Archive for January, 2009

29
Jan
09

The world said it was wrong, but it was the world that was wrong

So cute!!!

28
Jan
09

Freedom of Information: Know your rights

Earlier in the week I sent an FOI request to the Department of Justice, and this morning I received a letter informing me that my request has been acknowledged and is being handling. So far so what, one might say, this is all pretty much above board. There is, however, one interesting anomaly. The letter contains one sentence, in dramatic bold print no less, that states, “Non reply by us is deemed to be a refusal.”

Now I generally don’t have a problem with people taking the piss occasionally. It is after all a particularly Irish trait to test the boundaries of what we can get away with. If this had been just a once-off I wouldn’t have felt the need to write this post. However, this is the second time they’ve tried this shit with me, so now I’m going public.

If ever a facet of the public administration system tries to fool you into believing they may refuse a freedom of information request without informing you why, I advise you to immediately e-mail the relevant FOI officer (as I’m going to do as soon as I’ve finished this post) and direct their attention to Section 8 (1), paragraph c of the Freedom of Information Act. This states:

Subject to the provisions of this Act, a head shall, as soon as may be, but not later than 4 weeks, after the receipt of a request under section 7 cause notice, in writing or in such other form as may be determined, of the decision and determination to be given to the requester concerned.

Basically, if your request is refused, they’re required to inform you why. Yet the FOI officer in the Department of Justice is under the impression that she can simply say, “fuck that,” and throw out requests without giving them a further thought. Of course this is symptomatic of the general contempt for freedom of information displayed by our civil servants, addicted as they are to the culture of secrecy granted to them by Charlie Haughey’s Official Secrets Act of 1963. These guys personally resent examination of how they do their jobs and see the Freedom of Information Act as something that should at most be pacified and preferably ignored completely.

Proof of this came in 2003 when the Government disgracefully amended the original act. The same fuckers who as opposition in 1997 claimed the act was too weak and ineffectual did their utmost make it weaker. Let me say, however, that I don’t have a problem with many of the changes made. Introducing a €15 charge to eliminate nuisance requests was entirely justified. And as for increasing the protection period for cabinet documents from five to ten years, few would deny (at least in private) that 5 years was ridiculously short. The problem is that they didn’t stop there. They greatly expanded what was deemed to be a cabinet document, which in effect changed the meaning of the word “Government”. There are other examples too numerous to mention here. So let us merely look at Bertie Ahern’s defence of the amendments in the Dáil when he claimed:

Later today, I am dealing with Northern Ireland matters on the Good Friday Agreement, which was negotiated five years ago. If the papers were available about the same issues being negotiated today, there would be major difficulties. It is not possible to reduce the period to five years when one is dealing with the same people, process and issues.

Fair point, until you realise the original act contained this little tidbit:

A head may refuse to grant a request under section 7 in relation to a record if, in the opinion of the head, access to it could reasonably be expected to affect adversely-
(a) the security of the State
(b) the defence of the State
(c) the international relations of the State, or
(d) matters relating to Northern Ireland

But this is all water under the bridge. Having already undermined the act, one might expect them to at least comply with the bitty remains they left behind, but apparenty not. Well, the last time I got such a letter I sent them an e-mail demanding to be notified in writing if my request is denied. As it happens, my request was denied (for reasons I accept were justified, or at least legal), and sure enough, I got a very detailed letter explaining why. This is the lesson I’m trying to impart with this here fable. These fuckers will only get away with this shit if we let them.

26
Jan
09

Dentist

It looks like I’m going to have to give the auld dentist a wee visit, which is not a though that’s amusing me. I hate dentists. It’s been about eight years since I last had me teeth looked at, and the last time before that I was in primary school. I know we’re supposed to go every six month, but to me this sounds like snake oil dentists have collectively dreamt up to peddle money out of us.

Maybe I’m just blessed with unusually good teeth. They’re fairly straight and cavity free, despite my shunning of gob-doctors. I’ve amassed just one filling in my time, which I think is pretty good for a man in his late twenties. Of course even the most disciplined platoon can be let down by a Pvt Doberman, and even my heavenly gob is cursed with one molar that’s rotting away on itself. Interestingly, it’s the same one that got that filling eight years previous. It’s sort of collapsing around the filling, which isn’t pleasant. Just last night I was trying to pick away a bit of food that was stuck in there (as it tends to do) when I managed to pull out another piece of tooth. Not a good sign.

So it’s off to the toothologist with me. Oh, joy. The reason I’m apprehensive about this largely due to my last encounter with the fancy chair. In addition to doing an evidently shitty job, he also messed up the local anaesthetic while doing it. I don’t know if he missed the nerve or got the concoction wrong or what, but when he was cleaning out the cavity (and what kind of procedure called “cleaning” requires a drill) it hurt. I’m not being squeamish about it, it hurt in a way nothing in a free country should hurt. I didn’t say anything because I assumed it was supposed to be that bad, but when I went in a few days later to get the job finished it didn’t hurt nearly so much. Obviously he did something he didn’t do the first day. The cunt.

So this is what is making me nervous about going again. Maybe I’m being silly but I think that’s a right I’ve earned. Even if it turns out to be completely pain free, I’m still not sure how I’m supposed to pay for it. Never mind, it’ll figure itself out. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this.

24
Jan
09

Patrick Rocca and the media

I see that the family of Patrick Rocca will be referring to the Press Ombudsman reports on his death they feel were hurtful and inaccurate (see here and here. Interesting that the Indo has ignored the story). This is proper order as far as I can see. The coverage was certainly speculative and sensationalist. Personally, I don’t see how Horgan can not rule in the family’s favour without making his position redundant.

The complaints highlighted by the Rocca family were previously mention by me here, if somewhat sparingly. Rather than congratulate myself, however, I’m feeling somewhat guilty about it, as I’m worried I may have contributed to the hurtful media reporting. This particular post generated a lot of traffic, about three times what I might normally expect. Now as Patrick Rocca wasn’t really a major household name (my post is still the only WordPress post tagged to him), I suspect much of this traffic came from people connected to him. And whereas they might have expected an “our thoughts are with you” sentiment, they found instead a slightly cynical “them and us” rant.

I just want to say that if any of Mr Rocca’ family or friends read my post and found it hurtful, I apologise. This was not my intent, and I hope you believe my thoughts are with you.

24
Jan
09

Woohoo!!!

I had me an article published today. See here if you don’t believe me.

Ok, it’s the Indo. I realise most bloggers have some issues with this publication, what with their copy-n-paste approach to journalism and all. But they did right by me. Well, the subs kinda screwed me as they cut out most of it and diluted the point of the article (that being the debate within the industry if a protest will damage their position). Nonetheless, my name is in print. I’m still unemployed, and I’m not likely to get much money for the piece, but at least I can honesty say I’m a freelancer now.

22
Jan
09

CVs and the truth, or what exactly is meant by “conversational” German?

A constant moral dilemma for unemployed people is the stretching of truth on CVs. Of course any employment service will say you should be 100% honest, but do people really do this? I heard on Ryan Tubridy’s show during the week that 70% of people have admitted to lying on a CV.

I ask this as I’m in the process of applying for a certain job, the advert for which asks I would be willing to travel to places such as Germany. Now it doesn’t state that being able to speak German is a requirement, but I suspect highlighting that I studied German in college would be a major bonus.

The trouble is that I only studied it for one year, being one of the subjects I dropped after first year. And the amount I remember extends to being able to say my name and asking what’s wrong. Somehow I don’t think this can be described as a conversational knowledge of the language. And yet that’s what I want to write on my CV.

Is this dishonest, or even a strategically bad move? I mean, they could ask me to prove my abilities with Deutsch. Where would I be then? On the other hand, I did do it for a year. That’s got to be worth something, right?

I really don’t know what’s the right, or clever, move here.

20
Jan
09

Do they annoy people just for fun?

The social welfare office has been dicking me around again. When I went to collect the dole today the lady in the post office told me there’s no money there for me. So off I goes to the office to see what’s what.

Apparently there was some complication with my file during the week. They lost some letter they were supposed to have, but this wasn’t a major issue, they said, the money was sent out. “Well, tell that to the girl in the post office,” says I. “No, you don’t understand,” replies the woman (who I must admit was quite nice about it), “it’s been sent to a different post office.

So, for no real reason and without feeling the need to tell me, these guy saw fit to send my payment to a different post office. I mean, why? Do they do these things for a laugh? Maybe they think I need the exercise. God knows what part of north Dublin my payment will be in next week.

20
Jan
09

The first tragedy that matters, at least

The front page of today’s Irish Daily Mail really irked me quite a bit. I found the declaration that the suicide of Patrick Rocca is the first tragedy of the recession quite insulting. Now I don’t wish to make light of anyone’s suicide, or add to the pain of the families who have to deal with it, but I find it hard to believe that The Daily Mail has investigated every suicide in recent months and concluded this was the first one that was a result of the recession.

I say this with some certainty as a friend of my father, a man very popular in the town I grew up in, hanged himself shortly before Christmas. Of course it’s wrong of me to guess why he did this (there were money issues, but other issues too), but the Mail is equally wrong is this regard, and it seems perverse to me that the death of my dad’s friend can be disregarded so easily. Mr Rocca’s death may have put Ireland’s “business and social elite in shock”, but that doesn’t make it any more important.

There is also the issue of how the way this was reported will affect those close to Patrick Rocca. When I was in college I was told the way to report suicide was to publish the details without including the victim’s name. I believe this is what various suicide agencies ask of the media. Of course this was not possible in Mr Rocca’s case, being the public icon that he was, but I think the Mail could have shown a lot more consideration than to publish the story as a full front-page splash.

20
Jan
09

Battlestar Galactica and the Gilded Age of American Television

Tonight Sky One begins broadcasting the second half of the final season of Battlestar Galactica. I’m a huge fan of this programme and I’ve been looking forward to this for months. There are many reasons why I love it, but chief among them I think is that it’s the one sci-fi show that stands up with the so called Gilded Age of American Television.

Television – particularly American television – was at one time considered the lowliest entertainment medium. Critics like Mark Kermode could freely admit they ignored the medium altogether. Then The Sopranos came along and suddenly TV realised it was allowed to be brilliant. It was followed by such sublime wonders as The West Wing, The Wire and Six Feet Under, the latter being a show I truly loved despite my desire to hate anything Alan Ball is involved with (American Beauty was unwatchable to me). These shows easily matched and in some instances surpassed the flair and style of their counterparts in film, while their serial nature allowed a level of characterisation previously reserved for literature. This was the culture to which Battlestar Galactica attached itself, and unfortunately no other sci-fi programme has seen fit to follow suit.

Instead sci-fi television has become preoccupied with hi-concept nonsense involving one central plot arc that envelope the entire series. This format was pioneered by 24, becoming standard with the success of the unnecessarily perplexing Lost and the downright awful Heroes (sorry, Heroes fans, but the whole things is basically a Marvel comic without costumes). The attraction of these shows is that they generate a lot of water-cooler/internet-forum chatter, making them much easier to market. Of course BSG too has all these elements, what with its “who’s human and who’s Cylon” baitings and the almost eternal mystery of what condition will Earth be in when and if it’s found (as it turns out, bloody awful). The difference is that BGS didn’t do this at the expense of real, self-contained drama. Each episode is fully fleshed out and stands up on it own (except for one or two duds), rarely feeling like it’s going through the motions.

Of course when discussing BGS one must look at its frolicking with allegory. With the military-industrial humans and the evil religion-bent cylons, the show is obviously trying to say something about the war on terror. However, much like The West Wing, Battlestar Galactica is fully committed to avoiding easy solutions. These allagorical roles are often muddied and occasionally even completely reversed. For instance, when Admiral Cain turn up she served to highlight the worst excesses of Neocon dogma. And the episodes set on New Caprica, where the put-upon humans resorted to using suicide bombers against their occupying cylon forces, were such a naked critique of the Iraq war that they might as well have called it New Fallujah

The visual effects also deserve a mention. The centurion cylons may look a little plastic, but the battle scenes are simply gorgeous and are equal to the best that Hollywood can deliver. For example, this (ok, the shitty Youtube video doesn’t do it justice, but you get the idea). What I love most about this particular episode is the almost incidental way the battle takes place. Despite the beauty of the visuals, it’s merely a side-story. The real tension of this episode is the deathly battle of wits between the two captains. It sums up why I love Battlestar Galactica.

So that’s it. If you’ve nothing else to do I suggest you watch this tonight. You could do a lot worse (like Heroes).

19
Jan
09

Each chartered course

This made me laugh.

via The Telegraph

via The Telegraph