace. And that’s no harm. But others like California and Breathe simply aren’t. His voice is higher and that’s a change too, but in a good way. There’s a hint of the Church… perhaps that’s the Pink Floyd influence, but it’s more acoustic, perhaps more expansive, less tightly wound than the Church’s recent offerings – a surprise given that it’s a solo album.

I’d like to hear more in this vein.

Good Days, Bad Days

California

Breathe

Broken Aeroplanes

This week from the Irish Election Literature Blog… January 29, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
10 comments

More from AK at IELB… and a good selection too…

From 1995, The Democratic Left’s Eamon Gilmore, Denis O’Callaghan and Colm Breathnach ask “How many councillors does it take to turn off Water Tax?”.

[There's a campaign likely to be revived any day now - wbs]

Still with Gilmore, but in his Workers Party Guise, from 1989 “150 words about local issues in Dun Laoghaire”.

People Before Profit’s Rory Hearne from 2007 in Dublin South East.

The Socialist Party’s Martin Walsh from Dublin South Central in 1997.

From 1989’s European Election Campaign in Connaught Ulster, Sinn Fein’s Pat Doherty, Dermot Guy and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.

And Finally from the 1992 Abortion Referendum The Pro-Life Campaigns main Leaflet….

And finally, finally, nothing to do with politics at all…

As ever, many thanks to AK…

Farewell the NUI… January 29, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
19 comments

From McCarthy Report Volume 2…

D. 10 Abolition of National University of Ireland
Progress is being made towards the amalgamation of Higher Education & Training Awards Council (HETAC), Further Education & Training Awards Council (FETAC) and the National
Qualifications Authority of Ireland (NQAI) into one body. It is likely that the qualifications functions of the NUI in relation to its constituent universities and recognised colleges will also be amalgamated into the new qualifications body. Once these functions are removed from the NUI, its remaining functions would consist of the following:

• Printing parchment for the making of awards itself and for the making of NUI awards by the constituent universities;
• Bestowing prizes and bursaries across the constituent universities of the recognised colleges;
• Maintaining a register of NUI graduates and undertaking the elections for the NUI seats on Seanad Éireann; and
• Supporting Convocation of the NUI.

It is not considered that the remaining functions of the NUI would sustain the existence of the body.
It is recommended accordingly that the NUI be abolished and its remaining functions transferred to another existing body as necessary. This should result in savings of the order of €3m a year.

Anyone see the basic problem with abolition of the NUI today given the recommendation?

And one would wonder at the reality as distinct from the optics of ‘savings of €3m’ given that as noted in the Irish Times when the news broke that the current chancellor, Maurice Manning considers that implementing it would take at least a year and a half and that:

…the NUI itself says the savings will be just over €1 million as many of its functions – such as the payment of external examiners – will have to be paid by any new qualifications body.

The 15 staff members of the NUI were told of the imminent demise of the organisation yesterday morning. They are likely to be redeployed to a planned new agency which will amalgamate the various quality assurance and award agencies in higher and further education.

More broadly this seems to fit into a pattern, that we’ve seen now with the Irish Council for Bioethics and aspects of the approach to CDP’s, whereby an entity is disbanded or ‘reformed’ with no negotiation, and with no clear successor in situ.

Not clever. And the response to this has been entirely predictable. The upshot? The impression is not of a decisive government courageously taking each issue and dealing with it with determination, but instead of an absolute lack of coherency, of doing things which will later be reversed or modified. And I think it’s fair to say that that’s a statement that can be made by anyone who analyses this situation whether in favour of these measures or not.

And this was touched on in the Seanad last week… because, as noted in a gnomic posting by Colm McCarthy on The Irish Economy, abolishing the NUI has immediate ramifications for one branch of our democracy. Something which has not been addressed at all in the statements from the Government.

Senator Frances Fitzgerald:    The other topic I wish to raise which is more relevant to some Senators than others is the announcement yesterday by the Minister for Education and Science of the abolition of the NUI. A number of Senators, and Senator Alex White in particular, have called for a proper discussion on the McCarthy report in this House and the need for the Government to outline the way it is approaching the recommendations in that report. It did not do it in the budget and now we have piecemeal decision making. As we await a report on higher education, the decision has been taken in advance to abolish the National University of Ireland. That is another example of how not to do business. It should be planned. There should be rational decision making regarding the McCarthy report. It should be transparent and open and should arise out of discussion in these Houses, with all involved getting an opportunity to put their point of view on the McCarthy report. I ask the Leader to have a debate on the McCarthy report in this House.

And although his math isn’t necessarily quite there Joe O’Toole makes some pertinent points:

Senator Joe O’Toole:    Taking up the last point made by Senator Fitzgerald, I want to be careful not to give the predictable response. The Government made a rash, uninformed and overly quick decision on the NUI. It was done without sufficient consultation and in the course of a review of third level education, but I will wait to see what the Minister has to add to it.
In the meantime, there are a number of supposed facts which are incorrect. As I always say, there is a difference between the facts and the truth. The McCarthy report claimed that the dissolution of the NUI would save €5 million. The NUI did the sums on this for me some months back and it says the figure is less than €1 million. I discussed that yesterday with the Minister for Education and Science and he agrees with me and with the NUI that it is only a saving of €1 million but he said that is not his motivation. I put it to him that it was important that the NUI brand, what it has done and the route the graduates have come from should be protected. The Minister appears to be creating some kind of over-arching body to examine the whole area of qualification at third level, etc. What I have asked him to do, which is important, is to protect the NUI brand within that without any constraints on anybody else or on it. In other words, it is a sub-body within a larger body rather than what it currently is, namely, a large body. I asked that that be done. I will come back to that but I believe it is crucial that it be done on a statutory basis.

And now the Irish Times weighs in…

In a way this must be a source of a degree of cognitive dissonance for their leader writers. Not least since it forces them to negotiate a path between their championing of the McCarthy Report and the implications of that Report’s suggestions when put into action.

THE GOVERNMENT’S sudden decision to terminate the National University of Ireland leaves many questions unanswered about how its existing coordination and future quality assurance functions for higher education will now be organised. Given the paltry financial savings involved and the conviction expressed by Ministers that such tasks continue to be necessary, this is quite unsatisfactory — doubly so, given the worries expressed by NUI graduates that the prestige and symbolism of their degrees may be devalued.

Fascinating to read about ‘paltry financial savings involved’…

The NUI is deeply embedded in Ireland’s political, cultural and educational history. Set up in 1908 by the British administration as a federal university comprising a reconstituted University College Dublin, University College Cork and University College Galway, the Act also established Queen’s University Belfast and left Trinity College Dublin/University of Dublin intact. Shortly afterwards Maynooth College became the first of a number of recognised colleges. This resolved the thorny universities question which dogged much of Ireland’s 19th century politics. The structures put in place lasted well into independent Ireland and were only amended by the Universities Act 1997.

Well yes, although one could also argue, abolition aside, that that was then and this is now.

It gave the NUI responsibility for determining basic matriculation requirements, reviewing the content and teaching of courses, appointing external examiners, and awarding degrees. Its graduates have a Senate vote.

They do indeed. See above.

By then higher education had expanded rapidly to meet the needs of a much more developed society and economy. The University of Limerick and Dublin City University were constituted in 1989, outside the NUI structures, just as Trinity remained. UCD’s successful move to Belfield came to full maturity, creating demands for more autonomy, while other colleges and institutes meeting various regional and professional needs grew within, and some outside, the NUI. These developments have undoubtedly created anomalies.

But the Times reserves it’s ire for the final paragraph.

By choosing to tackle the issue in such a brutally insensitive fashion, the Government has alienated a key player without assuring others it has a credible alternative framework to offer. The NUI senate points out there are 250,000 graduates and 7,000 current international students who give it valuable recognition nationally and internationally. The Government should heed its call for an early meeting to discuss the NUI’s position on quality assurance, institutional coherence and the preservation of a resource which is of continuing value to the universities and to Ireland in general.

Again, whether one thinks this is a good, bad or indifferent idea – and personally I’m largely agnostic on the matter, it is hard to disagree with the conclusion that it has been handled poorly. But note the language used, ‘unsatisfactory’, ‘brutal insensitivity’? Really? I think the reworking of the CDPs – foreshadowed in the McCarthy Report, and more on that anon – hits a much more vulnerable group of people much more brutally and with far greater insensitivity. But, as of yet I have seen no evidence that the Irish Times editorial page has even noted this matter.
And of IT columnists only Vincent Brown has made any comment, a couple of days before Christmas when he said:

Given all that, the political correspondents must have put it to the beleaguered Taoiseach, why, instead of closing off at least some of the tax breaks, did [Brian Cowen and his government]:

- Cut 30 community development projects entirely, projects that provided childcare, counselling, and community supports in disadvantaged areas, on the grounds that they were “non-viable”, and undermined community development projects in 150 other areas by merging them with Local Development Social Inclusion Partnership companies, effectively ending community-led initiatives? (I imagine the correspondents were particularly exercised by that one, given their intimate knowledge of disadvantaged areas acquired in their regular visits to such areas.)

It’s all about the ‘tough’ decisions. The really tough ones. The brutal and insensitive ones, y’know.

Cold spell… The Report January 28, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
2 comments

Thanks to EWI for forwarding me this document from John Tierney, Dublin City Manager, entitled “Report on the Cold Spell”. Google it and you’ll find it online.

A few points of particular interest are evident…

I should also advise members that in the city alone we have 1200km of roadway in the city and 2400 km of footpath.
The priority for maintaining roads in a passable condition is national primary routes, secondary routes, bus routes and specific connecting routes eg. North Circular/South Circular Roads. These priorities are also in accordance with the priorities set down by the National Emergency Response Committee. The demand on our resources as a result of the current extended cold period has meant that the Council has been unable to carry out gritting operations in some areas where it has been possible in previous years, such as bus routes in housing estates.

The anomalous nature of the weather conditions is pointed up by the following:

The scale of the problem is illustrated in terms of the demand for resources. Our normal stockpile of salt is 1300 tonnes. In the period 2002-2007 the average use per annum was 500 tonnes although this increased to 850 tonnes over the winter period 2008/2009. However in the period from 20th December 2009 to 11th January 2010 we have used almost 1700 tonnes. Unusually this type of demand is being replicated across the complete country, in the UK and in most of continental Europe leading to the eradication of salt stockpiles all over Europe and huge pressure on suppliers to keep pace with demand. Both the UK and Germany are in a more difficult position with salt than Ireland at present.

And what of this?

In the period up to the 6th January roads were gritted each morning commencing at 3.30am, including Christmas Day. There were up to seven crews mobilised on each occasion. With the serious snowfall on 6th January 2010 gritting crews were out from the afternoon and all during the night and about 150 tonnes of salt was spread to deal with that situation.

I was reading the Sunday Business Post the week after the freeze ended (in Dublin) and noted that they regarded the events of that week as [another] example of public sector failure and the need for public service reform.

As local authorities around the country grapple with the challenges presented by the current extreme weather conditions, the structure of Ireland’s public sector is once again being called into question.

In an environment where salary cuts and payroll reductions have been applied, disparate local authorities are applying their limited resources now to tackle extreme weather conditions.

The result of the recent weather conditions will have a negative impact on the roads maintenance and payroll budgets of each of the local authorities – further constraining these organisations in delivering service.

And so on. One correspondent was particularly irked by all this… and decided that…

The convening of an emergency response committee meeting two weeks into a predictable weather crisis is laughable. The National Roads Authority says it is looking after its patch. The local authorities blame the Department of the Environment for reducing their budgets, so their lack of resources -manpower, equipment, salt and grit – is really someone else’s problem.

The seeming reluctance to engage with quarry owners, farmers and other providers of help is extraordinary. Did I hear that local councils can’t use sand from beaches because it breaches some EU ruling about protecting our coastline?

Hmmmm… taking sand from beaches – what, after all is the importance of protecting our coastlines from erosion, our amenities from despoiling etc, when weighed in the balance against the passing and once in a forty years inconvenience of not being able to get into work for a day or two… the latter is clearly much more important… Although – regarding that point – I also heard on RTÉ radio news an interview with an enterprising solo gritter attempting much the same trick of using sand from a beach and discovering that it wasn’t right for his machine.

But here, as they say, is the science bit from the DCC report…

We have been inundated with queries as to why we have not being using sand given the problems with rock salt supplies. Rock salt is the primary ingredient for dealing with snow and ice. The use of sand is limited in an urban situation because of the consequences for the drainage system. When the thaw comes the sand is washed into the drainage system and if not removed this causes blockages and potential flooding later. We are now dealing with this issue and using road sweepers to try and clean these areas as quickly as possible. This is the reason we have been very sparing in the use of sand in order to limit these problems. When stocks of rock salt diminished we secured white salt which was diluted with sand and while not as effective as the rock salt it is a better alternative than using sand on its own and this is what we used on Friday and Saturday night.

One could point to this as a perfect example of the contemporary demand for the instant, as distinct from the feasible, response. Still, here’s something else of interest.

We have been asked why the Army has not been called in to help within the city. I am representing the County and City Managers Association on the National Emergency Response Committee and attended meetings on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and again today. We raised this matter but this is a countrywide issue and Army resources are limited when spread across the entire country and when rosters are taken into account. Therefore the Committee decided that it was best to retain Army resources as much as possible to assist with health services and rescue services. Only very limited Army resources have been used for gritting around the country. Civil Defence volunteers carried out many missions throughout the region (ranging from footpath clearing near hospitals, gritting in fire station entrances, support in dealing with water supply burst reports, helping HSE to grit hospital car parks).

And also of central importance:

The situation with Homeless Persons is also constantly monitored and no person who required a bed space was on the streets. Outreach staff have been working to encourage all persons to avail of accommodation during this period. We have had spare capacity every night and anyone on the street was there by the own volition. Thankfully we have had no death reported as a result of the cold spell.

But the after-effects will remain long after the temperatures have risen…

There is a budgetary impact to all of the work which has been carried out in the past three weeks. We have not allowed this to be an impediment. The greatest impediment has been the availability of the rock salt. The total additional cost of additional works will be advised to Councillors in due course. The Department of Transport will be advised of costs and a claim for exceptional funding is being made. There will be additional costs at a later date to deal with the gulley cleaning, burst pipes and leakage as it arises. As with all such events, a full review of the City Council response will be undertaken including operations, co-ordination, communications etc. A report will be brought to the Corporate Policy Group in the first instance.

Which should be of considerable value to see…

The situation has been very demanding for all in the community but the City Council believes that by prioritising resources in the way we have (and in conjunction with our neighbouring authorities) we are ensuring that the City and the region remains accessible, businesses can remain open and public transport routes can continue to function to the maximum extent possible within the resources available to us.

And that, oddly enough, is borne out by the same edition of the Sunday Business Post which suggested that despite the
weather…

Workers were not put off by the severe weather conditions last week and anecdotal evidence suggests that absenteeism rates were remarkably low. While some business sectors appear to have emerged relatively unscathed from the icy conditions, the retail sector bore most of the pain.

Pat Delaney, director of business sections and regions at the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation (Ibec), said Ibec’s members reported that ‘‘people had made enormous efforts to get to work’’. He said the marginal increase in absenteeism ‘‘showed the pragmatism that exists’’ in the workforce.

And to a degree, and not ignoring the fact that outside of Dublin parts of the country had laboured under severe weather conditions both before this date for a prolonged period of time, and after, this shows up the paucity of many of the attacks, not merely on public services, but also on the Government (albeit one Minister who had the good fortune to be abroad and delivered a ‘crisis, what crisis?’ approach appears to have woefully misjudged the mood and the actuality).

But – despite that – this is assuming a broader import in matters political, for in yesterday’s Irish Times it is noted that while:

THE ARMY WAS not deployed to clear or grit streets in the capital during the recent cold weather because the National Emergency Response Committee decided against sending in troops, Dublin city manager John Tierney has told members of the city council.
The assertion, contained in a report on the city’s response to the cold snap, would appear to be in conflict with Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea – who is also chairman of the Government’s Office of Emergency Planning – who told the Dáil last week that “all assets, resources and capabilities of the Defence Forces throughout the country were made available to provide assistance as required”.

Most Unexpected Sentence Ever? January 28, 2010

Posted by Garibaldy in media.
1 comment so far

Just spotted the following sentence in a column by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian for January 27th. I love it.

It was a typical Thatcher lurch into Leninism.

That new Apple announcement… January 27, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
12 comments

A little more advanced one would presume than this, from Arthur C. Clarke’s Imperial Earth, 1976:

The ‘Sec was the standard size of all such units, determined by what can fit comfortably in the human hand. At a quick glance, it did not differ greatly from one of the small electronic calculators that had started coming into general use at the end of the twentieth century. It was, however, infinitely more versatile, and Duncan could not imagine what life would be like without it.
Because of the finite size of clumsy human fingers, it had no more controls than that of its ancestor of three hundred years earlier. There were fifty neat little studs; each, however, had an unlimited number of functions, according to the mode of operation – for the character visible on each stud changed according to the mode.

Although, in fairness, that sounds like a Blackberry. Minus a large screen (the Minisec links to larger fixed computer consoles… no laptops in this future…).

Ah well.

Today I’ll mostly be… January 27, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.
22 comments

…over here. Opining at length on “inexorable rises” in politics…

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