Showing posts from 2008


I was in Munich last weekend for long weekend and visited the Christmas market in the old town. It and the shops nearby were mobbed. There's no sign of an economic downturn in Munich. It is a very clean and organized city. I was struck, however, by just how many shops didn't have lifts. That's not something I would have noticed until I started going places with the buggy. Eating out was about the same or slightly less expensive than in Ireland. But I guess there are very few places left that are actually more expensive than home. There's lots of shopping to be done in Munich. But I wasn't really in the mood and so came away empty handed. But the Christmas market did fill me up with Christmas vibes.

Isaac's, MacCurtain St. Yawn

We went to Isaac's on MacCurtain St tonight for the first time. I was surprised. I really don't know what all the fuss is about. Apart from an interesting tempura, the menu was very boring. The siñorita's tempura was fun and as far as I'm concerned wasabi is the new black. But we were hard pressed to find anything else interesting on the menu. I opted for a goat's cheese salad. The salad was boring and the goat's cheese very thin on the ground. The siñorita, for want of anything interesting, opted for lamb. It was nice, but not special. I had some stuffed chicken. Again, nothing wrong with it. But very uninteresting. The atmosphere at Isaac's is casual. Too casual. It hits that sweet spot that lies somewhere between cafeteria and bus station. Atmospheric 18th-century warehouse my arse. There's nothing screams not-atmospheric-18th-century warehouse like Formica. I thought the food was over-priced. Isaac's certainly is not special enough to warra

Irish Pork Recall

All Irish Pork products have been recalled because of a dioxin safety scare. Confidence in beef is surely to be hit also. This will have a serious impact on these industries. Ironically I have been finding it increasingly more difficult to actually buy Irish pork and beef. Whenever I go to the supermarket for ham for my sandwiches it takes me ages to figure out if the ham is actually from Ireland or not. Often there are no Irish ham slices at all. Of course many traditional Irish brands no longer use Irish meat preferring to source it in Brazil. This places these faux-Irish brands in a well deserved position. By not coming clean on the product labels about where the meat is actually sourced, they will suffer the same fate as the Irish products at a time when they could be cleaning up because of the scare. Now the misleading Paddy's Irish Style Rashers and Sausages are suddenly less attractive than the more honest Paulo's Pork and Samba Sausage. Aldi refuses to say where

Pay in Pounds at UK Duty Free

In most UK airports it is possible to pay in Euro as well as Pounds. However even credit card users are now given the option to pay in Euro. This seems a bit strange but it may suit some customers to have the transaction posted in Euro rather than a foreign currency. In addition it saves them any extra or hidden charges that their credit card company may include. Whether or not this option represents good value depends on the extent to which your credit card company screws you and the Euro price offered. Anyway Stansted Airport screws you more on the rate than Visa does. So now you know. Ryanair, incidently, always charges you at your home rate even if the ticket is priced in Pounds. At the exchange is at a rate that Ryanair deems appropriate.

Lufthansa charges Irish residents more!

I had an unusual experience this week trying to book a flight from Munich to Madrid with Lufthansa. I thought it was a bit silly that a one way ticket cost about ten times the price of a return, but the return was so cheap that I didn't mind so much. I went to the Lufthansa website and selected English as my language choice and didn't pay too much attention to the country selection. I chose my flights and went to pay. On entering my credit card details I was told I had to start again because I was in Ireland but I had said at the front page that I was in Germany. I found it very inconvenient to have to start all over again. I was startled to see that as a resident of Ireland I had to pay more for the same flights. And in addition to this, the days on which the best fares were available varied also. I contacted Lufthansa and after some initial very shabby customer service I found out that Lufthansa charges residents of different countries different prices. Some of this may

Idealism is not naivety

I went to, what I thought would be my last, meeting of the Progressive Democrats tonight. However, it now seems likely that the party will continue after its leader and its Oireachtas members have abandoned ship. I don't blame them for doing a runner. The Irish electorate has never rewarded straight talking. It has never rewarded people who put the country before their party and before their own political futures. The PD brand is hugely unpopular and most who run for office as a PD will not have a snowball's chance in hell of being elected. The party leader wants to give the party a decent burial before he goes to Fine Gael. I guess he hopes the party's epitaph will list all the things the party did for Ireland and will honour its legacy. It may in time. It the short term all it will say is The going got tough. So the PDs took their ball and went home. I believe that Ireland needs a party that is prepared to stand up to vested interests (in the private AND public sector

My Pre-Budget Submission

Dear Brians Youze are muppets. Your policy of propping up your buddies in the building industry with tax breaks and incentives so that prices would keep going up has failed. Property in Ireland is over-priced. Some people paid too much for their homes (probably I did). The economy is slowing down, and house prices, if left to their own devices, will fall further. The bubble has burst. So just deal with it. Please do not come up with some hair-brained scheme to distort the market even further just so you can prop up house prices a little bit longer. Any proposal that makes a distinction between new and second-hand properties will be a transparent attempt to keep the developers happier a bit longer. The people of Ireland need to be cured of their obsession with property. 25-year-olds do not need to own their own homes. Renting is perfectly respectable. Borrowing 10-times one's annual salary is just thick. Any further attempts to keep on the good side of the property developer

Why foreign banks should not avail of Republic of Ireland guarantees

A number of non-Irish banks operating in the Irish market have expressed concern that they are at a competitive disadvantage because the state guarantee on bank deposits and debts does not apply to them. They are right to be concerned. No sane Irish depositor would leave their money in a non-Irish bank where they would risk losing it, when they could easily move it to an Irish bank where it would be safe. However the Financial Regulator of Ireland has the power to regulate only Irish banks. RaboBank, for example, is regulated by the Dutch Financial Regulator. If RaboBank was behaving recklessly or improperly the Irish regulator would be powerless to act. So I think it is very reasonable that the guarantee apply only top those banks over which the state has some control. Once again the Irish have pissed off Sarkozy, this time by ruining his planned EU-wide guarantee. However I think this was always a bad idea, again because of very national nature of the regulators. I would not like

Irish Solution to a Global Problem

The Irish government's guarantee of deposits and debts issued by Irish banks puts the US bailout in the ha'penny place when considered on a a per capita basis. My personal share seems to be about €100 000. Of course the risk being taken with Irish taxpayers' money isn't as great as the risk in the U.S. I don't expect the U.S. tax payers to ever see much of their money again. What amazes is the interconnectedness of the money markets. The Irish guarantee has seen an unanticipated rush of capital into Irish banks, especially in the U.K. where one can simply walk in to a branch. This is causing a knock-on crisis there and across Europe. There's a very interesting article on the Irish Times website.

Bus Muppets

I was on the bus the other day and it passed a number of people waiting at a bus stop because the driver believed the bus was full. The bus wasn't full. In fact, there were even seats but this was a reasonable conclusion for him to come to because there was a big crowd of people bunched up the front. I guess some people prefer to stand. But why don't they stand then at the back so that more people can get on the bus.

The Other Billion

As if my day hadn't been multi-cultural enough, I went to a Brazilian bash tonight. It was the drinking tail-end of a capoeira weekend. It was great fun. The DJ was good. The live music was superb, and the dancing was fantastic. As if my re-integration weren't tough enough, the people working behind the bar were Spanish. I found myself worrying about whether Heineken is masculine or feminine. Heineken sounds masculine, but ceverza is definitely feminine. Is it un pinto or una pinta? I went with pinta. Brazilian parties are not where married men go to avoid temptation, but I wore my wedding ring on one hand and my super gay watch on the other. I made it home safely, but not before concluding that, more or less, the entire population of Brazil is going straight to hell. And I successfully deferred the decision to join them.

Onam Festival

I went to a dinner today in Bishopstown GAA as part of the Onam Festival organized by some members of the Indian community of Cork. The food was tasty and good fun. It was vegetarian because some Hindus are vegetarian. I thought it would be very hot but it wasn't. The flavours were wonderful. Thankfully our hosts organized forks for my buddy and me. The deputy mayor was the guest of honour and he was a bit late. That meant there was a bit of waiting. I was looking forward to the dancing but left before it started. I met some very nice people. All of my Indian friends have left Cork now. I'd forgotten how welcoming, hospitable, and kind Indians are. I know it's a bit much to draw conclusions about one billion people based on having met only a few of them. But I don't care.

Wine Museum

The wine museum in Peñafiel is quite missable.

Chañe Fiesta

I survived the Chañe fiesta. It was hard work. Despite the reputation Irish people have for drinking we are not a patch on Spaniards. Of course the reputation Irish people have for drinking is so great, that most Spaniards simply conclude that I am a poor excuse for an Irishman. My sister-in-law was one of the reinas de la fiesta. This meant that she got a new dress but had to perform a few official duties. She was more concerned, however, that with only days to go she and her buddies didn't yet have a peña. I thought my nickname of reina sin peña was hilarious, but no one else found it funny. Peña is a difficult word to translate. The best I can do is shebeen . A peña is a drinking den where teenagers go to drink, smoke, and make out. In Spain parents accept that their kids are going to drink. They don't just give them money for this, they often give them real estate too. In Chañe most peñas are disused farm buildings. Not so long ago people kept their farm animals in the

Spanish Journalism Reaches New Low

Spaniards are not big newspaper readers. The tabloid end of the news market in not in print at all but on television. Spanish TV stations are awash nightly with B-list celebrities and their comings and goings -- often from the airport. The sight of a celebrity walking away from the camera, ignoring a "journalist" repeating the same question over and over is a nightly occurrence on TV. Footage, that in most markets would be considered useless, makes it to air in Spain. A celebrity not giving an interview is still "news" worthy. But today Spanish journalism reached a new low. Perhaps it was the panic. Or perhaps it was the familiar territory of MAD-T4 that caused a lapse of judgment. Today after a plane crashed on take off at Madrid Barajas Airport I saw family members of passengers on TV not giving an interview. One distraught woman was being pursued as the left the terminal building. Celebrities court the media. The don't get to complain when the attenti

Ella Elle L'a is No.1 in Spain

I am both happy and sad that Ella Elle L'a is No.1 in Spain. I am a big fan of the original France Gall version from her album Babacar . I think it is one of the greatest pop songs of all time. It is also one of the few French songs that have been popular in the English speaking world ( Voyage Voyage , and Joe Le Taxi come to mind). That this tarted up dance beat cover by Kate Ryan has made it to the top is interesting. It proves that you can force something to be a hit if you play it often enough. While the Baila Chikki Chikki EuroVision song promised to be the ubiquitous summer hit this year, interest waned very quickly after the contest itself. In addition this song was only available for sale on iTunes. This of course makes sense. The business of selling CDs has long since died in Spain. Members of the target market for a song like this probably don't even own CD players. And it's a long time since they paid for music in any format. But if a dance remix of th

Ecological Bullrun

I was at an ecological bullrun yesterday. A bullrun is an event where the bulls are encouraged to run through the town, usually to the bull ring, and the locals run with (although sometimes after, beside, and under) them. The oldest bullrun in Spain is in Cuellar and the the most famous is, thanks to Hemmingway, in Pamplona. I'd witnessed the Cuellar bullrun once but not participated. But I'd never seen an ecological bull before. An ecological bull is not one with so sophisticated a diet that it has a zero carbon footprint. An ecological bull is like a cross between a wheel barrow and a sittee! Some children took it very seriously and dressed in the traditional white pants and shirt with red scarf. Others suspended their disbelief and ran terrified down the street as the crowd and bulls approached. Some skillfully crossed the path of the bull, like they'd seen on TV. The rules for bullruns invariably state that those under the influence of alcohol cannot run. However

I saw a snake

I saw a snake today. It was very small, but seeing a real live snake in its natural habitat is a big deal if you are Irish.

Iscar Fiesta

Went to the Fiesta in Iscar last night. Saturday night is generally the biggest night of any fiesta. We arrived, unfashionably early, at about 11. The band didn't start until 12. The singer was not very good at all. It seems that the fiesta in Iscar was such a big deal that they had two bands! It was about 3.30 by the time we left. Things were only getting started then. The siñorita is having trouble finding someone to go to a bullfight with her on Tuesday. She knows better than to ask me. Kill it and eat it, or leave it alone. That's my view on torturing animals for entertainment.

Digital TV in Ireland

The BCI announced recently that it has awarded three multiplexes for Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) to Boxer . I’m quite excited because I am very interested in the technology, my master’s thesis was on video compression algorithms, and I think more competition in the market would be good. I have a number of reservations however. DTT is not really about giving viewers more choice. Most Irish households who want multi-channel viewing are served by either cable or satellite. TV ownership has reached saturation point. Most people who want a TV set own one. The promise of High Definition TV and discs (Blu-ray) is a great way to increase demand for new TVs. Like the transition from Vinyl to CDs, and from VHS to DVD and now Blu-ray; capitalism’s greatest achievement is its ability to persuade people to buy something that they’ve already got. Digital TV and High Definition TV are not the same thing. High Definition Digital TV has far superior picture quality to what viewers are use

BUPA wins Supreme Court Case

I was delighted to read today that BUPA won its Supreme Court case taken against the government's interpretation and implementation of risk equalization. Minister Mary Harney was straying far from her free market anti-monopolistic roots when she forced BUPA to pay the VHI cash to compensate it for the fact that it had many more older customers on its books. As a long time supporter of the Progressive Democrats I always felt this decision was wrong. In fact, I cannot understand Mary Harney's obsession with the VHI. Almost all that is wrong with the Irish health service can be traced back to, one way or another, the VHI. If there were no VHI at all or if customers who wanted to skip hospital queues had to pay real cost of their insurance, the health service would be in a much better state.

Spencer Tunick Post Instalation Get Together

I went to the Spencer Tunick Post Installation Get Together this evening. I expected it to be some sort of event, but it was just an informal get together. Many people were talking to each other about their experiences of the photo shoots. Everyone was very positive. I wonder if I have been too harsh. One woman told me about another shoot yesterday in a car park. It was for women only and involved some foam. That raised an interesting question in my mind. If Tunick's thesis is that nudity need not be indecent, it can be art, then why segregate men and women. If nudity is asexual, why are so many of his photographs sex-specific? I learned a valuable lesson from that woman, however. She was over the moon to have been involved. If she was happy, why should I be offended on her behalf? This put me in mind of the naked leprechauns, and I realised that I have no right to be offended on their behalf either. She asked me if I would do it all again given the chance. That was a useful que

Spencer Tunick in Blarney: Porn at the End of the Rainbow?

Weeks before, in the pub, it seemed like a great idea. But as the deadline for American photographer Spencer Tunick's naked photo shoot approached, my buddies dropped out one by one. In the end I got a taxi to the grounds of Blarney Castle. The taxi driver pointed out two protesters in the distance. It's not that long ago in Ireland that they might well have been real protesters. But it was clear that they were just having a laugh. I was able to tell the driver what their placards said long before we could actually read them: Careful Now & Down With This Sort of Thing . I wondered if Spencer Tunick would get the joke. I arrived as instructed at 3am. It was night and it was cold. Photography, by its nature, doesn't generally happen at night so there was no reason for us all to be there so early. It was almost two hours before anything at all happened. While the weather in Ireland is variable, it's easy to look up when sunrise will happen. There was no g