When The Road Hits Back

Wheels CartoonYou remember just after Christmas I was complaining about the potholes in Corrandulla village? Perhaps I should have given credit to the County Council for getting them all patched just a week or so later.

Bloody glad I didn’t though, because the fucking things are back already. What did they use to fill them, loose gravel and spit? Once again, a drive to the shops is more like an amphibious assault up a defended beach.

It’s damaged our car. One of the headlights has failed. At least, I thought it had. I was just going to remove the bulb today to find a replacement, but wisely I gave it one final test first. (OK, I’d forgotten which one had blown.) Weirdly, it worked this time.

A little investigating, and I notice the right bulb connector is hot. Much too hot – melted and blackened. It must have come loose and been shorting. I pushed it back on tightly and it seems to be working all right since, but it will need to be replaced. And soon, because the NCT¹ is coming up and they probably don’t take kindly to a burning smell coming from the engine compartment.

I can’t prove it was the potholes that shook it loose of course. It might have been, say, trained enemy marmosets.

What worries me more is the other roads they repaired, particularly the one between here and Headford. This is my favourite local drive. It’s excellent exercise for the learner, full of blind bends, blind hills, a hidden entrance or two, turns with lousy camber. Sometimes all these at once. Challenging. OK, dangerous. Certainly, plenty dangerous enough without the extra hazard of holes big enough to bite a wheel off.

They still haven’t finished repairing it. If it’s being done to the same quality as Corrandulla, then logically they are never going to finish.

  1. National Car Test. That was an easy one, wasn’t it?

Laugh About It, Shout About It

Some election campaign. It seems like the only issue being debated is when, where and how issues are going to be debated. A five-way, then a three-way? I’m not sure they’re up to it, frankly. Look, enough. Let’s just not have a leaders’ debate, OK? They’re only TV, they don’t tell us anything useful. For Christ’s sake, it’s not like in the US where you might never have seen the candidates on one platform before. We have a parliamentary system, they argue practically every bloody day of the week and no one watches. This is going to be fantastically different?

Besides, it creates the false idea that we have a selection of available Taoisigh. Nothing much short of assassination could prevent Enda Kenny winning now. (And that was not a suggestion.) The only other person in with a shout is Labour’s Eamon Gilmore, so if we’re to have a meaningful leaders’ debate then really it should be between those two alone. This would make it far more watchable too – in that if Fianna Fáil’s leader was on it, I wouldn’t be able to watch. I’d be throwing bricks at the screen, which is distracting and bad for reception.

Debate CartoonWhat would Micheál Martin have to add to the debate anyway? That Labour and Fine Gael are actually two different political parties. With different policies. They’re running against each other in an election, and believe different things. That is all anyone in Fianna Fáil has to say, the sum total of their election platform. I guess they can’t very well run on their record. Micheál Martin’s role in the debate could be performed perfectly adequately by a caption at the bottom of the screen.

What he fails to understand is that a Fine Gael/Labour government that collapses due to ideological differences is still infinitely preferable to a Fianna Fáil one that lasts. For a start, it would mean they weren’t in power just for what they could shovel off the table.

Tiananmen II?

It says "Thank You, Facebook"

Well it looks like my worst fears didn’t materialize. Things seem… hopeful in Egypt, though I’m almost superstitiously scared of using that word. Hope is after all a game we play with ourselves, almost a form of masochism. Is it crazy of me to see Tahrir Square as Tiananmen 2 – This Time, The Good Guys Win? Even to find, in that crushing of protesters beneath a government truck, a weird reversal of the “Tank Man” incident?

Yeah, that’s pretty crazy.

But our future is being created now, in the streets of Cairo, Suez and Alexandria. There’s a choice to be made between the explosive pressures of repression and the release of revolution, and that choice is not ours. About the best we can do is cheer from the sidelines.

But that is not nothing. I’m remembering the role that the Internet has played in this uprising and other struggles like it. One telling event: China has blocked web searches for “Egypt”. Meanwhile our governments move ever closer to a policed, regulated Internet just like they have in these fantastic countries. What can we do about this? Resist, through every legal means.

Today I came across one simple way that everyone can adopt.

Do you get paranoid about the way Google, Microsoft and other search providers record all your searches, creating a frighteningly accurate portrait of your inner life? Well I bet you do now. And not just the terms you used but the sites you chose to visit from the search results, all tied to your computer’s Internet (IP) address – or if you have say a Google account, directly to your name. It’s creepy that it can be used to target advertising at you. What’s worse though is that if some authority like the US Department of Justice happens to want to know about you, Google et al. are quite happy to hand it over. It’s their government after all. Not such a worry for you and me – perhaps. Somewhat more of a concern to a political dissident under a regime that the US might be backing.

What can you do? You can use something like Startingpage. Essentially, this does a Google search for you. It gives you the same results, but as far as Google can tell it was Startingpage that requested them, not you.

Even better though, you can then go to the websites in the results using an “anonymizing proxy”, which hides your address not just from Google but also the site you visit. And if you want to be über-paranoid you can do it all over a secure Internet connection (https), the same as you’d use when making a credit card transaction, so even a third party eavesdropping on your connection can’t tell where you’re going.

There are other similar services available, but I was impressed by how easy Startingpage is. You simply select it as your search engine, the same way as you’d choose between Google, Bing or Yahoo. It works with all the best-known browsers (except the Windows version of Safari for some reason, but who uses that?), and you can search from the address bar in Firefox with it too. It seems to be just as fast as Google, though there is a slight delay if you use the encrypted version. I’m using it for all searching now, and I can strongly recommend it. Such a service is of enormous value to criminals, perverts, terrorists and anyone else who wants to remain free.


The Storm Before The Other Storm

Wind is howling across Ireland today. The City Museum here in Galway had to close to the public because bits of it were blowing away. Excellent food in the museum by the way, including an orange cake that tastes like oranges wish they could. Get there when it’s safe again.

I saw a bird in a shop, sheltering from the storm. It was a starling, speckled and black-eyed. It hopped and flew around quite content for the duration with the indoor life. And the thing is, it was a wholefoods store. Made a good advert for the place really. “Fuck me the stuff is fresh here. It’s got birds in it.”

Speaking of tortured links vaguely to do with flying, glance please at the picture to the right. Is this not one of the most egregious examples of proofreading you’ve ever seen on a professional magazine? The story is kind of strained too, considering that flying in Ireland is not something RAF Harriers ever really did, but it must be admitted that they were amazing planes.

Maybe I’ll have time to say more about them tomorrow. It would be a change from all the politics. That is, if Egypt doesn’t explode. Which I’m very afraid it’s about to do.

Not Your Parents’ Political Obit

CowenBye CartoonAs all political careers end in failure, it is traditional to look back over them and ask where they went wrong. Supposing for a moment that a single false move really could explain everything, what was Cowen’s?

Some say that as Bertie Ahern’s anointed successor he was pretty much cursed from the start. The party’s triumph as they crowned him was so loud because it was trying to drown out a whisper. Haven’t we been here before? Wasn’t Bertie meant to be the good and true leader who would make everything right after Haughey? Wasn’t he going to clear up all the questions?

Some day it will dawn on the party membership, on the country in general, that what’s wrong with Fianna Fáil cannot be fixed by just changing the guy at the top.

But people seemed willing to give him a chance, so I don’t think it’s true that Cowen was finished before he started. The first problem of his own making was probably the Lisbon referendum fiasco. While this made him look unexpectedly weak, I could argue that it still wasn’t really Brian Cowen’s fault. The 2007 election certainly hadn’t been a rout, but the majority of us did not go to the polling station to return a Fianna Fáil government to power. And yet, thanks to the political ineptitude of the former Green Party (yes I’m calling them that already), we found one jammed into our gullet. While the reasons for the rejection of Lisbon were many, I think a major one was resentment of this unwarranted government. That was not within Cowen’s realistic control.

So then of course there was the economic collapse. Again, not exactly his fault. Well at least not Cowen the Taoiseach’s; his stewardship of the Department of Finance had doubtless contributed greatly to our mad over-dependence on the property sector, but the deeply corrupting relationship between Fianna Fáil and its contributors is, again, not the work of one man. Much of the country was complicit in it.

Then, the embarrassment of a second referendum. But we can all be pretty ashamed of that one. “Not so independent-minded now you’re broke, eh?” Less said there the better really.

So the list of mistakes is long, but no one seems really enough in itself to be labelled the turning point in Brian Cowen’s career. Is it just that, with the economy in ruins, we need to blame somebody and he’s in the firing line? No doubt that’s how it seems to him. Or was it, as is so often the case, simply the slow accumulation of many small missteps?

No. If any political career failed in one single moment, this was that one. It happened when he agreed that the people of Ireland would pay back the losses of speculating bankers. That was a mistake of such enormity, you wonder if he actually had the authority to do it. Is it constitutional to give the country away?

Without this things would still be pretty bad, but he would probably have been leading his party into an election now. One in which they would have been merely punished rather than summarily executed. But by sacrificing his people to save bankers, Brian Cowen doomed his career. Doomed a lot of our careers.

It’s All Over

CowenfishAh. Hear that? That’s the restful sound of no government.

Brian Cowen was just on the radio, saying goodbye. Listing the things that Fianna Fáil didn’t screw up. Predictably, doing it with massaged figures. After being in politics so long, these people become vague about what truth actually is.

Ireland fifth best place in the world to live? I think you’ll find that was more before your stewardship than after. Ireland receives more US investment than Brazil, India and China combined? Now seriously. If “funnels cash through for tax purposes” is the same as “invests”, that may just be true.

I will not deny that this government occasionally did things right. Even on purpose sometimes. The problem is, if they’d given us a space program that discovered a friendly civilization who sent us unlimited free energy, it would still have been the worse government we’ve ever had by some considerable margin.