Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hugh Laurie's accent in House

Although I'm not an American, I live in the US and I find Hugh Laurie's access in House almost unlistenably fake. However, and this is the interesting thing, Americans do not seem to find it fake.

I notice the same phenomenon in comments in the Guardian today. A non-American says "that American accent he tries to affect just drives me up the wall. Maybe if I didn't know he was British and faking it, it wouldn't be so painful to me, but I do and it does." But then someone else points out that "Most Americans say he sounds perfectly fine to them."'

Fake accent or not, I'll still watch House because any show which uses Iron and Wine's cover of New Order's "Love Vigilantes" is OK by me.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cost to become a US citizen

The Boston Globe has a piece today about the raised fees to become a US citizen.

According to the Globe, "the effects ripple across cities such as Boston, Lawrence, Cambridge, and Lynn, which have high immigrant populations and low citizenship rates. Less than half of immigrants in each city are naturalized citizens, according to 2008 census figures, compared with 49 percent statewide and 43 percent nationwide."

umm - 49 percent and 43 percent are "less than half". But anyway, I know that I've paid well over $1000 for various Permanent Resident fees, over the past few years. I noticed that the fees have been going up all the time, and I took the view that it's better to get these things done now, rather than pay more later.

How does the US compare on this? The Globe reports that Australia and Canada are cheaper places to get citizenship, at "about $200". The IrishCentral site reports that Australia is the Number One choice for Irish people fleeing the recession. Jenny Woods, a 27-year-old from my home county of Westmeath, is quoted saying "I have family in the U.S. but I couldn't get a visa so I decided to come to Australia." And today's Irish Times quotes a couple moving to Vancouver. With its strict visa rules and high prices for immigration fees, the US is not seen as quite as attractive, which is a shame.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ireland's most watched TV programme is....

According to Roger Childs at RTÉ, Ireland's large state-owned broadcaster, Ireland's most-watched TV programmer is the Angelus. This short programme, unique to Ireland, consists of soothing vaguely-religious images and the sound of church bells bonging in the background. When I was growing up, a religious image would be shown (e.g. an Eastern Orthodox style icon of Jesus and Mary) and I remember yelling to my mother when the image changed, each week, as if this was a big televisual event.

People who live outside of Ireland, you are missing nothing. It is probably only the most-watched programme on Irish TV because it is on at 6pm immediately before the news.

Here is a recent Angelus on YouTube - as a commenter says, it is "beyond parody":

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I live in Boston and am represented by an openly gay senator

How is this possible? Did John Kerry come out?

No - as a Dublin University (Trinity College) graduate, I am represented in the Irish Senate (Seanad Eireann in Irish) by Senator David Norris. I sent in my postal vote for him last time there was an Irish senate election. Since I cannot vote in the US (I have taxation without representation), he is the one senator I can vote for.

Ireland's senate is unusual since it includes seats which represent college graduates. So, despite the fact that I live in Boston, I'm included in the constituency of Dublin University and am represented in the senate by David Norris.

By the way, David Norris' Wikipedia page is worth a read, like this bit:

Norris was born in Leopoldville in the Belgian Congo. When his father died, Norris, then a small child, went to Ireland for the first time. Norris' cousins came to meet him when he arrived by ship into Dublin. Norris has spoken of the disappointment on the faces of his cousins when they discovered that their 'African' cousin was not black.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Google Maps camera in Roslindale

I'm watching you... spotted outside Romano's Pizza

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Where government control of healthcare is a good thing

On cable TV here in the US, it seems like "government takeover of healthcare" is some kind of nightmare. Last week in Ireland, I walked past this poster each morning on the way to catch the train to work. It showed the diametric opposite nightmare - corporate control of healthcare. The fear spread by the poster is that a "Yes" vote in the upcoming Lisbon Referendum in Ireland would result in health and education falling into the private sector. Given that a "Yes" vote would bring Ireland closer to France and Germany, that is about as likely as a "government takeover of healthcare" in the US. But it was certainly funny to see the mirror image of the US. I guess fear works on both sides of the Atlantic.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Funding program for entrepreneurs from north of the border

With the entrepreneur John Dunlop (inventor of Dunlop tyres) on some of its 10 pound notes, and a great history of industry and hard work, Northern Ireland should be a great place for entrepreneurs. Invest-NI has a scheme for funding entrepreneurs, but hurry since your proposal has to be in by 18 September:


Got a Great Idea?

Make it Your Business!
If you have a business idea with the potential to go global, you should apply for Invest Northern Ireland's new propel programme today.

Are you working late into the night developing your business plan? Maybe you've already designed a product but are now wondering how to get it off the ground?
Whatever stage you're at, it's time to take your idea forward with support from the people who know.
The propel programme can help turn your concept into a hi-growth export focused business in just 12 months. Funded by Invest NI, it is tailored for entrepreneurial individuals with innovative business ideas that have the potential to reach international markets. You'll get personalised support including funding through salary support grant, the experience and knowledge of industry mentors, and connections and exposure with investors and tutors unmatched by any other programme.
At the end, you'll see your business idea become a business reality.

The propel programme is open to all potential entrepreneurs resident in Northern Ireland. Places are limited and competition will be tough. If you're creative, ambitious and determined to succeed, apply now at: www.propelprogramme.com

Email: info@propelprogramme.com | Tel: 0870 4954 841
Deadline for applications is 18th September 2009.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ireland's mini stimulus plan this summer

A letter today in the Irish highlights the vast difference between the US Government and the Irish Government responses to the recession.

The Irish Government has, like Hoover after the 1929 Wall Street Crash, tried to cut back spending and attempt to balance the books. We all know how well that turned out. The US Government has thrown money at the problem, and part of that is funneled into many public works programs. For example, the rebuilding of the public housing buildings here in Roslindale (at Beech Street) is funded by the Federal Govt stimulus plan. This provides work to builders, carpenters, electricians - who then pay taxes on that money and spend much of it locally.

In many ways Ireland is like a US state, without the freedom to run a big deficit. But the US government itself, of course, can run up a gigantic deficit, as it is doing.

But what if the Irish government had a stimulus plan?

Here is the letter, from the Irish Times letters page:

Madam, – I am the chairman of a medium-sized enterprise involved to a large extent in the construction industry, but with clients from all sectors of the Irish economy. In our last financial year we had around €6 million turnover, this year it looks like we will have around half that, largely based on being busier in the earlier part of the year. In other words, things are getting worse.

In July, things suddenly got better in terms of orders and inquiries. Why? The summer school works programme! thankfully we got a good bit of work from it. There was a lot of pressure to complete work before the schools reopened, but that’s a problem we love to live with.

Now we are in September and things are looking gloomier than before.

There are few new works, local authorities have no money and Joe public is holding on to his. As a result, we and many like us will lose money and lay off people, with additional cost to the exchequer and personal suffering.

All the Government attention is focused on Nama and presumably the Budget, which I don’t believe will do a thing to preserve jobs in the short term, and as we know, in the long term we are all dead.

So I checked how much our personal mini-boom in July cost. Google yielded a press release from Batt O’Keeffe stating €80 million provided works in 1,180 schools. Thank you, Minister you kept a good bit of the remaining architectural and building industry going for four to six weeks. In return the State got much-needed work done and it got Vat, PAYE, and PRSI rather than paying dole. I think that is called win, win.

Why are we not developing a programme of labour-intensive highly focused local works schemes to employ small and large builders, carpenters, bricklayers, electricians and maybe even a fencing contractor or two. Twelve- months duplication of the summer works programme would cost less than €1 billion, less than 4 per cent of the Department of Social welfare budget.

How I wish I believed these sort of ideas were buzzing around our politicians’ and civil servants’ brains, but unfortunately I don’t think the small issues are getting any attention. Will someone please come up with a few ideas to stop the haemorrhage of jobs in this economy. – Yours, etc,



Irish Fencing Railings Ltd,

Kylemore Park South,

Dublin 10.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Cultural diversity in West Roxbury

Good piece in the Globe today

This is spot-on:

Jamaica Plain was the spot for young hipsters seeking a tolerant environment. Roslindale was the ethnic melting pot with blue collar roots that young families could afford. But West Roxbury? West Roxbury was what it always had been, a suburban enclave in the city where lace-curtain Irish had settled and never left.

Even as an Irish-born person myself, West Roxbury feels "more Irish than the Irish themselves". Kids called "Conor" and "Sorcha" in Cork and Dublin Gaelic Football jerseys, stores selling Irish paraphernalia, the pubs (like the one with the mural of the "two white guys shaking hands"). Roslindale, which is more diverse, feels more like the Dublin I know (the South inner-city).

Though well researched and well written, the Globe article does have the feel of an Irish Times article circa 2002. "Look, we have a small number of immigrants moving to Ireland! In fact, I think we have a couple of ethnic restaurants now! We are so diverse!":

There was Melinda Keehnle on a recent evening, walking home from Roche Bros. grocery store, as she has always done. The 50-year-old nurse can still be found at the West Roxbury Pub on Friday nights, leading karaoke renditions of old Irish songs, surrounded by the regular crowd.

But other nights, she samples her neighborhood’s new fare.

“I have seven restaurants within two blocks of my house,’’ Keehnle said.

“When I go out on my porch, I can smell Indian and Thai and fresh seafood and burgers. You name it.’’


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

For once, a good piece by a foreign journalist about impressions of the US

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the "leaving Washington" piece by Justin Webb from the BBC. Here is a snippit:

On the last day we spent in our home in north-east Washington, they were holding a food-eating competition in a burger bar at the end of our street. The sight was nauseating: acne-ridden youths, several already obese, stuffing meat and buns into their mouths while local television reporters, the women in dinky pastel suits, rushed around getting the best shots.

Ugh. So I was pleased to read a much better piece by Denis Staunton, the Irish Times correspondent in Washington. He is leaving Washington, and writes about his impressions of the US and Americans:

Some snippits:

Living in the US, what’s most striking is the lack of social contact between blacks and whites outside the workplace. In Washington, where 56 per cent of the population is black, almost all the whites live in the affluent northwest quadrant, which also houses all the city’s universities and most of its hospitals.

Blacks and whites not only live in separate neighbourhoods but usually worship in different churches and often patronise different restaurants, bars and clubs.

Few whites are overtly racist, but many have expressed to me a sense of unease if they’re in the minority in a social setting. Some fear that they’ll be unwelcome in a predominantly black environment, though my experience over the past four years suggests the opposite.

Often the only white face at African American clubs, parties and occasionally funerals, I’ve only met warmth and easy friendliness. It’s true that black friends have occasionally offered tips on correct behaviour and when my friend Tino offered to take me to his church one Sunday, he did so on two conditions. “You’ve got to dress properly in a suit and tie,” he said. “And if anybody stands up and starts getting happy, don’t even think about joining in.”

I wonder what if he had been posted to Boston?

Here are three of his "Curious Differences" between Ireland the US. I've noticed these myself too:

COCKTAILS in the US are dangerously potent and two or three are enough to render the average Irish drinker helpless and foolish. Natives, on the other hand, will cheerfully down a couple at Happy Hour and swallow a few more with dinner. Then they’ll drive home.

DATING is a minefield for European imports, most of whom have long ago abandoned the rituals of courtship. Americans are often dating a number of potential partners at the same time, gently testing each one for evidence of financial solvency, social status and personal compatibility. There are no strict rules about when to go home with your date, but be warned: things can move very swiftly after you make your choice. As a recent headline in the satirical weekly, the Onion, put it: “Nation’s Girlfriends Unveil New Economic Plan: ‘Let’s Move in Together.’ ”

DINNER PARTIES in Washington start on time, often with a little speech by the host, and end with miraculous precision. Nobody looks at their watch, but at a certain moment all the guests will rise as one and announce that they must be off. If you check the time, it’s always 10.30pm on the dot. Irish-born hosts are exempt from this rule.