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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Now we're for it

An actual Iseq crash yesterday.

A 7% or so collapse in the Dow.

The Nikkei heading south tonight amid Japanese sub-prime problems adding to the international concerns from the USA.

And the likelihood of the FTSE going lower still tomorrow on the back of more concerns about British banks.

And no chance of legislation in America till Thursday because the Jews are celebrating their new year.

And all this on top of the disastrous market year globally already.

Now we're really for it.

Wave goodbye to your pension plans, your stock portfolios, and start worrying about the safety of wherever your savings are.

Buckle up. It's going to be a very bumpy ride.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Civil Service Skiving

I mentioned a little while ago that I support proposals to cull the dead wood from the Civil Service

I received some responses from civil servants who, while maintaining that they themselves work hard, admitted that many of their colleagues do not.

This week, I've had the displeasure to encounter some of those who don't work very hard at all, and as people in the private sector from Cork city to rural Kilkenny lose their jobs this week, the ongoing job security of some of these public sector wasters gets more and more insufferable.

I went to one public records office staffed by civil servants seeking access to public records. There was a big sign on the wall, demanding that people respect a 'business atmosphere' in the place by not eating, drinking or talking loudly.

Beneath it at a row of computer terminals was half a dozen people, all nattering away loudly at each other and on mobile phones, and half of them were munching on sandwiches.

I waited for a staff member to return from the back office to reprimand them. After about ten minutes I realised they were the staff.

Not once did any of them break off to see if I needed assistance or ask what I wanted, even though they'd spotted me entering (it's not a busy place.) I was forced to interrupt their banter to demand someone to serve me. The scowls I got were frankly outrageous. How dare I have the audacity to ask them to do their job!

In a second public records office, I went in to seek a record that ought to be available to the public. The spotty, barely post-pubescent lad behind the counter dutifully called upstairs and was told I couldn't get to see the record.

I asked the poor lad if I could speak to someone more senior, since the record ought to be available and I got no good reason why I couldn't see it. A random woman wandering past told me that I couldn't have it because a local authority had a copy.

I explained that I had no intention of driving halfway across the country to view a record that was two floors above me and ought to be freely available to the public.

Eventually, a balding man with a white-haired tonsure and flakey skin came down to see me. His manner and tone were appallingly patronising as he told me to go to the local authority. I again pointed out his statutory obligation to provide the record or a damn good reason why not.

He just repeated himself, in 'Computer Says No' fashion.

That's when I spotted the smell of alcohol on his breath. At 11.45 am. Clearly there wasn't any point explaining a person's statutory responsibilities to a person who is drunk at work. Nor is there much point in persevering in an office where people tolerate a senior staff member being drunk before lunchtime while on duty. So I left.

In the interests of balance, I have to report that I did go to a third records office this week. I went in with only sketchy information on what I was looking for, but the staff member I met was brilliant.

He gave me an hour of his time as we scoured records looking for what I wanted. When we couldn't find it, he made a series of useful suggestions on how to proceed. When I got more information, I returned to the office and the same guy came to the counter and told his colleague that he was familiar with my search and was willing to help again.

And after another half an hour, we found what I was looking for. I'd like to pay tribute to that excellent public servant while simultaneously deploring the unprofessionalism, laziness, rule breaking and alcohol dependency of some of the other civil servants I encountered this week.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Someone in Dell agrees with me

It appears that someone inside Dell agrees with what I wrote about their forthcoming shafting of Limerick, the IDA and Irish customers.

In any case, they've added my post to their media page (see below for screen grab - look at the section named 'Technology News' on the bottom left.)

Let's see how long that stays up before their PR police catch and delete!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The PDs are dead!

Hooray! At last some good news.

The PDs wound themselves up tonight, after winding up the rest of us for years. Obviously they couldn't face the hammering they were going to get next year in the locals.

Good feckin riddance to some seriously toxic rubbish.

What a rogue's gallery of chancers, gombeens, blusterers, pocketliners and ne'er-do-wells. I don't know how they ever had the audacity to pitch themselves as Fianna Fail's mudguard when they were the most damaging gombeen opportunists of all.

I note they leave just as the economic meltdown they helped create gets properly underway.

Chickenshit bastards that they are, they won't even try cleaning up the mess they made.

Can we now, pretty, pretty please, kick that lump Harney out of health before there are no public hospitals left, and implement some tax hikes on the superrich?

Thank you.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Cry me a river, Michael Dell

Dell Computers came to build their shitty, always-crashing PCs in Limerick because it was a) inside the EU and b) the IDA offered them tax incentives to do so.

But now it seems like they're upping sticks sometime very soon. Canny people might have spotted them building a huge new manufacturing plant in Lodz in Poland and wondered about the likelihood of them keeping two EU factories going in the current economic climate.

Well, according to the Wall Street Journal, that's exactly what their intentions are. They're laying off 8,000 people, and it looks like closing Limerick will account for 3,000 of those. This will devastate the Shannon region economically. Not that Dell care, of course.

Their share price plummeted today when the news began leaking out. Good enough for them, I say.

Good enough especially for poor impoverished Dell founder, Michael Dell, whose desperation for some cash is what's behind this latest shafting of the Irish people whose tax helped fund his entry into the EU's lucrative PC market.

Michael Dell's eponymous firm has largely justified the preposterous situation whereby computers made in Ireland cost more here than almost anywhere else because they were providing employment here.

Well, since they won't be for much longer, should we expect a 30% cut in prices? My hairy arse, we should. Dell will relocate to Poland, pay the staff a quarter or less of the Limerick wages and seek to pocket the difference.

And whose pockets will enjoy this sudden deluge of cash? Michael Dell of course, the world's third or fourth richest man, a man who clearly wasn't as tight for cash four years ago, when he gave George W. Bush the maximum $250,000 an individual could contribute for his 2004 re-election campaign.

A man who the poor deluded people of the University of Limerick thought fit to honour.

But there's a recession on, and Dell needs money clearly. After all, he's got a $250,000 annual property tax bill on his 33,000 square feet Austin mansion (see pic above). And fuel costs for his Porsche Boxter, his Hummer and his other vehicles are no doubt rising too.

Dell will be blaming that recession on the need for the firm to abandon Limerick. But of course, the real reason that Dell are moving is because they failed, not just the people of Limerick, but themselves.

Michael Dell took on Steve Jobs at Apple very publicly, spoofing that his firm were the more innovative. But despite Apple's products being overpriced trendy trash, Dell has still seen their share valuation go from less than Dell's to triple Dell's in only a few years.

Dell is a shitty firm who have let down the Irish taxpayer and their loyal Limerick workforce. They make crappy computers which break down and crash a lot. Their customer service is famously abysmal.

I hope the Irish people boycott Dell's products. I hope the University of Limerick demand their honorary degree back. And most of all, I hope Michael Dell ends up unable to pay either that property tax or contribute to anymore redneck political campaigns anytime soon.

Monday, September 15, 2008

It's not easy being mean

Trust me. It's no fun being a contrarian.

People tend to make assumptions based on what you haven't said rather than what you have.

When you point out the obvious - like, for example, the unelectability of a Democratic American Presidential candidate who has no experience or the electability of a photogenic Republican Veep candidate, all of a sudden it's assumed in direct contradiction of all evidence that you're rabidly Republican and have left the planet.

This is not fun for me.

Similarly, when you point out some inconvenient truths, like the appalling inequity between men and women over reproductive rights, along comes a gang of fembloggers to depict you as some sort of Taliban.

Again, not so fun, and rather difficult to explain to the Marxist-Feminist better half.

So it is with a degree of trepidation that I say this - John McGuinness, junior Fianna Fail minister of State, is correct.

People want him to resign because he said there is a culture within the Irish civil service that stifles ambition, and that reform is hampered by overprotection of the civil service by their unions.

At the risk of being depicted in some quarters as a neo-liberal wingnut, I have to agree with the junior minister on this one.

I'm sorry to be mean, but there it is. He's absolutely right. The Irish civil service is overstaffed by a large cohort (and I mean in the tens of thousands) of lazy, skiving, entitled, pensioned-up ne'er-do-wells who wouldn't last ten minutes in a job in the private sector.

Of course there are diligent, hard working civil servants. But they're seriously outnumbered by the flexi-time brigade who'd rather apply for career breaks to go travelling, demand auto-promotion every couple of years, and count their end-salary pensions than do a day's proper work.

Just think about any interaction you have with the state. If it isn't the Revenue Commission you're dealing with, you'll be waiting a long, long time for a response. And when it comes, it will be slapdash, ill-considered and probably wrong.

Then you'll have to write to them again, fill in forms again, phone them up and wait endlessly on the end of the line again, while some surly weapon busy gossipping with her mates or some bored graduate completes his fantasy football line-up before deigning to take your call out of the queue.

We've all heard stories about how some parts of the civil service (don't) work. My favourite was told to me by a pal who once did a stint in the Births, Marriages and Deaths office.

On day one, he noticed the phone ringing and no one answering it. When he went to lift the phone, he was advised by his senior that if he did so, it would from then on become his responsibility to do so all the time. So he didn't bother. And so the phones were never answered.

Now, there are major difficulties in overseeing the reform of the service, largely because there are so many working in it. That's a large cohort of people, who unlike a lot of the population working in the private sector, do make a point of voting.

That makes it profoundly difficult for any government that wants re-electing to do anything about the excess of entitlements, massive pensions, guaranteed promotions and daily skiving that exists in the civil service here.

And it is exactly this threat that is being made by the civil service unions demanding McGuinness's head on a spike. They're effectively saying, 'Leave our pork alone, or we'll turf you all out of office.'

And to a very small degree, you can see their point. Why should they have to give up their easy life when the politicians still enjoy some of the highest wages and longest holidays in the world?

But as a taxpayer working in the ever harder-hit private sector, looking at our delapidated health service that can't afford to screen women for mammograms or immunise all at-risk children against cancer, looking at our overcrowded schools and their rundown portakabin classrooms, I want to see a cull in the civil service. A big one.

I want to see someone with the cojones to axe the pension schemes, axe the job security, cut the numbers, and reduce the lengthy list of perks in the Irish civil service.

Under benchmarking, civil servants were pegged against private sector wage levels. This being Ireland, it meant that they ended up being paid around a third MORE than their private sector equivalents, while enjoying a whole ream of things, like auto-promotion, job security and state-subsidised pensions, that no one in the private sector ever gets.

It's now time for the benchmarking to flow in the opposite direction. It's time that the civil service experienced the job losses, rationalisation, pay freezes, and slashed perks that the private sector in Ireland has been experiencing during this economic downturn.

Until we address the huge pork barrel that is the Irish civil service, we're never going to be able to correct our state and our economy to ride out this recession.

Fair play to John McGuinness (and it's rare I say that about anyone in Fianna Fail) for recognising that and putting his career on the line to say so in public.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A fright with every flight

Sky News (same three headline stories every five minutes) was running a story about another travel agent collapse on heavy rotation this morning.

XL are apparently Britain's third largest travel agent. They have thousands of Irish customers too.

I'd rather leave it to experts within the travel industry to debate the effects of the credit crunch, or fuel prices, or the global economic downturn, or environmental concerns upon their industrial sector.

I do have sympathy for the customers stranded abroad today, and especially for the staff, who found out they'd lost their jobs when they turned on the news this morning, having heard nothing from the craven management whose decision-making led to this demise.

But it seems to me that something a little more profound has taken place than just corporate cocking-up.

This collapse, like those that preceded it and those that will follow it, like the consolidation of the airlines (BA and American Airlines look like the latest to buddy up in the ongoing turbulence of the travel sector), has to do with the democratisation of travel.

In short, this is a victory for the internet. The web's ability to put a vendor anywhere in touch with a potential market of the whole (online) world was inevitably going to lead to professional middlemen losing their jobs.

They're losing their jobs because people no longer need their services (except for special circumstances where professional planning assistance is useful to help organise complex travel arrangements).

They're losing their jobs because people can tell a good deal from a bad one simply by scouring some aggregator and price comparison sites online. The global market drove prices down.

But markets overshoot. And the Ryanair effect of no-frills, no-comfort, no-rights flights is for many people a discomfort too far.

I've discussed the Ryanair effect before on this blog, especially their contempt for customers, their maniacal chairman, their bullshit additional charges that add up to multiples of the advertised price of the flight, and their sense of social responsibility to the disabled.

But the Ryanair effect has pressured prices and practices of other airlines downwards too. And this is what is leading to the streamlining of the industry, as the last fat is burnt off the former national flagship airlines, but as also standards are cut to the bone in emulation of the Ryanair model.

The position of equilibrium for consumers is a happy medium between price and service. Unfortunately, as yesterday's latest Ryanscare emergency at Dublin airport demonstrated, Ryanscare standards of care and service are not sufficient.

We don't want a fright with every flight. We don't want the Seventies back either, when it cost a month's wages to fly one-way to London, but you got lovely meals and could smoke and flirt with the trolley dollies.

We want to be able to travel in a modicum of comfort, at a commensurate price set by a competitive market, in stringently monitored safety standards.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Memo to SDLP

Dear SDLP,
Your vote has been declining in recent elections. People have been querying the party's very raison d'etre, even including senior party members.

Your leader has ignominiously touted his mandate to Fianna Fail in a desperate attempt to shore up some electoral relevance, and been embarrassingly rebuffed.

Now he's proposed scrapping designation, a nice recipe for a return to sectarian majority rule, in an attempt to grab some headlines.

In short, you're still on your own and you need every vote you can get.

So would it not make a bit of sense to sort out your communications?

I got a letter from the SDLP through the front door. There wasn't even a phone number on it, or any mention of how to contact my local SDLP representative.

On the SDLP's website, there is no mention of how to go about joining the party, if anyone was so inclined.

Is it any wonder that the electorate and membership of the SDLP is declining to the extent that senior party members are prostituting themselves at FF, when basic communications are so lax?

Sort it out, or else stand back and watch your decline into irrelevance.

Friday, September 05, 2008

JC Skinner wants your vote

There is a large proportion of the American electorate who are unconvinced by either Obama's vision thing or McCain's maverick conservatism.

Reluctantly, I have finally agreed to put my name forward following a massive groundswell of appeals that I enter my candidacy in the forthcoming election:

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

I was in the Provos ...

... and all I got was this lousy power-sharing executive.

Well, I wasn't, but a lot of people I'm aware of, have met, have socialised with, were part of the militant Republican movement.

The war was declared over some years back. Now the British overlords have confirmed that the transition to mainstream political activity is complete.

I suppose there wasn't much time left for Martin McGuinness (see pic, far right) to be holding IRA council meetings since his day job as Deputy First Minister to Ian Paisley and Mr Iris Robinson (who himself was a terrorist in his day, as the people of Clontibret can testify, see pic below) takes up so many hours.

But today's final nail in the Provo coffin must be hard to bear for some of the ground level volunteers - the people who took a guerilla war to what were often violent, brutish and sadistic British troops.

They've got out of prison early, which I wasn't a great fan of. But where are they now, the best years of their lives spent fighting a civil war or incarcerated? Sure some of them have got nice state jobs like Marty McGuinness, as 'community workers' and the like.

But most of them must now be wondering what was it all for? This paltry power-sharing deal? The same deal as Sunningdale offered so many decades ago? For Martin McGuinness to swan around preposterously posing as a peacemaker to Iraqis?

And what of the victims? Not just the victims of Provo attacks, but the victims of Provo domination of neighbourhoods, the victims of Provo intimidation of individuals, the victims of Provo insistence that they and only they could speak for Irish Republicanism?

How do they feel today?

Well, the Unionists now have what they wanted. They have Stormont back, they have made the IRA go away, they have their gerrymandered veto on Irish reunification. They have their pet Provos in the ha'penny power places.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Bee Stung

I went to mow the lawn today. I don't do this very often, because I'm not really into gardening. So in a sense, I only have myself to blame for what happened next.

As I was merrily mowing down the long grass to a more manageable level, I suddenly found myself in a cloud of irate buzzing insects.

Usain Bolt wouldn't have beaten me in the sprint to the kitchen door.

Since then, I've been watching from behind locked doors and glass as the buzzers hover in an angry cloud, coming and going from their ground nest, whose top I've lopped off with the mower.

A couple of calls to pest control later, and it seems like that's all I'm allowed to do. My vision of astronaut-suited pest controllers pumping chemicals into the lawn or dowsing the entire garden in plumes of toxic smoke have sadly vanished.

No one will touch my bees. Why?

They are, apparently, a protected species.

I'm told they won't sting unless attacked (but I'm guessing the accidental destruction of their home would count as an attack.) I'm not allowed to dig them out or poison them or do whatever one does to get rid of a ground nest of stinging insects in the back garden.

But that rules out using the garden for a bit, I fear. Apparently, September is the height of the colony, and they should die back as it gets colder. Haven't they noticed that this was one of the coldest, crappest summers in Irish records?

Any tips from green-fingered bee-killers would be welcome. I'm not averse to breaking the law when the law prioritises insects over me.