Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Michelle Bachmann was praising, not attacking Ireland

Bachman wants US to
copy Ireland
Michelle Bachmann was not "attacking" Ireland when she spoke in Florida over the weekend. Rather, she was arguing that the United States should emulate Ireland, in particular with regards to its low corporate tax rate.

The New York Times said Bachmann was looking at Ireland as an example when she said, "There are over 600 American companies that have gone to Ireland because of the tax rate. Over 100,000 jobs. I want those 100,000 jobs back in the United States."

If you believe that 'imitation is the sincerest form of flattery' then it's more accurate to describe Bachmann's comments as praise. Bachmann believes that if the United States were to copy Ireland fewer American companies would feel the need to set up operations here. She believes that those companies would keep the jobs in America rather than send them overseas.
Read More:

Michele Bachmann attacks US jobs going overseas to Ireland

Bitter row over Irish corporate tax rate between Irish leader Enda Kenny and France's Sarkozy

Dan Rooney warns Irish government not to cut corporation tax rate

Bachmann is not the first to make this point. John McCain said essentially the same thing in the dying days of the 2008 campaign. Again, McCain, like Bachmann, wasn't – as the French have many times recently – complaining about Ireland's corporate tax rate. He was citing Ireland as a positive example.

So Bachmann was praising, not "attacking," Ireland, but was she right? Would those 100,000 jobs return to America if the United States adopted a similarly low corporate tax rate?

Probably not. Most, if not all, of those American companies would be in Europe regardless of America's corporate tax rate. They want to do business inside the EU with its market of 450m people. Ireland's low corporate tax rate is mostly about giving Ireland a competitive edge inside the European Union, which explains the France's annoyance with it.

If Bachmann were to become President and get this law passed the biggest impact for Ireland would probably be that it would help those Irish companies - such as this one in Kingsport, TN - in America. Yup, there are Irish companies operating in the United States. 80,000 Americans are employed by Irish companies. If the United States lowered its corporate tax rate that might well encourage those Irish companies to expand their operations and employ even more Americans. That would be good for Ireland and America.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Irish Catholic Church's fund-raising is not the business of politicians

Fine Gael TD Tom Barry
Taking pot shots at the Catholic Church is probably the easiest way for an Irish elected official to garner a few positive headlines for himself, but I'm way past fed up with it.

Today's headline comes thanks to Fine Gael TD (MP) Tom Barry, who I'd never heard of until this morning. I don't know what his angle is, but Barry is quoted in the Irish Examiner as urging Irish Catholics not to contribute to any fund intended to bail out dioceses struggling with debts due to compensation payments to abuse victims.

Barry says that families should not have to pay for the hierarchy's failures. Well you know what? They don't "have to." Membership in the Catholic Church is optional. The amount any Catholic gives is at his own discretion. Nobody "has to" give anything.

You want me to say that there were a lot of bad things done by priests, brothers and nuns? Well there were. You want me to say that some of those at the top of the Church failed miserably to deal properly with those who abused children? They did. In fact, I've often recoiled at what has been either a failure to comprehend or indifference to the impact such abuse has on a child and how a parent would feel about it.

These matters were grossly mishandled and the Church must pay substantial sums to those who were abused as compensation. That has placed a significant burden on the finances of every diocese, which combined with the falling contributions due to the decline in church attendance/membership and the near collapse in the Irish economy has pushed some dioceses to the brink of financial disaster. The Archdiocese of Dublin is reportedly one of those dioceses and may consider seeking extra donations from church-goers to meet its financial obligations.

These are tough times. Some Irish Catholics will dig deep to help out and others may find they cannot or will not, possibly for the reasons given by Barry. Again, no one "has to" give if they don't want to.

The same is not true when it comes to the failures by those in Barry's line of work. No, when it comes to the failings of our politicians, we all "have to" give.

The state and all of its branches has failed almost immeasurably over the past 20 years and for that we all must pay:
  • Mismanagement in the national blood transfusion board? Thousands of lives ruined, hundreds of millions in compensation and no one held accountable. The state owes and we all "have to pay."

  • Scandals involving the gardaí, the planning process, mobile phone licenses, etc. were all cases of mismanagement by the state, which resulted in lengthy, costly tribunals at the end of which no one was held accountable, but for which the state now owes and we all "have to pay."

  • Failure to regulate the banks? The costs are still undetermined, but that the state now teeters on the edge of bankruptcy is thanks to this scandal. Still, no politician, no member of the permanent governing class for which our elected officials are responsible has been held accountable. The costs are immense and we all "HAVE TO PAY."
So, if Barry wants to get on his high horse about bills due to mismanagement that families should not "have to pay," let him keep his eye on his own profession. I'd imagine there should be enough there to keep him busy for some time so that he doesn't feel the need to opine on matters that do not involve the state, but are fully internal to the Church.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Student's dream trip to Europe ends in nightmare on Dublin streets

The fight took place in the
Temple Bar area of Dublin.
Ten days ago three French-speaking men came together late at night on the streets of Dublin. Words were exchanged, which triggered a violent altercation that has left a young doctor in a coma in a Dublin Hospital and a young student in jail.

The story is both sad and bizarre. Details are still sketchy, but the press here reported that the fight was the result of an argument over accents.

The doctor in a coma is 26-year-old Frenchman Guillaume Osterstock. Osterstock came to Dublin to study at Dublin's Royal College of Surgeons and is in Beaumont Hospital, where he had worked. His alleged attacker is 23-year-old Simon Mercier from Quebec City in Canada.

The Montreal Gazette says Mercier's friends and family are totally stunned at the turn of events that transformed a sojourn in Europe into what might well prove to lifelong nightmare. I can well understand.

It's easy to imagine all sorts of possible dangers when a young man goes off traveling in a foreign land, but getting arrested after a senseless, violent fight is probably not among them. That's especially true if the man is not prone to fighting when at home, which seems to be the case with Mercier.

The very idea that two French-speaking people from thousands of miles apart would come together in Dublin and it end in violence is odd. When you add in the fact that both men should have been in good spirits - one studying abroad and the other off on what was to be a care-free lark - it seems even stranger. None of those involved had any reason to be in a bad enough mood to warrant such violence.

What could have gone so wrong?

Thousands of young students travel to Europe from America and Canada every summer and for the vast majority it's a great experience - a whole new world opening up for them. Of course some are targeted by thieves and a rare few are victims of violent assaults, even murder.

Yet none of that was true of Mercier. He was in Dublin with a friend when at some point he came across Osterstock. What was said between them we don't know, but I do know that if you're not ready to be confronted about all sorts of things you've never considered before it can be disorientating, frustrating, angering even threatening when it happens when you're abroad.

For Americans traveling in Europe, politics can often be the cause of such confrontations. I can still remember how stunned I was when shortly after I'd arrived in Dublin for a year's study I was confronted by some angry, I mean really angry, fellow student who was in my face over President Reagan.

I'd apparently been a lot less negative than would satisfy this guy. Truth was I was smug and gushing in my praise of Reagan. It was 1986, a few months after America had bombed Tripoli and this guy was livid. {He couldn't say enough nice things about Gaddafi. Wonder how he feels about him now?}

I had neither the mindset nor the physique of someone who would get in a fight, but if ever there was a moment when I wanted to take a poke at a guy it was then. I just wanted him to back off. As things were going from heated to over-heated a friend of this guy came over and steered him away.

I walked off wondering how I'd become so worked up, how things had nearly gotten out of hand. While I'd always engaged in political debates at home – and often been smug and dismissive while doing so – I'd never been anywhere near as angry about what was said. Later I accepted I had to be more cautious about what I said, how I expressed myself and how I reacted while I was away from home.

While politics can often be the trigger for such rancor, it's not the only one. I've witnessed such incidents over baseball vs soccer, New York vs London (for music), movies and other really trivial matters.

For that reason, while it may be unimaginable for many to consider an argument over accents as possibly leading to such violence that a man is left on life support, it doesn't seem so remote to me. Things can get out of hand in a hurry when you're not on familiar ground.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Celebrating the Irishman who burned the White House

Major General Robert Ross
I have often heard about the Irishman, James Hoban, who "designed the White House," but until recently I'd never heard of the Irishman who burnt it down 14 years after it was completed – Major General Robert Ross.

Ross was the head of the British Army that "burned Washington" in 1814. While the War of 1812 didn't feature prominently in my school lessons, I clearly remember learning about how President Madison and his wife had to flea the White House and Washington before the British marched in and torched the city's public buildings, including the Capitol Building and the White House. The man who led the British Army that day was General Ross from Rostrevor, County Down.

Last month I visited Fort McHenry in Baltimore, which was the center of an important engagement during the War of 1812. The British were thwarted in their efforts to capture the crucial port city of Baltimore. It was the victory in the Battle of Baltimore that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner. It was also the battle where Major General Robert Ross was killed.

Ross was loved by his men and a hero to the British for his exploits in the Napoleonic Wars and for what he accomplished in America before he was killed in the Battle of Baltimore (at Dundalk, MD). Ross's family were allowed to amend their name so that the family name was Ross of Bladensburg, which commemorated the British victory at the  Battle of Bladensburg, MD the British victory that opened the door to Washington. The family's coat of arms was also amended to depict a captured American flag. These moves incensed the Americans and there was a plan to attack Rostrevor, but the war ended before this plan got much further.

In 1826 men who served under Ross erected a monument to celebrate his career in the British Army, and his victory at Bladensburg in particular. The monument is a massive obelisk. The inscription on the front of the monument says, "Major General Robert Ross served with distinction in Holland, Egypt, Italy, Spain and France, conquered in America and fell victorious at Baltimore." There are other inscriptions along the sides and the back of the monument, including one lauding Ross and his army's victorious entry into "Washington, capital of the United States."

The monument was refurbished in 2008. Inside the gate is a new sign - in Irish (Gaelic) as well as English - explaining who Ross was, including that he was "sent to America in 1814 to avenge American atrocities," which is a reference to the burning of York (now Toronto) in 1813.

My time at Fort McHenry inspired me to take a half hour detour on Saturday evening to see the monument at Rostrevor. It was a beautiful evening and well worth the time. Even if you're not of a mind to pay a visit to a monument dedicated to the man who "burned Washington" it's worth a visit if you're in the area. The view from the steps of the monument looking out over Carlingford Lough is spectacular and the drive from Newry provides a few great scenes.
The Moutains of Mourne sweeping down to the sea (left)

{For more on Ross and the monument see The Man Who Captured Washington. I love this picture of the monument surrounded by scaffolding, which is topped with a Betsy Ross style American flag. In a place where flags can be contentious I bet the Betsy Ross flag drew smiles from all.}

Friday, August 19, 2011

Gift shop at Antietam is great for Irish Brigade gifts

Irish Brigade gifts at Antietam's gift shop
I was watching a re-run of Fág an Bealach on the Irish language channel TG4 the other night (Links here still work if you want to watch) when I remembered something about Antietam that really surprised me, particularly as compared with Gettysburg.

As I mentioned, the gift shop at Gettysburg is massive, a Wal-mart of Civil War merchandise. Antietam's, by comparison, is a broom closet.

Still, Antietam has one line of gifts that Gettysburg does not – Irish Brigade merchandise. Lots of it. Books, tee shirts, baseball caps, posters, flags, pencils and other knickknacks all to do with the Irish Brigade.

I asked the woman at the register how popular was the Irish Brigade stuff and she said, "Very. People come from far away to buy the Irish Brigade gifts." My memory's not clear now, but I'm pretty sure she said it was the most popular range of goods in the store.

One purchase I made was a bag of soldiers for my son. Irish Brigade toy soldiers, which may well be unique. Why? Well they may be the only Irish toy soldiers you can get. I don't know what it's like in the rest of Ireland, but all the toy soldiers available in the toy stores near where I live American, British or generic/nondescript soldiers.

So now my son has an "Irish army" with an Irish Brigade flag, General Thomas F Meagher and even Fr. Corby, the "Fighting Chaplain." These are probably the only toy soldiers ever made with a chaplain.

They have a web site, but if you're interested in Irish Brigade gifts it might be worth giving them a call because there were more products in their store than they have in their Irish Brigade list on their web site. The woman I spoke to was friendly and very helpful. Could be a good idea for an unusual Christmas present.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Feast of the Assumption should remain a holy day, not a holiday

MLA John Dallat
A member of the Northern Ireland Assembly has called for August 15 to be made a national holiday, north and south. SDLP member John Dallat feels that making August 15, the Feast of the Assumption, a national holiday would be an "opportunity for everyone to become involved in a celebration of the special relationship the Mother of God holds in the lives of Irish people."

By no means would I ridicule Dallat for his devotion or question his religious views. I went to Mass on the 15th myself.

It's just, well, I don't know, but when I read his comments this morning I was taken aback. I felt like I'd been transported back in time.

Only yesterday we had the news that the diocese of Dublin may be on the brink of a complete financial collapse thanks to the fact that attendance at Mass and the collections have declined significantly. The seemingly endless reports into the Church scandals haven't helped, but I'm not so sure the Irish people have much of a "special relationship" with Jesus' mother these days.

That such a special relationship did exist seems pretty obvious to me. All over the country, in urban and rural areas, you can see Marian shrines. These shrines were erected during the Marian Year of 1954 (I believe). Many are in the middle of public housing estates, presumably built on government owned land. There's no way that would happen today.

"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there," according to L.P. Barthartley. That certainly seems true in Ireland where the obvious signs of an extremely devout people stand in stark contrast to the agnosticism, cynicism even, of so many Irish people, particularly those under 50.

This is why I was startled by Dallat's proposal. It's as if he was talking about a "foreign country" where "they do things differently" because there's simply no chance that Ireland is going to adopt August 15 as a national holiday.

I expect Dallat will get virtually no support, other than from a few Catholic die-hards and those cynical enough to exploit the beliefs of the faithful in order to get themselves another day off in the summer. I do, however, admire his courage because he is bound to attract a lot of personal and very negative attention, almost all of it from people who were baptized Catholic.

I'm not inclined to support Dallat myself. I can't help wondering why we should make August 15 a holiday now, when it wasn't a holiday in the 30s, 40s and 50s when it would have been more appropriate. If it was good enough then for people to have to work on the feast day, it's good enough today.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

He aided the Nazis before he shaped the minds of Irish children

Schoolbook publisher Albert Folens
(Irish Independent)
Last night I got my first look at my daughter's booklist for the coming school year. One book in particular caught my eye - The United States & The World 1945-1989. My problem with this book is that it's published by Folens, a company founded by a man who aided the Gestapo in his native Belgium during WWII.

Albert Folens escaped from prison and made his way to Ireland under a false passport. Folens then got work as a teacher before setting up his publishing company.

Folens and his defenders claim that he was never in the Gestapo. His daughter says he only joined the Flemish Legion, which consisted of 300,000 men. One to two thousand is probably more like it. If Folens wasn't a Nazi he was one of their fascist first cousins.

It wasn't like he was repentant after the war either. In a 1986 interview – only aired in 2007 – he denied he was anything like a Nazi. Almost in the next breath, however, he put his extreme anti-Americanism out there, calling the Americans "stupid and criminal" for insisting on a "complete surrender" by the Nazis. "And that's the stupidity of the Roosevelt. A sick man with a sick mind and ignorant."

This is the man who set about building Ireland's leading schoolbook publishing company. This is the man whose history books "helped to shape the minds" of generations of Irish school children.

Folens died back in 2003, but his family still owns the company. I see no reason to assume that the culture established by this virulent anti-American will have changed much.

Funny thing is I first got really angry at one of the Folens texts before I heard about his fascist past. I remember hitting the roof when my oldest daughter showed me her 6th grade history book back in 2002. The book's short section on World War II downplayed what the Nazis had done, but turned Hiroshima and Nagasaki into the most unspeakable crimes ever. It was all done in a cunning way, through the fictional memory of a fictional character who was supposedly remembering the horror of hearing about the bombings on Irish radio.

Then when I first learned of Folens' past I was angry about that book from 2002 all over again. I wanted a total ban on Folens' books in this house. That wasn't really practical, unfortunately, but there's no way I want this bigoted anti-American's legacy landing in in my house ever again. My daughter will have to survive with another publisher's text.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A student loan scheme - too optimistic for Ireland's government

Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn
Ireland's new government, elected in February, has been a little less guilty of making ridiculously optimistic statements about the Ireland's future than their predecessors, but they have hardly eschewed the tactic. Every so often they trot out a line or two about how the economy is improving, things will get better, etc.

Well, all of the government's manufactured optimism and bluster about the future was blown away in one remark by the Minister for Education in a statement about the return of college tuition fees. Ruairi Quinn announced that the era of tuition‑free college is coming to an end. Fees have to return because the costs of providing free college education are just too great for a state that is only a hair's breadth away from Chapter 11.

I can't argue with Quinn, although with one daughter in college and another soon to be going, I'd love for the tuition to remain zero for a while longer. However, tuition‑free college is one of the many luxuries that post‑Celtic Tiger Ireland cannot afford.

So tuition is coming back, fair enough. What's really telling, however, is that not only is the government going to reintroduce fees, but they are not going to introduce a student loan scheme – such as exists in America – in order to help students and parents meet the new costs. According to Quinn such a scheme wouldn't work in Ireland because the "student loan system would, in my view, become an emigrant incentive."

"An emigrant incentive." In other words, those students who borrow money to get educated in Ireland could not possibly be enticed to stay. No, emigration will allow them a virtually pain‑free default and offer a more attractive option than remaining in Ireland and repaying student loans.

The thing is, I doubt many Irish people would disagree with Quinn. That's how bad things are here now. At the same time I can't imagine any American politician ever being so negative about the future of America, even in these challenging times.

Imagine for a moment an Ireland where life is so attractive that students want to live here after graduation. Imagine an Ireland where even those who would like to experience life abroad repay their student loans because they assume they'll return to live out their days in Ireland. Imagine an Ireland where jobs are plentiful and wages sufficient so that graduates see their student loan repayments as a cost that can be borne. Imagine an optimistic Ireland.

We caught a glimpse of what such an Ireland might look like during the Celtic Tiger years. Unfortunately the optimism of the early Celtic Tiger years morphed into a heedless utopianism. Free college education was an early example of that utopianism.

Now, according to Ruairi Quinn, not only is the Celtic Tiger dead, but so are optimism and hope. The best we can hope for now is that the emigrating young go with the minimal state support behind them. They're going to leave anyway so make them pay up front for anything they get.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Wanted in Ireland: one half-way decent presidential candidate

Gay Byrne – not interested in being President
Candidate for the President of Ireland are falling like flies the past few days. First the leading candidate, according to the polls, David Norris withdrew after skeletons from his past came back to haunt him. Next up was Gay Byrne.

A week ago - who was it that said a week is a long time in politics - there were rumors that former television and radio talk show star Gay Byrne was going to enter the fray. "Uncle Gaybo" wanted to be President, we were told. For a few days there was a flurry of activity about a possible Byrne candidacy. Political analysts analyzed, commentators commented and one very foolish party political leader even endorsed Byrne, ignoring those in his party who wanted to run for the post themselves.

Mid-week Byrne tossed out a populist, anti-EU bombshell that had the analysts and commentators going into overdrive with their feverish speculation. Ireland was going to have a celebrity candidate.

Well, turns out the 77-year-old Byrne doesn't want to be President. That's two leading candidates out of the race in a matter of 10 days. That leaves us with four candidates, none of whom anyone seems to really want as President.

At this stage the Irish people are like that Little League coach looking down the bench wondering if there is anyone on his team who can simply throw strikes because those keenest to pitch cannot.

Thus, the search goes on for a suitable candidate and to that end we have two more possible "celebrity" candidates: former Gaelic football and hurling radio announcer Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, who will be 81 next week!, and 71-year-old Martin Sheen. Yes, that Martin Sheen, the former American President Jed Bartlett.

If you don't know Ó Muircheartaigh think of him as Ireland's Vin Scully. I'm not sure what qualifies him to be President, but if we're looking for someone to return the Presidency to what it used to be, say back in the 1940s, then Ó Muircheartaigh is probably as good a bet as any. Seems a thoroughly decent man, but he's 81. He'll be 88 when his term is up.

As for President Bartlett, sorry Martin Sheen, I don't know that anyone has actually asked him if he wants to be President of Ireland, but I suspect that if he gets wind of the fact that nobody here seems all that interested he may start asking awkward questions. Those who are campaigning to draft him as a candidate say he'd "lift the nation's spirits and strengthen economic & social ties to the US / diaspora."

Again, I'm not sure he'd be the worst candidate for the job, but I'm skeptical that he would be all that great on matters related to the "diaspora" or Irish-America, although he probably would give the nation a "lift." I just can't take him seriously, though.

It appears as if there was ever going to be a real candidate from the "diaspora" - not just a Hollywood star - that the door is wide open right now. Would an Irish-American (or Irish-Canadian, Irish-Australian, whatever) want the job? Would the people of Ireland vote for him/her?

I'm more confident that we could get a 'Yes' to the first question than the second. I really doubt that the people would vote for an Irish-American, unless, maybe, he/she was a member of the Kennedy family. There's that celebrity thing again.

Still, like I said, if ever there was a moment this is it. It will take a candidate who can create a whirlwind, to generate interest, to fill the vacuum in the campaign with energy, vitality, spontaneity, positivity, and of course, integrity and ability. Such a candidate could very well overcome the substantial impediment of not being "Irish" (as in born/raised/living in Ireland). However, the question remains, why would such a person want the job if nobody here with even half those qualities is interested?

Friday, August 12, 2011

New US Customs operation means ugly luggage is "out"

Its day has passed
"I have to have new luggage before I go to America again." So said my wife after her first venture through the new US Customs check at Dublin Airport.

She told me this three weeks ago in the departure lounge awaiting our flight to New York, but repeated it again yesterday. "I have to have new luggage before I go again."

You see, the trouble is, luggage is not something we ever invested much in. Although she'd rarely agree with me on such matters, she did go along with my view that luggage only has to be functional, not attractive. I pointed out that cases were tossed around and occasionally maltreated by airline and/or airport staff, so why I pay for something that looks good.

That was before our July 20 flight to America.

Until this year, customs checks on flights from Ireland were done in America. After arriving you collected your luggage and then walked through the customs checkpoint, occasionally being asked a question or two by a customs official and directed to put a case through an X-ray machine (or whatever). {Once, infamously, I managed to incur a $100 fine by blithely answering a customs officer's questions while my wife was busy rounding up a wandering toddler. By the time my wife arrived at the scene the official had our illicit Irish rashers (bacon) in her hand and was citing me for having contraband and lying about it, although I didn't so much lie about having the rashers as lie when I assured her that I knew what was in our cases.}

Anyway, starting this year, US Customs opened a pre-clearance operation at Dublin airport, which is an added extra to the immigration pre-clearance operation that has existed for years. Now, in addition to checking that the passports and other papers are in order, the American official will show you a picture of each of your suitcases and ask you to confirm that each one is yours.

This is where the problem with our bags arose. My wife was mortified by our luggage. While ugly cases may have been acceptable when we were just lifting them on to a belt before the flight and collecting them off a belt afterwards, they were suddenly rendered 'totally unacceptable' because some man called up a picture of our ugly cases on his computer screen, turned the screen towards us,  looked my wife in the eye and asked, "Is this yours?"

After muttering "Yes" three times, my wife walked away from the desk and towards our flight for our vacation feeling nothing but shame, burning shame.

With that the suitcase known in our family as "the carpet bag" was out; the case known as "the ratty, flea-bitten one" was also out. For the moment, the third case, a (possibly) passable nondescript red bag, has managed to survive the chop, but what she wants is "elegant" luggage.

My hopes that my wife might change her mind with the passing of time have been dashed. I'm mourning the loss of such easy-to-identify luggage, but next time a customs official turns his screen towards my wife and asks, "Is this yours" she wants to be able to look him back in the eye and say "Yes" with a bit more dignity.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Stupid, stupid, stupid - free hat day at the Orioles

It's almost three weeks now and I'm still shaking my head at the stupidity of the Baltimore Orioles and the Miller Brewing Company. On July 22 I was with my family among the small crowd who showed up for the Orioles' game against the Angels. It was Floppy Hat night.

I knew we were going to be in the area that night so I got tickets to go to the game. When we arrived at the gate we discovered the Orioles were giving away free hats. Among the four of us the only one who cared was my 10-year-old son. He was keen to get his hands on his free floppy hat.

I was first through the gate and was handed my hat. My son was next. "Sorry, the hats are only for those 21 and over." Thanks to the fact that the hats were sponsored by Miller Lite they could only be given out to those of legal drinking age.

This policy contains within it so much stupidity that it probably requires a PhD length thesis to do it justice, but the long and the short of it is that this is garbage.

First of all, the hats are so ridiculous that only a kid would want one. Sure many of those adults who got one wore it during the game – for a while – but the truth is only a kid would actually wear the hat. Why are the Orioles and Miller giving away hats that only kids would love, but only giving them to adults?

Next, if the team and beer company were only adhering to the law, then why not have two boxes of hats: one for adults with the beer logo and one for kids without? Maybe the kids' hats could have been sponsored by Build-A-Bear or whatever.

Next, if they were only for those 21 and over why were they not demanding ID from those who were in and around that age? My 16-year-old daughter was handed one by the same man who told my son 'no'. Anyone with half a brain knows why they weren't demanding ID before giving older teens these hats – because it's stupid, just as denying the younger kids was stupid.

Now I don't know if the team and Miller were (being seen as) obeying the law, but let's assume they were. Then the law is stupid too. My wife and I can better judge what's appropriate for our kids to wear than can any legislators. If anything I'd rather they barred my 16-year-old from getting a beer logo hat than my 10-year-old. He's still a long way from the beer-drinking age, legal or illegal.

Fortunately for us, we got three hats and only one of us wanted one. So my son has three hats. From what I could see there were no parents wearing the hats while their kids went without, but on the walk to the stadium I saw a man with four boys. I thought about him during the game and wondered how annoyed he was after hearing that the boys weren't entitled to hats. I'd have been fuming.

When I was a kid give‑away days at the ball park were for kids. They were part of what helped make you a baseball fan – that free batting helmet or batting glove or cap or bat (even if it was from the Yankees) – were cherished items. Nowadays it seems teams don't mind using give‑away days to alienate the next generation of fans. Stupid.

{Photo from mlb.com}

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

US State Department warned about dangerous gangs - in Ireland

Does any American considering a trip to any western European nation actually consult the State Department's travel warnings? I ask because just as London was exploding in waves of violent, riotous behavior the State Department's Irish warning was a point of discussion in Ireland.

The State Department warns Americans coming to Ireland that

"there have been a limited number of assaults on foreigners and tourists, including violence toward members of racial minority groups. There have also been several reported assaults in Dublin by small, unorganized gangs roaming the streets in the early morning hours after the pubs close, and a high incidence of petty crime in major tourist areas—mostly theft, burglary, and purse-snatching."

Truth is, I don't have a problem with the State Department's warning, but they could have humanized it and made it more accurate and useful for Americans by adding the following: 'Stuff happens everywhere, even very bad stuff, but if you're inclined to travel abroad there are few cities the size of Dublin that are as safe to visit or regions/states in America that are safer than Ireland. Keep your head and you'll be fine.'

What annoys me is that they didn't say anything like that, but on their page about travel to the United Kingdom they did. In addition to omitting any mention of petty crime in tourist areas, which I bet is similar to what we have here, they included the following: "As with any major metropolitan city, U.S. citizens are urged to be cautious and aware of their surroundings."

Why couldn't the note on Ireland include the same?

Funny enough, any American looking at the these two warnings might well conclude that the UK would be a safer bet. Maybe those people who heed State Department warnings are at this very moment cursing the government for not warning them that they might encounter 'large, organized gangs roaming the streets in the early evening hours when people are making their way to the theater.'

Of course you can't blame the State Department for not warning people about the riots. Nobody saw this coming. It does, however, illustrate how ludicrous the State Department's warnings are.

Still, Ireland and Dublin have a right to feel aggrieved when you compare the language of the two warnings. One says use common sense; the other gives you pause for thought. And this week anyone who heeded the two warnings is possibly seeking shelter from the rampaging horde and picking his way through the broken glass of destroyed store-fronts of some London neighborhoods.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Compared with Gettysburg, no one goes to Antietam

Two weeks ago I did a two day tour of the Antietam and Gettysburg battlefields. The contrast in what I experienced at the two battle sites was incredible.

If you can say this about a battlefield, Gettysburg is 'hot'. A massive visitor center, a multitude of parking lots, loads of bus tours all add up to thousands of daily visitors. {I'm guessing, but I was there on July 22 and I'm sure in excess of 10,000 visited that day.}

The gift shop at Gettysburg is a supermarket-sized store full of tee-shirts, baseball caps, books, videos, knickknacks, replica weapons and uniforms. It's huge. Even the fee for the visitor center is big - $10.50 per adult and $6.50 per child. That's $34 for a family of four.

Antietam is only 40 miles from Gettysburg, just across the border in Maryland. Based on official numbers, Antietam gets approximately 25% of the visitors that Gettysburg gets. I don't know how those figures are derived, but from what I saw 10% would be more like it. When I was there I saw few visitors and no buses at all.

Antietam has a small visitor center, a small parking lot and a very modest-sized gift shop. Oh, and it also has a friendlier admission price of $6 per family.

I'd been to Gettysburg in '95 when it was more like today's Antietam experience. I don't know what exactly has driven the change since then, other than possibly the impact of the movie Gettysburg, but today Gettysburg is a big time attraction. Reminded me of being at the Washington Monument or Independence Hall, only way out in the middle of nowhere.

Which is better to visit? I couldn't say, really. Gettysburg has the name and is, I suppose, the more significant battle. All Americans should get to Little Round Top or the Wheatfield or the Angle at some point.

View from Little Round Top

Yet the Battle of Antietam is pretty important too. The battle took place on September 17, 1862, which is still the bloodiest day in American history. It was easier to get my head around Antietam - Cornfield, Sunken Road, Burnside's Bridge. I found the key locations at Antietam somewhat more visually evocative, but maybe that's just me.

The point is that it's hard to choose between the two of them, yet one battlefield attracts a million more visitors annually than the other. I guess if someone told me they could only get to one, I'd probably go for Antietam simply because it's so much less crowded, but you probably need some idea as to what you're looking at before you go.

Also, from my an Irish perspective, standing on the ground in and around the "sunken road" or "bloody lane" is extremely poignant. It ranks right up there with Fredericksburg in significance. It was there that the Irish Brigade was first cut down in large numbers and, if you're interested in the Irish Brigade, Antietam is probably more crucial than is Gettysburg. {Although I prefer the Irish Brigade monument at Gettysburg - above - than the new one at Antietam - right.}