Property prices are not neutral. There are vested interests who strive at every turn to twist, manipulate, distort, and downright lie about them. Too many mortgage brokers depend on the commissions they receive. Too many banks have profits to turn over. Too many developers have properties on their hands that they need to sell. So they generate a veneer of calm when prices are falling, a sense of panic when they’re rising, and put up a united front throughout.
This whole conspiratorial stitch-up over property is understandable, if immoral and corrupt. But what is more disturbing to me is the involvement of the press in perpetuating the lies. The Irish Times is the worst in this regard. Their ownership of MyHome.ie makes them part and parcel of the entire industry: they cannot be neutral as regards house prices. And they consistently defer to a coterie of vested interests as “experts” in the housing markets: the bank economists, the estate agent chairmen and the like. What objective answer as regards house prices are they expecting to receive from these so-called “experts”?
But recently, the word-acrobatics that the press have been indulging in have made Bertie Ahern look positively slothful. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so serious for so many people. Today’s article in the Irish Independent is a classic illustration of the art-form. The headline strikes the right tone: “House price fall continues but rate of decline slows”. Ah, the sobering reality of falling prices is tempered by the ever-positive “but rate of decline slows”!
Then the article revs up into second gear: “House prices fell at the slowest rate in four months in January.” Our reporter is reassuring us by trumpeting the “positive” news that the rate of decline of prices is the lowest in four months. This would be like saying that “Rate of increase of deaths in Iraq is lowest for four months”. You sense the desperation, the clinging to dubious reasoning.
Another illustration of this art form is to state a fact – hardly avoidable sometimes – but then end the sentence with opinion or conjecture. Thus, our report continues: “Some builders have cut the price of new houses by up to 20pc, but most seem to be holding prices.” What does the phrase “most seem” mean? This sentence is risible. All well-trained reporters (and editors) should have spotted this for what it is: subjective opinion masquerading as fact.
The article then accelerates into third gear with another whopper: “The figures revealed an improvement in the market for second-hand houses.” Obviously the prices increased then, did they, one would ask? Ah, but then wait for the clincher: “Prices for new houses were reduced by 0.4pc in January, while second-hand prices fell by 0.1pc.” So, the prices still fell, but this, announces our intrepid reported, amounts to an “improvement” vis-à-vis new homes. This is patently absurd.
Now, ever more confidently into his stride, our reporter zooms into fourth gear by wheeling in an “expert”:
“There is mounting evidence that sellers are adjusting to more realistic asking prices and buyers are getting better value,” said Niall O’Grady, Head of Marketing, permanent tsb bank.
Head of Marketing. The naked self-interest summed up in that title is so gob-smackingly appalling. Truly awesome. And he’s the only quoted person in the entire article. Of course, it is hardly his fault that the reporter asked him for a quote. He would, after all, say that. But why was he asked in the first place?
The press should be ashamed of themselves.
It is not correct — if I said so I wasn’t correct. I can’t recall if I did say it. But I did not say, or if I did say it, I didn’t mean to say it, that these issues could not be dealt with until the end of the Mahon Tribunal
Bertie Ahern, Taoiseach of Ireland, to the Dail, 30th January 2008.
Bertie delivered this gem of mangled syntax and distorted English to the quizzical and down-right baffled Dail yesterday. He is the master of bafflement, the bringer of confusion, the word-mangling supreme being. Bertie the word-mangler makes ancient greek look lucid and logical.
Philosophers like Sartre and Kant were famously prolix and contorted. At least Kant made sense once he could be understood – Sartre rarely did, but at least he didn’t subject a whole nation to his ponderous musings. And they both were tackling the great issues of metaphysics, meaning, and epistemology. Bertie has no such excuse. He is dealing with questions that demand yes/no answers. And we get this verbiage. Why?
The depths of muddle revealed by his multi-layered miasma of contorted speech are his greatest defence and his biggest political asset. He hides the truth while dressing up reality in a many-layered and concealing cloak of mystery.
The truth is simple. He’s hiding something. He cannot think straight because he has twisted and turned from reality so often that he breaks out in a sweat everytime he has to answer a question about it.
The facts are simple: he is not tax-compliant for a period dating back to the mid-1990s when he was Minister for Finance. That the highest official in the land responsible for the collection of taxes cannot satisfy the tax authorities that he paid his tax, from a period dating back more than ten years, means that he either didn’t pay the right tax, or his accounts were not in order. If he had any honor left in him, he’d resign. He’d put the country before his personal ambition and he’d hand over to someone more capable of running the country. With economic uncertainty, a collapsing property market, and a potential US recession around the corner, the country needs stability and focus. Not this crap.
Frank McCourt famously started his Angela’s Ashes biography with: “Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood. Worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”
An Irish Catholic education is equally miserable. I cannot blame my school (which was average, but could have done better…) or my teachers (who individually were not cruel or wantonly ignorant). Indeed, in many respects, I had some brilliant and inspiring teachers.
It was partly the fault of the narrow curriculum of Irish, English, Maths and a couple of options thrown in, like Economics, Physics, and French. And it was partly the absence of enthralling subjects, like Anthropology, Art History, Astronomy, Philosophy, or Ancient History. But most of all, it was the fault of rote learning, the stultifying modes of repetition and brainwashing, and the unconscious dogmas of utilitarianism that dragged my education down to the level of the miserable.
Edward de Bono was recently surveyed in an Irish Times supplement extolling the virtues of training children how to think. We may quibble with his own methods or his terminology (the coy Thinking Hats sextept can be annoying) but surely we are bound to agree that getting people to think better is intrinsically worthwhile.
For the academically capable, an Irish education is like a perpetual sack race for an elite athlete: needlessly restrictive. Where were the wide-open spaces, the glittering sparkles of creativity, the intricate spiders’ webs of logic? Only after leaving school did I learn of Plato’s World of Ideas, Russell’s atheism, Darwin’s “dangerous idea”, the fallacy of the appeal to authority, the reasons for the French Revolution, the collapse and fall of the Roman empire. Nowhere since have I had need to recite four proofs that the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides in a right-angled triangle.
de Bono is right to say that information is everywhere, facts abundant. We should not cram our children with facts, but focus on giving them the passion to seek for facts. Most adults are literate only in the narrowest sense: they can read and write, but choose not to. Where is their passion, their hunger for knowledge, their creative streak?
There should be an emphasis on thinking, creativity, building an historical perspective, scientific analysis, philosophy and psychology. It should be a curriculum supplemented with practical matters, like healthy eating, managing personal finances, sexuality and relationships. A curriculum with creative exploration at its very core. A curriculum that stands not on what a child has learnt when they leave school, but on what that child learns through their entire lives.
And, dammit, every child in Ireland should be writing a blog by age fifteen, and drawing and making music and exploring and building things. And none of them should cause to regret what they fail to know when they’ve grown up. None of them should leave school without feeling the need to redress any regret they do have.
The production of milk starts when a farmer invests in land, a herd of cows, expensive milking palours, and huge time and energy. He must maintain those cows in good health, using vets, anti-worming treatments, grain-feed during the winter, and other costly measures.
The cows, after spending most of the day eating grass and chewing the cud, feel that animal expectation, that elemental need to be milked. They begin walking voluntarily towards the milking palours, gently brushing past the gate, the dew still glistening on the early morning grass. The cows know well their individual stalls, their routine established over thousands of such visits. The farmer eases the automatic milking teats into place and the machines pump the white milk into giant containers. The cows return to the fields, often drinking natural water from streams and pumps on the way.
After the milking, the container (which is fully refrigerated and where the milk is continuously “agitated” to keep it from forming cream) is loaded onto a truck and transported to the local co-operative, where the milk is homogenised. (“Homogenised milk is produced by mechanically forcing milk through a small passage at high velocity. This breaks down the fat globules in milk into much smaller ones and creates a stabile fat emulsion.”). It has to be pasteurised, and possibly even further processed to add vitamins or produce slimline milk.
The milk has then to be packaged, sorted into trays, transported to retailers, stacked on shelves, all the while being constantly refrigerated, before being sold. Eventually, after a long journey from field to palour to shop, it reaches your kitchen table.
Let’s compare that to the journey taken by bottled water. Basically, find a pure(-ish) source of water, pump it out, and bottle it. It requires no ground-breaking technology, expensive animals, costly raw materials, good farmland, pasteurisers, homogenisers, refrigerators, a large workforce, winter grains, or vets. And it keeps for a long time, meaning it can be transported at leisure and without refrigeration.
And the price for these two liquids with such different life-cycles?
Tesco in Ireland now sell a one-litre bottle of Ballygowan (Ireland’s largest brand of bottled water) for €1.25 (that’s around US$1.80!). (The price is for Ballygowan Sports Still Water 1 Litre as quoted on their website www.tesco.ie on 13th November 2007.) A litre of milk is quoted on the same site and time at €0.59 for both the Premier and Avonmore brands of “Fresh Milk” (other varieties cost more, depending on the degree of processing involved, but these are the basic brands).
Hence, a one-litre of water costs 211% of a bottle of milk. Over twice as much.
What crazy set of economic practices, marketing, consumer behaviour, retailer policies, agricultural inequities, EU subsidies, or government action, has conspired to create a situation where a complex product like milk can sell in supermarkets for less than half the price of a simple bottle of water?
I came across this amazing quote from a farmer in England, from an article in the Guardian newspaper in April this year:
The irony for Colin Rank, one of the family that owns Kemble Farms, is that his cows drink water from a Cotswold spring that he could bottle and sell for 80p a litre. “We’re giving it to cows and devaluing it by turning it into milk.
So, what on earth possesses them to continue? He says:
Like all dairy farmers we could pack up tomorrow and do something better with our capital, but we do it because we have an emotional investment in the land and the animals. And we know there’s a market for our product, if only the market worked.
Somehow, in a deep and mysterious way, we have managed to treat milk with contempt, and water (which is everywhere in Ireland) with reverance. Even more ironically, tap water in Ireland is perfectly drinkable. Bottled water competes directly with a 100% free substance, pumped straight out of the tap.
Economics alone cannot explain this. Am I going mad, or is there a valid reason for this?
Ireland has a priceless Government of Ireland website. On it, there’s a link to the aptly named “Central Decentralisation Policy Unit “. Is that a mistake or a joke? Sadly, it is neither. The DECENTRALISATION IMPLEMENTAION GROUP (DIG) run the decentralisation programme – for moving civil servants out of Dublin and into the rest of the country. Is this a “dig”-out or are they hinting at the large hole they are digging with this decentalisation malarky?
Interestingly, they refer to: “a purpose-built, interim office situated on O’Brien Road, Carlow” in a report about the move to Carlow of the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Employment and follow that with a description of the building of permanent offices. How can you purpose build an interim office?
There is also a link to that other fine joke being played out on the Irish public: The National Spatial Strategy. And, no, this is not Ireland’s answer to the Chinese moon programme. It is, rather, a lame attempt to develop Ireland in a more sane and rational manner. Which would be fine in theory, were it not for the fact that the strategy, such as it is, has been completely ignored by the very government that sponsored it.
Looking at the map of the spatial strategy makes it almost sound like a poster campaign for a new Power Rangers movie. Every area has a keyword: Revitalising!, Strengthening!, Reinforcing!, Consolidating!!!, Co-Operating!!!!! These are words to stir the heart of any proud Irishman or Irishwoman, alongside the poetry of Pearse and the rolling rhetoric of Dev.
Maybe I wouldn’t be so nonplussed if I wasn’t living in the promised “Consolidating” area. It sounds like a doctor talking about a terminally-ill patient being in a “stable condition”. Or a reply to the question, how are your stools?
Thankfully, the NSS bears no resemblance to reality. Indeed, it bears no resemblance to the towns selected for the government’s own decentralisation programme. You would have thought that the least they could have done was to match them, in some kind of mutually-supportive embrace.
Muppets. All of them. The most highly-paid muppets in the world. Jeez.
When Ireland played Cyprus recently, myself and the brother were sitting in €70 seats that we hadn’t paid for – they were freebies. I wouldn’t have paid to go. I even resented going for free in the end, it was that bad!
16,000 people did just that and failed to turn up for the game – many were people who’d already stumpted up the cash for tickets. But next time around, they just won’t put up the cash at all, if they feel they’ll have to watch some pathetic display.
In the World Cup campaign coming up, the potential loss to the FAI in terms of revenue would be the 16,000 vacant seats (conservatively) multiplied by the average €70 per ticket, by 5 games, making close to €5.6m in lost revenue. (Okay, that estimate is a guess…it could be worse!)
My point is: it is worth it for them to pay for a big-time manager. With Croke Park available, it is essential that they fill it to capacity. And to do that, they need a credible manager with a track record.
It won’t be O’Leary, because no matter what you think about his managerial qualities (and they are mixed) he would be too much his own man for the FAI to control him. Brady never showed any great qualities when he managed Celtic, and he would be too close to Dunphy and Giles too. Omar Troussier is too outlandish and unpredictable. Hiddinck would be too expensive and has a lucrative job with Russia (or Chelsea, if it happens).
Paul Jewell would fit the bill – he has experience, respect within the football community, and knows the Irish players. I wouldn’t say he’s my favourite for the job – but he’d be closest to ticking all the right boxes.
The latest news on this farce is that the FAI will appoint an expert committee to do the appointment for them. My problem with this is, who is selecting the “experts”? Of course: the same old muppets as usual, Delaney et al. It is a merry go round again.
October 18, 2007 at 1:14 pm (Ireland)
Ireland – far from qualifying from this group – could now finish SIXTH. My brother pointed this out to me last night and I laughed at first. But now I am not so sure.
Here’s the table right now:
Group D European Championship Qualifying Group
Ireland have played a game more than the three teams immediately below them, and only lie two ahead of Cyprus and three ahead of Wales and Slovakia.
If we lose away to Wales in November by 2-0 or 2-1 (this is plausible) then they end the group on equal points with us and are ranked ahead because of the method UEFA have chosen to separate teams finishing on the same points. Indeed, if they beat us and also pick up a point against Germany in their last game, they end the group ahead of us on points.
We are also in position to be overtaken by Cyprus and Slovakia too, thus ending bottom of the group. Cyprus play Germany away and then the Czechs at home. Two points or more from those two games and they pip us. Slovakia are away to San Marino in their last game, but also need a point away to the Czechs to finish ahead of us (because we beat them at home). All of these scenarios are not only possible – they seem quite plausible.
The idea of finishing sixth in this group, behind Germany, Czech Republic, Wales, Cyprus, and Slovakia, is too much to bear.
My brother managed to get two free tickets for the Ireland vs. Cyprus game at Croke Park tonight, so we went along in hope to see some positive soccer. It was a rare opportunity to see the boys in green and you know what they say about looking gift horses in the mouth…
But, oh God.
I thought a 5-2 hammering away was enough embarrassment. But to watch, live, in the stadium, a 1-1 draw, and only because we squeezed out a totally jammy goal in injury time…simply terrible.
Cyprus deserved to be 2-0 up by early in the second half. They looked composed and controlled on the ball. They made the best chances and prevented us from testing their goalkeeper for most of the game. We looked good for the first 20 to 25 minutes of the second half, but after that…nothing. They took their goal really well and should have won. How we managed to score at all is a mystery. The 1-1 score is a travesty.
But I’m not one of those people who booed Staunton at the end. It is miserable enough for this proud man – with his fantastic service in an Ireland shirt over the years – to watch his team humbled again. But to have little shitheads and gurriers shouting abuse at him, that is too much. What have these 12 and 13 year old little morons ever done in their lives, aside from stealing bags of crisps at their local Aldi? It is disgraceful and unhealthy when they think they have the right to ask for the sacking of a hardworking and decent man like Steve Staunton. Most of them would be too stupid and lazy to clean that man’s boots.
Having said that…I do think the time has come for him to resign. He is in way above his head and has lost the plot. The young players in the team need to feel part of something worthwhile. We need to start afresh. He needs this job like a hole in the head. He is better off out of it and hopefully he can redeem some of his reputation somewhere else. But it is painful to watch him and his team now.
The Fast Show was my favourite comedy show for years. It shouldn’t have been. I mean: it was moronically repetitive and stupid, when you thought about it. But funny. And that’s all that matters when it is meant to be, well…., funny!
So I’ve decided to do my personal homage to the Fast Show, with my own idea for an Irish Fast Show, shamelessly ripping off the format from the original.
Key idea: Identifiable Irish stereotypes, but with odd quirks. One single catchphrase that ends every sketch. Repetition of the basic plotline is key, but the humour lies in the situation. The Irish element is essentially derived from our national characteristics, of avoiding taboo subjects, like sex and cancer and who owns the field down the road. Where the English comedy relied on English vices, like the hen-pecked husband, the repressed homosexual toff, and the boasting car salesman, the Irish show has to foster a separate identifiably Irish character. However, some of the best Irish characters are already taken by the original show, such as the quietly-spoken Irish poet, who whispers in a barely audible voice. Or the Irish labourer, the counterpart to the landowner.
Incidentally, a related show, Father Ted, has also laid claim to vast swathes of Irish life. Indeed, it’s the same insane genuises who put Father Ted together and the best scenes from the Fast Show (Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews). In any case, there are plenty left for me to play around with.
(Note to my American Readers: Father Ted is the greatest comedy ever to come out of Ireland. If you can, see the series from episode one on, without reading about it. Honestly, you won’t regret the investment…)
So, everything is based on characters, put in different situations every week, but who basically act out the same sequence of basic acts and then utter the punchline phrase.
Uncle Bob, with the weird, unidentifiable odour and the fetish for salmon. Catchphrase: “Do I smell salmon?”. Comic situation: Standing on Ireland’s highest mountain, breathing the fresh air and at least 50 miles from the sea, he utters the catchphrase…
Father Billy, with a penchant for fondling rosary beads and giving overly zealous pats on the heads to children, and for stammering, who smells sightly musty, and always has a runny nose: His catchphrase is: “When did you last go to mass?”. As in: Very serious interview panel of the board of trustees of a large secondary school. Interviewing the latest candidate for role of school principal, (ie. Billy) and are on the verge of finishing the interview when the senior interviewer asks the candidate if he has any questions for the board of trustees. Billy pipes up…
Jenny, the shop owner, who always thinks the world was better 10 years ago, has pictures of Pope John Paul I on her wall (the first one, not the long-lasting second one) and who secretly prefers a good ham sandwich to sex: Catchphrase: “Fancy a boiled sweet?”. Jenny is confronted by a large gang of hardened criminals at the bank who demand that everyone hand over their money immediately. She smiles and says…
Frank, the hunting man, wears green or camoflage all the time, drives an SUV, wears wellingtons, smokes a pipe, and thinks Mary Harney is actually rather sexy. He thinks foxes are the root of all evil: His catchphrase is “Vermin!”. As in, a large gathering of well-dressed people are sipping champagne and quaffing those party nibbles they hand out, when suddenly our hero spots two poodles in the corner. Mistaking them for foxes, he produces a shotgun and fires, shouting…
Sonny, the little drunken plumber’s apprentice who always ends up breaking his hand whenever he gets into a needless fight: “I had the bastard, I did”. Example: Sonny is walking in the park with a mate of his when some kids, aged seven or eight, innocently kick a ball towards him and shout: “Hey mister, kick us back our ball.” Sonny tries to hit the ball with his fist, misses and breaks his hand. He turns to his friend and says…
Malcom, the ex-priest from Sligo who can solve a rubiks cube in under twenty seconds but who thinks Father Ted is blasphemous: Catchphrase “Let me show you this”, said as he slides out his lad for the shock reaction. Riding home on the bus from a particularly rivetting and spiritually uplifting visit to Knock, Malcolm engages a reluctant stranger in conversation. The stranger, feeling taken in by this lovely priest, starts to unburden his inner thoughts…until Malcolm, seeing his opportunity, pulls out his wee tool and utters his catchphrase…
Johnny, the farmer, who is convinced people are stealing his fields, sod by sod, at night. Catchphrase: “Is that yours?” before taking whatever it is they say isn’t theres (as they invariably do). Obsessed with grass. As in, in his first visit to Croke Park, he does the grand tour. Sensing an opportunity, he sidles up to the guide and points to some grass and then whispers, …
Susie, the city girl, works in Kafe Mocha, and acts as if every conversation is to buy a cup of coffee. Her catchphrase is different every time, but always relies on the basic premise that the person talking to her really does want a cup of coffee, As in: Gardai are investigating a series of break-ins to local houses when they knock on Susie’s door. They ask her a series of simple questions, to which Susie always replies…”One lump or two?” or “Skinny or latte?” or “Napkins are on the counter behind you” to general bafflement.
Phil, the off-duty Guard, with incredibly bad eye sight, who keeps jaywalking and takes two papers when only paying for one, or who otherwise endlessly gets arrested for minor offences. Catchphrase: “Shite!”. As in: he carefully parks his car into a very tight spot, double-checks everything, before slowly opening his door and knocking over a cyclist. “Shite”…
Patrick, the sexless bachelor with a four-bedroom house in Mayo, who rents it out to foreign students in the mistaken apprehension that he’ll get laid by lots of foreign totty. Catchphrase: “Why don’t you try yourself?”, always with some lewd or lascivious intention. Example: Patrick is engaged in conversation by a rather beautiful Lithuanian woman at the check-out at his local Aldi. Needing to find some change to finish paying, he fidgets for loose coins in his jeans, whereupon the attractive girl says “Can you not find the money?” and our hero utters the immortal catchphrase…
Damien, a little man with oodles of cash buried away in a foreign bank account, but who spends his life acting like he has nothing to avoid the taxman, and the rest of the time wondering why he has money if he cannot use it. Catchphrase: “I can’t afford that…”. Enters Jenny’s shop (see above) and then she says her line and he replies…etc
And then there’s Gerry the Green candidate who cannot walk more than five paces without bending down to pick up litter; or Mary the immaculately dressed, who secretly eats tons of beans and asparagus, just so she can walk into Brown Thomas and fart everywhere; or Michael the estate agent who is homeless; or TJ the DJ; or PJ the …. aaargh….now the whole world seems like one vast Fast Show. I wish I hadn’t started this…