Onion Horoscope for the Week [observation]
Capricorn : Yelling "Get it off me! Get it off me!" might not have been the best reaction when your boss' 4-year-old daughter gave you a hug.
29/07/03 Music Playlist
CDs on heavy rotation on my CD player:
24 Star Hotel by Mundy
Seize The Day by Damien Dempsey
No Name Face by Lifehouse
Musica Poetica by Carl Orff
28/07/03 Greatest Hits
- Books [rave]
I have had my view of the world turned upside-down three times. In "Guns, Germs and Steel", Jared Diamond presented a persuasive and powerful view of the course of human history. The works of classical economists such as Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek showed me how our society works as a result of individual's actions, even though they do not understand the system that they are part of. But before all them, there was "The Selfish Gene" by biologist Richard Dawkins. This is a book which poses the ultimate question "Why are people?" and offers a humbling answer - that we are "survival machines", programmed to preserve and propagate DNA. It was my introduction to the best idea in history, Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. This is a subtle, elegant, ruthless and beautiful process, operating in the fourth dimension of time - perhaps that's why people have such a hard time understanding it.
What all these works have in common is the belief that the complex entities in our universe are not designed from above, but emerge from below. Stephen Jay Gould described natural selection as "essentially Adam Smith's economics couched in scientific language". Dawkins and Diamond take their lead from Darwin, whilst Hayek and Friedman descend intellectually from Smith. As I explored their ideas in college I began to realise that libraries are dangerous places for people who enter with an open mind.
25/07/03 Timeline [observation]
"Authenticity will be the buzzword of the 21st century. The fastest growing segment of travel today is cultural tourism. People who want to visit not other places, but other times. People who want to immerse themselves in medieval walled cities, in vast Buddhist temples, Mayan pyramid cities, Egyptian necropolises. People who want to walk and be in the world of the past. The vanished world. And they don't want it to be fake. They don't want it to be made pretty, or cleaned up. They want it to be authentic."
I read "Timeline" by Michael Crichton (author of Jurassic Park) last summer, and wondered why it hadn't been made into a film, as it seemed very suitable for the big screen - apparently a film version is in production, starring Billy Connolly of all people! This is not quite how I imagined it...
23/07/03 Thought For
I see an envied haunt of peace, calm and untouched, remote from roar;
Where wearied men may from their burdens cease on a still shore.
(Glendalough by Emily Lawless)
21/07/03 Asylum Watch
The Irish government has launched a crackdown on failed asylum seekers, deporting dozens to their country of origins. This has drawn some criticism from the media because many of them are from EU candidate countries in Eastern Europe and will be eligible to return in a few years, but doesn't this miss the point? If those countries are ready for EU membership then there should be no question of accepting asylum seekers from them. If there are genuine asylum seekers originating in those countries they are not ready for EU membership. One of the above propositions may be true, but both can not be.
19/07/03 TV Watch [observation]
This week is a good week for sci-fi fans. The epic story of the Babylon 5 universe continues with the movie "The Legend of the Rangers", alas, it's on Sky Premier, sunday at 7. On Wednesday night at 1130 UTV are showing the completely off-the-wall "Mystery Science Theatre 3000: The Movie". If you're unfamiliar with this, it involves a guy trapped on a space station with his robot buddies, who is tortured by being forced to watch 1950s B-Movies. The only way to maintain sanity is to slag the crap out of the movie, which the gang proceed to do mercilessly, throwing out pop culture references left, right and centre. On Thursday night Network 2 continue their bizarre "Cinepicks" series, where viewers vote on which film should be shown. I wonder how many people are voting. This week's choice is between "Rob Roy", and the trashily fun "Starship Troopers", which is only very loosely based on Robert Heinlein's classic novel of the same name. Lovers of classic sci-fi can console themselves with "The Day The Earth Stood Still", which airs wednesday afternoon on Channel 4.
Fans of that equally trashy and equally fun genre, teen drama, will be delighted to see that Sky One are repeating the first season of the mother-of-all teen dramas, Beverly Hills 90210, weekdays at 3. Coincidentally, Network 2 showed the last ever episode (#296) of 90210 today.
18/07/03 Couldn't Resist
"Conditions remain bright and dry country-wide with no major problems to report. Note that a lot of builders will take holidays over the next two weeks and as a result there will be less roadworks in operation. As part of action by CIE, no fares are being collected on bus and rail services today. Normal volumes of passengers are using buses, but there is an increase in passengers using trains from the west of Ireland." (From AA Roadwatch's daily update)
Now children, what does this information tell us about people from the west of Ireland?
18/07/03 Greatest Hits
- Books [rave]
"I had one fundamental question about economics : Why do some places prosper and thrive while others just suck? ...I decided that if I wanted to know why some places were rich and other places were poor, I should go to those places. I would visit different economic systems: free market, socialist, and systems nobody could figure out."
So begins PJ O'Rourke's "Eat The Rich", the funniest book on economics ever written, and the first economics book that I read for fun - all the way back in Christmas 1998. I enjoyed it so much I was inspired to read some books by real economists like Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, and their ideas changed how I looked at the world.
PJ's world tour of economic systems takes in places as diverse as Wall Street, Cuba, Sweden, Albania, Tanzania and Hong Kong. In standard O'Rourke mode he takes a few potshots along the way, slaying some sacred cows, and drinking to excess, before coming to some liberating conclusions in his very own "Treatise on Economics".
I happened to catch some of "Prime Time" tonight, which is Ireland's main current affairs TV program. One of its segments dealt with proposed changes to adoption law, with the aim of reconciling the understandable desire of adopted children to find their biological mother, and the equally understandable desire of some of those mothers not to be contacted. Under the proposals there will be a register, where mothers can place their name if they wish to veto a request from an adoptee to contact them. Adoptees who make contact with a mother even after being told of the veto will be subject to a potential fine or prison sentence. Also, the proposal makes a distinction between children born in the past, and those born after the proposals are implemented. This is because mothers in the past could take up a legally-backed guarantee of confidentiality.
During the broadcast, the Minister in question, Brian Lenihan came in for fairly unremitting and misguided criticism. He was accused of introducing a "two-tier system" because of distinction between past and future adoptees. A tier suggests a hierarchial-based system, what the Minister is proposing is time-based or temporal in nature, not hierarchial. To me, it would be unfair and wrong to retro-actively change the rules under which people in the past agreed to give their children up for adoption. With future cases, you have more freedom of action, because you can change the rules and brief the people involved in advance so that they can accept or reject them. Also, it was exclaimed that it was "incredible" to consider applying criminal law to adoptees who attempt to make contact without permission - but surely some sort of penalty is required for the register to have any force, or else why would people comply with it? If the Minister is to have any chance of getting this proposal passed into law, I think he'll have to summon up the determiniation to actually respond to criticisms of it, instead of treating the proposals as if they are someone else's... baby?
Onion Horoscope for the Week [observation]
Capricorn: You've never considered yourself a genius, which helps you avoid damaging blows to your self-image this Sunday.
15/07/03 Taking The
Easy Option [rant]
The Minister for the Environment, Martin Cullen, intends to introduce a levy on chewing gum, polystyrene fast-food wrappers and ATM receipts according to reports in todays Irish Independent (registration required). According to a source in the department, the step is justified because "Is it fair that those who don't use chewing gum pay for the cost of cleaning it up?" The obvious response to such an attitude is "Is it fair that those people who dispose of chewing gum correctly should be punished the same way as those who don't?"
Instead of actually doing something about Ireland's litter problem, and fining people who carelessly dispose of ATM receipts, or spit chewing gum on the pavement, the government proposes to treat guilty and innocent the same. Why bother disposing of rubbish correctly when you've already paid to clean it up? Why bother behaving politely in a society like this when you have no incentive to? What's the upside?
(Update: Denis Boyles takes an equally dim view in his EuroPress Review for National Review)
14/07/03 Who Runs Ireland?
Today saw disruption brought to Ireland's airports because Aer Rianta (the state body responsible for running the airports) workers stopped work to "discuss" plans by the Minister for Transport, Seamus Brennan, to split the company up regionally. One of the arguments made against privatisation of state companies is that if they are owned by the government, then they can be run, not for profit, but for the benefit of the citizens of Ireland. Aer Rianta's opposition, and the opposition of bus and rail workers to the Minister's plans for thats sector, show that this argument is nonsense. These services are being run for the benefit of the unions. Here we have the democratically elected government of Ireland attempting to implement their desired transport policies and being blocked at every turn by the public sector unions. The unions say they weren't consulted - you were consulted, we had an election last year in which your members could vote. A government was voted into office - shouldn't they be the ones to decide transport policy?
- Ireland [observation]
There are thousands (millions?) of blogs out there in the "Blogsphere", but the numbers shoot down dramatically when you start looking for blogs from Ireland that aren't afraid to be politically incorrect. These are some interesting ones that I've come across:
The Tallrite Blog
Bob's Blog of Blah
Right Wing Analysis
12/07/03 TV Watch [observation]
It's summertime, and you have to look a bit further for those gems in the schedules. BBC2 looks a good bet on Tuesday night, as Richard Holmes continues his series on the American revolution, "Rebels and Redcoats". The first episode was good, Holmes was in his element discussing the military aspects of the war, but I felt the political aspects dragged a little. At 1130, there's a documentary about the late, great singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley. BBC2 are also running a season of classic Hitchcock films on weekday afternoons, with "The 39 Steps" and "The Lady Vanishes" catching the eye.
Network 2 offer a second chance to catch David Attenborough's excellent "The Life of Mammals" on Thursday nights. For some (half-serious) escapism, there's always "Spooks", Monday nights on BBC1.
The last ever season of Dawson's Creek continues on Network 2, having only recently started on E4.
"The study of history suggests that the sum total of intolerance in society does not vary much. What
changes is the object against which it is directed. Those who shape the conventional wisdom at the top
are always anxious to censor unorthodoxy, thus demonstrating their power and consolidating their grip."
Those words were written by historian Paul Johnson in a Spectator article from 1987.
Today is the anniversary of the birth of Thomas Bowdler, a Victorian editor who rewrote Shakespeare, removing all profanity and sexual references - so as not to offend the sensibilities of the audiences of his day. In his honour, there is even a verb, to bowdlerize: "To remove or modify the parts (of a book, for example) considered offensive."
A hundred years ago books were censored because of concerns about profanity, or blasphemy. Today, it seems that you can be as profane or blasphemous as you like, without much fuss being caused, but woe-betide anyone who writes something which could be deemed politically incorrect, on matters of race, sexuality, or genetics. Are we more tolerant today, or just as intolerant but about different things?
11/07/03 Surfing the
Take the human senses challenge at the BBC, see if you have any phobias on the phobia list, laugh at Fatwa Sam, or marvel at the little pound coin that wanted to be a million.
(Links sent to me by colleagues in work)
10/07/03 My Hometown
"To be from Marino was to have come first in the lottery of life. Better to stay there and centre your existence there. People from Marino often pointed this out. It is said Marino people are clannish. Not really, they are merely drawn together by a common sense of sympathy and compassion for those not from Marino... that's what you get when you fall in love with an island that is planted in the middle of the city. And it is an island. Its coastlines are Griffith Avenue, Fairview Strand, the Malahide Road, and Phillipsburgh Avenue." (Tom Humphries, The Irish Times, 5 July)
I couldn't agree with you more Tom.
09/07/03 Sad Thought
for the Day
"Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come." (WH Auden)
08/07/03 Greatest Hits
My favourite (non-fiction) book of all time is Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel". How can you sum up a book like this? It is epic, breath-taking, mind-opening. It is attempt to place human history within the domain of science. If you want to know why the world turned out the way it did over the last 10,000 years then this is the book that you have to read. It various sub-titles include: "A brief history of everyone for the last 13,000 years", and "The fates of human societies."
Why was it that Europeans were able to spread around the globe, colonising the Americas and Australia and more? Why not the other way round? How did Africa become black? How did China become Chinese? Diamond studies natural experiments of history - such as the spread of Polynesians to diverse islands across the Pacific - to come up with a theory capable of explainaing the broad patterns of human history.
Some time ago I created a page containing quotes from the book, and links to articles where Professor Diamond discusses the ideas of the book.
This blog is currently in love with Kristianna Loken, who will soon be hitting all our screens as a 'Terminatrix' in the new Terminator film. Expect to see her... everywhere.
07/07/03 Varsity Blues
I wasn't expecting much from this teen drama flick set around a Texas high-school football (american - not the good kind) team. It started out like an MTV video, with the standard cliches, and James van der Beek (Dawson from Dawson's Creek) sporting an irritating accent. However, the film's intelligence-level rose as it went along, van der Beek overcoming the accent to put in a strong performance as 'Mox', the team's stand-in quarterback (the one who throws the ball) who is as interested in books as footballs. Usually, sporting dramas are fairly predictable - do we really think 'our guys' will lose? The real drama and conflict in this film was not what happened on the field, but in how Mox dealt with being thrust into the limelight after the team's star player was injured. Would he succumb to the temptations of a win-at-all-costs attitude and the trappings of fame (such as 'whipped-cream bikinis'), or stand by his friends and level-headed girlfriend?
Aside: Watching the film, I began to realise how much easier it is to film a sport like american football rather than, say, soccer. For one thing the players have helmets so you can get actual ball players in, instead of the actors, to film the moves. In soccer, you have to resort to "Dream Team" tactics of computer-editing real games. Also, in american football every 'play' is a like a dead-ball situation in soccer.
06/07/03 Did you say
Ice Tea seems to one of those things that people either love or hate. To many Irish people, the entire concept seems sacreligious, the very thought of it triggers a reaction of disgust. That used to be my reaction aswell, until I actually tried the stuff on a holiday to Italy. Alas, after developing a taste for it, when I came back to Ireland I found that it was easier to get class-A drugs than Ice Tea (although, that can probably be said about a lot of things). Snapple's is quite nice, but pricey - 500ml sets you back 1.85 euros. I was pleasantly surprised last night to find shops in town selling Lipton's Ice Tea, but in a strange marketing move, they are selling it in 330ml glass bottles for 1.85... do Liptons really think they have much chance of making a dent in the market when their prices are much higher than their nearest competitor? Hopefully supermarkets will start stocking the 1.5l bottles which are commonplace on the Continent at a reasonable price of less than 2 euros.
06/07/03 TV Watch
In an apt piece of scheduling, BBC2 launches a new history series called "Rebels and Redcoats" which tells the story of the American War of Independence. The series presents the war as America's "first civil war" between revolutionaries and loyalists (many of whom emigrated to Canada). The original title for the series was "Brothers at War" which would seem more appropriate. It is fronted by Professor Richard Holmes, whose previous series include the excellent military history series "War Walks". I have high hopes for it - at the very least expect a far more complex version than that presented in the risible "The Patriot". The first episode is, a little predictably, called "The Shot Heard around the World".
05/07/03 Fun with Google
Go to Google.Com, enter the text "weapons of mass destruction" and hit "I'm feeling lucky".
If that amuses you, return to Google, enter the text "french military victories" and hit "I'm feeling lucky".
04/07/03 One of the
"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."
Quote seen on Samizdata.Net : "Could we borrow this when it comes time for Britain to leave the EU, please?"
4th of July post
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
Some years ago, Andrew Sullivan wrote an enlightening article in Forbes magazine where he examined the meaning of the four revolutionary words - "the pursuit of Happiness".
03/07/03 The Critic
"I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it."
Sometimes films are so bad that the scathing reviews are actually more entertaining than the film. I've added a quotes page for Roger Ebert, America's leading film critic. Enjoy!
Onion Horoscope for the Week
Capricorn: "It's time to rid yourself of the fallacious belief that kids or animals or anyone else likes you."
01/07/03 Happy Canada
Celebrate things Canadian by having some Moosehead beer (the only Canadian beer I can find in Ireland) and reading some Mark Steyn, the funniest thing to come out of Canada. Ever.
Mar - Apr 2003
Jan - Feb 2003
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