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Sunday and other Media Stupid Statements from this week… February 28, 2021

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Curious understatement in the subhead to this article:

Adolf’s father, Alois, was the source of his son’s least attractive features, letters suggest

Paul Cullen, the IT’s health editor appears to be unaware of the difference between inside and outside…

The drawn-out reopening of education seems at odds with the mantra that schools are safe places. The Government professes its concern relates to activities around schools, but if that were the case, wouldn’t it close playgrounds?

Then again he also offers this which seems to miss the obvious:

The problem with basing your policy on the uncertain threat posed by a new variant is that when the next dangerous variant mutation comes along, you may have to react the same, particularly if it threatens to compromise the effectiveness of vaccines. In which case, the end hoped for by the Taoiseach mightn’t be as near as he suggests.

That’s precisely the problem – there’s only so many policy responses to viral pandemics and unfortunately lockdowns are the only one to actually restrict the spread to any extent. So yes, if another variant appeared then lockdown it will be.

Pat Leahy on the same topic appears to not understand aspects of a viral pandemic either as when he asks:

Even some of the public health hawks in Government think the pace of reopening is too slow. Take the schools – if you believe the absence from school is so damaging to children that you are prepared to put everything else on hold to get them back, then how can you justify leaving many of them at home for another three weeks, and most secondary school students at home until mid-April? That’s six weeks away.

That Leahy doesn’t grasp that it might be too risky today to send children back, but all things being equal and other measures taken  working across a span of time it might be possible in three weeks, is somewhat troubling. 

Newton Emerson last week claimed that ‘Arguably, despite the recent modernisation of the state, a residual latent Anglophobia has remained, and was evidenced by the stance taken over Brexit by the Varadkar-led Fine Gael government in 2019’. Now he’s modified that argument somewhat… 

The vaccine nationalism of the past few months has revealed a new layer of identity in Ireland: European nationalism. It seems able to hold as potent a sway over large numbers of people as its Irish or British versions. Sufferers are certainly as willing to call day night and excuse the inexcusable. Quibbling over rates of first and second doses and the delay between them is the sort of dishonest tribal apologism the North is wearily familiar with. Now the whole of Ireland can enjoy it on an extra level.

Hmmm.

Still, the worst example all week is the IT’s question in the poll on Friday. This from their editorial:

The scale of divergent opinion is illustrated by the response to a question about whether people are favour the “living with covid” strategy of getting back to normal, once the elderly and vulnerable have been vaccinated, or whether they would prefer “zero covid”, which would mean keeping restrictions in place until the virus is close to elimination. While 68 per cent favoured the Government strategy, a significant minority of 30 per cent opted for zero Covid with ongoing restrictions for as long as it takes. The Government will have its work cut out to get the balance right in the months ahead.

“Living with covid” strategy of getting back to normal, once the elderly and vulnerable have been vaccinated,” is not the government strategy. Now why would the IT state that it is?

Planetary exploration February 27, 2021

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Noted last week how remarkable the landing of the Perseverance probe on Mars then was, but when one looks at the accompanying footage and the steps that had to be taken to land the rover on the surface of that planet the scale of the project comes into sharp focus. This Guardian report has some superb video. Well worth a look.

Interesting to read the following in the piece:

For critics of space exploration – people who say we should focus on addressing the plethora of problems Earth is battling – Nasa scientists had a clear message: Earth is a priority, but exploration is what drives humanity forward.

Have to say the justification for these sort of missions is very strong indeed. From the perspective of planetary sciences, understanding climate systems and so on the effort is well worth the reward.

Though intriguingly:

Nobody was thinking much about the newly elected junior senator from Delaware back in December of 1972, when the Apollo 17 moonwalkers collected lunar sample 76015, 43. The senator was Joseph Biden, the moon walkers were Jack Schmitt and Gene Cernan, and the rock was a 3.9-billion-year-old, 332 gram (0.73 lb.) sample collected in the moon’s Taurus-Littrow Valley.

Today, Schmitt is 85, Cernan has passed away, Biden is the 46th President of the United States and the rock rests on a bookshelf in his newly redecorated Oval Office, after he requested a lunar sample from NASA for display. For space lovers looking for reasons to be optimistic about what a Biden Administration will mean for NASA in general and the push to have American astronauts back on the moon in the 2020s in particular, that’s a good portent.

Of course NASA can do many things. But resources aren’t infinite:

Biden has pledged to re-engage the U.S. in tackling the problem, and his day-one executive order to rejoin the Paris climate accords was a first shot in that fight. NASA has a role as well, maintaining a robust Earth observation program, which relies on both satellites and aircraft-based surveillance missions that both track short-term weather and long-term features of climate change like deforestation and glacier loss—and that role is likely to grow. “Democrats … support strengthening NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s [NOAA] Earth observation missions to better understand how climate change is impacting our home planet,” promised the Democratic platform. While environmentalists are cheered by that, exploration fans worry that climate research will eat the budgetary seed corn of space research.

Still, as that piece notes, NOAA is not NASA and justifying funding the former is strongly justified.

Saving air fuel… February 27, 2021

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Scientific American in the last but one edition had a piece on this, a plan by Airbus to save air fuel by having aircraft on long haul flights – say across the Atlantic, follow one another in tandem, with the aircraft following gaining lift from the passage of the one ahead. The principle is essentially the same as that used by formations of geese when they fly.

Some technicalities to be ironed out – for instance who takes precedence, and how to manage safety, separation and so on. But interesting nonetheless.

There’s a video here.

This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Snakes February 27, 2021

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From Denver, Colorado, Snakes describe themselves as Lo-Fi Garage Twang. There’s a great hint of Country too. They’ve released an ep and an album to date. Well worth keeping an eye out for when things eventually resume.

Bob Mould interview February 27, 2021

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The Mirror has an interview with Bob Mould, of Hüsker Dü, Sugar and a remarkable solo career here. Talking to Jason O’Toole he discusses a range of issues, not least the following:

During the height of Sugar’s fame, Bob – a wrestling fanatic who actually worked as a scriptwriter for WCW in 1999 – was strong-armed into coming out in a magazine interview. “They wanted to talk about my sexuality and they were going to talk about it whether I wanted to or not. And there was nothing I could do about that,” he said. “I remember just wanting to be a musician first and my sexuality was my own business. I never really brought it blatantly into the work. I always hoped that a love song can be about any two people.”

That’s a depressing reflection on those times.

I like his matter of fact attitude as expressed in the following:

“I’d been in Berlin for three-and-a- half years. I was going to put the record to bed and head back to Berlin in April – and then the pandemic arrived,” he told me.

“I quickly surmised this was not going to be a short-term pandemic and I was not going to be able to come and go to Berlin like I’d been.

“So it was sad, I had to let go of that long distance (set-up). Unfortunately I did not get to say goodbye. Maybe someday I’ll get to go back and say ‘goodbye’ and ‘hello’ to all my friends.

“Fortunately, I had a couple of friends that helped pack up my valuable stuff and the rest of it went to the Aids charity in Berlin. And that was that.”

Mould continues to release songs that are the equal of the Hüsker Dü and Sugar days – his latest album from last year, Blue Hearts, is excellent. Indeed as the piece notes:

Hüsker Dü have been cited as a major influence by Nirvana, Pixies, Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins and Irish outfit Therapy? who did a cover of Diane on their Infernal Love album.

As Krist Novoselic once put it, “What Nirvana did was nothing new – Hüsker Dü did it before us.”

Signs of Hope – A continuing series February 26, 2021

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Gewerkschaftler suggested this recently:

I suggest this blog should have a regular (weekly) slot where people can post happenings at the personal or political level that gives them hope that we’re perhaps not going to hell in a handbasket as quickly as we thought. Or as the phlegmatic Germans put it “hope dies last”.

Any contributions this week?

That Irish Times poll this week… February 26, 2021

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Mentioned in comments, the fact of a new poll from The Irish Times and IPSOS MRBI. In some ways polls at the moment are hardly worth commenting on, given that they broadly seem to reinforce one another. This latest poll had the following findings, as noted by Liberius:

The state of the parties, when undecided voters and those unlikely to vote are excluded, is as follows: Fianna Fail 14 per cent (down three); Fine Gael 30 per cent (down five); Sinn Féin 28 per cent (down one); Green Party 6 per cent (up two); Labour 3 per cent (down one); Social Democrats 3 per cent (up one); Solidarity-People Before Profit 1 per cent (no change); Aontú 1 per cent (no change); Independents/others 13 per cent (up five).

So much of the movement is a percentage point or two and therefore unlikely to be of much use in telling us anything. The significant changes are FF down 3%, Fine Gael down 5% and, intriguingly, IND/Others up 5%. 

For Pat Leahy in the same paper the reason for movements is obvious:

Poll data doesn’t explain in itself why party supports changes, but the obvious explanation seems unavoidable: a chunk of the public, previously supportive, has lost confidence in the Government’s management of the pandemic, and deserted Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael politically. Covid appears to be driving the political currents in this poll, at least as far as the Government is concerned.

Leading the country out of the pandemic in the coming months might not guarantee and political resurgence for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael; as Brexit shows, managing a national crisis successfully is no guarantee of a payoff at the ballot box. But failure to lead the country through it would almost certainly inflict substantial – and potentially fatal – political damage on the two old rivals-turned-allies.

Perhaps that is it. But no reflection on why Ind/Others are polling more strongly. What’s driving that?

Damian Loscher of MRBI suggests:

The Independents/Others grouping has bounced back, up eight points to 19 per cent, and a sure sign that voters are getting ready to take off the green jersey and replace it with their county colours. The rebound is most noticeable among 25- to 44-year-olds (up 14 points to 23 per cent) and outside Dublin (up six points to 20 per cent).

Does this suggest that those who remain with FF/FG are not fully committed to supporting those parties, or that there’s a layer that can be prised away. And what does it suggest as regards the situation for FF if it is unable to retain support while its leader is Taoiseach?

And more broadly?

With so much flux over the past 12 months, it is difficult to discern the differences between political waves that come and go and political tides that are likely to endure. That said, there are early signs of a Fine Gael (right) – Sinn Féin (left) axis emerging in Irish politics. This latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll shows two parties competing head to head, with one party appealing more to the middle classes (Fine Gael) and the other to working-class voters (Sinn Féin).

Right-to-left spectrum politics is the natural order of things for our nearest neighbours, east and west. Polarisation in politics is also an emerging phenomenon and one with which voters in Northern Ireland are very familiar. A drift in this direction for Irish politics may be inexorable.

Difficult to say. I’d love that to be the case, that we are seeing a clear demarcation between left and right, and telling that he doesn’t see FF as factoring in as a major player in that – but is it overly-cautious to wonder if the pandemic itself is driving some or much of this and perhaps matters will change once the pandemic is over. Not, that I expect either FG or SF to lose support or their primacy as the two largest parties, but more that movement around Ind/Others might indicate different, perhaps populist, dynamics in play.

Perhaps most notably Sinn Féin isn’t the recipient of votes spilling away from FF or FG, that being the Ind/Others. That said, as this wiki on polling since the 2020 General Election suggests, broadly speaking the new pattern of ROI politics abides a year after that election. And a question is raised by the current strength of Ind/Other. Were there an election, and the next one still appears to be years away, so this situation may well change between now and then, how would Ind/Others likely do on the current poll ratings?

The world of work, the world of workers… February 26, 2021

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This from earlier in the month in the Guardian, a report on how in the UK…

Employers are putting workers at risk and increasing Covid infection rates in communities, unions have said, as research found that as many as one in five people have been going into their workplace unnecessarily.

The alarming findings came as the government’s outgoing employment adviser, Matthew Taylor, said employers breaking Covid rules should be named, shamed and fined.

Polling conducted by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that many people were coming under undue pressure from their employer to work from offices when they could work from home.

And:

“No one should be forced into the office or another workplace if they can do their job from home. Bad bosses are needlessly putting workers at risk and increasing transmission in local communities,” said the TUC’s general secretary, Frances O’Grady.

Incredibly not one company has been fined in the UK for breach of lockdown rules. And O’Grady argues that “It’s time to end the foot-dragging approach to enforcement that has characterised workplace safety in this pandemic…”

And:

The research, commissioned by the TUC, conducted by YouGov and shared exclusively with the Guardian, suggested 19% of all those still working were going into offices or other workplaces for part or all of their working week despite them being able to do the job from home.

According to polling of nearly 1,000 employees, pressure from bosses was the principal reason many people who could work remotely were still having to go in, with about 40% falling into that category. A little more than a quarter said they preferred being in the workplace.

I can understand that last too. But at a point where the situation remains fragile, to put it mildly, it seems wilfully reckless to allow these sort of behaviours continue. And what indeed of the situation on this island? Mentioned before, from anecdotal evidence there’s no end of employers who have been equally reckless though interestingly in the main (for what it’s worth) I’m hearing much more positive reports in the last month or so. Do others have a similar sense of things?

Ask a leading question… February 26, 2021

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Even by the IT’s recent standards the question posed in their survey of public opinion on the pandemic, indeed many of the questions, is framed in a telling way. As noted by PC here… Even first-year marketing students are told not to put leading questions in their surveys:

Since when has that been defined as ‘Living with Covid’?

Of course the IT then downplays the actual caution expressed in the survey as a whole.

Just 15 per cent of respondents favour an immediate reopening of “all non-essential retail and services” while only 6 per cent favour the reopening of pubs and restaurants. There is majority support for retail to be reopened before the summer, with 55 per cent in favour, but the desire for pubs and restaurants to reopen is much weaker, with just 33 per cent saying they should open their doors before the summer.

And:

On travel and home visits, respondents are cautious, with most favouring reopening before summer rather than immediately.

And:

On allowing people to travel outside their own county, 24 per cent said this should be implemented immediately, with 50 per cent preferring before the summer.

And:

On allowing people to visit each other’s homes, the numbers are similar – 18 per cent favour an immediate reopening, 58 per cent before the summer.

And given the Summer isn’t for many months this underscores just how useless questions like the one at the top of the post are in terms of gauging actual public opinion. Still, we can expect that finding to be dragged out ad nauseam by IT adjacent commentators in the weeks and months ahead.

Ten Years Ago Today …. February 25, 2021

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The General Election that changed Irish Politics. Fianna Fáil hammered like never before, to many an amazing sight seeing them win only 20 seats. Unthinkable a few years earlier that they would be the third largest party well behind Labour and Fine Gael. Labour getting it’s highest ever number of seats and squandering a lot of the goodwill in coalition with Fine Gael. Fine Gael being the biggest party for the first time.

The Greens being wiped out, The United Left Alliance returning 5 TD’s (after no Far Left TD in the 2007-2011 Dail), Sinn Féin winning 14 seats and a lot of very interesting Independents such as Luke Ming Flanagan, Mick Wallace and Stephen Donnelly.

The ramifications of that election and subsequent Government have been something. Many leaving The Labour Party, the Social Democrats being founded, our current arrangement of Fine Gael in with Fianna Fáil, the rise of Sinn Féin,…….

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