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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cigarettes: Doing the right thing can be a drag

THE old reliables had mixed fortunes in last Tuesday’s budget. Booze was left alone, while cigarettes went up 40c a packet. Isn’t it gas how these two highly dangerous drugs are known as "the old reliables", as if they were a beloved caberet duo on a never-ending tour across the country?

One of the old reliables will probably kill, or seriously harm, half of the people who ingest it regularly. The other provides relaxation of a very agreeable hue when used properly, but is often abused, leading to a whole range of of societal problems. Maybe because the old reliables offer comfort, albeit fleetingly, their outstanding feature is the power of their purveyors. We have long been aware of the power of the alcohol industry, in all its guises. But what has come to the fore in recent months is the power of those who manufacture cigarettes.
Alcohol is dangerous, but few would argue that it does not have redeeming features. Cigarettes just kill, plain and simple. Former health minister James Reilly is much-maligned, but he does deserve credit for initiating a bill to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes. Ireland would be the first EU country to do so, and only the second in the developed world, after Australia. The idea should be a no-brainer.
Public health demands that smoking be reduced. Potential smokers, invariably teenagers, should be discouraged from taking up the habit. The job of the manufacturers and marketeers of cigarettes is completely at variance with that objective, and the power they can bring to bear is considerable. Journalist Juno McEnroe, of this parish, has highlighted, in recent months, the extent to which the Government has been lobbied about its plans. What has emerged is an old-fashioned battle between what’s good, in health terms, for the public at large, and what’s good for the balance sheet of the drug’s purveyors. And, by God, big business is intent on ensuring that this government gets its mitts off the bottom line, public health or no public health.
The assault has been from all four corners. A joint submission from Canadian manufacturers and Canada’s Chamber of Commerce claimed that plain packaging would lead to more counterfeit tobacco, which, in turn, would make “unregulated products more readily available to children and teens”. Ain’t that sweet? Tobacco manufacturers are worried that children and teens might take up the wrong kind of cigarettes, rather than their own excellent brands, by which they would suffer a better class of lung disease.
Indonesia is the world’s sixth-largest grower of tobacco, prompting a farmers’ group there to write to Enda Kenny, warning that Ireland would be setting “a dangerous precedent for others to follow”. To be fair, that statement is probably correct. While the health of the nation might improve with a plain-packaging regime, it could be perilous for those who flog cigarettes. Kenny has also been lobbied by interests from Turkey, Slovakia, Italy, and Poland.
And get this one.
The American Chamber of Commerce in Mongolia reported to Kenny that the parliament of that country rejected a similar packaging ban, due to concerns about intellectual property rights. So there. Kenny, and his health minister, Leo Varadkar, should do as the Mongolians have done. They should take their medicine and forgo any benefits to public health, because intellectual property rights are of far greater import.
It is notable that the only growing markets for tobacco are in the developing world, where democracy is an occasional irritant, and where poverty has ensured that civic society is still without a serious voice.
Opposition has also come from within the EU, principally from some of the newer entrants, in Eastern Europe, another area where the young democracy has ensured that big business still holds sway over pesky matters like the health of citizens. Why is half the world concerned about what might happen in this little corner of Europe?
Their eyes are on the floodgates. If Ireland were to follow through, and the policy turns out to be a success, who knows where it would end? Back home, a whole range of businesses with connections to big tobacco have pleaded the case. Neworld, a Dublin branding group, predicted that plain packaging “would prove catastrophic for Ireland”. You thought only bankers, transglobal disease or Roy Keane’s departure from the Ireland set-up had the capacity to inflict disaster on the nation state? Think again.
The real enemy is plain packaging for cigarettes. The big question is whether Kenny and Varadkar can hold their nerve. Form would suggest they will find it very difficult. This country bends over backwards to facilitate big business. One of the reasons proffered for lowering the top rate of income tax in Tuesday’s budget was to show a better side to executives of foreign-direct-investment companies. It’s not enough that we have set the corporate tax regime to suit foreign interests, or that we offer perks, like tax relief for school fees, to the top executives.
We must also, apparently, condition our income-tax regime to suit these executives, irrespective of the cost to social justice. That’s how much we love those guys. Now, big business abroad is threatening, cajoling, directing our elected leader to refrain from introducing a policy designed to better the health of the nation, and possibly save lives. There is no guarantee that smoking will decrease under plain packaging, but implementing it would send out a clear message. We accept that tobacco is a deadly drug that is legal. We accept that a chunk of the precious health budget will have to be used to deal with the consequences.
We accept that banning tobacco is not an option. But, by God, we’ll fashion public policy to make it as difficult as possible for them to lead our children into a life less-healthy, and a likely early grave.
Ten years ago, the government in this country introduced the innovative smoking ban. It has largely been regarded as a major success. For once, government held its nerve and resisted serious pressure to back off. Michael Martin, who was the then health incumbent, deserves much credit. However, it should also be noted that the premise for the ban was the potential liability to the State of actions from bar staff who could suffer from passive smoking.
The State stood to lose money under the old regime. If public health had been proffered as the only, or even the principle, reason for implementing the ban, one wonders whether it would have got through.
Thankfully, we’ve all moved on. The ban was a major staging post in the declining power of publicans to dictate public policy. It’s difficult to imagine now, but for decades publicans dictated what constituted an acceptable level of carnage on our roads, through their opposition to effective drink driving laws. Those days are gone. They no longer have that kind of power. Kenny and Varadkar are now discovering that, compared to big business, the domestic publicans were pussy cats.

What has come to the fore is the power of the cigarette manufacturers

By Michael Clifford

Friday, October 17, 2014

Video: 4 year old calls 911 for help with maths- funny (1/2 min to load)

In search of the Komodo Dragon: David Attenborough's short letter of complaint

Between the years of 1954 and 1963, in what was his first major presenting job at the BBC, David Attenborough fronted Zoo, a documentary series that saw him traipse around the globe in search of various animals; the objective being to bring them back to London Zoo where they would then be homed. Viewers quickly warmed to both Attenborough and the concept, and the show was a hit. Below: a letter from a frustrated Attenborough, written from Indonesia in May of 1956 to his boss at the BBC back in London, in which he describes the many obstacles currently faced by his production crew in their quest to film, and capture, a Komodo dragon.

Indeed the problems persisted and, although a Komodo dragon was eventually caught on camera, Attenborough returned to London empty-handed.

c/o British Embassy
Djalan Modjopahit 9
9th May

Dear Leonard,

How I wish I were doing Party Politicals in London (please do not take this as a permanent wish - it will fade in 3 months time). We are however having a frightful time. In spite of all our letters and assurances from the Indonesian Embassy in London, everyone here is being as difficult as possible.

On arrival, our travellers cheques and English pounds were confiscated and all our gear and film impounded in customs. The Australian airline baggage officer who was looking after us told us with a forced smile that it would be cleared the next day, whereupon we should be 'set like a jelly'. That evening he changed his tune a little and implored us to go somewhere else as we had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for. As illustration, he quoted the radar equipments which QANTAS airlines had given to Djakarta airfield only to find that they had been charged 200% import tax. That, he said, was typical of the general attitude. Forms, regulations and restrictions are everywhere. So far we have encountered the following problems:

a) import duty on the equipment and film of £2,600

b) absolute refusal to allow us to catch the wretched dragon.

c) A state of terrorism in most of the places we want to visit.

d) a warning that each island has its own customs department which resents any instruction from Djakarta.

e) an artificial exchange rate which trebles the price of everything.

These at the moment are our major worries. We have, of course, numerous minor ones which need not detail.

To date we have visited apart from H.E. The British Ambassador, the Ministries of Immigration, Home Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Interior, Agriculture, Finance, Education with many of their numerous sub-departments, and Indonesia Radio. As a result, we have achieved a total remission of import duty (on paper - we haven't yet got the stuff), permission to catch birds of paradise and a plan to fiddle an expedition under Indonesian aegis to catch the dragon (which is permissible). As fast as we hobble over the hurdles, however, new and more formidable ones rise in front of us.

If all we had to do was to bash through jungles and catch a few animals, our lives would be easy.

I know I am in no position to complain ("Well, the boy would go") and in fact I am not doing so with any seriousness for I feel sure that we shall at last get free of officialdom and into the islands. When we do I am convinced we shall get material which will knock ants into a crocked hat. Meanwhile, I am afraid our expenses are going to be more than I anticipated and we may be sailing close to the limit of our bank balance by the time we approach the end of our trip. For safety's sake, would it be possible for Lynt to arrange for another £500 to be put to our credit in the bank. I don't think we shall need it, but we should assuredly be in a frightful mess if we did and didn't have it.

Remember me to anyone in the department who still recalls me - I feel we've been here for years.

Yours as ever,


Video: Ireland from the air - Stunning !!! (HD) 1/2 min to load

Padraig Nally: ‘I fear for safety 10 years after shooting’

Padraig Nally still fears for his safety more than a decade after killing a man for trespassing on his property.

The Mayo farmer was the centre of a national debate on the right to defend one’s property after he shot dead John Ward for trespassing on his land. Mr Nally, 70, said he had acted in self-defence at all times.

Following a trial in 2005, Mr Nally was acquitted of murder but convicted of manslaughter. It was the first murder trial in Mayo in nearly a century. A retrial took place in December 2006, where Mr Nally was acquitted of manslaughter. In total, he served 11 months in jail. During the trial, he was praised by many rural homeowners and farmers who argued they should have the right to protect themselves using force if necessary.

Speaking to RTÉ radio almost 10 years after the shooting, Mr Nally said he still feared for his safety. “You’re still fearful that there could be a repercussion at any time,” he said. “That’s the worry that I have at the moment. You have to expect the worst. People that were raided once, they usually come back again second time and it’s nearly always old people they are targeting.”

The farmer, who still lives alone on the farm where the shooting took place, said he was in fear of his life when he fired the shot at Mr Ward.

“I was scared. There was a man behind me and a man in front of me and I didn’t know if there was two men gone in here or not,” he said. “I couldn’t be sure so I ran in here to the door and he ran out. He turned over and he made for me and put his two hands around my neck. He was going then and I caught him by the neck and pulled him back. We had a struggle then for about five minutes outside the door there. He ran towards me three times with one intention: Thinking he would get the better of me.

“I said I couldn’t stand for it any longer so I made for the shed for more cartridges. So I saw him moving out the road then and I followed him out the road and I fired a shot, thinking it would pass him out to frighten him away, but instead it hit him. He fell at the side of the roads then at that.”

Mr Nally said he was not in shock after the incident because his “mind had gone from fear” and he had been “expecting something to happen all week”.

Mr Nally said he was surprised he was jailed but that he got used to life in Portlaoise prison, where he received around 10,000 cards from well-wishers all around the country. “It was awful severe. I was in court before that twice. It was worse being through this. It was awful hard to put up with it and I couldn’t believe it that they could come out with a verdict like that.

“It was all right when I got used to it. It was rough enough with other prisoners shouting at me and abusing me.”

Mr Nally said he went against the advice of friends in returning to his farm after his release, because he wanted to return to his home. “Where else could you go? It was your home and where you were living and where you were brought up, so it was very hard to leave it.”

He also said he had sympathy for the family of Mr Ward, but that he had to protect his life and property. “I had to protect my own life in the day in question,” said Mr Nally. “I had no choice.

“You have to feel sorry for the family, like, losing a father and a husband. You have to offer your sympathies to them as well on account of that. But he was on an errand that he shouldn’t have been on.”
Not gun shy 
Eight-out-of-10 farmers say they should be allowed to own a gun to protect themselves and their property.

The Behaviour and Attitudes survey carried out before the 2013 Ploughing Championships found support for gun ownership was highest among male farmers, with younger farmers under the age of 35 least supportive. However, support for the right to own a gun was well over 70% in all age groups and regardless of sex.

During the trial of Pádraig Nally, the Mayo farmer became the face of a national debate in rural Ireland, where many farmers felt they should be afforded the right to protect themselves and their property with use of force if necessary. The issue returned to focus last year after the Government took the highly contentious decision to close 100 rural Garda stations.
ICMSA president John Comer said that while he was wary of anybody using a firearm to protect themselves and their property, it was understandable given that criminals were targeting isolated rural farmers.
“The broader point here arises from the feeling widespread in... rural Ireland that the State, our State is slowly disengaging from people’s lives. In that context, the fact that many farmers feel they need a firearm to protect themselves should surprise nobody,” he said.

By Connal O' Fatharta

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Video: Not bad for a wan.....(1min to load)

My wife and I were in Dublin recently and overhead a tourist bus operator trying to impress his newly arrived American passengers with his Dublin wit, that usually flies but not this day, on the merits of Michael Flatly, and remarked that he was only a “bleeding wanker.” Well, I thought to myself that I remember that ‘wanker’ when he had not a dollar in his pocket, nor fame to his name, and the whole world to play for one night in 1994.

He danced into history as part of a filler during a show between breaks with Jean Butler and made Michael Jackson’s best night look slow and amateurish. Headlining the troupe called Riverdance, he went from obscurity to where he reigns today as a brash billionaire but forever entertaining and generous man, basking in his own success. Of that he is proud and should be.

He had made Irish dance something special again and brought it to a world wide audience. The originality of that night will not be forgotten and its rhythm and step still pulsate. Not bad for a wanker....

Barry Clifford        

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Photo Minute: There is only one Lake District and one is all you need

Righteousness is Killing The Global Economy

Opinion: history shows us mass deleveraging does not work
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the world economy appears to be stumbling. For a while things seemed to be looking up, and there was talk about green shoots of recovery. But now growth is stalling, and the shadow of deflation looms.
If this story sounds familiar it should; it has played out repeatedly since 2008.
As in previous episodes the worst news is coming from Europe, but this time there is also a clear slowdown in emerging markets – and there are even warning signs in the United States despite pretty good job-growth at the moment.

Why does this keep happening? After all, the events that brought on the Great Recession – the housing bust, the banking crisis – took place a long time ago. Why can’t we escape their legacy?

The answer lies in a series of policy mistakes: austerity when economies needed stimulus, paranoia about inflation when the real risk is deflation, and so on.
But why do governments keep making these mistakes? In particular, why do they keep making the same mistakes year after year? The answer, I’d suggest, is an excess of virtue. Righteousness is killing the world economy.

What, after all, is our fundamental economic problem? A simplified but broadly correct account of what went wrong goes like this: in the years leading up to the Great Recession we had an explosion of credit. Old notions of prudence, for both lenders and borrowers, were cast aside; debt levels that would once have been considered deeply unsound became the norm. Then the music stopped, the money stopped flowing, and everyone began trying to “deleverage”, to reduce the level of debt. For each individual this was prudent. But my spending is your income and your spending is my income, so when everyone tries to pay down debt at the same time you get a depressed economy.

So what can be done? Historically, the solution to high levels of debt has often involved writing off and forgiving much of that debt. Sometimes this happens explicitly: in the 1930s FDR helped borrowers refinance with much cheaper mortgages, while in this crisis Iceland is outright cancelling a significant part of the debt households ran up.

‘Financial repression’
More often debt relief takes place implicitly through “financial repression”: Government policies hold interest rates down, while inflation erodes the real value of debt.
What’s striking about the past few years, however, is how little debt relief has actually taken place. Yes, there’s Iceland – but it’s tiny. Yes, Greek creditors took a significant “haircut” but Greece is still a small player (and still hopelessly in debt).
In major economies very few creditors have received a break. And far from being inflated away, the burden of debt has been aggravated by falling inflation, which is running well below target in America and near zero in Europe.

Why are debtors receiving so little relief? As I said it’s about righteousness – the sense that any kind of debt forgiveness would involve rewarding bad behaviour.
In America the famous Rick Santelli rant that gave birth to the Tea Party wasn’t about taxes or spending – it was a furious denunciation of proposals to help troubled homeowners.
In Europe austerity policies have been driven less by economic analysis than by Germany’s moral indignation over the notion that irresponsible borrowers might not face the full consequences of their actions.

So the policy response to a crisis of excessive debt has been a demand that debtors pay off their debts in full. What does history say about that strategy? That’s easy: it doesn’t work.
Whatever progress debtors make through suffering and saving is more than offset through depression and deflation. That is, for example, what happened to Britain after the first World War, when it tried to pay off its debt with huge budget surpluses while returning to the gold standard. Despite years of sacrifice it made almost no progress in bringing down the ratio of debt to GDP.

But it has been very hard to get either the policy elite or the public to understand that sometimes debt relief is in everyone’s interest. Instead, the response to poor economic performance has essentially been that the beatings will continue until morale improves.
Maybe, just maybe, bad news – say, a recession in Germany – will bring an end to this destructive reign of virtue. But don’t count on it.

Paul Krugman

Monday, October 13, 2014

Photo Minute: The Mountains Of Iceland

A Good, Decent And Well Rounded Human Being

Fr Michael Drumm, Irelands executive chairman of the Catholic Schools Partnership, which oversees the education sector on behalf of the Irish bishops, said that new legislation, aimed at combating ongoing historical  discrimination by the Catholic church against teachers and children alike, calls it unconstitutional without once calling their traditional policies as anything but constitutional. The road is long in this flawed argument but is nearing its end. Drumm then quite blatantly uses previous brainwashed alumni to support his fixed and bayoneted point of view. Their argument is so morally wrong that it begs the question does this Irish Catholic version of Catholicism relate to a modern Ireland today aghast at the killing and murdering of babies of yesterday, and the grisly gulags of imprisoned children that numbered in the tens of thousands. I do digress.

Drumm and his alumni want some of these old crimes/sins to stand today such as being opposed to a provision in the new bill that would only ‘limit’ their ability to guarantee places to children of past pupils on the sole basic that they are a private school and therefore discrimination within it is a private matter.

They also want to keep it legal for them to turn a student away who wants to enroll at their college on grounds of race, religion and disability ; they also want to keep it legal to not have to hire but be able to fire teachers that they deem to be homosexual, unmarried mothers, or do not believe in the Catholic version of a universal God, which by small or large would go against the ethos of their traditions of bigotry.

Drumm, supposedly speaking on behalf of the cowed managers of their schools, said in his mitigating argument that it was inappropriate for the Government to legislate for a problem which affected just a small number of schools, namely those which had waiting lists. The reality is that the Catholic Church in Ireland runs and owns over 90% of all schools, and all privately run with taxpayers money whether that taxpayer likes it or not, in some form, and that fact is frightening. The small number Drumm is preaching about is what is left.

Drumm added “there is no doubt but faith-based schools – be they Catholic or Protestant – have a constitutional right to use faith-based conditions if they wish” in their entrance policies. If he stands by that view, he might like to wield the pen in his own fieldom, but when the Muslims take over, he will surely die by it at wrong end of a sword.

Today’s reality should take into context the historical weight of religion, any religion. Beyond a fair constitution, the Irish Government and any other one, should be only concerned with the equal rights of the individual, for religion is a personal point of view. At its best it should remain that way. If a parent, coming from their own traditional upbringing, continues to teach by what they think they know against what the child could learn beyond that local knowledge, for all the idealism that is meant it is not ideal for a child, be it Muslim or Catholic. The quest is to make that child into a good, decent, and well-rounded human being. The rest then, if it still exists, will take care of itself.

Barry Clifford

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Thinking About Thinking

Maybe it is a sign of thinking too much but thinking about thinking can throw up all sorts of unresolved issues of spanners that cannot be found in the works but one knows they are definitely there. Why do we do sometimes do the things that we do for the latest conundrum of mine is there really a reward for every action that we take? The easy answer would be yes but is perhaps too narrowly defined against a determined psychologist who believes that all life’s actions are reward based, either financially or emotionally, even to the point that you are the only one that knows of that action and the reward that it brings. But is it all reward based?

Take a scenario that anyone would hope it never happens to them. Let us suppose it is a married male witness with two young children who has come on a woman being raped or an elderly woman being mugged in a deserted park at night.. The assailent clearly looks mean and carrying a gun. You know that reaching for your mobile phone would be too late to save the victim and only physical action gives them any chance of survival and your exit out of this mess, should you so choose, is unhindered.

Do you go for it while putting your life and the welfare of your wife/partner at home at great risk if you do in order to save the victim; their future and indeed yours is on the line now. You do not know the victim and if you walked away now only you who would know that you did. Is that not the safest bet of all? Surely that is practical and can be lived with? After all it is survival of the fittest or perhaps it can be argued you can live to fight another day. Not a lot of reward here one way to the other, not even a secret one.

There are counless stories of acts of heroism of people who tried to help others, strangers, and lost their lives in doing so in what seemed a selfless, heroic but ultimately a suicidal act. It was not really suicide because you never intended to die is about the best you can make of it, maybe. I think it is rooted in something deeper and more meaningful that started a long time before that in the formation of the sense of self and what answers eventually came from the questions asked in that journey whether one would have choosen to act or not.

It also lies in some part in what Martin Niemoller (1892 1984) thought about inaction when he said this: “First they came for  the socialists and I did not speak out-because I was not a socialist. Then the came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak-out because I was not a trade unionist.  Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out- because I was not a jew. Then they came for me-and there is no left to speak for me.”

No one can really answer what they would do on the night except hope that it would never happen to them. The fireside braggart with beer muscles might enligten us with his fantasies but only reflex instinct, flight, fight, fright primitive ones, will act on the those precious seconds, for better or worse, for thinking on your feet may be a luxury that is not there. 

In the wider context of war and defence of life and liberty and freedom, doing something is always better than doing nothing but at least you will get a chance to think about it first.

Barry Clifford  

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