26 January 2009

A Day of triple Celebrations

Today - January 26th - is a great day of celebration for more than two fifths of the world's population. There are three events which come together, two of them occur each year on this day, while the third is dependent on the Lunar calendar and thus its date changes from year to year.
To my Chinese friends, and to all Chinese people around the world who visit my weblog, I send today very special greetings, good wishes and say:
Yes, today is the first day of the Chinese New Year festival, and more than 1.3 billion people in the People's Republic, together with many millions of Chinese in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and all around the globe are celebrating the begin of the year 4706, a year under the sign of the Earth Ox.

May the New Year be a happy one for you and all of us, may it be peaceful, prosperous and open new opportunities to all those who seek solutions for the world's many problems!

To my - currently 163 - readers in Australia and to all Australians, wherever they may be today, I also send special greetings and good wishes for AUSTRALIA DAY, which commemorates each year the arrival of the First Fleet from Britain in Australia. It arrived at Sydney harbour on January 26th, 1788 and the day marks the official begin of British colonial rule in Australia.

And to my - at present 153 - readers in India, as well as all Indians living and working abroad, I express my gratitude for the years I spent as a guest in your country and send you my greetings and good wishes on REPUBLIC DAY, which celebrates the conversion of India from a British Dominion to an independent republic on January 26th, 1950.
The day also commemorates the declaration of Poorna Swaraj (Complete Independence) which the Indian National Congress proclaimed twenty years earlier, on January 26th, 1930.
I was privileged to spend several Republic Days in New Delhi, and my memories of the splendid military parades are as vivid as I remember the special sweets prepared and served on this day. There is no country on the planet with more vibrant celebrations than India and I hope to return there once more before I have to depart this earthly existence. For now I can only be with you in spirit and do hope you are having a marvellous day.

The Emerald Islander

Traffic Restrictions at Dublin Airport

Passengers travelling to Dublin Airport are being advised of temporary access restrictions on the Departures Road.

There will be no public pick-up or drop-off allowed in front of the terminal building from 8 pm this evening (January 26th) until 4 am on Thursday, February 5th.

Users of buses and taxis will not be affected.

The restrictions are imposed because of road works being carried out as part of the construction of the new Terminal 2.

A dedicated passenger drop-off area will be in place to the rear of the multi-storey car park

25 January 2009

Severe Winter Storms killed at least 15 People

Fierce storms across southern France and northern Spain have left at least 15 people dead and caused huge damage and disruption during the past 24 hours.

Four children have died when strong winds blew off the roof of a sports centre near the city of Barcelona in the Catalan region of Spain. Elsewhere, people were killed by falling trees and debris coming loose from buildings.

Winds of nearly 200 km/h also brought down many power cables. More than 1.5 million homes in France suffered power cuts, while road and rail links were blocked and airports had to close.

Here in Ireland the weather has been less severe than on the continent, but there were also strong winds with forces between 8 and 11 - and occasionally reaching even force 12 off the coast - over the past few days. It has been quite cold and raining heavily, with the high winds coming in from the Atlantic doing some damage to power cables and trees.

Fortunately there have been no weather-related deaths in Ireland, and no major damages were reported. However, a number of sporting events - including several race meetings - had to be cancelled or postponed because of bad weather and water-logged grounds.

And here in Waterford strong gusts blowing in from the Celtic Sea caused some traffic disruption on major city streets. There was debris reported on the Cork Road, the Tramore Road and in a number of nearby housing estates.

According to the Meteorological Office the weather will remain unpleasant for at least another 24 hours, and perhaps longer.

The Emerald Islander

24 January 2009

Happy Birthday! The Apple Mac is 25.

Today is a special day for the international community of professional computer users, and it is also the 25th birthday of a good friend and trusted work companion of mine.

Exactly a quarter of a century ago - on January 24th, 1984 - Apple's first ever Macintosh computer (photo left) went on sale.

For those of you who have never ventured beyond a PC, let me say a few words of introduction. (And all of you who are - like myself - users of Apple Macs, just skip the next few paragraphs...)

The Macintosh - developed and manufactured by Apple Inc. - was the first commercially successful personal computer to feature a mouse and a graphical user interface rather than a command line interface.
It was quickly adopted as the work station of choice by designers and people in the graphic and printing industry all around the globe, and in 25 years not much has changed in that regard. Even though PCs are much improved by now, the world's designers, editors and printers still prefer and use the Apple Macintosh, meanwhile in a whole variety of models.

The reason for such brand and product loyalty is quite simple: In contrast to most PCs and their accident-prone software from Microsoft, the Macintosh is a stable and reliable work horse, a solid companion for every creative person.
I got my first Mac, as users call the Macintosh affectionately, in 1992. Compared with today's models it was a rather simple machine, but it did everything it was required to do without any problems. Meanwhile I am on my third Macintosh, and without the current recession I might already be on the fourth. During the 17 years I had never a single technical problem with a Mac, neither on the software nor on the hardware side. Some people say that a Mac is just like a VW Beetle: it runs and runs and runs...

I also use PCs with Microsoft software, and with them I had a good bit of trouble over the years, mostly with software, but also three serious problems with the hardware. Such does simply not happen with an Apple Mac and this high degree of solidity, reliability and functionality, combined with a user-friendly system and clarity in structure and design, makes the Apple Mac such a superior work station.
Apple's CEO Steve Jobs (above right), a computer enthusiast of the 'old school' himself, knows that as long as he keeps the quality of his products high, the professional users of computers will stay with him and with the Mac.

The Macintosh project started in 1978 when Jef Raskin (left) became the 31st employee of Apple Computers. He envisioned an easy-to-use, low-cost computer for the average consumer and wanted to name it after his favorite sort of apple, the 'McIntosh'. But the name had to be changed slightly for legal reasons.
In September 1979 Jef Raskin started hiring new people for the project, and he began to look for an engineer who could put together a prototype. Bill Atkinson, a member of Apple's Lisa team (which developed a similar but higher-end computer), introduced him to Burrell Smith, a service technician who had joined the company earlier that year.
Over the years Raskin assembled a large development team that designed and built the original Macintosh hardware and software.

Besides Raskin, Atkinson and Smith the Macintosh design team (photo right) included also George Crow, Chris Espinosa, Andy Hertzfeld, Joanna Hoffman, Susan Kare, Daniel Kottke and Jerry Manock.
They were the 'founding fathers' (and mothers) of a computer revolution that changed the world even more than the 'founding fathers' of the United States had changed it with their declaration of independence in 1776.

After years of new thinking and hard work the first Macintosh was ready for the market shortly before Christmas 1983. It went on official display for sale for the first time on January 24th, 1984, exactly 25 years ago.
Even though it took me another eight years before I joined the international Mac community, I am glad to be part of it and would not want to be without a Mac now. It has changed my life and work forever, and done the same for millions of other creative workers all around the globe. So today let us pause for a moment, rejoice and say "Happy 25th Birthday, Mac!"

The Emerald Islander

Remembering Admiral George Rooke

There is an old saying that one can take a man out of the Navy, but never the Navy out of the man (who served in it for years). This is quite true, and I freely admit that even many years after my retirement from active sea service I have still a very strong interest in all matters maritime.

Besides my work as editor of the encyclopaedia of ships and my involvement with the international Tall Ships' Races I also do a lot of research into maritime history. And from this area I want to give you a little piece today, remembering a man who is nowadays widely forgotten.

This man is George Rooke, a distinguished English naval officer from the 17th century, who died on this day exactly 300 years ago.

Rooke was born in 1650 (the exact date is uncertain and disputed) at St. Lawrence, his family's estate near Canterbury in Kent.
He entered the Royal Navy as a young volunteer and served in the wars against the Dutch with great courage and distinction.
In 1673, at the very young age of 23, he was made a post captain. Over the following 17 years he became one of the most successful and best known English naval officers of his time, commanding several frigates and ships of the line in war and peace.

In 1690, aged 40, George Rooke was appointed Rear Admiral and shortly after he fought against the French in the crucial Battle of Beachy Head (also known as the Battle of Bévéziers), which ended with a heavy defeat for the Royal Navy and their Dutch allies and gave the French Navy control of the Channel for a considerable time.

Two years later, in May 1692, Rooke served under Admiral Russell in the Battle of Barfleur and greatly distinguished himself in a night attack on the French fleet at La Hogue, where he burned six of their ships. For this action he was knighted and received a reward of £ 1000 (which was an enormous sum of money at the time).

Until the peace of Rijswijk in 1697 Sir George Rooke continued to serve in both the Channel and the Mediterranean.
He then commanded the Anglo-Dutch Squadron that attacked Copenhagen in conjunction with the Swedish fleet under Admiral General Hans Wachtmeister in 1700, which facilitated the landing of King Charles XII of Sweden and his army in Denmark in the opening phase of the Great Northern War.

But the deeds for which Rooke is best remembered by historians were yet to come. When the War of the Spanish Succession began in 1702, he commanded an unsuccessful allied expedition against Cádiz, but on the passage home he spotted and destroyed the Spanish treasure fleet in Vigo Bay. The spoils taken from the Spanish were so substantial that Parliament passed a special vote of thanks for Rooke, an honour very rarely awarded to anyone.

As the overall commander Admiral Sir George Rooke then led the allied forces in the capture of Gibraltar on July 21st, 1704, the most lasting of his many military achievements.

After a brief spell as military governor of Gibraltar from July 24th to August 4th, the Admiral returned to sea and attacked the French fleet off Málaga on August 13th, 1704. This battle ended with a tactical draw, but was a strategic success for England, as it secured the newly won position at Gibraltar.
305 years later the rocky outcrop at the southern tip of Spain is still in British hands and a major naval base that controls the western entry to the Mediterranean. And five years ago, during the celebrations of the 300th anniversary of British rule over Gibraltar, a fine statue of Admiral Sir George Rooke was errected there in his memory.

The battle against the French off Málaga was to be George Rooke's last active engagement at sea and he retired - due to ill health - in February 1705 after more than four decades of service in the Royal Navy. He spent the last four years of his life quietly at his estate at St. Lawrence in Kent, where he died on January 24th, 1709 aged 58.

Even though he is widely forgotten these days, George Rooke deserves to be remembered, as his fearless and determined actions at sea set the standard for two centuries of English maritime leadership. Without him and his equally famous colleague Sir Cloudesley Shovell the great British naval heroes like Nelson, Collingwood and Pellew, who fought with distinction a century later, might never have emerged.
And without Rooke's capture of Gibraltar England - and later Britain - would have never been able to establish the great influence it had in and around the Mediterranean for three centuries (and still has today, even though on a much lower level).

The Emerald Islander
(wearing the old tricorn naval hat for a while today)

RTÉ transmits misleading Radio Ads again

In my opinion there is generally way too much advertisement in this world, but especially here in Ireland, which is highly over-commercialised in every possible way.

This goes so far that public service vehicles used by Waterford City Council carry stickers advertising the private company they are leased from. Ornamental standing stones with the names of town lands and housing estates always carry the name of a private company that paid for it, and there are - believe it or not - even public rubbish bins in our parks and on the streets that sport a small plaque, saying "sponsored by..." followed by the name of a local business.

One of my regular annoyances is that Radio Telefis Éireann (RTÉ), which is the sole recipient of the compulsory national TV licence money (currently € 160 per household per annum), also fills its programmes on both Radio and TV with a large amount of advertisement.
The whole purpose of having a TV licence is to give a broadcaster financial independence from vested interests, in order to make proper and independent programmes free of advertisement.

The BBC does that very well, but RTÉ does not. It takes the licence money, whose payment is actually enforced with drastic measures, including the arcane and almost Dickensian 'TV Licence Inspectors' who apparently "visit 18,000 premises every month". (That alone is a ridiculous and outrageous waste of money, energy and resources and deserves a separate article at some other time.) Watching TV in Ireland without having a TV licence is actually a criminal offence, and each month there are numerous people dragged into court rooms and fined for it. And a few, who do simply not have the money to pay either the licence or the fine, end up in prison, for nothing else than watching television.

Despite all this, the complete output of RTÉ - on both Radio and TV - is heavily commercialised and filled with constant advertisements. On top of that many programmes are also specifically sponsored by a company or product which is mentioned in extra trailers several time throughout the transmission of this programme.

I have turned my back on TV many years ago and only listen to Radio, so I cannot say in detail how much worse it is with RTÉ's TV programmes. But the advertisement content on RTÉ Radio is bad enough and higher than that of some commercial stations, which have no other income than advertisement.

Not enough that listeners are constantly bombarded with unwanted commercials which are even used to interrupt news bulletins, many of the ads transmitted by RTÉ are strictly speaking in breach of broadcasting rules as they are peddling clear lies or make incorrect statements about a company or product. But no-one (except me) seems to care or feel bothered.
Actually, as things are here, anyone can broadcast a complete tissue of lies and get away with it, as long as the last words of the ad are "terms and conditions apply". And it is quite telling that this phrase is the most common in Irish advertising, appearing in about two thirds of all adds I hear on RTÉ Radio. Most significantly they close all ads for banks, insurance companies and all sorts of other financial services.

But the crooks in the big multi-national companies and their henchmen (and women) in the large lying factories known as 'advertisement agencies' do not stop there. Now they even produce ads with clear and plain lies without attaching any verbal safety net at the end.
Not that this is the first time RTÉ has transmitted misleading ads. It happens ever so often, and one wonders if there is any control of the content at all before it goes out on air. Or perhaps it is all the same for RTÉ, as long as they get paid for peddling rubbish and spreading lies.

The latest example of that is a new ad for Opel cars, which I have heard on RTÉ Radio 1 today for the third time. It indicates that at least some US companies have by now realised that their uncritical support of the criminal Bush administration over the past eight years and their overall imperialist approach to marketing are doing some damage to their international sales figures, especially in Asia and Europe.
So now they have decided to use even obvious lies to win over the uninformed and truly gullible elements of the Irish population, which are quite significant in numbers.

This new ad opens with introducing Opel as "a German company", and that is a clear and plain lie. But for many it sounds alright nevertheless, because Opel started as a German company.

Let us look at the facts: The Opel GmbH was indeed founded in Germany 146 years ago, on January 21st, 1863. It first produced various household goods, but soon specialised in sewing machines. By 1895, the year company founder Adam Opel died, they were the largest maker of sewing machines in Europe and also produced each year 2000 bicycles, then a novelty form of transport that was gaining popularity.
Three years later Opel began also building cars, first in partnership with a German inventor and then with a French engineering company. In 1906 they developed their first own model, and by 1913 Opel was the largest car manufacturer in Germany.

After World War I things looked more dire, even though Opel was still the leading car brand in a devastated Germany. But the economic crisis of the late 1920s with hyper-inflation and political instability ruined many a German business forever.
In 1929 Opel was taken over by General Motors of Detroit, USA, the largest car maker in the world then and now.

So even though Opel began as a German company and still has production facilities there, it is actually a 100% American firm and has been for the past 80 years. To call it now "a German company" in an ad for the Irish market is at best misleading, at worst a plain lie. It has not been done in the past, as long as US cars were seen as somehow desireable here. But now, that many people have turned their backs on the USA and anything American for various reasons, suddenly General Motors declares Opel "a German company", hoping to cash in on the fact that Germany has a long, unbroken and exceptional reputation for engineering excellence.

Well, I do not wish to influence anyone here, and I believe that people make up their own minds in any way they see fit. Personally I would never buy or drive an Opel car, nor any other US car, knowing of the way General Motors runs its business (and has been supporting George W. Bush and other leading Republicans for many years with vast sums of money). And though GM is the worst of the lot, Ford and Chrysler are not much better than their larger rival. However, it is not for me to tell you what car to buy and drive. I just hope you know what you are doing and whom you support with your money.

But I strongly resent the fact that RTÉ, our national broadcaster, is offering itself as a willing accomplice to another deliberate tissue of American lies. I am certain that before this current crisis is over we will see many changes in many areas, including broadcasting. And I can assure you - and RTÉ - that I have an excellent memory.

The Emerald Islander

20 January 2009

Barack Obama - 44th President of the USA

Today at 12 o'clock noon local time (5 p.m. GMT) Barack Hussein Obama stood on the steps of the Capitol in Washington D.C. and was sworn in as the 44th President of the USA. According to media reports the inauguration ceremony and the related parades and celebrations brought a record crowd of more than 3 million people (1% of the entire US population) out onto the streets and boulevards of the US capital, where they were standing for up to eight hours, despite a cold wind a temperatures well below zero Celsius.

This is a happy day for the USA, as it ends the eight terrible years of the Bush administration with its massive wave of crimes, war crimes and breaches of human rights and international law.
George W. Bush, the uneducated savage war lord, former alcoholic and right-wing 'Christian' fundamentalist, walks away from all the harm and damage he has done to his own country and to many others around the world. He will spend the rest of his life in great luxury and he will never be held responsible for his unspeakable acts of crime, war, terror and torture.

And he settles the new administration of President Obama not only with two illegal wars in Asia, but also with the worst economic and financial crisis in modern history, perhaps only matched by the disastrous period of the early 1930s.

Most media declare that Barack Obama is "the first black US President", which is not correct. He might have a darker skin than many of the journalists, but Obama is not 'black', but of mixed race. Calling him an African-American is acceptable, as his father was an African from Kenya, while his mother was a white American from the Mid-West.

But race is not the issue here and has played no significant role in Barack Obama's campaign. He is in fact the first non-white US politician who built his career on facts and achievements alone, without playing the race card. This, in my opinion, is one of the reasons for his electoral success and for his universal appeal to people from all ethnic groups and walks of life.

On this important day, as his presidency begins, I wish Barack Obama the best of luck and much success in his new and difficult office. I am confident that he will make a great difference to the USA and her people. And if he is given enough time and support, he might even do additional good for the rest of the world.
But one should be realistic and not expect the impossible. Despite all the public hype and media circus Mr. Obama is not the Messiah. He is just a human being, like you are and I am.
He is highly intelligent, very well educated, eloquent, courageous and sensible, and all this will be of great help to him and his administration. But to solve the massive problems his criminal and imbecile predecessor has left behind, he will also need a lot of time, even more money and a real large portion of good luck.

Let us hope that the world will be a better place under President Obama, and that he can heal at least some of the wounds caused by the Bush administration. But whatever he does, even in two periods as President (eight years) he will never be able to restore all the confidence, credit and good will the USA lost under George W. Bush.
More than 35 years after abandoning South-Vietnam the USA are still not trusted in South East Asia, and they won't be for at least another century. The Germans are still blamed for Adolf Hitler, 64 years after he died and the Second World War ended.

Some may see it as unfair, and perhaps it is. But major diplomatic mistakes, political blunders and especially cruel and illegal wars of aggression have the habit of hanging over nations for a very long time, for many decades and even centuries. This is the legacy the Bush clan leaves to Barack Obama and the whole USA.

Nevertheless, I have to admit that for the first time in eight years I am looking West with some degree of hope and positive expectation. But it is very early days yet, and only time will tell if we can even contemplate to trust the USA again in future. As I have followed the political career of Barack Obama throughout the whole of 2008 - and predicted his election more than a year ago - I will keep an eye on his policies and decisions as President. And if you keep reading this weblog, you will stay well informed about him.

The Emerald Islander

P.S. To answer a query I received earlier today, let me point out that Barack Obama is the 44th President of the USA, but only the 43rd man to hold the office. The reason for this discrepancy in numbers is simple: Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, was elected President twice, but not in consecutive terms. Thus he is listed as the 22nd President (1885-1889) and as the 24th President (1893-1897), even though he is the same person.

ITGWU began working 100 Years ago

While this morning Dáil Éireann commemorated its own 90th birthday one day prematurely (which brings bad luck), there was no mention during the special parliamentary session of another Irish institution that is actually 100 years old today.
Sadly only a few people in Ireland celebrated, and most of our citizens are not even aware of the significant date.

Exactly 100 years ago today - on January 20th, 1909 - James Larkin (right) issued union cards to the first members of the Irish Transport Worker’s Union, which he had just founded. (There is a slight dispute over the correct date on which the union began its work. SIPTU, now the largest trade union in Ireland and the direct descendant of James Larkin's first union, celebrated its 100th anniversary already 16 days ago, on the 4th of January.)
The commitment of Larkin and his early union members to fairness, equality, democracy and freedom was a great help in the preparations for the Easter Rising of 1916 and in the subsequent struggle for freedom and independence.

The Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) - as it was called later - organised the strike that led to the Great Lockout of 1913. During this strike Larkin gave speeches all over Dublin, despite being arrested for 'seditious libel' and released on bail.
In a now famous speech on August 28th, 1913 (photo above left) he said: “Before I go any further, with your permission, I am going to burn the Proclamation of the King. People make Kings, and people can unmake them.”

During the Great Lockout of 1913 James Larkin and James Connolly also helped to establish an Irish Citizen Army (Arm Cathartha na hÉireann). Its main purpose was to counter the bands of thugs and criminals hired by employers to harrass union members, and to provide security at workers’ meetings. The Irish Citizen Army had also, by its constitution, to pursue nationalist aims for Ireland.

In 1914 James Connolly said in commemoration of the workers that were killed during the Great Lockout one year before:
"Our fight of last year was not for added wages and reduction of hours; it was for an opportunity of building up in our midst men and women, a chance to develop nobility and grandeur of character for men and women, a time to realise the nobility of life, to study the history of Ireland, to study our rights as well as our duties. It was a time to develop men and women for the coming crisis, so that they might take advantage of it when it came. … If you are itching for a rifle, itching to fight, it is better to fight for our own country than for the robber empire. If ever you shoulder a rifle, let it be for Ireland."

Less than two years later, on Easter Monday, August 24th, 1916, the Irish Citizen Army fought alongside the Irish Volunteers in Dublin, in particular on St. Stephen’s Green and in the General Post Office (GPO) on O'Connell Street (then named Sackville Street).
A British gunboat that shelled Dublin during the Easter Rising singled out Liberty Hall - the headquarters of the ITGWU on Beresford Place - for special attention and left it a smouldering ruin.

After the failure of the Easter Rising it took months before Irish nationalism recovered. But the fire was lit and could not be quenched again, no matter how hard the British tried. The execution of James Connolly and the other main leaders of the rising by a British firing squad outraged Ireland and inspired tens of thousands to join the ITGWU.
In 1918 the union led a general strike against conscription, and this was - together with the widespread activities of Sinn Féin - the preparation for the general election in December and subsequently Dáil Éireann, which will be 90 years old tomorrow.

But today Ireland's workers, true patriots and republicans, remember the great James Larkin (who - after a few years in the USA - returned to Ireland in 1923, continued his work until his death in 1947 and was also twice elected to the Dáil) and the powerful trade union - now SIPTU - he established 100 years ago on this day.

The Emerald Islander

Wrong Day - Wrong Message

Today the Irish parliament met for two separate sessions in two different buildings. In the early afternoon both deputies and senators assembled in their respective chambers in Leinster House to debate the bill to nationalise the failed Anglo Irish Bank, a 38-page document which the government wants to rush through both houses of the Oireachtas in a single day.

But this morning the Dáil assembled also in the Round Room of the Mansion House in Dawson Street (the official residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin) for a special commemorative session to mark the very first meeting of An Dáil Éireann in January 1919 and the official declaration of the Irish Republic as an independent state (thus ratifying the earlier declaration by the Irish Republican Army on Easter Monday - April 24th - 1916).

This should have been a great event, and in any other country I know it would have been. But not so in Ireland. Here we just ignore important things and let our incompetent political leaders muddle on as they always do.

And a right muddle it was today. First of all the ceremony took place on the wrong day. The first session of Dáil Éireann was on January 21st, 1919 and not on the 20th. So the real anniversary is tomorrow and I will write about it then.

But our government of overpaid fools (GOOF) forgot to reserve the Round Room of the Mansion House - where the First Dáil assembled for its first number of sessions - in advance.
As the room is available to the public and is often booked for civic receptions, conferences, meetings and presentations, this is a very surprising oversight and something that could only happen in Ireland.
When the government eventually contacted the Lord Mayor's office to arrange the special Dáil session, it was told that the room was not available on the 21st. It had long ago been booked by Sinn Féin, Ireland's one and only true Republican party, for a proper commemoration of the First Dáil - on the correct date.

Back in 1919 it was a one-party parliament, and that one party was Sinn Féin. So it is actually quite appropriate to let the party that had the vision as well as the guts to proclaim Ireland an independent state and form the first Irish parliament of modern times hold the commemoration of the event in the correct place and on the right day.

On the other hand, this shows once again how much out of touch with real life our government is. How on Earth can they forget to organise and book the venue for the 90th anniversary of the Dáil? There is no other country on this planet where this sort of thing could or would happen.

But it was not only the wrong day on which the government commemorated the first session of the Dáil, the meeting this morning also sent out the wrong message to the country. Limiting the commemoration of such an important event, which had wide-ranging consequences for the whole nation, to a short session of parliament on a wet Tuesday morning and then carry on as if nothing had happened shows an immense disrespect for the institution (the Dáil) itself and for those who created it under great personal danger at the time.
It also shows disrespect for the whole nation and the people of Ireland, who should celebrate this historic event on a special public holiday. Any other country would have done it that way.

On top of the disrespect there was a second element that was uncalled for, and it too sent out another wrong message from the commemorative session.
In his address to the Dáil the Taoiseach put special emphasis on Europe and our membership of the EU. This was in fact Brian Cowen's unofficial launch of the campaign for a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

These remarks were not called for and completely unsuitable for the event. 1919 was not about Europe, and the EU did not exist for another 38 years.
1919 was about Ireland, Irish independence and the ever more serious struggle of Irish patriots to break free from 750 years of British occupation, dominance and oppression. One would have expected more about that from An Taoiseach, especially since he is a man who claims to be a proud Irish nationalist.

But that is sadly all rhetoric. Today it became once more clear that he and the vast majority of Fianna Fáil are nothing but a bunch of greedy, power-hungry and self-serving parasites who have grown fat and lazy on the body of the Irish Republic. It is high time for a change, time to get rid of the parasites and restore the state our brave ancestors created 90 years ago to health, solidity and proper prosperity.

The Emerald Islander

Public Transport in Ireland deteriorates further as Bus Éireann implements Dempsey's Job Cuts

Bus Éireann, the national bus company and backbone of public transport in Ireland, is to cut 320 jobs, and its bus fleet will be reduced by 150 vehicles.
decision of the company's management was conveyed to its 2700 employees earlier today.

Bus Éireann also outlined a 'cost effectiveness plan' with measures it says are "necessary to ensure its success in a very challenging economic environment".
In addition to the job cuts and reduction in its fleet, the plan also includes a pay freeze up to the end of 2009 as well as the deferring of payment of the terms of the Towards 2016 agreement.

In 2007 Bus Éireann made a profit of € 7 million, but last year it had losses of € 9 million, and that figure was projected to reach € 30 million in 2009.
The company says that "the unprecedented economic downturn" led to a 4% decrease in Bus Éireann customer numbers in 2008. It estimates that there will be a further 5% to 6% fall in passenger numbers in 2009.

Bus Éireann says it hopes that savings from the plan "will restore the company to a strong financial position" by the end of 2010.
This is, however, at best very optimistic and more likely completely unrealistic. How can one expect a consolidation of one's business with increased passenger numbers and solid profit when the number and quality of services is reduced, while the fares are rising at the same time? One really wonders on what planet the managers of Bus Éireann and its parent company CIÉ live...

Last week, Dublin Bus announced 290 job losses as part of a series of cost-cutting measures, which include also withdrawing 120 city buses, which is 10% of its fleet.
It said no routes will be removed, but some services would be "amalgamated" and that the frequency of buses would be "adjusted" in some areas.
Well, this is the same concept as in Bus Éireann, the idea that one can earn more money by offering less service for more money.

There is no vision of the future, no inspiration and no sense for reality in CIÉ, the state-owned transport company that acts as umbrella for Iarnród Éireann (Irish Railways), Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus. And since the company is directly controlled - and systematically wrecked - by the Department of Transport, there is not much leeway for new ideas, even if they had them.

Noel Dempsey (right), currently the Minister for Transport, has so far left every department he ran in a complete mess, and he will make no exception with Transport.
The job cuts and reductions of transport services and vehicles is his idea (see my entry of December 17th, 2008) and he does not care the slightest what this disastrous mismanagement does to the country and to the many users of public transport. Dempsey moves around the country in a chauffeur-driven huge Mercedes and lives like a king. He has no idea what it means to travel on an over-crowed bus that runs 30-40 minutes behind schedule...

I wonder if the employees of Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus will have the guts to fight the announced job cuts, or if they let them just happen while more than 10% of their colleagues are shoved off onto the dole.
Now is the time to stand up and be counted. If you don't, you will be counted out and gone for good...

The Emerald Islander

19 January 2009

And some good News coming through as well...

In my earlier entry from this afternoon I mentioned that some statisticians regard January 19th as "the most depressive day in the whole year" and indeed plenty of people obliged to make it so. In particular the stock brokers in Dublin and London, who sent the financial markets - but especially bank shares - down into the proverbial cellar.

Despite reassuring words from both governments - in Dublin and London - the world's financial dealers no longer trust us and the value of Irish and UK banks plummeted to another all-time low.
The hurried and quite shambolic nationalisation of Anglo Irish Bank by our government was fuelling the fires of distrust instead of sending the - intended - message of stability and 'business as usual'.
And in Britain the announcement of further billions of taxpayers' money being pumped into the sinking banks did not help them a bit. Quite the opposite. Many international finance houses, especially the cash-rich ones in the Far East on whose willing to lend we now depend more than ever, regard us with great suspicion. Subsequently UK bank shares fell by 68% today, losing over two thirds of the little value they now have in one single day!

The combined forces of government ignorance, regulators' laziness and sleeping on their watch, and bankers' criminal greed have holed both Britain and Ireland in a serious way well below the waterline.
The question by now is no longer when we can stop the ships sinking, but if we can stop them at all.

But even on this "most depressive day in the whole year" there is a little bit of good news as well. Five more directors from the disgraced board of Anglo Irish Bank have today announced their resignation from the board, in order to "make room for a new leadership team".
And not a moment too soon. In my opinion their resignation comes actually quite late, and I have not the slightest bit of empathy for these reckless bankers. They are responsible for the biggest financial and political crisis since the 1930s, and if I had the power, I would send them all to jail and throw away the keys...

An even better piece of news is that Brian Goggin (photo), the Bank of Ireland's highly incompetent chief executive, is stepping down as well.
The bank announced today that Goggin will retire this summer, a year earlier than planned. The bad news is that by retiring - instead of being sacked for the massive failure he presided over - Goggin will get his full pension, a golden parachute and many other perks he does not deserve and has not earned.

A man who presided over the collapse of a major bank that lost 95% of its value in less than two years deserves to be sacked, flogged and made to pay for his disastrous lack of leadership.
But as corrupt as our system is, this is unlikely to happen. Brian Goggin will go home as a multi-millionaire and enjoy a jet set lifestyle for the rest of his days. The bill for his folly will be paid by us - the Irish tax payers. But given the fact that for more than a decade a majority of us has persistently elected the most incompetent politicians to government again and again, we deserve nothing else. (And anyone who will in future vote for Fianna Fáil or the Green Party deserves that things get a lot worse than they are already...)

I suppose we should be content with the good news that five of the main gangsters from Anglo Irish are gone and that the arrogant fool Brian Goggin is following suit soon. All in a day's work, and not so depressing after all...

The Emerald Islander

The most depressing Day in the Year

This morning someone on the radio made the remark that January 19th is - apparently - "the most depressing day in the year". How they come to that conclusion I do not know, and it was not really explained on the programme either. These days many radio presenters have the habit of throwing in comments, remarks and statements that they have neither researched nor cross-checked.
On the other hand, there are countless statistics nowadays, about anything and everything. So it is quite possible that there is such a statistic and that it puts a black mark on this day - January 19th.

Whatever is the case, the stock brokers in Dublin must have been listening to the programme this morning. And they took it very seriously and decided to contribute to the day appropriately. Subsequently the value of Irish bank shares has dropped to another all-time low.
As I write this, shares in Allied Irish Bank (AIB) dropped by almost 52% to 70 cents, after slumping as much as 60% earlier. Bank of Ireland is down now 20% to 60 cents per share, which is already a recovered value from earlier falls of 47%. And Irish Life & Permanent, who own the permanent tsb bank, tumbled 32% to € 1.49.

Today's falls come in the wake of market suggestions that Bank of Ireland and AIB look unlikely to be able to raise extra cash from private investors to top up a proposed state investment in the banks.

It appears that a statement I made on the BBC's "Any Questions?" programme more than seven years ago was quite correct, and every day this becomes more obvious to everyone.
What I said - back in September 2001, shortly after the airborne terror attacks on New York and Washington - was this:
"It becomes quite clear that conventional capitalism as we know it does no longer work. There are people on this planet who - for whatever reason - no longer want to live and work, inspired by the chance to gain wealth and personal comfort, but prefer instead killing themselves, if they can do serious damage to the capitalist system in the process. This means that no business and no organisation that follows the traditional capitalist system alone will be save and successful in future."
There might well be people who heard my statement then and made changes to their lives and to their business, as I did myself. But the vast majority did not. In fact, here in Ireland the small class of really wealthy people took no notice of it at all, as they have never listened to anyone 'on the outside' ever. They just think that their wealth gives them complete immunity from the rest of the world.
For the past ten years they created an artificial bubble of social and financial illusions that puts the well-known story of The Emperor's New Clothes well into the shadows. In the process they have not only done great damage to themselves and their companies, but to the Irish nation as a whole. Now chicken are coming home to roost on an almost daily basis, and there is for now no end in sight.

As this is supposed to be "the most depressing day in the year", I will oblige and make another statement on this matter.
Not only does conventional capitalism as we know it no longer work in the face of fundamentalist terrorism that has no concern for human lives, it does also no longer work in a globalised world that allows banks to create and gamble with artificial money that does not exist, never will exist, and has no relation to any real values.

For thousands of years people used raw materials, produced something other people wanted, and sold it to them for a price higher than the costs of production. That way they made a profit, and this is the core of old-fashioned capitalism.
Nowadays more and more manufacturing - even the production of the most basic goods - is "outsourced" to low-wage economies, mostly in the Far East. Meanwhile here in the West our apparently so bright and clever people find it more suitable to concentrate on 'financial services', which means in plain English gambling with other people's money and getting paid huge bonuses for it, just like in any casino in Las Vegas. What they really are is not bright and clever at all, but greedy and stupid

If we keep this up and do not learn our economic lessons very quickly, capitalism in any form will cease to exist. Private enterprises and public services alike will collapse, and Ireland - together with many other countries, especially in the English-speaking world - will encounter a period of absolute anarchy, violence and destruction. What ever will emerge from that after some time is anyone's guess and unpredictable, even for someone with a good track record of correct predictions.

There is still time to get things right, but not a lot of it is left. Money and time are literally running out for Ireland. The only way to turn things around is a radical change of direction, under a strong leadership.

Well, perhaps that researcher quoted on the radio this morning was right after all and this is the most depressive day of the year...

The Emerald Islander

18 January 2009

A special Day in German History

Since I was born abroad and grew up in foreign countries, I never got to 'enjoy' the Irish school system. And from what I know of it by now - as an adult who has been a part-time teacher and lecturer both in secondary schools and third-level colleges - I am rather glad that I got my education in countries that take the matter more serious than Ireland.

As a historian I was surprised and quite shocked when I first found out that European History in Irish secondary schools begins only in 1870, with the Franco-Prussian War. This means that Irish children are denied the knowledge of nearly two millennia of mainstream history, which includes many major events, great political, social and intellectual developments, crucial wars and important leaders and thinkers from many nations.

The Roman and Byzantine Empire, the Crusades, the Hanseatic League, the Age of Reformation, the Thirty-Years War, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars - to name only the most significant periods - are not introduced to Irish children in secondary school. Thus they have no real notion about people like Caesar, Marcus Aurelius, Charlemagne, Godfrey de Bouillon, Charles the Bold, Emperor Maximilian, Jan Hus, Erasmus, Wallenstein, Louis XIV, Prince Eugene of Savoy, Frederick the Great or even Napoleon - to name but a few.

In my opinion this is a sad and irresponsible shortfall, which has implications on everyone who ever went through the Irish school system. Their view on the world as a whole and on history in particular is very limited.
But I suppose this is the conditioning one needs to be able to be strongly interested in various players of Football, Golf or other pointless sports, which take a lot of time, attention and money from many Irish people, especially men.

However, since European History begins for Irish people in 1870, most of my readers will be familiar with the significance of this day - January 18th - in German history. Having defeated the much larger French army in several decisive battles during the second half of 1870, Prussia - supported by other German states (especially Bavaria, Württemberg and Baden) - emerged as the surprise victor from this war, which marked the end-point of a seven-year period of short wars (the first one in 1864 against Denmark) and ever stronger domination of Prussia inside the German Union (the lose confederation that had replaced the old Holy Roman Empire of German Nation in 1806).

Inspired by the total defeat of France, the various German kingdoms and principalities, which had been brought even closer to Prussia through the war, decided to form a new unified national state called the German Empire (Deutsches Reich). It began its official existence on January 18th, 1871 with the proclamation of Prussia's King William as Emperor William I of Germany.

This proclamation (pictured above) took place in the famous palace of Versailles on the outskirts of Paris, once the home of the French kings. Paris itself surrendered ten days later, but France had lost the war already by September 1870, when after the battle of Sedan the main field force under Marshal MacMahon surrendered to the Germans. Among the 83,000 prisoners of war was Emperor Napoleon III himself.

France, then the second Napoleonic empire, declared war on Prussia alone on July 19th, 1870, in the - as it turned out wrong - assumption that its stronger and superior army could beat the Prussians and re-establish French domination on the continent (as well as restore the fading popularity of the emperor at home). The French army had just finished equipping all its units with the new Chassepot rifle, which had a clear technical superiority over the Dreyse rifle used by Prussia, and also a greater range. On top of that France employed a new invention called the 'mitrailleuse', a multi-barrelled salvo gun which was a fore-runner of the modern machine gun.
The Prussians and the other German armies had no such salvo guns, but instead new Krupp steel cannons, the most advanced artillery in the world at that time. This superior artillery, together with the better training and organisation of Prussian and German troops, crippled the French army within a few weeks. Having started the war with invading Germany and trying to occupy a major German city near the border, the French army was soon forced to retreat to its fortress Metz, where 140,000 troops under the command of Marshal Bazaine were sitting idle until they surrendered as well shortly before the end of hostilities.

The traditional rivalry between the French and the Germans goes back to the year 843 (two dozen years before my own family appeared on the scene) when - after the death of Emperor Charlemagne - his lands were divided between his three sons.
This laid the foundations of modern France and modern Germany as national states. The buffer state between them was Burgundy (home of my ancestors), which established the traditions that are today carried on by Belgium and Luxembourg. Only after World War II, more than eleven centuries later, the two nations of France and Germany developed a new and friendly relationship, which became the core element of the EU.

But for the Germans, and especially Prussians, the 18th of January has an even deeper meaning than being the day when the second German empire was proclaimed, just 18 weeks after the second French empire had collapsed with the capture of Napoleon III. The date of the 1871 proclamation was chosen by Prussia's Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck very carefully and deliberately.
January 18th, 1871 marked the 170th anniversary of the proclamation of the Kingdom of Prussia. By selecting the same day for the foundation of the second empire, Bismarck created an emotional and historical bond of great strength between the two events.

Way back - on January 18th, 1701 - Prince-Elector Frederick III of Brandenburg (pictured left) stood in the great castle of Königsberg in East-Prussia (since 1944 occupied by Russia and called Kaliningrad), which had been the headquarters of the Teutonic Order of Knights since 1457 and seat of the secular Duchy of Prussia since 1525.
Ignoring the local bishop, who had been summoned for a ceremony, the Prince took a newly created crown, put it on his head and thus became King Frederick I of Prussia, remembered for his love of the arts and music.
His son, Frederick-William I, was more interested in the military and thus gained the nick name 'the soldier king'. With great energy and a lot of money he created a large and strong army and enjoyed watching his regiments on the drill ground and on parades. But he would hardly ever send them to war, as he did not like damage done to his 'favourite toy'.

Prussia's third king - Frederick II (pictured right) - combined the passions and interests of his father and grandfather and added to them great courage and high strategic and administrative skills. Under his rule there was little time for the drill and parade grounds, as Prussia fought a number of major wars, including the Seven-Years War, and every last man - the king included - was needed in the field.

Between winning battles, Frederick II loved to play music, especially the flute, and he composed a large number of musical pieces, many of which are still played today. He reformed and modernised the structure of his state, created the modern civil service with a special loyalty ethos, and found the time to oversee the construction of some of the finest buildings in central Europe, including the palace of Sanssouci (photo below), which he modelled on Versailles.

Frederick II was also an active philosopher, who was in regular discussion (by correspondence as well as through personal meetings) with Voltaire, the greatest French philosopher of the 18th century. We still know and remember the man as Frederick the Great.

Due to the low standards of our history teaching, today few people know of these great people and events, and of the double significance of January 18th for Germany, the largest of our EU partners. So I thought I will bring them back to common memory, on a day when nothing much is happening in Ireland, except that it is a rather cold, wet and unpleasant day with high winds up to storm force 10 and 11. In other words, a day to stay at home, keep the fire burning and spend the time with plenty of tea, a pipe, a good book and some history.

The Emerald Islander