Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Haughey Part III

The third part of the Haughey documentary was on TV last night. Yawn. Nothing new, nothing controversial, nothing interesting. It just laid out the well known facts with all the flair of a school history essay.

No one involved has come out of the show looking good. Everyone seems to be a bit weird. Haughey himself seems to be portrayed as a being indecisive and just keeps getting lucky. His advisors, like PJ Mara, seem to be lost in their own fantasy land where the geeks are the local heavies. His enemies seem cowardly and unable to grasp the power laid before them. Albert Reynolds gets all emotional. The Fianna Fail party grass roots are portrayed as rejects from the movie Deliverance. The only question you are left with in the end is how did these people manage to govern the country? Unfortunately thats the last of the questions a show about Haughey should be asking.

With each episode I watch I cant help but feel there is a good 6 to 8 part series in there somewhere trying to get out. That may be too long for RTE to sanction in one go (it could interfere with their endless repeats of Friends) but its the only way to cover his career in any real detail. As soon as the man himself shuffles off this mortal coil we may well see a new series with secret interviews given by Haughey on the condition that they are not shown before his death.

Monday, June 27, 2005

U2 in Croke Park

Even by my standards this is going to be a long post. I went to see the U2 concert in Croke Park on Saturday night. They were brilliant, and I feel I need to talk about it :-).

They are playing 3 concerts in Dublin over this weekend and over 80,000 people are going to each concert. I think they would have no problem selling out several more concerts in Croke Park. I'd go again next weekend if I could.

After missing out on the official ticket sales and a week of hunting for a ticket I had to swallow my pride and buy one from a tout. Normally the only way I would go near a tout is with a roll of gaffer tape, a bucket of water and an electric cattle prod (the pricks deserved to be made suffer long and painfully before being thrown into shipping containers and dumped in the deepest part of the Atlantic). Unfortunately by Saturday evening it appeared that it was either get a ticket from a tout or miss the concert. I wont say how much I paid but it was WAY over the face value and that was still a lot less than what the tout first asked for. Later on I did come across two genuine fans with spare tickets who were trying to sell them at cost price, damn!

I saw loads of foreign visitors who had come to Dublin just to see U2 play in their home town. Some were also looking for tickets from touts and had come over in the hope of getting a ticket. One English girl sitting beside me said herself and her friends had come over just for the concert and afterwards said the show was much better in Dublin (though she didn't say where else she had seen them).

I got into the stadium and it was maybe 10% full. First thing I did when I got into the stadium was go buy a Vertigo 05 t-shirt and a white silicone Make Poverty History wristband (I had previously gotten one made from material but that broke). Now suitably equipped I was ready for the show.

The seat I had was on the Upper Tier close to the back and the Canal End (bloody tout) but I could still see the stage and the seats are at a steep angle so my view wasn't going to be obstructed unless some NBA basketball team showed up. At about 6:30pm the stadium was 25% full and The Thrills came on stage to start the warm up. Poor chaps. They could have been singing to an empty stadium for all the attention they got. Everyone was there for U2 and didn't care who else was on stage. As the lead singer said, the biggest cheer he got was when he threw a beach ball back into the pit. How embarrassing, less popular than an orange beach ball.

After 20 or so minutes they finished up and at about 7:30pm Paddy Casey arrived on stage. Now the stadium was about half full and people were a bit more enthusiastic, or drunk, so he got more of a reaction from the crowd, though most people still didn't care. He played for about half an hour and now the stadium was 3/4 full and people were in a much bouncier mood. After Paddy Casey the crowd started doing Mexican waves and the excitement was building.

Suddenly at 8:50 there were the 4 lads standing at the front of the stage greeting the crowd. The lads head to their respective instruments and kick the show off with "Uno, dos, tres, catorce!" and Vertigo. Bono stood at the edge of the stage taking part in the biggest sing along in the world that night as 82,000 people sang their hearts out. More songs followed, and the lads moved around the stage and out into the audience on two curved platforms. A girl was pulled up onto one of the platform and Bono sang to her. So far the gig was good but nothing special. A mix of old and new songs as the night goes on and gradually gets darker.

Then at about 10:30 the band says good night and goes off stage. Of course everyone knows they are coming back for an encore, the previous night they had done 2 encores. After a couple of minutes back they come. The big screen is put to proper use, the lights on the stage turn on and the show kicks off properly. At least this was the first time I really noticed it, maybe it was just dark enough now. Anyway now the show shoots into orbit as the big screen displays messages, graphics and even live footage of Bono, not bad for what looked like a metal grid at the start of the evening.

The real highlight was when Bono introduced Where The Streets have no Name. The flags of Africa scrolled down the big screen and 82,000 people sang along. Spine tingling.

Bono does a bit of a speech on Africa, nothing too long and he informs the people that Bertie Ahern is in the audience. Bono is trying to appeal to Bertie to meet a commitment of 0.7% GDP in foreign aid but no one can hear him. Now this was strange, at first the crowd applauded, then like an earlier Mexican wave people started booing, it started at the far side of the pitch and grew. Those who kept applauding, like myself, were drowned out by the herd mentality and I received nasty looks from some scumbags around me. Screw em, I kept applauding. The booing lasted only a few seconds, but of course it got reported in the media this morning as if it was a big thing. They also booed a picture of Tony Blair, but it was put up on screen to get just that reaction from the crowd. That aside the night was good spirited and no one was too serious despite what the papers said this morning.

In an interesting twist before singing One Bono asked everyone to turn Croke Park into a Christmas tree using the screens of their mobiles phones. People all over the stadium then held up their mobile phones. I guess mobile phones are the cigarette lighters of the 21st century.

After singing Mysterious Ways Bono and The Edge were out on one of the curved platforms extending into the crowd. Bono turns to The Edge and they talk for a few seconds. Then Bono points into the crowd and asks someone to come up onto the platform. A guy in a white t-shirt gets up and Bono tells the crowd that it pays to advertise. He asked the guy if he has anything to say but the chap is too excited. Then Bono asks him if he can play, the answer is yes and up he goes to the main stage. Bono introduces him as Matt from Canada and after a technical hitch with a spare electric guitar he is given one of The Edges acoustic guitars and joins the band in playing Party Girl. What a moment for Matt. Playing with the worlds biggest band in front of 82,000 people cheering him on. After the song ends he is told to go back to his friends, the lights go down and Matt runs down along the platform with the spot light on him and the crowd applauding him. No one back home will believe him :-)

Then, far too early for most fans who would have stayed singing all night, the show came to a close. The last song was a repeat of Vertigo, but this time it was 100 times better with the crowd in full voice and the lights at full effect.

And so a great night ended. People wandered out of the stadium, happy and contented, U2 had cast their spell again. If you get the chance you HAVE to go to see this show when it comes to a city near you. U2 are still the best band in the world and they sure know how to put on a show for their fans.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

State land swapped for affordable houses

It is being reported today that the Irish State is to swap prime land (reg may be required for that link) in the city center to be used for yet another office block in exchange for affordable housing "elsewhere".

While I applaud the sentiment of affordable housing I have to wonder if we are watching another State cock up in the making. The Government has been unable to control the price of housing in Ireland. Its attempts to introduce affordable housing by obliging the developers to allocate 20% of developments to be affordable seem to just be ignored by the developers. Now they are going to give away prime land to encourage the developer to sell crap houses, in sprawling Tallaghtesque housing estates at slightly less inflated prices when they are supposed to be legally obliged to sell affordable houses anyway. The problem with the current affordable housing scheme is the less than subtle loophole:

While up to 20% of any new housing development can be set aside for social/affordable housing, the local authority will determine the exact percentage, given the level of social need in the area. It may decide for example, that zero percent of the overall development is appropriate.

Ahh, the good old local authorities, always looking out for the needs of the common people.

The new houses built as part of this swap are unlikely to be in prime commuter locations and in fact I would expect them to be at least a 2 hour commute away from the new office block on Harcourt Terrace. Why not build a high rise apartment block in Harcourt Terrace and sell those off cheap? The government could donate the land, a developer hired to build the apartments and the affordable housing committee could then sell them cheaply.

Ok I know that Dublin is full of nut cases who want buildings to be no higher than 4 or 5 stories to preserve the character of the city. I live in Dublin, its character isn't all that great. Sure preserve the city center character with its short, rundown, amusement arcades, pound shops, and fast food outlets.

I'd rather see a modern city, with well designed, well maintained highrise apartment blocks (the opposite of the dilapidate rundown slums Ballymun became). Apartment blocks where people live close to their work and the amenities the city has to offer. Instead we are going to get another 500 miles of congested motorways around the city leading to "affordable" housing estates scattered as far from the city as the developers can manage. Which by the time they are built will still sell for more money than the average worker can realistically afford.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Cosmos 1

Fox News is reporting that the Russian Space agency is admitting the new solar sail experiment, Cosmos 1, crashed back to Earth two minutes after launch.

That's a real pity. With the success of Space Ship 1 in the X Prize, a working solar sail would have brought the world of science fiction a little closer to science fact. You have to wonder though why the Russians were allowed to launch the probe given their two previous attempts to launch a solar sail ended with "burned up in the atmosphere". What were they hoping for, third time lucky? :-) Maybe it will be fourth time lucky soon.

Sin City

I went to see Sin City at the weekend. Very good movie. The animated look is excellent, it does feel like you are watching a cartoon but it is with live actors. That's a very good twist on trying to make animated characters seem more real, like Gollum.

The Hartigan (Bruce Willis) story was the best I think, the prison scenes being my favorites. Marv (Mickey Rourke) was probably the best character, his rampage of violence and revenge is great, especially the calm way he figures it just has to be done, while at the same time wondering if its all in his mind because he hasn't taken his pills... Dwight (Clive Owen) and Gail (Rosario Dawson) make the weakest most confused story.

The real star of the film was the film itself. The look is amazing, I've never seen a movie that looked like it. It really is like reading a comic book but with the drawings moving. When I say comic books I'm probably doing the genre a disservice, I should call them graphics novels. If you don't like graphic novels you probably wont like this movie, if you like them you will love this movie and if you have no opinion either way you will probably also love this movie.

Another word of warning, this is a movie that could have tapped into the mind of a 14 year old boy and projected his imagination on screen. The men are all macho super heros and the women are all stunningly beautiful, scantily dressed, gun toting and in need of a man to save them. Take a deep breath, accept that its a total fantasy, and enjoy the movie.

However if you are open to the experience you have to see this movie on the big screen, it just wont be the same shown on anything smaller than the side of a building.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Haughey Parts I and II

The second episode of the Charles Haughey documentary was on RTE last night. Before it started I had the apartment to myself so I settled down and finally watched the first episode on video. The first episode was good and provided information on his early life, nothing too scandalous.

Then came the second episode. Now I grew up in a Fianna Fail family, hell, one of my relatives is actually interviewed in the documentary, so I had a fair idea of events from the inside. I was not born for most of the first two episodes and even the later parts I would have been too young to remember them myself but I was told about them years later. Last nights episode completely glossed over really important issues. Issues that could have provided insights into how Charlie operated, how he controlled powerful people and how he got ordinary people to follow him with blind devotion.

The two most important topics that were skimmed over were how he got back into cabinet after the arms trial and how he organised the backbench revolt that finally finished off Lynch. Instead of a revealing insight into the workings of the Fianna Fail party the documentary makers just repeated information that is probably on the Leaving Certificate Pass History course by now.

How did Haughey get back into the cabinet? Lynch was no fool, he knew what Haughey was planning. He wouldn't have had Haughey back without a good reason. There are stories and legends, but none of them are repeatable here since they are probably not true. But perhaps the documentary makers could have asked more questions, probed more, spoken to more of Haugheys opponents at the time? Instead they just said it was a strange decision and moved on as quickly as possible.

They did focus on the party grassroots functions Haughey attended and made it appear that Haugheys ability to eat chicken and chips earned him the highest office in the land. Crap! It takes more than a simple visit by "yet another TD" to get a Fianna Fail Cumman behind a leadership candidate. When he did win them over the grassroots loved him, but that was only one part of the plot. The grassroots don't vote for the leader of the party, the Dail deputies do. He got the backing of Dail Deputies, promises were made, deals struck. What were they? Who were the big winners and who were the big loosers? Which ones were betrayed? What did he do to those who were against him? Certainly the public is none the wiser after last nights episode.

O'Connell Street

O'Connell Street, Dublin, June 19 2005 Posted by Hello

I was in town on Saturday and I noticed that a larger portion of the center of O'Connell Street is now blocked off as part of the regeneration work.

I think the regeneration of O'Connell Street is long overdue and in general the parts of the street that have been completed look good. Ok lets ignore the concrete Luas power sub station they seem to have added as a new statue, its an ugly concrete industrial box that hopefully will be covered by a real statue (maybe a monument to 1916, one is long overdue?). However there are more annoying problems with the scheme.

First it was supposed to be finished for the EU summit held in Dublin at the end of June, that's June 2004 not June 2005. The contractors seem to have been on a go slow for the last 13 months.

Secondly they seem to now be tearing up the parts that they had already finished with the intention of expanding them out into the street. This seems like something they should have planned and done at the beginning instead of tearing up the work they had already done.

Thirdly, why put down those nice flagstones at all if you allow the companies that are constantly digging up Dublin streets to rip them out and replace they with tarmac when they want to lay a pipe? (note the dark line in the center of the remaining paving on the photo below)

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

MSN Spaces and China

When I first started blogging I did so on MSN Spaces. It was easy and was built in to MSN. After a few posts I moved from Spaces to Blogger. As I explained in my first post on Blogger I didn't feel comfortable on Spaces. I'm not anti-Microsoft, I use Windows XP at home and at work. I am not a great fan of Linux for home use, though I do have two Linux test boxes under my desk in work. I use MSN and I pay for my subscription to hotmail. I do use Firefox but that was because Internet Explorer fell far behind and became a security risk (yeah, I do know the same can be said for Linux over XP).

I couldn't quite explain why I wanted to move off Spaces. I guess part of it was anonymity, I'm still not confident enough in my blogging ability to do so openly. Another part of it was a nagging voice in the back of my mind that said Microsoft were not the company I wanted controlling my blog. They had just entered the market and it was not their focus. So I moved

Now today the BBC is carrying a story about Microsoft censoring blogs in China. I understand that it is only following Chinese law, but its just wrong to scan blogs for certain words and then either warn the blogger about their content or just block the blog. A persons blog is their own opinions. They don't work for Microsoft, if Microsoft had a problem with certain opinions (and I'm not talking about adult content but political opinions) being expressed then they shouldn't have volunteered to host those opinions. The chaotic nature of blogging is well known, and has been long before Microsoft launched Spaces.

Now that Microsoft have implemented this in China it would not be technically difficult for them to move the technology out to other countries. Bloggers in Zimbabwe could be stopped from talking about Mugabe? Bloggers in Iraq could be stopped from talking about the current situation there? Bloggers in America could be stopped if they criticise the war in Iraq? Bloggers in Ireland could be stopped complaining about the public infrastructure and health systems. An argument could be made for all of these things being done in a national interest.

Monday, June 13, 2005

G8 Debt Deal

There was good news over the last few days that the G8 has agreed a deal to cancel the debt of 18 African states. Its a great step in the right direction but people should be careful not to believe that the problem is solved. The debt being cancelled totals €33 Billion. Quite an amount and nothing to be sneezed at, but to put it in context lest consider these facts

1) The national debt of Ireland, the second best economy in Europe after Luxemburg, is €38.1 billion. 30 billion is alot but not necessarialy a cripilling amount to one small western country, let alone members of the G8.

2) Africas total debt is €300 billion.

3) The Iraq War costs $5.8 Billion (€4.79 Billion) a month.

4) World wide military spending in 2003 was $956 Billion (€790 Billion)

Now countries need to defend their national interests but do they really need that much new equipment next year? Maybe squeeze another year out of that fleet of reserve APCs and another few countries could have their national dept wiped out?

Of course the G8 needs to be careful who they give the money to or next year military spending may be €823 Billion.

Alot Done! More to Do!

Cafe Bar licenses

The government has given in to vested interests and backed down on Cafe Bar licenses. 40 Fianna Fail back bench TDs apparently complained and forced the climb down. Disgraceful! Cowardly! Greedy! It proves that the government no longer represents the people. The current situation benefits no one but the publicans who charge inflated prices and pump as much beer into their customers, as quickly as possible, with no consideration for the consequences.

Now I realise that the argument of free-will is always being used by publicans to wash their hands of the blood that flows in the streets after closing time. But they have just proven that people may have free-will but they can only choose between going out to a pub with their friends and going out to, well, a pub. No other choice will be tolerated or allowed.

If I owned a cafe in a popular area I would go around to my neighboring cafes and arrange for a group to make a stand and allow customers to Bring Your Own Beer, or maybe really go out on a limb and go ahead and sell beer. The government no longer represents the interests of the people so I think someone needs to stand up to them.

Some in the cabinet may be trying their best but the only people the backbench TDs represent and protect are their local publicans and property developers. I am a Fianna Fail supporter but I believe the party has lost its way and lost touch with the common people. A clean out of TDs is needed and some time in opposition.


I haven't posted in the last week and a half because I was kept busy with work and a weekend away.

I went to Paris for the bank holiday weekend and came back on Tuesday night. Paris is a lovely city. I had been there before with work but never got the opportunity to do any touristy stuff and I grew to dislike the city though I now realise what I really disliked was the office park area outside Paris. Business travel may seem like a great thing but it really really sucks and you rarely get the opportunity to see anything of the place you are visiting unless you are able to stay over for a weekend.

I now understand why people love Paris. The whole city center is beautiful. Some cities have nice areas with a few beautiful buildings but Paris itself is beautiful. All the buildings blend together to create one distinctive look. The public transport system is second to none. London has a great underground but the Paris Metro is a huge web of metro stations bringing you to within a 5 minute walk of any location with trains every 3 minutes. Compare that to Dublin where we have two short tram lines that don't interlink and a bus system that's supposed to run every 15 minutes on some good routes but waits of 30 minutes for a bus to arrive at your stop are the standard.

I hope Paris gets the 2012 Olympics. London may be closer to Dublin, but I think I would much prefer to travel to Paris for some of the events.

(I should learn how to post photos to my blog)