Thursday, June 28, 2012

Beautiful day for a walk up Dalkey Hill, one of Dublin's jewels - PHOTOS

In the distance is Dalkey Island, one of the great views from the top of Killiney Hill,
Killiney, County Dublin.
I don't do "impulse buys" as a rule, but "impulse walks" are another thing entirely. I was driving through Dalkey, Co Dublin at lunchtime and I suddenly decided I'd rather walk up Dalkey Hill than sit eating while I read.

Great decision.

The weather overnight in Ireland was horrendous. Many areas were flooded. We're lucky because our house is on the side of a hill so all I had to endure was getting soaked walking the ten feet to the car and driving on roads with an awful lot of water.

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When I went out at 7am I thought the car was going to be washed away at times there was so much water on the road. By noon it was as if it hadn't rained at all.

Obelisk on Killiney Hill built in 1741
I know that's not unusual in America in the summer. Sudden downpours can vanish in seconds when the hot sun returns. It's a lot less common here. I don't know that I've ever seen it dry out faster.

The sky was a beautiful mixture of puffy clouds and bright blue. There was a fairly strong breeze, but the temperature was around 70 - perfect. I couldn't resist. I headed for Dalkey Hill.

Of course, it's not just Dalkey Hill. There are two hills side by side. If you walk up Dalkey Hill the chances are you'll come down Killiney Hill. You have to get the whole panorama.

I know I've said this before, but Dublin and its surrounds are blessed with many tremendous walks. Dalkey/Killiney Hill is one of them. There's a reason why Bono, the Edge, Maeve Binchy, Neil Jordan and others choose to live there. The views are spectacular.

The last place I lived in America before moving to Ireland was Guttenberg, NJ. My wife and I used to regularly walk along the boulevard along the top of the cliffs from where we had a great view of Manhattan. It was tremendous too, but to be honest I prefer the views from the top of Dalkey Hill.

I'm pretty sure I've said this before, but it bears repeating: if you find yourself in Dublin an impulsive decision to head to Dalkey on the train or in the car will be richly rewarded if the weather is even half way decent. On a day like today there is no better place on Earth.

From the top of Killiney Hill looking over Killiney Bay

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ulster Bank fuels Ireland's anger at the country's banks

Software update by Ulster Bank's parent caused the trouble,
but Ulster Bank's response has been awful.
{Photo from}
Just when it seemed the reputation of Ireland's banks couldn't sink any lower up steps Ulster Bank to remind everyone of just how much we hate, yes "hate", the banks.

The country is bankrupt thanks to the banks. The landscape is blotted with half built housing developments and empty office buildings, hotels and retail outlets thanks to the banks. The young people are streaming out of the country thanks to the burden the bank debts have placed on the Irish economy.

The Irish people have good cause to detest the country's banks.

The current upset caused by Ulster Bank is not on a par with the bankruptcy of the state caused by the 2008 bank guarantee, but it's still pretty serious.

The trouble all started last Tuesday evening. Ulster Bank's parent, Royal Bank of Scotland, updated their payment processing system. The new software was corrupt and from that moment the bank wasn't able to update their systems to account for payments in or out.

Account balances are frozen as of last Tuesday. No payments in or out are being registered. Wages? They're not there. Paid the gas bill by automated payment? Didn't happen. Deposited a check in the branch? It's not there. Mortgage payments? They're not there, unless you happen to have an Ulster Bank mortgage. Somehow the bank is managing to take their mortgage payments out of their customers' accounts. See what I mean about "hate?"

The bank's communication with its customers and the press has been abysmal since the problem arose. Initially we were assured the problem would be resolved by the end of last week, now we're hoping all's well by next week. In the meantime salaries and bills are going unpaid; companies can't pay one another.
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All of which is bad enough, but yesterday the bank issued a statement urging their "elderly or vulnerable" customers to get in touch. This set me off. This sort of pious drivel is bad enough when I hear it from a campaigning politician, but from a bank?

There are a lot of business owners struggling to survive in the desperate times. Already the press has stories of business being lost by companies that can't access their accounts.

Businesses need access to their money. Small business owners may well not have the time to waste waiting for their local branch to see them.

Besides, why should they be forced to go into the bank as a supplicant when it's the bank's fault? Why should any customer who needs to pay some bills be forced to plead their case in the branch? Why should any customer who just wants access to their money be treated as "vulnerable?"

Of course Ulster Bank is part of a licensed oligopoly so it's not like customers can just go elsewhere with their business. All of Ireland's banks are equally bad, truly indifferent to most of their customers.

Mistakes happen. Software glitches cause havoc. That's the way it is in any industry today, although I wonder why they didn't wait til the weekend to roll out their new software.

It's the response that really sticks in the craw, however. It's the arrogance, the failure to admit the truth, the attempt to sound like a charity or a social worker, a do-gooder that's infuriating.

Only our bankrupt, state-owned banks (Ulster Bank is, fortunately, owned by the British government) still have their superior attitude. Banks, uniquely it seems, can foul up and, time and again, not feel vulnerable while legitimate, profitable businesses, customers and taxpayers pay the price for their errors.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Sunburn warnings in Ireland - more amusing than useful

Ireland's weather has been miserable for weeks.
Sunday we got a sunburn warning.
{Photo from Google images}
Late Saturday night Ireland's national weather service, Met Eireann, issued the following warning: "Sunburn index for Sunday. High countrywide." As soon as I read that I re-read Met Eireann's forecast for Sunday and I smiled.

The forecast for Sunday called for "a bright day with sunny spells. Many places dry, but there will be some well scattered showers. Highs 16-19 or possibly 20C." You can read that as 'Highs 61-66 or possibly 68.' We got a sunburn warning for a day where the temperature wasn't expected to reach 70F. Nor were we expecting hours of unbroken sun. We were going to have "sunny spells."

Now I know sunburn is a serious business and we all have to be "sun aware," but I couldn't help thinking that only in Ireland would you get a sun warning for a day with such a forecast.

The day unfolded almost exactly as Met Eireann forecast. We had "sunny spells." We also had lengthy cloudy spells, a brief shower and our temperature probably reached 65F. I didn't spend all day outside, but while I was out I thought it was very pleasant, but at no time did it occur to me that I might be at risk of a serious sunburn.
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The thought that my pasty white face and arms (I wore shortsleeves) might acquire a slightly pinker hue was about all I imagined, although at one point while I was out walking the wind kicked up and I thought I might get a bit of windburn.

Don't get me wrong. I don't blame Met Eireann for cautioning us. Ever since we had a great week in late March the weather has been so cool, damp and dark that people around here are starting to resemble the mole people from "Beneath the Planet of the Apes." And Met Eireann knows only too well that at the first hint of sun many Irish people strip down to the bear minimum in order to soak up as much sun as they can, safely or not. 'No problem, just use a little sunscreen,' is all Met Eireann is saying.

Which reminds me, when did sunscreen become medicine? Until I read the story of young Violet Michener of Tacoma, WA and the sunburn she got on a field day with her school I never knew that sunscreen was medicine.

All states, other than California, bar the use of sunscreen in school by children because "the creams are considered an over-the-counter drug." What? Is there really any sense to this? Do sunscreens pose such a threat or is this just more over-bearing statist nonsense?

It's not against the law in Ireland, which is a good thing because if school kids are having a day out and it's sunny there's a good chance that it could be the children's first sighting of the sun in weeks. Unlike when I was growing up in upstate New York, kids here often don't get gradually browner as spring turns to summer.

Summer can be delayed by weeks and then just erupt, as it seems to have done today. Even Met Eireann was caught off guard. They forgot to issue a sunburn warning last night.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

You can help create jobs in Ireland and earn a tidy sum doing so

Connect Ireland founder Terry Clune
So you're enjoying your hot dog at the annual 4th of July barbecue organized by your neighborhood when your heart sinks because your annoying neighbor Bob spots you and heads over to talk. Last year he cornered you for 15 of the longest minutes of your life and here he comes again.

Bob's a braggard. He loves to tell you how great his life is; how great his job is; how great the company he works for is. You're barely listening when Bob says something that causes your ears to prick up. You ask him to repeat himself and you hear, "Yeah things are going so well that the rumor is we're going to be looking expand overseas."

There it is. "Expand overseas." You know Bob has told you before what his company does, but you never paid attention. Now you're interested and you casually learn what they do - they produce medical devices - and you get a few other details about the company's size and management structure.

You endure a few more minutes then you make your excuses and walk away from Bob, whip out your phone and save a few notes for later. Why? Because Bob's bragging might well earn you some easy money.
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Bring Them All Back Home

Connect Ireland is a new Irish government initiative designed to help drive jobs to Ireland. If you are the first to register Bob's company on the Connect Ireland web site you'll be in line to get a payment from Connect Ireland if the company locates some jobs in Ireland.

It really is that easy. Most of the work will be done by the Irish government agencies. They're really only asking you to tip them off. If you hear a rumor about a company expanding or just relocating, let them know. That's your part done. It's their job to actually sell Ireland as a base to Bob's company.

When Bob's company decides to open a small plant in Cork employing 35 people you'll get a nice reward. For your "trouble" the Irish government will pay you €750 for each of those 35 people working in the plant 12 months after opening. That's €26,250 ($33,000) for enduring Bob's bragging for 15 minutes. That's great, but it's not the best part. The best part is they'll send you another €26,250 ($33K) if those 35 jobs still exist a year later. That's a €52,500 ($66K) pay-off for 15 minutes of suffering.

So get started today. Register with Connect Ireland and then keep your ears open this summer. You don't know what you might hear from your annoying neighbor at the barbecue or your son's friend's mother at the local pool or even from that father who never stops yellling at his son at the ball field. People love to talk about their work and it might well pay for you to listen.

{Photo from}

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Eucharistic Congress has returned to Ireland and it's (almost) 1932 again

Closing ceremony of the Eucharistic Congress, Dublin 1932
{Picture from Nat'l Library Ireland.}
In 1932 Ireland was caught up in religious fervor. Flags, bunting and other decorations were everywhere - draped across public buildings, hung from trees and lampposts and pictures and other items. They prayed together in public, including one particularly large celebration along the Liffey that drew thousands.

Here we are in 2012 and it's almost as if history is repeating itself. The Eucharistic Congress is again in Dublin and there flags and decorations everywhere. The people are gathering in groups large and small to sing out as one and beseech the almighty to look benignly upon them.
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There is, of course, one slight difference this time: the mass gatherings are not at Mass, but at soccer games. The large gatherings along the Liffey this time are watching a giant screen showing Ireland's games at the European Championships in Poland and the flags and bunting are green, white and orange and not the yellow and white of the Papal flag as was the case in 1932.

Dublin street decorated for 1932 Eucharistic Congress.
{Photo from RTE.}
Yes I'm being flippant, but there's truth in what I'm saying. The Eucharistic Congress that's taking place in Ballsbridge in Dublin has hardly scratched the surface of the public's consciousness thanks to the obsession with the Irish team and the soccer tournament.

There are probably some Catholics here who are disappointed or worse that the Eucharistic Congress is getting so little attention. It doesn't worry me. I actually think it's good for the Church that Catholics can gather this week without the pressure of a lot of media attention.

Even those attending the Congress are probably glued to the Ireland soccer matches. I can well imagine Archbishop Martin has his schedule cleared for tonight.

Although hope of a victory is slim, the whole country will be tuning in again this evening to watch the Irish team play Spain. Everyone is "praying for a miracle" as even the most casual fan knows that the Spanish team is significantly more talented than the Irish team. The fans are just hoping that somehow will power will do the trick.

A few prayers wouldn't hurt either.

Dubliners celebrating Ireland's participation in the
European Championships.
{Photo from the Irish Times.}

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The crisis in Europe is thanks to Europe's "betters"

John Bruton, former Prime Minister of Ireland

John Bruton, ex-Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) and ex-EU Ambassador to the United States and unwavering EU enthusiast is worried, really worried. Bruton fears that "we could lose, in five months, something it took over 50 years to create."

Bruton is right, but if "we" do lose the 'European dream' it will be because "we" didn't create it; "they" did. The European Union as it exists today is a construct of people like Bruton drawn from all over Europe. People who turned a free trade area into an unaccountable, undemocratic superstate that neither sought nor wanted a mandate from the people of Europe.
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It didn't have to be this way. The EU as it was originally constructed was a loose confederation of democratic states. Then, just as the future for democracy in Europe looked brightest with the fall of the Soviet Union, Europe's elite decided it was time to go for broke and launch the superstate of their dreams.

From there groupthink took over as the various national leaders bureaucratic chieftains in Brussels convinced each other that they were going in the right direction, that all would be well.

A series of agreements between 1992 and 2007 enhanced the power of Brussels at the expense of the national governments, the biggest being the single currency. There was a mad rush to get a new agreement before the previous changes had time to settle. All the while the people of Europe, or rather the peoples of Europe, were dragged along, unconsulted.

Now it's all hitting the fan. The Europhiles are discovering that the disparate peoples of Europe, with their different histories and cultures and distinctive national views on money and economics, have contradictory expectations of what should be done in the current crisis.

The tensions are pulling the EU apart. It's hard to imagine the EU would survive if the euro disintegrated. While we're still a long way from war, it's no longer an impossibility.

It's no wonder Bruton and his like are worried. They did this. It's their fault. There was no need to rush, no need to put at risk the nascent unity of the people of Europe. The cause of European unity and peace and prosperity would have been better served if the political elite had worked on getting the people of Europe to buy into their dream, to unifying them.

It didn't happen. Europeans are much happier to defer to their "betters" than are Americans and their "betters" are used to be deferred to. Unfortunately, the "betters" have got it wrong.

They built a massive structure on a foundation of sand and it's falling down. The "betters" are now pursuing the only option open to them - trying to spoof us into believing that they know what they're doing and all will be well. They don't and it won't.

{Picture from}

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Olympics torch relay – the greatest sales job on Earth

The Olympic Torch tour included the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge
in County Antrim. 
Thousands of people lined the streets of Dublin this morning to see the Olympic torch and for the life of me I can't understand why. RTE, Ireland's national television station, is providing live coverage of the torch's procession through the streets of Dublin and, again, I can't understand why. I don't understand why anyone cares about the Olympic torch.

Okay, if I was a former Irish athlete I'd care. Many of of Ireland's ex-Olympians and former sports stars are carrying the torch. The torch tour affords them an opportunity to remind everyone in Ireland who they are. Also, I suppose if I was in charge of tourism I'd care because there's always the vague hope that the staged pictures of the torch in scenic locations will entice a tourist or two to visit the country.
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So I can understand why those few might care, but why are "thousands" reportedly out to see the torch? Why is there so much television and newspaper coverage?

It's no skin off my back, I suppose, although there is a cost to the public purse with the closed streets and gardaĆ­ (police) providing security for the event. Still, it's a torch, a flame. What is so exciting or interesting about that?

I'm at a total loss.

The the torch relay was invented by the Nazis for the 1936 Games in Berlin. It was a propaganda tool. I'm surprised it has survived given its origins.

The Nazi roots don't really bother me, but the phoniness of the whole thing sticks in my craw. First of all, the flame goes out. Apparently that happens fairly regularly. It was extinguished on the third day of its tour of Britain last month. No problem because the organizers keep the "mother flame in specially designed miners' lanterns so if the flame does go out for some reason on the relay we re-light it from the source of the flame."

"Source of the flame?" "Mother flame?" Is this the mother of all contrivances or what? Gimme a break. If it goes out, just grab a lighter and light it again. But no, they keep "the mother flame" in a following van in "specially designed miners' lanterns." Puhleeeeze. I cringe in embarassment at anyone who takes this seriously and isn't being well compensated by the money-grubbing Olympic Committee.

That's another thing. Once upon a time the Olympics were not all about money. The games were infused with idealism and amateurism. Those days have passed. What the Olympic torch once stood for is no longer part of the Olympic Games.

These days amateurism is actively discouraged. This was demonstrated by the International Olympic Committee when it eliminated baseball from the Olympics because the Major Leagues would not release their players to take part. Idealism be damned. The IOC wants the world's best pro athletes and that's that.

As you might expect, the IOC is awash with cash. It's a two-week long marketing extravaganza. All those "Official candy bar (or whatever) of the London Olympics" bring in plenty. Then there are the tickets sales and television rights - NBC has paid $4bn for the rights to next four Olympics. Big money.

All of which brings me back to the torch run. The torch represents a one long advertisement for the Games. The torch is on a promotional tour, encouraging us to care, to watch when the games and - excepting us, thank God - softening up taxpayers who might object to the tens of billions of dollars of public money spent on building the venues and infrastructure needed to host the games.

The cynic in me applauds the IOC for the job they do selling the whole Olympics package, including the torch relay tour. It still functions well as a propaganda tool, only rather than promoting a the host state it now serves the Games themselves. I just don't understand why so many people care.

{Pictures thanks to and}

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Mets manager Terry Collins - making all the right calls

Mets Manager Terry Collins hugs pitcher Johan Santana after
Santana had thrown the first no-hitter in Mets history last night.
"I never thought I'd live to see this day." That's how I feel today; that's how all of us Met fans feel today after watching Johan Santana throw the first no-hitter in club history.

Many Mets have come close before. As we watched we knew we'd seen this movie before, but still we hoped we'd see the improbable. We'd see 50 years of history vanquished.

While Santana did the hard work on the mound, one man had a very difficult call to make as the game wore on: manager Terry Collins.

The Mets have been a revelation this year and a lot of the credit must go to Collins. The team has a self-belief and never-say-die attitude that was totally lacking in the talented, but under-performing teams in the years before Collins took over.

The Mets used to be considered soft, quick to buckle when the pressure was on. Now the Mets are bulldogs, a reflection of their manager.
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Collins, a college football player at Eastern Michigan, has a football mentality when it comes to playing baseball and playing with injuries. He doesn't care for the molly-coddling that seems so much a part of the modern game.

That brings me back to Santana. Nobody is closer to Collins in that bulldog mentality than Santana.

Collins managed the Mets last year without Santana, who missed all of 2011 after major shoulder surgery. He's back this year and Collins and his team of coaches have managed Santana perfectly. No pitcher has ever successfully come back from the operation Santana underwent. For that reason, Collins' main issue with Santana is holding him back, removing him from games when Santana would rather stay in.

That's why last night must have been such torture for Collins. He has set a limit for Santana of 110 pitches per game. Santana went past that limit with 5 outs remaining in the game.

Collins left Santana in. He threw 134 pitches to complete the game. I'm sure this morning Collins, with the euphoria fading, is wondering if he made the right decision. Did he hurt Santana? Did he hurt the team's chances of having a magical 2012? Did he risk too much for the sake of a number?

That's what makes baseball great and strange at the same time. I don't think there is another sport where a manager would take such a chance that had no bearing on winning either a game or championship. That's what Collins did last night, however.

I can't speak for Santana, but I bet he feels it was a risk worth taking. I think I can speak for the fans, however, when I say that we all wanted last night. No matter how the rest of this year plays out we won't second guess Collins' decision to leave Santana in to finish last night's game. We wanted that moment, a moment we thought we would never see.