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Monday, March 31, 2008

The Politics.ie conspiracy theory

It is strange how politics in Ireland functions sometimes.

While the Taoiseach's position hangs in the balance, with opposition TDs calling for him to quit and coalition partners demanding he make a statement, and while he is soon to face difficult questions about his evidence to a Tribunal of Inquiry, his legal firm instead are spending their time pursuing an online politics discussion board over a potential libel.

Obviously, in times like these, such an unusual set of events can provoke imaginative flights of fancy in the more excitable of politicos. Inevitably, therefore, a conspiracy theory has grown up around the events affecting Politics.ie the past few days.

Here's a little chronology of events in order for you to understand the context of the conspiracy theory. And following, there is the conspiracy theory. The first is factual, the second - I would like to stress - is fictional, though no doubt it is believed as fact in some quarters.

In order to highlight the difference, I have put the latter into italics. But first, let us go over the chronology of actual events:

A few weeks ago, the popular political discussion website Politics.ie was hacked into. The accounts of some Young Fine Gael members were accessed by the hackers, who proceeded to post on the website under their guise.
The opinions expressed were certainly not opinions those individuals would espouse. One of the Fine Gael members was able to prove categorically that they could not physically have accessed the website when posts were made under their name.
It became evident that the site administrator's own account had been hacked into, giving the hacker access to the passwords and email addresses of anyone registered with the site. Fortunately, as soon as this came to David Cochrane's attention, he took the site down for almost two weeks as he sought to make the accounts and the site more secure.

A few days ago, following revelations at the Mahon Tribunal, a poster who had only posted eight times in total and not at all since last Summer, opened a topic on the site entitled 'Grainne Carruth.'
Ms Carruth is the former secretary of An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern who recently gave testimony to the Mahon Tribunal that appears to contradict evidence previously given by An Taoiseach.
In the opening post of that topic, this poster made an allegedly libellous suggestion about Frank Ward and Co. solicitors, who represent An Taoiseach at the Mahon Tribunal.

This post was noticed by a prominent Fianna Fail poster on the site, who immediately suggested it could lead to a libel action. Others posted on the topic, but none mentioned Frank Ward and Co., nor did they make any suggestions of impropriety about them.
However, after the other posters, including myself, had concluded, someone changed the title of the topic to 'Grainne Carruth and Frank Ward'. As only moderators or those who commence topics are capable of changing topic titles, it is reasonable to assume that this title change was committed by the original poster, the same person who had made the allegedly libellous comment.
Overnight, Liam Guidera of Frank Ward and Co. contacted David Cochrane to demand the removal of the alleged libel. The tos and fros of that particular interaction can be examined here.
In short, he demanded the removal of the libel, an apology and the identities of six posters on the topic in question, including my own. I have made my response to that demand in my post below.

Mr Guidera told Mr Cochrane that his attention had been drawn to the alleged libel by Sean Dorgan, who is the General Secretary of Fianna Fail. Given that the alleged libel did not involve any Fianna Fail members nor indeed the party itself, it remains unanswered as to why the General Secretary of Fianna Fail would take it upon himself to scour the internet for potential libels of legal firms and then draw their attention to any he believed he had found.

In an attempt to maintain the forum of free speech and political debate that has become the hallmark of Politics.ie, Mr Cochrane has taken the brave step of moving the site to servers located outside of the country. This may have the effect of frustrating future legal action. Then again, it may not. Mr Cochrane has indicated, in the comments on the post below, that he intends to fight against this attempt to silence Politics.ie.

Today, the mainstream media have noted the affair (subscription required), but given its legal nature, have shied away from describing the full nature of the case, as I am doing here.

That is the story so far.

But I promised you a conspiracy theory, so let me pass it onto you. Here's how it goes:

It has been suggested by some people on Politics.ie that, because of
David Cochrane's involvement with the lobby group Libertas, which is campaigning against the Lisbon Treaty, he has become unpopular with some people in some mainstream political parties, all of whom with the exception of Sinn Fein are campaigning in favour of Lisbon.
It has been suggested that the
recent attempt to hack the site in order to discredit Fine Gael posters may not have been a simple prank by a bored hacker, but potentially something more serious, more targeted, more organised.
It has been mooted that the hackers were seeking access to the database of passwords and email addresses in order to identify certain posters, and in order to make fake and discrediting comments under the guise of others, such as had happened to the Young Fine Gael posters.
It has further been suggested, even in the comments on my post below, that a 'false flag' poster could possibly have gone onto Politics.ie with the express intention of creating a libel, which was then coincidentally spotted almost immediately by a prominent Fianna Fail-supporting poster on the site.
Then the General Secretary of Fianna Fail somehow becomes aware of this alleged libel of a legal firm, who happen to represent the leader of Fianna Fail, and brings it to their attention. They immediately initiate action against
Mr Cochrane and Politics.ie.
In addition to the poster alleged to have committed the libel, the firm also demands the identities of others who posted on the topic, but NOT the Fianna Fail supporter who identified the post as potentially libellous.
Instead, they seek the identities of individuals who did not refer to the firm at all in any form, but who are in general noted critics of Fianna Fail.

In short, according to this conspiracy theory, Fianna Fail, or someone acting on their behalf, would have successfully hacked into a website to discredit Fine Gael supporters and obtain the email addresses of posters who were anti-Fianna Fail.
Then, according to this conspiracy theory, the party manipulated a libel on the same site, knowing that David Cochrane as publisher would be legally liable, in order to silence the site and to damage him and the anti-Lisbon campaign.
And here endeth the conspiracy theory as I understand it.

It seems to me that some politicos have very feverish imaginations, not to mention a large degree of paranoia. Such a conspiracy theory could clearly not be remotely true. It is clearly preposterous to suggest that either Fianna Fail or Frank Ward and Co. would ever be involved in such an outlandish set of events.

Rather, Fianna Fail's General Secretary was simply doing a good turn when he passed on details of this potential libel to the legal firm, and they, as is entirely their right, sought to defend their good name.

Of course, in order to dispel this sort of nonsense, it would be helpful if Sean Dorgan explained the circumstances surrounding how he came across the alleged libel in the first place, and why he chose to take it upon himself to pass on the information to Frank Ward and Co.

Until he chooses to clarify those details, I suspect that this conspiracy theory may continue to have currency among the more gullible and suggestible in political circles.

It just goes to show what strange times we are in when such a conspiracy theory about the largest political party in the country can arise so quickly. What could they have possibly done in the past to make such an outlandish story plausible to people?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ahern's solicitors try to silence online debate

This is really quite concerning for free speech in Ireland and on the internet as a whole.

Frank Ward and Co., the solicitors representing An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern at the Mahon Tribunal, have sent a letter to popular discussion website Politics.ie, threatening legal action.

Their threat, which can be examined here, alleges defamation and libel in relation to a thread on Politics.ie about Grainne Carruth.

Ahern's solicitors have demanded that David Cochrane, who operates the site, provide the real life identities of six individuals who contributed to that particular debate.

I am one of those individuals.

I categorically state that I libelled no one. I also am of the opinion that at least four of the others whose identities are sought also libelled no one.

My contribution to the debate referred to by An Taoiseach's lawyers was to pose questions about Irish legal history to another poster, who despite answering my questions and being one of the most prominent posters on the offending debate, is NOT one of the people Ward and Co. wish to unveil.

In that context therefore, I can only assume that the legal firm have chosen to stifle all debate rather than merely seek to address an alleged libel.

I am also of the opinion that any potential libel can be simply removed in an online debate upon request, as opposed to libels in print which are impossible to retract.

I am therefore stunned that the solicitors representing An Taoiseach have chosen instead to threaten legal action against a popular politics discussion website, and against named internet identities.

David Cochrane has stated that he was told the person who drew this debate to the attention of Frank Ward and Co. was Sean Dorgan, the General Secretary of Fianna Fail. I have no idea if that is the case or not.

I would also like to identify some other facts of interest in Irish current affairs:

David Cochrane is a prominent member of lobby group Libertas, which is running a strident and successful campaign against the Lisbon Treaty.

Fianna Fail are campaigning in favour of that treaty.

This week, the leaders of two parties in the governing coalition of this country called upon An Taoiseach to make a statement clarifying the apparent contradiction of his evidence to the Mahon Tribunal with the evidence of Grainne Carruth.

This weekend, people are debating all of these facts in pubs, in restaurants, around the family dinner table, and yes, online too.

I do not suggest any connection between these facts, causal or otherwise, nor do I suggest any connection between these facts and the threat of legal action against David Cochrane and Politics.ie.

I do suggest that it is wrong to seek to silence freedom of speech and vibrant political debate online in this country, however.

The Mouth of Hell

John Bradley's pics of the mouth of Hell have been surfacing in various spots around the interweb recently.

But I thought it would be only fair to credit him for his work. His site is here, and you should go visit. He takes great pics.

These, however, are something else again.

Today is the day when we're all supposed to turn off our lights for an hour to stop global warming, or somesuch tokenistic nonsense.

Why is it tokenistic? Because in the desert of Turkmenistan in Central Asia, the mouth of Hell is burning:

Yes, that is an open crater in the ground, on fire. This is located not far from Darvaza in Turkmenistan. The backstory is that in the Fifties, Soviet miners drilled into this cavity while looking for natural gas or oil.

None of them wanted to go in and explore in case there was poisonous gas present. So instead, they decided to burn out any poisonous gas first. The fire has been continuous for decades.

See the two dots at the crater's edge below? They're people.

This shot might give a better perspective on how big this is. Factor in the size of the crater and the length of time it has been burning, and imagine how much gas has been wasted here. Then consider the carbon spewed into the atmosphere. Still turning off your lights for an hour?

Inside the crater, which apparently attracts curious insects and animals from miles around, you can get a better sense of why the locals call this crater the mouth of Hell.

Of all the many environmental tragedies in the former Soviet Union, I'd have to rank Chernobyl top, followed by the Aral Sea.

But for sheer, visual, gut-wrenching wrongness, it is hard to top the mouth of Hell.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Feminism V Multiculturalism

In a deathmatch, which would win?

Only kidding.

Here's a question that's concerned me for some time, though.

Given that 65-70% of rape on white women in Scandinavia are committed by Muslim men, who make up around 5% of the population ...

And given that a majority of all rape of white women in America is by ethnic minorities, who in total make up only 32% of the population ...

(especially black men, who commit one third of the rapes, despite making up only 12% of the population) ...

... is feminism, or at least the privileged white Western feminism that's primarily concerned with white Western womens' interests, on a collision course with multiculturalism?

Obviously not. But why not?

Feminism in the West generally shows precious little concern for the really important issues globally. Women go without the vote, go without being allowed out of the family home, go without being allowed to drive a car, go without all sorts of basic rights in all sorts of countries around the globe.

But these things affect black and brown women, not white Western women.

You wouldn't know they affected anyone if you listened to most Western feminists. Once you get past the 'all men are rapists' nonsense, you're generally left with handwringing about being fat, or shrill demands for more taxpayer funded childcare. White western women's interests.

But the colour factor in rape is one issue that they don't ever acknowledge. Because there is a simple, though unpalatable fact at the heart of it.

If white Western women could take one simple precaution to protect themselves from rape, it would be to avoid the company of ethnic minority men, especially Muslims and Black men.

If feminism really cared about the needs of white Western women, maybe this should be on the agenda somewhere.

The multicultural experiment is predicated on the assumption that when cultures mingle, everyone benefits. These concerning statistics indicate, that at least in terms of sexual predation, white women are not benefiting from multiculturalism.

When liberalisms clash, it's never pretty. That's why it never happens. That's why it gets brushed under the carpet.

I bet you never heard a feminist refer to the colour or ethnicity of rapists. And I bet you never heard a multicultural theorist acknowledge the problem of rape by ethnic minorities either.

Now, I don't know why ethnic minorities are raping white women so much. It may be that, as disenfranchised people, some seek a semblance of power through sexual predation. But that's just a theory I heard. I simply don't know why it happens.

However, it's not because ethnic minorities are more sexually violent by nature, because they're not. Perhaps some feminist could examine this and come up with a better theory? Perhaps some multicultural theorist could research it and find some conclusions that could help reverse this appalling trend?

I won't hold my breath.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


There are fears of a major, violent reaction to the release on the internet of the short film, below, by bouffant blond Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders.

Nevertheless, it is always wrong to bow to threats of violence.

Therefore, with the aim of supporting freedom of speech, I am reproducing 'Fitna' below.

It's short, and it seeks to examine the influence of Quranic verses on contemporary Islamic terrorism.

In that way, it is simplistic. It is also provocative. But like Richard Dawkins, I believe that religions are not exempt from criticism, nor are religious faiths or teachings immune to critical appraisal.

This is what Wilders has sought to do. For that he can be commended, debated or condemned.

But it is wrong for anyone to be physically harmed or threatened because he has sought to do this, and I hope that does not arise.

I have loved every Arab nation I ever visited. I have spent contemplative time in many mosques. I have no less respect for Islam than any other religion, ie I have none for any of them.

I do feel that the grip of fundamentalist Islam on some people is the single worst aspect of Arab states, never mind places like Iran, Bangladesh, the 'stans.

Muslims need to accept, as increasingly Judaism and Christianity have done, that their religion is not impervious or immune to criticism.

If Muslims can respond to Geert Winders differently to how they responded to the Danish cartoonists and Salman Rushdie, by debating rather than destroying, that would be progress towards alleviating Western fears of Islam.

By their silence, their nonchalance, their refusal to be provoked by Winders, they can prove themselves better human beings.

I give you 'Fitna'.

Death by a thousand cuts

History will not record that Louth Fianna Fail councillor Tommy Murphy dealt Bertie the first cut.

Nor will history record that Progressive Democrat senator and leader candidate Fiona O'Malley dealt Bertie that first cut.

Despite the belated scramble by the abject Green Party leader, Minister for Environment John Gormley to slide a knife into Ahern, history will not record that he dealt the Taoiseach the first blow.

No, the first of the thousand cuts that kill Bertie's Taoiseachship came from Minister for Health, Mary Harney.

Let me be clear. I do not like Mary Harney or her policies in the Department of Health. She has presided, literally, over a repudiation of responsibility that verges on criminal and has undoubtedly contributed to circumstances in the Irish health service which have cost people their lives.

But I will acknowledge that she has integrity. She left Fianna Fail because of its endemic corruption and has remained outside since. Many will query whether that made a big difference, since she so cleverly positioned her tiny party in such a place that it propped up successive Fianna Fail governments.

I would suggest it made a difference to her. Fianna Fail used her as a mudguard in regard to the health service. She knows this, and knew it when Bertie re-appointed her to the position recently.

There are easier jobs she could do, no doubt. Especially following the decimation of her party last year, and her having the leadership foisted upon her after McDowell had so rudely demanded she relinquish it.

But her integrity ensured that she remained at her post. More's the pity, I would say. There are few other health ministers who would have pursued the privatisation of our health service with such blinkered vision and such disastrous results.

But just as her integrity can have negative consequences, so it can occasionally be positive for the nation also.

Such as today.

Her conscience jogged by Fiona O'Malley, Harney finally spoke out, finally removed the knife from the belt and slammed it into the back of Bertie.

Apres ca, le deluge.

Let the bloodletting begin.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

And so it begins

Yes, people. The peace dividend has arrived.

450 public sector jobs to go in the Housing Executive. That's nearly five hundred people sacked from only one state agency.

How many do you think will be sacked overall, once this wave of 'rationalisation' is complete?

See, what people never realised was that there was in reality a civil war dividend in Northern Ireland.

The stipend from the UK to the province was estimated conservatively at £6 billion. It didn't all go on security. It also went on the most bloated civil service in the Western world.

That's coming to an end. For sure, in order to bribe everyone to stay inside Stormont, there will be a few hand-outs from London, Dublin, even from America and the EU.

But in the long run, this is the future. The over-reliance on state and semi-state sector jobs is a thing of the past.

Expect much weeping and gnashing of teeth across the six counties as people are weaned off the teat of cushy state jobs for life.

It's not going to be pretty.

Monday, March 24, 2008

You know you're a global joke

... when even Uganda is laughing at you.

Colonel Muammar Gadaffi, whose career as Libyan dictator has been punctuated by a series of eye-watering gaffes, has done it again.

This, let us recall, is the lad who attempted to set up a united Africa under his own leadership not once but repeatedly. The lad whose London embassy staff thought it was a smart idea to take potshots at female cops. The lad who trained the world's terrorists and gave them weaponry.

You'd think, after the assassination of his daughter by American bombs, that he'd work out to keep his head down in future. After all, even his fellow Arab neighbours can no longer stand him or his ego.

But no. On a recent visit to Uganda, he called the Bible a forgery because it didn't mention Muhammed.

Presumably it hadn't dawned on him that the lack of a mention for the Islamic prophet may have something to do with the Bible being written centuries before Muhammed was born.

Now even the Ugandans are laughing at him. How low can a dictator go?

Dead man's hand

I may have mentioned in the past that gambling is a mug's game.

Well, it is.

The Irish Poker Open is currently entering it's final day, with six punters left at the final table. The winner will walk away with 800,000 euro for a weekend's work. No one currently at that table will leave without a six figure cheque.

Nice. Makes you think, maybe I'm a mug, slogging my bollocks off every week for the pittance I get. Maybe I should try this poker malarkey. After all, it's only a game of cards. They're randomly dealt. You win if you get the good cards, right?

Wrong. People like Doyle Brunson don't keep winning the World Series of Poker for nothing. Poker is an evil game, where the person with the best hand can lose by being intimidated out of the betting. Where people with crap hands can win large amounts of money.

Never forget the old maxim, if you haven't worked out who the patsy is at a poker table within five minutes of sitting down, it's you.

I forgot that last week, when I went down to Citywest to play in a satellite tournament that would have qualified me to enter into the main event had I won it.

I was rusty, but in fairness, I used to play quite a bit. I sat down at the table with more than a few kids. How much poker could they feasibly have played, I wondered. I began to get optimistic.

I was cleaned out in just over an hour. It was almost embarrassing. With the advent of online poker, there are people out there playing six hands at a time for 12 hours a day. It's almost impossible for the normal person to accrue that amount of experience.

See, for a lot of these youngsters, poker's become their day job. No doubt, for an awful lot more, it's become a quick and easy way to burn through money.

Well, I enjoyed my day trip to Vegas-in-Kildare, but I won't be haunting a card table again for a while. From here on in, I'll watch from the sidelines. I guess I don't have the stamina or the bank balance to play poker for 12 hours daily.

You're probably the same.

But you, like me, can find out who the lucky sod who wins the 800 gees is by checking the live blog here. Whoever it is, good luck to them. They'll have earned the money.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

They're right to riot in Finglas

I think so, on balance.

Are they making a shite of their own neighbourhood? Yes.

Is the violence largely conducted by kids buzzing on cheap alcohol? Of course.

Is street violence going to solve the problems facing their community? No chance.

So why do I think they're right to riot in Finglas? Because I don't see what other option they have.

I remember rioting as a kid. That was in Belfast, during the Troubles. We went out to throw rocks and molotovs at the RUC.

There were political justifications, of course. The hunger strikes. The oppression. The fact that we were second class citizens in our own land.

But primarily, we rioted because we had no amenities, and nothing else to do, and were fed up of a system that rubbed our nose in the shit all the time, a system that treated us like animals. If we were going to be accused of being animals, we felt, we could show them what animals could do.

Revisionists, or at least Republicans, would have you believe that our rioting was civil unrest, an uprising, a liberation movement. Perhaps it was all of those things.

But what the rioting in Belfast decades ago, and the rioting in Lhasa last week, and the riots in Finglas in recent days have in common is that the people who live there are objecting to a system that grinds them into the dirt the only way they can, the futile method of tilting at authority figures.

Finglas is a terribly deprived area. It is ridden with gangsterism and drug abuse. Anti-social behaviour thrives because the Gardai give it a wide berth. Schools are poorly funded and bulging at the seams with kids. Even those kids who want to better themselves have the odds heavily stacked against them.

Even if they obtain the necessary schooling to improve their lot, they will then suffer the postcode bigotry of employers who automatically consign job applications from D11 to the bin.

Less than 4% of students at Trinity College come from working class backgrounds these days. The kids of Finglas know that the Celtic Tiger dream marketed at them in the media does not apply to them and never will. Social mobility has never been so static in Ireland. The rich get richer and the poor get their bus routes cancelled.

Local politicians don't bother with places like Finglas because there are no votes there. And in a circular movement, the people of places like Finglas don't bother to vote because no one in authority ever listens to their concerns.

So where can the people of Finglas take their concerns? Eventually, anger bubbles over, the sole amenity of cheap alcohol and drugs kicks in, and the concerns get expressed on the streets.

I did the same myself and feel no shame over it. Two decades on, the oppression I suffered as a youth has been alleviated and addressed. The voice of my community is now heard in government.

But I have a sneaking suspicion that Bill Clinton and Tony Blair won't be taking a special personal interest in Finglas. I suspect the rioters of Finglas will be painted as boozed-up animals rather than people crying out for liberation from deprivation. I hope they get the same result I did, but I fear they will not.

And if they continue to be ignored, then eventually there will be more riots, and riots with increasing severity and regularity. Eventually people will die, local people and Gardai.

They aren't animals. They don't love squalor. They want better lives that are being denied them. The government should listen. Because they're right to riot in Finglas until they do.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Could this be the beginning of the end?

The Chinese themselves are now rising up against the police state apparatus of the ruling Communist Party junta.

In Gansu, some of those protesting may well be Tibetan or from some other ethnic minority.

But in Sichuan, they are Han Chinese, albeit not of the type to kow-tow to the whims of Beijing. In my experience, the Sichuanese are as fiery as the chilis they dose their famous cuisine with.

Hopefully, the solidarity they are showing with their Tibetan neighbours will be as potent and long-lasting.

The Beijing Junta can no longer lie that the protests are in anyway being co-ordinated by what they pathetically call the 'Dalai Lama clique'. Now it is Chinese who are protesting for their freedoms too, taking a lead from the Tibetans.

Hopefully this will now spread to the Eastern cities. Specifically, it would be fantastic to see people protesting the dictatorship in Shanghai and Beijing.

While some might have trepidations about a second Tiananmen Square massacre, I personally suspect that simultaneous, sustained protests in the West and the East would be sufficient to finally bring down the most murderous regime in human history.

What cannot happen is for there to be any wavering outside of China. Gordon Brown must ignore the Chinese and meet with the Dalai Lama. We in the privilege of European democracies must keep the pressure on the Chinese.

Write to the Department of Foreign Affairs demanding a statement of condemnation from Dermot Ahern. And boycott the Beijing genocide Olympics.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arthur C Clarke RIP

It's rare for a writer, within their own lifetime, to change the world they live in purely through the power of their fiction.

Rarer still for them to be a genre writer.

But in one of his more famous statements, he was absolutely correct: "Politicians should read science fiction, not westerns and detective stories."

And people did read Arthur's work.

His three laws about science are definitive. More even than Asimov, he defined the problems at the heart of the computer age.

And his warning "It has yet to be proved that intelligence has any survival value" remains as prescient now, in the age of nuclear proliferation and global warming, as any statement to guide us collectively in the future.

Arthur C Clarke, RIP.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Chinese soldiers murder Tibetans

Earlier today, a member of the Chinese embassy in London lied in an interview with Sky News.

He said that Chinese soldiers had killed none of the Tibetans protesting in Lhasa and throughout Tibet currently.

This is not true. Here's the proof. Sorry if you find this disturbing, but state-sponsored genocide usually is:

Those are the corpses of Tibetan protesters in Lhasa shot dead by Chinese soldiers. And below, you can see the nature of the military invasion currently underway in Tibet:

Genocide is under way. Cultural genocide, but also actual genocide of the populace. Hundreds are dead already.

The Chinese do not want the world to witness this atrocity, so they are expelling all foreigners from Tibet.

Don't let them murder a nation. Boycott the genocide Olympics in Beijing. Visit the Free Tibet campaign.

And please write to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, via the departmental website and ask what your government is doing to protest against the Chinese murder of the people of Tibet.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Police State, anyone?

As Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, comes under increasing Chinese terror, murder and genocide, it is always useful to suspend thoughts like 'It couldn't happen here' and question the nature of the freedoms we hold dear.

One of the problems in Tibet, as in Burma, is that when the ruling junta own the media, there is little possibility of the truth of their appalling atrocities reaching the outside world. And without media coverage to remind us, the rest of us, cosy in our Western democracies, go back to sleep or turn on some more enlightening reality shows instead.

After all, who's in uproar about Burma now? Nobody is who. And without support in the West, Tibetans will be equally crushed. They will be crushed because they can be crushed and no one will know because no one will hear about it.

The silencing of independent media is where a police state begins.

Now, here's a story, fresh today that should raise concerns. Four BBC journalists have been arrested by Gardai while making a programme about dissident Republicanism.

No doubt, as we still have a semblance of an independent media here and in Britain, the facts of this case will emerge over the forthcoming days. What is already clear is that the BBC are standing by their reporters and have stated that they were on duty, working on a programme for the network.

It will be interesting to see what charges, if any, the Gardai seek to press against them. It will be interesting to see what programme, if any, is eventually aired on television.

In the meantime, let us all hope that this isn't the start of something sinister.

I mean, it's not like the Gardai in Donegal to invent evidence, fit people up for crimes that didn't happen and generally behave like amoral criminals themselves, is it?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

JC Skinner's guide to Irish Whiskey

Following on from my nigh-legendary guidance on drinking in general, here's a few pointers about Irish whiskey just in time for St Patrick's Day.

1. It's whiskEy not whisky. With an 'E' and it's Irish, without and it's Scotch. Some Yanks like to spell their Bourbon the Irish way, with the E. This is a mistake, since the vast majority of Bourbon isn't proper whiskey at all. In my opinion, of course.

2. Unlike the Scots, who cleverly kept most of their distilleries open, we stupidly shut nearly all of ours. Therefore, there are really only three distilleries left. To make up for that, they distil a bewildering display of whiskies to make it look like there are lots more than there really are.

3. Scots tend to make the most sought-after single malts. Irish distilleries make some excellent malts too, but what they really excel at is blends.
The Scots also tend to use peat to dry the malt in their whiskies, which can make them smoky. The Irish don't, with two notable exceptions.
Irish whiskey is generally triple distilled, which Scotch rarely if ever is. Hence Irish whiskey is generally the smoother tipple.

4. You have Bushmills on the North Coast of Antrim, probably located in the most Protestant, Unionist town in the world, but still aware of the marketing value of calling their famous product Irish, rather than Ulster, whiskey.
Bushmills make their own basic blend, Old Bushmills, which is sweet, young and good for skulling lots of during a whiskey binge, if that's your thing. Black Bush is the more upmarket blend, very tasty indeed and good value for money.
They also do a great range of single malts, including the green bottle 10 year old, which is yummy, and a truly sumptuous 16 year old, which is finished in three woods and tastes incredibly complex as a result.
At the top of the range is the 21 year old, matured in madeira casks, and a special 400th anniversary whiskey currently only on sale at the distillery, which is just fantastic. Also only at the distillery is the 12 year old reserve single malt.
In the past, the distillery has done limited edition single cask special editions. These are extremely overpriced gimmicks. Having said that, I'm open to receiving any of them on Christmas or birthdays!

The verdict: If you want that genuine Irish whiskey binge experience, the basic Bushmills is a good contender. If smooth single malts with vanilla and complex wine notes are your thing, feel free to move up the Bushmills single malts ladder as far as your pocket will allow you. The 16 year old is probably the best value of the lot.

5. Midleton is a little town just outside of Cork, where distilling has been going on for a very long time, and they're good at it.
This is just as well, because probably nearly all of the best known Irish whiskies are actually all made here now, especially since distilling in Dublin died out with the closure of the Jameson's distillery at Bow Lane, which is now a nice museum.
So prolific is Midleton, that they even make the grain whiskey that goes into Bushmills blends, and the whiskey that goes into Bailey's Irish Cream.
But what they're best known for are the Jameson range, which they inherited from Bow Lane, Paddy's and Powers Gold Label. Personally speaking, I don't rate any of these.
In fact, I'd go as far as to suggest that anyone who recommends any of these doesn't know their whiskey.
Powers and Paddy's are fine for kids to mix with Coke, or for use in Irish coffees and hot whiskeys, of course. Same with basic Jameson, which is just about good enough to drink on its own or on the rocks.
Further up the food chain are some heavily overpriced Jamesons, including the 1780 which is a 12 year old blend, an outrageously pricey 18 year old, and Crested Ten, which has a reputation in some quarters which is unwarranted.
The Jameson Gold is probably the best value in the brand range, but is generally only spotted in duty-free shops, more's the pity.
Midleton does make the extremely good value Tullamore Dew, which is very young as whiskies go, and quite popular in the US. For sheer bang for your buck, this is probably the best of the Midleton productions.
For quality though, one is forced to pay through the nose for the Midleton Very Rare, a deliberately limited edition whiskey sold in an ostentatious wooden box for figures upwards of 100 euro a bottle.
Each year the 'vintage' is slightly different, which adds to the collectible value. It's a lovely whiskey, whichever vintage you sample. But is it worth that money? Probably only to those who will leave it in the bottle for twenty years, untouched.
But Midleton does produce one genuine all-round gem of a whiskey. It's a pure pot still whiskey, a traditional method unique to Ireland, and it is superb and very reasonable value too.
This is Redbreast, of course, a 12 year old whiskey that has to be sampled to be believed.
And at the price it generally retails at, you can afford to put a bit more money to what you were going to spend on Jameson or Powers and get the proper good stuff.
There is another little historical anomaly produced at Midleton too. And thank God for it. Once upon a time, Ireland's many distilleries would produce bonded whiskies for pubs, wine importers and other independent establishments. All bar one of these no longer are produced.
There is one left though, Green Spot, which is produced at Midleton for Dublin wine merchants Mitchells. And it's fantastic. This is probably the best value Irish whiskey there is.
Sadly, it's produced in limited quantities and generally is only found in Mitchells' own shops, of which there are only three, and they're all in Dublin.

Verdict: Forget Paddy's and Powers. Of the Jamesons, Gold is the only one worth your money. But for gulping whiskey, Tullamore Dew is the one, for sipping whiskey go with the Redbreast, and if someone else is buying, try a Midleton Very Rare. But the one worth flying to Dublin just to buy is Green Spot.

6. The last of the three distilleries is Cooley, located almost on the border between British-owned Ireland and the independent free bit.
One thing Cooley has going for it is that unlike the other two, which are both owned by massive corporate conglomerates, Cooley is genuinely independent and hence deserving of support.
And a lot of people like what Cooley are doing, since they can't stop winning awards for their whiskies.
I once had a bad experience with their main single malt, Tyrconnell. I don't like it much and I don't like the fact that Cooley took the name from a venerable old whiskey once distilled in Derry at the now long-closed Watts distillery.
But Tyrconnell is loved by many, despite its youth. I'd be more inclined to look out for the limited edition finishes of Tyrconnell, though. They're marginally more interesting than the basic number.
The Greenore single grain whiskey is also, to my mind, completely worth ignoring, I'm afraid. The small amount of it they make inflates the price for what has to be the blandest whiskey in Ireland.
Their Kilbeggan blend is an adequate alternative to Paddy's or Jameson for those who want whiskey in their cola, and personally I'd recommend doing so just to give Cooley the business.
Cooley claims that their other blend, Locke's (also named for a whiskey that died a long time ago) is very hard to make and complex. I find it pretty bland again, even at 8 years old.
But before you think I'm completely down on the border boys, let me discuss what Cooley do uniquely and do incredibly well: peated Irish whiskey.
But JC, I hear you protest (because I have special powers which allow me to hear over the internet), didn't you say it's the Scots who peat whiskey?
Yup, they do. And if you've a taste for smokey Scotch, or a friend who loves Scotch who you want to convert to Irish whiskey, then you need to stock up on a couple of Cooley whiskies.
Specifically, you want to get the Connemara single malt, which just keeps winning awards.
It's very like a smokey island Scotch single malt, which was the point of the exercise really. In fact, it keeps outdoing Scotch equivalents at competitions.
And with a delicious 12 year old and a beefy cask strength option, there's a little range of options to enjoy, and though both of these can hurt the wallet a little, they're worth it if you like the basic Connemara number. Like pretty much all whiskey lovers do.
But for me, the real gem at Cooley is Inishowen (again, a name nicked from an old Watts whiskey).
There is literally nothing like Inishowen on earth. It's an Irish blend whiskey, with peated malt in the mix. In other words, it's the Giant's Causeway of whiskies, the missing link between Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky. Also a multiple award-winner, it is so reasonably priced that it's hard to fault it, despite its unique qualities.

Verdict: Everyone's waiting to see what emerges from the old Kilbeggan distillery, which Cooley has taken out of the mothballs, and hurrah for that. But judging on their current performances at Cooley, it could go either way. So for now, play it safe and stick with their peated range, Inishowen and Connemara.

6, There are other Irish whiskies out there. All are made by the above three distilleries for foreign markets, or for independent bottlers. I'd name a few, but apart from Coleraine (made at Bushmills and only recently improved to drinkable quality), or Millars Special Reserve (made at Cooley for a UK off-licence chain) I wouldn't accept a half-un of any of them to be honest.

7. Sadly, some of the best Irish whiskies are the remaining stocks of long-closed distilleries. As a result, these gems are generally very hard to find and appallingly expensive.
Examples would include 'Dungourney 64', which came from a single cask from the Old Midleton distillery that went missing for 30 years before being discovered and bottled.
Or Dunville's, a whiskey distilled in Belfast until the place closed Seventy years ago, a cache of which surfaced in Bushmills some years back.
Or Coleraine 1959, a limited edition 34 year old bottling of the last cask ever produced at the old Coleraine distillery.
Or Old Comber, which was bottled in the Eighties at around 33 years old from the last couple of casks remaining from the Ulster Distillery in Comber, which shut down in 1953.
Or Knappogue 51, which surfaced after 36 years and was bottled, and is now marketed as the rarest Irish whiskey in the world.
Which it probably isn't, as no doubt someone out there has a unique bottle out there of something ancient and preposterously rare.
But these are mostly museum pieces, articles for collections. Not for drinking unless you have deep pockets.
For St Patrick's Day, I'll be sipping some Green Spot, some Redbreast, some Bushmills 16 year old, and a little drop of Old Comber as a special treat.

Good luck and enjoy whatever you're having yourself! Slainte!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Steak and a Blowjob Day

I am reliably informed that today is my favourite holiday in the whole calendar: Steak and a blowjob day!

Happy steaks and blowjobs to all.

(Medium rare and extra sloppy, since you're asking.)

Lhasa is burning

Lhasa is burning
today. The town on the roof of the world, the inspiration for Shangri-La, the spiritual home of Tibetans is aflame.

Tibetans are demanding their freedom, which was taken from them by a military invasion nearly fifty years ago by the Chinese communists.

Tibet is NOT part of China. It NEVER WAS part of China historically. The Tibetans speak their own language, have their own venerable history, their own religion and their own rich culture. They aren't Chinese and never will be.

So instead, China seeks to eradicate them. This is the world's quietest genocide, a murder of an entire culture by the slow process of murder, arrests, tortures but also mass immigration into their land from Han China, the Sinization of their towns like Lhasa.

In an astonishing display of compromise, the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual and political leader, has long sought to negotiate a deal with China that would prevent the Sinization of Tibet by allowing Tibet autonomy within China.

In other words, they are prepared to sacrifice their independence forever in order to obtain a limited freedom in which their culture and people might manage to survive. China's response has been to close more monasteries, kill more Tibetans, and move millions more Han Chinese into Tibet.

In this Olympic year, even the profoundly pacifist Tibetans are not going to accept the ongoing murder of their culture. That is why Lhasa is burning today.

The fires over Lhasa are a much more genuine symbol of human endurance and the quest for freedom of expression and achievement than any sullied Olympic torch spluttering in the Beijing smog ever could be.

Boycott the Beijing Olympics. Show your support for the people of Tibet.

See also my account of visiting Lhasa last year.

UPDATE: It didn't take long for the Chinese to start murdering Tibetans, sadly.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Poison Pens 2: Return of the fake blog

Some of you may recall a little storm in the Irish blogosphere (or a tea cup, you decide) earlier this month.

Shane Hegarty at the Irish Times spotted how a PR firm trying to peddle salty snacks had come up with the wheeze of creating a fake blog about Irish celebs.

Shane is not the poison pen here. He is a good journalist and this was good, albeit not earth-shattering, investigation.

Actual Irish bloggers soon stormed the site - justnutsabout - and deluged it in comments ranging from the outraged ("You fakes!") to the surreally hilarious (random lengthy quotes from The Bible.)

The PR bunnies panicked, deleted all the nasty comments, and let the issue die down for a week or so. Then started spinning again. After all, where there's a will (and a retainer cheque) there's a way.

And there's usually also a pet journalist who owes you a favour or a stupid one incapable of doing the basic research, like Shane did, and identifying blatant PR fluff.

Cue The Star, and Kathryn Rogers today. The top half of page thirteen (no linky sadly - their website doesn't work) features a full half-page of breathless puff for - you guessed it - justnutsabout.

The justification for this nonsense? There isn't any, nor any attempt at any. Since there is no linky, I intend to quote extensively from this poison pen:

"HOT Irish model Glenda Gilson has inspired a range of wacky Benda with Glenda goodies. The unofficial gear includes pink Glenda T-shirts, bags, badges, stickers and drinks coasters.
The items all bear the legend: Just been on a benda with Glenda. Limited edition Glenda fan-packs are available for free from the site justnutsabout.com.
'We sent her some fan-packs and she thought it was very funny,' said a spokesman...."

And so on, for another hundred words.

Now, this is pure poison penning. There's no mention that this is a PR website aimed at selling snack products (bad-for-you, salty products, too.) There's no attempt to verify anything with Glenda Gilson, who this PR firm are blatantly piggybacking their site on.

In fact, the entire article is basically ripped from a press release, and illustrated with a file pic of the aforementioned model into which a 'Benda with Glenda' t-shirt has been badly photoshopped.

I hope your journalistic integrity was worth all those salty snacks, Ms Rogers. The Irish Star - justnutsabout press releases.

I'd go posting the entire Koran on the comments section of the fake blog if I could, but the cowards have removed the site's comments facility.

Monday, March 10, 2008

More preaching from the perverted

Hooray for the Catholic Church. They've got a new two-for-one offer on deadly sins. Pope Benedict has issued seven more deadly sins to go with the ones they already had identified.

So, are these new sins for you, you may ask? Could they possibly be as much fun as sloth, gluttony or lust? Sadly, no.

Here are the 21st Century additions in full:

Genetic modification
Performing experiments on people
Environmental pollution
Creating social injustice
Causing poverty
Being extremely wealthy
and Taking Drugs.

Let's examine that list a little carefully. According to the Catholic Church, it is now a mortal sin to smoke a joint, litter, or lead third phase medical testing of new medications. I don't see raping children in your care on that list, strangely enough. Funny that.

Let's leave aside the issue of the Catholic Church ruling out contraception, abortion or stem cell research. We already knew they didn't like those.

But the Vatican's opposition to extreme wealth takes some beating for chutzpah. And the Catholic Church, with their tithes on peasants and collections at mass, have shown themselves extremely efficient at causing poverty too when it was their inclination.

The two that stick in my craw particularly though are the edicts against littering and taking drugs. Which drugs exactly do the Vatican have in mind? The legally available ones that kill more people than all the others, like nicotine? The one that causes most social and family dysfunction and anti-social behaviour, alcohol?

Or perhaps they mean the available-on-prescription medications which big pharma sold as treatments for the depressed, which ended up killing them?

I'm guessing they might mean illicit drugs, like cannabis, which has been freely and safely used in dozens of cultures for over 5000 years.

The environmental pollution one is a bit much too. Would it be too much to ask for a sliding scale of penitence for these sins? Like, is it one Hail Mary after confession for smoking a spliff, but three rosaries if you've been dealing cocaine to Katy French?

And if I drop my mars bar wrapper on the ground, would I get only one Our Father from the priest in the box, but a few hundred if I admitted fly-tipping medically hazardous waste?

In their attempt to update themselves, the Catholic Church merely shows once again just how out of touch it really is.

Here's a tip for them: next time they feel like a make-over, try ordaining women, paying compensation to abuse victims, permitting priests to marry and allowing condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS and other STIs. That would get them to the mid-20th Century anyhow.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

David Irving: Postscript

I spent this morning driving to County Down to pick up a very expensive bottle of whiskey from two lovely older gay gentlemen, then delivering it to Skinner Senior.

This was justifiable for two reasons - firstly, because you don't come across Old Comber Whiskey very often these days, and secondly because you can't beat driving through South Down on a Sunday morning for that sense of emulating a car advert (winding country roads, all but empty, surrounded by lush green fields and all bathed in glorious sunshine.)

What wasn't justifiable was the lunacy I ended up subjecting myself to on Newstalk radio while driving.

Karen Coleman - the former RTE hack that George Dubya hated - has a current affairs round-up show which is normally pretty good.

What let her down was her sudden loss of journalistic objectivity when David Irving (above), the historian associated with denying the commonly accepted scale of the Holocaust, appeared as a guest on her show.

Now, in the week that Irving (not for the first time) was denied a platform to speak in Ireland by people who think issuing death threats against others is a defence of civilised values and free speech, for Coleman to get him live on air was a bit of a coup.

Teaming him up with his long-term critic, Deborah Lipstadt was a second stroke of potential broadcasting genius.

So what went wrong? Well, Coleman lost sight of her journalistic objectivity, and rather than quizzing Irving hard on his beliefs, asking for him to support his controversial assertions and conclusions about the Second World War, instead she simply sided with Lipstadt, who one would have thought was well able to defend herself against Irving, having won a libel action he took against her.

In short, the presenter tag-teamed her guest with another guest whose sole reason for being on the show was to refute, ridicule and condemn the guest who was actually newsworthy.

That's not good journalism, and Coleman is experienced enough to know much better.

But in another sense, one can't blame Coleman for doing what she did. Any broadcaster who could even be (mis)interpreted as sympathising with someone like Irving runs the risk of being tarred themselves as a holocaust denier, a fellow traveller with fascists and far-right nutters. It's career suicide for a mainstream broadcaster like Coleman. And she's too experienced not to know that.

But once again, I was left pondering the irony of how people who defend their actions in terms of freedom of speech are happy to stifle the voices of those whom they find offensive.

Lipstadt refused to debate Irving directly, which is her decision. But one would have thought that the best way to refute his conclusions is to present him with contradictory evidence.

She also accused him of being a would-be censor for taking a libel action against her book, wherein she accused Irving of being a holocaust denier. As Irving pointed out, seeking to injunct the book would have been an attempt to silence, whereas permitting publication then suing for libel to preserve your reputation was not.

But Lipstadt is entitled to her position, as she earned it in court. On the other hand, Irving has also earned his right in court to present his historical analysis. His conviction and incarceration in Austria on charges of denying the holocaust is one of the great stains on the Voltairian tradition of freedom of speech in Europe.

Of course, those who protest David Irving's speaking engagements, just like the BBC when they dubbed Sinn Fein spokesmen, argue that with freedom of speech comes responsibilities, and that no absolute right to free speech exists (known commonly as the 'Don't shout FIRE! in a crowded cinema for no reason' rule).

However, the irony here is that this is simply fascism with another face. Deny anyone free speech, and you become the jackboot, the oppressor.

The way to deal with Irving is with facts. Cold, hard, irrefutable facts. Not with inane questions like 'Do you agree that the Nazis were evil?' And certainly not the way Lipstadt, a woman qualified to discuss the known facts of the Second World War, did, by simply dismissing everything Irving said as 'silly' without bothering to present evidence refuting it.

For the record, since Irving did not get to speak in Ireland, he does not deny the holocaust. He queries the accepted facts of it and the scale of it. He believes it happened primarily on the Eastern front, and without Hitler's knowledge or approval.

This may well be a profoundly silly position for a historian to assume. If so, then all it requires is refutation. Lipstadt could and should have spoken directly to Irving and cited documents to prove him the liar she claims he is.

But more importantly, Carol Coleman should have assumed the critical perspective of journalism she knows well, by quizzing Irving closely on his beliefs without permitting her own evident distaste to colour and distort the interview.

What came across on radio was exactly what Irving wants - the sound of an elderly patrician gentleman speaking quietly in reasonable tones while being ambushed by two women competing in shrillness.

Anyone with an Armenian background, anyone from Rwanda older than fourteen, anyone with a Roma background, anyone familiar with the mid-century history of European homosexuality has already got good reason to query the consensus explanation of the holocaust as a solely Jewish tragedy that is somehow elevated above all other historical events of suffering.

There have been other holocausts
, and more than Jews were murdered by the Nazis. Irving cleverly uses these self-evident facts to gain leverage against the monolithic sacrosanct concept of The Holocaust as a unique event that solely hurt Jews. Arabs in particular feel that this interpretation is often used as justification for the Zionist state.

Now, there's no doubt Irving is dubious. His association with Neo-Nazis betrays his true sympathies and casts a shadow over his position as a historian of the Nazi era. He has been refuted factually in relation to his Dresden death tolls, and the reasons for the destruction of convoy PQ-17.

On the other hand, he was instrumental in uncovering the truth of the Hitler diary forgeries, and has repeatedly been praised, albeit with reservations, by other historians who patently do not share his political sympathies. He has also been the target of dirty tricks and silencing tactics by the far-left for over 40 years. That lineage continued this week in Cork, with death threats issuing against Irving over the internet from far left sources.

It seems to me that dealing with Irving's work requires careful sifting of his evidence, and conscious consideration of his political sympathies when examining his conclusions. But permitting Irving to present himself, accurately, as someone who does not get a fair hearing only opens the door wider for people to consider his views more seriously and much less critically.

If people wished genuinely to discredit Irving and deny his ideas a platform, they ought to simply disprove them with supporting evidence. That would shut him up for good. But it's not that simple. A lot of David Irving's work has worth. It's perfectly possible to examine it and come to objective conclusions based on facts. Wikipedia managed it. Why couldn't Karen Coleman?

Calling him a holocaust denier when he doesn't deny that the holocaust occurred merely erodes the credibility of those who say so. Locking him up in Austria as a holocaust denier merely made a martyr of the man.

Irving says the holocaust happened differently to the consensus understanding of the event. That's his interpretation as a historian. And it should be refuted as such, with historically verifiable and irrefutable data and evidence, not with childish namecalling that merely adds substance to Irving's line that he is the ongoing victim of censorship.

Calling him silly is not a refutation of his argument. And without factual refutation, it will only gain in influence.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Top Quality Property Porn

I love property porn. You know the stuff: it comes in a colour supplement in your weekly regional paper that's longer than the paper itself is.

Before they get to the actual adverts, which funds the whole thing, there's a few pages of blatant fluff masquerading as reviews of newly available property.

No matter what the economic climate, never mind if there is an enormous property bubble popping around your ears, what you'll read in property porn is always universally positive.

If prices are collapsing, then property porn will tell you 'this house should be of interest to investors and first time buyers, offering unprecedented affordability in this much sought-after area."

If it's a derelict flat in a slum redlight district, it will be described as "offering a unique opportunity for a developer in an up-and-coming area of town."

If you're particularly gullible or unintelligent, you may not have worked out that all this property porn is either directly written by the estate agents themselves or else has been lightly adapted by hacks and shills masquerading as journalists.

But most of us are a lot smarter than to be taken in by this gushing, lying, overwritten shite about shoddy, sub-standard, overpriced housing.

It's a lot of fun noting how shrill and desperate the tone of property porn has become, how the page lengths are dropping alongside the prices, and how terrifyingly upbeat the tone remains, reminiscent of the grin on the face of a Club Med holiday rep watching helpless as a load of boozed-up lager louts pick her up to throw her into the pool.

But even more fun is this hilarious pastiche of a contemporary property ad, produced by Maxdiver, one of the regular posters on HousePriceCrash:

Great new property investment schemes now available. You've seen it on TV - now experience the joys of Property Investment.

With Mulligan Property Investors all your dreams can come true.
In the North Coast's most popular investment Village - Causeway Glen a new way of life is coming. A great new development will be opened in 2009 - and it's surely the most popular residential concept Northern Ireland has ever seen.

The demand for these great Nest Egg investments has been extraordinary. With all units having been snapped up within minutes of having been up on sale - we aren't making this up.
But don't worry - you can still get in on the action.

To help the savvy beginning professional Property Investor get rich quick we Mulligan Property Investors are giving 1,000 lucky investors who thought they missed out on the bargain of a lifetime - the chance to share in the success of Causeway Glen.

Listen to this great deal:
For someone starting out in the making money business, Pay only £500 per month + the cost of the £249,950 loan for a 1 bedroom town house and you will buy this great high quality life-style investment in 2009 when the development is complete for the same £250k.

Prices range from £249,950 for chic 1-bedroom town houses to £1,499,950 for a 6 bedroom Mansion with Double Garage.

You stand to benefit enormously from this limited offer - with house prices having risen and according to respected commentators in the media - to keep on increasing - you need to sign up with us today.

Imagine how great it will feel - knowing that for only £500 per month you can share in ever growing prosperity.

Hurry - this is a limited offer - and any Property Investor worth their salt is rubbing their hands with glee.

And if that isn't enough - all investors will recieve a free iPod shuffle and 10% off the cost of fitting upstairs curtains!

MPI have over 100 years experience in making people fabulously wealthy through property - with over 30 eager staff - give us a call and see if you are the type of person who knows a good deal when they see it.
Call us now on 02890-xxxxxx. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Big Ian leaves: compare and contrast

Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein, his fellow Chuckle Brother, said:

"Obviously there's a lot of interest in the work I have been doing with Ian Paisley in the course of the last ten months," he said at Stormont. I think I have to say it's been a remarkable and unique experience."
"I think many of you will know I had a very dim view of Ian Paisley prior to the 26th March last year (when Sinn Fein and the DUP agreed to share power) and I suppose he even had a dimmer view of me if we are to be truthful about all of this."
"But we managed to work together on a deal brokered by Ian Paisley and leader of my party Gerry Adams and we developed a positive and constructive working relationship within the Office of First and Deputy First Minister."

Bertie Ahern, of Fianna Fail, and Taoiseach of the Irish Republic said:

"I'm not going to say I didn't spend most of my political life taking a different point of view (to Mr Paisley), I did."
"But when it came down to making the Good Friday Agreement work and to having an inclusive executive in Northern Ireland and to have North-South bodies, he made the big moves. We've worked hard to get the stability, we've worked hard to build a relationship with Dr Paisley."
"We've achieved that, it was not easy, and now the main player in a few months' time will go off the stage. We have to now work to see if that harmonious relationship can continue. Obviously, I hope so but time will decide that."

Only Seamus Mallon of the SDLP had the balls to say:

"The paradox is that it was the Good Friday Agreement, which he set out to destroy, that allowed him to be inside in terms of influence for the first time in his whole political career. Those are two of the areas that historians will look at and people will be assessing from now on."
Mallon, who once watched Mr Paisley during the famous Civil Rights march at Armagh when he took over the city said "it was that desire for dominance that many people in the nationalist community will remember."
And he also pointed out that the fact that among Paisley's first moves during serious negotiations with the Governments was for seats in the House of Lords and a Privy Councillorship indicated "his desire, not just for power, but for the trappings of power."
"Yes he brought unionism into a power-sharing arrangement with Sinn Fein, but to do that he had to destroy, as he had destroyed Terence O'Neill, as he destroyed Faulkner, as he destroyed Chichester Clarke, he had to destroy the unionist leader David Trimble."
"It tells you about the paradox of all this, that the creativity which he undoubtedly gave the political process in Northern Ireland in his later years, was achieved as a result of the destructive element in his approach to politics and this type of political atavism which demanded absolute and total power."

Correct, Seamus.

Additional useful perspectives on Paisley from Trimble and Ruarai O'Bradaigh can be read here, at Best of Both Worlds.

Prison by the motorway

Okay, so the new national juvenile detention centre is to be located at Lusk (subscription required), a small North Dublin village near the coast and the M1.

It will cost 145 million euro.

Fair enough, if that's what it costs, though one wonders why not build it OUTSIDE of Dublin and away from picturesque coastal villages, where land is surely cheaper.

One also wonders why this centre, like Thornton Hall before it, are being built in greater Dublin at all. We've already seen the obscene cost of Thornton Hall spiralling out of control like so many infrastructural projects before it.

But surely one way to keep the price down would be to locate these facilities outside of where property and development land cost one of the highest prices per square foot in Europe?

Locating prisons in remoter areas would have the added benefit of not assisting escaping prisoners. If anyone does get over the fence from either of these facilities, they're mere miles from the main train line and motorway to the North. Within an hour of breaking out, they could be out of the state, or indeed anywhere within it.

This is further squandering of tax payers' money, and indicative of a lack of joined-up thinking by the authorities and their 'advisory committees.'

Politics.ie weather report

A sudden downpour of technical glitches on www.politics.ie has caused widespread panic among underemployed Dail staffers, student politicians and disillusioned party hacks throughout the nation.

They are now believed to be flooding niche bulletin boards and refugee stations have been set up on boards.ie for the worst afflicted.

Reports suggest that initial fears of a legal tsunami were misplaced. Rather, the current crisis appears to be the result of a high-pressure software upgrade clashing with p.ie owner David Cochrane's busy schedule.

Meteorologists predict that the site should be back up by the weekend.

Political junkies are urged to find shelter offline, and seek comfort in bound copies of old Oireachtas debates.

Jobs for the Girls

Norway has set quotas on the number of female directors companies must have. The bar is set at a minimum of 40%.
As a result, many companies have been forced to decide which of their serving directors to sack in order to bring in female replacements.

Which is fine, if you have female staff you can promote who know the firm's business, or can identify female business talent who could bring useful skills to the table. Certainly, the Norwegians are claiming that the quota system has bred success.

But what they mean is that it has bred success for that small coterie of qualified women who are now cleaning up with boardroom appointments. It remains unproven whether individual businesses have benefited at all.

No one's bothered to do the research to find out. After all, negative conclusions might be construed as sexist, even when based on the cold math of the bottom line. Best not to ask at all.

I have a female partner, a mother, a sister, a daughter. I'm surrounded by women, appreciate women and believe firmly in equality. Generally, what I see around me is equality. My work colleagues get paid the same irrespective of gender. I don't know of an industry where that doesn't happen.

But I'm with Anne Widdecombe (a strange and disconcerting place to find myself) on this one. If you got your job in a quota system rather than on pure merit, you shouldn't be thrilled. You should feel grossly insulted.

After all, where is the self-respect, the sense of achievement in knowing that you're a walking token gesture to political correctness?

Like affirmative action in the US, the Norwegians are going about equality the wrong way with their skewed promotions and their anti-merit systems.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Taste the Bright Lights

This is the most terrifying book I've ever read.

And it's for kids.

It's scary because it bleeds truth. Probably it's more useful for parents to read than kids. Kids already know what a feral jungle of self-immolation teenagedom is these days. But it's still frightening to see it put down, in print, so authentically, so viscerally.

It's available for download or from Lulu, but I understand it will be in shops throughout Ireland too some time soon.

Just as soon as Eason's can source some lead-lined bags to store it in.

Incendiary reading. Exemplary writing. I read it in one sitting and couldn't move for an hour afterwards. In fact, I'm still having nightmares about it.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Twenty Major doesn't smoke!

These revelations just in from the Irish Blog Awards which were held last night:

Sinead Gleeson travels with a permanent retinue of other female arts correspondents.

Bock the Robber is a lightweight who can't handle his ale. He went home before nine o'clock last night. Which was a pity as I was hoping to meet him and call him a wanker for liking not only Munster but Scunthorpe.

Irish Flirty Something has dyed her hair. I know this must be the case because I asked every redhead in the place if they were flirty or not. Yes, I did indeed get some funny looks for that.

Sarah Carey and Richard Delevan couldn't get babysitters.

And Twenty Major, who is a very nice, well spoken lad in real life, is off the fags. Who's smoking in Dublin bars now, eh? Well?

Congrats to everyone who won, and to all those who got nominated, or just got drunk. And an especial well done to Mulley for putting it all together and Rick O'Shea for compering the event.

See y'all next year.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

In defence of tabloids

I like tabloids. There, I said it. I'm not a sexist neanderthal. I have an extensive education. I work in a decent job. I can understand abstract concepts. I also read a lot of broadsheets, magazines, websites and blogs.

But I like tabloids, and I think ironically that they get a very bad press.

This week, a court gave a convicted criminal and admitted fraudster nearly a million euro in a libel judgement against a tabloid, because they couldn't prove he was a drug dealer as they had said.

Now, the chap in question had already been forced to make a payment to the Criminal Assets Bureau, who have stated that they believed he had made substantial amounts of money in Britain through drugs trafficking.

But nevertheless, he sued for libel, and won 900,000 euro for the loss of his 'good name.' That's five times what you'd get if you lost your arm in an accident at work! For the loss of a criminal's good name.

After the verdict, Mr McDonagh went on air to blame tabloids for all the ills in Ireland today. I thought this was a bit rich. But then again, with a million in his pocket of the Sunday World's money, everything about Mr McDonagh is now a bit rich.

The paper is appealing and I hope they win. I found that judgement to be ridiculous. But I noted the glee among a certain class of people. They were delighted that a tabloid had been slapped down. Never mind that meant siding with a criminal. They were just chuffed to see a tabloid punished.

I read most if not all Irish papers daily. I find a lot of outdated assumptions prevail in relation to a lot of newspapers. Primarily those assumptions are held by people at the top rather than the bottom of the educational/social spectrum.

There is the assumption that the Irish Times is the best news source in the country, when it wouldn't be top ten.

Then there is the assumption about tabloids: 'I don't read tabloids myself, but I believe they're all soaps, celebs, sport and tits.' But they seem to forget that The Guardian is a tabloid (Berliner format? That's posh for tabloid.)

The Irish Indo is a tabloid. So is the London Times. So is the Daily Sport. And they're all different beasts. I agree that there is a similarity in the red-top market, where the Sun, Mirror, Star and Evening Herald all feature quite a similar news style, agenda and content. But they have different hacks, different sources and compete strongly for the news.

What is certain is that tabloids break news. They break the bulk of news stories in Ireland, I would argue. RTE, with their vast newsroom and highly paid dozens of correspondents, does manage to do breaking news extremely well. But I would argue the red tops break stories better than anyone else, in general. At least on weekdays.

I understand the criticism that tabloids dumb down stories. A pal of mine who ran a newsagent once described the red-tops as 'the Disney version of the news', a phrase I found memorable.

But I believe their value in breaking news more than outweighs po-faced moaning about sensationalism (of which the broadsheets are equally guilty) or dumbing down (which is just a snooty way of complaining that the tabloids communicate to people with less formal education than some other media outlets.)

I think it is especially important in this regard to tread extremely carefully when you encounter a criminal like McDonagh or yet another politician lambasting tabloids.

The fact is that they do not like being held to account. This goes double when their actions conflict with their public positions, or when they're caught with their snouts in the trough. This is why dictators like Mugabe have effectively banned the media.

Our politicians are no different, except in terms of degree. They too do not enjoy the scrutiny of the fourth estate. And while they can rely on the cosy consensus of the Dail bar contingent not to rock the boat, they find it somewhat more problematic to silence newspapers which are not reliant on the doling of leaks from ministers for exclusives.

In no shape or form would I ever defend everything the Irish tabloids do. The Brian Murphy coverage sticks out as appalling in my mind.

But I find it strange how the very people who lambast tabloids for sensationalism and so on always seem to forget that most of the most outrageous media stunts in recent times were committed by broadsheets which they revere.

I've seen people blaming tabloid culture on making up lies about Liam Lawlor being with a hooker at the time of his death in Moscow. No doubt many people think that is the case, but it isn't.

It was the respected broadsheeets the Sunday Independent and the Observer who peddled that lie, with the latter even inventing brothels in Prague that the late Mr Lawlor was alleged to have attended regularly.

Tabloids do cause some harm on occasion. I wouldn't say much. But so do all newspapers. In general though, I think we as a nation benefit from having such a dense and diverse media environment, and I include the national broadcaster, Newstalk, the regional papers and radio stations and the niche media like La and the news magazines in that too.

Ireland has the healthiest, by which I mean densest, media topography of anywhere. Rather than sneering about papers one doesn't read dahling, perhaps people should be happy that there is a choice available, rather than in most middle-size American cities (Dublin size and greater) which are often served by a single, poor quality local rag.

No one's forcing you to read the tabloids. If you're happy with the turgid press release rewrites that pass for news in the Irish Times, then bully for you.

But on the basis that it's preferable to speak on matters from the position of experience rather than ignorance, I would encourage everyone to take a day out sometime and read ALL the papers. You might find yourself surprised at the quality of news coverage throughout the Irish media.

Including the tabloids.