Posts Tagged ‘recession

19
Dec
09

Rand Illusion

“If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders – what would you tell him to do?”

“I…don’t know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?”

“To shrug.”

Regardless of how much you may revere the writings of Ayn Rand, it cannot be denied she made one definite mistake with Atlas Shrugged. To be fair, it’s a mistake so commonly made that it would be irrelevant anywhere else, but with Rand it takes on a unique significance. The purpose of citing Atlas, as we see above, was to serve as a metaphor for the rich and powerful whose strength, hard work and moral clarity are what support our society as we know it, and how state interference in their businesses and profits causes the world to “shrug”. However, in the original Greek myth, Atlas didn’t hold up the world. This is a misnomer that has somehow been accepted as his defining trait. In the myth, Atlas was the titan who held up the heavens. Now, if we instead apply this as a metaphor to Rand’s work, it suddenly takes on a new meaning, not terribly unlike that of another literary giant, Chicken Little. Instead of a tribute to “those who produce the most”, it becomes a tale about a bunch of gullible sycophants running around in a panic because the sky is falling.
Continue reading ‘Rand Illusion’

15
Dec
09

The McCreevy generation

I’ve been posting here a lot recently, considering I said I won’t be updating much longer. It’s just that occasionally something occurs that just can’t be ignored. This is one of those times

There’s an article in yesterday’s Irish Times about Charlie McCreevy. It seems he was on Miriam O’Callaghan’s radio show on the weekend defending his role of finance minister until 2004, when he was booted out to Europe. On the property bubble he claimed: “There were property bubbles in a number of other countries.” It’s amazing. They’re still trying to pretend there isn’t something unique about Ireland’s economic crash, that we’re simply victims of a global downturn. This is infuriating on its own, but it’s made so much worse when we consider that, arguably, there is nobody in government who shares as much blame for Ireland’s recession as Charlie McCreevy.
Continue reading ‘The McCreevy generation’

08
Nov
09

Rand and the Recession

I have been reading two truly hilarious novels lately. One of these, PG Wodehouse’s Thank You, Jeeves, deserves credit for being intentionally funny. The other, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, not so much.

I bring this up because it’s been well reported that sales of Atlas Shrugged have jumped considerably in light of the recession. So much so that there’s a recent rash of books coming out discussing Rand’s books and the philosophy she professed. Last week’s Economist magazine had an article on her, and there have apparently been rumours in Hollywood that an adaptation is being fast-tracked. Her new popularity is being credited to the recession as the book prophesises an economy grinding to a halt, and a government scramble to fix it which instead makes the whole thing far worse. It is this view that leads me to believe the rest of the world has read a different Atlas Shrugged from the one I have, as the philosophy espoused in my version has been rendered provably wrong by the recession.

Continue reading ‘Rand and the Recession’

22
Sep
09

Bertie’s conscience

I have recently developed a recurring nightmare. I’m sitting in Fagen’s having a chat with Aer Thaoiseach. For some reason I’m trying to elicit from him some personal or scandalous info on Celia, but he suddenly cuts me off, informing me how his conscience is %100 clear regarding the recession and how stoney broke he is these days.

My patience breaks and I cry, “Conscience? Broke? This is madness!

To this Bertie calmly responds, “Madness?” before exploding, “THIS IS DRUMCONDRA!”

He then kicks me in the chest, and I fall backwards into that little snug near the small bar, or something.

This is what I’m on about. Via Simon at Irish Election.

23
Aug
09

Bus Eireann’s recession

I find myself contemplating Bus Eireann and their recent financial woes. This was brought on by a trip to Galway on Thursday, a quite a painful experience as it entails no less than three bus routes from where I live. To make things worse, every leg of the journey was filled to capacity. Literally every seat had an arse on it (in fact at one stage we were a little over-capacity, with a wailing infant making things ever more comfortable), which belies somewhat the drop in passenger numbers that is the causing Bus Eireann such grief.

Of course one can’t judge the entire operation based on one journey, and to be fair the buses were only about half full on the return leg. I don’t doubt that the company is in trouble. However, it seems to me that addressing a drop in passengers by raising their prices (among other things) is incredibly stupid. I want to believe that this company is not run by idiots, but they’re not making it easy. Every bus I encountered on my trip had a sign stating “Save €€€’s” stuck on it, pushing on us some sort of commuter ticket. Now, I’m not in a position to criticise other people’s grammar mistakes, but surely in company that at least two brain cells to rub together somebody would have said, “isn’t that a possessive apostrophe?”

16
Jul
09

An Bord Snip Nua: or how did it come to this?

Today was D-Day, at least in TV3’s words. An Bord Snip Nua (which is surely the worst quango name ever) published its report. And it isn’t easy reading.

So, what happens now? Obviously nothing happens just yet. Can’t let a recession ruin the government’s holidays (the cynic in me is wondering if the timing of this thing was deliberate, as it seems to take a lot of pressure off the government). Still, they’ll soon be reading this thing like it’s the menu in the Dáil bar, deciding who among us should be screwed over the most.

Personally, despite how necessary everyone is saying these cuts are, I don’t see the government taking on much action on them. They don’t have the nerve. Despite the notion that they’re unpopular because of the tough decisions they’re having to make, not many of the decisions they’ve made were really that tough. The pension levy was a soft option. The wider electorate had little sympathy with the affected civil servants. Nama aside, the only one that counts is the medical card for OAPs and we saw what happened there.

Now it’s time to step up and take the toughest decision any government has ever had to face, and I’m not talking about anything in the report. If they want to succeed in selling this bloody thing to us, first they need to come out and admit: “Yeah, we fucked the whole thing up, and how.”

The mealy mouth admissions offered so far don’t cut it. Cowen has already said he would have done some things differently had he know the way things would turn out, but it’s deeper than that. The financial black hole that these guys have created would be impressive in a normal-sized country. For a nation of four million it’s scarcely believable. And no banker or greedy developer can be blamed for this. It’s governments alone that squanders taxes. Likewise references to the global recession ring hollow. No developed nation, with the exception of Iceland and the likes, is facing what we’re facing.

And you know what, despite spending the money, the services they spent it on didn’t improve all that much. Kids are still being taught in prefabs (prefabs that have ended up costing the state more than building proper classrooms would have). Universities and the ITs are still under-funded, which is weird considering our emerging reliance on being a “knowledge economy”. And our health service is not even worth discussing.

If the current government is to survive (and believe it or not, I want them to) and push through these cuts, they need to start by being honest with us. I’m not talking about an apology (though I suppose this is inherent), and I’d rather not go down the road of individual lynchings (reading the report, it’s clear McCreevy, Ahern and Cowen share some personal responsibility). Just open up and admit you blew it, and we’ll figure out where we go from there.

27
Apr
09

If you don’t like this post, please ignore it

Like many others in the Irish blogosphere, I received an e-mail today from a crowd calling themselves Reclaim Ireland. They’re seeking some publicity for their cause (something about the government being too focused on private gain) and asking us to publicise their website for them.

I have received similar requests in the past, and though I usually don’t respond I can at least appreciate that I was contacted personally. This one’s different as it’s the same blanket e-mail sent to several bloggers. Now it is flattering to be included on this list of the country’s most prolific bloggers, but spam is spam. I would have simply deleted it and forgotten it forever, but I was further annoyed by this tid-bit: “If you think the idea completely ridiculous, please ignore this email.”

As it happens, I don’t think the idea is ridiculous, but only because I can’t figure out exactly what the idea is (there is some talk on overthrowing the Government, but nothing on how exactly we go about it). What I resented was the attempt to influence editorial control of my blog. If I think it’s a ridiculous idea, I’ll ignore nothing. If I want I’ll bloody well say so.

This e-mail exemplifies the problem with the bulk of online commenters that has been spawned by the recession. They are utterly convinced of the responsibility of the government and the failures of the established political system (the subject of the e-mail was even “revolution”), yet they have such little faith in their alternative that they can’t bear to see it criticised. A solid political argument thrives on dissent, not pleas to be ignored. Alan Moloney posted something on this a while back.

I hate to sound so negative, and I realise cynicism is the easiest response, but I’m really annoyed by all this lazy “fuck the government” talk lately. I’m as angry as anyone, and I’m perfectly willing to listen to a real alternative. Until you figure out what that is, don’t let the door hit you or your revolution on the way out.

04
Apr
09

Recession bloggers, no book deal for you

I was flicking through a copy of U magazine (dated March 16) that was lying around the house when I happened upon an interesting item on the last page, entitled “U get on my goat”. Basically it’s a list of things that annoyed some U writer during the week, and number one on the list is a good one: Recession Bloggers.

Now I realise us recession bloggers would be best served by ignoring this. After all, it’s U. Their cover story in the same issue is about newsreaders who are gorgeous (even though they apparently don’t have to be). This is not a world that reasonably intelligent people should have to concern themselves with. However, I found myself annoyed, and the more I thought about it the more annoyed I got. I think what got to me was the explanation for the entry

Your desperate hopes that your blog will be discovered and you’ll get paid millions for a book deal are very transparent.

I know this betrays a massive ego on my part, but as I’ve mentioned on several occasions here that I’m a writer by profession I couldn’t help but feel this was a comment made with me in mind. For what it’s worth, my reason for maintaining this blog is nothing other than for the sake of doing it. But this aside, I found the entry a bit self-important, especially considering the other things that got on U’s goat.

2. Buying fancy (and expensive) new shampoo and only realising you’re allergic to it after using it all week.

No recession ‘round here.

4. Owing a Labrador now that Marley and Me is out. You didn’t believe the crazy dog stories before but now that the movie is out you think you know all about it.

Well excuse me! When choosing a dog, one should of course consider that an American journalist might someday write a memoir based on his ownership of that same breed, which will then be adapted into a very successful yet highly schmalsy film, leading to an increased interest in these dog which in turn will lead celebrity lifestyle magazines to declare owning them to be soooo last century. What were we thinking? As the proud owner of a Lab, whose antics have on occasional been mentioned here, this further enforced the notion that I inspired this article.

6. Nearly fainting in yoga. All the bendy, ‘we go four times a week people’ (sic) are staring and judging.

Now this I can empathise with. It isn’t pleasant being judged by smug, uppity pricks.

If you’re going to launch of sweeping critique on any group of people, you should probably ask yourself if you really have the Dylan Moran/Charlie Brooker style of wit to carry it through. Because if you go on to moan about shampoo and yoga and mineral make-up that spills in your bag and ruins the lining (which is a little indicative of the kind of attitude that largely caused this recession to begin with) then you’ll probably end up looking like haughty, self-satisfied gits with more money than sense. The last entry in this article might as well have been “Picky proles who won’t eat their cake”. I realise I’m making a big deal of what is a fluff piece that’s only there to fill a page, but bad writing is bad writing, and particularly galling when criticising others for theirs.

PS, I was going to title this post “Fuck U, too”, but couldn’t bring myself to do it.

22
Mar
09

Recessionary nostaglia

With unemployment levels reaching numbers we thought we’d left behind in the 80s, there has emerged a sort of nostalgia for the other things we left behind a generation ago. The ever excellent fashion journalist Hadley Freeman was recently asked to discuss the return of shoulder-pads in her column in the Guardian’s “G2” supplement, and in the same supplement Sam Leith later wrote about how apparently we were all happiest in 1976. The problem with nostalgia, however, is that we sometimes tend to remember fondly things that really should have stayed forgotten. It is therefore worth looking at various aspects of a generation past that could possibly find themselves exhumed, regardless of whether or not they should be.

Rubik’s Cubes

It’s hard to see this fad returning. It was utterly pointless in the first place, and you had to be a super genius to complete it anyway. Sure we have Playstations now.

Great bad music

Absolutely essential! We’ve become far too clever with our musical tastes since the Noughties, what with our Kings of Leon and Band of Horses or some crowd equally brilliant but not so much that most people have heard of them. I sometimes wonder if we deliberately seek out obscure bands just to seem cool when other people ask, “who?” I’m not for an instant saying I’m above this (or below this, depending on your perspective). My favourite band is Lambchop. On the other hand, we award mass-popularity to insufferably bland acts that for the good of humanity need to stop (© Coldplay, Snow Patrol or any Scrubs soundtrack). We’re a bit self-congratulatory when we remember music from the 80s, in that we consider it naff compared to our more sophisticated contemporary ears. Regardless, few can honestly deny the toe-tapping appeal of these songs and this is something we really need to get back. There has, admittedly, been some move in this direction recently, with the likes of Lily Allen and that Katy Perry song about a poor lad who’s hot and cold all the time (he should get a nice cardie), but I really don’t think these stand up to Grandmaster Flash and Kids in America, et al. We need bands to save pop music from Louis Walsh and reclaim the naff as an art-form again. This being said, there is absolutely no need to return to the television of the 80s. Recession or not, Knight Rider was always shit and we have The Wire now.

MTUSA

The rest of the world may have had MTV, but for the paddies it was all Music Television: USA. This was a show that guided 80s kids on the coolest new sounds and latest trends. We do have plenty of similar outlets today, but few that are free from unwitting self-parody and ironic bullshit of NME and whathaveyou. A music show that avoids being too clever for its own good would be very welcome in today’s age. However, the problem with MTUSA is that it was a product of an age when America was seen as a refuge in recessionary times, rather than, say, the sources of it. Today “MTUSA” provides an unfortunate acronym that may serve to reflect the state of the US Federal Reserve.

Moustaches

What I remember most from MTUSA was the presenter’s impressive lip-fuzz, a seemingly popular trend of the day. I recall several uncles who sported similar face-fungus at the time, as well as Kevin off Coronation Street. It’s impossible to say with certainty what caused this trend (it might have been Mangum PI, but who can be sure), so it would be foolish to think we’ll never see another outbreak. We can only hope this horrible condition is behind us.

U2 recording an album worth listening to

Irrelevant. It’s not going to happen.

Custard Creams

I recall biscuits in my formative years being a very simple affair. The criterion for a good biscuit was something mildly sweet that you could dip into a cup, and so custard creams, bourbon creams, or perhaps a Rich Tea satisfied us perfectly. If we wanted to splash out we’d opt for a digestive with cholocate on it, or perhaps even a Jammie Dodger. However, things changed when we started using the term “cookies”. Suddenly the simple biscuit wasn’t good enough. We demanded niceties with chocolate chips in them. They started putting hazelnut bits in them and we weren’t even satisfied with that. We demanded whole hazelnuts, in biscuits the size of saucers. The less likely that it would fit in a cup, the better. In a way, our tastes in biscuits symbolise our universal greed during the Celtic Tiger years. As the money came rolling in, we blew in on chocolate-coated trifles (figuratively but perhaps also literally). One hopes, now that our priorities are shifting, we will once again regard the humble custard cream with fondness.

Mullets

On last Monday’s Questions & Answers, one of the Dragons Den Dragons (I forget which one) argued that we’re wasting time squabbling over who’s to blame for the financial downturn, and that we should instead unite to concentrate on finding a cure. It’s a nice thought, but one easily dismissed. If we fail to establish the crisis’ causal factors, we’re only setting ourselves up for another bubble burst. I’ve already given an indirect example of this, by highlighting the continued risk of a resurgence of the moustache craze. Well, proof may come in the recent spate of Mullets around our city centres (I’m surely not the only one who’s noticed this). The trend stopped so we thought it had gone away for good. And now it’s back because we failed to address its root causes. Haircuts have as much to teach us about the recession as biscuits do.

16
Mar
09

Today’s top stories: Cheer up, you miserable gits

Today’s Sunday Tribune was just the most bizarre thing I’ve read in months. Ok, I can appreciate what they were trying to do, and given the moaning I’ve had about constant pessimism in the media I’d be a hypocrite for attacking a newspaper just for taking a positive stand. Some optimistic reports on this recession were certainly welcome. But jasus, they went a bit mad with the happy rays of sunshine.

In case you missed it, they called it “Guaranteed Positive”, complete with a suitable play on the old Guaranteed Irish logo. “Remember, the future we see is the future we’ll get,” warned Miss Hegarty’s editorial, which rather dramatically appeared on the front page. At least the splash was comparatively more composed in its buoyancy, with a headline declaring, “We’ll return to full employment within six years, ERSI predicts.” Uplifting, perhaps, but we really have to wait until 2015 to find a job. The front page item that really caught my attention, however, was a banner on the very top declaring the paper to be “an issue dedicated to positive thinking and a fresh perspective on the Great Recession”. So it’s the Great Recession now, not some silly, everyday recession unworthy of capitals. This was the most depressing angle on the recession that I’ve encountered so far.

The content within the newspaper did little to cheer me up. There were some interesting pieces on people whose businesses are picking up in recent month, second-hand clothes shops and renewable energy companies and the like. The problem with this is that, logically, if the economy does pick up, as they promise, these companies can expect a drop in their revenues. Worse is the “Why Irish eyes should be smiling” segments, where various Irish dignitaries provided a few paragraphs on the positives or our current condition. These range from somewhat qualified, highly specific reasons to be happy to downright fantasies.

I don’t have room to discuss them all, so I’m just going to highlight what I feel was the worst, that being one by businessman Gerry Robinson (I’m not sure if I’m supposed to have heard of him, but I haven’t). He claims, “We’re like a rowing boat badly rocked by a big storm that was not of our making.” Not true! This is a big storm that we are very much responsible for. In fact, we should grateful to the big storm for punishing us for sailing in waters we had no business in to begin with. After opening with the “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” paragraph from A Tales of Two Cities and asking if it sounds familiar (it doesn’t. This isn’t an age of wisdom in bad times. It’s an age of desperately groping around dark looking for exits but finding only deeper holes), he points out, “We’re hurt and we’re looking for someone to blame.”

He goes on, “Probably there are some people in Ireland who carry a bit of blame, but not many.” Wrong again. We are ALL to blame, every one of us. We allowed ourselves to be blinded by easy credit-based (ie, non-existent) wealth and as a result bankrupted ourselves. We also recognised the failures of our government in providing to our society’s weakest members (sick, elderly, schools, etc) yet voted for them anyway, because we were sure this was the crowd to keep us in pocket money. We tolerated wasteful spending of public money because, well, there was plenty more where that came from. And now there a backlash against the government because their bubble has burst. But guess what, we’re as much to blame as they are.

Of course Gerry highlights the inevitability of all this. “Things have gone wrong. They were always going to. The kind of success that Ireland has enjoyed simply couldn’t last forever,” he claims, admittedly quite correctly. However, if it was that obvious why did the government continue to rely on a housing market that was clearly heading for a downturn for its tax revenue? Why did we continue to raise wages under the guise of “social partnership”, fuelling inflation and making the country uncompetitive for multinationals? Why did we place blind faith in Seanie Fitz and the likes for our banking system? It’s true that there is an international banking crisis, yet even with this our banks look like that of a third world country. Even years before this banking crisis hit, foreign investors knew to stay out of Ireland.

The highlight of the paper for me is the “20 people who will save Ireland,” unbelievable as any superheroes yarn it’s made to resemble. I mean, Brendan Drumm, the man who couldn’t fix the health service during the good years, is now going to do this in bad times? There’s Bono, who they feebly speculate will move back the businesses U2 shipped to the Netherlands to avoid paying tax. And as for Giovanni Trapattoni, that’s just taking the piss.

I really hate to sound so cynical. I know there’s too much of that these days and I know the Trib was just trying to combat some of this. But devoting the entire paper to such up-beatism smacks of propaganda, the worst “Kitchener’s Army” kind of propaganda that sprung up during world wars to assure people everything will be tickity-boo if you just do your part. A level of this is of course needed, but the way it appeared in today’s Sunday Tribune is just misleading.