Ronaldo takes a walk on the wild side

Brazil\'s Ronaldo

There is a BBC report on Ronaldo picking up three prostitutes, who turned out to be men. This story confirms what we’ve known for a long time: Ronaldo has absolutely no taste.

I mean, look at that dodgy hairdo and the ridiculous Miami Vice-like sunglasses. Terrible.

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United qualify for Champions League final

After the 1-0 victory last night, some thoughts. I am so delighted for Paul Scholes that he got the winner. He missed the 1999 final through suspension and it was a heart-breaker for him. To ensure that his team progress with such a classic strike is a just reward for his tireless service over many years. Wes Brown was my man of the match. He made tackle after tackle, especially on Messi, and each one was timed to perfection. His interceptions, reading of the game, and workrate were all absolutely top-class. Of course, Ferdinand was almost as good and Evra and Hargreaves did their bit too. But Brown stood out. Aside from Brown and the defence, Tevez was the star. He worked and worked for the ball and was always dangerous. Ronaldo did just so-so, but didn’t produce the extra bit of magic we’ve come to expect from the 38-goal a season player. He missed Rooney more than anybody else.  

Nani was the poorest player on the pitch, closely followed by a bungling Carrick. Nani, surprisingly, had two good chances to score, once with a header in the first half, and once with a great run and shot in the second half, that he ballooned over the bar. But his overall contribution was abysmal. He lost the ball too easily. Carrick looked nervous and slow. He was too static for most of the game and seemed to take ages to make simple decisions. The solution to these problems will be provided when Rooney and Vidic return. That will free Hargreaves to come back into the midfield and for Tevez to be supported up front.

I was nerve-wracked for the final 20 minutes and could barely stand to watch it at all. Henry was a particular nuisance, since he has the class to win a game single-handedly. In the end, we did just enough to win 1-0 and secure our final berth. I’m personally hoping for Chelsea in the final. Liverpool would be too hard to bear.  

Property prices in Ireland

I have criticised The Irish Times before for being too compliant towards estate agents and the network of vested interests that makes up the property business in Ireland. But, as they now report, they have finally called a halt to one dodgy practice: that of auctioneers and agents publishing exaggerated sales prices for houses. They sent a letter to estate agents demanding an explanation for some prices they were being asked to publish in their property supplement. This was a means for estate agents to falsely claim that property was selling at inflated prices. I can only assume that this letter followed a tip-off from a buyer, or perhaps a little bit of investigative journalism.

The National Consumer Agency got involved and held a meeting with the institutes that represent estate agents, yesterday. As is usual in these tense stand-offs, the threats and warnings are all hedged around with caveats, so as not to directly make libellous accusations. In typically quaint language, the IAVI chief executive described the meeting as “very constructive and productive”! I am sure it was.

In its purest form, this practice is lying. At best, it distorts the public perception of the state of the property market. At worst, it is down-right fraudulent.
 
Following on from the scandals about solitcitors arranging multiple mortgages for single properties, this just underlines the motivating factors of greed and self-interest that fuel the property market in Ireland.

Hopefully, the result of yesterday’s meeting should be better transparency in the market place and a better deal for buyers. Published prices should be accurate. The market will return to normality when the greed, lies, dodgy practices, and illegalities are taken away. Which probably means it won’t happen just yet.

 

Manchester Utd. vs. Barcelona

Well, this is the big one. Another semi-final of the Champions League for United and another 0-0 draw in the away first leg. If this is not to be as disappointing as the previous occasions when they held a 0-0 scoreline going into a home second leg, then they really need to improve over their recent performances. Psychologically, they’ve been holding back. Against Chelsea, it was apparent that Fergie blundered horribly by leaving out 5 or 6 established stars. He sent out the wrong message: this was a game we could afford to lose, he was saying, effectively. But he also sent out another message, which could be as troubling to his team: they are tired and they need all the rest they can get.

Now is not the time for tiredness. With 3 or 4 games left (depending on tonight’s result) they stand on the threshold of winning the Premier and Champions League. It should be all-out, total football, attacking with style. There is no more need for tentativeness or a half-hearted approach. He needs to start his best 11 in each game and just go for it.

My selection would be, assuming that Rooney and Vidic are fully fit:

Van der Sar
Brown        Ferdinand          Vidic            Evra
Ronaldo       Scholes           Anderson       Giggs
Rooney         Tevez
Subs: Hargreaves, Carrick, O’Shea, Pique, Kuszczak, Nani, Fletcher

If Rooney and Vidic are not fit enough, I would play the following line-up:
Van der Sar
Hargreaves   Brown        Ferdinand          Evra
Ronaldo       Scholes      Carrick       Anderson       Giggs
Tevez
Subs: O’Shea, Pique, Kuszczak, Nani, Fletcher, Park, Silvestre

I know it would be a risk, of sorts, to play Tevez up on his own, but I am assuming that Giggs and Ronaldo would press forward on the wings to support him, and that Scholes would be running through the middle.  

The definition of insanity

We’ve always had difficulty defining insanity. The range of human expression, both verbal and behavioural, is too broad to merit simple dividing lines. Was Hitler insane? Do all geniuses need some insanity for inspiration? Are all religious mystics insane? Mohammed claimed to have ridden his horse Buraq on a midnight jaunt from Mecca to Jeruselam to heaven and back. Is this insane?

Psychatrists in the late nineteenth century used to flock to the Salpêtrière Asylum in Paris to study the latest theories on the identification and treatment of the insane. Now, in the early twenty first century, we can observe it all from our armchairs. I was struck forcibly by this yesterday when I came across the following YouTube video (what else?). The story, briefly, is that a woman called Tricia Walsh-Smith posted a video detailing her feelings about her soon-to-be-ex husband. Whatever the merits of her posting the original video – and it is sure to create heated debate on both sides – she just about stayed within the lines of sanity.

Soon enough, however, the responses came, including this gem from a poster called Obsidian468. Man, is this guy pissed or what? He has it all: the staring eyes, the unkempt appearance, the strange pauses, the vitriol, the hate-filled language, the mono-obsession, and misogynistic ranting. He is a case-study in the early onset of insanity. Barely clinging to normality, this guy, I predict, will be the next mass murderer. Chilling.

Blog blah

The Shazgood blog entered a long hibernation recently, which is only slowly being reversed. I suppose it was writer’s block of a sort. Facing the white, blinking screen and lacking inspiration, it has been hard to get back to writing again. Having been on holidays too (France, if you must ask) rather diverted my attention.

But I am aiming to restart my blogging. That’s probably a pleasing thought for some of you: a dire warning for others. I promise yet more thoroughly random, completely eclectic, and strangely sourced comments and stories. I’ve never decided what my style is, or what I wanted to write. It shows. And I don’t care.

Bertie’s new life as God

Bertie Ahern, worshipped as a two faced baby

Perspective

There is a curious discord at the heart of the way “news” media operate. They all tend to exaggerate the trivial and grossly underestimate the longer-term trends. They lack perspective.

News media are obsessed with the “now”. A good example of what I mean is the flashing of the current value of the Nasdeq index on financial channels. Second by second, the ever-changing index is tracked and displayed. As if whether it is 2384.52 or, the very next instant, 2384.42, matters. Even to people saving for retirement, they should be investing over a 20-30 year timescale, not worrying whether MSFT is down 2 points on disappointing sales figures in Asia in the fourth quarter….or whatever. This compulsive reporting of quite inane and trivial figures is just plain daft.

On the other side, there are some longer term trends that the news media seem to studiously downplay. We are currently undergoing what some scientists are terming “The Sixth Great Extinction” – an event that represents the extinction of most of the earth’s living species. Oil and other carbon fuels are almost exhausted – funny, seeing as we only started actively extracting them around 100 years ago. Global warming will radically alter our climate, this century. Yet these events seem distinctly abstract to most of us. We go on with our lives and our humdrum plans as if nothing was happening. If they are reported – and they sometimes are – they are usually reported as being arcane arguments between competing scientific opinion rather than the actually quite dramatic and epoch-changing events that they really are.

It isn’t that most of us (I presume) don’t see the bigger picture. But I am puzzled by the human capacity to recognise and understand the big picture at one level (intellectually) and yet to continue on regardless at every other level. After all, I doubt very much that scientists predicting the end of the climate system as we know it are not busy contemplating their holidays next summer in their spare time. And I myself am happy to plot and plan my own movements over the next month without regard to the melting ice caps.

So I am presented with a puzzle: why do we grossly exaggerate the trivial and vastly underestimate the longer-term trends? Why do we lack perspective?

Partly, it must be because we have human needs for food, water, and shelter that are pressing on a very short time scale. If I don’t eat breakfast, I get cranky – that sort of thing. Secondly, even over a longer time scale of a human life, we rarely directly experience the bigger changes that are afoot. Knowing that the planet is 0.5 degrees C warmer than it was in 1990 is not something likely to strike home, especially if you’ve only been born in 1992, or whatever. And it is even less likely to strike home when you are asked, just what does 0.5 degrees feel like?

Here’s another take on perspective:

If all of time since the origin of the planet Earth to now (about 4.5 billion years) is represented as one year on a calendar, life began around noon on February 9th (about 4 billion years ago). About March 21st, that life formed into the first primitive cells. Mammals made their first appearance about 200 million years ago – stunningly long ago on our normal timescales, but on the calendar scale just December 14th. That’s eerily close to Christmas and deep into the heart of winter. Those early mammals missed their Thanksgiving dinners. The first hominids emerged on December 31st, around 6.09pm. Astonishing really, to think that all of human history – recorded and unrecorded – occurred on the final day, after teatime. No time to be invited to any New Years Eve parties even. Christopher Columbus’s discovery of America happened, on that calendar, at 11.59pm and 56 seconds. Or just 4 seconds separates his landing on a beach in Haiti to an American landing on the moon. Pushing it out a bit into the future, the complete melting of the Antartic ice shelf might happen within the next 100 years – or less than 1 second into January 1st of next year.

My purpose in drawing out this well-known analogy like this is to remind ourselves just how miniscule is our human timescales to the really important events of the earth. Events are occurring now – such as that climate change and the extinction event – that on a geographic scale are almost instantaneous. Looked at – perhaps by some visiting alien life forms – in 100 million years from now, this whole century will look like a black stain in some rocks. All of human history will have occurred over a timespan of perhaps 3 million years (another few thousand years, if we’re lucky) over an entire earth history of billions of years – or around one day on our illustrative calendar.

Nothing prevents human life as we know it from coming to a shuddering halt right next year, or next month for that matter. Nothing says that we won’t all be destroyed by a collision with an asteroid, or subjected to a virulent strain of bird flu that wipes out 50% of the population. Events like these have happened before and they’ll surely happen again. But even if we are spared these major one-off events, the slowly-building ones will probably get us pretty soon too.

But even knowing that these things could occur, we continue on as before. We are being propelled down a track to destruction that seems irreversible and irresistable. Our human capacity for exaggerating the trivial and underestimating the longer term will as assuredly ensure our eclipse as any other human trait, like greed or ignorance. Let’s get some perspective on it.

Kafka was right

It’s only when you step into the mire that is tax bureaucracy in Ireland (or, I suppose, anywhere) that you realise just how right Kafka was.

I know someone going through the hoops now to reclaim some overpaid tax on a redundancy payment. It’s a simple case (or should be) of one inept company mistakenly taxing a lump sum payment. It is in clear breach of the law regarding such payments, which is made clear after a cursory trip to the Revenue’s website. But finding out the rules yourself is one thing. Actually getting others to understand the situation is quite another.

First, our intrepid employee rang their own company. They flatly denied all incorrectness in their taxing the lump sum. This is despite being presented with the relevant quotes from the Revenue website. They had simply mis-read it the first time and weren’t too bothered to re-read it. Ignorance personified.

Then, our tax enquirer rang the local tax office for some impartial advice. Their website states: “Revenue Commissioners Central Telephone Enquiry Office (for telephone enquiries on taxation implications of extra statutory/ex-gratia redundancy payments – statutory redundancy payments themselves being tax-free)”. That would appear to be an open and shut case then. They have a trained and eager staff who fully understand the simple rules concerning “taxation implications of…redundancy payments”, or so one would think. 

They knew nothing whatsoever about tax rules concerning redundancies. Nothing. Nada. Like the proverbial stone dropped into a deep, dark well, there was nothing forthcoming. Jaws were slack and the sound of drooling civil servant could be heard over the phone line. “Can you find out?” was the next question? “Oh, duh, dunno” was the basic reply (I am exaggerating, but only slightly). They told her to go to the Central Revenue Information Office in town.

Appearing at the front window of the said “Central Revenue Information Office”, our enquirer was greeted to quizzical expressions when she tried explaining their own tax laws to them. Two of them, both equally ignorant of their own rules that they purported to proffer advice on. One reply: “You must be right if you read it on our website”! Huh? This is a case of the information, ahem, office relying on Joe Public to inform them about their own laws. I suppose it is mislabelled: it should have read “Central Revenue Clueless Office”.

Digging further, I realised that this is just the tip of the iceberg of slack-jawed idiocy, and jobs-worth civil servants. There are numerous Orwellian-sounding organisations all purporting to offer advice to the bewildered. There is the National Employment Rights Organisation. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment handles rebates of statutory redundancies to employers. There is the Employment Appeals Tribunal, the Equality Authority, the Rights Commissioners, the Labour Court, the Labour Relations Commission, and various sub-departments and sections of the department and revenue commissioners.

This reminds me of the time, many years ago, when I was a student, and I was applying for unemployment benefit during the summer holidays. I was entitled to it and knew it because they had recently published a leaflet about it (this was before the days of the Internet). I approached the dark interior of the smelly unemployment exchange only to be informed by one of these shifty bureaucrats that, in fact, I was not entitled to benefit. “Yes I am”, I said. “No, you’re not” was the reply. “Yes I am”, “No you’re not”, “Yes I am”, “No, you’re not”. On and on it went. I eventually persuaded them to ask a senior member of staff. “No, you’re not” came the definitive reply. Exasperated, I remember asking them to read their own leaflet about it. “I have never seen this leaflet” they said, after a quick glance. “But, it has New Rules for Students and Unemployment Benefit in big black letters across the top”, I said. “Never seen it” they said, blinking. Uncomprehending. Like asking the winner of the Derby to explain general relativity. It would be outside their expertise.

To cut a long story short, I told them that I was coming back the next day to talk to their manager. The next day, with fulsome apologies, I was informed that I was, indeed, right. But why was I subjected to the idiocy from the day before? I guess that civil servants don’t like being told that they’re wrong by members of the great unwashed public. How could they possibly appreciate the immense reams of paper work involved in being a civil servant.

There must, somewhere, deep in the bowels of the Irish civil service, be an RP90450-04 form, termed the “Application for a Brain” form. And none of the people in the tax office have filled it out yet.

Gas at $3.30

I am reading today that the price of a gallon of fuel at American service stations has hit a “record” of $3.303. Now, that must seem a lot to American consumers, used to cheap gas. To put this in perspective, using an exchange rate to the euro of $1.57 and seeing that there are 4.54609 litres per gallon, a $3.303 per gallon amounts to €0.46 per litre. The average price of fuel in Ireland right now is around €1.20 per litre. Put another way, that would be $8.56 per gallon. In the UK, the price is averaging around £1.06 per litre. Or a whopping $9.63 per gallon.

The bottom line: American gas is cheap. Very cheap.

The consequences for the world are stark too. Cheap fuel means consumers are encouraged to drive gas guzzlers. The fuel efficiency of American cars is extremely low, on average, by international standards. Cheap fuel doesn’t encourage the switch to less carbon-intensive usage, which is bad for the environment. And it leaves American oil consumption per capita way ahead of other nations. That exposes them to oil scares and fuel insecurity. Which leads to their leaders invading Iraq to secure access to oil. Etc, etc.

So next time, if you’re American, don’t shudder at the thought of $3.30 gas. Shudder at the thought of people dying to fuel your obsessions with cheap travel and big cars.