Tuesday, 29 May 2012

No on Austerity

The NO camp seems a bit more vocal about the fiscal referendum.  They certainly have more signs.  They call it The Austerity Treaty.  It all started with the banks.  Oh, the banks.  The bankers have gotten away with murder.  They loaned money they didn't have, they made bad loans (a.k.a. a half-million euro house to Joe O'Blow the Tacsai Driver). The Irish government agreed to pay back the bond holders when they banks went under, and now we're up the Liffey without a paddle as far as debt and budgets go.
Then the government did something they have never done before; they introduced a property tax.  In Ireland, when you own your home you own your home.  Sure, they make you pay Stamp Duty (6% of the value of the house) on the sale, but that's it.  There is no annual recurring fee for property tax like we have in 'merica.
Oh yeah, and Ireland doesn't have a water tax either.  They say the rain is fond of Ireland and I believe it.  They have quite enough rain here such that the government doesn't have any reason to charge taxpayers for water... well, until now they didn't.
Now the government wants to saddle citizens with home-owners' taxes, water charges and a new septic tank inspection fee.  This is not going over well with Irish citizens.  Ireland has 1.5 million private households.  1 million homeowners have refused to sign up for the new household tax.
In other countries, the government is allowed to sign or refuse the "Stability Treaty" without a public vote.  However, Ireland has had a law since 1987 that such measures require a referendum.
Irish Transportation Minister Leo Varadkar explained in an interview with RTÉ news that referendums are not very democratic.  He said the Irish people tend to use the opportunity to beat the government with a stick.  Varadkar expressed concern that the current referendum on budgets and government borrowing would be turned into other issues, like the household tax and water charges.
The Socialist Party, one of the biggest sign-putter-uppers in town, has done exactly that.  They are using off-the-wall and sometimes quite childish imagery to push their NO position.  (See the Jaws poster from a couple days ago.)  The NO campaign is insisting the "Austerity Treaty" will mean great cuts in jobs and social welfare.

I see the referendum as more as a method for Ireland to protect the Euro currency.  They want to give investors the idea that the Eurozone is under control, instances like the crisis in Greece will not happen again, and they want to rebuild confidence in the Euro.
However, the Irish people really want to see the banking issue addressed.  I think they are quite put off by the government's treatment of the bank crisis and see the Stability Treaty as a hand-waving exercise.  To the populace, the government is just posturing and posing.  The government is pretending to fix "recession" issue but they're not addressing everyone's true concerns; bankers on Wall Street (and elsewhere) got away with the biggest theft in history.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Yes on Stability

I was walking up Grafton Street today and I think I met a Senator.  Or a house of parliament dude.  He was well spoken, had a crisp navy suit, and wanted to hand me a YES flyer.  "Please vote YES!" he urged.  I think I've seen him on TV or the news or something.  He was confused why I didn't take his flyer, but then gave a wise sounding, "Ah ha" when I explained "I'm not from here" in my totally American accent.

There is a pretty good web site for the Stability Treaty.  They have a snazzy video with iconic graphics on the front page, to help educate people what this thing is all about.  I have transcribed the video below and offered my insightful comments for your reading enjoyment:
  The stability treaty is an international agreement between 25 European countries including Ireland and all the other countries that use the Euro.

   It brings in stronger rules to ensure that countries keep their debts under control and balance their budgets.

 [Me]  Yes I am in favor of this; balanced budgets are a good thing.  I am a fan of the Clark Howard radio show.  He is a consumer advocate who explains that we must save before buying things.  Also, he says the best financial planning advice is to get out of debt first.
  Governments will no longer be allowed to spend way more than they raise.
Ok, I'm with you so far...
  To avoid a repeat of the economic and banking crisis into which we and others were plunged, it was agreed that a tightening of the rules and regulations were needed.

  A stable euro is important for economic growth, that means investment and jobs.

Ok problem right there... if you're going to talk about investment, you're going to have to lower taxes on capital gains.  A simple rule of economics states:  High capital gains taxes means lower investment.  People don't want to invest if their return is diminished because the government taxes what you earn through investing.  Talk about a deterrent:  Investors take all the the risk and then the government steps in and says, good job bro, now give us our cut.  Wait, what?
  A stable currency is particularly important for countries with small, open economies like ours.  Ireland will be in an EU/IMF program until 2013.  After that the aim is to go back to the money markets, as is the norm.

  If we really needed it we could get financial assistance from the new permanent rescue fund, the European stability mechanism.  Its only available to countries which ratify the treaty.

  Much of what is in the treaty is already in the existing EU treaties and laws.
Well then why do we need it?  If we currently have a law that says "all cars must stop at red hexagonal signs with the word STOP printed on them," why do we need a treaty to agree to stop at stop signs?  I don't get it.
Our government and Oireachtas will continue to play the same role in setting taxes and deciding how to spend our tax money.

You are being asked to vote on the 31st of may on whether Ireland should ratify the treaty.  Your decision is a very important one for Ireland.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Drought, Hitler and Jaws

On May 31, Ireland has asked people to go to the polls.  There will be only one measure on the ballot.  The government is calling it the Treaty on Stability, Cooperation and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union (“The Stability Treaty”).  The political parties against the treaty are calling it The Austerity Treaty.  Irish citizens will vote on whether or not they want their government to sign the treaty.

From what I understand, the measure is a response to the current recession.  It is an agreement for all countries in the Eurozone to maintain a balanced budget, and that the amount borrowed does not exceed a certain percentage of GNP.  The official wording is something along the lines of, "Budgetary discipline requires an annual government deficit of no more than 3% of GDP, together with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 60%."

Over the next three days I would like to comment on this issue, as it seems to be a big political deal for Ireland.  There are political campaign signs up all around Dublin.  The 'yes' campaign seems pretty tame.  Their signs just say 'vote yes'.  The 'no' campaign has some pretty creative signs.  Here are three of their most inventive and/or outrageous:

That's very clever.  Yes, I agree that you can't have both Austerity and Growth.  I seem to remember Albert Einstein said something along the lines of "You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war" too.  I also hear it is impossible to whistle while you are laughing.  Oh, and you can't lick your own elbow.

This poster plays on the fear that Germany will take over Europe. Because Angela Merkel was a key author of the treaty, people believe the treaty seeks to make every government run as the German model does.  Someone has drawn a little Hitler moustache on Angela, as you see here. (sigh)

This one is just plain silly.  If you vote Yes on the treaty, Ireland will be eaten by sharks.  Maybe even sharks with lasers.  And bears with chainsaws for arms will come out of the woods.  Raaar.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Psychadelic Sitting Room

My aunt Mary once paid me a nice compliment.  She said, "You don't need to take drugs.  You're already naturally psychedelic."  haha at least I took it as a compliment.  Somebody else told me, "If you remember the 60's, you weren't there."  Well that's true too.  I certainly don't remember it... having been born in the 70's, but maybe part of me was there in spirit.  In any case it occurred to me recently that we keep picking up things to decorate our sitting room that are rather psychadelic.  Are your possessions a reflection of your personality?

My awesomer half and I were walking past a Next shop window the other day and this vase caught my eye.  Isn't it groovy?  The orange-red honeycomb reminded me of the 1960's Star Trek set somehow.  haha

Sometimes after a long day, we come home and spark up some incense.  Auroville is a really good brand.

We totally scored on this.  Debenham's had a half-off sale on lighting and I think we picked up this Lava Lite for only 17 euro.

A month ago we were walking in Dublin and we found a street artist selling these really cool reproduction Fillmore posters.  He's very good and has a shop on etsy called Sunflower Prints.

I am very proud of this.  We just had this black & white photo enlarged and framed.  When my awesomer half and I were in San Francisco in February, we saw this Karman Ghia over by Haight Street.  This picture turned out really well.  I think it looks like like a 60's album cover.

Syd Barrett sits quietly in the corner of our sitting room.  We are big fans of Pink Floyd.  I especially like the early stuff where Syd showed off his whimsy, such as See Emily Play on The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

We put Christmas lights around our stereo.  haha  You can see our copy of Pink Floyd's Pulse album blinking away next to the right speaker.  Right on, man!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Idiote Mode

I was walking in town with my awesomer half this evening.  This little black dress by Alexander McQueen caught her attention.  We stopped to admire it in the window of Brown Thomas, an upscale department store on Grafton Street.

After we stood there looking at the black dress for a while, I said, "Um... isn't that a rat?"  Sure enough, the store window had a display of a dozen rats, spray painted gold and hanging by their necks.  What the...?

They were hanging in front of a black sign that repeated, "ALL YOUR FALSE GODS" three times.  Apparently Brown Thomas thinks they are being avant-garde by placing weird art in their street-facing windows.

That's rather rich coming from an uber-posh commercial establishment selling Prada, Hermes, Louis-Vuitton, Mulberry, Ralph-Lauren and oh yeah, Chanel.  You know, it occurs to me this artist must have thought himself very clever to troll the store like this.  Here's some art to mock shoppers for their consumerist desires and brand worshiping behavior.  Haha they'll never notice.  Oh wait, I'll throw in a stuffed cat urinating in the corner!  That's pure brilliance.

Is it me or is this artist so far up their own arse they see the light at the end of the tunnel?  We were about to leave when... DEAR LORD, WHAT'S THAT???  A patchwork cat falling from the sky!  Now I've seen everything.

It's kind of like the Evil Monkey from Family Guy crossed with a sock puppet gone wrong.  Well, I used to think Top Shop had the worst store windows, but now I've decided that Brown Thomas gets the Merde du Taureau award.  Congratulations!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

May Queen

While strolling YouTube recently I came across an apple orchard owner in England who does video blogs.  Stephen Hayes' channel is full of charming, down to earth videos like this one, where he walks through his orchard and talks about his trees.  He says it is important to keep heritage specimens alive in the horticultural world.  This sentiment really resonated with me.  I am a big fan of vintage plants and I believe that just because something is new doesn't necessarily mean its better.  I'm definitely an aficionado of classic.

After watching this video I decided to find a nursery that stocked rare apples and purchased a pair of May Queen trees.  This is a variety from 1888.  I found it at Deacon's Nursery on the Isle of Wight.  Mr. Hayes plea to keep heirloom varieties of apples alive really struck a chord with me.  Perhaps it was his lament that we are losing the DNA of old varieties, or his sadness over the loss of a very good nursery that specialized in his favorite type of tree.  I felt the same way when Mountain Maples closed their nursery; they specialized in Japanese Maples.

So anyway, here are my little trees.  One tree is on M27 patio-tree rootstock, which keeps the height of the tree at about 4 feet.  This is great for an ornamental standard which still will produce fruit.  The other tree is on M26 dwarfing rootstock.  This tree will eventually reach 8-10 feet tall and is perfect for a yard.  My awesomer-half and I are currently renting our house, so you may be wondering why I bought a tree that needs to go in the ground?  Well, my awesomer half's parents enjoy apples, and so that tree will eventually go live at their house.

My two little 1-year trees from Deacon's Nursery are happy and sprouting new Spring growth

Apple blossoms getting ready to bloom

I'm really looking forward to seeing fruit on this tree some day!  The taste is described as nutty, Earthy and crunchy with a fair bit of acid.  Sounds like a lovely apple.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Gourmet Burger Kitchen

My awesomer half and I were in town (yeah, we're back in Dublin-land) and we stopped for lunch at Gourmet Burger Kitchen.  We have also been to the one at Liffey Valley Shopping Center, but I like this one better.  The interior is smaller and more cozy and lets face it, it's not in a mall.  Points are added for not being anywhere near a cosmetics cart with an employee who loudly interrupts the personal conversation you are having and says, "EXCUSE ME CAN I ASK YOU A QUESTION?" when you are obviously trying to avoid eye contact.  It makes me wish I was carrying some sort of power tool just so I could reply with, "Excuse me may I sharpen my chainsaw on your spleen?"

Yes, real restaurants on real streets are so much nicer.  Malls with large open spaces and a million square meters of hard reflective surfaces have a way of bouncing sound around so that your skull reverberates.  I think they are acoustically designed to push you into stores, just to get away from the din of reflected sound.  This is some kind of psychological crap architects pull on shoppers to guide them out of public spaces and into retail ones.

Anyway, look at this beautiful warm brick building.  On a scale of 1 to a billion, malls are like a 3 and buildings like this are around 999 million on the aesthetically-pleasing-places scale.

My awesomer half got her favorite:  The Chicken Satay Burger.  It had lettuce, tomatoes and a delicious chutney type of relish inside.

I ordered a Bleu Cheese Burger, and man was it good!  The burger was a nice quality beef, juicy and cooked exactly right.  The lettuce was a fresh piece of butter lettuce, not the crummy iceberg that most burger joints dish out.  The thin rings of red onion were pleasantly moderate.  I find that most burgers are served with a fat wad of onion that tastes like a punch in the jaw.  Less is more in the onion department.

We shared a bowl of fries.  The rosemary on top was a nice touch.

The interior decor was a funky rouge-et-noir thing.  It made me think this had previously been a very avant-garde sushi restaurant.  The geometric wooden-lattice lights were cool.

One little touch that Gourmet Burger Kitchen does is to dole out the ketchup into these cute little squeeze bottles.

We opted for the smaller size burgers and found the portions to be just right.  Our burgers were 7 euros each and with drinks and fries, lunch for two came out to be about 21 euros.  Our waitress was a cheerful Polish girl who was doing her best to look like a blonde co-ed from UCLA.  Service was attentive and professional, quick and accurate.  What's even better is that my awesomer-half treated me to lunch!  I'm a lucky guy.

Monday, 7 May 2012

The Hooker Bar

Way out in Connemara near the tip of Galway Bay you will find The Hooker Bar in the town of Leitir Móir.  No, they haven't suddenly legalized prostitution in an Ghaeltacht.  Haha!  What are ye thinkin?  A 'hooker' is a traditional sailboat used in Galway Bay.

I am told they were used as fishing boats but I am also told they were used to deliver fuel to the Aran Islands.  In the good old days, (actually it's still a good way to heat your house,) they burned turf-peat in the hearth; it provided heat and cooked your meals.  The residents of Aran didn't have access to a peat bog, since the islands are incredibly rocky.  So, the sturdy men of Connemara would get up early in the morning, load up their hookers with peat and race out to the islands.  Whoever got there first got the most sales.  It was simple economics.

Racing out to Inishmore became a daily thing.  Nowadays, there is a lot of interest in keeping this type of boat and this form of racing alive.  There are annual Galway Hooker races in the Summer, which I am told are really fun.  If you want to learn more about Hookers, check out the Galway Hooker Association, they have a great 2 minute video on their main page.

I really should stop in and buy a drink some time.  I felt a bit silly taking pictures of their pub and not buying a Guinness.  Sorry guys!  IOU a beer.

Since 1845!  Wow, I guess bar-tending must be the second oldest profession.

Leitir Móir has beautiful roads.

Somebody was out sailing today!  The red-burgundy sails are traditional.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Perigee moon today

The tide seems a bit higher than usual today.  This evening brings us the perigee moon.   That's when the moon's orbit is at its closest point to the Earth.  We are visiting Galway this weekend for the bank holiday.  There are pretty little pink flowers that grow by the water line by the house.  I am told these flowers are extremely salt tolerant.  I sure hope so!  The tide today is way up past the usual line, and I'm afraid these poor little flowers were submerged by the high tide.

We took a little walk and found new calves resting by their mothers.

Here the tide is coming up the little beach.  Galway Bay is beyond.

Tonight's full moon, courtesy of my awesomer half and her amazing Nikon Coolpix P7100.  This camera rocks!