Rabbit Of Government Versus Truck Of Euro

So having looked at the reasons to reject the Fiscal Compact, let’s examine the government’s pro-treaty arguments.

 

Fiscal Compact in Ireland - YES Campaign [MEP] Olle Schmidt support
But fear not, here’s the opposi… oh

Well that didn’t take long. Really there is no positive argument beyond the stability of the Euro. As good a thing as that might be, it seems a trifling technicality when compared with the very real and immediate suffering the treaty would impose. So it is perhaps not surprising that the government has focused instead on reasons not to vote no. Effectively they’re reduced to the null argument: Well what would you do? If we need more money, how would you raise it?

By asking this they hope to split opposition. Different opponents of the treaty have different ways they’d prefer to raise income, and if they can move the debate on to that then people may forget it’s not the urgent question. It’s like someone driving straight at an oncoming truck and saying “Well which way would you swerve?” The government’s case rests almost solely on the argument that we may require aid from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), and that this would be preferable to other loan options. But that’s actually composed of two questionable assumptions:

Firstly, we are obviously going to avoid another “bailout” if we at all can. The necessity will depend very much on global markets, how fast we can regrow our economy and so on. The really mad thing here is that if we sign up for the Fiscal Compact, the restrictions it will place on our opportunities for growth make it so much more likely that we will need a further emergency loan.

If we do, will the new ESM be the best lender? Well it will almost certainly offer the lowest interest rates going – for sure lower than any we’ll be able to get on the open market for a long time. The problem is the  conditions. Obviously the ESM won’t lend us money to invest in growth, because that’s what the whole Fiscal Compact is ideologically opposed to. We can borrow to pay for emergency things, like public wage bills or – irony warning – loan repayments we can’t meet, but not to invest.

And the mad part of this is that if we do sign the treaty, we are committing ourselves to these conditions even if we borrow from somewhere else. Even if we raise funds on the open market, even if we go to the IMF, even if the European Social Fund never comes into existence – which is a very real possibility – we still have a commitment not to borrow to invest, on pain of having our budgets dictated to us. Joining the Fiscal Compact is agreeing to abide by the conditions of a loan we may never get. Who does that?

Quite opposed to there being no other option for funding except the ESM, there is almost an embarrassment of of them. None of them is a picnic of course, but I would argue that any one of them is preferable to the Fiscal Compact. This post is already too long, but tomorrow let’s play the government’s game and see what other options we have apart from destroying our own economy just to be obliging.

Burning Our Future To Fuel The Past

The panel of Why You Should Vote No!, a discussion organised by the Campaign Against the Austerity Treaty in Galway.  Big budget stuff this ain’t.

Well the optimism of Tuesday has been smartly kneed in the crotch. I will still apply for the course, but any hope of actually being able to do it without starving to death is rapidly receding. There is basically no money now to help people do postgraduate studies. No wait, I tell a lie. The exception is postgraduate-level teacher training. There is no funding to employ teachers of course, but you can still train to be one.

Since the last budget there will be no further grants or other maintenance aid for students continuing to the fourth level. So much for the knowledge-based economy. Austerity trumps that, like it’s trumped every other strategy and aspiration.

And this is just a taster. The government plans something like a further eight percent in cuts next year to meet borrowing reduction plans. Where will this come from? It’s hard to say. We’re already cutting deeply into the things, like education, that led to our economic growth in the past. Sure, I can get by without investment in myself to improve my earning opportunities. But the country as a whole?

We’re burning the future to fuel the past. Whatever cuts we make further affect our opportunities to recover and so reduce our ability to pay off our debts. They’re essentially counter-productive, and it goes without saying that they will also cause real harm to real people as health, welfare, pensions and services come under increasing pressure. The more we cut, the worse lives become, and the longer it’s going to stay that way.

But note that I’m talking about the government’s current plan. This is without taking the Fiscal Compact into account. If we pass that, we will be committing ourselves to repay debts at a significantly faster pace than the government apparently thinks possible right now. They accuse the No campaign of offering no alternative strategy, without even beginning to attempt to explain how we can meet the criteria the Fiscal Compact sets for us.

The truth is, we simple cannot meet those criteria. How much more will we have to cut back compared to current reductions? Nearly twice as much. Who believes for a moment that’s possible humanely, never mind politically?

But wait, what’s politically possible doesn’t matter any more! Because the treaty provides that if we are too merciful on our own population and fail to cut deeply enough, the Eurozone will be able to impose budgets on us – essentially turning our democracy into a puppet administration. And as this outcome seems pretty much inevitable, voting for the treaty really is voting to wind up Ireland as a meaningful state. You think a foreign administration we can never vote out can’t do a worse job than our own shower? I invite you to consider how that worked out in the Great Famine.

I do believe that we’ll need some sort of budget management agreement if – an increasingly big if – we continue to have a common currency. But the one we’re being asked to swallow puts the interests of the larger Eurozone economies so completely before our own that it amounts to tyranny. For their sake we are being asked to take actions that run absolutely counter to our most urgent needs.

This is an anti-overspending compact just when we desperately need to spend. It exists because other countries overspent in the past, not us. Compared to the European average we underspent. Compared to Germany and France, we were choirboys. Our problem was that we took too little tax from far too few people, creating a tax base that was utterly, idiotically dependent on the boom. We need more tax income, desperately. Slowing down the economy instead – and so further reducing the tax base – is fighting fire with ostriches. It’s insanity.

But the larger countries do not give a damn because they have their own problems. All the really care about is that the Euro doesn’t fall in value, because basically that’s what their wealth is in. There are no two ways about this. We are being asked to sacrifice ourselves – really, do something quite suicidal –  in order to be a bulwark for the Euro. Our reward for this? The right to apply for loans we may or may not need, at rates that may or may not be better than we can get elsewhere, from a fund that we have no guarantee is ever going to exist.

Are we fucking mad?

The Claddagh At Low Tide

Well the last couple of days have been intense. So much so that I’m far too tired to tell stories now. Here then are some pictures, of Galway’s photogenic Claddagh. Where the rings come from.

Incidentally, a shout out to all the people who visited the blog from Switzerland today. I have no idea why you came, but I was very glad to see you.

Protest Silenced For The Super-Rich

To be honest you can’t see much happening here, the encampment was around the corner. But that would seem to be because Guards (police) are preventing people from getting close enough to witness the break-up operation. The presence of the CSI van is also a little disturbing. What crime, exactly?

A shameful day for political freedom in this country. Occupy Galway – the last Occupy protest camp in Ireland – was uprooted this morning. The Council cite safety as a reason to suppress the protest. As ever. It’s simply counterfactual. Increasingly dangerous at night in recent years, Eyre Square became a friendlier place thanks to the constant human presence. That encampment was the best things to happen to the Square since they took the feckin’ railings down. But this real increase in safety means nothing when compared to the unspecified dangers posed by tents.

It was something to be proud of, symbol of the freedom of thought and action so damn rare now in this cowed country. The kind of person who found this shameful and untidy is the same sort who granted planning permission to a hundred concrete tumours. Unbelievably, their main pretext for removing the protesters is to tidy the place up for an international yacht race. That’s a bit rich.

Indeed, super-rich. The symbolism is grotesque. Because the ludicrously wealthy want to come and play, the protest against what the ludicrously wealthy are doing to us must be silenced. Shut up and cheer the corporate toys.

But the race is good for everyone in Galway, right? Hmm. It was easier to believe that during the boom times. The rising tide may lift all boats. But when it’s going out, you’d better have a big one.

Time For A New Future

Bit Blobs
No idea what this is a picture of, but it looks pleasantly technological (Photo credit: Dr. Bleep)

Almost better today. I could bend to do up my bootlaces without wincing! Also a relative had an accident this morning that was properly painful – a broken shoulder – so that gives a bit of perspective. And I had to run to help, which I think finally showed my spine who was boss. It’s just unfortunate that the job I most need to get done right now involves shifting boxes of books up a ladder, through a small awkward trapdoor, into an attic. Eh… No, I’m not going to do that.

At least the injury has left me free for the other, less physical stuff I’ve been avoiding. The new website for an obvious one. At this point I have more or less persuaded Drupal to do what I want. It wasn’t easy – but it turned out in the end to be a hell of a lot easier than it was looking just a couple of days ago.

So next up there’s my college application. I haven’t mentioned this before but I’m working towards going back to do a Master’s degree, in what I’ll loosely refer to as new media technology. The reason I haven’t mentioned it is that I almost certainly won’t qualify for the course. I was thinking I’d maybe nonchalantly try, fail, and tell no one. But it is just too interesting not to write about.

Why would I fail, when I have a more than minimal level of relevant technical knowledge and creative ability – or mad skillz as I prefer to call it? Well, the course I want to do is a prestigious one, and competition for places is fierce. I’m 47 and gnarled, racing against lovely people in their 20s. And my primary degree is not up to the minimum standard they require, so I’m basically hoping they’ll somehow just make an exception. It’s a bit depressing really when you think about it. Describing it as a long shot would be like calling William Tell a fruit picker.

And say I did get it – how will I pay? How am I going to afford to even stay alive while studying full time? I do not have the first idea.

But if somehow I do qualify, it could be life-changing. So there will be a way.

My career so far has been entirely in publishing, but publishing is transforming out of all recognition. The last decade or so has been all about adaptation to constantly-changing technologies, constantly-changing possibilities. This is not a problem, on the contrary it’s made it a fascinating time to be involved. But adaptation is not enough anymore, I want more than just to keep up. I want to do a bit of the changing.

A Walk In The Bog

Nesting swans

Web design with Drupal is weirdly impressionistic. Even after turning off all the parts of it I’m sure I don’t need – well, almost sure – there are still so many options and switches that I really can’t hold them all in my head. Maybe one day, but not yet.

And it’s difficult to know what consequences changing any one of them will have. It may achieve the goal of fixing an annoying behaviour, while elsewhere making half the site drop off. So progress has been a slow mix of careful testing, frantic searching to find a setting I know I saw earlier, installing several new modules in a vain attempt to gain one missing function, and just pressing buttons randomly to see what’ll happen.

All four strategies work about equally well.

So I went for a walk. Partly to take a break from this madness, but more because I’m still in mild but constant pain. To the point where I’m just annoyed with myself now. Even if I’d done nothing more than occasionally walk around a bit I wouldn’t be so prone to back injury.

My excuse all winter was that it’s just too wet outside to walk. But is it really? It doesn’t rain every day, even here. And there’s no shortage of roads worth walking, even a canal that goes right past the village. Our own canal! Built in the 19th century to drain the bog. I don’t think it works, but it teems with wildlife, and it is full of sky.

So some Desolate-West-of-Ireland pics:

One of my favourite trees
If I had a rowing boat, I wouldn’t leave it face up in the rain
Sky. For you. In the sky.

My Web Design Hell

image

You know when you’ve got some news or an idea you’re dying to tell someone, but can find no one who has the faintest idea what you’re on about?

Good.

I’m trying to learn some advanced Web design. Briefly, websites were originally done pretty much like you might lay out a document or design a magazine spread. You put things in their place, they stayed there. The more modern way is to use a ‘content management system’ (CMS). With this you just design the template of your page, then upload your content. The user enters search terms, and a page containing what they want is created for them.

This is obviously a lot more complex, as your website is now essentially a computer program. But there are plenty pre-existing systems you can use. WordPress, the one behind the blog you’re reading, is a fine example.

I’m using the CMS called Drupal because it’s widely said to be the most flexible and capable of all, and if I’m going to the trouble of learning any it might as well be one I can use for other things. But lord, I bit off something chewy. It has that vast sprawling-ness so typical of popular Open Source Software projects, and the learning curve is vertiginous. It’s made out of modules; a core with all the basics built in, then countless others you can add for greater functionality (and complication). I parachute into this jungle with little idea of how to tell a tree from a tiger.

But sometimes things are hard for wholly wrong reasons. I was stuck there for weeks – well, hours spread over weeks – because something really basic didn’t work. You see I want a site I can upload cartoons to, so that people can search through them. But Drupal 7 flatly refuses to display images in search results. Imagine how annoying that would be on eBay. Of course I thought that this was my fault, that I’d just got one of its (many, many) settings wrong. But I discover eventually that it’s a bug. The only solution – or at least the only one simple enough for me to implement – was to add a whole other module that did it right.

So I have solved my first real CMS problem, and went to bed tonight with the basics of my new site actually working. Whereon I find I’m too excited about the damn thing to actually get to sleep.

Thanks for listening.

Bats And Venus

The other good thing about walks

Hmm. The free range chicken we just had for dinner seemed very fatty. That’s a thought. What if a chicken is free to move around, but chooses not to? But I have no right to criticize a hen’s lassitude. It is a woeful lack of exercise that has me laid up. I wouldn’t have back pain after a kick-around if I’d been in any way even slightly not unfit. I do feel a lot better today though. When I got out of bed this morning it, well, it was the afternoon. (I was at a wedding in Canada the night before.) But I felt a lot better. The lack of pain was so pronounced it amounted to pleasure.

To what do I owe this rapid improvement? Bowen pain relief technique? A heat patch? Anti-inflammatory pills? A good walk? There’s only one way to be sure. First, I’ll need two spines… Actually though I now think it’s not a very spinal hurt. There’s some pain in the right of my lower back, but as it’s also in my hip and thigh I thought it was radiating out because of pressure on nerves from a swollen disc. I had an injury a little like that a few years ago. But I’m thinking now it might be a pulled thing, a muscle in my hip.

Anyway I’ll just keep doing what seems to be working. Especially the walking. How can I not walk, when in just a little while I can be standing surrounded by nothing much except bog and sky? The sun down and no moon or star, just the planet Venus. Venus, and bats.

Long Distance Relations

Adult Supervision

I’m at a wedding reception in Canada, virtually. To be possibly a little more accurate, I’m watching some friends be drunk in Canada, via webcam over Ustream. Feels a little weird. The video is all right. A bit jerky maybe, but watchable. It sounds though like a circus. A circus on acid. In a swimming pool. On board a submarine. Between the slow video and the strange out-of-sync audio effects, it feels like trying to communicate with astronauts. But what the heck. I mean, they’re at a wedding reception. I’m probably not missing a lot of sparkling conversation.

And it’s one-way of course, so they can’t see or hear me at all. We’re communicating through the system’s “instant messaging” service. In quotes, because it’s taking even longer for the IMs to pass back and forth than it is for the video. Something wrong with that. It only adds to the Apollo mission feeling.

Weird Internet People

Moving nonetheless. A whole bunch of people, some of whom I haven’t seen in years, some of whom I’ve never actually met, all of whom I’ve gotten to know over the last decade or so purely through the Internet. People from other countries, who by other means I’d have met briefly if at all, but now are a community I belong to. A real community, despite being bound only by threads of data, with all the things that appertain. Indeed, this is how the happy couple met.

I love being alive at this time.

Long Distance Relations

Adult Supervision

I’m at a wedding reception in Canada, virtually. To be possibly a little more accurate, I’m watching some friends be drunk in Canada, via webcam over Ustream. Feels a little weird. The video is all right. A bit jerky maybe, but watchable. It sounds though like a circus. A circus on acid. In a swimming pool. On board a submarine. Between the slow video and the strange out-of-sync audio effects, it feels like trying to communicate with astronauts. But what the heck. I mean, they’re at a wedding reception. I’m probably not missing a lot of sparkling conversation.

And it’s one-way of course, so they can’t see or hear me at all. We’re communicating through the system’s “instant messaging” service. In quotes, because it’s taking even longer for the IMs to pass back and forth than it is for the video. Something wrong with that. It only adds to the Apollo mission feeling.

Weird Internet People

Moving nonetheless. A whole bunch of people, some of whom I haven’t seen in years, some of whom I’ve never actually met, all of whom I’ve gotten to know over the last decade or so purely through the Internet. People from other countries, who by other means I’d have met briefly if at all, but now are a community I belong to. A real community, despite being bound only by threads of data, with all the things that appertain. Indeed, this is how the happy couple met.

I love being alive at this time.