Monday, September 3, 2007

TB Is Not To Be

I kind of figured Tommy Broughan was not going to be standing for leadership of the Labour party when he phoned my mother on Wednesday night about a pretty minor local matter she had raised with his office. This was not exactly the mark of a man forming a kitchen cabinet and preparing to launch a campaign for the hearts and minds of Labour members.

Tommy is a hard working constituency politician, a reasonable Dail speaker and by most accounts, a decent fellow. Unfortunately for him, these are not sufficient qualities to be party leader. He lacks any visible support from any Labour big hitters. He lacks a national profile - but possibly this will-he-won't-he business was intended to raise one. Perhaps he thought that in a potentially divisive election between rival Labour factions he might - conceivably - have got in as a compromise candidate in a Jack Lynch, Jim Hacker sort of way. With no one else opposing Gilmore, that slim possibility was gone.

Since the election the point has been done to death but the lot of an opposition backbencher really is not a particularly happy one. He got my mother's minor matter sorted out with admirable efficiency but possibly this was the final straw for him.

'Screw this' he must have thought 'if I don't give this leadership lark a go, I'll be stuck dealing with this shite out of that shaggin' caravan 'til I retire'.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

If every post had to be written in this way...

Succinctness would be considerably more treasured. Mrs PT has the laptop for the night so I decided to try out web browser on my Wii. Very impressive for reading and browsing, hellish for writing. every letter has to be pointed to on a virtual keyboard on screen. it has taken ten minutes to input this!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

How do you prove you have read a webpage?

Why? Because of an increasingly pointless and dull discussion here.

I know, I know - I should know better.

On a brighter note, I found out I passed my exams yesterday. Extreme relief all round. Roll on the next level.

Update! Comments on the article have been closed and removed, "due to trolling". It could be the first occasion someone has cut off debate because of their own trolling but I'm assuming it is aimed at me (it is all about me, donchaknow?). But most people will never see it and make up their own minds. I guess when you call your blog Dublin Opinion it doesn't necessarily mean you always want people to give theirs or question yours too much. All that apart, it is normally a fine blog with lots of interesting stuff. Just don't ask Conor where he gets his statistics from...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

New Definition Proposed

Election (n): That event that occurs every five years where the Irish people exercise their right to vote in a new Opposition.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

But, it turns out we are happy

... and what's worse for Labour, it's because of our adoption of the dreaded Anglo Saxon model of capitalism.

I've been dealing with a French company at work extensively for the past few months. I have to send replies to emails from them with large cc: lists. The game is to try and see what is the most number of I'm-out-of-the-office autoreplies you can get with one email. Sending on a Monday is obviously good. Just after Christmas is better but anytime when they 'faire le pont' (take a day's holiday between a public holiday and the weekend), you are pretty much guaranteed a 33% rate of 'Je suis en congés jusqu'au ...' responses.

With a minimum 25 days holiday, more public holidays than here and the magic of RTT (réduction du temps de travail) whereby any hours over 35 in a week can be built up and used as extra holidays, it means they can easily have over 45 working days off in a year. I am envious. Everyone in the office is envious. It sounds so civilised, such a great way to live, so happy.

Except French workers are not happy at work. And we are.

What gives?

Some research on happiness in OECD countries by Deutsche Bank helps explain. Looking at the different models of capitalism in each country and comparing it with their level of happiness, the report identifies three broad groups of countries: "happy", "less happy" and "unhappy". The surprising result: the happy group were the Anglo-Saxon model capitalists (including us), the Nordic countries and Spain. The less happy group included France, Germany, Austria and Belgium. The unhappy group were the Southern Europeans (Italy, Greece and Portugal) and Japan and Korea.

Ten indicators were identified as being conducive to happiness: High levels of trust in fellow citizens, low corruption, low unemployment, high levels of education, high income, high employment rate of older people (retire later), small shadow economy, extensive economic freedom, low levels of employment protection and high birth rates.

Comparing Ireland and France on each of the indicators we are broadly similar on levels of corruption, high levels of income, size of shadow economy and birth rates. Where Ireland does better than France is on levels of trust, unemployment, education, employment rate of older people, extensive economic freedom and low levels of employment protection. The level of trust in a society is not really something you can legislate for, it is either there or it is not. Leaving aside education, the remaining cluster of indicators (economic freedom, low levels of employment protection, low unemployment rate and later retirement) are all related. With the exception of education, what appears to make Irish people happier than French people is that we are more economically free - despite our crap number of holidays.

It a case of happiness resulting from being closer to Boston than spending more time in Biarritz.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


The weather improved, the baby started crawling, work suddenly got busy and I've got exams in a few weeks.

Back in five mins (or so).

Saturday, March 31, 2007


The ESRI released a report last week on participation levels in sport amongst different classes in Ireland and the resulting policy implications. It found that people with low income or low educational attainment had much lower participation in sport.

Regarding income, more people who play sport come from the top 25 per cent of earners than from the bottom 50 per cent. Regarding education, 43 per cent of people who play sport have a third-level qualification, compared to 28 per cent in the wider population.

It appears that around 53% of top half earners (the 'rich') play sport as opposed to only 30% of bottom half earners (the 'poor'). Uh oh, I know what you're thinking; lots of ammunition for the less PC / more rabid columnists at the Sunday Independent in those stats. Well the ESRI thought of that and are very eager to head it off at the pass:

It could be argued that there is no direct impact of income or education on playing sport, but that people with high motivation are simply more inclined to work hard to earn money, to obtain qualifications, and also to make the physical effort required to play sport. If this were to be true, then the relationship between income, educational attainment and playing sport revealed in the last chapter would be driven by a common underlying cause, motivation, and it would be incorrect to assert that low income and low educational attainment themselves cause people to play less. However, this hypothesis based on motivation finds little support in the data.

They go on to give the stats on levels of interest and non-interest in playing across the income quartiles. It turns out that a fairly consistent 58% or so, say they are interested in playing sport - with little variation due to income. So that's alright then. But it strikes me that interest and motivation are two different things. I, for one, am interested in playing sport but not sufficiently motivated to do so (it's too cold, I left my P.E. gear at home, I have a note).

For sheer devilment, lets assume that only those interested in playing sport are actually playing it. Based on this around 90% of the 'rich' that are interested in playing sport, do so but only around 52% of the 'poor' that are interested in playing sport, do so. This means that 48% of the poor who want to play sport, don't, compared to 10% of the rich.

The ESRI seeks external reasons for the disparity (what in society is preventing poor people playing sport). The report says the participation differences are not down to lack of facilities or sport being too expensive. It has a little to do with not having a car or not living in a big city, but these are only relatively minor effects. The report never really examines the case for 'internal' reasons (what is different about poor people that they do no play sport, even if interested) being the cause. It does, however, admit:-

Overall, it is not possible to rule out underlying psychological causes, such as motivation.

.. while being anxious to point out ..

But there is nothing in the data to suggest that this is a helpful approach for explaining the strong relationships between income, educational attainment and playing sport.

One could imagine that if there was something in the data that suggested that poorer people were interested but just lacked the motivation to play sport, the ESRI would think very, very hard about publishing it. They know that the day after they did, the newspapers would be full of 'ESRI Says The Poor Are Feckless' headlines. Fintan O'Toole et al would have a conniption. There would be apoplexy on the Joe Duffy show, questions in the Dail and righteous indignation all over the blogosphere . Probably best not to go looking for such data too hard, eh?

Apologies for being late

... to the party but I have seen just (or rather, heard) the point of Josh Ritter. Lets face it, being an international artist with a hugely disproportionate following in Ireland is not always the mark of quality (c.f. David Gray, Chris Rea) but his song "Thin Blue Flame" from the 2006 album "The Animal Years" is the best thing I have heard this year. And it's available as a free and legal download via his site, which is nice.

That is all, as you were.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Beyond Irony

Meanwhile in Kerry, an embittered old man polishes his father's medals and stares into the middle distance, while a nation celebrates.

The only sound, other than singing, during God Save The Queen was of a large portion of the Irish media muttering "Ah crap, there goes my pre-written story". Their attempts to whip up some controversy last week over the matter were despicable and pathetic. We deserve better.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Some Dutch Gold To Ease Our Election Angst

Maybe Bertie communes with CJH using Ray Burke as a medium.
Maybe Enda has trouble fighting off a cold let alone knife wielding muggers.
Maybe Michael wears a leather overcoat and peaked cap in the privacy of his own home.
Maybe Pat keeps a €20 note printing press in the back of his wardrobe.
Maybe Trevor dreams of hunting endangered species in an SUV with no catalytic converter.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Call me hopelessly naive and old fashioned but isn't voting for a new government meant to have some small relation to picking the party or candidates with the policies you are most in agreement with? Sure character is important both in terms of having the credibility and ability to get their policies implemented and also for the nature of the response to unknown future events that a five year term are bound to throw up. But whatever about their character, the important thing is for voters to want to get done what the parties say they will do.

"I like Bertie Enda Pat Etc. He'll get things done. I just disagree with what he wants to do."

During the Dutch elections an online service called Vote Match helped take some of the personality element out of the voting equation.

The Vote Match system compares your political preferences with questions and statements taken from election documents of political parties contesting the elections. You can give your views on these statements by clicking on 'agree', 'disagree', ‘neutral’ or 'don’t know'. After responding to all statements, you can indicate which issues you consider of extra importance. The program will then calculate which party has opinions closest to yours, and rank the other parties in descending order.

So who wants to create an Irish election version of this? And given the recent policy gyrations, would there be any point?

Because Tonight All the Parties Think It's 1979

Labour promises to keep changing policies until they discover one votes like lower tax rates. The PDs promise to buy votes increase social welfare spending on pensions. Fianna Fail warns everyone not to get carried away and talks about fiscal responsibility.

Who has been spiking the drinking water at Leinster House?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Gentlemen, Start Your Comparisons

There is nothing like a bit of global comparison to get a sense of proportion in your life. Here are two sites to help with that.

The Global Rich List is a site where you enter your annual income and see what percentile of the world's population you are in.

Those in search of more specific comparisons should go to WorldMapper. This was developed by University of Sheffield’s Social and Spatial Inequalities Research Group. It displays maps of the world but with country sizes made proportional to some data such as income over $200 per day or population or number of tractors.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Maybe We're Just Not That Into It, Minister O Cuív

I have been arguing that people wanting to support the Irish Language should speak it if they know it, learn it if they don't (as distinct from just paying lip service to the language).

I wondered how would a working adult, who had forgotten most of their school Irish, go about (re)acquainting themselves with it? The rather obvious answer is to take some classes. So I had look on for Irish language courses in Dublin. Results back: 157. 'My that's impressive' I thought 'a veritable groundswell of support. Must be those Seoige sisters..'. And then I started scrolling through the returned result. Ahh.

The nightcourses website search facility is a little eager and brings back everything mentioning 'Irish' in its blurb. So the Irish Taxation Institute courses are included along with those for Gael Linn.

So how many actual Irish language classes are being offered in Dublin?
Answer: I counted 71 classes in 34 different institutes, including ones for Irish Sign Language.

So plenty of choice and no excuse not to learn it, if you want to use and support it.

But then I came across this: Éamon O Cuív says "At a time of increasing affluence and choice in Irish society, it would appear that more and more people are opting for the Irish language."


I wanted to test out the Minister's contention that more and more people are opting for the Irish language. I wondered how many classes were being offered in other languages. For comparison purposes I did this search - for Italian classes in Dublin. After weeding out the cookery and opera classes I found there was 88 classes in 41 institutes.

More and more people may be opting for Irish. But it looks like, in Dublin at least, more still are opting for Italian.

Monday, January 15, 2007

No Béarla or On Not Being Sasanachs

Manchan Magan's sojourn around the island speaking only Irish confirmed what most of us already knew - as a country we either can't or won't speak Our Official Language. Seeing him appear on RTE's The Panel last week did make me wonder if someone a little less floppy haired and fey (say a random Seoige sister) would have had more success. Or at least encountered less hostility.

His experience does beg the question of why should we try to promote and preserve a language amongst the populace when the overwhelming majority of people display no inclination to use it. Perversely, the same people, i.e. us, who won't speak it a) dishonestly claim on census forms that they can and b) regard attempts to lessen its importance as some sort of national betrayal. Witness all the letters to the papers in the aftermath of Fine Gael's suggestion to drop mandatory Irish after the Junior Cert.

Why do we desperately want to keep it but have no interest in using it?

The usual reasons given in support of Irish - it's importance to our cultural identity or heritage, it's beauty as a language, are fair arguments to speak and restore the language. They are not arguments to preserve it in some undead, ultra marginalised, zombie like state. The only argument I have heard in favour of this arrangement is the pub stool one: "Lads, if we don't have a different language, what is there to distinguish us from the English?" (at which point the 'debater' will sit back, fold his arms and look insufferably smug). Note that actually speaking or knowing how to speak the language is not required, just having it in existence and paid lip service to, is sufficient. (Let's leave aside the fact that being indistinguishable from the English is axiomatically assumed to be an horrendous fate).

In short, it is a tribal symbol. Its value to us is symbolic, not practical. It's a linguistic Celtic jersey.

Anyone who has 'gone travelling' knows it is always easy to spot the Canadians abroad. They always, always, always have a little maple leaf motif somewhere on their clothing or bags. Within the first 60 seconds of conversation with them they will mention they are Canadian. What they are really saying of course is that they are not American. Given the hostile attitude of large swathes of the world to the US, it is probably a wise policy. Unless you are pretty tuned in to the subtleties of accent, one tall, healthy looking, even-toothed North American is pretty much indistinguishable from any other one, nationally speaking.

As a country we should either decide to speak the language or ditch it and distribute lots of shamrock (or your favourite motif) badges/hats/shirts/whatever instead. It would be more honest and a lot cheaper.

How to Measure Media Slant

There is an interesting discussion over on the Cedar Lounge Revolution about the editorial movement to the right/centre/take-your-pick of the Irish Times. Apparently there are only three or so left-wing commentators remaining now that Eddie Holt has been axed. Personally I have my doubts about that but it does raise a really interesting question - how do we measure the 'slant' of a writer or paper one way or another? Fortunately I remembered an article (scroll to the end) I discovered on FinFacts about research by two University of Chicago economists, Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro, entitled “What Drives Media Slant? Evidence From U.S. Daily Newspapers”.

The methodology the researchers used was clever. They identified 1000 partisan phrases (from political speeches) and measured how frequently different newspapers used them in their non-editorial pages. So for example Republicans say “death tax” while Democrats say "Estate tax". They both mean the same thing but using one or the other reflect a certain slant. The results were pretty much as might expect - The Washington Times used Republican phrases while papers like The San Francisco Chronicle and The Boston Globe used Democratic ones. It is a useful ready-reckoner if you find yourself reading something from a non-familiar source - you can determine what slant they are likely to be coming from. The data can be found here.

The question is if one was attempting something similar for Irish papers or individual columnists (or even bloggers), what 'partisan' phrases should one use? For example: On the right: "national competitiveness", On the left: "race to the bottom".

I would love to hear suggestions for others.

An Outrageous Suggestion

US Military Flights For Knock?

You have got to be kidding. Haven't the poor bastard soldiers suffered enough?