The Right To Employ People

Differences in national income equality around...
Inequality - Apparently There's Not Enough Of It

I just heard someone called Jackie Lavin on the Pat Kenny radio show say that unemployment benefits interfere with “the employer’s right to employ people”. That’s an interesting concept, isn’t it? I remember when right-wing lunatics used to just call social welfare an interference in the sacred free market. Now it’s an abrogation of their rights. They are actually being oppressed by social welfare.

I hadn’t known that the wealthy had any special rights – at least not officially – but according to her, one of them is to have other people be poorer so that they’re more affordable. That’s kind of mind-blowing, isn’t it? The rich have a right to poor people. It makes a strange Zen-like sense.

This Jackie Lavin is on the radio because she’s a “Business Personality”, best known for appearing in the Irish version of The Apprentice as mentor to her real-world business and life partner Bill Cullen. Also, for appearing in and writing for glossy Hello!-style magazines, like the one owned by Bill Cullen. He’s an entrepreneur, Fianna Fáil donor and I suppose our nearest equivalent to Donald Trump. These are important people then.

Why not apply this entertainment paradigm to the country as a whole? If the unemployed don’t shape up, we can fire them from their homes – from the whole country indeed. ‘Firing’ is much sexier than that dated emigration idea.

I mean. Fuck this.

Michael Lowry Is A Corrupt Politician

Esat Digifone logo
"Jesus But Didn't We Make Some Money"

There, it felt good to say that. Of course he is far from alone, it almost seems unfair to single him out, but because of our wealth-favouring libel laws it’s not often you can actually come out and name one of the bastards.

Today I can, because a judicial body, the Moriarty Tribunal, says it is beyond doubt that Michael Lowry, when Fine Gael minister for transport, energy and communications, gave “substantive information to Denis O’Brien, of significant value and assistance to him in securing the licence”.

The licence they speak of was for the country’s second GSM mobile phone network in 1996, the biggest contract ever awarded by the State to a private company. Denis O’Brien’s Esat consortium won, even though by proper procedures their bid would have come third. In a transaction which the Tribunal concludes was not unrelated, Minister Lowry was given a huge wad of cash. And when that licence was later sold to British multinational BT, Denis O’Brien made more money than you will ever even be shown a picture of.

Lowry CartoonInterestingly, while the Tribunal’s report calls this “a cynical and venal abuse of office”, it doesn’t actually call the act corrupt. I refuse to be so mealy-mouthed. If he cynically and venally abused office, if he received money in consideration for bending the rules to favour the giver, then Michael Lowry is as crooked as a snake with stomach cramps.

Moriarty does use the word corrupt with reference to an unrelated deal between Lowry and another tycoon, Ben Dunne (most famous for giving an unexplained million or two to former Taoiseach C. J. Haughey). Dunne reacted with outrage, saying that if they wanted to call him corrupt then they should put him in jail.

Denis O’Brien likes to emphasise how much money the State has wasted on trying to catch him. The Irish Times puts the final costs of the Moriarty Tribunal at over €100,000,000, though O’Brien has set up his own site to lie about and exaggerate the figure. It’s even got a picture of the gates of Dublin Castle on it, so it gives the impression of being official. That’s how crap the man is.

He is right though. As is Ben Dunne. The money spent on the Tribunal has been wasted. It will remain wasted until he and his fellow corrupt and corrupting businessmen are safely behind bars, along with the politicians they paid for.

Paddywackery – or, How Comics Changed My Life

The local shop I mentioned is a goldmine. Today I found that they sell a thing called paddywack. As a dog food. What the…?

It turns out the original meaning of “paddywack” is the large ligament that runs down the back of a grazing animal’s neck. The word is from the Old English paxwax, meaning something like “hair grow”. Because longer hair grows along the neck ridge of some animals, perhaps? By being highly elastic, this ligament makes it easier for the beast to raise its head. When dried, it makes a chewy treat for dogs.

So a whole other meaning for a word I thought of merely as a mild ethnic slur – that at least was my impression since childhood, when a strip of the same name in the British Comic Cheeky Weekly used to encourage readers to send in their Irish jokes. The whole comic indeed was packed with race and gender stereotype gags – and what’s worse, pointlessly awful puns. Such were the 1970s; vertiginous now to see that stuff again.

I didn’t find most of this funny even as a child. And yet, I liked the comic. It had a vivacity you didn’t see before, it messed with conventions and introduced elements of metafiction. Each issue had a single framing story, with characters commenting on the other strips, even moving in and out of them. And I guess it helped that it featured a sexy crossing guard called Lily Pop; I was getting to that sort of age. If Barry Cryer had written a kids’ comic – albeit on a bad day – it might have come out something like this.

Now that I look this stuff up I’m reminded that Cheeky Weekly had an even weirder progenitor, Krazy comic. I don’t think most of the strips in Krazy worked really. As the name suggests it was self-consciously way-out and wacky, and kids are quite sensitive to straining for effect. What compensated were the interstitial gags packed into it – comments between panels or as background graffiti, flick-book animations in corners. It was aiming I think to be something like a junior Mad magazine.

And I think this in turn may have been partly inspired by the comic that influenced me the most – Sparky. It was not an outstanding example perhaps, but it had one thing that really got me: the flat-out metafiction of a strip about the people who supposedly created the comic. They were in it… But making it… In it… The contradictions beguiled my mind. My own first comic strip, started I think while I was still 11, was pretty much a straight rip-off of this idea, and it must be at least partly responsible for a lifelong fascination with philosophical concepts like self-referentiality, recursion and nested realities. My mature (?) comic strip work rarely resisted opportunities to tell stories within stories – or indeed, stories within each other. My first long strip, which was also my degree dissertation, took place within a reality that only existed in the mind of God – but within which, God existed.

Come on, I was in college.

Well that turned into an unexpected ramble; from doggy treats to comic theology. It seems though that in the process I’ve accidentally written a response to this lovely blog post by Lisa “SwearyLady” McInerney. Yeah, comics were an important early influence in my life. For me it’s Gödel, Escher, Bach, and The Sparky People.

German Cake

Cake Cartoon

Flicking through the channels, I came across Judge Judy saying “Just take out what you can identify as your own hair, Madam.”

I kept going.

So I’m sitting here eating a lovely herren cake, actually German-made. How our little local shop came to stock this I am not at all sure. But it’s one of those great country stores where you can buy anything from bicycle pumps and glue to inner tubes and sulphuric acid. You can tell I’m designing some sort of weapon already, can’t you? I shouldn’t be surprised by anything turning up there.

But it’s the name that bugs me. Herren cake. Correct me if I’m wrong, but herren means “men”. As in Damen und Herren, which is how you formally address toilets. So this is… Men’s cake?

That’s great, I’d like to see that on a shop sign. Men’s Cake. Nothing pink and fancy about this cake, ladies. It’s a man’s cake. From Germany.

Yes It’s Only A Supermoon

So last night many of you will have seen the biggest moon you ever did see. The “Supermoon” – or perigee-syzygy, to give it its even sillier proper name. Hope you enjoyed it. Despite being sandwiched between lovely days, last night was clouded and rainy here. Sadly I realize that I may not live to see a moon so imperceptibly larger than average as that one. “Almost visibly bigger!” as a FOAF said.

It might have gone largely unremarked, if someone hadn’t speculated that it caused the earthquake and tsunami. This was probably inevitable considering that tsunamis used to be called tidal waves, back when we didn’t know what really caused them. But this is actually quite an interesting idea.

It would be easy to dismiss it with ridicule, what with there being one or two salient differences between liquid water and solid rock. Though it’s enough to leave a very noticeable gap between high and low tide, all the moon’s gravity is really doing is changing the shape of the layer of water that lies on the Earth by the teeniest, tiniest fraction of an iota of a scintilla of a percentage. It’s really a very weak influence.

The Brain, An Owner's Manual - The Moon

But then again – we know the Earth’s crust is a highly complex, unstable system, and we have heard of  the “butterfly effect“, which suggests that small inputs to such systems can lead to vast, unpredictable and – yes – even catastrophic outcomes. So there might be something in it?

Might be. Isn’t though. There’s the small detail that the tsunami happened over a week ago, while the moon was still at a perfectly ordinary distance. Sort of kills the theory, that detail.

The trickier question to answer though is why there isn’t anything in the theory. It doesn’t sound unreasonable. In fact it’s a fine example of an excellent theory that just doesn’t happen to be right. Excellent, because it makes a clear, easily-tested prediction: If the moon’s orbit had any appreciable effect on plate tectonics, there would be a rhythmic pattern to earthquakes. And there isn’t.

If there were, they wouldn’t be so bloody hard to predict.

But why isn’t there…? Well I don’t know. What are asking me for, I’m not a plate tec… nician. But my guess would be that with all that roiling molten rock beneath our feet, with the huge energies of continents weighing billions of tonnes grinding against one another, with the titanic rattling and farting of volcanoes, the moon’s influence is just lost in the mix, drowned by countless stronger forces pushing unpredictably in other directions. Real, yes. But insignificant.

So dwell on that, the next time you stare up into the beautiful night sky. Space may be vast and cold and silent, but hey, you’re standing on a fucking bomb.

When Not Enough Is Too Much (#Libya)

Location of Benghazi within Libya.
Image via Wikipedia

Weird to sit here watching the Allies bombarding from the air and sea in the film The Longest Day, when something very similar is happening in Libya. Except of course that they will be stopping short of actually invading this time. We hope.

The mandate is vague – sufficiently vague to get an agreement – but we’re led to believe that NATO and friends will only do the minimum necessary to thwart Gaddafi’s counter-offensive on rebel strongholds such as Benghazi. After that we must hope that the Libyans can and will handle it themselves. Anything more, and it begins to look like another Western oil-grab. (Remember, Libya has the largest proven oil reserves in Africa.) Already the Arab League has accused the NATO allies of going beyond what was agreed, though one might fairly assume the Arab League would have said that if they’d bombed with flowers and guided kittens.

And they have a point really. NATO may pragmatically accept that they will have to inflict civilian casualties if they are going to prevent Gaddafi inflicting civilian casualties. But on the ground, death inflicted by the domestic enemy will be seen very differently from death dealt by foreign powers. It could all so easily go horribly wrong, turn popular support across the Arab world against the Libyan rebels – perhaps even against all pro-democracy uprisings. Nothing could damage their cause more than being seen as Western proxies, fifth columns preparing their countries for ‘Crusader’ invasion. The hard thing for the allies, with their vastly superior fire-power, will be to stop firing – to know when they’ve done enough but not too much.

Unless of course they actually want to undermine Middle East democracy movements. That’s one Machiavellian possibility we may need to consider.

Random Cartoon

I haven’t done a cartoon in a few days. I guess it’s mainly because it’s hard to get a lot of gags out of a tsunami and incipient nuclear meltdown. That crushing of the Libyan uprising wasn’t too inspiring either.

So I’ve decided that when the prevalent events are bitter and sad, or when I’m just in the mood, I might do a gag cartoon instead. Something about nothing.

This one came to me this evening, while I was watching a documentary about Ancient Egyptian engineering.

It has nothing to do with Ancient Egyptian engineering.

But it is very tall.

Which gives me the problem of filling in all this blank space.



I give up.

Adding One Word Turns Science Into Bullshit

©William Murphy, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license
Met Éireann's headquarters were modelled on the Death Star

I was wondering what Gaddafi was really up to when he declared a ceasefire. Taking a chance to regroup perhaps, or attempting to bargain? In fact it was something a whole lot more audacious: He would continue to kill people, while saying “Stop fighting back, this is a ceasefire”.

Meanwhile for some reason, the Independent thinks it’s clever to publish the headline “Explosion could send contamination to Ireland“, as if there was actually some reason to fear that happening.

The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland said it was “extremely unlikely” that any material being released from the nuclear plant would have health implications here.
But Met Éireann forecaster Pat Clarke warned that if an explosion occurred, Ireland could be affected.
“If there was an explosion of up to 30,000 feet, that (material) would be carried (across the world),” he said.

Let’s leave aside the image of 30,000 exploding feet. If we can read even more into his words that has been already, he presumably means an explosion that ejects radioactive debris to a height of 30,000 feet. This would be possible if a Chernobyl-like explosion and fire does occur. Indeed, debris from Chernobyl was carried to the furthest corners of the globe.

Where it did… pretty much nothing.

While it clearly had deadly effect in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus and probably killed in Western Europe too, the fallout was gradually dispersed as it spread, eventually becoming so diluted as to be insignificant next to normal background radiation. So the probability that the explosion of a reactor as far away as Japan will actually harm anyone in Ireland? To use a round number, zero.

Which is what the story here is actually saying – if you ignore the spin. See that “but” in the second sentence of the part quoted? It suggests that this statement disagrees with the previous, that one national agency is contradicting another. That’s what turns these two rather anodyne statements into a story. Ask two different questions, “Can debris from Fukushima hurt us?” (answer: No) and “Could debris from Fukushima get here?” (answer: Yes), then put the two together so that what is actually a reassuring agreement between experts sounds like a worrying conflict. Voilà, news.

Map Of The Future - some class of a blog

You may have noticed this blog has a new address: ““. No W’s, no dot-com, just a short yet meaningful sentence in English. Not many websites can boast that. As you may know it’s actually an Italian domain name – you don’t have to be Italian to own one (just an EU citizen). I bought this a few years ago but never really got the best out of it, until now.

Naturally will be the title of the blog as well as its address. As the newspaper column was Micro Cosmopolitan for over fifteen years I’ll use that name in parallel for a little while though. Until the t-shirts are ready at least.

Which could be something like a month. I’m working to a budget made up mostly of coupons here, and had to go for the super-slow delivery option. I don’t quite get this; without being any cheaper it’s actually slower than ordinary post. In order to offer this rate they had to set up a special concussed delivery service, staffed by people in long trailing coats they keep treading on.

Oh, they just don’t print the stuff till later. Right.

That’s the design up there, incidentally. I wanted to keep it simple and slightly mysterious. The strap line “some class of a blog” is a temporary one I think, something vague that won’t tie the blog down too much as it develops. Who knows where this baby is going to go? If the Irish expression is a bit opaque to the overseas contingent, it just means “a sort of blog”, and is faintly disparaging.

So I’ve a month of anticipation ahead. It really is exciting actually – I’ve never done something like this before. Getting t-shirts made feels like the most egotistical thing I’ve ever done. Even though it isn’t.

Here Are The News

Artist's Impression of a Queen
Artist's Impression of a Queen


While we in Ireland were trying to take a day off, the world elsewhere got on with things. Action on Libya, which apparently is having some effect. This morning the Gaddafi faction claimed they were calling a ceasefire. I trust them about as far as I can throw grenades at them, but it’s a start.

Signs of hope too from Fukushima. Having discussed this with engineers I’m a little more sanguine now that the pool of molten fuel rods isn’t necessarily doomed to burn its way through the Earth’s crust. Still not entirely clear what they can do with it, but at least they don’t consider it to be their most pressing problem.

Er, I think that’s a good thing.

And of course, not unrelated to the day that was in it, President Obama made a date to visit Ireland next year because, like all American Presidents, he is part Irish. In his case, 1/32nd part. It amazes me how successful Ireland has been at creating this image of being a place where people come from. Just about every single US President had some English ancestry, usually a lot, but I’ve yet to see one of them stand outside 10 Downing Street and say “You know, I’m always glad to come here because there’s a little English in me too”.

One perhaps unfortunate element is that the visits by the US President and the Queen of England will be within a week of each other. So if you have any sort of even slight association with a Muslim political organisation, and don’t want searchlights poked up your every orifice, that might be a very good week to take a holiday.