The Debbie McGee Moment. Look at the real villains

November 25, 2009

Lots of people apparantly took time during the strike yesterday to go North. As I said on Twitter yesterday THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THESE WERE PUBLIC SERVANTS. On RTE 1 yesterday evening 6 of the 7 people they talked to were NOT Public Servants. And they seemed to find it difficult to find Public Servants to talk to or even evade them (they got one person who wouldn’t talk).

Yes this whole thing is being spun, and spun massively. Yes I can see the cuts already inflicted on the public service and there is more to come. The budget has to be cut by €4 Billion this year, €4 billion next year and €3 billion the year after. Everyone (public and private sector ) are hurting and the politican are avoiding taking the bullet on this. Just finishing “Ship of Fools” by Fintan O’Toole at the moment which documents the last 30 years of bad governance and “me feinsim” in Irish political life. Even if we reformed the government we’re still faced with the problemt that we as a country are broke.

Yes NAMA is another disaster and the money flowing into the banks is being done badly. Yes we could save €1.5 Billion next year by not paying into the National Pension Reserve Fund. And we’re still broke. So I think we need to hang together or we will hang seperately. The net achievement of the strike yesterday – Wildly spun media stories, Right wing idoelogues like Jim Power from Friends First getting air time ( I single him out because like Catherine and me he comes from Carrick -on -Suir) and the Government saves €50Million. Thats it. Oh no there is one other thing, a lot of people in the private sector who are hanging on by their fingernails getting more furious with the Public Sector. It fuel people like Pat Kenny who seem to be on a rant against the public sector.

I think the Public Sector are badly led. (The exact phrase I used was “Heroes led by Muppets”). If there is another 1 day strike it’ll mean the government save another €50 million. The case of the public sector will be weakened in the eyes of the private sector. And so on.

The debate needs to be about the Government plan for the future for jobs and the growth of the economy. For the reform of Government and governance. At the moment the Unions are wrestling with a pig. And they are getting dirty and the pig is enjoying it. Given the history of the past few months / years I cannot see any way that this government could be seen as resolute and acting in the national interest. Yet thats how the Government are being seen this week.  I call it “the Debbie McGee moment”. If anyone still remembers Paul Daniels the magician and his assistant (latter wife) – Debbie McGee.  To distract you from the fiddling that was going on Paul would have Debbie walk across the stage and the set. It gave him the distraction time to work his magic. This is what the Government are getting away with at the moment turing the public and private sectors on each other. Distracting from NAMA, the lack of a jobs policy and anything that comes close to proper reform. And they are lapping it up.

Right I’ll shut off the rant now and see if I can get anyone else to sign this


The twitterific / terribly terrific “The Emergency Live”

November 12, 2009

I was at the excellent “The Emergency Live” last night.

I’ll have to be honest and say I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Radio shows and webclips don’t necessarily translate to a live stage show. And I was bringing my wife who other than having heard Joe Taylor on the radio doing the Tribunal pieces didn’t know the team.

So after having FAG stamped on our hands (in case we desperately needed a fag break I assume) and making our way past the bouncers we descended downstairs to the Laugher Lounge.

The show started at 8:30 and ran for 90 minutes with a 15 minute break. Thats  a movie or half a tv comedy series in one go. And the quality was superb throughout. The writing was sharp, the performances note perfect and the satire cutting. We segwayed from Enda Kenny as Jedward, reworkings of songs by the Beatles and Johnny Cash via Star Wars, Star Trek (the FF Lack of Enterpise) and Spiderman through NAMA.

In many ways it was like someone had taken the front of the radio and invited you inside. The various tools of the trade that  produce the radio sound effects were used to great effect. But with added depth and richness. I’ve heard “Lenihan comes to town” a number of times in audio.  This was like going from black and white to colour.  The live performance was even better as the physical energy of the team projected itself into the audience.

The highlights.  It almost seems churlish to highlight anything and I know I’ll think about this later and what to add more . I loved the sketch of “The Judges” where everyone of the team took on the persona of Judge from Wanderly Wagon is a sketch about our judicial system. Think that went over the heads of a few people in the audience. Joe Taylor as Garrett Fitzgerald was note perfect. Nick McGivney as Kevin Myers could write his column if Mr Myers is ever indisposed. Karen Ardiff as Joan Bruton almost too close to the bone. Morgan C. Jones turn as Darth Vader Gormley and Johnny Cash. Dermot Carmody as Generic Green Party member was funnier than it should have been. Much funnier.  The whole thing worked on both the individual performances and as a group as the baton flowed effortlessly from person to person

They filletted the goverment, raked over the carcasses of the Greens, did a postmortem on the problem of everyone who gets into bed with Fianna Fail (election dysfunction). The also got to the nub of the problem with Enda Kenny in a way no political commentator has ever done. There was much satire, lots of humour and terrifying amount of truth in the show.

This was a highly polished professional performance. It flowed effortlessly and for a 90 minute show I don’t want to start to think about how much effort when into this. The hours sweating over the details and making all of this work together is frightening.

If you get a chance to see the show, please go.

So I have a final question. How come “The Emergency” isn’t back on Radio or heading for TV. C’mon RTE get your act together, or for heavens sake Newstalk where is the next season?

Thoughts on 2050 A braindump part 1

October 19, 2009

Ireland in 2050 Thoughts &  comments.

I took “Ireland in 2050” on a weekend away. I also took a lot of fiction and some graphic novels (which is a fancy word for big comics). I didn’t think I’d get past the fiction and the graphic novels. In reality I barely got to the fiction as I used my available reading time devouring “Ireland in 2050” (2050).

It’s an enjoyable read. And an interesting exercise. And an important one.  Steven Kinsella sets out to start a row about our future. I don’t think there has been much debate about our future since De Valera’s view of “comely maidens dancing at the crossroads”. Lemass had an economic vision. Garrett Fitzgerald had a social and liberal vision, with the economic one being consigned to fixing the economic mess.

On the whole there has been little debate, serious or otherwise about where we are going as a nation for a long time. Bertie Ahern said he was a pragmatict without ideology.  As Keynes said about those “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.” As to which economist well thats another story. So I love the idea of having a row about our future. We need it. And it could help us out of the mess we are in at the moment.

At one level while 2050 seems a long way away it isn’t. That’s an explicit point Steven makes in the book. And for the sake of our children and ourselves its something we need to think about. Its also something I’m interested in as I have 3 myself. Our children are hostages to posterity in many ways.

These are my random thoughts on the book. A fully account would take more time than I have at the moment. And both of our time could be better spend. You should start with reading the book. In fact if you didn’t read another word here and just went and read the book instead then I’d have achieved something.

The hook against which this exercise is set is a few months in the life of the imagined Murphy family as a hook to hang a number of thoughts against and to give us something we can relate to.

On page 35 I’ve written “The future is here, its just not evenly distributed yet” which is a quote from William Gibson which underlines that much of what the world is going to be like in 40 years has already been invented, its just going to be more pervasive.

On pg 42 he makes a distinction between income (what we earn per year) and wealth (stored income) and points out while we’ve recently had high incomes in Ireland we as a nation haven’t accumulated much wealth.  This distinction is an important one that is seldom made (and even less so over the past few boom years).  He also points out that our economy is < 1% of European total so our €191 billion could almost be a rounding error in European terms

On page 49 he refers to the tiger years as being “a series of very fortunate circumstances” – something Paul Krugman pointed out in 1997 about much FDI in Ireland up to that point. This is something that came through when I looked at this area when doing my MBA dissertation a few years ago.  He also quotes Joe (JJ) Lee on this point and Lee’s rather superb “Ireland Politics & Society”.  (There is nothing like the confirmation of your own biases).

There is an interesting and important discussion about the role of the US and how important it will be in 2050. On this point I’d like to think he’s right and I’m not sure. I’d contrast the UK between 1910 and 1950 as the comparative example. See this video for an explanation of what I mean. [Did you know 3] Either way the idea of making Ireland a trading hub is a good one.

I don’t know if he’s being provocative, or just trying to scare me when he refers to the possibility of a religious revival due to society calling “the benefits of extreme individualism” into account. He does mention the role of the church persisting for another two generations, as most of us remain “nominally catholic”. Whats missing at this point is the reason why. The role of the church as a shadow welfare state may have been eclipsed, and its role over ritual in society hasn’t.  Birth, death and marriage and most critically its role in schooling and it refusal to relinquish that grip at any level are critical. Try getting your kids into a catholic school that is paid for by the general tax fund without being nominally catholic. (That’s a rant of a different order).

The role of the student having “the blinkered pony” about him is an interesting discussion. “We prepare our children for their lives as adults by attempting, in some sense, to produce university professors”. Its worse than that in many ways. We expect students to be able to answer questions, we tell them that there are answers to questions and that if they can’t answer questions they’re dumb. While back in the real world understanding problems, being terrified because there are no answers or a dozen answers and being able to work through to a good answer is the norm. It being able to cope with not knowing and working through to answers is one of the key skills that we are missing.  He uses some of Sir Ken Robinsons work to illustrate his points that we need to “kill the education system, not creativity”. If anyone want to understand the industrial roots of the classroom then, start by reading John Taylor Gattos “The Seven Lesson Schoolteacher” And then get more information at Gatto’s own site.

There is an interesting discussion on privacy and the notion of privacy being an analogue one. This is one point where I think that there will be some changes. I grew up in a small town where there was little privacy. You couldn’t go anywhere or do anything without being seen by someone, and you were stamped by who you were – your family, parents, brothers and sisters placed you in a context it was difficult to escape from.  Despite this there was some privacy. As teenagers we found ways to be private. Just as teenagers today are doing. Many are texting rather than twittering as texting is 1:1 not broadcast and gives some modicum of privacy. There is plenty of stuff on Facebook and MySpace. There is plenty not on it either.

Anyway these are points for discussion rather than major disagreements….. And that’s just my thoughts on the first 1/3 of the book. Have I told you to go read it yet.

I’d intended to put all my thoughts on the book into this one post.  Over a thousand words later thats not going to happen. So with only a third of the book read you can see all the ideas that are being provoked in my head… Go read the book for yourself.  And I’ll update my thoughts on the other 2/3 of the book later.

Vote Yes

September 29, 2009

Sometimes I despair of the Lisbon debate. In a more idealised world I would imagine something along the debate between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson over the federalisation of the United States and no I don’t mean this is a federal Europe I mean a discussion based on principled merits with sound philosophical principles underneath. One of the few who comes close to this on the NO side is Fergus O’Rourke (see his site for a summary of some of his argument and see his website for more details). It about as far from the mind numbing nonsence of Coir as you can get.

So I’m voting yes.

I won’t attempt to convince you. I’ll set out my reasons. I’m voting yes for a mix of pragmatic and philosophical reasons.

Pragamtic (too often the negative reasons)
If we vote know our Debt costs will increase. I’m convinced of this. Ray Kinsella may argue otherwise. He’s wrong. And the cost will run into the hundreds on millions if not Billions. We cannot afford this. Not after the Government has brought the country to near ruin.

Job creation and FDI. We’ve have sucked at the teat of FDI so long I think we may have crippled the development of indigenous industry. Unfortunately we’re not in a position to

We will be marginalised in Europe. We’re a small country. Influence, the ability to negiotate, to hustle and make deals is the only way to thrive in Europe. We’ve done that successfully for the last 36 years, spectacularly so in some cases. And its not all about money. You screw over your friends then don’t be surprised when your influence wanes. “We can’t be kicked out of Europe”. That is true. We can be ostracised and that in effect may be just as bad.

Philosophical (the positive reasons)
Europe has been good for Ireland. Economically, socially, culturally, legally. Asking “what has Europe ever done for us?” is a bit like asking the question “what have the Romans ever done for us?” in Monty Python. Aside from the €72 Billion that we’ve received in EU funds, the roads  and infrastructure that its built, there are better environmental regulations, better social legislation, equal rights, better consumer protection and so on. On many things I believe the EU has protected and looked after me better than my own Government over a number of decades.

Global warming and Energy Policy. There is a significantly bigger role for the EU in these areas and they are going to be critical in the coming decades.

So I’m voting Yes

And if if that doesn’t persuade you maybe this will

Of course you can always subscribe to the Dark Side

Hat tip to Damien Mulley for those last two.

Cyling in Dublin

September 21, 2009

Mark Little is looking for ideas on the dangers of cycling in Dublin.

I’ve been doing it for 10 years (or so) and here are my general thoughts.

* Cycle lanes are essential. We don’t have enough of them

* The general conditions of the roads in Dubin are very poor. I have destroyed more wheels and come off my bike a number of times due to the conditions of the road.

* HGVs. Just stay away from them. Don’t even go near them. Its a bit like being an ant on the ground when a giant is stomping around. They don’t notice you and you’ll get squished.

* Buses. Busses are almost as bad as HGVs and you’ll meet a hell of a lot more of them as bike lanes typically share bus lanes. They’re big you’re small. They also go like the clappers. Keep your distance.

* Weather. It rains less often than people think in Dublin. First letter home to my parents when I came to college commented on this fact. You’ll get soaked occasionally but its not a real problem taken across the year as a whole (and that includes the summer just gone).

* Other cyclists. Drivers hate cyclists – and for good reason. Behaviour borders on the insane at times.

* Pedestrians. I think a large percentage of pedestrians in Dublin have a death wish. Given how they behave around cars in general and they ignore bikes – assuming almost they don’t exist, the bike will break (or can break) or swerve in time to avoid them.

NAMA – The Truth about NAMA that no one seems to mention

September 8, 2009

The truth about NAMA.

NAMA is a crock. A towering pile of unbelievable horse manure that is being foisted on the Irish people by the same shower of criminals* that brought you the propery bubble in the first place.

David McWilliams, Brian Lucey and other have written cogent analysis of NAMA. Labour and Fine Gael have come up with better proposals. I’m not going to dwell on those questions here.

Even if it works its going to be a terrible disaster for a few reasons.

NAMA is premised on the illusory concept of “long term economic value of property”. I don’t know about you but I want the “long term economic value of property” to be as cheap as possible. I have kids when they grow up I’d like them to be able to afford houses.

When I bought my current house it was valued at €250,000 Euros. We managed to afford it because we made €50,000 profit on the house we had bought two years earlier. About 18 months or so ago houses on our road were selling for €700,000. That is a 280% increase in 8 years. Currently houses on the road are selling for €475,000. That’s still a 190% increase on the price we paid. And its also more than 10 times the average industrial wage. Its mad. If NAMA is to believed then effectively they are waiting for house price to go back to their long term economic value. Which means the inflated prices they were at 18-24 months ago. I’d prefer if they continued to fall (and I feel very sorry for people who bought houses in the last 5 years). As I said I want house to be affordable. Between 1992 and 1999 houses where I live went from approximately €90,000 to €250,000 I purchased at.

If these house had increased at a rate of 5% per year from 1992 then they’d be worth approximately €210,000 today. If I use the rate of value of a properly based on a multiple of rents used in a number of places I get a value of €260,000. So lets say the proper long term economic value of a house around where I live is €300,000 to be generous (that equates to an increase of approx 8% per annum compounded which is a fairly incredible return). To reach its long term economic value on this basis the price of housing would have to fall by an additional 37%. That is a total drop in value of 57% not a million miles away from Morgan Kellys suggestion that house prices would fall by 80%.

So “the long term economic value” is LESS than the current market value. That makes it the biggest smash and grab in history. Its time to clean out the Augean stables.

The second point is that there is an opportunity cost to the money we will was down the sewer in a vain attempt to prop up the banks and the property market. Thats for another post.

* You can pick your own definition of criminal from

  • Condemnable: bringing or deserving severe rebuke or censure; criminal waste of talent”; “a deplorable act of violence”;
  • guilty of crime or serious offense; “criminal in the sight of God and man”
  • someone who has committed a crime or has been legally convicted of a crime
  • involving or being or having the nature of a crime; “a criminal offense”; “criminal abuse”; “felonious intent””