Wednesday, 29 January 2014

How do vaccines cause autism?

Link now fixed.

Costco v Sam's Club/Walmart

Costco pays its workers 40% more, on average, than Sam's Club, and offers a very generous health insurance plan.

Despite the prevailing weakness in the U.S. retail sector, Costco has recorded impressive sales growth in the last few quarters. The firm's comparable-store sales grew at an average pace of more than 5% for the last three quarters. The biggest drivers fueling this new growth include the company's rapidly swelling membership base and the robust growth of the warehouse industry in the country. Costco's core value proposition, strong private labels, and ancillary businesses have also been at the helm of this progress.

Costco: One of the Leading Retailers Defying the Big Box Apocalypse

 Sam's Club is laying off over 2,000 workers; Costco is expanding.

Rick Ungar addressed precisely this point last summer in Forbes: 'Walmart Pays Workers Poorly And Sinks While Costco Pays Workers Well And Sails-Proof That You Get What You Pay For', along with a bunch of other commentators, all concluding that Costco is going to eat Walmart's lunch.

This is why Obama is following up his call to "Give America a Raise" in last night's State of the Union address with a speech at at Costco in Maryland today.

His message is pretty clear: paying a decent wage is good for business as well as good for employees and the economy.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Road Safety Adverts

I was doing some research on road traffic offences (don't ask), when I came across the first of these videos below.  It just served to remind me that after all the bad press that Northern Ireland has received recently about flags, marches, intolerance, bigotry and religious censorship, everybody from Norn Irn, Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim or Atheist, can all stand together and take pride in the fact that we are a world leader in horrifically graphic road safety advertisements.

Have a look if you don't believe me.  (The last one is two are, by the way, particularly brutal).

All in all though, drink driving is a much more socially unacceptable behaviour in Ireland and the UK than it is in the US, so maybe it goes to show that the shock tactics in these road safety commercials work.

Asia and the Americas According to Google Autocomplete

Being married to a Colombian and having a professional interest in Asia, I started to wonder yesterday evening what results would be thrown up if I repeated yesterday's experiment for those two (three?) continents.

This exercise will certainly have made me few friends in China, and I am glad that I didn't use instead of, as that would have produced 1.5 billion more enemies in India and Pakistan ('dirty' and 'a terrorist country' respectively) on top of the 1.3 billion Chinese who are now no longer my friends.

As I expected, using the form "Why is X so...?" produced "poor" as the autofill for almost all the entries (except the predictable grouping of Pakistan, China, Korea and Japan, which came back with 'dangerous', 'polluted', 'cold' and 'clean' respectively).  It's nice to know Americans are so inquisitive about the causes of global poverty; let's hope they use the information they find to do something about it.

As a result I used the form "Country X is..." and excluded autofill suggestions that were themselves questions wherever possible, though as you will see given the large number of autofill responses 'in what country' that wasn't always possible (it also shows that world geography is taught to a very poor standard in the US).

The Koreas threw up delightfully random results, as one might hope; from Afghanistan we get trite wisdom, and from Sri Lanka political commentary.  You will note that all of central (and indeed west) Asia is missing.  This is mainly because almost every country threw up the suggestion "in what country", except Kazhakstan and Turkmenistan, which came back with "the greatest country in the world" and "in Turkey", which both seem entirely appropriate.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Europe According to Google Autocomplete

A map was doing the rounds on the internet last week that was a variation on a theme seen before:

The Atlantic ran a (flimsy) piece on the map, and what it says about America's national psyche.  It also made reference to other maps that had been done in the past, using the same format for Europe, for example.  I checked them out and they were a bit dated in terms of their results, so for your entertainment and delectation, I repeated the exercise, using two different formats:

1) To match the map above, "why is [insert country] so...?"

and then

2) "[Insert country] is..."

The results of the interrogative were, to be honest, pretty predictable: one of poor, rich, expensive or happy covers pretty much more than half the continent; of the remainder Ireland is green, Britain is great, Russia is big and France is gay.  No surprises there.  That people want to know why Turkey is dry is hardly shocking either (top tip: deep fry it to keep in the moisture), though Lithuania and Greece threw up a couple of curve balls.

Sunday, 26 January 2014


I was intrigued to see this tweet appear in my Twitter feed yesterday morning.

I couldn't help but wonder what on earth would prompt Mitt Romney to emerge, over a year after his defeat in the 2012 Presidential election, to slowjam the news on Fallon, a few days before Obama's State of the Union address.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

And the Oul' Collecting Tin Went Jingle-Jangle...

It feels like I have been bashing Ireland a lot these past few days, but then that's like blaming someone playing Whack-a-mole for battering the little blighters when they appear.

The RTÉ News.

As a further illustration of the endemic problems Ireland has, I now have to turn to the sorry tale of the charitable sector and the inflated pay of some of its senior executives.

Ireland is rather odd in that much of what is the function of the State in most other countries (the provision of education, healthcare and other social services) was contracted out to the 'charitable sector' (primarily the Catholic Church) by a very poor newborn national government, and enthusiastically embraced by churches, holy orders and charities, for whom the provision of such services guaranteed a line of government funding, and gave them a degree of control over the recipients of the services (think again of the Catholic Church and education).  The result is the sad tale of the like of the Magdalene laundries and mental asylums, where the Irish State paid private institutions to make problems disappear.

And although charitable fundraising to supplement the budgets of hospitals and schools is pretty common in the UK and the US, it is (I think) even more prevalent in Ireland, where many of the charities and institutions could not function at all, despite funds from central government, without the committed and dedicated work of its supporters and volunteers, running raffles, selling teddies and taking street donations, all to plug a gap in service provision that the inadequacy of funds from direct taxation has created.  Many of these charities, such as the Central Remedial Clinic do sterling work, and provide support and relief to many of the most disadvantaged, unfortunate or challenged in Irish society.

I cannot begin to understand then the disappointment and sense of betrayal felt by people such as Tom Clonan, when they discovered that the Board of the CRC, like that of St. Vincent's hospital in Dublin, had been making 'top-up' payments to the salaries of senior executives from private sources, including the charitable funds raised by the charity's supporters.

Essentially, when Ireland fell into economic crisis, pay-caps were introduced across much of the public sector to reflect the strained circumstances the Exchequer found itself in, and to dampen public anger towards salaries that were barely justifiable during the boom times let alone in a country that was bankrupt.  For charitable bodies like the CRC and St. Vincent's, whose senior executives receive salaries that are mostly funded from the public purse, but also partly-funded from private sources, the boards of these organisations decided (apparently having signed employment contracts that made no allowance for pay reductions in times of reduced funding) to adhere to their contractual obligations and top-up their CEO's pay-packets from their private funds.

Private funds
(NB: Children In Need is in no way implicated)

So one of two things happened:

Friday, 24 January 2014

Move along, there’s nothing to see here, says Garda Commissioner

Move along, there’s nothing to see here, says Garda Commissioner - Crime & Law News from Ireland & Abroad | The Irish Times - Fri, Jan 24, 2014

I thought I was finished blogging for the day, when I came across this blistering piece of form from Miriam Lord in The Irish Times (above).

In a post the other day I wrote about Ireland's problems being so endemic and culturally-embedded that it would take decades for the country to put its house in order.  I felt at the time that it was a bit of an empty allegation to leave hanging, but at the same time the subject is just so vast and so frustrating that I genuinely wouldn't know where to begin.  Also, it was getting late and Camilo was getting annoyed that I was still up.

But here you have just a day or two later a prize, Grade-A, first class, award-winning, prime example of the sort of problems that I referred to.

Can you imagine the Chief Constable of an English police force or Police Scotland appearing before a House of Commons or Scottish Parliament Select Committee and telling the parliamentarians they had no business inquiring into the behind-the-doors workings of his force, and following that up with a threat against future (or "so called", in the words of the Garda Commissioner) whistle-blowers?

Ze Germans Aren't ze Bad Guys

Germany’s central bank backed move to burn bondholders - Irish Economy News & Headlines | The Irish Times - Fri, Jan 24, 2014

A popular narrative has existed in many of the eurozone countries hardest-hit by the Great Recession that says the suffering of the people of [insert choice of Ireland/Greece/Spain/Cyprus/Portugal/Italy] has been orchestrated to save ze Germans from losing their geld.  It's not a terribly convincing explanation and in some countries, most notably Greece, has been part and parcel of a fairly disgusting racist campaign against both those who are perceived as having money, and against ethnic and racial minorities (in times of worse economic crisis in 1930s Germany, these were one and the same).

Tory MPs on their way to a stag do in Athens.
Photograph: Action Press/Rex Features
In Ireland there was much understandable domestic anger at slack and irresponsible lending practices by Irish banks.  While to a certain degree this allows Irish borrowers to let themselves off the hook for irresponsible borrowing, it is hard not to sympathise with your average couple keen to get on the housing ladder and who took whatever was offered to them by the bank.  (Sympathy wanes somewhat, when it comes to commercial borrowers and those who borrowed to buy apartments in Spain, Estonia and Bulgaria).

So, the story goes, where you have irresponsible borrowers you also have irresponsible lenders, who really should know better and are really the villains of the piece.  And now that the Irish taxpayer has had to shoulder the multi-billion euro burden of the mistakes of Ireland's banks, who was so irresponsible to lend so much money to Ireland's banks that they had to shove it down the throats of Ireland's borrowers, whether it was prudent for the borrower to take out such large loans or not?

And the answer of course is:  Ze Germans!

The Long Quest for an International Order with Chinese Characteristics

The Long Quest for an International Order with Chinese Characteristics: A Cultural Perspective on Modern China's Foreign Policies Connolly 2013 Pacific Focus Wiley Online Library

I hadn't realised that an article I co-wrote with a former colleague of mine, Joern-Carstern Gottwald, has been published in Pacific Focus.  I think it is currently free to read, so click on the link above if it is your sort of thing.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

The IRA and Mao's China: in the press

My piece on the IRA's, in the guise of Seamus Costello, approach to the Mao Zedong's China in 1964 was picked up by Clifford Coonan of The Irish Times, with whom I had an email exchange to expand on some issues before he wrote the piece.

I've just been made aware, however, that The Times also picked up (£) on the story, in what is a pretty garbled and incoherent account, complete with totally made up quotes from me!  (Google has informed me that ran with The Times story as well.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

An Irish Financial Sanity Check

The Alphaville blog on the Financial Times makes a very important point:

"until your local stock market can adequately price one of your biggest banks, your local finance sector still has some way to go."
It draws attention to the massively inflated valuation of AIB on the Irish Stock Exchange.

 This follows a report in today's Irish Times, that Ireland is still the 5th most expensive country in the EU, with prices 15% above the European average.  Ireland is the 11th wealthiest country in the EU (based on GNI, a more reflective index than GDP in Ireland's case), at 5% above the European average.

The country's problems are so endemic, so culturally embedded and its politics and constitutional system so stunted, that it is going to take decades, if ever, for Ireland to fully put its house in order.

Ireland may have left the bailout, but it still has a heck of a long way to go.  I wish the country well, but sure as hell am glad I am not there any more.

Support Our Droops

RTÉ are cheerfully reporting that the British Tommies have been pilfering supplies to fill their johnnies. 

I couldn't help but think of this Second World War propaganda poster.

'Westerners are so convinced China is a dystopian hellscape they’ll share anything that confirms it'

That's the headline in a piece from, which is pretty much the same theme that I wrote about a few months ago.  This time it's the infamous 'video sunset', allegedly set up for the benefit of Beijing's residents who can no longer see the real thing due to the thick pollution.  This is, of course, a load of cobblers.

The photo is actually from a tourism advert for Shandong province, and is part of a 10-second long piece playing on a loop.  But, hey, if I were the photographer who took such a great shot, I would be tempted to put something out there that is going to get it published in many of the world's major news outlets (not that I am saying he did that, you understand, no, no, no...)

Monday, 20 January 2014

Oh East is East, and West is West

I listened the other day to an interview of Jamie Bryson, leading flegger shit-stirrer flag protester and putative European election candidate (that'll be a laugh).  Now wee Jamie is not exactly famous for his joined-up thinking (in fact there are probably those who would be pleasantly surprised if he has managed joined-up writing), but there was a section of the interview that got me thinking.

Jamie was asked to imagine a world where he was First Minister of Northern Ireland, and asked whether he would share government with Sinn Féin.  Unsurprisingly he immediately ruled it out; the interviewer (David McCann) pressed him if he would share government with parties linked to loyalist paramilitaries.  Here is Jamie's response:
Personally I believe that the IRA were terrorists who set out to destroy this country. Now if the British government had allowed the UDR, RUC and the British army to take on the IRA as they wanted to…there would never have been a need for the likes of the UVF. Unfortunately the British government did not let the good men of the UDR, RUC and the British army take on the IRA, so that is why Loyalist paramilitaries came into being.
David McCann then pointed out to Jamie that the UVF was formed in 1966 (partly in response to rising tensions surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising), three years before the Provisional IRA came into existence in response to the Official IRA's failure to protect Catholic families and homes from loyalist mobs during rioting in Belfast in the summer of 1969 (1500 Catholics were forced from their homes), and from the predations of the RUC and the 'B' Specials (Ulster Special Constabulary) - the quasi-military, and almost exclusively Protestant, reserve police force of the RUC.  (I'm not trying to engage in what John Hume used to call 'whataboutery' here, just providing context for those who may not be familiar).  The depressing chronicle below provides ample context.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Martin Corey held for four years in prison without trial?

So says a BBC news report on his release.

This is a very sloppy piece of reporting by the BBC who appear to have fallen for Corey's supporters politically-charged spin on events, rather than the legal reality.

Corey was given a life sentence for murder.  As this guide from the Ministry of Justice makes explains:

Released lifers:

  • are subject to a life licence which remains in force for the duration of their natural life;
  • may be recalled to prison at any time to continue serving their life sentence if it is considered necessary to protect the public

There has been all sorts of waffle put about by his sympathisers about the "lack of due process", that he never "faced a fair trial" or that he was "never questioned by the Police."  All of this, while true, completely misses the point: there is no need for him to be charged with anything to have his licence revoked, nor is there any need for him to be questioned by the Police about anything.

All that is needed is a recommendation by the Parole Commissioners that he has breached the conditions of his licence or is a danger to the public, and his licence is revoked and he returns to prison to continue serving his life sentence.  Corey did face trial, in 1972, and the four years he has spent in prison since 2010 are part of the sentence he received then.

Remember, these are the same Parole Commissioners who recommended his release, on licence, in 1992.  They have the authority to revoke it.  But a parole hearing is not a mini trial, and even with that, Mr. Corey did have a Special Advocate (a government appointed barrister with security clearance to view the confidential material which is withheld from Corey and his lawyers) appointed to represent his interests in the proceedings.

The initial decision by a single Parole Commissioner to revoke his licence was then reviewed by a panel of Commissioners, with the Special Advocate present to advance Mr. Corey's interests.  As the Supreme Court judgment that denied his application for judicial review of the decision noted:
On 15 August 2011 the panel gave its decision. This comprised both a closed and an open judgment. In a detailed ruling which formed part of the open judgment, the panel stated that it was satisfied that Mr Corey had become involved in the Continuity Irish Republican Army from early 2005 and that he was in a position of leadership in that organisation from 2008 until his recall to prison. It was concluded that the appellant posed a risk of serious harm to the public at the time of his recall. 
Mr. Corey's lawyers applied for judicial review of this decision, and at first instance the High Court held that Mr. Corey and his lawyers had been given insufficient details of the 'gist' of the alleged breaches of his licence that led to his being recalled to prison.  This was overturned on appeal by the Court of Appeal of Northern Ireland, which held that "the material provided to the appellant and his advisers was sufficient to allow him to give effective instructions to those representing him. There was therefore no breach of article 5(4) of the [European] Convention [on Human Rights]:
“Everyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings by which the lawfulness of his detention shall be decided speedily by a court and his release ordered if the detention is not lawful.”
There were technical arguments about whether the High Court had the authority to grant Corey bail after concluding that the original decision to revoke his licence had been unfair (the Supreme Court held, rightly in my opinion, that it did not), but the bottom line is that Martin Corey was not held for four years without trial, and it was not 'like internment'.

I am slightly uncomfortable about the fact that one of the conditions attached to his renewed licence is that he doesn't talk to the media, but I am understand the rationale behind it.  However, I doubt whether the blanket ban would withstand a challenge under Article 10 (Freedom of Expression) in the ECtHR.

In any case, this was a very poor piece of reporting from the BBC on this matter.

UPDATE: UTV are at it as well, describing his licence as 'bail conditions'.

Really Northern Ireland, if you are going to cover legal matters, don't use journalists who don't understand the law.

Oh, and

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Law and Lawyers: Mark Duggan Inquest by Obiter J

A good post from Obiter J's blog:

Law and Lawyers: Mark Duggan Inquest: Mark Duggan 1981-2011 The evening of 4th August 2011.  At Ferry Lane (Tottenham, London), the Police intercepted and stopped a taxi (or ...