Cringe. Not good.

Ouch, this is not good.

To be honest, Cowen really doesn’t deserve the degree of grief he’s gotten over this. Sure, it’s not his greatest moment and personally I’d love to see him bounced out of office, but talk about over reaction.


Right, so for those people not living in Ireland, or living under a rock in Ireland, here’s what happened yesterday morning.

Mmm, lovely pints.

Our Taoiseach (pronounced tee-shock) Brian Cowen is currently attending a party ‘think-in’, or strategy meeting with the rest of the Fianna Fail party at a hotel in the country. Normally, these things consist of meetings during the day, and then dinner in the evening and not surprisingly, a trip to the bar. Ireland has a peculiar attitude to drinking and while things are much improved, it’s still the case that most social events revolve around bars and drinking. Usually it’s good fun, and even in this case, I don’t have a problem at all with politicians having a few pints and winding down together after a day’s work.

Those attending the event are paying for it themselves as it’s not a government function, but rather a private party function. So what’s the problem exactly? Well apparently on Monday evening events in the bar ran late and the Taoiseach had a late night – heading to bed around 3:30am. The only problem was that he agreed to do a media interview with Ireland’s main news outlet at 8:55am the next morning, and when he went on air, he sounded . . . worse for wear. Now, maybe he was singing, smoking or shouting late at night — apparently he’s quite good fun in the right circumstances — all of which would lead to a husky voice the next morning, but he also sounded slightly like he was slurring his words. Here, have a listen:

Anyway, an opposition politician who heard the interview couldn’t resist tweeting about it – basically saying our glorious leader sounded either drunk or hung over – and all hell broke loose. Since then, the story has gone around the world, and Cowen has been forced to officially deny he was drunk at 9am in the morning. Not a shining day for Irish politics. But here’s the thing – amidst all the coverage and the countless hours of talk shows that have covered the issue here, nobody has addressed a point I think is pretty important.

I don’t begrudge anyone a pint. It would be pretty hypocritical of me — I’m a light to moderate drinker but I have had my moments. So I don’t think it’s a problem for a politician to be a drinker – really I’m more interested in their ability to do the job they were elected to do. Drinking is only an issue for me in so far as it impacts that ability.

And here’s the issue. Cowen was seen drinking on the night in question, but he apparently only drank water until after dinner when he switched to pints. That’s fairly responsible, but should the Taoiseach or prime minister of a country drink at all?

Much of the coverage of this (non)event has focused on how he sounded in the interview, but this misses the point. It seems to me that a state leader should be ready to do his job 24 hours a day. Of course they have to sleep, and have down time but if they have to be woken at two or three in the morning in the event of a national crises, ideally they won’t have had six or eight pints before bed.

The fact that this angle hasn’t been mentioned in the public debate on what has been dubbed Cowen-gate is indicative of the lack of maturity of Irish society when it comes to attitudes to alcohol. Also, why did the Taoiseach choose to do the interview at all? He could easily have said “I’ll do it later.” Bizarre.

Get in the bag . . .

This is just classic classic satire. Dara O’Briain has become a really impressive comedian, to my mind the best to come out of Ireland in recent years.

This is pulled from youtube, and it appears to be professionally filmed footage of a gig, so it probably shouldn’t be there. However, I think material like this is important as it raises consciousness in a way that is palatable and non-patronising. As has been extensively written about elsewhere, western culture is currently in the midst of an ideological battle between reason and superstition. When differences in opinion occur and ideology is involved, people have a tendency to become extremely defensive. But it’s possible for extremely clever and intelligent people to believe irrational things, so it’s important to engage with them in a respectful manner if you really want to change their minds.

(It’s also possible for stupid people to believe stupid things, in case that needs to be said. Isn’t it funny that everyone knows people that they would say are moronically stupid, but nobody thinks of themselves as being one of them? Maybe you’re one of them? Maybe I am too? ha ha ha. Anyway . . .)

Humour can be a great tool to get people to reassess the way they view the world. Backing someone into a corner and bludgeoning them over the head with irrefutable logic may be tempting, but actually someone who feels they are under attack on a personal level is unlikely to listen with an open mind to any argument, not matter how compelling that argument appears to be. I think the clip above is actually extremely important in this regard. Thanks Dara!

History repeating itself


I’ve been doing lots of travelling lately for work purposes – this time New York City and Florida – and got time to catch up on my movie watching. In particular, I’d been meaning to watch Frost Nixon for quite some time, and finally got the chane on a seven hour flight from JFK. It was excellent (as was Madagascar 2 – but that’s what I like about movie selections on planes – bordom leads you to choices you might not otherwise make.)

Anyway . . . like everyone else too young to remember Richard Nixon as president and the aftermath of the Watergate incident, I was shocked at the scene where David Frost badgers Nixon on the issue of what limits, if any, there are to presidential powers? Can the President essentially break the law if he thinks it’s in the best interests of the country. Nixon notoriously replied:

“If the president does it,that means it’s not illegal.  In war time, a president does have certain extraordinary powers which would make acts that would otherwise be unlawful, lawful if undertaken for the purpose of preserving the nation and the Constitution”

Astonishing hubris, and the kind of thing that you would think is relegated to the mists of time. Except it isn’t. Condoleezza Rice said something astonishingly similar this week to a group of primary school kids at a Washington School. She gave a talk, and according to the Washington Post, opened the floor to questions. This following passage is an excerpt from a WP story.

Then Misha Lerner, a student from Bethesda, asked: What did Rice think about the things President Obama’s administration was saying about the methods the Bush administration had used to get information from detainees?

Rice took the question in stride. saying that she was reluctant to criticize Obama, then getting to the heart of the matter.

“Let me just say that President Bush was very clear that he wanted to do everything he could to protect the country. After September 11, we wanted to protect the country,” she said. “But he was also very clear that we would do nothing, nothing, that was against the law or against our obligations internationally. So the president was only willing to authorize policies that were legal in order to protect the country.”

She added: “I hope you understand that it was a very difficult time. We were all so terrified of another attack on the country. September 11 was the worst day of my life in government, watching 3,000 Americans die. . . . Even under those most difficult circumstances, the president was not prepared to do something illegal, and I hope people understand that we were trying to protect the country.”

Misha’s mother, Inna Lerner, said the question her son had initially come up with was even tougher: “If you would work for Obama’s administration, would you push for torture?”

“They wanted him to soften it and take out the word ‘torture.’ But the essence of it was the same,” Lerner said.

Rice touched off a firestorm last week when she told students at Stanford that “we did not torture anyone.”

“The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations, under the Convention Against Torture,” Rice said at Stanford, before adding: “And so, by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.”

Anyone else find this disturbing? I’m not an American and couldn’t vote for Barack Obama, but I did follow his election enthusiastically. One of the criticisms thrown at him by Republicans, if I recall correctly, during the campaing was he was part of the liberal elite. The implication was that there was a political class of people who  thought they were better than everyone else and would squash the little guy to further their own aims.

Well, anyone who thinks that wasn’t going on already needs to read that Washington Post story and follow up the youtube clips where this was caught on film. As an aside, what an impressive question from a kid, and how brave they must have been to challenge her. Well done Misha. What ever you think of that kids politics, the world is a better place for people who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo.

You’ve never seen Lost?

The first two episodes of series five premiered last night, and after watching the end of series four again to refresh the memory banks, I settled in to find out what’s been happening on the island.

The last time I wrote something about what happened on Lost, I got castigated from a height for publishing spoilers, so I won’t do that again, but man, what a fantastic television series. Series one and two were excellent, but series three really dipped in the middle. Series four was a return to form, and now series five looks again to be fantastic – in particular the thing that people always say is the annoying thing about Lost – that nothing is ever explained – appears to be less of an issue. We got a major plot explanation and then we got dumped down the rabbit hole!

So, if you used to watch Lost and gave up – now’s the time to get reacquainted with a box set or two. If you’ve never watched Lost, well, what can I say? Nothing these guys haven’t already said better!

Hmmm . . .

Why do we use the expression “on the net”?

How can something be on a net? Surely, it makes more sense to say ‘in the net’? For example, wouldn’t it be better, more accurate and just more linguistically satisfying to say “I saw this doodah in the net today, my how I laughed”?

Perhaps the entire Internet has been put together as a conspiracy to undermine the preposition ‘in.’ Hmmm.

How hot is hot?

I’ve just wrapped up a business article on the Middle East and came across this piece of trivia while researching it. The hottest temperature recorded on earth was in El Azizia in 1922, on the northern part of the African continent.

Apparently on a Tuesday afternoon in September, scientists recorded ground temperatures of 136° F/57.8° C. That’s seriously hot.

Just thought you’d be interested.

There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

Woke up to read this fantastic story on the BBC News website.

Bendy-buses with the slogan “There’s probably no God” could soon be running on the streets of London.

The atheist posters are the idea of the British Humanist Association (BHA) and have been supported by prominent atheist Professor Richard Dawkins.

The BHA planned only to raise £5,500, which was to be matched by Professor Dawkins, but it has now raised more than £36,000 of its own accord.

It aims to have two sets of 30 buses carrying the signs for four weeks.

The complete slogan reads: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

As the campaign has raised more than anticipated, it will also have posters on the inside of buses as well.

The BHA is also considering extending the campaign to cities including Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh.

Professor Dawkins said: “Religion is accustomed to getting a free ride – automatic tax breaks, unearned respect and the right not to be offended, the right to brainwash children.


via BBC NEWS | England | London | ‘No God’ slogans for city’s buses

How long could you watch TV for?

Man, I like movies, but this is taking things a little far. Just how much espresso would you need?

2 people watch 123 hours of movies in NYC

NEW YORK (AP) — You may want to try this at home.

Suresh Joachim of Toronto, and Claudia Wavra of Germany, claim to have broken the world record for continuous movie watching, after seeing 57 films in 123 hours in a plastic-glass house in New York’s Times Square.

A Guinness World Records spokesman said it appears the non-dynamic duo have broken the record but said it will take two weeks to officially verify.

The attempt began Oct. 2 when eight challengers started watching “Iron Man.” After 72 hours, only two remained. They watched “Thelma and Louise” until the end on 3:10 p.m. Tuesday.

Susan Sarandon, a star of that film, dropped off the final film.

The rules: Each movie had to be viewed until the last credit rolled, and competitors couldn’t divert their eyes from the screen. They were allowed 10-minute breaks between movies.

via The Associated Press: 2 people watch 123 hours of movies in NYC.