Archive for November, 2011
I was at a five-year-old’s birthday party the other day, which was sweet. I bought her a Winnie-the-Pooh nature adventure 3-D jigsaw puzzle game book. I don’t even understand how that works myself, but I’m pretty sure I’d have thought it was really cool when I was five.
Children’s toys are generally quite surreal these days. There was a toy train at the party too, chuffing about the floor. Except… it was chuffing songs. It was chuffing chuffing Christmas carols.
And then there’s this thing, called a Wild Podgey. Yeah, at first it looks like an ordinary giraffe. Well, not an ordinary giraffe. A giraffe that lacks the single feature most helpful in identifying it as such – viz., a neck. Interesting that it’s still perfectly recognisable. But otherwise, a cute cartoony stuffed animal toy, right?
Well no. Matter of fact, this is the creepiest thing I’ve come across in quite some time. You see the bellybutton? It is elasticated. It… grips.
So the euro is in ’real danger of collapsing’, is it? We’re expected to worry about that, but I wonder what it actually means. Would it really matter if our currency was suddenly worth nothing at all?
I don’t know about you, but I’d be fine frankly. It’s true there probably isn’t a lot of work for a cartoonist in a collapsed economy, but I have other strings to my bow - which these days is getting to more resemble some sort of harp. Something I am not at all bad at is making broken things go again. I started as a small boy on alarm clocks, I do it now with computers and such. I reckon I’ll be getting plenty work after the currency collapses and no one has the means to buy new things. I will accept payment in food and body warmth.
What happens though if someone needs my services, but doesn’t have anything I can use right now? I can’t eat when I’m not hungry after all. It will be down to good old barter. You could give me some copper wire and I could exchange that with someone for, say, a big ball of wool, which someone else may be willing to barter for a bag of salt, which I could then swap for six bundles of sticks, which I can finally trade for the Blu-ray of The Adventures of Tintin I need.
It would be a lot easier though if we had some system of tokens, so you could trade with those instead of carrying goods with you everywhere. Say, special printed documents with distinctive designs on them. And as luck would have it, there’s one readily available. We could use all those unwanted euro notes.
Speaking of spontaneous things in Galway, our own Spontaneous Theatre People have gotten together with two other comedy outfits to form a sort of improv supergroup. I’m having a lazy Sunday, so here’s their press release:
Hold on to your hats! If you live in Dublin, Limerick or Galway, ‘A Tale of Three Cities’ is coming soon to your City. Following an incredible impromptu ‘improv jam’ session at Electric Picnic in 2010, some of Ireland’s top improvisers decided that there was too much fun to be had to leave it it that.
Plans were hatched, and they decided a three city comedy improv tour was in order. Members of No Drama (Dublin), Choke Comedy (Limerick) and The Spontaneous Theatre People (Galway) have joined forces and become the Improv ‘Supergroup’ known as The Make-Up Artists!
Improv Comedy is an incredibly exciting form of theatre. It is energizing for the audience and performers alike, and no two performances are ever alike.
The Make-Up Artists‘ show promises to be a great night of weird and wonderful comedy antics. All the scenes and games are unscripted, and many are based on the audience suggestions. It will have you on the edge of your seats wondering what could possibly come next, and delighted when you find out what does!
Dublin – Thursday 8th December, Doyle’s Pub, College St
Show starts at 8.30pm, admission €10
Limerick – Saturday 10th December, The Belltable,
Show starts at 8pm, admission €10
Galway – Sunday 11th December, Upstairs @ The Townhouse Bar, Spanish Parade.
Doors at 8pm, admission €7/5
Any additional enquiries, email spontaneoustheatre (at) gmail (dot) com
Thank you, Professor Marie Cassidy, for putting the sane side of the story.
A couple of months back I was horrified by a coroner here in Galway describing a case of a body catching fire as “spontaneous human combustion”. Working on a comparable case, Professor Cassidy took the opportunity to call that description a myth. And as State Pathologist – and a professor of – she is perhaps better qualified on the subject than a GP.
To be as fair as possible to that coroner (Dr. Ciaran MacLoughlin), I’m sure he wasn’t envisioning the phenomenon as it appears in fiction: A person becoming so saturated with alcohol – and possibly sin – that one night they just burst into flames. But in finding spontaneousto be the cause of death, he asserts that living people can ignite of their own accord. Which is… nuts.
What does seem to be a real – if rare – phenomenon is a person’s dead body catching fire and burning with no source of kindling other than their clothes or perhaps the chair they were in. The simple if somewhat disturbing fact is that we contain a lot of fuel. Human fat – which even the most svelte of us have – is basically oil after all.
What’s not real is the spontaneity bit; an external cause of ignition is sometimes hard to find, but it seems more than likely that there always is one. Nor is the entire body consumed as in a cremation – despite what some of the more sensationalist papers reported. And it was most certainly not, even in this case, the cause of death. There was good evidence that the ‘victim’ was already dead when their body caught fire.
So how did MacLoughlin conclude that this was spontaneous human combustion? By logical fallacy, apparently. Fire investigators had found no proof that any nearby source – including the open fire burning in the grate – had ignited the body. (One wonders how you could prove that.) He appears to have taken this lack of proof that it was the source as proof that it was not. In formal logic, this is a category of error known as being a dur-brain.
Well, Professor Cassidy can put down the myth of spontaneous human combustion. What she can’t do is quash the rumour that we have state-appointed medical professionals in this country who believe it.
Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation Richard Bruton has said the Government wants to see the nomination process of Kevin Cardiff to the European Court of Auditors through to its conclusion. (RTÉ News)
Why – what did he ever do to them? This is just going to be humiliating.
You can see the government’s standpoint – while also seeing how hopeless it is. They want to emphasize that they are a different regime from the one that let the Irish economy down the plughole. Well and good, but they have an uphill battle merely to convince the European Parliament that any Irish nominee deserves to be on the Court of Auditors.
We just had an economic collapse due largely to the ridiculous lack of oversight by our Department of Finance, with every sign of excessive personal closeness between government and the money industry. Why should anyone from a country like that be even allowed a nominee? The “Court of Auditors” is a rather dull-sounding name, but this is the EU body specifically tasked with fighting corruption. It’s like having the wolves nominate their shepherd representative. There’s really only one reason why they will accept any Irish representative at all: They have to. It’s in the treaties.
So there was every reason to expect that a nominee to the court from Ireland was going to come under the closest possible scrutiny. Yet what do we send? A man who held a top position in our disastrous Department throughout the boom and bust. A man who was actually present when the inexplicable bank guarantee was given.
They must think we’re joking.
- Irish nominee to EU court rejected over debt error (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Here is the face of stroke politics (thepressnet.com)
- Whats the ‘connection’ between De Rossa and Kevin Cardiff? (politics.ie)
Just watching J K Rowling giving evidence to the UK’s press ethics enquiry (“Quest For The Lost Ethic”). She speaks movingly about what it’s like to be a parent in the telescopic eye of the tabloid press, how it feels to be quite literally stalked by these agencies, the stomach-twisting feeling, as she put it, when you realise someone is watching you. How you wonder what is it they intend to write, what they’ve heard or expect to find, what they may know about you that you don’t even know yourself.
It’s interesting that she’s a fantasy author. We generally consider this something of a minority interest, but far from it; people avidly consume stories about the famous that are mostly or wholly made up. I’m not a particular fan of her writing, but she does speak interestingly about the language of the situation. For example she says she has enormous respect for journalism, which can involve reporters risking their lives to get important stories. Yet people who dedicate themselves to harassing others and getting photographs of children are also called journalists. Should there not be different words for these professions? She also uses the verb “to long-lens” someone, rather than to photograph, implying that to take a picture in situations where you cannot be seen to be taking a picture is a wholly different thing and, almost perforce, an invasion of privacy. It’s a useful distinction.
A picture emerges of someone effectively forced into hiding by the need to shield her children from the life-warping effects of publicity. She’d never make the analogy herself, but her success at, of all things, children’s fiction has brought her to a situation only a step or two away from that of Salman Rushdie. Yet the Press Complaints Commission, as currently constituted, seems unable and indeed unwilling to do anything meaningful about this sort of persecution. Even when it upholds a complaint, the tabloids seem able literally to laugh it off. After one such reprimand a paper responded by publishing a picture of her daughter as a baby. It would be hard to imagine a more subtle yet simultaneously barbaric threat.
I’m reminded of the time that one paper published a map to the home of George Michael, another known non-fan of News International and its ilk. Forced to apologise, they stated that it “had not been their intention” to reveal the location of his home. Can you think of an intention to a map other than revealing a location? But it seems that in the strange world of press regulation, a bare-faced, transparent and risible lie counts as an apology. It’s clear that the UK needs a better mechanism to punish the fantasy press for its transgressions.
The question as always is how you can do that without endangering the freedom of other papers to do good things. Well there is one simple way: Don’t buy them. Don’t ever buy them. No matter how tempting the pornography they put on their front pages, don’t buy them. It’s the only regulation that they understand.
- JK Rowling to testify at UK phone-hacking hearing (msnbc.msn.com)
- Sienna Miller: UK tabloids “abused” me – CBS News (cbsnews.com)
- Steve Coogan Slams Celebrity “Fame Game,” Says Tabloids Are “Like the Mafia” (eonline.com)
- Mosley outrage at NoW Nazi story (bbc.co.uk)
The €50 charge for the medical card is surely a decoy, on the list purely to make increased prescription costs and bed closures seem more acceptable. Don’t let them away with it. There are ways to save money – or save the euro – that don’t involve ritual human sacrifice. We have a two-tier health system more wasteful than you’d see in any nightmare, even if you regularly dream about inefficient public resource allocation.
Consider a moment: We have to maintain a huge national infrastructure, staffed by public employees with all that entails, and then not let the majority of people use it because they’re not poor enough. Those who don’t qualify are forced into the hands of the profit-making health industry – which we then subsidize by allowing them to use the huge public infrastructure. We’ve basically taken on their capital costs.
This government was elected on the promise of introducing a single-tier health system. OK, they could have got elected on the promise of doing a little dance, but this is the one they made and it’s a highly desirable – in fact a necessary – thing. Problem is, it looks as though they’re employing the simple expedient of killing the lower one off.
- €50 medical-card charge ‘beyond the reach of many’ (Irish Examiner)
- Social Justice Budget: What’s wrong with it? (politics.ie)
If you refuse to have anything to do with all of a certain racial or ethnic group then yes, you’re a racist. Even if some people from that group did you wrong – Hell, even if everyone you ever met from that group did you wrong.
If you punish a person with a certain skin colour or a certain religion or a certain accent because of your feelings about other people from that group, then you are thinking as a bigot thinks. You are mistreating perfectly innocent people because “they’re all the same”. And that is evil.
Yes there probably are Africans in Naas who are rude and awkward and belligerent. They are wrong to be. But I am also sure there are rude and awkward and belligerent Irish people in almost every city on Earth. If public representatives in those cities refused to deal with their Irish constituents, what would you call them? You’d call them racists.
- FG mayor of Naas will help all his constituents (unless they’re black) (politics.ie)
- Fine Gael, “No Irish Here!” – A Flashback From 1938 (ansionnachfionn.com)
So house prices in Dublin have reached half what they were at the height of the boom. That’s a good sign. If they halve once more they’ll be back to what they were pre-bubble. Look at the graph (ganked from the very interesting ronanlyons.com) if you don’t believe me. Converted to 2011 money, an average house cost about €100,000 for decades. At the height of the boom it peaked at nearly four times that. Well over a third of a million, for an ordinary home.
Just one question springs to mind. What the hell were we thinking? Houses costing the price of a house, plus three other houses? Cars didn’t quadruple in price in just a few years. Food didn’t, even drink and cigarettes didn’t. During boom times, market prices are supposed to fall behind rising incomes. Otherwise they wouldn’t be called boom times, they’d be called mysterious outbreaks of rampant inflation. But during ours the cost of housing left incomes for dead. Clearly, the housing market is a deeply flawed one – almost an object model in fact of how capitalism goes wrong.
In theory the price of something is set by supply and demand, which is both efficient and ethical. Well let’s pretend it is for now, it works well enough for most things. Why does it go wrong here? Because the supply and demand of housing is almost irrelevant to the housing market.
What does a house cost? It’s an interesting question. A house in an appropriate location can be a very important asset, so in general people will spend the absolute maximum on a house they think they can afford. That’s clearly unlike wine or cars or dinners or phones. So in short, the answer to the question “How much does a house cost?” is “Whadya got?”
Or more precisely, what can you raise? If easier money is available therefore, people will borrow more. They’ll pretty much have to, as prices will rise to meet the available credit. Of course they have the option of only borrowing as much as they would have before prices went strange, but if they do they’ll get a much worse house than they could previously have afforded, while those willing to avail of the softer terms will get the shorter commutes, the better school catchment areas, the safer neighbourhoods. Competing for their and their children’s futures, it is hard to blame them for taking all that the banks and other financial institutions offered.
Speculation happens in such runaway markets of course. People will buy houses in the hope of selling them at a profit, just as if they were buying shares or gold or currency. Capitalism teaches that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The vast, vast majority however are buying houses because they need a house. And while some postponed purchasing in the hope that prices would come down, far more rushed into buying out of fear that they would not.
There are other factors, but we shouldn’t overemphasise them. People had become better off, yes. But did your income double? Mine sure as **** didn’t. The euro facilitated the boom because such an influx of credit would otherwise have exploded the currency, but it didn’t cause it. Houses were said to be “historically underpriced”, but even if you can bring yourself to believe a thing could be consistently underpriced for decades without anyone noticing, could it seriously be by a factor of two, even four?
And there was net immigration, that could have been expected to fuel the market. After all prices go up when demand outstrips supply. Only… Supply vastly outstripped demand. People were building houses up the sides of cliffs.
There are no two ways about it. We had a housing price bubble because we had an oversupply of credit. The blame rests squarely with the financial institutions that offered these loans. That is, all of them. Major banks should have known better and could have resisted. Had just a couple of lesser institutions been left to their excessive lending the larger banks would have lost custom, yes. But they would have survived. And minor institutions could not by themselves have super-inflated house prices.
But these lending practices were adopted by the whole industry, and quite literally they forced people to pay too much – far, far too much – for houses. There is a clear case for debt forgiveness therefore. There is also a case for punishment – though of the lenders who made the irresponsible loans rather than the borrowers who had little choice except to take them. And by punishment, I seriously mean prison sentences. There must surely be some law against business practices so reckless that they ruin individuals, families, even a whole country.
- New Beginning – A mortgage pressure group
- CSO publishes Irish residential property price indices for October 2011 – the declines continue and pick up pace (namawinelake.wordpress.com)
- Irish banks face mortgage strikes [for those who had an inquiry about Ireland's financial situation] (jhaines6.wordpress.com)