Archive for January 2003
Nice to see somebody in the media industry has a sense of humour, however rudimentary. They’re showing Groundhog Day on TV here, two days too early, but close enough. In the film, Bill Murray’s weatherman experiences the same day, over and over again. So, during the commercial break, we get the same short Cadbury’s commercial, repeated about nine times… funny ha-ha, folks.
boeing… boeing… boeing…
I got bored last night, so I did this animated GIF for b3ta.com. I guess they liked it, since it’s wound up on the front page, where it will stay for a few days. I don’t know what that will do to my website stats, I may be at risk of exceeding some traffic allowance, if I have one. I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it. Now I’m off home.
If you’re wondering why the Millennium Dome appears to be just across the river from the Houses of Parliament in London, blame Microsoft, since this is made from screenshots from Flight Simulator 2002.
Dublin appears to be the only place in Europe that has not yet had any snow worth talking about this winter. The whole of the UK is smothered, with skidding lorries and people sleeping in snowbound cars. I’ve been told there were a few flakes here this week, but not enough to be visible on the ground. The official explanation involves the Gulf Stream, but I think that Thor has got it in for me.
I like snow. I haven’t seen enough of it in my lifetime. I flew to Canada four years ago so I could walk around Edmonton, knee-deep in the stuff at -25°C. Good thing my specs are photo-reactive, or else I would have gone snow-blind – they nearly turned black as it was. I’m tempted to take up skiing, and I see the Dublin Ski Club has a dry slope you can train on, near Dublin. I’ve just checked it out further… It’s not too expensive, and I can get the bus from around the corner from my house. So I have no excuse – I’ll look into it further over the weekend.
I’m reading more books than watching TV at the moment, but I am enjoying the documentary series Jamie’s Kitchen. Jamie Oliver is a “celebrity chef” in London, and this series is about his attempt to set up a new restaurant. Getting the physical building set up is bad enough, but he’s also taken 16 unemployed people off the dole and put them through a crash course in professional cooking, calling in a lot of favours. Part of the project was formal training, but there were also field trips to investigate the source of ingredients. If they complete the course, Jamie will employ them in his new restaurant.
I would have jumped at such a chance when I was unemployed, but these people… well, a couple of them have genuine problems at home, true, but it’s not acceptable to show up hours late, or not at all, without letting people know. Flying into arguments with the boss, poor hygiene, inability to organize anything, inability to handle tools and equipment such as knives and ovens, etc. Then there are the attitudes… oh yes.
I’ve met such people, and did not get on with them. A few can’t grasp the concept that their work genuinely needs to be done, and artful dodges and trying mind games on the the boss will not change that – all they’re doing is dumping work on their colleagues. You don’t have to like your colleagues, but at least respect them and imagine yourself in their shoes. You don’t need to kiss the boss’ backsides – I’ve never even tried that – but if they are any good, you can learn something from them (and sometimes get them to do what you want).
The series tends to focus on the worst students, while the better ones quietly get on with the job. It makes things look worse than they are, but not by much. The students were sent off to restaurants around the country for some on-the-job training, with interesting results, followed by a dress rehearsal at college that leaves some students in tears. Jamie says “when the shit hits the fan, I can’t think of anywhere worse to be (than a kitchen)”. Really? Try computer tech support, pal. The restaurant opened before the documentary series aired: a good thing, otherwise he would have no customers, if this lot are in the kitchen.
Meanwhile, here in Ireland, Shannon Airport is a major stopover for US forces on their way to the Middle East, with much angry debate and accusatory language. The “Green Party” walked out of parliament, accusing the government of having blood on its hands. Today a protester broke into the airport with a hatchet and badly damaged a US Navy passenger plane; her lawyer says her actions were defensible, equivalent to breaking into someone’s house to render assistance to someone else under attack. In other words, she was trying to prevent people getting hurt, by attacking a defenceless Boeing 737. Right…
The work madness goes on. Every member of our team is so overloaded with urgent work that we can’t get to the ongoing matters we need to deal with. Part of our brief is training: we can prevent escalation of serious problems to us, by training the phone support people on the products and the things that can go wrong with them. This helps them resolve problems more quickly, and even prevents escalations. It’s a vicious circle – we can’t reduce escalations through training, because we have so many escalated cases to deal with. When we do get round to training, we find that people are prevented from going or even pulled off, because they can’t afford to lose the phone support staff for the duration of the course. Madness, I tell you.
Finally finished Red Storm Rising last Sunday – better than I remembered it, though you can clearly see the literary collision between Tom Clancy, the nominal author, and Larry Bond, the war games expert who played out the campaigns with Clancy. Bond later went on to write books of his own, such as Vortex, about a war in South Africa, and Red Storm Rising has reportedly been used as a text book in some military schools. There will soon be a new computer game based on an evolved version of his war games – Harpoon 4. One to watch out for, I think.
I came in to work to upload last night’s writing, to find the Internet in the throes of a major “worm” attack. This one affects systems running Microsoft’s SQL Server 2000 software, which can be hijacked through a known security hole. The hole was fixed six months ago, but the patch has clearly not been applied worldwide. It’s possible that the people behind the worm didn’t see the opportunity until the problem was publicized – there’s a lesson in there somewhere, though I have no idea what it is. Things have calmed down somewhat, since I can get through to post this, but I still see some odd browsing failures.
The RTÉ is again showing the film Bloody Sunday, about the shooting of unarmed protestors in Derry / Londonderry* in January 1972. This award-winning film claims to show the true events of the day, and was positively reviewed here in Ireland, but it’s hardly been noticed elsewhere. The RTÉ also showed it on its release a few months ago, but clearly couldn’t wait to do it again. It shows the British authorities in a poor light, naturally; this version of events claims to show the commanding officer ordering his troops to retaliate severely if attacked in any way. Is this correct, and if so, so what?
I don’t claim to know what really happened; my point is that I probably never will know, now. This government-funded movie version will become the official history, here in Ireland, much as Shakespeare’s plays have to the general public. Outside Ireland, few people care anyway. The truth is almost irrelevant now, after over thirty years “Bloody Sunday” has become a cliché and a U2 hit.
Is it safe for me to criticize Irish popular culture in this way? Though Ireland doesn’t have an official “free speech” policy, there seems to be one in practice, and only bigots have a problem with that. Looking at the history, though…
* The way you refer to Derry / Londonderry marks you down as either Catholic Republican or Protestant Unionist respectively, and there was a time when using the wrong version in the wrong company could get you killed. Some half-seriously refer to it as “Stroke City”, playing on the physical reaction you may experience if asked your opinion. Here in Ireland, the RTÉ likes to give weather forecasts etc. as if there was no border, so you can guess which version they use. The dual naming reflects the city’s status as a pawn in religious battles dating back to the 6th century, when the Catholic monastery was repeatedly wrecked by Vikings. A millennium later, Derry was captured by the Protestant King James I and given to the citizens of London, prompting the change of name and a large settlement of Protestants. It’s not surprising that it’s been a focal point of terrorist activity in the last century. People have long memories, don’t they?
Since I moved to Ireland just over three years ago, I’ve had to learn some Irish history. OK, perhaps I didn’t have to, but this appears to be part of the way I do things – the background information helps when conversation takes an unexpected turn. I did the same, about Islam, when I became friends with a Muslim family in England a few years ago.
Last week saw the completion of the Dublin Spire, which is becoming known locally as the “Stump in the Dump” or the “Stiletto in the Ghetto”, thus joining other Dublin statues such as the “Hags with the Bags” (The Shoppers), the “Tart with the Cart” (Molly Malone), and the “Prick with the Stick” (James Joyce). The “Floozy in the Jacuzzi” is no more, having been removed as part of the O’Connell St. renovation, of which the “Stiletto” is part.
Anyway, the “Spire” is outside the Dublin General Post Office (GPO), which was the main rebel outpost during the 1916 “Easter Rising”, after which the defeated rebel leaders were executed by the evil English overlords. I had to look this up, out of curiosity, after an evening listening to Irish folk songs in a pub, with half the songs referring to those brave martyrs of the GPO.
I wrote a little about this last week in response to a question on a bulletin board, read by mostly American and English people. Their reaction? Didn’t want to know, and I can’t blame them – compared to England and Scotland, Ireland has not much history to speak of, and far too much is made here of the little it has. Even American or South African history can be more interesting to read, and more educational too; despite the relative youth of those countries, they at least had a frontier spirit and big ideas, and didn’t spend centuries mired in smouldering religious prejudice.
The way I see it, the main reason to study history at all is to learn from the mistakes made in the past; a look at Irish history, especially the last century, shows the same mistakes made over and over again. It seems to me that this can be attributed to the insular attitude I see here every day; so much of Irish history could be different, had people heeded the lessons of history learned elsewhere.
During the Victorian and Colonial eras (c. 1830 – 1940), we see the same basic pattern repeated again and again: if a country was part of the British Empire, you would find some (never all) of its native people trying to throw off the “colonial yoke” with varying degrees of success. This would usually involve some form of half-baked armed uprising, sometimes so poorly-planned that London hardly noticed. If it did, however, the British Army would come down on the rebels like a ton of bricks, crushing the rebellion by any means necessary. London would only negotiate from a position of strength, but could be surprisingly accommodating when that was the case.
This is what happened in Ireland (1916-1924), and they clearly hadn’t taken note of what happened in South Africa (1899-1910); the 1899-1902 Boer War saw the first large-scale use of concentration camps, and while Winston Churchill was making a nuisance of himself, he also took home some useful ideas, such as guerrilla warfare and the Commandos. South Africa then gained self-governing dominion status in 1910, as Canada has now, less than a decade later. Did Ireland need to go through all that? After eight years of civil strife, it got its independence in 1924, but at the cost of losing the Ulster provinces to Britain, because of their Protestant population.
Other examples are Burma (1885-1890), but an exception to the pattern was India; because there was no significant armed uprising, the non-violent protests by Gandhi were more effective in getting the British to the negotiating table, leading to improvements in conditions long before the tumultuous formation of India and Pakistan in 1947. Then the trouble really started, with internal migrations leading to the deaths of a million people within weeks, and sporadic internal uprisings and skirmishes between the new countries ever since.