Archive for the ‘Current Affairs’ Category

The Republic of ‘Their’-Land

In a country where the majority of the population feel it is acceptable to lie on a tax form, claim an relief or benefit that they are not entitled to or draw a government welfare aid while they are working (and often earning more money than the dole they are stealing), it is not surprising then that the government itself is rather corrupt. In fact a lot of people would do at least one of the above as their way of getting back at the government.

Before going to University I applied for a government grant to which I was entitled to. I received at 3/4 allowance and this was fine as the means test results found that I was not dirt poor but could still do with a little help in paying for my college fees. However, when my father was filling out his part of the form, someone he knew (who shall remain nameless) informed him that if he simply “didn’t” put this or that down on the form, then I could avail of a 100% grant – thankfully my father seen this as being dishonest and ignored the advice. But that is the problem – the Irish people (and yes I am generalizing) are constantly looking for ways to cheat an already fraudulent administration.

Take this for an example (from the Irish Examiner dated April 20th 2010) – a mother-of-seven jailed for two months in Cork. Fair enough you might say, she must have committed some sort of a crime. The crime that she in fact committed was selling roses in Cork city centre. Say WHAT! I don’t know the full story but I can guess that she certainly wasn’t earning upwards on 200K and selling roses was only a hobby.

But what does our fine Taoiseach care? At one stage he was earning more than the US President. He would have been unavailable for comment anyway as he was away on his Easter break – the poor guy needed a holiday what with all the pressure and strain of trying to run a country. Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has claimed that Cowen and Fianna Fáil are involved in a continuing “cover-up” of dealings at Anglo Irish Bank – read more here.

And this is the main problem – when the stewards of the country are bailing out the richest, for want of a better word (and there are many), twirps in the country and standing by them – how can this little nation move forward? These politicians, bankers and developers have sucked all the goodness out of the country and tossed us into the trash, and yet these criminals will never see the inside of a jail – unlike our rose-seller. Where is the justice even when it is our tax cents that is lining the pockets of these bankers (to bail them out and ensure they have a nice pension) and yet these same reprobates turn around and tell us “no you cannot have a mortgage, don’t be silly”.

I’m sorry but there is no longer an ‘Our’-Land – there is only a ‘Their-Land’.

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Making History

Skies over Ireland are completely clear of air traffic for the first time in a long time. Restrictions ovet air space are on place until 6am tomorrow morning and anyone wishinh to travel need to check with the proper air authorities. Quite an historic day to be honest and what a glorious day at that! Check out this link for more info on the Icelandic volcano: http://bit.ly/9j1l3K but the basic info is that there is some ash in the sky that may make its way over Ireland and on into Europe.

And want could this mean for the carbon-conscious? Flights all over western Europe have been cancelled for at least a day – I’m sure the Eco-warriors are delighted and will probably try to claim that the volcano was their idea!

Armageddon…already?!

The cornerstone of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign seemed to be his Health Care Reform. This bill entails the following:

I have Health Insurance –

  • You can keep your existing insurance and doctor if you want
  • Insurance companies will not be allowed to deny coverage due to a pre-existing condition (not for another 4 years)
  • Insurance companies will not be allowed to drop you when you get sick
  • There will no longer be a cap on the amount of coverage you can receive (yearly/lifetime)
  • There will be a limit for “out-of-pocket” expenses
  • Insurance companies will be required to cover check-ups and preventive care (mammograms, etc.)

It looks like he’s a bit peeved at the Insurance Industry – rent out or download The Rainmaker or even get a copy of the book by John Grisham. He tackles the problem of the Insurance Industry and reveals them for being fraudulent and downright evil! The movie has Matt Damon, Danny DeVito and Mickey Rourke. One interesting part in the movie comes when the court learns that this particular insurance company rejects ALL claims for a year!

I don’t have Health Insurance

  • If you change or lose your job or start your own business, you will be covered
  • An Insurance Exchange or Marketplace will come into effect enabling people to “shop” for insurance at competitive prices
  • Tax credits will be provided for small businesses and individuals
  • Low-cost coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions (Senator John McCain’s idea)
  • Insurance companies kept honest by making a not-for-profit public health insurance option

For everyone:

  • “I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits – either now or in the future”
  • Plan can be paid for by finding savings within the health care system
  • Independent medical experts employed to identify fraud, waste and abuse
  • Medical malpractice reform project

It sounds like a good plan – here in Ireland we have a system that aids but also hinders. If you are within a certain wage bracket, have a disability or are elderly you are eligible for a Medical Card provided by the Health Service Executive. This card entitles you to free health care regardless of your situation within public services. Unfortunately a lot of people lie on their forms and it’s possible to see someone driving around in a new Range Rover with a medical card! The other alternative is obtaining health insurance from a range of different companies, unfortunately the majority of people who cannot afford the coverage simply go without. A doctor’s visit ranges between 30 and 50 Euro depending on where you go. Any other tests are extra. If you need prescription drugs and you don’t have a medical card, be prepared to pay for it. About a year ago I suffered from a peptic ulcer and I was informed by my doctor (after paying €40) that I need a few tablets – when we got to the Pharmacy we were forced to shell out nigh on €100 for the 6 pills! The problem in this country is that the Pharmacy’s are allowed to get away with theft and charge what seems to agree with them any given day. Over the border in Northern Ireland (part of the UK), there is a flat rate for prescription drugs – roughly £6. It’s about time something happened over in the States.

Of course not everyone likes Obama’s plan. Those who are against the Health Reform are not letting their feelings subside, recently House Minority Leader John Boehner said that the next 24 hours are “armageddon” because the health care bill proposed by Democrats will “ruin our country,” – speaking the day before the bill was voted on. I always thought that Armageddon would spell the end of the world, not pave the way for millions of less-fortunate people to obtain medical care – maybe I’m wrong. On the other side of the coin most of these politicians have their campaigns funded by…Insurance companies – maybe not directly but if the money is traced, it will undoubtedly find its way back to the board rooms of these insurers.

Naturally Obama’s plan is stacked against the odds. In a country with the most expensive health-care system globally, it’s obvious that millions of people cannot afford to see a doctor, let alone have necessary surgery. In the US, on OECD estimates, healthcare expenditure is close to 17% of the GDP. Why is this figure so high?

  • Have you seen Supersize Me? There are high rates of preventable disease among Americans and their supposed love affair with junk food
  • Huge cost of privatised care
  • Health insurance companies run for profit grossly inflate the cost of medical care
  • A study by academics from the Harvard Medical School and the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that almost one third of healthcare spending – 31 per cent – is gobbled up by their administrative overheads and profits.

Obama aims to create millions of new customers for the insurers by subsidising Americans on low and middle incomes to take out policies. But are there loopholes? Already I can see one – US reforms will ban insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions…but not for another four years. No doubt insurance companies will fight tooth and nail (in 4 years time) to argue that your claim is void because your pre-exiting condition was flagged on their books before the Health Reform came into effect. Take this estimate for example: $350 billion was spent by insurance companies on finding ways to avoid coverage and deny claims – a sum equal to just under 2 per cent of US GDP. Needless to say insurance companies will hike their rates as they seek to rake back the cost of compulsory insurance of the sick by hitting the healthy.

Obama reckons that since you won’t pay any extra “dime[s]” everything will work out. But how can it? The government will have to pick up the tab and how does this help the fiscal burden of the country? Or will there be an extra tax thrown in somewhere – it could  come under the guise of taxing the most expensive insurance policies (Cadillac Plan). Obama states that there is millions of dollars lost in waste and fraud within the system and that unwarranted subsidies in Medicare goes to insurance companies – is he attacking the greed of the insurance companies? the greed of corporate America?

His Health Reform is designed to move more people into private health insurance. But the centrality of private health insurers is part of the problem in the US, not the answer. Is he leading the lambs from, or to the slaughter?

Social Internet Etiquette

  • Do not talk about Myspace. Ever.
  • Unless the conversation goes: “Hey, do you remember Myspace?”      “No.”
  • Or you’re checking out how many hits your awesome band has.

  • If it’s one of your Facebook friends’, friends’, friends’, friends’, friends’, friends’ birthday, and you don’t write happy birthday on their wall, then you should reconsider the friendship.
  • “Maybe Attending” is nicer than saying “Not Attending”.
  • It is your responsibility as their Facebook friend to tag them in any photo they appear in, no matter how far in the distance they are or how big a part of their body is shown – unless they look decent. Then the aforementioned responsibility forfeits.
  • You need to join every group that makes you say “oh yeaaahhh” when you read the group title.
  • You must become a lowly farmer on Farmville and rise through the ranks to Master Farmer.

  • If you can say it in less than 140 characters it’s probably not that interesting – just tweet it.
  • You should be followed by at least one Eastern-European female who links to malicious websites. If this isn’t the case you are doing something wrong.
  • You should always aim to have more followers than you are following, as it is this ratio that determines your coolness.
  • You should follow famous people and believe in your heart that the famous person is personally replying to you and not some random douche or aide.

  • Unfortunately the social norms of AOL were lost when the great library in Alexandria was set on fire in 48 B.C. Which, coincidentally, is also around the time you should have stopped using AOL.

  • If you are going to upload videos, vlogging is mandatory.
  • Every video deserves 5 stars – even if you didn’t like it. A lot of work went into these videos, and the maker may return the rating when he/she sees your video uploads.
  • If you upload a video, it is important to post a response to the video a week later.

  • You must be no older than 15
  • Every known application must be added to your page or else no one will bother to look
  • You must receive love on a daily basis from each friend or people will know that you are not popular
  • There are over 10,000 “what kind of a” quizzes available and each must be filled out to determine what kind of a dancer/shoe/cable you are.

If it weren’t for those pesky MobileMe Kids…

The St. Petersburg Times has a fantastic report on how a couple of stolen iPhones were retrieved. The story begins with a mother and her stepdaughter boarding a roller coaster ride at the the SkeiKra roller Coaster in Tampa, Florida. This particular theme park, located at Busch Gardens, provides a handy service – unlocked storage bins for people who don’t want to lose their possessions. This pair of thrill-seekers unfortunately though it wise to drop their iPhones into the unlocked bins. Needless to say when they went back to collect them, they were gone.

All manner of law enforcement officials were immediately called and when the 13-year old remembered that she had a MobileMe account, she logged into the family account using an officer’s laptop and was able to locate both iPhones on the GPS Map using the Find My iPhone feature. A squad car was dispatched to the current location of the iPhones and a suspicious-looking guy quickly hid a mobile phone he was using when he saw the officers approaching. Of course this was their guy – the 25-year old admitted the theft and was later charged with grand theft, his 19th arrest!

This all happened in the space of 45 minutes and is not MobileMe’s only feature! Click here to visit Apple’s MobileMe and try it out for free for 60 days.

Facebook is sued – Un-Class[y] Action

Facebook changed it privacy settings last Winter to allow for users to change their security and privacy settings the way they wanted. Unfortunately they also let a certain group of Americans do this, and what do this particular group of Americans like to do…sue! We’ve all seen the “new” Facebook and most people are appalled at the user interface (seriously…it’s changed and get used to it), but I think the new privacy settings are good – I like customization!  The new Facebook settings allows users to set their own privacy settings and make more informed choices on the use of their personal data.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges that the changes have reduced privacy protections for Facebook users rather than increasing it, as the company had claimed it would. However, the lawsuit, which was filed by five Facebook users on behalf of all Facebook users, alleged that the company’s modifications have only resulted in more personal data being pushed out to the Internet while making privacy options even harder to exercise.

It’s true that the default security setting is, well, not there – the information that Facebook makes publicly available by default includes user names, photos, friend’s listing, the names of any organizations and products that a user might support, as well as geographic data and other information. But get a grip of your account settings, learn to read if needs be and change your settings – I have very little information made available and do not click on the advertisements down the side of the page. Yes Facebook probably make a lot of money from those advertisements (which are aimed personally at you depending on your information), but you don’t need to click on them (even hitting the X button on the adverts is the equivalent as clicking the advert link itself), in doing so (or not doing so) you won’t be giving out your information to the advertisement companies.

Back to the main point here – these Facebook Five are filing a class action suit (class action means “one plaintiff” representing many, click here for more) on YOUR behalf – are they going to give any money to you or I if they are awarded anything? It’s an unfortunate reminder of the times we live in, where anybody and anything can be sued. Is there a lack of common sense? In the past, common sense prevailed: your child received a nasty sting from a nettle in the grass, you found a “Doc Leaf” and rubbed said leaf on the stung area to relieve pain. Today it seems that the “common” thing to do is to sue the Town Council for allowing nettles to grow.

Of course, employing common sense here would mean clicking on privacy settings and changing some things…but that’s just too much hard work, it’s easier to sue.

The Hand of Gaul

Gaul

-noun

an ancient region in W Europe, including the modern areas of N Italy, France, Belgium, and the S Netherlands: consisted of two main divisions, one part S of the Alps (Cisalpine Gaul) and another part N of the Alps (Transalpine Gaul).

a native or inhabitant of France.

Gall

-noun

1. Impudence, effrontery
2. Something bitter to endure

Synonyms: nerve, audacity, brass, cheek

It’s the 103rd minute of the match. You’re in Extra-Time. The ball comes over the head of an offside Escude (who apparently was not interfering with play) and looks to be trickling over the line for a goal kick. You decide to handle the ball, stopping it from going out of play. You handle the ball again as you set yourself for the 2-pointer into the basketball net. You think, “Wait, this isn’t basketball – this is football and outfield players are not allowed to handle the ball”, so you let go of the football and roll it across the box for your fellow Frenchman to tap the ball in for the winning goal, in spite of the fact that the Irish defence have stopped playing and are claiming hand-ball. You are a Gillette poster-boy. You have endorsed Nike, Reebok and Pepsi.  You are a world-renowned footballer and celebrity.  You are an advocate for Fair Play on the field. You used your hands to control a football.
You cheated.

Unsurprisingly this has been the talk of football and sporting fans the world over. Everybody has an opinion on what happened on Wednesday 18th November 2009 – needless to say, as an Irishman I feel what happened is a disgrace. Thierry Henry should be ashamed of himself and has even come out to the media and apologised for his actions, although to me it sounds like he’s trying to cover his read end, (for the story click here) but that’s football and rules cannot be changed – the referee’s decision on the field is final. Unfortunately the outcome of that decision is rather unsettling.

Politics

“Neither the French government nor the Irish government should interfere in the functioning of the international federation,” Francois Fillon, the French Prime Minister said. Didn’t expect that! Fillon is obviously thinking that this is a sporting matter and therefore is the concern of the proper governing body, FIFA, but alas it has turned into a political matter. The grumblings of the past have affected a lot of Irish people who are unwilling to forgive and forget and the fallout of the latest development could be severe: there are rumours of boycotting all French products including food and clothing, and of boycotting any product endorsed by Mr. Henry. This could lead to problems in trade, import and export between France and Ireland and even the Continent and Ireland. Naturally the refusal of the French Government to do anything about the incident will not help relations between the two countries either.

Racism

Henry has been the subject of racial abuse in the past having some slurs directed at him by the then Spanish coach Luis Aragonés. This prompted the Nike Stand Up Speak Up campaign against racism with Henry at the forefront. Unfortunately there is a group of people who are directing racial abuse at the Frenchman, as a result tarnishing everyone who is annoyed at Henry with the same brush. I do not condone racial abuse whatsoever and it has no place in a sports environment.

FIFA

I have been perusing the FIFA.com website since Wednesday and I have yet to see any mention of Henry’s hand-ball to date (Nov 20th). It’s as if it never happened! I’m not surprised given Sepp Blatter’s recent announcements; mainly the new play-off format (to ensure the big teams go to the World Cup) introduced near the end of the qualifying campaign. I was even less surprised to hear that they refuse to take any action on the matter: “In the reply, FIFA states that the result of the match cannot be changed and the match cannot be replayed. As is clearly mentioned in the Laws of the Game, during matches, decisions are taken by the referee and these decisions are final.” So why didn’t you pick a more experienced referee for such a high-stakes game?

Naturally, if they got off their asses and did something it would contradict the rules of the game and the general FIFA Fair Play ethos. Wait…Fair Play? FIFA endorse playing fairly? This is a quote from FIFA’s website: “The generic concept of fair play is a fundamental part of the game of football. It represents the positive benefits of playing by the rules, using common sense and respecting fellow players, referees, opponents and fans.”

Oh right…so Henry’s actions are acceptable? [insert bemused tone here]

The Referee’s Decision is Final

This is the rule in the book and it doesn’t get any clearer than that. This is also the reason that there cannot be a rematch. As much as I want one and as much as I believe it must happen for the integrity of the game, it cannot due to this rule. Bear in mind the precedent that would be set if there was a rematch – any decision that someone doesn’t like could be questioned and a rematch called for – it would be chaotic. What could and should happen is what the boys over in the Rugby clubs have – video replay and judging. FIFA have brought in extra referees lately and even given the old lino a new name – Assistant Referee. Why not have an Assistant Referee watching the game on a monitor and viewing the replays for dodgy decisions?

The Internet

It’s the fastest and easiest tool for freedom of speech and the internet is absolutely flying with the Henry Hand-ball issue. Numerous Facebook pages were set up minutes after the event with the most popular ones being the “We Irish Hate Thierry Henry (the cheat)” and “Petition to have Ireland v France Replayed”. There are over 85,000 members on the former and over 240,000 on the latter – quite staggering considering there are also thousands of comments on both groups. Wikipedia have had to close their Thierry Henry page to editing due to vandalism! Since writing this the “We Irish Hate Thierry Henry” page has been closed by Facebook. Henry has become the most hated man in Ireland, ironically his predecessor, Brian Cowen, is in the limelight for the right reason – trying to get the match re-staged!

Henry himself mentioned on his Twitter page that he was sorry if he hurt someone and suggested that blame is solely on the referee – but Thierry, could you not have held you hand up and said to the ref “hey, I cheated there – cancel the goal”, instead of keeping your hand low and cheating the game?

Dave Jones, a friend of mine, expressed his fear of the internet describing the future as “daunting”, talking about the various groups and pages that were set up and edited. But he also said something quite profound: “It really is a moment that could define Henry for all the wrong reasons, and what a player for it to happen to – a future ambassador of the game!”

Anyway, if the hand was on the other foot, would we be complaining as much? Probably not, but it’s still shocking to see such an injustice in that game I love so much.

D

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