Friday, January 25, 2013

Irish-America - let's back our Scottish cousins in their bid to overturn the USDA's haggis ban

Poet Robert Burns, whose "Address to a Haggis"
inspires the desire for the 'plucky' Scottish dish
at this time every year.

{Photo from CeltNet}
Haggis is banned in America and our fellow Celtic-Americans (new to me too), Scottish-Americans if you will, are none-too-pleased about this. Haggis is a traditional Scottish dish, the composition of which is probably best not considered around meal-time.

As explained recently by the BBC's Jon Kelly, Haggis is made from a 'sheep's "pluck" (heart, liver and lungs) minced with onion, oatmeal, suet and spices, all soaked in stock and then boiled in either a sausage casing or a sheep's stomach.' Mmm mmm. Don't that sound good.

Okay, to be quite honest, it doesn't sound like my cup of tea. Although I'm sure if I knew what was in the white and black puddings I enjoy as an essential part of my Irish breakfast it might be equally off-putting. Maybe if I could blank out what I know and force a forkful of haggis into my mouth I might really enjoy it. I'm at least open to the possibility that I might enjoy it, if not quite as open to the possibility of actually tasting it.
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Gutter a good place for Haggis
Whatever about my personal preferences, Scottish people like to eat Haggis, especially on January 25, when they celebrate Burns Night commemorating the birth of their national poet Robert Burns, aka Rabbie Burns.

So in Scotland later today they'll be sitting down to a fine haggis dinner, but their cousins over in America won't be able to do the same because the US Department of Agriculture has banned haggis.

The ban has been in place since 1971. The USDA apparently doesn't care for human beings eating sheep lungs. Who can blame them, but is it really that unhealthy? I mean sure the Scots are nuts, but I doubt the nuttiness is caused by the food so much as the desire for the food is caused by the nuttiness.

So the Scots are battling the American bureaucracy and not getting very far. It's not hard to understand why either. Let's face it, the Scots' star has waned in America just as the Irish star has waxed. Irish-America is a much more potent force than is Scottish-America. On this issue I say let's give them a hand or at least offer some moral support.

Sure it's not our battle and I'm not asking people to go to the wall for the right to eat a sheep's lung, but we do like to toss around the word "Celtic" now and again, even impress upon our friends that it should be pronounced with a hard 'C' (Keltic). Some of us even (secretly) enjoy the Thistle and Shamrock radio program, which celebrates the music of Scotland as well as Ireland.

I'm not asking you to abandon the rivalry with the Scots, such as it is. We can still smirk when Braveheart comes on the television, knowing that those beautiful "Scottish scenes" were mostly filmed in Ireland. We can continue the fight to see Irish whiskey reclaim its place on top in America, having seen it swiped by the Scots during prohibition. I just think we could and should join in the chorus demanding that our Celtic cousins be allowed to eat sheep's lung.

Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o' fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer
Gie her a haggis!

{From Address to a Haggis by Robert Burns.}

Monday, January 21, 2013

New York Times paints a picture of a mythical 'green' Ireland

Electric car charging point - they're not hard to find in Ireland,
but you're more likely to see a unicorn than to see someone
using one of these.
Perhaps over Christmas you came across a NY Times article about Ireland and carbon tax. The article essentially claimed that the Irish people had swallowed Al Gore's Kool Aid en masse and have experienced an environmental and economic miracle thanks to our new found environmentalism.

If you did happen to see that article you were hopefully asking yourself one key question: is any of this true? The answer, in a word, is 'no.'

Ireland may well be "40 Shades of Green", but that sort of 'green' is not among them. Granted Irish people are wary of messing with their beautiful green land and that sometimes frustrates me, but they are far removed from the picture of a nation of environmental devotees that the Times' Elisabeth Rosenthal painted. In fact, most of Rosenthal's article is a complete nonsense. I'm not sure it even qualifies as journalism.

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Rosenthal interviewed one politician for the piece - former Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan. Ryan was one of six Green Party TD's (MP's) in the last Dáil (Parliament). His Green Party was the junior partner in the last government, which brought in the carbon tax. That government is also widely blamed for the bank guarantee that has bankrupted the nation, destroyed our economy and (temporarily we all hope) ended Ireland's 90 year experiment with sovereignty.

In the election that followed our economic collapse not a single Green Party TD managed to be elected. The party barely exists now, but Rosenthal tracked down Ryan to get a positive assessment of the carbon tax. If the carbon tax was the blessing Rosenthal claims how is it she couldn't find a single current government minister or even elected official to sing the carbon tax's praises? None of the remaining Fianna Fáil TD's was willing to speak in favor of the carbon tax despite representing the senior partners in the government that brought it in. Odd if the carbon tax is all Rosenthal claims it to be.

Rosenthal's economic claims were even more laughable. What little good news Ireland had in 2011 was entirely due to the Irish operations of large US technology and pharmaceutical companies. The domestic economy declined in 2011.

Rosenthal's entire article is a sham. Carbon taxes were introduced just as the economy was going into free fall. The sharp decrease in emissions is ENTIRELY due to the fall in economic activity. So many companies have gone to the wall that production has decreased sharply. Unemployment has sky-rocketed so fewer people are driving to work and emigration has taken off again so there are actually fewer people here burning oil and gas. That's the real carbon emissions story. Everything else is a green fiction.

The carbon tax is just another tax. Taxes have risen across the board. Our VAT rate (sales tax) is now 23.5%. All sorts of other new charges have been introduced, often with little or no protest because we all know the government is broke and we all know that our European masters love all these new charges. So they come in, we moan and then we pay them. That's what happened with the carbon tax.

Rosenthal ties in charging people for their garbage collection service with the carbon tax. That's a completely different issue. Ireland has limited landfill space and it's filling up fast. Garbage collection was getting too expensive for local governments so they sold off the routes and now we have to pay. I don't think this situation would be unfamiliar to many Americans.

My absolutely favorite part of Rosenthal's fairytale was the accompanying photograph of an electric car recharging its battery. The picture was taken at a car dealership. Funny that, considering there are hundreds of these electric charge points all over Dublin. You know why she didn't get a picture of someone charging their car at one of those curb-side charging points? Yup, you guessed it, NOBODY uses them because NOBODY has an electric car.

I was in California two weeks ago. In first the ten minutes I was in Pasadena I saw more electric cars charging their batteries than I have in the two years since the Irish government began rolling out the unused infrastructure for the non-existent national fleet of electric cars.

The Ireland I live in is not the one Rosenthal wrote about. The one I live in is still bankrupt, still hemorrhaging young people, still awaiting further tax hikes, still governed by people sensible enough to know that the average Irish person is still unconcerned by 'climate change.' The Ireland she described is a mythical green land experiencing an environmental-policy-led economic turn-around. You can probably find the 'Little People' running Rosenthal's Ireland.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

An American solution to Rory McIlroy's Olympics conundrum

Rory McIlroy clowning with fans of Europe at the Ryder Cup.
The Ryder Cup is safer for McIlroy because he doesn't have to choose 
between Britain and Ireland. He represents both playing for Europe.
{Photo from the Belfast Telegraph}
Rory McIlroy's caught in a bind not of his own making (mostly, anyway). Golf is coming back to the Olympics in 2016 and he'd like to participate, but he has to choose between playing for Ireland or the United Kingdom.

I generally steer clear of these topics that touch on nationality and Northern Ireland, but in this case I can't stop my American brain working on a possible solution. My American solution might not satisfy anyone in Ireland - north, south, Loyalist, Republican, Unionist, Nationalist, Protestant or Catholic - but might actually be a win-win for the sporting bodies involved.

My idea revolves around television and money - could it be more American? - and is basically this: The Decision II.
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Do you remember the hour-long program a couple of years ago during which LeBron James (eventually) announced his decision as to whether he was going to remain in Cleveland playing for the Cavaliers or move to Miami to join the Heat? Do you remember that nonsense?

At the time I thought it was the dumbest thing I'd ever seen, but ESPN knew better than me. Millions of people watched. It was the highest rated program on American TV that night.

So there's the precedent. I would, however, tweak the James program somewhat. Rather than having McIlroy announce his decision I would go for a coin flip. Yeah, that's right - a coin flip. A flip of the coin will relieve McIlroy of making the decision himself, which he is clearly uncomfortable doing, or letting others do it for him. And using a coin flip will make the program genuinely suspenseful because even McIlroy won't know which team he is going to play for, unlike in The Decision.

I can easily see how this could be played out for an hour on TV - with huge ratings in Ireland and Britain. But I suspect that McIlroy's choice could even be pretty big television in America and that would make it a financial gold mine.

Big ratings and millions of advertising dollars rolling in. The program will be a winner for whatever network gets the rights, but McIlroy will be due a substantial fee. This is where the win-win comes – McIlroy donates his entire fee for the program to the Olympic committee of the 'losing' nation.

He hardly needs the money now that he has his new $200m contract with Nike so donating his fee will be fairly painless for him. Yet the amount should be big enough to be a substantial boost to either the Irish or even the UK Olympic committee. He could even go further and donate his sponsorship money from participating in the Games. By donating his money to the 'losing' nation's Olympic committee McIlroy will soften the blow for those who will be disappointed to see him wearing the 'wrong' colors in Rio.

Of course, there is one other possible American solution: McIlroy could take out American citizenship and play for the United States in 2016. By so doing he will annoy everyone equally in this part of the world (while simultaneously enhancing his own financial bargaining position with sponsors in America). Just consider the headlines and the build-up: 'Olympian Rory McIlroy from Holywood to Hollywood.' What a fairytale!