Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Irish people, shivering in their own homes, have only themselves to blame

Irish people have been turning off the heating in their homes because of the cost of gas
Irish people have been turning off the heating in their
homes because of the cost of gas

Saturday's Irish Independent reported that many Irish people are turning off the heat and shivering in their homes thanks to the cost of natural gas in Ireland. Frozen Irish people is a result of a combination of the collapse in the Irish economy and the doubling in the residential price of natural gas over the last 7 years.


The real kicker here is that for the most part Irish people have no one to blame but ourselves. In order to ensure that natural gas is as expensive as possible we have added taxes onto the price of gas and worked tirelessly to stymie any attempt at increasing production of natural gas in Ireland.

The additional "carbon tax" was added a few years ago. The purpose of this tax was two-fold: (1) to provide subsidies for the wind energy production boondoggle err, industry and (2) to encourage Irish people to simply use less gas - that is, they want us to heat our homes less and cook less.

At the time the carbon tax was imposed on us the Irish government was a coalition of a big party - Fianna Fáil - and a small party - the Green Party. The carbon tax was a case of the Green Party tail wagging the Fianna Fáil dog. Yet, even after we threw them out of office and obliterated the Greens' political representation the new government didn't have the courage to reverse the "carbon tax."

The carbon tax is frustrating, but not as frustrating as what's going on with the production of natural gas. It's becoming increasingly clear that the seabeds around Ireland are rich in oil and natural gas, especially natural gas. Yet we have been unable to properly exploit this resource thanks to small groups of protesters holding up production.

It's the same with the gas held deep beneath the rocks in Ireland. The process to free that gas and bring it to the surface so that it can be distributed to the homes and schools and businesses of Ireland is called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The introduction of fracking is the source of America's energy revolution, which has seen prices of natural gas fall sharply and will lead America to energy independence. Fracking could well work a similar miracle in Ireland, but we lack the political will to ensure that local concerns are allayed and trouble-making environmentalists* are sidelined.

We can't even import cheap natural gas from America thanks to the ridiculous regulatory situation. Hess Corporation and other partners want to import liquefied natural gas from America to a new facility in Kerry, but despite getting approval from the planners in 2007 the facility is still mired in red tape and may remain so through 2014.

So for the foreseeable future Ireland will be denied cheap natural gas, whether Irish or imported from America. The carbon tax, however, will remain as a daily kick in the head, an additional extra cost on top of our exorbitantly expensive natural gas. The Irish government's position remains "keep shivering." We vote for them, though, so we have only oursevles to blame.

* The ability of environmentalist protesters to stifle this industry actually makes me wonder if we'll ever see the oil coming ashore in Cork.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

If the Irish are going to fawn over a foreign leader it should be China's Xi rather than Obama

China's new leader, Xi Jinping at the Cliffs of Moher in
County Clare during his visit to Ireland last February.
Pat Hayes, Mayor of Clare is with him.
{Photo: MaxPix.ie}
Last week's announcement that the next year's G8 summit will be in Northern Ireland set heart afluttering south of the border. 'Do you think ... Could he ... Would he?' A little shutter of excitement at the thought that maybe, just maybe President Obama will come amongst us again.

Memories of his triumphant 12-hour 2011 'homecoming' visit are still fresh, but oh, how the Irish people would love to have even fresher memories. Now, thanks to the G8 summit, there is real hope.

Forgive me if I'm a tad cynical about the Irish hero-worship of President Obama, but his role in Irish affairs thus far has consisted of (a) having a pint of Guinness in a town he'd never heard of celebrating roots he never knew he had and  (b) denigrating Ireland as a tax haven.

I regularly hear that "Obama loves the Irish." Hmm. I'm sure he loves being loved by the Irish, but that's not quite the same thing. If you tell me that President Clinton loves the Irish I'd probably buy that. But President Obama? I don't think so.
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If we want to prostrate ourselves before a foreign leader it would be far better to do so in the full knowledge that we're doing so cynically in the hope that we will get something out of it. That would be preferable to having grown men and women slobber adoringly over a man who is, after all, a politician while seeking nothing in return other than that he accept our adulation.

So if we're going to restrict ourselves to only cynical and hypocritical boot-licking then the question is: Who to woo? Angela Merkel is the obvious choice since she holds our future in her hands, but something tells me false fawning will get us nowhere with her. Vladimir Putin? That would require too much debasement on our part. We have to be able to draw the line somewhere. Prime Minister Harper of Canada would be an intriguing choice because so many Irish people are heading to Canada these days, but we should be able to find plenty of common ground with him without being untrue to ourselves.

No, for me there is only one choice: China's new leader Xi Jinping. We should set our sights on Xi because China is an increasingly powerful player in the global economy, China's government plays a big role in the country's economy and because we have already made a good start with him.

Xi spent a few days in Ireland back in February and by all accounts the visit was a success (aren't they all?). Skepticism aside, the Wall Street Journal's recent long profile article about Xi  was accompanied by only one photograph of him: a  picture of Xi kicking a Gaelic football at Croke Park in Dublin. The picture emphasized Xi's political skills, but also the success of the Irish in entertaining the future leader of the world's largest nation.

At the time of his visit Xi was only in line to be China's next leader, but now it has been confirmed that Xi will be at the top of the Chinese government for the next ten years. He was important then; he's more important now.

During Xi's time in Ireland the NY Times commented on the fact that Ireland's transformation from a poor, agricultural nation into a rich, high-tech one "fascinates Chinese officials." Xi too, apparently, as he spliced in technology and education deals with the Irish government when he wasn't charming the Irish and being charmed by them.

Those few days in February may well turn out to be the most important visit by any current foreign leader, including President Barack Obama's. Xi's visit to Ireland was longer, lower key and much more substantive.

Next year Xi will be in Northern Ireland for the G8 summit. It would be a real coup to lure him south for more "getting to know you" time. More pictures of Xi in romantic Irish settings will do no harm for the exploding Chinese tourist trade. Barack Obama may have hold of Irish heartstrings and Angela Merkel Irish purse strings, but Xi controls both Chinese heartstrings and purse strings and that makes him the most attractive candidate for Irish pandering. Let's get to it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Mets are too dumb to win

Jeff Wilpon, son of the Mets primary owner
Fred Wilpon. The Wilpons just don't
know what they're doing.
{Photo from - SportsBusinessDaily.com)
I'm a Met fan and there's nothing I can do about it. I moved 3,000 miles away and still I'm a Met fan. I spent years with no television or radio coverage of the Mets, with not even a newspaper that covers the Mets and still I'm a Met fan. It's a life sentence.

At this stage of my life I know it's pointless to say anything like, "That's it. This time they've really gone and done it and now I'm done with them." It's pointless because I know that no matter what stupidity the team's front office engages in that when Opening Day comes I'll be transfixed, rooting for whatever collection of players is wearing the Mets' uniforms.

But let's get this out there right now: if you're a Met fan and a parent and you have a child young enough that they haven't yet selected their baseball team you should, no you MUST think long and hard before you start showering them with Met caps and shirts and other paraphernalia that will lead them down the same baseball path as you've trod. Why? Because the Mets are run by stupid people and they ain't gonna be gettin any smarter any time soon.

Yesterday the Mets released their schedule and announced their single game ticket prices for the 2013 season. Tickets to Opening Day against the San Diego Padres on April 1 are on sale starting at $63. Sixty-three dollars.

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Read More:

Mets manager Terry Collins - making all the right calls

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The Emerald Diamond: The story of Baseball in Ireland: Video
_____________

For your hard-earned $63 you'll gain entrance to Citi Field with a seat in the upper deck in left field, which is almost within visual range of home plate. The game sounds great out there. Of course, the $63 doesn't get you a parking space or a scorecard or a box of cracker jacks. Or, remembering it's April 1 in Queens, you're more likely to want a hot bowl of soup. That'll cost you too.

Given the quality of the team the Mets are going to put on the field next season this is arrogant. Given that the Mets have shown a willingness to trade or simply lose the two most loved players left on the team - David Wright and R.A. Dickey - this is contemptuous.

Yet, if I thought they were going to sell those tickets and that this wasn't a policy that will have a long term negative impact on the franchise I'd say it's annoying, but good business.

However, they are not going to sell those tickets for far away seats at $63 a piece or many of the other seriously overpriced tickets on sale now. That they put single game tickets on sale before Christmas is an indication of how badly their season ticket sales campaign is going. There will be thousands of empty seats at Citi Field come April 1.

That's my biggest issue here. This ticket pricing strategy is an indication that those in charge of the Mets as a business, Fred and Jeff Wilpon who own most of the team, don't know what they're doing. The owners don't know how to maximize the value of their investment.

They don't know how to run a baseball team and they don't know how to run a business. For a few brief years the Mets had a good team thanks to the munificence of Bernie Madoff. The Mets' owners were one of the beneficiaries of Madoff's Ponzi scheme and those ill-gotten dollars helped build a strong team.

Now Madoff is in jail and the Mets owners are repaying a huge chunk of the profits they got from Madoff's funds. They actually have to run the Mets as a profitable business and they don't know how. Oh, and they have repeatedly vowed not to sell the club.

So the Mets are stuck with the current owners and, of course, we fans are stuck with the Mets. This nuclear winter we currently find ourselves in is going to get a lot darker and colder before there is any upside in Flushing. So think long and hard before you buy that newborn that Mets onesie you saw. Your son, your daughter or even your niece or nephew might have a winnable lawsuit against you in twenty years time.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Irish citizens voting in American elections? Better if Irish Times focused on disenfranchised Irish emigrants

Over 40,000 Irish citizens emigrated last year.
The Irish Times calls for "four more years" in its editorial today with its endorsement of the Obama Presidency. "Barack Obama can’t walk on water, but this global village is a safer, better place for his years in office."

The Irish Times editorial is completely unsurprising. I doubt there's a newspaper in Europe endorsing Romney. Still, there was one line in the editorial that really got to me: "The truth is, however, that in this shrinking, interconnected global village, the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will affect our lives more directly than most of our own politicians – if we don’t have a vote, perhaps we should."

It's an absurd view, but one that will be expressed many times today throughout Ireland, Britain, probably all over Europe. Everyone seems to feel that America exerts such influence over their lives that they should have a say in who runs the country.
____________
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Voters in Pennsylvania and Ohio will become rich states if they vote for Romney

Ireland: prisoners can vote, emigrants cannot
_____________

It's silly, but it's kind of grating too. Why America? What about Britain? Britain exerts more influence in Ireland than does America. Why doesn't the Irish Times suggest that Irish people (not talking about Northern Ireland, of course) should have a say in who runs the United Kingdom?

Or what about Germany? The German government has more influence over the lives of the people of Ireland than does the American government. Angela Merkel is a much bigger presence in our lives in this little Eurozone nation than is Barack Obama.

That's all by the by to be honest, but I am interested in the Irish Times's suggestion that non-citizens should have a vote in a country's election. What's interesting about it is that Ireland is a nation that has no problem disenfranchising a bloc of Irish citizens - emigrants.

Ireland has a lot of emigrants. There may be all sorts of reasons why Irish citizens choose to leave Ireland, but it's not a coincidence that the largest emigrant groups are those who leave during economic downturns. Many of those harbor dreams of returning to live in Ireland someday. They would like to have a say in how the country is run, maybe help lay the groundwork for their return by voting for candidates who support policies that make their return more likely.

They're not allowed to be involved in Irish politics, however. Instead, for Ireland's emigrants it's a case of 'of out of sight, out of mind.' "You left so you have no say in how the country's governed. Get over it."

I don't recall the Irish Times demanding that this denial of the rights of Irish citizens to a say in how their own country is run be corrected.

This is a legitimate issue for the Irish Times to editorialize on - disenfranchised Irish people. They should get off their hobby-horse about America's election and actually urge a meaningful change in the Irish system, one that will actually reinstate the legitimate rights of some Irish citizens.

The Irish Times needs to get real, stop fantasizing about Irish people voting in America's elections and campaign to change this real denial of Irish voting rights.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Following the election from New York no different than from Ireland

Debates between the candidates are on TV in New York, but
neither candidate is campaigning in the state. 
Wow! Election season in America is crazy, but by crazy I mean weird crazy, not exciting crazy. I can't get over how much things have changed since I was last in the country for an election.

I've spent last six weeks in America, upstate New York to be exact. It's the first time I've been in the country during election time since 1990 and the first time for a presidential contest since 1984. {That realization has taken my breath away. I was only once of voting age and in the country for an election for President.}

A lot has changed since '84. I was a student that year and I remember the campaigning on the campus and off the campus in New York. People were pushing their candidate. I remember ads too, particularly Walter Mondale's "Where's the beef?" ad. There is none of that in upstate New York this time.

In upstate NY voters can follow the campaign, but they are not engaged in it. I saw no campaigning for President and there are virtually no television ads for either candidate. The reason for this is clear — it's because the state of New York is not a "battleground state." Let's face it, if New York is "in play" Mitt Romney has won. So neither candidate is spending money on ads in this area.

Still, it's odd that there are no ads for President. It wasn't like that in 1984. It isn't just television (or radio) ads either. There are very few yard signs or bumper stickers or anything associated with the vote for President.
____________
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_____________

Obviously you can follow the campaign, but it's not much different than following the campaign from Ireland. In fact it is just like being in Ireland because everyone in upstate New York is watching what is happening in Ohio and Florida and Iowa and Nevada and anywhere the contest is close. In other words, they're watching what's happening elsewhere because it's not happening where they are.

Of course, people in the area can read about the campaign, follow the candidates closely (and endlessly) on cable news channels, watch the debates, etc just as you can in Ireland. But it's not really participatory democracy.

New Yorkers will vote for the candidate of their choice, but everyone knows that the vote is pretty much meaningless. I don't remember that from 1984, but again I was a student. My memory is that people in New York State were urging voters to choose one of the two candidates (Reagan or Mondale). Today neither candidate makes any effort to woo New York's voters.

Maybe the people of New York should count themselves lucky based on the political ads I have seen. They're atrocious. I didn't watch a lot of TV, but I couldn't enjoy a baseball game without being assaulted verbally and visually by ads for congressional candidates and the occasional state government candidate. The ads are loud, inane, annoying, but, most of all, insulting. They insult your intelligence. All the candidates are for "jobs" and against cutting medicare. Meaningless, childish nonsense.

Those are the positive ads. The negative ads are far worse. One ad I saw spoke about how the other guy "worked in Manhattan." Oh my! Not that! Another ad mentioned how the candidate is backed by President Obama who got campaign funds from someone who behaved a lot like ... (forbidding music) Bernie Madoff. Again, I shudder.

Actually, it's a total turn-off. I can see why so many people are alienated by politics. I can only imagine what it must be like to be living in Ohio where President Obama and Mitt Romney are spending their hundreds of millions of dollars on ads, positive and negative.

Is any of this new? I don't know, but it's new to me. If it was like this in the 70s and 80s I don't remember. Maybe because there are so many channels there are more political ads? Maybe it's the fact that I'm mostly tuning into the news or sports? Maybe it's because there is a recession and the political money is buying more ad time than it would if the economy was doing better? Maybe it's all of the above; I don't know.

What I do know is we don't get these kinds of ads on Irish television. They're not allowed. Same goes for Britain. Maybe that explains why during Irish elections the resources go on leaflets and posters and door-to-door campaigning. During an election campaign Irish people like to tell you they get fed up with political campaigners calling to the door, but that is far, far better than having to endure the constant barrage of TV ads American campaigns bring.

I would much rather have two people ring my bell every night, endure posters on the lampposts and leaflets through my door than bear the repetitive, ridiculous, repulsive television commercials. I really don't understand how you Americans put up with it.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Coming soon to County Cork 'Dallas' - Oil industry could change Ireland forever

Josh Henderson, who plays John Ross Ewing III on Dallas.
{Photo: International Business Times}
Oil has been found under the seabed off the coast of Cork in Ireland and the company that found the oil says the field "should yield 280m barrels of oil."

280 MILLION barrels of oil and at $100 a barrel that is ... wait ... hold on ... oh forget it - a whole pile of cash.

Ohhh, there's going be to some wealth kicking around Cork all right. There'll be a lot of rich people. Rich Cork people. Dubliners will be sick.

I can see it all now. Cork will soon be dominated by huge, ugly, glass skyscrapers where in the top floors oil millionaires named John Joe will chase even more millions and young female minions. These same men will also snap up Cork's grand old estates of the landed gentry so that they can carry on the hard work of greed and lust in an 18th century manor house surrounded by a few hundred acres of lush pasture land. It'll be great!

They'll insist on displaying their love for Irish culture by giving their estates fake Gaelic names like Áibhéalín - meaningless in Irish - but they'll pronounce it as Abilene as in Texas and they'll feel good about themselves for spelling it as if it's a native Irish word.

These new Hibernian oil barons will be known as Oilbernians. It won't be a case of the Celtic Tiger reborn. It will be far worse than that.
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Read More:
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______________________

Without a doubt Hollywood get wind of this and will jump at this story of all this new found money in the old world. The idea of the misbehaving Oilbernian will be too good to pass up.

It could be a movie. I'm sure you could do justice to the story in a movie, but I'm hoping for television. Not just any old television either, but the show that I believe will be used a model by the Oilbernians - Dallas.

Dallas should come to Cork. Dallas will come to Cork. I'm sure of it. Just think about it: the Ewings in Cork.

Dallas was massively popular in Ireland in its heyday in the 80s. I don't know if the new show is or will be as popular, but, regardless, when the film crews and, especially, the actors arrive the people of Ireland will go gaga. The show's makers won't be able to resist that kind of pull.

So John-Ross Ewing will come to Ireland to do some deals with a (hopefully) glammed up version of the real-life John Joe. And John Ross will find that Middleton's whiskey and John Joe's niece, Bridget, appeal to him a great deal. It'll all get very messy when John Ross isn't put off any of his pursuits, including Bridget, when everyone discovers that John Ross's great-granddaddy and John Joe's great-granddad were brothers.

Of course an attractive, sexy, greedy, conniving woman will have to have come with John Ross. She'll roam the highways and byways of south Cork looking for Bridget or some dirt that she can use to disgrace her, to separate her from John Ross.

Eventually she'll find Bridget's home is in Youghal and she'll want to go there. And then it will happen. The moment will have arrived. That moment I've been waiting for for so long, a quarter century, since I first heard how Youghal is pronounced.

The woman will be driving along Cork's small, windy roads, getting lost regularly. She'll be wearing next to nothing, well other than a raincoat over a sweater and a shirt or two, long trousers, two pairs of socks and wellington boots - gotta keep it somewhat realistic - when she'll slows down to speak to a local lad of about 19 years of age walking along the road. This besotted, be-spotted young man will stare in utter awe as the Texan beauty slowly and drawly asks him, "Y'all from Youghal?"

I'll leap out of my chair and punch the air. "Y'all from Youghal?" I'll shout it out loud a dozen times or more. I've been waiting so long to hear a Texan to speak those words. I'll laugh and sing it out again and again.

At some point it will pass from vaguely amusing to annoying to worrying to the point where my children are crying and my wife is calling for the men in white coats to come take me away. I'll go happily too - asking each of them in turn if "Y'all from Youghal?"

What of John Ross, John Joe and the two women I hear you ask. I don't know. I can't get past that moment, but it will be great when Cork is rich on oil and Dallas comes to the Rebel County.

* Of course, given the prejudices of Dublin people, I'm sure they'd have a different television show in mind for Cork people and their new found oil riches - The Beverly Hillbillies.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mitt Romney should have gone after Barney not Big Bird because PBS is a dinosaur

Mitt Romney wants to save money by cutting the
government subsidy for PBS.
During Wednesday's Presidential debate Mitt Romney said he was prepared to de-fund PBS even though he loves Big Bird and Jim Lehrer. Romney was right to take a stand against PBS, but not because it is going to save money for the American taxpayers, but because PBS is an unnecessary government intrusion in the marketplace.

In 1970 when PBS was born there weren't many television channels and educational or niche programs  wouldn't have been able to find a place on one of America's three main networks. That was the thinking anyway.

Whatever about the 1970s that justification doesn't apply today. The costs of broadcasting and getting that signal into American homes has collapsed. The market has fragmented and there are literally hundreds if not thousands of channels available to viewers. All those channels are only begging for content that will bring eyeballs.

I daresay that Big Bird, Barney, Jim Lehrer, Charlie Rose and Downton Abbey would bring eyeballs wherever they happened to go. They would find homes on one channel or another. Heck, I bet even 45-year-old repeats of Lawrence Welk would find a slot on some obscure digital cable channel. {Okay, don't hold me to that one.} And, of course, broadband is blurring the lines between what is television and what is internet. Every program on PBS could be shown on TV or on the web, even Lawrence Welk.

____________
Read More:

Attack on Big Bird by Mitt Romney most interesting moment says viewers -- GOP candidate won but will PBS attack be most remembered from first debate?

Irish broadcaster RTE accused of Democratic Party bias

Even from Galway, Mitt Romney trounced Barack Obama in debate -- Irish shocked, but Romney won tough debates in Boston in 2002
_____________

Again it's not about the money. PBS gets about $300m per year from the government, which represents about $1 per person per year. Obviously not a whole heckuva lot.

However, it is completely unnecessary and should be cut. Actually PBS is not just unnecessary but it actually distorts the market. All those free-market television stations and web sites should not be competing for viewers (& subscribers and advertisers) with a government-funded corporation.

We have the same problem in Ireland where the national broadcaster, RTE, is also distorting the market. Only in Ireland the cost is not $1 per person per year, but €160 ($208) per household per year - an outrageous amount.

At least PBS isn't spending tons of money to outbid commercial stations for the rights to major sporting events as RTE does. At least PBS isn't outbidding commercial stations for the rights to popular dramas and comedies as RTE does. At least PBS isn't outbidding the commercial stations for the few half-decent broadcasters in the country as RTE does.

The Irish argument in favor of keeping RTE within the cossetted public sector is that the quality of the news coverage other programming would suffer if not for RTE and it's massive tax. My response is always, "how do you know? We've never tried it."

Barney does not need PBS
to get on TV
{Photo: PBSKids.org}
I don't know if the quality of the news coverage would be as good if RTE was privatized, but at least I wouldn't be forced to pay for political programming that is at odds with my own views. That's the same for everyone in Ireland, other than the few well-heeled, liberal, south Dublin people whose views RTE expresses unreservedly.

RTE is so expensive that it's beyond just an annoyance that it gets taxpayers' money. It's immoral, people on small incomes paying for the the commercially non-viable programming beloved of the better off.

PBS is much the same, but the amounts are much smaller per person. Still, if Swan Lake can't find a sufficient audience to make it a commercial proposition on TV how is it right to take any money from those who have no interest in ballet to provide it for those who do?

It makes no sense whatever in today's day and age. You want to watch Swan Lake? Find it on YouTube if you can't find it on one of the hundreds of TV channels available today. There is no excuse for public funding for PBS. That model is as dated as a rotary telephone. It's a dinosaur and should be extinct.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Mitt Romney wants to save money by cutting the
government subsidy for PBS.
During Wednesday's Presidential debate Mitt Romney said he was prepared to de-fund PBS even though he loves Big Bird and Jim Lehrer. Romney was right to take a stand against PBS, but not because it is going to save money for the American taxpayers, but because PBS is an unnecessary government intrusion in the marketplace.

In 1970 when PBS was born there weren't many television channels and educational or niche programs  wouldn't have been able to find a place on one of America's three main networks.* That was the thinking anyway.

Whatever about the 1970s that justification doesn't apply today. The costs of broadcasting and getting that signal into American homes has collapsed. The market has fragmented and there are literally hundreds if not thousands of channels available to viewers. All those channels are only begging for content that will bring eyeballs.

I daresay that Big Bird, Barney, Jim Lehrer, Charlie Rose and Downton Abbey would bring eyeballs wherever they happened to go. They would find homes on one channel or another. Heck, I bet even 45-year-old repeats of Lawrence Welk would find a slot on some obscure digital cable channel. {Okay, don't hold me to that one.} And, of course, broadband is blurring the lines between what is television and what is internet. Every program on PBS could be shown on TV or on the web, even Lawrence Welk.

____________
Read More:


Attack on Big Bird by Mitt Romney most interesting moment says viewers -- GOP candidate won but will PBS attack be most remembered from first debate?

Irish broadcaster RTE accused of Democratic Party bias

Even from Galway, Mitt Romney trounced Barack Obama in debate -- Irish shocked, but Romney won tough debates in Boston in 2002

_____________


Again it's not about the money. PBS gets about $300m per year from the government, which represents about $1 per person per year. Obviously not a whole heckuva lot.

However, it is completely unnecessary and should be cut. Actually PBS is not just unnecessary but it actually distorts the market. All those free-market television stations and web sites should not be competing for viewers (& subscribers and advertisers) with a government-funded corporation.

We have the same problem in Ireland where the national broadcaster, RTE, is also distorting the market. Only in Ireland the cost is not $1 per person per year, but €160 ($208) per household per year - an outrageous amount.

At least PBS isn't spending tons of money to outbid commercial stations for the rights to major sporting events as RTE does. At least PBS isn't outbidding commercial stations for the rights to popular dramas and comedies as RTE does. At least PBS isn't outbidding the commercial stations for the few half-decent broadcasters in the country as RTE does.

The Irish argument in favor of keeping RTE within the cossetted public sector is that the quality of the news coverage other programming would suffer if not for RTE and it's massive tax. My response is always, "how do you know? We've never tried it."

Barney does not need PBS
to get on TV
{Photo: PBSKids.org}
I don't know if the quality of the news coverage would be as good if RTE was privatized, but at least I wouldn't be forced to pay for political programming that is at odds with my own views. That's the same for everyone in Ireland, other than the few well-heeled, liberal, south Dublin people whose views RTE expresses unreservedly.

RTE is so expensive that it's beyond just an annoyance that it gets taxpayers' money. It's immoral, people on small incomes paying for the the commercially non-viable programming beloved of the better off.

PBS is much the same, but the amounts are much smaller per person. Still, if Swan Lake can't find a sufficient audience to make it a commercial proposition on TV how is it right to take any money from those who have no interest in ballet to provide it for those who do.

It makes no sense whatever in today's day and age. You want to watch Swan Lake? Find it on YouTube if you can't find it on one of the hundreds of TV channels available today. There is no excuse for public funding for PBS. That model is as dated as a rotary telephone. It's a dinosaur and should be extinct.

*Even as a kid I thought that was a dubious proposition because I remember stumping my teacher when I asked why Mr Rogers was on public television and Captain Kangaroo was on a commercial channel. I could see no obvious difference in the content of the two programs.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Fourth anniversary of Ireland's bank guarantee, which guaranteed nothing but national misery

Brian Cowen (left) and the late Brian Lenihan
the bank guarantee is their legacy..
The day of the "bank guarantee" doesn't have the ring of a momentous occasion, the sort that will feature in history books for generations. Yet, in Ireland, the day of the "bank guarantee" ranks right up there with all the other tragic dates in Irish history.

Granted the bank guarantee doesn't rival the Famine in terms of epic tragedy, nor does it really compare with any of Ireland's lamentable, failed uprisings or the Civil War, but nonetheless that date of the Irish bank guarantee will be one that will live pretty much "in infamy" for generations to come.

September 30, 2008 was a black day for Ireland. From that day what remained of Ireland's sovereignty and independence was doomed. The guarantee Ireland into a financial straight-jacket that gradually morphed into shackles.

On that day the Irish government pledged that all the debts owed by Ireland's banks were backed by the state. €400 billion - most of it owed to banks in other EU states or the US - was now guaranteed by us, the taxpayers of Ireland, so that those non-Irish banks would not experience the pain that the free market would have imposed on them.

I remember that morning very clearly. I remember listening to the news as I drove, mumbling to the radio. Two weeks earlier Lehman Brothers had collapsed and that was bad enough, but suddenly, with the Irish government's announcement of the bank guarantee everything seemed much darker.

I was still sitting in my car listening for reaction and trying to understand exactly what the bank guarantee meant when I heard popular talk show host Gerry Ryan proclaim his pride in the Irish government for taking so bold an action. I knew what he meant - the guarantee did seem like a massive preemptive strike to deaden talk of bank failures - but I remember practically shouting at the radio that the government better have had a good, long look at the banks' books before they guaranteed them. "We're all on the hook, now Gerry", I shouted before I finally turned off the radio and got out of the car.
____________

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Ireland is no country for young men or women anymore -- Sky high taxes, lower incomes means only bad news for the young




Irish women and children first to suffer as government cutbacks hit


_____________


To be honest I didn't fully grasp all the implications at the time, but I knew Brian Cowen (Taoiseach - Prime Minister) and Brian Lenihan (Minister for Finance) had just bet the house - our house - on the banks. I trusted that they knew what was in the banks' books. They didn't. I trusted that the top bankers had been straight with the Cowen and Lenihan. They hadn't. I trusted that the people at the top of Ireland's political and financial food chain would not squander Irish independence. They did.


Now four years on it is clear that the bank guarantee was a calamity. Perhaps there were no good answers at the end of September 2008. Perhaps we were facing a disaster regardless of what path our government took. We will never know for sure, but we do know that things could hardly be much worse.

Over the past four years the economy has declined sharply and unemployment has exploded to around 15% and now that other age-old Irish phenomenon - emigration, which most of us had thought was gone for good - has surged back into the headlines. Last year the net emigration figure was 34,000, up from 27,000 the year before.

That figure will not fall any time soon either. Once emigration gets going it is hard to stop. In fact, if the economy in Britain begins to pick up the outflow from Ireland will only accelerate. Some people like to point out that a large chunk of those who have left recently are "foreign nationals." That is true, but the rate that "Irish people" are leaving is also rising.

Regardless, what matters is not the origins of those leaving, but the age and it is mostly young adults who are leaving. This is only going to worsen Ireland's economic situation because people in their 20's pay the most taxes compared with what they demand from the state.

As the number of young people declines so does the amount available to the state to pay state workers, whose salaries the state has vowed not to cut, and to fund education, health and the social programs for the elderly, the disabled and the young.

This is generating a dependency bubble in Ireland, where more people will be relying on fewer people paying into the system. It's unpalatable but inevitable that cuts are coming to all those dependent on state funding. Otherwise the bubble will burst.

All of this can be dated back to the bank guarantee. Of course the guarantee was a reaction to a crisis created by mismanagement and malfeasance over a number of years, but the guarantee was the wrong step at the time. Too few questions were asked of the bankers. Too little of the burden was passed on to the non-Irish banks that had lent - recklessly - to Ireland's banks. Cowen and Lenihan understood too little about banking and finance and risk and, as it turns out, too little on gambling. They bet; we lost.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Irish government minister wants us to be mature enough to accept we're only children

Róisín Shortall – Minister of State in the Irish
government. She 'knows' the Irish people 
need to be minded by the state.
{Photo from Labour.ie}
The sale of alcohol in Ireland is declining, but a new survey has allowed Róisín Shortall, a Minister of State in the Irish government, to declare that it is "crucial people reduce their level of alcohol consumption."

If Shortall had said that it is "crucial that those people who drink too much reduce their level of alcohol consumption" I wouldn't have a problem with her. That isn't good enough for Shortall, however. No Shortall doesn't care about the statistics, is convinced that Irish people drink too much and wants to punish us all for the sins of the few.

On Monday Shortall said, "We need to move towards a much more mature approach to life" by which she means we need to grow up and accept that we're babies and that the state needs to mind us. As far as Shortall's concerned the Irish people are not adult enough to judge for themselves how much alcohol they should drink.
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Irish health Minister Roisín Shorthall's anti-alcohol crusade

Celebrating the man behind the pint of Guinness - big names celebrate Arthur’s Day

Irish government promotes Guinness with President Obama, but wants to stop it sponsoring sporting events
_____________

Although Shortall hasn't got her proposal past her cabinet colleagues yet, her wish is set a minimum price for alcohol and, thus, eliminate the cheapest beer and wine. Cheap beer is the problem as far as Shortall is concerned, not a lack of self-control among some drinkers.

Shortall has company in her belief that the people must be "mature" enough to realize they're immature. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's war on large sodas, iced coffees, whatever is part of the same "we know what's best for you and we're going to force you to accept that" mentality. These are the new Puritans determined to legislate against human weakness.

Just as there are people in New York who are too heavy there are Irish people who drink too much. I wish they didn't drink too much. Regardless I the state should not use the force of law to try and stop them because (a) a minimum price for alcohol will almost certainly not accomplish anything, (b) it's wrong to punish those who can enjoy an inexpensive beer or glass of wine and (c) it's not the state's place to stop people getting drunk, unless they become a public nuisance.

Shortall isn't only targeting cheap beer and wine. She would like to see an end to alcohol companies sponsoring sporting events. She also had a go at a go at Guinness and it's Arthur's Day celebration, which despite the fact it's a contrivance is also promoting a successful Irish exporting employer and attracts tourists to the country. Enda Kenny needs to take Shortall aside and tell her it's time to be mature and forget her crusade and stop knocking one of the few Irish success stories.

By all means Shortall should encourage people to "drink responsibly" (a.k.a. less) and lead a campaign in schools aimed at teens to warn of the dangers of alcohol. They are, after all, children and can be handled as such. I am not nor are any of the other of the country's adults. Stop treating us as if we were.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Irish Brigade at Antietam - passing on the stories of the Irish in America

Men of the 'Fighting 69th,' an Irish Brigade regiment.
{Photo from the 69th NYSV Historical Association}
Monday was the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day in American history. On September 17, 1862 the Union and Confederate armies met in a wicked, and ultimately, indecisive battle in western Maryland that left over 20,000 Americans dead or wounded.

Given the large number of Irishmen who saw action in the American Civil War, that day must also rank up there as one of the bloodiest days for the Irish. General Francis Meagher's Irish Brigade, which included a portion, by no means all of the Irish who fought in the war, was in the thick of some of the deadliest fighting.

By chance I was in Albany, NY on Sunday and went to a lecture on the Irish Brigade in the American Civil War given by Siena College History Professor Tom Kelly (retired). Professor Kelly's talk ranged over the entire war, but as he pointed out that the Irish Brigade really made its name at two battles: Antietam and Fredericksburg.

____________
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AOH rededicate Boston cemetery to honor Irishmen who fought in Civil War

The Irish in the American Civil War: 150,000 in Union Army, 25,000 in Confederate

Compared with Gettysburg, no one goes to Antietam
_____________


Photograph of  dead Confederate
soldiers at the 'Bloody Lane'
after the Battle of Antietam.
{Photo from NPS.gov
Early in the war the Irish Brigade earned a reputation for valor and discipline in battle (and indiscipline and intemperance in camp.) Of course when a unit gets a 'good reputation' it is then often assigned to undertake the toughest jobs. That was the case for the Irish Brigade.

At Antietam the Irish Brigade was tasked with attacking Confederate troops, who were massed in a natural trench, a 'sunken road' created by man and nature over hundreds of years. Both the Irish Brigade attackers and the Confederate defenders suffered terribly.

When the battle was over the number of Confederate dead in the sunken road led to it being renamed as "Bloody Lane." The Irish Brigade's dead and wounded were also numerous and spread over a small bit of the large field immediately in front of the Bloody Lane. Half of the thousand men who went into battle that morning were dear or wounded by the day's end.

Professor Kelly had all of our attention as he relayed these details. I was standing in the back from where I could see that the audience was intensely interested in what he had to say.

I was late to arrive and like many couldn't get a seat for the talk. The event was in the Irish American Heritage Museum in downtown Albany and it attracted a lot more people than they were anticipating.

The  'Sunken Road' or 'Bloody Lane'
as it appears today.
Despite the size of the (admittedly mostly older) crowd, when one of the Museum's executives addressed us at the end he expressed a fear that interest in 'our Irish heritage' is waning, especially among the young. Like most who were there I was vaguely nodding my head in agreement. Yet later on when I was thinking about it I wondered how many of the grey-haired-heads in the audience were much interested in their Irish heritage when they were 20.

I would bet they were more interested in Elvis or Marlon Brando or Marilyn Monroe or Mickey Mantle than in the history of the Irish in the Civil War. In fact, given the proliferation in Irish Studies programs at American colleges I suspect that interest in 'our Irish heritage' has probably never been greater among the young.

What's important is that the stories of the old, the artifacts and details of history are not lost so that when today's young Irish Americans are older they can refer back and learn about the Irish experience in America. That's what makes organizations like the Irish American Heritage Museum in Albany and similar bodies across the country important. They're preserving those stories and artifacts.

There is no need for pessimism. Interest in our Irish heritage is going to grow, not wane, thanks to the Irish Studies programs, but mostly thanks to all the new technology that makes preserving the stories, history and even the artifacts so much easier than it was in the past. The Irish experience at Antietam and millions of other stories will not be lost. They will all be on YouTube.

Professor Tom Kelly delivering a lecture on the Irish Brigade in the
American Civil War at the
Irish American Heritage Museum, Albany, NY

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The All Ireland Hurling Championship game finished in a tie and it was "the best result, really"

Galway's Joe Canning celebrating after his early goal in last
Sunday's All Ireland Hurling Final
{Photo: StudentNews.ie}
Last Sunday Kilkenny and Galway played in the All Ireland Hurling Final and the game ended in a tie. A draw. A dead heat. No overtime or extra time or penalty shoot-out or anything. The final whistle sounded and the game ended with the teams even at 19 points. The result means the same two teams will meet again in a 'replay' on September 30 to decide the championship.

When I think about that it's incredible to me. A championship decider ending in a tie. Can you imagine the Super Bowl ending in a tie? No, of course not. Football fans wouldn't stand for it. The Super Bowl is the championship game and there must be a winner.

Of course, ties are almost non-existent in American sports now. When I was a kid baseball and basketball didn't allow for ties; games kept going until there was a winner. Football and hockey had ties, but gradually those too have been phased out. The legendary 10-10 tie between Notre Dame and Michigan State in 1966 could not happen today thanks to college football's (frankly strange) overtime system.

Europeans are more comfortable with ties. Anyone who regularly watches the English Premier League has seen plenty of games that ended with both teams even. However, even European soccer championship games are played to a conclusion these days with 'extra time' and, if necessary, the dreaded penalty shoot-out. I can't remember the last time an FA Cup Final finished in a tie and the two teams met again in a replay.

The Gaelic Athletic Association, which runs both hurling and Gaelic Football, hasn't allowed itself to be dragged along with the anti-tie philosophy sweeping other sports. Games regularly end in a tie, particularly Gaelic Football.

Ties in hurling are much rarer generally because there is more scoring. The last time the hurling final finished in a tie was 1959.

I have to admit that when I was a kid ties always felt unsatisfactory, a let down. Yet, somehow, Sunday's result didn't feel that way to me. Maybe it's a sign of age, but I was happy enough for the game to end with a tie. It's also possible that I just didn't want to see Galway fall one point short when they've waited so long for a title. They earned the tie with a last second point, which allowed them to live to fight another day.

I haven't heard much griping from fans about the final ending in a tie. Again, maybe it's just that I haven't spoken to teenage fans, but mostly I've heard "a draw was a fair result" or "It was the best result, really."

Seeing as the fans aren't complaining about the game ending in a tie there's no mystery as to why the GAA is happy enough to keep the replay system in place. The replay in three weeks means another 82,000 fan sell-out of Croke Park and a large television audience. An extra, unexpected, huge pay day for the GAA.

However, the pay day will not be as huge as it could have been. And this is another reason why the GAA engenders such devotion among Irish fans: the GAA has cut the ticket prices for the replay by 40%. Why? Because, according to GAA executive Feargal McGill, "We’ve had a tremendous year, with tremendous loyalty from all our supporters, across the country, and this was the chance, the gilded opportunity, to say thanks. The very scale of the reduction, we hope, shows people just how much we do genuinely appreciate their ongoing support, in ongoing difficult times."

Could you imagine any American sports organization doing the same? Certainly none of the professional franchises would forego 40% of the gate in order to say "thanks" to their fans. I can't even imagine the NCAA doing it. Same goes for any of the European professional soccer or rugby leagues. I don't know if the GAA is unique, but it has to be pretty close to it.

The GAA is an amateur organization, but it's more than that. The GAA is at the very heart of life in Irish cities, towns and villages. The people who play at the highest level live among the people who cheer them on Sunday.

There are no great distances between the star players and the volunteers who keep the local clubs going and go to stand along the sidelines to watch a small contest on a dark, damp February afternoon or who filled Croke Park to capacity on Sunday for the All Ireland Final. Same goes for the GAA executives. They understand what life is like for the average Irish sports fan these days because they are the average Irish sports fan. Hence the ticket price reduction.

So all the fans will be at Croke Park again on the 30th to enjoy another great day, hopefully see another great game and all at a reduced cost. Awesome. It's the best result, really.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

This weekend's Notre Dame game is all 'Official Ireland' wants from Irish-America

Notre Dame fans thronged Dublin over the weekend
Notre Dame fans thronged Dublin over the weekend .

What a fantastic weekend! Tens of thousands of Notre Dame and Navy fans taking advantage of all too rare great summer weather seeing the sights, 'having the craic' in Dublin and, of course, enjoying a football game. The general consensus is that they came, they saw and they were charmed.

Oh, and they spent too - an estimated $150m this weekend alone. Of course, they didn't just stay in Dublin a couple of days for the game. They saw the rest of the country too. More spending, more great days for Ireland's hotels, restaurants and pubs.

In addition to the sight-seeing and fun times there was some serious business discussion too. The movers and shakers among the traveling thousands were wooed by the government in the hopes that they would steer some investment in Ireland's direction.

It was a dream weekend for the Irish economy, one that bears witness to what's possible when Ireland reaches out to accept the two hands always on offer from Irish-America, without which this weekend would never have happened.
____________
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_____________

However, that's as close as official Ireland wants Irish-America to get. Tourists spending a fortune? Hurrah! Wealthy, powerful Irish-Americans steering jobs and investment to Ireland? Hurrah! Any further, deeper involvement of Irish-America in Ireland? "Whoa! Hold on there. That might be an issue. Can't have that."

Best example of this is how Craig Barrett has been treated. Barrett was the head of Intel for many years, including when Intel made its initial massive investment in Ireland back in the late 1980s.

Back in June of this year Barrett added his name to the list of those Irish-Americans who are willing to sit on boards of state companies, offering their wisdom and experience to these companies, to Ireland, for free.

The response of official Ireland to his offer? Zzzzzzzzz. Barrett joined the Irish Technology Leadershp Group's (ITLG) Diaspora 2016 movement after it had already been received in silence by the government and slapped away by Maura Quinn, head of the Institute of Directors (Ireland).

Diaspora 2016's mission is to "make a list of at least 100 business leaders from across the globe who wish to contribute their experience and time to helping Ireland's economic recovery." As Barrett pointed out, for Ireland's economy to rebound and thrive Ireland "must integrate the best of Irish innovation from around the world."

Too true. There are Irish people, whether born here or of Irish descent, who want to see Ireland succeed. They're willing to help out, to contribute.

Spurning their expertise is foolishness in the extrem. As Tom McEnery, former Mayor of San Jose wrote in response to Quinn, "One would think that all is well in Ireland." Attitudes like Quinn's can only be explained as the response of those who are comfortable and fear 'outsiders' coming in and shaking things up.

I admire McEnery, Barrett and the others' persistence. They refuse to take 'No' for an answer.

There is so  much potential in this group, so much that these men and women have to offer. All that's required is that Ireland stop resisting.

I just don't see that happening, especially not after this past weekend.

This weekend was exactly what official Ireland wants from Irish-Americans. Let's entice them to come to Ireland in big numbers, hence next year's "Gathering." Let's get the very successful among them to come to Ireland, hand them a glass of Jameson and a piece of brown soda-bread, put on a display of Irish dancing, show them our tax breaks and convince them that they should locate their EU operations here. Ask them to bring their non-Irish friends next time.

That's the extent of it. That's what Irish-America is for, tourism and investment. I don't really have a problem with either of those, but how is that any different from the strategy in 1987? How does it differ from 1962?

Next year's Gathering is actually a good idea. I support it. But how often can we gather? How often can Notre Dame play in Dublin?

Networking is the future in a world where technology has made distance almost irrelevant. In Irish-America Ireland has a ready made network; all it has to do is accept it. It's time for official Ireland to reach out with two hands and fully embrace Irish-America.

{Photo from Matt Cashore, University of Notre Dame}

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Other than David Feherty, CBS got the tone just right for Notre Dame vs Navy in Dublin

CBS golf analyst David Feherty, who was in Dublin to provide
humorous asides during the Notre Dame vs Navy game.
{Photo from Google images}
CBS provided the television coverage of yesterday's Notre Dame vs Navy game in Dublin and the Irish people and the Irish government should be happy with what CBS provided. Oddly, the only questionable comments were provided by Irish emigrant David Feherty.

Although I knew Feherty had made something of a name for himself on American TV as a golf analyst, I had never heard him before. I don't watch golf and didn't know what to expect from him.

From his first contribution I realized that Feherty's role was to provide some humorous asides about football, about which he admitted to knowing next-to-nothing, and Ireland, presumably from an authentic Irishman's perspective. Unfortunately, he frequently got the tone wrong and was more insulting than humorous.

I'm willing to give Feherty the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was just trying too hard, but I thought a number of his remarks fell flat. His opening remark was on Gaelic Football and Hurling, which he described as a cross between Lacrosse and second degree manslaughter. That was fine, but later when he was asked to describe Hurling, rather than do that he claimed, wrongly, that Hurling wasn't played in the north of Ireland. He must have known that's untrue. His answer was silly and left the American audience none the wiser about the game after Verne Lundquist asked.*
____________
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_____________

During his taped half-time piece Feherty quipped that "it took me 37 years to escape this place and I still get a wee bit nervous at customs and immigration every time I come back in case they make me stay." I know he thought he was being funny, but it just across as far too negative. So negative, in fact, that The Gathering, the government's 2013 tourism initiative and prime sponsor of the game, could probably complain to CBS that Feherty had attacked the product they're selling.

Also, I never before heard that famine immigrants sometimes lit fires on board ships that then caused the ships to sink. Maybe it happened - once or twice - but it made the "simple people," as Feherty called them, sound stupid.

That was just Feherty and I really think it was more a matter of him trying too hard to be funny at times. I guess he didn't do too badly most of the time, but I could have lived without him.

As for play-by-play man Lundquist and analyst Gary Danielson there can be no complaint. Both men were very generous in their comments about Ireland and the Irish. They got the tone right and Lundquist in particular was clearly charmed during his time in Ireland, at one point saying that although he's Scandinavian he'd like to come back for The Gathering.

As for the images, CBS spliced in beautiful photographs of Irish scenery: the Cliffs of Moher, Bunratty Castle and numerous shots of Dublin. They made Ireland look great.

The one glaring omission from the broadcast was a blimp. I presume CBS's budget for the game didn't stretch to a blimp, but The Gathering should have worked something out with them. The weather yesterday was great and blimp shots of Dublin and beyond would have been fantastic. Instead of blimp shots CBS used pictures from a camera mounted on a building somewhere along the Liffey and, frankly, those pictures got more and more dull as the game went on. A missed opportunity there.

I have to admit I was somewhat surprised by the number of shots of fans drinking. I can't recall seeing so much of that during football or baseball games before. It seemed a like a bit of a stereotype, but of course most of the fans at the game were American, as were most of the drinkers. By the third quarter I was simply tired of it.

Possibly the biggest negative from The Gathering's perspective was the score. A closer game would have been better as it would have ensured a bigger audience for the second half, especially considering that much of America was only waking up when the third quarter was getting under way. There was nothing that could be done about that, however, other than for Navy to do a better job of holding onto the football.

As a total package, however, The Gathering has to be pleased. CBS delivered.

* Yes, I fully understand all the background on Feherty and Gaelic games in County Down where he is from.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Tough job for Irish police with 35,000 Americans in Dublin for Notre Dame vs Navy

Irish police provided excellent security during the 2011
visits of the Queen and President Obama.
Notre Dame and Navy have arrived in Dublin ahead of Saturday's opener to their college football seasons. Their fans are in town too. The papers say 35,000, but it seems like a lot more than that. There is a great, celebratory atmosphere in Dublin. It's fantastic.

I never doubted that those traveling from America would enjoy themselves in Dublin. It's not hard to entice Irish people to join in when a party arrives on their doorstep. There may not be a million college football fans in Dublin, but everybody here understands pre-game and post-game enjoyment. The Irish are famous in soccer and rugby circles for knowing exactly how to do these things.

The mood couldn't be lighter and I'm certainly not of a mind to dampen down that mood. However I want to spare a thought for the few people in and around Dublin who are probably feeling a lot more tense thanks to the presence of all these Americans, including thousands of United States Navy personnel - those charged with guaranteeing security over this weekend.

Obviously, there'll no real trouble from any of the visiting Americans and no serious trouble from Irish people either. That's one of the key reasons why the atmosphere around Dublin is good. Everybody knows there will be no trouble.

However, Ireland is part of Europe and as easily as the American fans traveled to Ireland so could those twisted few who belong to groups like al Qaeda. Of course, Ireland has had its own, so far thankfully light, brush with al Qaeda terrorism.
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_____________

Irish people have great faith in the gardaí and with good reason. Last year's visits of the Queen and President Obama went off without a hitch. Security was tight and effective. I'm sure the gardaí, Ireland's police force, with help from their colleagues in other European police forces have been working on their security arrangements for this weekend since this game was formally announced.

Yet, protecting one very important visitor is a different proposition to protecting thousands of visitors, especially when they're scattered throughout the city. The fact that the Americans will be so easy to identify, especially those in green pants or Navy uniforms, doesn't help the gardaí.

Tomorrow's game would be an obvious target if you were up to no good, but I expect security to be very tight around the stadium. I'm sure the gardaí have that well in hand. Same goes for the area around the USS Fort McHenry, which is in town as part of the Navy's Emerald Isle Classic celebration. Plus, the Navy knows how to protect its ships when in a foreign port.

I'm sure the gardaí are so prepared the they're unworried by either the game or the ship. No, I bet if anything is causing them restlessness it's all those fans wandering around Dublin, with the words "We're Americans" pretty much tattooed on their foreheads.

I expect the eyes under those peaked blue police caps will be keenly focused wherever groups of Americans gather. And come Monday morning I expect no one will be happier to see the American visitors happily on their way than those charged with protecting them this weekend.

{Photo thanks to the Irish Independent.}

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Navy war dead in Ireland need some attention from those traveling for Notre Dame game

Headstone in Cobh, Co Cork graveyard
with details on death of 2 American
sailors during WW1.

Photo: thanks to USSWwainwright.org
This was first published at IrishCentral.com.

The other day I wrote that I thought the Navy had flubbed its mission to Ireland, isn't reaching out enough, using soft power to win some points with the Irish people. In particular, I thought the Navy isn't doing enough to highlight the links between Ireland and the US Navy, but rather is leaving the "Irish links" domain entirely to Notre Dame.

Yesterday I learned that the Navy is bringing the USS Fort McHenry to Dublin and they're allowing people to tour the ship. I know my son would absolutely love that so I entered the lottery for tickets to join a tour. Fingers crossed.

That is good, but I still think the Navy could have done so much more. However, there is one thing they can help get done that should be done.

A few years ago I wrote about an unmarked grave containing three American sailors in a graveyard in Cobh (formerly Queenstown), Co Cork. I got that story from a documentary on Ireland's national television station, however I now suspect that story isn't actually accurate.*

However, there are two Americans buried in Cobh's Old Church Cemetery, both of whom died while serving with the Navy during WWI.

One of the two lies in a grave with a headstone (see above) that is in serious need of a cleaning. The stone reads:

Sacred to the memory of our shipmates James H. Bush US Navy born 11/11/1889 at Brockton, Mass. Accidentally drowned Aug. 4th 1917 and William P. Baker U.S. Navy born 9/9/1899 at Branswick, Cal. Lost at sea Oct. 23rd 1917 body not recovered. Erected by the Officers and Crew of the U.S.S. “Wainwright”.
____________
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_____________

The other man lies in a grave nearby. An unmarked grave. Seaman Second Class William H Mansfield, who died of the flu on October 26, 1918 while serving on the USS Utah. Mansfield was from Richmond, KY. {Mansfield's address is given as 133 Estill Avenue and his next of kin as his father William Thomas Mansfield. Interestingly, Willie Thomas Hammons, also a Seaman Second Class, died in a naval hospital in Scotland in October 1918 and he gave his next of kin as his mother Cora Elmore Mansfield, also of 133 Estill Avenue in Richmond, KY. The two men enlisted on the same day in May 1918 in Louisville. They died five days apart. Half brothers? Cousins?}

Mansfield deserves a headstone, a proper military headstone on his grave. That he died of the flu is of no matter. Most of the Navy's casualties during the war were due to the flu.

Thanks to the work of the American Legion Ireland, the Fr Francis Duffy Post, these omissions have been put right often in recent years. Now they have another mission. They could probably use a little help and with all the Navy brass that will be here this weekend for the football game that help his here now.

It would be great if someone from the Navy's traveling delegation to Ireland this weekend were to find out about William Mansfield's unmarked grave and get ball rolling when they get back stateside. A proper military headstone needs to be requisitioned immediately. While they're at it they can organize for the stone on Bush's grave to get a good cleaning and/or maybe request a proper military headstone for that grave too.

* I want to thank Aileen Walsh of Cobh Town Council who took my rumors about the three sailors in an unmarked grave and then spent quite a bit of time going through old registers to turn those rumors into the hard facts on Bush, Baker and Mansfield.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Navy should be celebrating Irish links ahead of Saturday's game in Dublin vs Notre Dame

John King, who was from County Mayo,
 won 2 Medals of Honor.
{Photo thanks to 
HistoricalBallinrobe.com}
Navy plays Notre Dame this weekend in Dublin. Compared with the last time Dublin played host to a college football game - the same two teams - there is a lot more interest here in Ireland. The Irish media is paying a lot more attention and there is a lot more general awareness about the game.

There are many reasons for this, including the fact that the game is being tied to the government's plans for a big Irish family reunion in 2013, but also thanks to the interest in football generally thanks to the presence of the NFL (especially) and college football on cable television.

Of course Notre Dame is the key to much of the local interest. In fact, it's all about Notre Dame, which isn't all that surprising.

The Fighting Irish are bringing most of the visiting (and spending!) fans, but the college has done a lot to develop its Irish links over the past 20 years. Although you might not realize it, the name Notre Dame didn't mean all that much to most people here until recently. Now many - most? - Irish people know Notre Dame and know it's an important institution in Irish America.
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$100 million boost for Ireland from Notre Dame and Navy game

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly says "I’m not a big fan of playing football games in Ireland"

John Barry - Irish hero of the United States
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So Notre Dame is coming to Dublin and will overwhelmingly be the 'home team,' although it's officially a Navy home game. That was always going to be the case, but the Navy could have, should have, done more to promote its Irish links, which are a lot older than Notre Dame's.

They could have started with John Barry, "the father of the American Navy," who was from Wexford. Barry's story is too little known here and in America and the Navy missed an opportunity to give a boost to the man George Washington trusted to be the first to lead the United States Navy. {I've mentioned this before, but I had hoped that Saturday's game would be known as the John Barry Bowl, but such a name doesn't have the same marketing appeal as the Emerald Isle Classic. I guess.}

There is also the fact that it was just off the coast of Ireland, near Carrickfergus, that John Paul Jones captured HMS Drake, the first British ship captured by the Continental Navy during the Revolutionary War. Surely the Navy could have marked the occasion with a lot of fanfare and a little ceremony celebrating Jones up in County Antrim.

There are many other links, including Clare's John Holland, who invented the submarine. And what about Mayo's John King, who won two Medals of Honor during the early years of the 20th century. There is a statue of King in Ballinrobe. The Navy could have gone to Mayo to honor King. After all they named a ship after him in the 70s so sending a small party to his hometown would have been entirely appropriate.

But the strongest link of all is in County Cork, where the United States Navy had a base during WW1. For two years the United States Navy called Queenstown (now Cobh) home while it waged war on the Kaiser's reich. Although Cobh was the primary base for the Navy, American ships were also based at Berehaven. There were also Naval Air bases all along the south coast and an American Naval hospital at Cobh (Queenstown).

Saturday's game is in Dublin. Dublin is getting most of the attention from the arriving fans. Cork would have been thrilled to get a Navy delegation - or two! The people of Cork would have adopted the Navy for the game. It would have been a case of "Fighting Irish" be damned if only to be different than Dublin.

I know there are all sorts of political, geopolitical even, concerns when it comes to the Navy, but they're coming here to play a football game. It's a great opportunity to for some soft power, light diplomacy and a little bit of a history lesson, one that both Irish and American people could get something from. There should be more to the Navy's mission in Ireland than a "W" on Saturday.

{Let me add, if the Navy is doing any of these things they're doing it with almost no publicity.}