Monday 31 July 2023


Democracy, as in democratic representation is a trade off between satisfying the infinite spectrum of political faction and foible vs achieving a government that can actually get governing without horse-trading every goddam article in every berluddy bill with a bunch of crotchety old men [still mostly men] who are grand-standing for the basest elements of their political base. Party politics developed in the 18thC to shift the balance towards governability from representation. The Blob has touched on outrageous examples of malapportionment - technical term for gerrymandering - particularly in the [red parts of] USA. Similar manipulation of boundaries in favour of the incumbent Irish government used to be de rigeur up until a spectacular back-fire of a cunning plan by Minister Jimmy Tully Lab. in the 70s. Thereafter, the boundaries and seat count [N = 3, 4 or 5] of constituencies were decided by an independent Constituency Commission composed of a Judge, The Clerk of the Dáil, The Clerk of the Senead, the Ombudsman, The Senior civil servant in the appointing Ministry - currently the Department of the Housing, Planning, Community and Local Governmen.

But even these boundary commissions are in a state of change and in February 2023, under yet newer legislation The Electoral Commission / An Coimisiún Toghcháin was established to cogitate on the matter and deliver a report in September. The primary data go into the boundary hopper is the preliminary head-count compiled by the CSO Central Statistical Office / An Príomh-Oifige Staidrimh from the last census. This our Republic has just, for the first time since 1841, topped 5 million residents. As the Constitution specifies that each member of the Dáil shall represent between 20,000 and 30,000 people, this puts limits on how the cake will be sliced. If they play high-representation then (5,149,139 / 20,000) would allow / require 257 TDs - up from the current 160. In contrast to the UK parliament which has bench seating fit to accommodate only about 2/3 of the MPs, TDs get their own seat. And, again in contrast to the UK Parliament in its periwigs and morning suits, each seat has electronic voting buttons. The sitting N = 160 Dáil looks like this. There are physically 168 seats.

Another 97 seats, built wider to fit 21stC bottoms, might be the end of sitting in Leinster House. I doubt our legislature is ready to shift to a modern building nearer the centre of the country: say, Up King's County!!

Soooo, the Electoral commission has been briefed to find a number between 171 [constitutional minimum] and 181 to play with, as a constraint on finding a fair apportionment of reps across the country. The commission has seven members: as well as a Supreme Court Judge Marie Baker, the Ombudsman, The Clerk of the Dáil; there are 4 'ordinary members', two of them women.

Larger parties prefer more, inherently less democratic, 3-seater constituencies. The quota for a 1-in-3 seat is 25% of the valid votes cast which is a high bar for a local-local [preserve our A&E department] or single-policy [free food for elders] candidate to surmount. That means the third seat is more likely to fall to Fine Gael FG or Fianna Fáil FF . . . or Sinn Féin SF if they continue their irruption into mainstream politics. In a 5-seater, the quota is an achievable 17%. Ireland wants / tolerates a rather high proportion [~30/160] of independents / crazies / PBP-Solidarity / Aontú. 

With rather less trepidation than actual sitting TDs, I'm looking forward to seeing what the Electoral Commission comes up with. Not least because sitting on such a quango is a job for The Establishment, everyone expects a lot of inertia / conservatism in the seat assignments / constituency boundaries. Carlow and Kilkenny have been neighbours and a single Carlow-Kilkenny constituency for all my life. It is remarkable how tribal it gets: most folk would rather vote within their county than within their party. And on the reg'lar in CW-KK, 3/5 of the seats are occupied by residents of the larger county which has 3/5 the population of the constituency.

Sunday 30 July 2023

Trees and beets and plants

No, not Don and Phil . . . nor yet Martin and Candy

Friday 28 July 2023

The clash of the ash

 It's 25 years since I took a week off work to commute to Mountrath in the the Irish Midlands for a chain-saw [care maintenance safety] course. I was the greenest chap there having acquired, and been terrified to use, my first Husky about a year previously.  It was, of course, all blokes. The most experienced lads were a father and son team who had been twenty years a-felling ash Fraxinus excelsior for to make hurleys. They weren't exactly sulky about being there, but they needed the Course Cert so that they could enter land owned by Coillte, the state forestry quango, for to fell more ash. One of them pushed back against the course requirement to wear gloves - a prophylactic against vibration white-finger VWF - they maintained that gloves prevented them detecting that the saw was binding in the cut. My first [idiotic, PPE-free] chain-saw job was abruptly finished when the blade was seized by a settling beech Fagus sylvaticus trunk.

Those 20thC hurley-makers couldn't have imagined that Ireland would run out of this omni-present, multi-purpose tree species. But hey, sorry, here's ash die-back destroying the trees from within. Hurling is a corner-stone of local identity politics. It is a Big Thing when, like last Sunday, Kilkenny met  Limerick  in the all-Ireland ash-clashing final. But if, as seems likely, die-back kills 90% of ash trees over then next decade, then something is going to have to replace them. The making of hurleys contributes €5 million to the economy each year - that's about 2,000 cu.m of wood to make a third of a million sticks. 75% of the raw material is imported. 

Oddly, it seems that in 132 pages [pdf] the GAA doesn't regulate the specs for hurleys except insofar as:

  • 4.5 The bas of a hurley at its widest point shall not be more than 13cm.
  • In Underage Hurling, up to and including Under 12 age grades, the use of metal bands on hurleys is prohibited unless the metal bands are taped over. (In June an injury sustained from an untaped hurley resulted in a €40K pay-out).
In times past ash was was ash was ash although doubtless folk knew a secret source of local ash that was stronger, flexier, longer-lasting, more accurate . . . than was available to them feckers from Co Nextdoor. But already we're seeing bamboo and composite hurleys about the place. These surely have to be regulated lest a team takes the field with stainless-steel trade-tools. It is standard gamesmanship in hurling to attack "open him up" the feller you're marking early in the game so that they will tackle you only with circumspection later.

Wednesday 26 July 2023


I'm on a bit of a Michael Rosen jag at the mo. In May this year he interviewed Dr Jenni Nuttall D.Phil., historical linguist from Oxford U. She has recently bundled part of her research into a book Mother Tongue: The Surprising History of Women's Words [2023 Virago]. One of her themes is to explode the "phallusies" of the patriarchy [Aristotle - looking at you, φίλος] when they write and interpret their scripture about who women are and how they function. Aristotle started several of the erogenous erroneous hares off but few blokes go back to read what he actually wrote: it's easier to rehash a soundbyte of an executive summary of what later patriarchal scholars laid out.

Quote: Tit, for me is the least-worst of mammary words. Talking about my breasts outloud sounds a bit formal, as if I'm using my posh telephone voice. I like the jollity of boobs but a boob is a fool, and a booby-trap is a snare for the hare-brained . . . To be busty sounds like you might be broken, or headless, or just particularly big-breasted. Bosom is a lovely word, originally naming the comforting, hugging circle which the arms and chest can make. But maybe my bosom doesn't want to be a pillow for one and all.

With the author a philologist and linguist, not to mention the title, it is not surprising to learn me a lot of new words and get a better focus on (the nuance of) their meaning. Who knew that menacme trundled on between menarch and menopause? In times past, but also in my Chambers 20thC English dictionary, girls and young women who intruded into stereotypic bloke boisterity were romps, ramps, hoidens or tomrigs? All we have in common English is tomboy. Unmarried adult females were originally called singlewomen, which is fair enough, but this was supplanted by spinster - spinning was at the time a low paid drudge work carried out, but not exclusively, by women. Poshoes might be damsels, as if they had escaped from a medieval romance. Matron was an honorific to a woman of substance, usually but not necessarily married. Beldame gradually sagged from mature woman to a decrepit ugly old wan. It is joined by a cacophony of other pejoratives: old trot, vecke, hag, crone. Nothing as powerful or respectful as cailleach (originally the veiled one) in Irish and Scots Gaelic.

I like the conceit of treating English the language as a foreign country. "sex rôle . . . arrives in English and French and German experts were translated and discussed, often with rôle's circumflex still in place like a souvenir hat from a holiday". Language has power to mould thought: In Genesis early translations had God make Adam "a help meet for him" i.e. appropriate. Someone added the hyphen help-meet and then it was lost so that Adam got a subordinate sidekick 'helpmeet'. Men could then point to that "it's The Bible" to justify disempowering half of all people. Well sod that!

This is a good book which addresses the concerns of modern women (which are the concerns of us all) through a particular, peculiar lens. One of the central issues is: by the historical patriarchy keeping books from women and women from books they have effectively been invisibled by history. That allows men to have dominated discourse with a lot of feeble, I said it so it must be true phallusies which crumple under the most cursory critical prod. I get the feeling that it didn't have to turn out the way it did. If St Paul had carried on to Damascus and missed the conversion to Christ, he could have kept his misogyny in his trousers rather than getting it written up in the New Testament as The Word of God. Sod that too!

Monday 24 July 2023

Taming the deluge

Did I tell you we have a polytunnel with a bigger foot-print than our house? I did! Did I ever boast about seeing the Petitcodiac Tidal Bore progressing relentlessly up stream? I did! And I've been on and on and on about collecting rainwater for the said polytunnel; or rather the plants which grow inside it. After a month of drought in May and June this year, we finally had a dump of rain on Father's Day w/e 18th June. We had drained all our water-collection devices - buckets, herring-barrels and 1 tonne IBCs before May was out and were watering >!shock!< the veggies from the tap. Apart from anything else, the tap-water, from the bore-hole in the yard, which serves the house, is a deal more acidic than rainwater and not everything delights in dilute HCl.

After the hottest June since records began, July has been much more unsettled = rainy and 'cold'. After the parched Summer of 2018 and the Great Drought of May 2023, I am inclined to catch as catch can whenever the opportunity presents . . . I am not afraid to run out in my undies through a night-time deluge to capture the water.  

It is all very well to water the veggies but they only occupy a faction of the inside area. After years without rain, the soil is as dry as the Atacama Desert and it can be dusty enough to darken the laundry. But I've covered that part of the floor with a layer of wood chips which lays the dust. The last two (of 8) bays of the tunnel [i.e. between the supporting hoops] has been allocated as sheep-quarter quartier des brebis and was fenced off neatly and securely by Young Bolivar in 2016. Wood chips wouldn't do there because the chips get hoovered up by fleece on the occasions when we have to shear in the tunnel.

That happens only if Paddy the Clip has to come when the weather has been all rainy. Under those circs, we run the sheep up to their part of the tunnel the night before the shear, so they can dry out their own fleece as 37°C convection heaters. That is advantageous because it also starves t'buggers which makes for easier shearing.

I thought we'd get caught thus by the wet June 2023 weather, so I spent a couple of days slopping water on the dirt at the sheep-end of the tunnel. There is a little grass growing by the door - where the rain blows in; and some tired wisps under a couple of small holes in the plastic above. Then [outdoor] shearing came and went without incident and the priority returned to saving water for veg. But I have since decided that greening the sheep-quarter is desirable for the long-term and did two things towards this outcome: 1) I cut several sheaves of gone-to-seed grass: mostly Agrostis spp.and Poa spp. and lurried them up to thresh in the tunnel. 2) I continued to water the soil. In order to enhance absorption, I also dug over the grassless, compacted regions  and raked them flattish. Well, to my surprise and delight, yesterday it was clear that a thin fuzz of green was springing up in several parts of my incipient indoor 'lawn' [R].

The least effort, max return watering device has been to extend the gutter which fills the [currently brimful] tunnel-interior 1 tonne IBC out into the top part of the tunnel with the help of a cross-trees [see this jimmy-up arrangement above L].  The water then runs down-hill - the whole footprint being on a 4% slope because of an inattention error when we 'levelled' it 15+ years ago. You can see L the trickle of water wringing out (at the rate of 15 lt/hr - I measured) the last bit of a rain-storm on 15th July. Later the same day, rain was fair drumming on the tunnel roof giving a rate of >500 lt/hr! Tricking about in the dirt, making water channels is absolutely my jam. I definitely won't mind mowing an extra 35 sq.m of lawn. If everything works out fine, we'll be able to have tea there.

Sunday 23 July 2023

Sunny dayyyys 23Jul23

Very misc

Friday 21 July 2023

Meke yeor mind up time

There is a certain class of gaeilgeoir [fluent Irish speaker] who gets hoity about the accents in written Irish - especially personal names. This is particularly in focus when the poor benighted English fail to put enough fadas in Siún Ní Raghallaigh or Dara Ó Briain. What do the English know? poor cr'atures, they don't have any accents. You'll hear it asserted that á is a completely different letter from a; and failing to accent names correctly is xenophobic or at the very least disrespectful. Well, that's a position I guess on a par with ranting on if someone writes it's when everbode kno its is required.

Before slagging the Brits for not getting the niceties of Irish orthography, it would be nice if Official Ireland could be consistent in the spelinge of toponyms around the country. We've evolved a new route from home to Trá Mhór since the last lockdown. Someone in the family makes this journey, one way or the other, several times every month as the exigencies of elder care, lawn-mowing and beach-combing dictate. Judicious use of bridges built new this century means that we can make the 70km trip in a tad over the hour without breaking any speed limits. 

A few weeks ago I noticed that, within a couple of miles of each other in Orchardstown, you can see two different options for spelling Kilmeadon, Co Waterford. I don't think there is any chance that this will confuse a driver in search of the birthplace of Kilmeaden Red Cheddar cheese.

Wednesday 19 July 2023

Trauma is as trauma does

I mentioned Chris Luke's A Life in Trauma: Memoirs of An Emergency Physician because it offered a tip about better comms when dealing with stressed or distracted people: write it down for them so they can recall it later. There is, clearly, a difference between turning up to Accident & Emergency or our local library for service; but there is common ground in communication between two people.

Chris Luke was born in Dublin but out of wedlock a few years after me.He spent some time dumped in an orphanage because in Ireland in the 50s and 60s the sins of the father were for sure laid upon the children. But through a heroic effort effort of compassion and solidarity, the boy was retrieved and brought up by his mother and raised by a village of her friends including the wife of his birth-father. Not everyone in those days was a priggish judgemental hypocrite. And the boy done good, getting a good Leaving Cert and going on to study Medicine at UCD.

He argues that, as a vocational emergency physician, witnessing and experiencing trauma in an orphanage set him up to helping those who were suffering acutely later on.  This might be true. My bestie from teen years was blessed with an older sister who was mentally disabled as a child by a rare tropical infection. Caring for this sister led her to think that she should care for people in general which led her to a career in nursing. By her early 30s my pal was burned out: some old sick anxious people do not have good boundaries and can be cruel in their complaints. But Dr Luke makes the mistake of believing that all / most other successful workers in emergency medicine are recruited through trauma. I suspect a deal of confirmation bias is at play here.

In Feb 2011, Chris Luke was - again - on Pat Kenny's national radio programme and said some shouty things about a) GPs who referred "inappropriate" patients to A&E b) bean-counters and management in the HSE who were failing to staff or resource A&E departments adequately c) some [foreign and/or young] A&E doctors who didn't seem to do very much. He was then called away to a genuine emergency - plane crash at the nearest airport - before he could temper his remarks in the subsequent debate, and counter push-back from Kenny and the other guests. With hindsight, he shouldn't have said those things especially so LOUD and indeed he shouldn't have been in a radio studio during the working day. There was an indignant shit-storm from GPs, politicians, colleagues, management, the press and social media. At last everyone had something / someone to pile on . . . rather than solving the trolley problem of over-crowding in hospital intakes. A previous Health Minister Brian Cowen had referred to the Health portfolio as Angola because of the prevalence of land-mines.

Luke carried on for several more years but the vilification, the stress and the always on call caught up with him and he took early retirement as he turned 60. One of the outcomes of retirement is this memoir telling us where he'd served [Dublin, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Cork, Oz] and the friends he's made along the way. One of his more actionable suggestions is that Emergency Medicine is a young person's gig. Doctors, nurses and Advanced Nurse Practitioner ANPs need to be resilient - immune to sleep deficit for starters - and old ones are not really up for the front-line. There is a sweet-spot in your 30s when you've the experience of having processed your 10,000 patients and from that can make rapid [successful] decisions most of the time. 

Bummer is that those peak years are when MDs, RNs and ANPs are also raising families on their own account. It is one of the many irreconcilable conundrums that make Health Care systems so hard to get right. Certain-sure is that national health strategy is not solvable by sound-byte . . . or memoir. The memoir is fine on it's own merits: read by the author who has a life-time's experience writing about himself and medicine in the press; so the prose don't clunk either.

Monday 17 July 2023

Maybe Mabey

I do be reading Turning the Boat for Home, an anthology of Richard Mabey's essays - all, I think, previously published in various print media. It's an e-book obtained through borrowbox; so I can't complain about mispronunciation because that's all in my head. I can complain <here goes> about recycling for money a bunch of old stuff which has already been paid for. But that's a bit sour of me because I had only read one of these pieces before . . . and I'm not paying to read them now. As you may imagine, these essays are predominantly about the English landscape and Mabey's wanderings through it over the 50 years since Food For Free was published 1972. We read that book, with care and attention, in the 70s when we were making dandelion coffee and nicking bay-leaves from A Big House [since demolished] in Dublin 4. Apparently there was a surge in sales in the backwash of the '08 financial crash.

In 1783, Capability Brown created a natural English landscape surrounding Heveningham Hall in Suffolk. The estate was bought by property developer Jon Hunt in 1994, who employed Kim Wilkie to improve the improved estate. He did this inter alia by planting 800,000 trees ~10% of them ash Fraxinus excelsior - in a re-wilding Wilderness Reserve. Ash die back Hymenoscyphus fraxineus required the extirpation of 72,000 baldy-looking scruffy trees and planting more oak Quercus robur and hornbeam Carpinus betulus [L] -- a £850,000 mistake. Sixty km away near Arger Wood, the Suffolk Wildlife Trust allowed a large field to go feral. Pioneer ash saplings sprung up without any person doing a hand's turn, died and have been replaced by 10 different species of standard English tree. Cost: nothing at all. James Lovelock regretted having the hubris to make a similar mistake to Wilkie & Hunt.

Here's Richard Mabey [L,R] sharing a plinth with Lovelock [R,R] and, bizarrely, Mary Midgley [R,C] in the Environment Triptych by Jon Edgar. Mabey has been writing Nature stuff all his working life and the usual suspects are covered in more or less detail in these essays. Indeed I've treated of many of them myself: John Clare, Gilbert White of Selborne, Oliver Rackham, Roger Deakin, Kenneth Allsop, Garrett Hardin, Rachel Carson, Andy Goldsworthy, Ronald "Akenfield" Blythe, Geoffrey Grigson, Peter "Snow Leopard" Matthiessen. His sentiments are sensitive; about being present in the natural world rather than tromping through it without heeding the snails underfoot <crik>.

Sunday 16 July 2023

Land of Pope and Lorelei

Usual and unusual; what's come over my horizon this week.

Friday 14 July 2023

Pottles and pecks

Why just the other day I was comparing a US quart with an EU litre: 'tis only 5% more capacious. You could, accordingly, without the sky falling, interchange the two units in many real world situations: filling the tank on your lawn-mower; making custard; buying gloss paint. That Obvs doesn't work for any pair of units though: don't try equating mph and km/hr approaching a speed-camera. My antient copie of Pendlebury's New School Arithmetic (1924) is still in our jacks. I've ranted before about how imperial units require mental gymnastics because they don't do decimal.

But Pendlebury reports [p.194] an agreeable series in capacity measures:  "each of which is exactly twice as large as that which precedes it: noggin - gill - pint - quart - pottle - gallon - peck - tuffet - bushel - strike - coomb - quarter" [quarter being what it says on the tin: ¼ ton]. There is an inconsistency in this statement in that 1 pint is 4 gills not 2: what's missing is "cup". These are imperial not US quarts and cups through; all based on a pint of 20 fl.oz. not 16. How and when those measures drifted apart is a mystery [to me]: inches / miles are the same; pounds weight are the same; seconds / hours are the same [and shared with the rest of the world - decimal time having been dumped early by revolutionary France]. Irish pub [booze] measures were a more generous ¼ gill than those in Britland gill; Irish measures are now fixed at 35.5 ml. In UK "Either 25ml and multiples of 25ml, or 35ml and multiples of 35ml (not both on the same premises)". A Baby Powers is a double = 71ml.

I'm glad we've sorted that out.

Wednesday 12 July 2023

How big is a million?

This big:

The Reyes were clearing out the family home in Pico-Union, LA County, CA when they found a handful of early 20thC US cents secreted in a basement crawl-space. Further investigation revealed A Lot more: a whole hape, indeed. It seems like their immigrant ancestor had bought a tonne of 1¢ coins when he heard that the US treasury planned to debase the coinage from bronze [95% copper, 5% tin and zinc] to zinc-coated steel in 1943 as a wartime copper-shortage measure. Not very patriotic and The UK Daily Mail pointed out that the hoarder, Fritz, was, like, German. In WWII California, German immigrants [b/c white] were treated with a lot more respect than their Japanese immigrant neighbours.

This is a happy story that helps news outlets sell product, so it was widely reported that a) there were 1 million coins in the hoard b) that the face value was, therefore $10,000 c) that the finder family were hoping to have someone with cheap time take them all off their hands for $25,000. I had a lot of questions:

  1. Does the NBC picture above contain 1 million cents?
  2. What is the pile's value as copper?
  3. How big is a cent anyway?

After the War, the Feds went back to bronze pennies = 1¢ and held the line until 1982, when they switched to copper-clad [2.5%] zinc [97.5%] coins. The reason that Euro 1¢ became as small as shirt-buttons [before being de-circulated] was to keep the cost of minting below the face value. Not to mention that if the melt value of copper exceeds the face value then entrepreneurs [go capitalism!] will siphoning all the coins out of circulation and retailers can't make change for their fatuous $19.99 prices.

Q3, first. The 1942 US 1¢ was 19mm ⌀ and 1.5mm thick. A dollar roll of pennies is therefore 15cm long and 20mm across and weighed 3g. In the photo at Top, part of the hoard is boxed rolls valued to $50 or $25. $50 box volume is 50 x 2cm x 2cm x 15cm = 3 lt. There are 22½ of them which is worth, as indicated, just over $1,000. The crates behind the boxes look like standard US 24 quart = 6 gallon size. Which are functionally equivalent to our "Tesco" crates.  I suppose that 8 of the cardboard boxes could snuggle down together in each crate?  A US quart being very close to a litre tho only 16/20th of a British "Imperial" quart.

Q1. And I s'pose that the whole heap is about 10x the proportion boxed up. So that's the million cents.

Q2. The price of copper spiked at the turn of the century and is currently about $4/lb or 2.4c/g. That's where the finder-family is getting the $25,000 valuation on their windfall.

In 2007, the Feds passed legislation making it illegal to export or profit from the melting down of nickels 5¢ and pennies 1¢. "Pursuant to this authority, the Secretary of the Treasury has determined that, to protect the coinage of the United States, it is necessary to generally prohibit the exportation, melting, or treatment of 5-cent and one-cent coins minted and issued by the United States. The Secretary has made this determination because the values of the metal contents of 5-cent and one-cent coins are in excess of their respective face values, raising the likelihood that these coins will be the subject of recycling and speculation." So the melt-value of the Pico-Union pile is moot? It is, however, within the rights of residents & citizens to deface, deform and hammer flat small US coins. If you want to make a pair of ear-rings for your nibling from cents minted in their birth-year, that's fine.

I'm glad we sorted that out, so.

Monday 10 July 2023

Bread and circus

tl;dr because you're not going to read to the bottom of the saga below. While TDs and Senators were in PAC committee scrabbling for airtime to vilify the enablers of Ryan "National Treasure" Tubridy's mammoth salary + kickbacks the government was hoping to slip by the inattention of Dáil Éireann to sign up Ireland's participation in four European Defence Agency Projects. Catherine Connolly TD shames them [in an empty house] for dumping neutrality in favour of military-industrial complex and dead squaddies.

The tide of Coronarama is ebbing but there is still a war on and the Brits have tanked their economy in their own peculiar xenophobic chicket-match. All these events have made it difficult for ordinary working folk in Ireland. The price of fancy ready-meals from Marks&Spenser are still about the same price as The Before Times [because it's all hype and packing] but Aldidl Valu Pasta Twirls have doubled in cost and so has rent. I don't know if UK is still the second least equal country in the OECD but it must be close. And Post-Tiger Ireland it's similar. If you are a financial trader, Google wonk, academic Professor, senior civil servant or C-suite at RTE, life is sweet on a six-figure salary. [Senior] Assistant Librarians, A&E nurses, National School teachers . . . not so much. 

Did someone mention RTE? In the middle of June, RTE's Director General DG Dee Forbes was forced to fall on her sword by the Board of RTE chaired by Siún Ní Raghallaigh. The reason being the exposure of a WTFFFF false accounting financial finagle to funnel funds off-the-books to RTE's Top Talent [technical term in the "industry"] Ryan Tubridy. That >!aHa!< explained why he had retired [with immediate effect] from presenting RTE's flagship Late Late Show back in March 2023 . . . He had been retired. 

The resignation [with immediate effect] of DG Dee Forbes in June made her a private citizen and so beyond the reach of scrutiny by the Oireachtas Committee of Public Accounts PAC, Chaired by Brian Stanley TD (SF). If PAC sounds like Robespierre's Committee of Public Safety Comité de salut public it's because both quangos have the ability to be as offensive as they like in rooting out malfeasance among those within their power. And that is anyone on the public payroll: me for 30 years working in Institutions like TCD, UCD, SVUH, and ITC. 

So last week I plunged down a rabbit hole of televised sittings of the PAC all fighty in the red corner and a motley crew of senior management from RTE chastened, not to say cowed, in the blue corner.

Apart from Richard CFO Collins, the hardest slaps were reserved for Geraldine O'Leary, Director of Commercial. The two of them were having to suck up a lot of abuse that couldn't be directed at the absent DG Dee Forbes or Jim Jennings Director of Content.

It is of no interest to anyone that Rory Coveney, Director of Strategy is the brother of Simon Coveney TD, Deputy Leader of Fine Gael and once-upon-a-minister of many portfilios and currently Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Yesterday afternoon Rory Coveney resigned from RTE. Two of Ryan Tubridy's maternal uncles were TDs and/or MEPs. For a Republic we support a lot of Barons Shoguns politico-economic-media dynasties.

Former Minister and Enniscorthy neighbour Ivan Yates currently works for Newstalk FM and invited some key comment from people in the know about the toxic discharge from RTE. For Today FM, Marc Coleman, economist and former broadcaster, uttered a take down of nepotism, cronyism, and mighty salaries in RTE and across the Irish polity. We even have a sitting judge taking time out for a swipe at RTE exec pay before settling down to fine poor folks for not paying the licence fee.

When the dust settled, if anyone cared to listen [i.e. excluding all the harpies on the PAC] Richard Collins explained why he might have let three sketchy invoices go through on the DG's nod. It was early 2020: he was not a wet week at the CFO helm of a €400 million semi-state company employing nearly 2,000 people; the pandemic was being locked-down and he was working round the clock to stop the whole enterprise flushing down the t'ilet: negotiating with banks, the government and employees to keep the shows on tracks. Yes, including pay cuts for all including the C-suite - everyone sucked it up [it seems] except Top Talent Tubridy through his agent.

Geraldine O'Leary, Director of Commercial may have been bringing her husband along as her +1 to Cup Finals with potential advertisers; she may have raised a tuthree obviously false invoices for €150,000; she may have added 35% to all these sketch payments because they went through a barter account . . . and so on. BUT she had raised more than €1 billion in revenue for her company over the previous 10 years at a cost of rather less than €1 million which was and is a remarkable return on investment for any sector of the commercial world. "But sure that's yer job, Ms O'Leary" was Imelda Munster's sour-puss comment. You and me, dear reader, cannot know but may well believe that O'Leary and Collins and the rest of them have been subjected to a shit-storm of personal abuse on 'social' media. 

Discourse in this sorry world is not about proportionate response, let alone math-nerd analysis. A billion is not twice as big as a million it is 1,000x larger: at scale even €1,000,000 becomes an insignificant speck. Michael O'Leary will have a different take: by minding the pennies at Ryanair he turned a loss-making hobby airline into a global force. Everyone listening to the RTE take-down over RTE! from their negative equitied maisonette after a dinner of chips is entitled to be outraged. TDs on salary? not so much.

But today Monday 10 July 2023, the new RTE DG Kevin Bakhurst will occupy his office in the Montrose for the first time, having been appointed last week. His brief is to restore trust among the troika of the broadcaster, the public [rights vindicated by their elected reps] and a handful of billionaire oligarchs speaking through their employees aka the rest of media. Sorry for CFO Richard Collins who prioritized Big numbers over small but his position is untenable. Less sorry for Geraldine "Commercial" O'Leary because she was due to retire anyway at the end of August; but she'll have to go too. Chair of the Board, Siún Ní Raghallaigh, by her own account "a tireless and incredibly creative leader" who accepted DG Dee's resignation with unseemly own-self-arse-covering haste? Chop Chop too. This is all based on how shifty and evasive they seemed under intense scrutiny. DG Bakhurst has to take some of that on board or it's pitchforks for him too. Adrian Lynch, recently appointed "Interim Deputy DG for RTE" looks like he might survive.

Moya Doherty, the previous RTE Board Chair, millionaire, and previous-previous co-founder of Riverdance aka arm-bands and high-stepping neo-fasc to music? She was super smug and condescending to those who actually had to fight their corner at the tribunal but we can't sack her. As Michael Rosen and Richard Osman recently agreed, there are thousands of talented people in Ireland who never got/get the chance to be "a tireless and incredibly creative leader" because they neglected to go to the right school, or play the right kind of rugger.

Tomorrow Tuesday bouncy ebullient man-child Ryan "Tubs" Tubridy [R,R] and his eminence gris agent Noel Kelly [R,L check out the shades: y'couldn't make this up] are coming in to face the music of abuse from the PAC: expect contrition, but no offers of a refund from the €500,000+ salary. 

"We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the [British] public in one of its periodical fits of morality." Macaulay 1843

Sunday 9 July 2023

Sun 9th Jul

A bit o' this 'n' that


Friday 7 July 2023

everlasting paste

We prefer to be exclusive when it comes to food? We'd rather not share our salad greens with caterpillars and snails. And I don't mean accidentally chomping through a maggot when eating an apple; even the tooth-marks of invertebrate sharers brings up <huuack> a feeling of disgust in many consumers. That's what I take from the fact that all the leaves in those nitrogen-packed bags of mixed salad greens are intact and unblemished. An amazing feat of quality control mediated by optical recognition software and the sharp eyes of low-paid assembly line workers. As well as prime delicious looks, we'd also like to have some shelf-life to the product and that's largely due to the nitrogen [no oxygen aNNyway] pillowing up the salad leaf bags.

Dairy is another matter. Because of its packing, we're less worried about things we can see lapping up the cream; it's more abut the microbes - Listeria and Coliforms; Campylobacter spp., Salmonella spp., Brucella melitensis, and Mycobacterium bovis [that would be TB!]. In my dotage, I've started to add cream to the weekly shop: I add a gob of it to drinking chocolate made on hot water when I can't be arsed to make a pot of tea. There's almost always some in the fridge and I use it several days beyond the printed sell-by BB date. My sainted MiL learned to cook in tropical Africa and had to trust her nose and eyes and I am channelling her.

A good few weeks ago an honoured guest brought a shop-bought pie [a rare treat in our make it from scratch home]and a carton of Elmlea double cream.  I've clearly lived a very sheltered life because I'd never 'eard of it. The package looked just like reg'lar cream and Dau.II had to point out that it wasn't. One clue was that the sell-by was months out from the day of purchase.  The pot sat in the fridge for weeks until, at the end of May, Dau.II stopped piffing about, opened the lid whisked up the contents, made some meringues and a rhubarb fool and served it forth in our short drinking glasses. It was fine. But why would you bother to keep the dairy but get the fat from somewhere else?

It's just that, instead of one ingredient, there are ten (10) to construct an emulsion of water, fat, carbs, protein and ADEK vitamins: Elmlea Double: 

  • Buttermilk 69%, Vegetable Oils (Coconut, Rapeseed), Lactose, Emulsifiers (Soya Lecithin, Sucrose Esters of Fatty Acids), Stabilizers (Xanthan Gum, Locust Bean Gum, Carrageenan), Colour (Carotenes).

Hey look, there's our generic industrial paste ingredient carrageenan [prev]. And that's where all the oilseed rape Brassica napus napus goes! There's A Lot of bright yellow fields this spring growing these Brassica for crushable seed. It's Canola to y'all Nordamericanos.

But the market division at Elmlea realised that they were missing a trick by selling a product that was too close to, like actual, cream. There are loads of consumers who have gone all vegan on us and want nothing to do with exploited farm-stock. Marketing talked to the food engineering division et voilá! Elmlea 100% Plant Double Alternative To Cream. Which has upped the ToC to fourteen (14) ingredients and left not even the whiff of cow behind [poop joke - I'm still 11 at heart]:

  • Lentil Protein Preparation (Water, 1.1% Lentil Protein), 31% Vegetable Oils (Coconut, Rapeseed), Sugar, Modified Corn Starch, Emulsifiers (Sunflower Lecithin, Sugar Esters of Fatty Acids, Mono- and Diglycerides of Fatty Acids), Stabilizers (Guar Gum, Locust Bean Gum), Natural Flavours, Salt, Colourant (Beta-Carotene) 

The finance department were presumably delirah with this solution because Buttermilk <whoa pricey> has been replaced with 1% lentils in water <commendably cheap>.

And while we're on immortal food products, let's recall the gingerbread church which was made for Christmas last year. We're not generally super-quick to dismantle the paraphernalia of the holidays and that gingerbread chapel is still with us 5 months after it was constructed from food grade products. The coloured windows were made to measure by including crushed hard candy in the window-opening when the walls were baked. They looked really well but sugar is hygroscopic and a little widdle of coloured syrup started drooling down over the window-sill before the end of January.  A few weeks later the gloop was creeping across the snow and finally consensus was reached about a respectful end to the edifying edifice. It's rather too late for going up the chimney as winter fuuuuuel. On the 27th May it was put out "for the birds" but they were not interested. I suggested that the whole thing would be disappeared by "mammals" if left overnight on the coffee table outside in the yard. I was imagining this, The Beloved thought that and the gingerbread came inside again sharpish.

Wednesday 5 July 2023

Distinctly average

Our underfloor heating collapsed several years ago, so in Winter we tend, of an evening, to huddle in the living-room round the Waterford 104 wood-burning stove. IF we were civilized, we'd use a dining table and sit round that . . . having covered it with a damask table-cloth, the second-best silver and a wine in a cut-glass decanter. BUT we're the kind of people who use their dog to clean their hands when they get too greasy to hold the crubeens. SO we usually sit in a row on the sofa watching the YT equivalent of licenced TV. Almost all the cooking and absolutely all the screentertainment is the wheelhouse of Dau.II our currently resident scion.

The choice / rotation has been:

  • Highbrow: University Challenge - the last season under the control of St Paxo of Tetchy
  • Lowbrow: Richard Osman's House of Games - when you know none of the "celebs"
  • Brobrowbeat: Taskmaster - with its peculiar dynamic of ha-ha-ha bullying in the workplace by Greg Davis

for me, the best thing about House of Games is when they have a round of Distinctly Average. The conceit is that the contestants have to estimate the number of real-world countable things. I think this is a really important skill and should be, like, taught in schools. I've gone on [and on] about this on The Blob - Bigger than a Breadbox - Bigger than your head - Bigger than a house.

Another aspect of Distinctly Average is that the 4 contestants are paired off, estimate the number independently and their score depends on the average [arithmetic mean]. The estimates can be wildly, several orders of magnitude, different. In such cases an geometric mean is often more informative.

  • Two guesses: 10 vs 1,000
  • Arithmetic mean answer: (1,000 + 10 ) / 2 = 505
  • Geometric mean answer √(1,000 * 10) = 100 - exactly splitting the orders of magnitude

But that concept would be a bridge too far for both contestants and viewers and I'm not pushing it. It is interesting how often the average of several guesstimates is close to the true answer - even when the punters have no expertise or inside knowledge: just common sense and experience of the human condition> Darwin's coz Francis Galton once famously asked ~800 villagers to estimate the weight of a tethered ox. None of these crowd-sourcees got the right answer but the average of all their attempts was pretty damn close to the true weight. This finding has been widely replicated and acquired a name - The Wisdom of the Crowds. Which in turn spawned a 2000 book of that title by James Surowiecki.

Now here's a weird insight into the mechanics of making House of Games. The programmes come in a batch of five going out at 1800-1830 hrs Mon-Fri on BBC2. Obviously, for something that gives the appearance of being shot in real time, it would be a huge drain on everyone's schedule to spend a week . . . in Glasgow . . . to compile 2.5 hours [say a day's work with bloops, fluffs, outtakes and re-shoots]  of material. I'm told that all five episodes are shot back-to-back in a single day's studio-time. So when Osman wraps up Tuesday's prog with a rhetorical flourish "Today's winner is Jason Minor-Celeb. Shall we play again tomorrow and see if the winning streak continues?". What he means is "listen up everyone,  you have 45 minutes to shrug into a different set of clothes, refresh your studio make-up, have a cup of tea and a pee and sink back into these same chairs for the next episode".

Osman is one of the comperes of the fondly remembered "Pointless". I was reminded of this when I caught him chatting with Michael Rosen on the latter's podcast Word Of Mouth. Osman and Rosen have both had long a varied careers in British Broadcasting often on the edge of the actual British Broadcasting Corporation BBC. They both came from un-privileged backgrounds in SE England but were smart, committed and supported enough to make their own luck and get to Oxbridge. What comes from working widely in media is that you meet a lot of people. Osman and Rosen's experience is that a lot of the people in the inner circles of the BBC "wouldn't have gotten there if they'd been at my school". Rosen and Osman rising to the top of their profession doesn't make it easier for their class [both senses] mates to do the same. Dullards with privilege and connexion otoh? they seem to sail up the corporate ladder.

Monday 3 July 2023

Shaun the Sheep

Shaun Shorn the Sheep! You'd have much more fun to watch an episode of, like, Shaun the Sheep [see R,R]. But I'm playing the Web-Log card here and now to record when things happen on the farrrrrm, so we don't need to remember over my two week event horizon TWEH. We are blessed to have Paddy-the-Clip 3.7km NNE of here; he's prepared to come up our bucketty lane in his scut-truck, unload his board and clipper-hanger, change his boots and trews . . . to shear a dozen or 15 sheep. In a just world, like a plumber, he'd have a call-out / set-up charge and then an hourly rate. Perhaps he does in his head. We pay what he asks and consider it a bargain. His core business at this time of year is shearing scores or hundreds of sheep in one place with his tea and dinner thrown in and someone to catch the sheep and deliver them arse-down on his station. It's a work out, for sure, even then.

Paddy has his day-job as a farmer, his family-time, his strong-farmers-too-busy-to-shear to juggle; it's okay if we're low down on his list with our piffling small flock. And then there is the weather: it's wrong to shear wet sheep: the shearer gets soaked and it is impossible to dry wet fleece. Wet fleece ferments and has been known to spontaneously combust. It amazes me how efficient sheep are at drying fleece when it is still attached; shorn wool not so much. And everyone appreciates that shearing is an animal welfare issue. Sheep are really uncomfortable wearing woolly jumpers in high summer and fly-strike [and then maggots] is a real problem.

On the last Sunday evening in June we took a call from Paddy to say that it seemed dry enough; he could fit us in; and would be round in half an hour. Whoa, no! we replied as we looked out at a drubbing thunderstorm and down-pour. We had to "take a rain check" with the promise that he'd try again later in the week. Tuesday tea-time he put us on 30 minutes notice again, so we dropped everything and assembled our part of the necessary kit [fleece-bag, very old clothes, electric-cable, hat]. Then we druv the sheep from their paddock up to the sheep-handling unit to wait. Ideally ya should starve sheep for a few hours before shearing as they have been know to stress out and die under the clippers if they're brim-full of grass. 

It actually took an hour or more before we heard the jeep rattling up the lane. But, at 4 minutes / ewe it took only one hour to relieve all the sheep of their burden. Plus a bit of time to set-up and an equivalent interval to de-construct the caravanserai, pack it up and say goodbye. Ten minutes later a light drizzle started to fall, so this year we made it in a nick of time. It is absurd how diminished [R] sheep are without their fleece. The following fore-noon we took the bag of wool into the Agri-store and were quoted a price of 10c/kg. Our cropping weighed in at 45kg and our neighbour who works in the agri store said it wasn't worth cutting a check for €4.50 but that when they had shifted the parish's wool off the the wholesaler, they'd call us in and we could be paid in Mars bars or a [small] box of wood-screws. It's just not worth their while in this economic climate for them to trade in fleece and they only do it as a good-will gesture for their customers.

Last year the price of wool was 20c/kg. In 2016 is was €1.00/kg and 2015 'twas €1.45! We didn't get sheep-shorn until 17 July 2022, nearly 3 weeks later in the year and at least two of the sheep were (mildly) maggotty. Paddy is of the opinion that the higher the farm, the lower the cases of fly-strike. That is credible. Upland plots in Wicklow are used to grow certified seed potatoes which are much less riven with Potato-virus X PVX and Potato-virus Y PVY which are spread by aphids. The idea is that uplands are so windy that the poor bloody aphids cannot settle. In Netherlands, [because no mountains] they grow their seed potatoes in the windswept polders actually below sea-level.

Sunday 2 July 2023

Mixum gathersun

My Da's MTB #34 modelled by Steve Duckworth