Category Archives: annoyances

French Presidential

The first round of the French presidential election is taking place today and I am a little fascinated by a lot of things about it.

The top three candidates are pretty much within the margin of error for polling purposes so it really isn’t safe to attempt to predict the outcome on the basis of polling data. Additionally, there is some variation between the top two which means some polls indicate Marine Le Pen will come first; some indicate Emmanuel Macro will come first.

The coverage in the United Kingdom has been interesting. I know the world suggests you should never read below the line in the Guardian but I find it more entertaining at the moment given Brexit than it has been for years. Below the line on the New York Times is good. We have forgotten to value other people’s views.

It seems to me, vibe wise, that a lot of UK press seems to be gunning for a Le Pen victory and a lot of their commenters (usually ones angling for a free and perfect Brexit) too. Almost as though what is likely to be most disruptive is also most desirable. I call this playing with fire.

You could, to some extent, understand the desire on the part of the average rabid Brexit supporter for Le Pen to win in France as they are being fed a line that this would finish off the hated EU altogether. I consider that a bit childish in my own view – whether the EU continues to exist or not is of limited importance if you really believe what is right for Britain is to be outside the EU. If Britain’s only chance of success is that the EU gets smashed also, then that has to call into question the convictions about Freedom, Independent Britain and a Bright New Future Taking Back Control. I sometimes think they’re a bit like that character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the one who crashes his father’s Ferrari.

Both the New York Times and the Guardian have large numbers of commenters below the line who truly appear to be convinced that France’s only chance is if they vote in Le Pen. On the NYT in particular, some commenters have a focus on how dangerous France is given Terrorism but who don’t appear to understand that regardless of the numbers killed in France through terrorism lately, it is still less than the numbers killed through gun violence in the US since the start of the year. In other words if you want my opinion, the US is probably far more dangerous than France is by some distance and accelerating. France is fighting terrorism. The US is not giving up the second amendment.

I wouldn’t pretend to suggest that France got a great choice of candidates this year but as a country, they are not unique in that. I estimate that the most visionary speech made by a prime minister in the UK in the last 20 years was Hugh Grant talking about David Beckham in Love Actually. And let’s face it, the US voted in Donald Trump who makes absolutely every French candidate look competent and statesmanlike, even Le Pen.

As a general note, I sometimes feel that the English language populations are somewhat poorly served by their media when it comes to news about foreign countries where they do not speak English. Absent forcing every one to somehow magically become fluent in a foreign language, I wonder how we fix this. Force journalists to have some command of the language of the countries they are reporting on, I suppose.

A lot to think about…difficult to find a practical solution.

Myths or not myths

Colm Ó Broin has an article in the Journal today on the subject of the Irish language which annoyed me greatly for a number of reasons. I could add to the dozens responding on both the Journal’s site and on their Facebook page but then when would I bother paying for a hosting package.

Anyway, my primary issue with it is that it’s an incredibly poorly argued piece and it centres on what he considers to be the main myths around the Irish language. For simplicity I am going to list them, and then I will respond to them, and then I will add some other thoughts on the question of Irish in general terms.

  1. Irish is a dead language.
  2. Ireland would be poor if we spoke Irish.
  3. Gaeilscoileanna are elitist.
  4. Irish shouldn’t be an EU language.
  5. Irish isn’t compatible with modern technology.
  6. We don’t have to speak Irish.

The number one problem I have with this is that most of these aren’t myths; at best you could say some of them are opinions and some of them are assertions. Collectively they are a strawman, but I am going to comment on each of them.

Irish is a dead language.

No it isn’t and it is not one of the myths I hear being thrown around too often either. However, you would have to be delusional to not accept that it is a language which is living on the edge in terms of endangerment. We are having this entire conversation because the Census figures revealed that the numbers speaking Irish have dropped somewhat over the last 5 years.

A worryingly low number of people speak Irish in daily life although interestingly enough, I know about five of them living here in Luxembourg.

I suppose you could possibly call this a myth because Irish technically isn’t dead. But those supporting Irish need to recognise the reality that it is endangered and more to the point many efforts to resuscitate it have been singularly unsuccessful. If I had to choose one successful item, it would be TG4 but there’s a horrible risk that this has been a bit too late.

But the problem is, it did not have to be this way and some contributions as to why it is this way are linked to decisions made in the past. There is a whole cohort of Irish people who will never forgive the Irish schooling system for inflicting Peig on them. There is a whole cohort of Irish people who were native speakers of English who were taught Irish as though they were native speakers of Irish and who struggled with it because no one with any authority was willing to admit that for a large proportion of the population, Irish was at best a second language and for many people, it was rather foreign. The fact that many of these people after 14 years cannot or have no confidence to speak Irish is a shocking reflection on the education system of the time. There are cultural reasons for this which I will come to later.

Ireland would be poor if we spoke Irish.

Historically it could be argued that there is some truth to this. There were times in the history where children were supported to learn English within their families because there were good economic reasons to do so, of which one was emigration to a larger and more economically viable English speaking country. But in this day and age, this is not a fact, or a myth but an assertion and more to the point, I have not heard anyone suggest it in the last 30 years.

ETA: in any case, it would be profoundly prudent to maintain a situation where people were also able to speak English as this is a pretty handy skill to have. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that we become monolingual Irish speakers. Plus take Luxembourg. Most people are equally at home in French, German or Luxembourgish

Gaeilscoileanna are elitist.

For the purposes of any non-Irish people floating around a Gaelscoil is a school taught through the medium of Irish. There have been an increasing number of these in the last 10-15 years.

However, they have always existed, at a time when they were just known as schools in local areas where Irish was the locally spoken language, and still is in a number of locations. I think it can be safely argued that Gaeilscoileanna are not elitist in locations where in fact, they are basically the local school because this happens to be a Gaeltacht or Irish speaking area. But it is not such a safe argument in areas which are English speaking areas. Historically they have attracted students at times when they tended to have smaller class sizes and often, less diverse in terms of class, and in the modern age in terms of ethnicity and were chosen for that reason. Obviously there are downsides to smaller schools in that they often may not have the same level of facilities but if you have high parental engagement that can be countered.

In other words I don’t think it is safe to assert that Gaeilscoileanna are not elitist. Historically, some of them appear to have been, I do know that on the ethnicity side of things, some schools have broadened their cohort’s diversity. But additionally, children attending Gaeilscoileanna tend to have a high level of parental involvement and in urban areas that tends to indicate schools with a certain level of elitism.

Irish shouldn’t be an EU language.

The problem I have with this is it is an assertion or an opinion but it is not a myth. In many ways it is a choice to be made. There are arguments to be made in both directions but to select it as a leading myth is just not one of them.

Irish is not compatible with modern technology.

I’m stunned to hear anyone assert this. Ultimately there was actually an argument of this nature with respect to Irish about 70 years ago and it was a valid argument. This is because at that time, Irish used a script which has a lot in common with what are now called uncial scripts, and for which there wasn’t a commonly available typewriter. To be fair, the Irish alphabet at the time was heavily Roman in style but with certain stylistic features and slightly different ways of writing certain letters – the letter A being a key example the S also, and the G. Its way of handling miniscules and majuscules was a little different in that it was a question of scale rather than the case in the Roman alphabet where there are differences in  form between the miniscule and majuscule letters.

So the decision was made to move to a fully Roman style to cater for the fact that all our typewriters tended to be UK quertys. It also reduced the number of alphabets which needed to be taught in primary schools thus apparently aiding the teaching of reading. This matters because if someone had had a chat with the Germans, we could have gotten a QWERTZ which also catered for that other problem which was not resolved at the time, namely, the Síne Fada, known to the French as the acute accent in terms of form. They certainly weren’t pronounced the same way. In Ireland, they were typically handwritten in after the typing was done.

Modern technology does away with that. If we had Unicode seventy years ago, we could have just installed another font on the computer, baby, and typed away. As it now, it is trivial to add fadas to vowels in Irish even on an English keyboard. Alt-GR is your friend. And to be honest this is a problem that the French, Germans, Spanish, Danish and Greek have had to solve in some shape or form. In a way, the English centric world of Ireland caused us not to be aware that other people were dealing with not being English too. Suffice to say, writing in Irish is now a whole lot easier than it was when we didn’t have any technology at all. I’d argue that this is a myth and countering it is useful if people are asserting it. It is just that, amongst the whinging comments about Irish I hear from time to time, not being compatible with technology is not one.

We do not have to speak Irish.

Strictly speaking this is 100% true once you get out of school. We do not have to speak Irish. It may be desirable that we do, but it is not necessary. Describing this as a myth is not much of an argument.

Okay.

So much for the myths.

I live in Luxembourg, a place with about half a million people living there, and most of the natives, which is not close to most of its population, speak Luxembourgish, French and German. To some extent Luxembourgish has been the subject of a bit of a revival, particularly since the 1940s as I understand it. There is an argument – and I wouldn’t make it to any Luxembourger hanging around – that the line between it being a separate language and a dialect of German is a bit thin. I can, however, confirm that if you do speak German, this is no guarantee that you’ll understand Luxembourgish. It is also spoken in parts of Belgium and Germany and possibly northeastern France as well. Regarding the number of native speakers, estimates vary between 250,000 and 400,000. The interesting thing about Luxembourgish is that it has historically not been the national language. Luxembourgish for a long time was a German speaking area, and then it switched to French – this is linked with various events and transitions in its history. Luxembourgish became the official national language in 1984.

70% of the people in Luxembourg speak Luxembourgish daily according to the government here. That is far in excess of the numbers speaking Irish daily although less than those who claim to know a bit. The point that I am driving at here is that Luxembourg has been comparatively successful in turning Luxembourgish into a national language in use by a large proportion of the population and Ireland really has not. Maybe ten times the number of people speak Luxembourgish daily as speak Irish.  Yet Irish is an EU language and Luxembourgish is not. It is something which perhaps we need to think about.

If you talk to any Irish people, they will have very strong opinions on what went wrong in Ireland. They will point at the teaching and I would argue that in truth the teaching left a lot to be desired. Not necessarily because of the teachers but because of the context they were required to teach it in.

  • assumption that everyone spoke it anyway
  • delusions about creating a particular cultural form of Ireland – ask anyone about the dancing at the crossroads colleens
  • poor teaching materials
  • poor teaching methods.
  • a focus on the literary and not the language as a tool for communication.

The problem is the way I learned 20 years ago – which was terrible – is almost certainly not the way it is being taught today so people’s arguments about it is based on something which is not a reality any more. There has been an recognition at some point that most people don’t speak it and there has been an effort to start teaching it as an acquired second language in some places. At this point I have some concerns about the Gaeilscoileanna because we are basically teaching kids to read Irish before they can speak the language at the same time as we are teaching them to read English. There is some research floating around that kids below the age of about 7 have trouble with bilingualism and tend to be a little behind for a while before catching up.

Anyway.

The biggest problem that I saw with Irish 25 years ago, and very little has changed, is that it really wasn’t massively relevant to young people’s lives. There was no pop radio in Irish. No Irish rock bands or pop bands. Even the Scots had Runrig who were a credible rock outfit in Scotland at least in the 1970s. We had nothing. We had people who were angling to create a culture where we all listened to trad music, went to céilís and were basically living the life off a John Hinde postcard. Raidio na Gaeltachta started a series of world music at some point in the late 1990s, late on a Friday night if I remember rightly, and the purists went mad. People had already thrown fits about songs in English being played on RnG.

This basically ensured that the young Irish population who were interested in pop music and rock music listened to English language radio. Actually, we listened to a lot of pirate stations because it was in the 1980s when we got Radio 2 which was dedicated to younger people’s music. I’m sure some people didn’t like that either. Meanwhile, in Scotland, Raidio nan Gael was playing the hell out of the Highland Connection by Runrig because it was one record in their collection that appealed to young people in their broadcast area and there were songs in Scots Gaelic on it.

We didn’t do this in Ireland. We tried to shape the young generations into an image of Ireland that might have never really existed but which you could buy for 50p in any newsagent in the country and stick a stamp on instead of recognising that a living language lives and develops with its young people. And we lost one, two, maybe 4 generations. If I’m honest forcing young people to read Peig and delight in the life of an old lady living on an island off the coast of Kerry was not likely to be successful either. I know she’s been replaced so I refuse to complain about it as a problem now.

But the thing is, I cringe when I see the arguments about Irish coming up because they tend to be predictable and both sides get stuck in a rut.

I never see good reasons to study Irish being pushed. If you look at Colm Ó Broin’s piece it’s basically a moan of “why won’t you understand and speak my lovely language?” But he does not give us one good reason to do so. And this is a bit dumb because actually, there are a bunch of good reasons to speak Irish. Of course, it would help if it were taught properly but, here’s a few options.

Irish has a wider range of phonemes than English.

Eh wha? This basically means that Irish has a wider range of actually sounds you have to make. Now you might not care one way or the other about this but this actually makes it easier to pronounce other foreign languages and therefore supports the learning of other foreign languages (some industrialists suggest Chinese but I’d still suggest French or German and let me say German and Irish have a few useful phonemes in common).

In simple terms, if you learn Irish it should be easier for you to learn another language later on. In particular you are aware that things work differently to English syntax sometimes. Our verbs come before our subjects and we have those wonderful prepositional pronouns.

Irish is pretty handy for cursing.

Those wonderful curses that we have in Ireland which usually sound like cruel or unusual punishment. The Irish Times has a bunch of them here.

It’s an amazing opportunity for making up your own words.

Sasamach. That’s all I have to say.  Oh yeah, the official word for Sasamach is Breatimmeacht which is pretty decent too when you think about it. But there is no other language in which you could create that pun, or play on words like that about Brexit. (oh btw – Sasanach is the Irish word for English person and amach is one of the Irish words for outside, specifically, the one used for when you are transitioning to being outside).

Unique #hashtags on twitter

You just know that something #sneachta is not going to be about 3m of snow in New York but will refer to 3cm of snow in Palmerstown or possible 7cm of snow in the Sally Gap. And of course there is the classic #whatthefliuch meaning I have certain concerns about the amount of rain which has been failing for the last half an hour which even by West Kerry standards is somewhat excessive and it may be that getting home after work could be fraught with difficulty. No mere English hashtag could squeeze in all that meaning

It explains an awful lot of the lyricism and imagery of the English as mangled I mean spoken in Ireland

On the downside, that gave us James Joyce. Your mileage may vary on that. But the whole thing around alliterative adjectives of which I cannot think of one example right now comes straight down the pipeline from An Ghaeilge.

Actually, we do some fairly spectacular mangling of English. I give you this tweet from The Irish For discussing the verb to shift, a verb which Collins English Dictionary asserts means to move or change.

On the other hand, the past weekend has seen a discussion on what it actually means in an Irish context.  On twitter (what was that about Irish and technology again?). I’m going to link to this one because it demonstrates other words which have specific local meaning in Ireland and which I suspect many foreigners would have some issues with unless they have seen the Snapper. In any case, Collins is not familiar with the concept of shift being an activity engaged with in courting, as it were.

That case system is pretty handy for learning Finnish

Just trust me on this.

It hasn’t got a lot of irregular verbs.

11 I believe.

People will ask you to same something in Irish.

Seriously.

Rinne sé bean di.

I have very clear memories of a teacher in a convent struggling to explain what this actually meant. We none of us really wanted to buy the “oh well that just means they got married. Yeah, they got married”. Is Toraíacht Dhiarmada Agus Gráinne still on the syllabus? If not, it is one hell of a pity.

But the point is, Irish is one of the oldest written western European languages, if not the oldest (okay depends on how you define Greek) and as such it’s got a very handy selection of myths and legends which are real myths and legends. We had superheroes before Marvel Comics did. Check out Fionn MacCumhail, occasionally good and occasionally bad, or Cuchulainn. It is something to behold really when you think about it.

Moving forward

To be honest, I learned French by watching Beverly Hills 90210 so I’m really happy to know that we have Irish translations and dubbed versions of some of the Harry Potter stuff, for example. We need more of this stuff.  I was also delighted that (despite the lack of support from some people) that there were pop programmes on TG4 and a lot of cartoons were dubbed. Also, some of the Asterix and Tintin stuff is now available in Irish. I would love to see Calvin and Hobbes available in Irish too. These are all good things. TG4, operating on a shoestring budget, has done spectacular things to get the Irish language in to public consciousness, such as Rugbaí Beo and a lot of fascinating documentaries. The language has a special place in the education system and it would be wonderful if, going forward, this time was not wasted but resulted in people who spoke the language as a means of communicating and not because it was some way of proving Irishness

In the meantime, it seems to me that we would get a lot further if we looked at good reasons to speak it and learn it rather than trying to refute myths which aren’t really myths.

Aaaannn this is 3352 words. Oops. I had other plans for this evening.

 

 

That United video…

United Airlines is in deep PR trouble (at the very least) today after a video taken from the inside of one of its planes started to circulate on social media. Basically, they had a full plane, and wanted four passengers off it to make room for crew on standby. When they got no volunteers, they started involuntary offloading. One of the passengers refused to volunteer (this sentence hurts) and so security/police were called. The video shows very clearly that the passenger, a paying passenger, was manhandled in the process. I’m not linking to the video and no doubt when I read this in 5 years, it’ll be gone. But I have some comments.

Overbooking is a fact of life in the airline trade. A lot of work goes into balancing it to ensure you book enough people to have a full plane and not so many such that you wind up paying a lot of compensation. Most flights have a few no shows. But I’m not happy with United’s explanation of the flight being overbooked. If you’re overbooked, you’re usually looking for the offloads at check in. You don’t want to be giving passengers boarding passes if you’re not going to be flying them. There are security ramifications for that too. Much better to get passengers to voluntarily offload at check in and do not check them in in the first place. As United were pulling people off the plane, then under normal circumstances you’d have to assume the passengers were paid up and checked in.

If they were looking to position crew for any reason to another airline they need to reserve the seats rather than assume standby will work. I worked in the airline trade for more than ten years. If I had business travel I had a reserved seat (still had the possibility of being bumped off in an overbooking scenario but at least there was recognition that the seat had to be booked and checked in). What didn’t happen in my experience is that paying passengers got bumped off a flight for paying passengers. It looks like in this case, seats were not reserved and the United staff were not checked in. And the passengers were on the plane when United gate staff and cabin staff came to try and get four passengers off the plane to make room for the four United staff that suddenly needed to fly.

So, in the first place, paying passengers should not be the target of being offloaded to make room for non-revenue passengers. If it happens in United regularly they need to start being a bit more organised about booking their crew if they need to be moved from one airport to the next.

However, even if it ever was acceptable to bump paying passengers – you know the ones who support the salaries of United staff up to and including their CX – it certainly isn’t acceptable to get someone to manhandle them off the plane such that the passenger winds up injured in some respect. I’ve seen comments that he “refused to obey the cabin crew” and arguably this could be seen as true. But the instructions he was refusing to obey should not have been made.

In general, we need passengers to comply with instructions for safety reasons. Assume we’re in a situation where we need to clear a plane because, oh it has landed on the Hudson or something. As such we need airlines not to be abusing the requirement to have passengers comply unquestioningly with crew instructions because frankly, there needs to be good reasons for those instructions. Four of our staff need your seat is not a good reason. And it damages the relationship between airlines and their customers and breaks down the trust. That affects all airlines, not just United. Instructions from cabin crew given the context that they are entitled to absolute obedience under law need to be reasonable. It seems to me that no one in United on the occasion appeared to question why paying passengers should be dumped for staff which leads me to wonder if it is a frequent occurrence. Either way, the right to unquestioned compliance has a corresponding responsibility that the right not be abused.

The fall out for United Airlines around this is substantial. Significant numbers of the public are making it clear that they do not ever again want to fly with United. It is unknown what settlement the passenger concerned will feel motivated to come to and if United’s lawyers are any bit sensible at all, they will want to settle rather than go to court. But it should never have come to here because United should not be bumping paying passengers off their airplanes for the benefit of non-revenue staff.

Leaving it to the engineers

It is possible that this belongs on my other site but…Fine.

I think this was caused by a tweet linked to a comment made at the SCIC21 interpreter training conference during the week. It is an annual conference involving the interpreting service of the European Commission and the universities which run courses that supply the interpreter pipeline. The comment, which I now cannot find, grosso modo, amounted to highlighting the risk in allowing the engineers to be in charge of the future of the language industry. In other words, Google.

EDA: and the tweet is here from Marcin Feder:

C. Tiayon – do not leave languages in the hands of engineers, a reference to Google, etc.

(quick thanks to Alexander Drechsel who found it for me)

I have a background in artificial intelligence and machine learning and as part of getting it, I did a machine learning course where the lecturer confidently asserted that translation as a problem had now been solved by applying statistical methods. This basically means, loads of data and learning from that. There are well known issues with this; it tends to be good, as in better than what went before, but anyone who has seen both Google Translate and Bing Translate in action would really be admitting that it’s still not great. In many cases it’s terrible. Twitter’s language recognition engine is a bit hit or miss too which makes its translations hilariously absent. One of the things which annoyed me in general when I did my CompSci masters was the extraordinary tolerance computer scientists have for faults in things which are not necessarily computer science. Woe betide you if you don’t comply with someone’s pet programming style peeve (usually in the area of variable names) but a 60% success rate in whatever the code is trying to do, like, translate something from French to English is tolerable. The computer end of business they are shockingly fussy about, the business end of business, less so. Human interpreters and human translators are still far, far better than computers in terms of transferring meaning from one language to another. This is because meaning is not all verbal and computers are not good at nuance.

So we keep hearing how great computers are at something or other – lately it has been GO – or diagnosing some illness or other. I have doubts about the last one because often that’s a question of judgement rather than straight binary… – Anyway we keep hearing how great computers are at some task but when you drill down, it is because monumental assumptions and allowances have been made. You can read, for example, that Duolingo is better than college courses for learning languages and that this is scientifically proven. The relevant study had a 75% drop out rate. That means 75% of people who started learning a language to in a programme to measure the effectiveness of Duolingo dropped out before the end of the study.

This is not just true for languages but in general, if computer science or technology is getting involved in your industry, it is worth paying careful attention to what they consider to be adequate performance. It may well  be significantly less than is considered adequate in general in your industry and you will want to know the rationale for that.

As little as necessary

There is a thread running on boards.ie about how hard it must be to live on the salary of a clerical officer in Dublin. The starting point is currently 21KE.

Clerical Officer roles as far as I remember do not require post leaving certificate qualifications. Above that, executive officer roles require some PLC but I think a diploma is the minimum. For administrative officer, you’re looking at a degree. This is by way of information. The fact is it doesn’t change the problem that yes, the salary of 21KE makes it borderline impossible to live in Dublin. I am aware of some people at AO level who, on something like 29KE were pondering how they could pay rent, feed themselves and get to work without spending about 4 hours commuting every day. And that’s supposedly a management track role.

There’s an argument that these are all entry level salaries and there are guaranteed rises. The rises however while guaranteed, don’t bring you up to affording to live in Dublin in under about 10 years. There are problems with this too, a key one being the civil service attracts quite a lot of people with previous experience – substantial in some cases – who do not necessarily fit the requirements for principal officer or assistant principal (linked, in my limited experience, to the rather narrow view the civil service has of defining reporting lines and people reporting to other people). Key examples include qualified women who have been out of the workforce for sometime owing to child care duties, or people who hit the job market in the period since 2007 when the country was in recession and who are diligently applying for jobs they are qualified. In short, at AO level and down, there tend to be a bunch of overqualified people. The civil service, when it hires these people, is getting quite a lot for free under the circumstances.

In general, however, the problem isn’t really the salary scales as such. The key issue is the relationship between the salary scales and the cost of living in Dublin. If you could guarantee that every person on 21KE was 18 years old and living with their parents, then it’s just about economically viable. Arguably, they won’t be having much of a life, and they won’t be saving much money. Like me in another job with what was then a defined benefit pension they will be investing in their future well being with some penury and some limitations in their job options. This is fine if someone doesn’t change the rules later. My defined benefit pension is no longer so defined.

The cost of a three bedroomed house to rent in north Dublin is around 1500E, or at least it was when I left. It might be higher now. Flatshares were tending to 700E a person when I left. 21KE salaries will barely cover a room in a share. The further out you move, the somewhat less money you will pay, but then, your costs mount in terms of commuting time and commuting money. Public transport in Dublin in my opinion is disgustingly expensive and the service across modes is at best of mixed quality and very poorly integrated. People on low salaries are screwed either which way in Dublin.

The solution is not, as it happens, to give them more money because this just winds up meaning that someone who used to be destitute on 21KE is still destitute on 28KE because the key contributor to the cost of living in Ireland is still accommodation and the cost of accommodation is generally governed to some extent by supply and demand. 7-8 years ago, accommodation in Dublin both rental and purchase was tumbling because there was a monumental oversupply. Although the population of the country, and possibly Dublin, has not sky rocketed in the intervening period, rents have. Supply has clearly tightened such that a reasonable equilibrium is not being reached.

Junior or low level civil servants are not the only workers in Dublin who are on a salary which bears no practical relationship with their cost of living. Private sector employees, especially those in retail, and any on zero hours/minimum wage, are struggling too. A universal fix to this problem is to do something about the accommodation supply problem and leave wages alone. There are benefits to this from a social and economic point of view. Reduced accommodation costs should see some corresponding increase in the retail and hospitality sectors which will lead generally to increased employment, reduced unemployment, increased tax take/USC take. The rental market becomes more fluid and there are more people moving to locations suitable to work rather than trying desperately to manage a commute from somewhere completely unworkable. It may lead to improved public transport options for some people, and that might lead to a corresponding reduction in carbon emissions.

But I can’t see it happening because one of the things which would have to happen would be a significant reduction in property values in desirable urban areas like Dublin. Whether we do it by building huge amounts of property or by forcing the use of currently unoccupied property, or by putting a huge tax on second home sales, a 50% reduction in property values will not be welcome. Maybe if we hadn’t reinflated our last property bubble in under 10 years…

I left Ireland in December because I failed to see a future where I wasn’t constantly economically stressed purely because of the property/commute issue. A city where more people feel economically secure would probably be a significantly happier and more productive city. But it will not happen.

On washing machines…

It is a beautiful sunny day here in Luxembourg. I’m sitting here with a cup of tea, listening to the dulcet tones of Air via my computer and the somewhat less sweeter tones of the washing machine.

I love the washing machine. I love it like I love my bed, my sofa and the three sets of bookshelves that arrived yesterday. But I especially love the washing machine.

Mostly I love it because I own it, but also, because it works properly.

It works properly, because it’s pretty much brand new. I bought it two months ago. I own it.

I don’t want to go on at length about it but I have never actually owned a washing machine before. I have had washing machines in my rented houses in Dublin. Some of them have been good, some of them have been bad, one or two of them have been downright awful and not much newer than a 1950s roller washer thing.

This one was bought in the sale, with about 25% knocked off. It was a brand I recognised (generally good), and more importantly, it is a doddle to use. I think it’s got a timer on it but that doesn’t really bother me because otherwise, I put stuff into it, I press the button, and it then tells me how long the wash is going to take. It even has a 15 minute wash for those quick needs.

I haven’t tried that yet.

The thing is, when I pointed out to people that in Luxembourg, it was going to be a tall order to get an apartment (it is) and what’s more, I’d need to furnish it, I was greeted with horror. Wasn’t that going to cost money? Well yes. But you know what. I own the washing machine and it works and I have the instruction book.

I once lived in a house with a washing machine that was so old, the instruction manual was not on the internet. In this day and age, that’s fairly Jurassic.

I don’t mind the whole furnishing thing. Here’s why. I chose the mattress. It’s comfortable and I can sleep on it. I chose the washing machine. It washes my clothes properly and quickly. I wonder sometimes if Irish people would not be better off learning to deal with unfurnished accommodation and getting more autonomy over their furniture. I mean, I’ve been in some houses with fairly desperate furniture options and requests to remove it have been met with flat refusals. Take or leave the house.

In the meantime, the light coloured wash currently decorating the soundscape of my Sunday afternoon will be done in 30 minutes. It’s wonderful.

Saturdays on the buses

Since I have moved to Luxembourg, every Saturday, the city bus service has been free. As in gratis. As in not charged for. I have not yet worked out whether this is a regular thing, or whether it was just for Christmas and the sales

Anyway.

Even if it is not, they have an interesting pricing set up around here. A short term ticket will cost you 2E and a long term ticket will cost you 4E. And they are valid across the entire Luxembourg public network. Buses and trains. The difference is the 2E ticket is valid for 2 hours. The other ticket is valid until 4am tomorrow morning.

A monthly card for the city of Luxembourg will cost you 25E unless you are with a really big employer in which case you may get it free. A monthly card for the entirety of Luxembourg will set you back 50E. You can by annual versions of these passes which I think charge 9 months rather than 12.

The population of Luxembourg is about 550,000. The population of the city is around 100,000. It has 31 local bus routes and another twenty or so of the national network can pick up and drop off within the city area.

What am I driving at here? Why should it matter? Well one of the news stories from Ireland which penetrated my consciousness lately is the Bus Eireann issue. I happened to get a number 51 bus from Cork to Charleville at Christmas. It was packed. The line was on the list of lines threatened with closure lately.

I lived in Dublin for 17 years and to be honest, one of the things which increasingly drove me up the wall was trying to navigate the city. It was expensive, journey times were wildly unpredictable; enthusiasts seemed to think all I needed to know was what time a bus might arrive to me. I wanted and needed to know what time my bus would get to where I was going.

Paris has lately had a few days on which public transport has been free, mainly to try and get people to leave their cars at home and try and keep pollution levels down.

Luxembourg is not a big city. The country is not without its moments of “seriously, you are kidding me. People smoke that much?”. But it seems to me they have an objective of enabling people to move around by public transport. To that end, the buses are seriously prioritised over cars, they are comprehensive, they are regular and generally reliable. They have a pricing system which feeds into enabling people to travel by bus and making it economic for them to do so. I spent 25E a week on bus fares in Dublin and it completely wrecked my head.

In contrast, it seems to me like Ireland isn’t. Public transport is underfunded. There isn’t a coherent supply side structure and i terms of interoperation of fares, it took years and it still isn’t there perfectly. In Dublin, at least, there tend to be ongoing turf battles between bus operators demanding access to the Dublin Bus route network. The building of the tramlines has tended to feature considerations of Yerrah we don’t really need undergrounds anyway. Metro North is still lost in transit. And now this Bus Eireann saga. If I had to make any conclusion from all this, the State, or its government are not interested in the environmental ramifications of getting private cars off the road, not interested in making the lives of people living in the bigger cities better. Owen Keegan is pouring his efforts in Dublin into bike lanes, probably because he doesn’t get to make the decisions about public transport. Sure the Luas will carry 13 million passengers but the re-routes of buses to allow for bike lanes around Trinity College will discommode a similar number of bus users who re already held up trying to get across O’Connell Bridge most days.

At no point is someone going to decide “okay, buses on Saturday will be free because long term it is better that we…”

At this point someone is going to point out that Luxembourg is smaller than…and I know. It’s smaller than County Cork. But

Last time I got a bus in Cork, that Number 51 I mentioned up above, it cost me 12E one way. A similar journey in Luxembourg would have cost me 2E. IF someone, anyone, had vision in Ireland, they would look at applying the Luxembourg model on a county level. Maybe start funding public transport more effectively. That there is the problem. We do as little as we can get away. I know there is only so much money in the pot but seriously, Luxembourg is smaller in population than Ireland is. Maybe a regional model in transport might help. Give Dublin City Council some control over public transport Take regional bus services away from central government. Have a vision for making life easier to organise around public transport and allow our cities to breathe better. Stop  using sticks and start using carrots.

Cannot see it happening.

Impossible to commute by car in Dublin

This doesn’t really affect me all that much any more since I left Dublin a month ago but the Independent had some words from Dublin City Manager Owen Keegan, on the subject of life after Luas Cross City goes into operation. Effectively, it will become impossible to commute by car across the city. This, he says, will be an effective congestion charge. You can read the piece here.

“Increasingly, the private car as a commuting option is going to be squeezed out.

The problem – as I see it – is that the replacement is hardly going to exist for a lot of people who commute by car. I commuted by car and looking at the plans for Dublin traffic post LCC, I’d still have to commute by car as LCC would not have helped me at all, but the planned re-routes would have made my life hell.

I’m aware that Owen Keegan is an advocate for cycling. I hate the activity. I’d prefer a functional public transport system and with all due respect, LCC isn’t going to turn the mess that is Dublin public transport into something usable any time soon. I recognise his hands are slightly tied given that central government gets to decide whether money would be spent on Metro North or not (well not any time soon anyway).

I hated driving in the city of Dublin for a few reasons. The drivers there are unfamiliar with how traffic lights and junction boxes operate. Cyclists have death wishes. People park in buslanes which causes some hassle to buses yes, and the knock on is chaos in the general traffic lanes. I think people like Owen Keegan need to realise that running a double buslane across College Green isn’t going to get the city moving any faster. Reroutiong the 16 bus down the keys is a material disimprovement to a major service. I spent sometime reviewing the College Green plans and came to the conclusion that there was an unspoken policy to favour bikes over absolutely everything else. You could see it in the documentation. Cyclists featured heavily as benefiting from the proposed changes.

When I see Owen Keegan suggest the private car will be squeezed out, I am disappointed. Buslane infrastructure in Dublin is awful. College Green and Dame Street changes, plus the changes knocking on elsewhere (Parliament Street for example), will not improve commuting for many people. Luas Cross City is not going to have a massive city wide impact. In a normal world, I’d prefer to see less sticking plaster, cosmetic things done. I’d prefer to see wider bus lanes and, if we’re not going to get serious rail based public transport in Dublin – which I doubt for the next 20 years t least, serious prioritisation given to bus operations in the city.

This requires cooperation between Dublin City Council, Transport for Ireland and the bus operators where the core objective is to put bus passengers front and centre of change. I can’t see it happening because mostly, these result in turf wars. You can see it already with ticketing. I live in Luxembourg city where 31 bus routes are operated by at least 4 different operators, there isn’t even a single brand identity for the bus service and individual routes can be operated by 2-3 different operators; there is a single ticketing system. A monthly city card costs 25E. A national transport card costs 50E per month. And as far as traffic planning is concerned, the buses are prioritised over everything else. Plus they are building a tram.

Owen Keegan can’t fix Dublin public transport on his own. I appreciate this. But he will have to stop pushing bikes and castigating cars and start dealing with public transport if he and anyone who holds the job in the future want to be doign anything other than applying sticking plasters to their mass transit issues. Owen Keegan is not in favour of an elected mayor for Dublin. You could argue that well he would say that, wouldn’t he. I’m not in favour either because I don’t think the non-urban parts of Dublin would be benefited by it.

But if Owen Keegan and his team don’t start dealing with the mass side of transit, all the bike lanes in the world won’t fix his problems.

Youtube videos, making house moving easy

Youtube hasn’t yet learned that my favourite video at the moment is this one on how to assemble a Jattene box from IKEA. It has truly brought light to my life in the past few days in a way that nothing else has managed. The video is in German, but if you are ever severely under pressure, and urgently needing to assemble one of these boxes, he’s the only man.

I own twelve of these boxes and have a deep desire to have them full of stuff for Declan, the man with the van, to take away in two days’ time.  I’ll be glad when it is all done. I’ll be hugely relieved when it is all done.

Meanwhile, the car continues to challenge. It is an inanimate object, but the last month or so have pretty much been along the lines of “how most can I spite this owner of mine and make her life as full of hassle as possible.”

Don’t trust cars. They know when you are planning to break up with them.

The shredder is picking and choosing when it cares to work.

Impressively, I have a pile of dictionaries – which I love – in my living room, stacked and waiting for boxes. The pile is about a metre high and it includes several English dictionaries, a couple of thesaurii, a French dictionary, 2 German dictionaries, the dual Finnish English Finnish set, Slang and Untranslatables. I’m carting things downstairs at the moment because the shredder is being finicky and I’m getting through not very much shredding before it dances a fandango and demands a rest.

The car is sick. Expensively difficult to find the problem but can’t drive it sick. I’m very disappointed in it. I’ve had it 10 years and now it has neurological problems. I really only needed a week out of it and it could hardly have chosen a worst week to oh, spew a mad lot of steam out from under the bonnet. It’s scary, you know, when you are stuck in traffic watching your car behave like a kettle on which you forgot to put the top.

Next to the pile of dictionaries is what I think is my compete data viz and data presentation collection. At least, the hard copy version of it. The art stuff. TBH, I was surprised by how little of that. I know the How To Draw Dragons book is in Charleville, and, the four “How to Give Up Drawing Dragons Immediately because Elian Black Mor is so much better than me at Drawing Dragons” are there too. Surprisingly. I have not yet accumulated/unwisely spent as much money on How To Be A Better artist books as I did on “Look, I suck at being a photographer, Michael Freeman will make it better”.

I have beautiful photography books though, two classics in particular; a collection of Robert Doisneau and an Ansel Adams portfolio. Bearing in mind I spent most of my time photographing kitesurfers it might be surprising to know that they were my two favourite photographers.

At this point. the shredder has just visted another heart attack on me by springing into life. Most kind of it. Now I have to go and shred more of this pile of papers. It’s like it’s been snowing in the dining room. The hoover is just going to LOVE me.

Moving house is fun.