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?