BRAD     |     EMILLIE

Monday, February 28, 2011

Boring election results

If only the election results were a tad bit more exciting... sigh... regardless I'm still required to finish the story of the Irish Elections 2011.

Fine Gael won a minority government and they are in talks with Labour. As predicted, blah, blah, blah. So looking into my crystal ball I see more social service cuts in the future, higher taxes and a host of boring TV clips from the uncharismatic primary school teacher who is now responsible for the mess that is the Irish economy. Ech. How can Enda Kenny deal with the unaffordable interest rates, the white collar criminals whose deceit has impoverished the nation, and a high rate of unemployment? Perhaps a bit of a background in economics or law would have helped...

The whole mess is a giant, unsustainable, cataclysm of mess, that will not end well unless SOMEONE, with a dogged determination to take the most logical solution to the Irish Problem, steps in to provide effective leadership. Sigh, sigh, sigh.

The photo is poetically titled: Brad and Nikolai searching the horizon.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Elections

Today is GE 2011! And a media blackout on the elections doesn't require the parties to take down their election campaign signs. However, coverage of the election results will have to wait until tomorrow (and likely will continue until Monday) as all the ballots are hand counted. With the STV system, this hand counting becomes more complex. The first choice votes are counted first, then the second choice, etc. Obviously some shortcuts can be taken if a candidate is either overwhelmingly popular, or completely underwhelmingly neglected.

The other fun announcement on this morning's news was that the bank accounts from Anglo-Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide were transferred to AIB and Permanent TSB. For the average person this means that your bank account at a failing bank was moved (completely unchanged) to another bank (sightly less failing... though in AIB's circumstance that is not entirely assured). Perhaps this news coming out on election day was set to help the faltering Finna Fail party? Hard to imagine anything helping them out...

And here's a link to help figure out who YOU should vote for! ;-)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Claire's adventues and coincidences

Claire's visit over this weekend, gave us the chance to catch up... and party!

To start of with, Claire has moved into a rundown old Victorian house in Clapham. Where she lives with 5 other roommates (three Aussie men --by complete coincidence, they are all named Matt--, an Irish woman, and an English woman). She is rapidly expanding her circle of London based acquaintances, and is once again enjoying a full and busy social life.

So she was very happy to have a quite night in on Friday, allowing Brad and I to go out to Mantra with our friends. (Don't worry, she went out to Mantra on Saturday with her friends).

The weekend bloomed beautifully with the first sunny heat of spring. We spent Saturday hiking around Phoenix Park, and greatly enjoyed the tour of the Presidential Palace and the Park Visitor's centre. We'll have to go back after Easter for a proper tour of Farmleigh, Ashtown Castle and the Victorian Walled garden.

Sunday we set off for a exploratory cycle ride (with Claire "testing" a bike that Brad was rehabilitating for a friend). Our original goal was Arthur Guinness's grave... which was located at the top of one of the foothills to the Wicklow Mountains... after which we were going to ride into the Avoca in Naas for lunch. I nearly died of starvation on the way up the hill, so we never made it to the grave site. We did however bump into the Lyons Estate on the way down the hill. A lovely lunch, with a short poke about the estate and we now have a new favorite spot! (The scones are literally the size of Nikolai's head).

Now to end with a story of Amazing Coincidences.

Before leaving for London, Claire received e-tickets for 3 to the Cirque du Soleil in London. She tried to figure out who gave them to her... and who she was supposed to take... but after an unsuccessful search she called the ticket agent. She was told that a woman with a British accent booked the tickets. And that was the only information provided. Now Claire did not know any British women at the time, and couldn't figure it out at all.

Nevertheless, the day came for Claire to go to Cirque, she printed out the tickets, choose 2 of her London friends to accompany her, and set off to meet her mysterious benefactor... ? ...only to be rejected at the gate. Apparently a Clare Parrish booked the tickets, and this Clare has nearly the same e-mail address as my sister Claire (literally just minus the "i"). So Cirque's French-biased typo resulted in Claire receiving tickets that were not for her. When the real Clare called to find out where her tickets went; Cirque failed to let my sister Claire know that her tickets were no longer valid. And bad on Cirque... as they have yet to even apologies for the mix up! At least Claire now knows where her missing e-mails may be going! I think she should call up the Clare Parrish from Bristol and invite her for tea!

Above is Claire and Nikolai with the Papal cross (1.25 million people came to see the Pope in 1979). In the photo below we're trekking across a field to the President's Palace.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Come down now

Today I have a Three Topics:

1. This weekend we went into Dublin to ride the Dublin wheel (a groupon deal), and I must duly give my review. Well, it's located at The Point, next to the O2 Arena... hardly the centre of town, and with the Market closed for winter... it was pretty much a baren location. Which means the only thing you get a view of from the top of the wheel is Aviva Stadium and the docklands.

It is certainly pricey enough, so probably not really worth the visit unless heights are your sort of thing. They aren't my sort of thing, and apparently they are not Nikolai's sort of thing either. He spent the whole time asking to get off, and refusing to look out the windows... one aspect to the "ride" that was good value was the length; we got to go around 5 times... though it's not such a good perk if you have a cagey toddler in your pod.

2. After the wheel, we walked back into town passing by a fab Italian Restaurant. We had fab Italian lattes (and babycinos) served by fab Italian waiters and definitely will be going back. Anyways, while enjoying our break we also skimmed through the papers, glossing over all the pics of the Cork plane crash (the full 5-page graphic spread was not what our toddler needed to see) and landed on a complete break down of election candidates.

And (I'm getting to the punchline now) we discovered, that none of the 5 main parties are running a complete set of candidates. In fact, only Fine Gael are running enough candidates to make up a majority of seats in the Dáil, with the rest of the parties only running between 50-70 candidates for the 166 seats! Inconceivable to a Canadian, where the three "national" parties run candidates for every seat in the House of Commons. Likely this difference is related to the STV electoral system. The article was actually meaning to highlight the LACK of female candidates (just 15% -though I'm not sure of the equivalent ratio in Canada.)

3. Now, to discuss Brad's teaching experience, without giving anything away (yes, the final exam will be REALLY, REALLY TOUGH so get studying!). Brad has gone through the range of emotions that every new teacher surely goes through; the same pattern of evolving pressures (public speaking, test creation, developing lecture and course content, and most impossibly... trying to make sure that you actually do know more than the keeners in your classroom). He also has struggled a bit with differences between the Irish Universities (much more relaxed... and last minute) and Canadian Universities (very formalized... we're sticklers for law and order).

To start off with, even Brad didn't know his final course schedule until the week before he was to teach. And the course schedule was presented in the form of a series of classroom bookings, for which Brad was to breakdown his course into Lectures, Tutorials and Labs. Quite different from the West Coast universities we are used to, where the schedule is made and released a month in advance of the semester start (say June 2010 for spring 2011).

On Tuesday, Brad discovered that the room he was giving his tutorial in was double booked (a result of having separate booking systems for each department). Beyond the booking issue, Brad is teaching a condensed course (1 month long versus 3+ months). This means that students have 6 hours of lecture a week, 2 hours of tutorial and 3 hours of lab (the students will be taking an internship for the remainder of the semester and into the summer. But they only have one other class in addition to Brad's class, so it's not too arduous).

Another interesting difference is the grading system. In Ireland students are assigned one of a few possible grades: fail (less than 40%), Pass/Class III (40-50%), Class II (50-70%), or Class I (above 70%). Arguably this means that students don't have to worry about getting really good grades. Why bother get 90% if a 71% is good enough? However, given the grade inflation issues found in Canadian and American Universities, one could easily argue that grades have really become meaningless. (A quick example comes from our last issue of Macleans University Rankings, showing that nearly all the Universities have an "A" average for their students. Straight "As" hardly mean a thing if over 50% of the people in your class also have straight "As".) I think this could easily be combated by introducing a standardized score (like a z-score) so that student grades reflect their position in the distribution of the class (ie. 60th percentile or the 50th percentile).

However, arguably the system of grading that Brad will be using is also good. It basically provides only one piece of information: does the student have a basic understanding of the material. So when considering taking a student for grad school, professors must rely on more relevant pieces of information (interviews, examples of project work, references). Because, all in all, how well you can accomplish course work hardly indicates whether you have logic, critical thinking, communication skills, leadership, etc.

The photos are from our adventure on the Dublin Wheel.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Take me! Take me! To the Riot!

Election fever is in full swing, and I've decided to start with a brief primer on the Irish Political system before I get to the Riot.

Ireland uses the Single Transferable Vote System for their elections; and in Ireland there are 166 seats for 43 constituencies (with each constituency having between 3-5 seats).

Parliament is know as the Dáil (dall) and TD's are elected to the Dáil. The President then nominates a Taoiseach (t-shik) to run the Dáil (like a Prime Minister). Fun and confusing for outsiders! Basically the Taoiseach is the head of the winning party... which is why the Taoiseach is a Prime Minister; whereas, the President is the elected head of State. The also have a Senate equivalent called the Seanad.

Now to the Parties

Finna Fail (feena fall): A conservative party that has been in power throughout the recent boom and bust of Ireland. Not likely to succeed so well this time 'round.

Fine Gael (feena gw-ale): very confusing for me when I first arrived to keep the two Finna's straight. Also conservative and generally in the opposition.

Labour: I'm sure you can guess what the Labour Party is about. Set to do rather well in the elections... except they have a few platforms that don't mix well with the Catholics (...One Ireland... includes homosexuals)

The Greens: Exactly as you imagine... and thanks to the Single Transferable Vote system they actually a coalition with Finna Fail in recent years. Unfortunately... they were rather useless at using their influence to push their agenda, and thus, they probably wont do so well this time around.

Sinn Féin: (Shin Fain) The political partners of the IRA. Of note, some of the Sinn Féin MP's elected to the British Parliament (from Northern Ireland) are running for seats in the Republic of Ireland. And they can do this because Sinn Féin representatives refuse to sit in Westminster in protest over swearing an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

Now on to the Riot! (and it's linkage to the Irish Political System).

The Riot isn't for real yet... however, it is humming in the background... as the Irish banks are reassessing their losses... again... and potentially... most likely... will require upwards of an additional €75 billion of bailout money. Now, it is nowhere in the interest of the Irish population to bailout the banks. It is in the interest of the German, British, Japanese, etc. for the Irish to bail out the banks. Which causes one to wonder why the EU (as a whole) is giving Ireland such a raw deal on the bailout conditions (even the IMF gave Ireland a lower interest rate on bailout loans).

The sticking point; however, is regarding whether the bondholders should suffer some of the banks losses. The IMF (and all economists interviewed on Irish radio stations) feel that the bondholders must be held accountable too. (Bad luck that the investment failed... but it DID fail... and the Irish population shouldn't be required to mortgage their future for the bondholders.) However, according to the EU, holding the bondholders accountable should not even be in consideration... well maybe in a few years... if you're still bailing out your banks in 2013. (Perhaps because most of the bonds are held by the Germans and the British?)

Anyways, the elections have postponed the riot for now... but I think it's only temporary... as nearly everyone is angry... I'm not sure what particular event will precipitate the Riot, but the feeling is palpable, and much is riding on the outcome of the elections.

Now, (according to my entirely unqualified view point) there are two factors in the electoral system that may have precipitated in the current financial/cultural crisis.

1. National politics is very much focused on local issues. This is likely because there are 166 seats for a voting population of just over 3 million (only Irish residents are allowed to vote, and those residents must have Irish citizenship, or, interestingly enough, British citizenship.) For example, everyone knows John McGinley (Labour)... he's friends with everyone, and is the go-to person if you want something done in Maynooth. This emphasis on LOCAL politics means that parties and their TDs aren't as worried about what is best for the whole of Ireland... as much as working towards what is best for their local constituents. Helping to develop a public swimming pool, and Scouts Hall in Maynooth is great; but working on the Irish economy is a bit more vital at the moment.

2. The Single Transferable Vote system results in a very diverse Dáil. This is generally a good thing, as it means that "all viewpoints are represented" and this would naturally leads to a more Centrist political system. However, in order to deal with the current financial/cultural crisis, Ireland needs a Dáil with a single and powerful mandate (a slightly crazy Taoiseach wouldn't hurt either), which is generally not achieved through a consensus of parties, but rather from a majority of seats being held by one party. (The Dáil needs to either totally anger the voters by taking more draconian cuts to the social services; or anger the EU by refusing to bailout the banks without bondholders sharing part of the burden. The currently centrist response is only delaying the inevitable... besides it seem like most everyone really wants to Burn the Bondholders)

And with that, I leave you with another photo from on trip to London. (Claire's visiting us next weekend, so I'd better finish off our London photos!)

Friday, February 04, 2011

The season of rebirth

Well there is much to blog about... the upcoming Irish elections... Brad's first teaching experience... but for now I will focus on this week's national holiday, Imbolc.

Imbolc is a Celtic celebration of the first day of spring as it marks the halfway point between the Spring equinox and the winter solstice (sometime between Feb 1st and Feb 12th). Originally a pagan festival, there is evidence that Imbolc was marked during the Neolithic period, as the Mound of Hostages at the Hill of Tara has a passage tomb which only illuminates on the Imbolc (much like New Grange does at the Winter Solstice). It is really amazing if you think about it... each of the passage graves took well over 2 lifetimes to build and to have the final precision of creating a chamber that would only illuminate for a few days (before and after) a specific solar event, is pretty amazing... even more amazing is that this was done over 5000 years ago...

Around 2000 years ago, Imbolc celebrated the Celtic Goddess Brigid. Brigid was the goddess of fire (hearth, smithcraft, poetry and healing). And she was thus celebrated until the Christians arrived. In an effort to dispel the pagan beliefs, many of the Celtic gods and goddess were reduced to the status of "fairies and trolls", and Brigid too suffered this fate.

However, in 450 AD a Druid family gave birth to a daughter named Brigid. As a child Brigid saw Saint Patrick preach and went into ecstasy, becoming a steadfast Christian. Throughout her life she performed a number of miracles and became the patron Saint of Kildare. Officially Saint Brigid is completely unconnected to Goddess Brigid... but they are both celebrated around February 1st, and now St. Brigid's day and Imbolc would be considered one and the same. Unfortunately, we wont be able to go to the Imbolc celebration at the food co-op.

However, we will be going to a Chinese New Years celebration... which is likely Imbolc-related, since it too, is a spring festival. We will also be sure to celebrate the other pagan spring celebration, St. Valentine's day. Besides, how better to say "I love you" than with Imbolc, which, in old Irish, means "in the belly"... certainly a very fertile celebration!

The photo is of a fishing set that my friend Steffi and I made as Christmas gifts. In all, I think we made 8 sets, but it was so much fun getting in the evenings to sew that we've since started a number of new projects!