Better by design............................................................................. Tuesday 31st December 2002
There was a discussion on Photo.net recently on the extent of wildlife in Ireland that could be photographed. True, Ireland does not have large dangerous beasts roaming wild any more (unless you count lads from Tuam!) but there is still a great variety of both flora and fauna. And you'll be pushed to find a better collection of Irish wildlife photographs than Mike Brown's book Ireland's Wildlife, A Photographic essay, which was one of my better Xmas pressies.
The photos are sumptuous, and also includes anecdotes on how the photographs were taken. There is a small selection of the photos on Mike Brown's website but, to be honest, the web versions don't do them justice.
I came across a similar site for cars called Peach or Lemon, which consists of reviews of cars by their (sometimes long-suffering) owners. When I looked up the category for my own jalopy, I found a few familiar complaints, and a bucketload more that I can look forward to. Doh!
Better by design............................................................................. Monday 30th December 2002
An Post have apologised for the non-delivery of about 1 million pieces of mail (mainly Christmas cards) and promised that all outstanding mail would be delivered by the end of the week. Personally, I couldn't be happier since I only got around to posting my cards on Christmas Eve, and now I have an excuse.
An Post have blamed their newly-acquired sorting equipment that apparently has difficulty sorting mail in coloured envelopes or non-regular sizes (just the thing for sorting Christmas cards, then). I wonder what group of design geniuses developed that machine?
It reminds me of the story about a farmer that wants to improve the milk yield of his cows. He goes to the local university and asks a psychologist, a geologist and a physicist for advice. The psychologist tells the farmer to play soft music in the milking parlour and to speak softly to the cows. "This will makes the cows feel happier and they will produce more milk".The farmer takes some notes, thanks the psychologist and goes to the office of the geologist. The geologist explains to the farmer how the soil composition affects the quality and quantity of the grass in the fields, and gives him a stack of books on how to improve the grass growth. "More grass, and better grass, will mean more milk". Weighed down by advice and books, the farmer finally goes to the physicist and explains that he wants his cows to give more milk, and mentions the advice that he had already received. The physicist furrows his brow, thinks for a few minutes before getting up to the blackboard in his office. "Assume a spherical cow..."
The Western People reports that the Mayor of Ballina has lost the confidence of at least one town councillor because of his actions over what is known as "the Sophie story" in Ballina.
Cllr Padraig Moore said the Mayor should have let the matter lie following the [initial] article in the Western People. I have no confidence in him for any future negotiations. I am sure the matter will be discussed further at the next Council meeting, he said.
The mayor had originally objected to a picture of Sophie Dahl in the window of Wards, a local pharmacy.
The poster was a provocative photograph of supermodel Sophie Dahl lying naked on a draped pedestal. In a light hearted response to the Mayors complaints, the proprietor of Wards, Mr Padraig Ward, put a strategically placed card over the poster which read By order of the Mayor over the poster. The national print media and national airwaves picked up on the story immediately and follow-up stories were accompanied by photographs of the Mayor in bed with the poster.
Of course, the national, largely Dublin-based media just love these stories - another excuse to patronise the culchies. Mind you, the Sunday papers were pretty light on news yesterday - most of the stories were reviews of the year (and fairly uninsightful at that).
The fluffiest piece of 'journalism' I found yesterday was a piece entitled "Literary Lady" in the Sunday Independent. The piece, which consisted of a photo plus caption, described how John McGahern had been awarded novel of the year by the Sunday Idependent and Hughes & Hughes booksellers (for "That They May Face the Rising Sun"). The photo was of Dr. Robin O'Reilly who was pictured, not with McGahern, but at a bash for a hairdressing salon! Did I mention that Dr. Robin is the daughter-in-law of the Independent's owner (Sir Anthony) and was recently 'elected' Party Person of the Year 2002, described in a pile of breathless gush here. Pulitzer Prize, here we come!
Fin de siècle.......................................................................... Monday 23rd December 2002
The European Union have called for the removal of 150,000 sheep from the west of Ireland (on environmental grounds), which will mean the nightlife in Mayo should quieten considerably. Seriously, there isn't a mountain in the west that hasn't been picked bare by the overgrazing of sheep, whose presence is wholly due to EU subsidy in the first place. It might make things easier for tourists cycling around the hills in Connacht - it's bad enough peddling against the wind without worrying if a dozy bundle of wool will wander out in front of you.
Fishermen are feeling like an endangered species too. It looks like there will be far more restrictions on fishermen in 2003 (i.e the number of days they can spend at sea), and they may well face increased competition from the huge Spanish fleet in the new year within the previously restricted area known as the "Irish box".
And finally, a happy Christmas to all of you......
Fowl Play .......................................................................... Thursday 19th December 2002
Both ElectricNews and the Mayo News reports the finding of the Western Development Commission that the lack of broadband in the West of Ireland is a serious problem for industry. What broadband exists is far too scarce and expensive, compared to other European countries.
In making its argument for cheap broadband, the report gives the example of ANU Internet Technologies, which moved to Galway City from Westport in County Mayo, when it realised that it would allow it to cut its communications bill from EUR33,000 to EUR22,000, while doubling its bandwidth. Stephan Wik, the managing director of ANU, said that a colleague in Germany pays just EUR16 a month for access to DSL, whereas Wik would have to pay EUR90 per month for the same service.
These findings come as no surprise to anyone who actually lives in the West of Ireland. If the government had a little more backbone, there might actually be some competition for internet, cable TV, etc. Even Irish domain names are a rip off!. Instead, we get a lot of crap about being "closer to Boston than Berlin" in terms of business attitude.
Government hogwash such as this ignores the fact that the Irish technology boom is based mostly on foreign technology companies taking advantage of an educated workforce and Ireland's low corporate tax rates - two advantages that are no longer peculiar to Ireland. The indigenous hi-tech industries (typically much smaller in scale and more sensitive to the effect of operational costs) are struggling against archaic infrastructure.
I have a friend who lives in another European country where they have already tackled the communication infrastructure problem. He leaves his computer on all day streaming RTE's live radio feed over a cheap broadband connection - no different than using a radio - just as it should be.
I've been doing some cooking recently. While stuck in Sweden, I decided to make full use of the kitchenette in my apartment by cooking a duck. Ye gods! It was pricey. It cost 10 euro a kilo, nearly 25 euro in total. For that sort of money, I'd expect to get a duck with a career in Disney. Throw in the cost of the other ingredients (including a half-bottle of port and a bottle of Beaujolais) and it might have been cheaper just to go to a good restaurant. To put it in perspective, the local Supervalue has frozen 2.5 kilo ducks for under a tenner.
However, the results were rather good. I used the liver and kidneys to make the base of a good gravy (along with the juices) and scored the skin to ensure fat-free and deliciously crispy skin (a tip I got from Rick Stein's excellent cookery series, Food Heroes). I also imbued my apartment, and every single item of clothing within, with the scent of eau de campsite which attracted the odd glance from fellow passengers on thebus the next day. It also took me a while to shut the smoke alarm off (try a few hours).
Undeterred, I bought a pheasant last weekend at the foodmarket in Temple Bar in Dublin. There are plenty of recipes on the web, but I went for a simple one. I stuffed the bird with a mixture of onion and apple (and a sprig of thyme) and but in a baking tin. I rubbed some brandy into the skin and covered it with maple-cured rashers (when you take the bird out after 40 minutes for a look, they make a very tasty snack). After an hour or so, it was done. I made a sauce from the stuffing, juices, cream and cranberry sauce (next time, I will use a mixture of apple, orange and sultanas in the stuffing). Delicious, slightly gamey taste and not a pick left on the carcass. For 6 euro, you've just got to try it.
The kiss of the Blarney....................................................... Wednesday 18th December 2002
The N17 will never be the same again ! Seamus Brennan opened 16km of new road (officially termed the Knock-Claremorris bypass) yesterday - perhaps the Sawdoctors will have to add another verse to their song.
An article in the Wall Street Journal (via P45) about Irish accents in movies- it's written by a Corkman (do they ever stop complaining?) - and is pretty negative about the efforts of Hollywood's finest.
Rourke scorches an early trail as IRA bomber Martin
Fallon in "A Prayer for the Dying," a role he
waived his salary to play and then disowned upon
beholding the finished silliness. This film does for
Ireland what "Tarzan" did for Uganda.
No quibble there. However, he is not impressed by Mr. Jennifer Aniston either. After slating Brad Pitt's accent in Devil's Own, he contiues
Mr. Pitt takes a second bite of the forbidden fruit with his version of the rakish Celtic criminal in "Snatch." As Mickey O'Neil, Mr. Pitt reveals the wondrous scope of his acting range, moving from his earlier turn as a pugilistic Irish lawbreaker whose accent is unrecognizable to a pugilistic Irish lawbreaker whose speech is wholly unintelligible.
The article ignores the obvious example,The Quiet Man as well as the worst Irish-accented movie , Widow's Peak, which starred Mia Farrow. For maximum begorrah and shillelagh value, it's hard to beat Darby O'Gill and the Little People - starring that all-singing and all-dancing Celtic superstar (unfortunately) - Sean Connery.
The BBC have run a newsmaker poll during the year (i.e. the names that have dominated the news). I wonder who would dominate an Irish poll - two frontrunners would be Roy Keane (another Corkman - enough said) and Frank Dunlop, who clearly believes that confession is good for the soul.
Culture Vultures....................................................... Monday 16th December 2002
Culture indeed. Jordan, erstwhile "page Three stunna" visited Ballinasloe over the weekend to open a nightclub - normally she's falling out of them, somewhat the worst for wear (if indeed she is wearing anything at all).
Anyone who has driven through Ballinasloe when they are bulldozing the landfill site at Poolboy at the edge of town will know how the smell permeates the whole town. It puts this debate on slashdot into perspective (they are complaining about the smell of a coffee-roasting plant). Incidently, just typing "Poolboy dump" into Google returns some pretty unsavoury links...
It's time for some recycling of my own - here is a music & movie quiz that was put together last year and has sat on my site for the last year. It's all audio clips (so headphones may be required) and some of the files are pretty big (so your employers' bandwidth may be required). Hey...it's the week before Christmas..time to relax.
Bits and pieces........................... Friday 13th December 2002
Friday 13th and it's freezing here (-7 this morning). I
can't wait to get back to terra firma (and terra
Välkommen ombord........................... Wednesday 11th December 2002
an ode to Google (the search
engine) on MSNBC.com, while the Register carries news of two new Google
Thank you for calling........................... Sunday 8th December 2002
today is the day that country folk travel up to Dublin to
do their shopping. It's nice to think that the
capital gets a bit more civilised and smarter for
at least one day of the year.
Ill Winds........................................... Monday 2nd December 2002
to make it home to the Auld Sod for the weekend, and
spent it on the family farm. Alas, since my last vist,
one of the old ash trees had been felled, as it had begun
to rot. A quick count of the rings (followed by a few
recounts) revealed 140-160. Since the remaining stump is
about 6 foot from the roots, I guess the tree was about
200 years old. Imagine, it was a seedling as the Act of
Union was passed (which lead to the abolition of the
Irish parliament, and the creation of the United Kingdom
and the Union Jack flag) and the French revolution
was in full swing (of the guillotine, mainly).
another year draws to a close, let's have a look at the winners and losers over the past year (in no particular order of importance).
The government. Even as the claws began to disappear from the Celtic Tiger, and even more dirty Fianna Fail laundry was aired in public (courtesy of the various tribunals), Bertie Ahern lived up to his nickname of Teflon Taoiseach and delivered another Fianna Fail-Progressive Democrat coalition government (despite the fact that the PDs practically campaigned against Fianna Fail to increase their vote). If this government runs it's full course, Bertie will be the longest serving Taoiseach of all without having really stood for anything in particular and everything in general.
Bertie also managed to persuade the electorate to vote Yes in the second Nice referendum - amazing what happens when politicians actually bother to go out and canvas. He was less successful with the Abortion referendum in March - a poll that neither pro-life or pro-choice campaigners really wanted, as the following quotes demonstrate.
The opposition. It was a bad year for Fine Gael and the Labour Party. Despite a rising clamour from the media on everything from the state of the health service, traffic jams and the price of houses, neither of the main opposition party could persuade the electorate that a change of government would make things better. Fine Gael ousted their leader John Bruton in order to present a more media-friendly image - then they went and chose Michael Noonan and Jim Mitchell as their 'dream team'. Noonan may blame media coverage of his treatment (while Health Minister some years earlier) of women who were infected by Hepatitis C due to faulty medical treatment. The reality was that the new leadership didn't seem to have any better ideas than Bruton's team and suffered accordingly. Fine Gael lost seats, Noonan was replaced by Enda Kenny (whose numerous gaffes will keep the media busy in 2003) and Jim Mitchell passed away in November.
Labour didn't fare much better at the election, and found that it's 'yuppie' vote defect to the Green Party and it's working class vote chose Sinn Fein. By the end of the year, Ruairi Quinn was replaced by media darling Pat Rabbitte.
The Euro. 300 million Europeans woke up on New Years Day 2002 to a new currency. Despite predictions of chaos, Ireland took to the Euro with quiet efficiency. Ireland was the only country where prices would increase numerically after the changeover. The Euro helped confirm what a lot of people had long suspected - many goods and services in Ireland were more expensive than in our European neighbours.
The Catholic church. Earlier this year, the Pope told a group of Italian lawyers that their participation in divorce cases was incompatible with their faith. It prompted many to wonder what the Pope thought of lawyers who used every loophole in the law to ensure that the church and it's priests escaped censure for their past crimes, particularly in relation to child molestation.
It was an annus horribilis for the church in Ireland, capped by allegations last week that a Catholic priest helped organize an IRA bombing operation in 1972 and that the then Cardinal [Conway] in Ireland helped cover up his involvement.
More cases of child abuse and cover-ups were discovered, and Cardinal O'Connell was heckled in church by abuse victims and is under pressure to resign. (In dealing with one abuse victim, he apparently saw a substantive difference between telling 'the truth and the whole truth"). The Church's spin was that child abuse and paedophilia was not properly understood until recently - as if a highly-educated group of men could not figure out that the serial raping of children (and the subsequent legal obstruction of the victims) was wrong. Given that one particular sexual abuse was uncovered in the seminary in Maynooth, whose trustees include quite a number of Irish bishops, it may be that Cardinal O'Connell's legacy will be to ensure that no Irish parent will allow their children to either become priests or to be administered by one.
Due process. Yes, the tribunals are phenomenally expensive, last for years and entirely avoidable if Ireland was peopled with honest politicians, public servants and businessmen with a concern for the public good. But it isn't so we have tribunals instead. At present, the Gardaí, parts of the health service, certain politicians and practically half the builders in the country are under investigation, and apart from Liam Lawler, no-one has seen the inside of a prison cell. Yet. Justice delayed may well be justice denied but it is better than no justice at all.
The Gardai. The actions of the Gardai at the anti-globalization protest in central Dublin in May captured the best and worst of the Gardai - most of the Gardai originally despatched to marshall the protest kept a cool head - unfortunately, reinforcements from another station ran amok, creating a scene reminiscent of the RUC in the bad old days. Coupled with the most extraordinary allegations against Gardai in Donegal(being investigated by the Morris Tribunal) and allegations of incompetence and worse in relation to the Omagh bombing investigation, it will be interesting to see how the new Minister for Justice deals with these issues, if at all.
Sport. Despite all the malarkey with Roy Keane's tantrums with Mick McCarthy, it was a good World Cup, and the Irish players that did bother to stay played their hearts out. On the home front, Croke Park is a simply great stadium and, though the West didn't fare so well this year, it was another very good year for the GAA.
RTE. There's a lot of good work done in RTE. There's also a lot of whinging and moaning, which ultimately paid off when the Government announced a 43 euro increase (thanks for yet another tax increase, lads!). And how will they spend it ? Why, on yet another episode of Fair City per week. Couldn't they just dub the episodes of Eastenders that they show with Dublin accents.
[TD] said RTÉ might have a special place on Irish
airwaves but that did not mean it could spend licence
payers' money without being held accountable.
That's code for RTE finally telling the Dail how much Pat Kenny, Marian Finucane et al actually earn. TD's hope that once the public find out that top RTE stars earn more than them, the press will forget about about the lucrative trough in which our TDs so happily snuffle. Fat chance.
RTE also persisted with Batchelor's Walk, a comedy drama about three guys living together in Dublin. Despite the ridiculous media hype, it wasn't much good. The most obvious problem was the character with the biggest storyline was played by the poorest actor, Don Wicherley, while the two very good actors (Simon Delaney and Keith McErlean) were lumbered with slightly outlandish plots. If only Keith McErlean was the main star - he's hilarious. In the most recent episode, when told by his clearly delighted girlfriend that she was pregnant, he protests "But you're too old to get pregnant!".
Shows such as "Ask Anna" (featuring former Big Brother non-entity Anna Nolan with the screen presence of a fridge magnet), another run of Treasure Island (dammit, just leave them there) and the appalling You're a Star (aren't there enough gimps on telly already?) hardly justify any public service remit, so why are we paying for them?
|(c) north atlantic skyline 2002|
|The blog is updated once a week, usually
at the weekend. More often if the cows are milked early.