22 July 2008

Looking back over the past few Days...

No, I did not get lost at Dublin Airport, after I wrote so openly about its problems and enormous mismanagement. In fact, I rarely go near the place, and when, then only to collect someone who is still submitting to the ridiculous regime of present-day air travel.

But those who follow developments here and read my weblog regularly will have noticed another dry spell of eleven days without a word from me. I am sorry about that, but even I can only be in one place at one time and do one thing at a time. A rather important project with a very short and tight deadline took all my attention, energy, time and inspiration. And in the wee small hours of each night, when I put down work for a few short hours of sleep, there was sadly no time and brain power left to make an entry here.

When I started this weblog, back on January 1st, I made a commitment to write at least one piece each day. And most days I have fulfilled this task. Many days I write more than one entry, and thus there are still more entries here than have been days in this year so far. Which means that I do not have any bad feelings as such.
But I do know that there are regular readers - some of them quite well known to me by now - who are not happy when there is a pause in the flow of my thoughts and comments here. I very much appreciate their - and indeed everyone's - interest and so try to post at least once a day.
However, as this is an entirely voluntary and unpaid undertaking, it has at times to stand aside when my work as consultant and analyst reaches an amount far greater than any man could manage alone. Strangely enough, I somehow do it nevertheless from time to time...

Well, the past eleven days have not been without events worth mentioning and commenting on, but I cannot catch up with everything, of course. So below I will - in a kind of summary - look at some of the events from the very recent past.

Outrageous Rise of Electricity Prices

As if things were not already bad enough and prices for everything in Ireland rising faster than one can look, the Irish people will be hit even further with a massive rise in electricity prices, which will come into effect next month.
A state agency called 'The Energy Regulator' - one of many such offices on the mezzanine level between government departments and the real world - has decided that Ireland's by far largest electricity supplier ESB (Electricity Supply Board) can raise its prices by a staggering 17.5% in a single step. And not enough with that, a further price rise for electricity is expected in January.

Ireland has already one of the highest electricity prices in the world, and ESB tariffs have risen in a steady process over the past few years. As everyone needs electricity these days and no house or business could function without it, people have no choice and are ripped off by ESB in a really very bad and outrageous way.
Even though a certain opening of the electricity market for competition has taken place (and the 'Energy Regulator' was established to keep an eye on things) in Ireland, this only effects business customers. Private households have still no other option but to take their supply from ESB, the long-established and formerly state-owned company which is still extremely bureaucratic and inflexible.
In recent years ESB has cut almost all communication links with their customers (the only way to get in touch with them now is by phoning a call centre where underpaid foreign wage slaves pretend to solve customers' problems) while increasing their prices more and more. So the ever worse service is costing people ever more money.

ESB is regarded by analysts as one of the worst managed companies in Ireland, wasting millions on work schemes that could be done better and less expensive, if anyone would make an effort. But why should they? In their boundless arrogance they can literally do whatever they want and charge us whatever they like, since we all need electricity.

I am not the only one who is utterly annoyed about this behaviour, and fed up with the highway robbery of the ESB. But alone I cannot do more than speak, write and highlight the matter. What we should do is to form an energy users' group and protest against the price rises. We might not stop them altogether, but if we lobby the right politicians and other influential people, I am sure that we could get a better result and lower electricity costs.

Orange Triumphalism as usual

On July 12th Ireland, and especially the six counties in the North, saw of course the annual spectacle of Orange Protestant Triumphalism. Celebrating the victory of (the Protestant) King William III in the Battle of the Boyne - which took place on July 12th, 1690 - the members of the Orange Order and many other Protestant and Loyalist organisations parade around on this day every year, to nowadays strange sounding 17th century tunes, played by uniformed bands on flutes and lambeg drums.

For a long time these parades were high points of sectarian provocation for the large Catholic and nationalist population in the North, but since the Peace Process has delivered a power-sharing government backed equally by DUP and Sinn Féin, things have calmed down a bit.
The Orange bigots still march, wearing their saches and bowler hats and carrying umbrellas (as substitutes for swords). But less people take them for serious, which is probably the best way of dealing with such obsolete remnants of a time long gone for most of us.

Bastille Day

Two days later, on July 14th, France celebrated of course its national day, Bastille Day, which commemorates the storm of the infamous Paris prison by rebellious citizens on July 14th, 1789. This was the beginning of the French Revolution. 219 years, five monarchies and five republics later they day is still celebrated in great style, with a large military parade being the main focus point in Paris every year.
In recent years French Presidents have introduced the participation of contingents of foreign troops in this parade, as a sign of harmony and integration in Europe. So once again the many thousands of French soldiers parading down the Champs Elysee in Paris were joined by a few hundred comrades in arms from Germany, Belgium and Poland, and one platoon from the tiny army of Luxembourg. Despite decades of political frictions, the spirit of NATO is probably most alive today in France, the one member state that dared to be awkward and independent-minded during the times of Presidents Charles de Gaulle and George Pompidou.

France's new President Nicolas Sarkozy was using the day for a well-appreciated walk in the sunshine of national glory. In a week's time he will be on a less glorious mission, visiting Dublin in order to learn why Ireland has rejected the Lisbon Treaty.

The Pope down under

Meanwhile Pope Benedict XVI was in Australia, combining a pastoral visit with his attendance of the large annual international Catholic youth gathering. Hundreds of thousands of young believers from more than 140 countries had come to Australia to celebrate new Catholic spirituality, which had been sparked by Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II.
Besides all the celebrations, masses and official ceremonies, the Pope once again surprised many with his frank words and open mind. Still seen widely as a staunch conservative, which he certainly is in many ways of Theology and doctrine, Benedict XVI is also - and always has been - a genuine philosopher in his own right. And as such he has the strength to speak out the truth, even if it hurts.
So when he openly and unreservedly apologised on behalf of the Church to the victims of child abuse committed by Catholic priests, he showed the world once again that he is the most serious, fair-minded and consequent Pontiff the Catholic Church has had in more than a century.

Africa still in Turmoil

And once again Africa is in the news for all the wrong reasons. After a lengthy investigation into the genocide against the people in the Sudanese province of Darfur, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), has officially accused the President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. While this step has been welcomed by many Human Rights organisations in the West, it was received with anger and defiance in Sudan and some other parts of Africa and the Islamic world. Only time will tell if the long-running and still unsolved problems of Sudan can be solved with legal and peaceful means, or if eventually an international military operation will be needed to stop the killing of innocent people by the government-sponsored Islamic Janjaweed militia.

Here in Ireland the charity GOAL is once again looking for massive donations to finance their aid operations in Ethiopia, which - according to GOAL - is "once again facing a terrible famine".
In reply to this appeal Kevin Myers (right), one of Ireland's most prominent journalists, who - after many years with the Irish Times now writes his regular column for the Irish Independent - wrote a refreshingly frank and provocative article, highlighting the truth and facts of Africa and refusing to give any further money to a perpetual cycle of political and economical failure. Myers pointed out that despite all the famines in Ethiopia during the past three decades the population of this country has more than doubled, thanks to the massive aid delivered from Ireland and many other western countries. However, the feeding of people seems to be all we have done, and this leads to continued problems, wars and violence in the region.

Personally I have been involved in various charities for many years, and done as much as one single person with a limited income can do. But I have to agree with Kevin Myers on the points he made and have in fact written articles with a similar tenor myself. (See in particular my piece Out of Africa from January 28th, written in my second weblog COME ON SENSE, at: http://come-on-sense.livejournal.com/8570.html)

Dublin Community TV

After some lengthy preparations, a new television channel has started broadcasting from Dublin. It is called Dublin Community TV (DCTV) and is the first true non-commercial alternative to our well- established and over-commercialised TV stations. Its programmes are made by groups and not-for-profit companies who aim predominantly at information and education of the Irish people.
As a person who does not watch television and does not even own a TV set, it will take me some time to get an idea and impression of this new station and I will write more about it when I have seen some of their output and can comment on it with knowledge and experience.

Padraig Harrington

But whatever happened in the world and in our own country, the biggest news item for many days has been the Irish golfer Padraig Harrington (left). There was not one news bulletin and not one magazine programme on Irish radio and TV that did not feature this man for days and days. First the news was that he had injured the wrist of his right hand in an "self-inflicted incident" while training at a gym. So it was doubtful if he would be able to play in the hyped-up "British Open" in England, which he had won last year.
When the competition started eventually, he was there after all, played well and - guess what? - won it again, making him the only European to do so in a century.

As much as I can understand the pride of Mr. Harrington and Irish golf enthusiasts over this success, the amount of time and media coverage that is given to him and to the matter of Golf is frankly obscene and totally unwarranted. Why are the Irish so obsessed with this strange sport? And why do we pay so much attention to the highly-overpaid individuals who play it, while the country is in a deep recession, prices for everything are spinning out of control and the whole world around us is stumbling from one crisis into the next?

It appears that we have learned absolutely nothing from history and from our own experience, and that we continue to run like a bunch of lemmings towards the cliffs, blinded by trivialities and insensible to the reality around us.
So, dear compatriots, when you find yourself in free-fall pretty soon, don't be surprised and don't expect miracles to happen. There won't be any. You will be crushed and perish. And I wonder if you will be missed...

The Emerald Islander

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