Let’s not try to avoid the obvious here. The Seanad is an embarrassment. It’s astonishingly, intrinsically and indeed deliberately unrepresentative. It is a pawn of the executive, a sinecure for the superannuated, an affront to democracy.
But it’s something.
Embarrassing and undemocratic, because our Senate is fascist through and through. I’m quite serious. Its structure was inspired by a social theory called corporatism, applied under Mussolini’s government and endorsed enthusiastically by the Papacy as an alternative to the danger of electing socialists or communists.
The idea was that instead of voting in the traditional area-based way, members of society would be represented according to the role they played. So there would be workers’ representatives and bosses’ representatives, and instead of strikes (which would be illegal) they would reach agreement in parliament. It all seems rather sweet and naive really. If you overlook the fascist bit. It’s also fantastically paternalistic and condescending. Rather like communism, you don’t get to elect lawmakers directly. You elect people who elect people who elect people.
Well OK, one sort of person is considered sufficiently mature. As a university graduate, I get to vote directly for a Senator! We’re smart. The rest of you, you’re all represented by your trade union or your business organisation. And if you’re not an employee, an employer or a member of the graduate professions, well I guess you just don’t belong in the ideal world of Pope Pius XI.
At the same time though, the Senate can’t actually do anything. In framing the constitution of 1937, de Valera wasn’t going to create a power system to rival his party machine. Arguably it was a sop to the Catholic Church – which unlike communism actually could threaten democratic government. The Senate can say what it likes but it can’t stop a law passing or force any amendments. It can just delay a bill.
Unless the Dáil considers it urgent, and suspends even that power.
We should be glad I guess that it’s both powerless and undemocratic, and not just one of those things. But what it should be of course is neither. Whether directly elected or appointed by lottery (actually a better idea than it sounds), it must be constituted in a way that represents people equally. And it should have powers. Not to rival the Dáil’s authority of course, but sufficient to oversee legislation.
We speak of the checks and balances necessary to democracy, but in practise we ignore them pretty much completely. We have a winner-takes-all system of government. When you’ve got the Dáil you’ve hit the jackpot. Take the opposite extreme: In the US the executive is elected directly, entirely independently of the legislature. The legislature itself is divided into two houses of almost equal power, watching each other. These three branches plus the judiciary keep power balanced. Sometimes rather closely balanced as we’re seeing right now, but balanced.
Our system looks a lot like that, but the resemblance is almost wholly superficial. Despite being directly elected, our President is virtually powerless. The executive is elected by, and from among, the party or parties that win the Dáil (House). Finally, the Senate is packed with the executive’s nominees. So it’s true to say that the deadlock currently besetting America wouldn’t happen under our system. But that’s because under ours, the President and the Senate would be Republican too.
An Irish Taoiseach is as close to a dictator as it’s possible to get under the rule of law. Party discipline ensures cabinet assent. Except in rare cases of a minority administration, his will is inevitably carried out by the legislature. Only the judiciary is truly independent, and the circumstances under which they can review legislation are highly circumscribed. So it’s true that abolishing the Senate won’t remove a lot of government supervision. Just the little bit we had.
And once it’s gone, once all power is finally vested in the Dáil, do you seriously think they’ll ever give it back? We need a parliamentary system with more checks and balances, not fewer.
How many people would drink Guinness if it were not for its association with Ireland?
It might still be a known product, sure. Its following in Africa for example probably has little to do with its Irish origins. But for most people, the images of beverage and country are almost indistinguishable – despite it being owned by British-based Diageo. If you strip away the associations with Irish culture – or what people suppose to be Irish culture – what are you left with? No tradition, no fun-loving attitude, no music and mystery. Just a black drink with a bitter taste and weird texture.
Diageo should ruminate on this. Without the Irish market, there would be little enough market for Guinness.
Ironically these thoughts are prompted by an effort to regain market share in Ireland. I say share; I doubt that Guinness has declined much in total sales, but it remains associated with the more relaxed, conversational drinker. The biggest growth sector – the young, excessive drinker – prefers cider, lagers, alcopops, Buckfast. Any old shit in fact, as long as they can drink a lot of it quickly. It’s hard to drink Guinness quickly. The “Arthur’s Day” programme of concerts by fashionable and/or obscure bands is clearly aimed at attracting the younger crowd. But it threatens instead to kill the goose.
The debate continues elsewhere about what restrictions should be placed on the promotion of alcohol, whether it’s right to aim it at the young through sport or art or even entertainment. That’s not really the problem here though, so much as the sheer scale of Diageo’s vision. The original “Arthur’s Day” was a one-off celebration of the company’s product and history. No one objected to that. Where they overstepped the mark was in turning it into an annual event, virtually a national holiday. That is going a bit far now. Already they push the identification of brand and country to extremes, even to the point of using the national symbol for their company logo. But declaring a new feast day, that’s acting like they own the place.
It’s not a national holiday of course. It’s an enormous alcoholic drink promotion in a country that has an enormous alcoholic drink problem. Such a big event inevitably brings the issue to a head. (I’m sorry, it was unavoidable.) Guinness wants to project an image of Ireland as a land of happy drinkers, where the worst social consequences of alcohol use are perhaps a comical hangover, perhaps a jaw that aches from too much talk and laughter. And not, say, spousal abuse and suicide.
If you feel like registering your disapproval, you could visit the Boycott Arthur’s Day Facebook page.
Do you ever feel when you fly with Ryanair that check-in is really trying to prove your bag breaches some rule? Well, that might be because they’re being paid to do that. From Ryanair’s annual report (pdf), page 67:
As part of its non-flight scheduled and Internet-related services, Ryanair incentivizes ground service providers at many of the airports it serves to levy correct excess baggage charges for any baggage that exceeds Ryanair‘s published baggage allowances and to collect these charges in accordance with Ryanair‘s standard terms and conditions. Excess baggage charges are recorded as non-flight scheduled revenue.
So if you thought that because it’s airport staff doing it it must be the law or safety or something, it’s not. It’s a revenue stream.
- Henry Wallop: Is the Ryanair business model broken? (independent.ie)
- I’ll price luggage out of the hold, says Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary (independent.co.uk)
I mean, one shouldn’t just assume.
Or to put the question more precisely, is the supposed anti-poverty campaigner actually promoting neoliberal global exploitation? This fair question is asked by journalist Harry Browne in The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power), which got its Galway launch tonight in good old Charlie Byrne’s bookshop.
As I understand it, the thesis is that Bono has become the poster child for what is sometimes referred to as the “conscience consumer”. This is the sort of person who chooses a credit card because it gives some tiny percentage of each transaction to charity, who is ready to make the world a better place just as long as they don’t have to get involved personally.
Through being rich and powerful, and associating with the rich and powerful, Bono has come to promote the idea that the rich and powerful will save the world. Despite all the evidence to the contrary so far. It’s an interesting argument, and given his odder actions and pronouncements – see links below – I am inclined to think it’s true.
Is it? Read the book and let me know. College is back and I have about fifty others to get through right now.
- Bono: “Capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid” (dailypaul.com)
- Bono can’t help Africans by stealing their voice (theguardian.com)
- What the Irish Hate About Bono (counterpunch.org)
Yes, that is the impression I had.
Especially if your science is physics. Obviously something to do with magnetic… [Waves hands around] domains. Yeah, definitely those domains probably.
The tweezers here have two small disc magnets attached. When the arms are squeezed together, one magnet flips up to contact the other arm. When they’re squeezed again, it flips back – and so on. The freaky aspect is that it happens so consistently. Same input but opposite outcome, every other time.
It seems like there’s some sort of “magnetic equilibrium” that neither position can quite satisfy. Whichever one it’s in, the system takes any opportunity to get out again. It’s also very dependent on how the magnets are positioned. I got them this way quite by chance, and I haven’t (yet) been able to reproduce the arrangement. One other clue: Their poles are aligned in the same direction.
Answers on a postcard. Or in the comments, which I suppose are a form of post-post postcard.
Sorry. First day back in college. I have a bit of delirious.
- Magnetic Field Experiments (invent.answers.com)
- Magnetic Charge Crystallization Directly Visualized in Artificial Spin Ice Material (azonano.com)
- Magnet therapy claims not supported by science (beaconnews.ca)
The back-kitchen / laundry / scullery / workroom / conservatory / toolshed at my parents’ house hadn’t really been tidied since my father died – or indeed many years before. I was not looking forward to this.
But it’s a revelation, literally. The last time this wall was fully visible it was the 1990s. Ever since it’s been obscured by “temporary” shelves – and the crap that inevitably accumulated on them. Stuff in jars and tins, mostly. Nuts, screws, washers, and bolts. So many, many different sorts of nail.
A lot has to go. Two generations of male “But it’s useful!” thinking has its consequences. If you click on the picture to zoom in you’ll see a thing that looks like a green raygun. That’s a car timing strobe. I don’t think anyone even makes a car with mechanical timing any more. It will be a wrench though. Each bit will be a wrench. I hauled out a fridge today, one that my father once cannily converted into a chest freezer by the simple expedient of laying it on its back. It’s a strange shade of pale blue-green inside, it was made in Italy, and it’s probably the first fridge I ever saw. And I’m going to send it to a dump.
I came across a pair of metal… things. Just matching stamped pieces of steel. I do not know what they are, what they were once part of. Beyond some educated guesswork based on their shape, I don’t know what they are meant to do. But I know they’re important. The one thing I do recall about them is that at some point they were the key to a problem I wrestled with. A long-forgotten problem. How can you throw away something like that?
OK, just me then.
But the space must be made. Firstly, so that there is some chance of ever finding a thing. Because at the moment it’s organised on the principle “A place for everything, and everything in that place”. Secondly, so that there’s some space in this space. Because this is actually a great space. (Now I’m an interior designer I’m forbidden to use the word “room”.) The light is extremely good. All right, the transparent roof makes it too hot to breathe in during summer, and the gap between that roof and the top of the wall makes it icy in winter. But for… the many, many days between this could be a good place. Not just for storage and drying laundry, but to work or relax in.
Wonder can I bring the Ethernet out here.
Only, not quite. This time I’ve eschewed not just Vodafone’s particular mix of Android, but Samsung’s too. Up until now I’ve stayed with the stock firmware so that I would be reviewing the standard user experience. This time I decided to go the whole hog and “root” the phone – which basically means giving myself administrator privileges so that I can change whatever I like. Obviously that involves some risk, but it makes your device a lot more interesting. Particularly it means you no longer have to stick to official builds, but can try out customised versions of Android.
A word of warning first though. Certain models of the Note, and several other Samsung Galaxy phones, are vulnerable to a problem known as “BrickBug”. Due to a design fault, if the memory chip it contains is erased in the wrong way it can never be written to again. Thus the device is rendered absolutely unusable and – short of an expensive mainboard replacement – irreparable. Which is depressing. So proceed with caution!
It can be worked around safely, but I won’t attempt to give comprehensive instructions here. Go straight to the horse’s mouth – the invaluable XDA-Developers forum. Actually it’s well worth looking around there before you do anything with an Android phone.
Indeed it was here that I came across the version of Android I chose to use: Sweet ROM. This is one guy’s personal mix that he released to the public, but I think he got the balance pretty right. And unlike many custom versions of Android it’s designed specifically for the Note and so retains all its pen abilities. Here’s the (almost) complete feature list provided by the author – which you can skip if you hate jargon:
- LT9 Firmware
- Kernel Philz XXLT9 v5.08.5 (thanks Phil3759)
- Modem LT3
- Deodexed & Zipaligned
- Full Root
- SuperSU (thanks Chainfire) & busybox
- 24 Toggles including working 2G/3G toggle controlled in Settings (Silver 3D theme thanks Dr.Ketan)
- Full Airview in Gallery, Video, Lockscreen Notifications, Email & Message. Partial in Snote & Splanner
- Multi Window Add All Apps S4 white theme
- SG4 Weather Widget
- Samsung Camera Shutter Sound on off hack
- MMS Hack – No SMS in call Log, 200 recipients & No SMS to MMS Auto Convert
- TW Launcher rotate 270 degrees
- Call record and no ascending ringtone & 2G/3G hack
- Ink Effect Added to Settings/Lockscreen
- Smart Rotation & Smart Stay
- LockScreen Shortcuts, News Ticker & Weather all working
- 4 Way Power Menu
- Enabled extra widgets Negative Colors etc
- Added Nova Launcher
- added Flash Player
- S4 Wallpapers (modded SecWallpaperChooser.apk)
- Resized Popup Browser with call up app (thanks vijai2011 & kam333)
- Transparent Status Bar with White S4 style icons & circle percentage battery
- Added Internet Speed Meter Lite
- Sub Symbols in stock keyboard
- Build prop tweaks for battery & performance
- All Mods & Hacks done myself (unless mentioned) using LT9 firmware
- and more I can’t remember
To translate: it’s a lot of thoughtful tweaks done by an experienced user. And lovably, it cuts out most of the pre-installed (and irremovable) apps that phones come burdened with. Only real essentials are there; the rest you can choose whether to install.
It’s a great mix and I’m enjoying using it – it’s like my phone came back from a holiday to the feature. Now I have root though it’s almost trivial to switch to other customised versions, and I’ve no doubt I’ll be trying some more.
- Sweet ROM video demo (youtube.com)
- Tweak now available that lets you run TouchWiz and stock Android on one Galaxy S4 (news.yahoo.com)
- [Report] Samsung Galaxy Gear to come in Five Different Colors (goandroid.co.in)
You’re finally clearing out the shed or the cupboard under the stairs – what do you always find? One unfinished tin of every single colour paint you’ve ever used. These things build up – indeed it’s actually illegal just to throw them away. Paint is hazardous waste now. Hazardous to whom or what I am unclear, but I can sort of imagine why it shouldn’t just be poured down the drain. If nothing else, the sewers would look a mess. So what can you do with it?
If you live in Galway City, the simple answer is: Nothing. There is no way of legally disposing of a tin of paint. The city used to offer a facility, but that’s closed temporarily. Temporarily since last October. I quote from the City Council site:
In the interim people are encouraged to use up all paints, clean container thoroughly at which point the empty clean container can be placed in the household recycling bin.
So I did one gatepost in blue, the other two-thirds orange and one-third cream. Then I removed the dried paint residue from those tins with a gallon of white spirit, four hours scrubbing, and some fire. There were still quite a few tins left though and I was getting tired. Was there nowhere else?
I looked to the county, and found that all Galway has turned its recycling over to local commercial interest Barna Waste. Who of course charge for disposal – not a great advert for our new property taxes that, but at least there’s somewhere to go. According to the website, the nearest facility is in Tuam – a town about twenty miles away. But where exactly in Tuam?
I turn to Google maps, but no combination of terms like Tuam, Galway, County, Council, hazardous, waste, disposal and recycling found anything. Well, you don’t expect Google Maps to know where everything in the world is. OK you do. What drove me nuts though is that most searches returned just a single result – every one of them a commercial entity, and frequently nothing whatsoever to do with waste disposal. It was, in short, about as useful as a slap in the face. There have been a lot of changes with Google Maps recently, and I’m not sure they’re for the better.
Much of the blame though must go to Barna Waste. They have a lovely website, with nice pictures of all the kinds of rubbish you can bring to any of their luxurious dumps across the county. Nowhere though do they actually give addresses for any of these, other than their home base. The County Council meanwhile hides the address on a Word document you have to download – and even then the sum total of information is “Athenry Rd”, a seventeen-mile route. So perhaps it’s not surprising that Google has no freaking idea where this place is. Took me half an hour of driving around to find it myself.
By which time it was closed, of course.
Addresses, people. Put addresses on your websites if you want people to visit. I know we live in the Internet age, but some things still actually need to be physically moved. Crap especially.
- Google Maps Adds Incident Reports from Waze, Waze Gets Better Search (lifehacker.com)