…. I have just finished reading Sarah Bakewell’s “How to Live”, a life of Montaigne, and this passage describing his attitude to old age caught my eye:

 It was not that age automatically conferred wisdom. On the contrary, he thought the old were more given to vanities and imperfections than the young.  They were inclined to “a silly and decrepit pride, a tedious prattle, prickly and unsociable humours, superstition, and a ridiculous concern for riches”.  But this was the twist, for it was in the adjustment to such flaws that the value of ageing lay. Old age provides an opportunity to recognise one’s fallibility in a way youth usually finds difficult.  Seeing one’s decline written on body and mind, one accepts that one is limited and human. By understanding that age does not make one wise, one attains a kind of wisdom after all.

 Montaigne, who lived in the 16th Century,  clearly had a no-nonsense attitude to many things (old age, religion, death) which was ahead of its time:

“My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.”

“I speak the truth, not so much as I would, but as much as I dare; and I dare a little more as I grow older.”

“We trouble our life by thoughts about death, and our death by thoughts about life.”

And one of my favourites is on religion, from a man who lived through decades of savage religious strife in France: “It is putting a very high price on one’s conjectures to have someone roasted alive on their account.”

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Gerard O’Neill writes a very fine blog called “Turbulence Ahead” and his most recent piece dealt with attitudes to religion amongst Irish people of different ages.

His chart caught my eye, not because of the results it portrays, but because of the selection of categories into which the interviewee sample (and thus the overall population which it presumably represents) is divided.

Age bands are given for 15-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54 and lastly “55 +”. To me, selection of bands for statistical analysis implies, not that each band necessarily contains an approximately equal number of members, but that the individual bands are a discrete and meaningful demographic in some way or another. 

The selected bands in this study are not uncommon, but it raises the question as to whether the “55+” band is just a bit large and varied to be a sensible component of the analysis.  For instance, is a 55 year old man or woman in any way comparable (in religious views, political preferences, spending habits etc.) to an 80 year old, who would be of an entirely different generation?

I may be of an age when I am starting to notice insidious age discrimination, but surely it would be more informative if the opinion poll had separate categories for (say) 55-64 and 65+?  Or are the views of older people generally of less import for social commentators and journalists?  (We already know that advertisers, or at least those who create their ads, have a weird and patronising attitude to anybody over 50 – see “Older people want to shop shock” and “The nightmare of selling things to old people”.) 

Incidentally, Central Statistics Office information for Irish population by age (see here for 2006 figures) suggest that the number of people in the 55+ age group is significantly larger than in any of the 15-24, 25-34, 35-44, or 45-54 age groups.  This will become even more true with the passage of time and the “greying” of our population.

A letter in the Irish Times on 21st April expressed a feeling that has been growing on me.

Madam, – With all the bad economic news hitting us day in day out, my belief is that until the Government starts to make some hard decisions we will continue the slide into economic chaos. I haven’t seen one hard decision made as yet. Get a move on. – Yours, etc,  ENDA TREACY, Killalane, Skerries, Co Dublin

We are almost half way through the famous 100 days that Fine Gael promised would see a blizzard of activity as programs are implemented.  There has been a fair bit of shape-throwing and lots of talking the talk.  Now is the time to walk the walk. 

FG can’t let Labour, who hold less than 33% of the seats in the coalition government, block tough but sensible policies.

Quote of the Day  is courtesy of Jason O’Mahony.  I don’t know Jason, but his blog (mainly, but not exclusively, on Irish politics)  is always worth following. 

…….. we have a bizarre means of measuring successful leaders in Ireland. It’s like saying “How do we pick good brain surgeons? Well, first of all we see if they can get us a good parking spot near the hospital.” 

His comment is prompted by a very good piece by Dan O’Brien in the Irish Times here.  It deals with “the lack of focus of ministers on their core executive duties” and attributes this to our daft system where government ministers spend too much time on constituency issues for fear of losing their seat.

In Ireland, the Constitution demands that all ministers are members of the Oireachtas. In other words, there is a constitutional obligation to double-job. Doing one big job is hard enough even for talented people. In a world that is increasingly complex and fast- moving, doing two enormous jobs well is nigh on impossible.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, ministers are further distracted from their executive duties by having to operate in the most competitive electoral system in the world. Their incentives are stacked towards keeping voters in one of 43 constituencies happy, by fair means or foul.

Being an effective minister for all 43 constituencies counts little at election time. Is it any wonder that the phenomenon of the two-day-a-week minister exists?

The manner in which the 1937 Constitution collapsed the executive and legislative branches of government into each other has led to a weak parliament and ministers who are usually under-qualified and almost always overworked.

Prohibiting TDs from holding ministerial office would force professional politicians to focus on being parliamentarians or wielders of executive office. Reforming the executive branch of government should be high on the constitutional convention’s agenda.

Dan O’Brien has dealt with this problem before (see here) and it’s not going away.  I have had my tuppence worth also, for instance here and here.

The bottom line: either we change our electoral system to allow TDs be elected from national panels, or we select all or most of our ministers from outside the Oireachtas.

Bini Smaghi at it again

13 April, 2011

In today’s FT our “friend” from the ECB, Lorenzo Bini Smaghi,  is saying that Irish taxpayers shouldn’t complain if they have to bear heavy burdens which arose from failures in local financial regulation.   This is the same tune we have heard him singing before: ‘Ireland’s meltdown is the outcome of the policies of its elected politicians’

Just because it’s true doesn’t mean he has to keep rubbing it in….

There has developed a popular theme (meme?) in Ireland of late: namely that Germany, France and other countries must share the pain with us because it was their banks that lent boatloads of money to our banks to throw at property developers.

It certainly suits the Irish case (and character) to maintain that others must share responsibility, and only the very hard-hearted (which no doubt includes Lorenzo) would see no merit whatsoever in that argument.

But it’s a bit like the argument as to whether a bar owner bears any responsibility if he keeps selling drink to a clearly inebriated customer who then smashes himself up in a drink-driving car accident.  Is the drinker fully to blame, or does the bar owner have any legal (or moral) liability? 

In most States of the USA, under what are known as dram shop laws, a bar that lets an obviously drunk customer drive away can be held financially responsible for damage caused by that customer.   The principle has yet to be established, or legislated for, in Ireland.

Nevertheless, perhaps the Irish taxpayer should mount a lawsuit against the ECB to establish that they share responsibility for the damage caused by the Irish Government’s and Irish banks’ fiscal drink-driving.  If it would shut Lorenzo up, it might be worth a try.

Consider two cases heard by the Irish courts, the first very recently, the second a few months ago.

Exhibit A:

A FORMER Fás assistant manager who defrauded the agency of more than €600,000 over five years has been given a four-year sentence.

Exhibit B:

A Louth woman who defrauded her employer of €475,000 over a three-year period has been given a six-year suspended sentence at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.   Lorraine Gregory (37), used the €475,000 in forged company cheques to buy a house and fund the purchase of other luxury items such as an Audi A4 car and a foreign holiday.

So Mr X goes to jail for 4 years, while Ms Y walks free.  The above outcomes are not unusual.  If you are looking for consistency, it is hard to find in the sentencing policies of Irish judges.  Or….. can it be the case that women are routinely receiving less punitive sentences than men?  In fact, I suspect there is a definite correlation between length of sentence and gender of the criminal.  This would make an interesting doctoral thesis for somebody.

My quote of the day comes from John McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun:

Mentioning Tennessee brings to mind that they have another moronic legislator attempting to smuggle creationism into the science curriculum under the guise of “teaching the controversy.” You’d think that after the Scopes trial the state would be a little more jealous of the tattered remnants of its reputation. But if they think “teaching the controversy” is such a fine idea, let them dictate that Marxism and Fascism be taught alongside capitalism and democracy.

Reminds me of the The Onion’s unbeatable version of this point:-

Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New ‘Intelligent Falling’ Theory…. As the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools continues, a new controversy over the science curriculum arose Monday in this embattled Midwestern state. Scientists from the Evangelical Center For Faith-Based Reasoning are now asserting that the long-held “theory of gravity” is flawed, and they have responded to it with a new theory of Intelligent Falling.      

“Things fall not because they are acted upon by some gravitational force, but because a higher intelligence, ‘God’ if you will, is pushing them down,” said Gabriel Burdett, who holds degrees in education, applied Scripture, and physics from Oral Roberts University.   Burdett added: “Gravity—which is taught to our children as a law—is founded on great gaps in understanding. The laws predict the mutual force between all bodies of mass, but they cannot explain that force. Isaac Newton himself said, ‘I suspect that my theories may all depend upon a force for which philosophers have searched all of nature in vain.’ Of course, he is alluding to a higher power.”     

Founded in 1987, the ECFR is the world’s leading institution of evangelical physics, a branch of physics based on literal interpretation of the Bible.