Friday, July 24, 2015

24 centuries later, the Peloponnesian War still rages -it shouldn't

In watching the unfolding of the recent Eurozone crisis, I am struck by parallels with ancient times.

For much of the 19th and 20th Centuries, Germany hearkened after the example of Sparta. Orderly, obedient, ruthlessly disciplined, pious, self-confident, xenophobic and oligarchical -the Spartans appealed to successive generations of German elite. Though modern Germany may have shrugged off much of the militarism and the extremism of its predecessors -nevertheless, the love of rules and order is a noted feature of modern Germany and in many ways they are the modern exemplar of the Spartan model.

By contrast, much of the rest of Europe has come to uphold the ancient Athenian example of innovativeness, free thinking, wholistic justice and above all -democratic rule.

These two Weltanschauungs, which fueled the decades long Peloponnesian war of the 5th century BC, appear to be fueling much of the acrimony within the Eurozone today. The arguments are much the same:
  1. Unbreakable rules V. Free thinking
  2. Conservative V. Sudden acting
  3. Pious V. Liberal
  4. Orderly V. Lively
  5. Quiet V. Noisy
  6. Oligarchical/obedient V. Democratic/Free thinking
That such world views can still be in conflict after 24 centuries indicates that this argument is not about Sparta V Athens or Germany V the Periphery or Milton V Keynes or Austerity V Defaults. Rather it is about society, two distinguishable and viable approaches to civilization that persist and will probably always persist.

Just as in natural evolution different nuanced strategies persist alongside each other in a single species, so it seems humans retain these different strategies maintaining variations adapted to suiting different catastrophes. At present, the catastrophe of finance is favouring the Spartan/German model. But this will not always be the case. Different crises will arise and other countries will come to the fore. Rather than either strategy being better or best -they should be recognized as simply different, enduring and with periods of strength and weakness in both.

That both models persist is an asset to our species, but appreciating this could be a path to more understanding and less acrimony between neighbouring states. Rather than trying to impose either model on our neighbours through Fiscal Treaties, prescriptive policies and grandstanding referendums -we should see that each approach is in a cycle of ups and downs and try to accommodate both models at each point in that cycle. Compromise where possible and tolerate where necessary.

The ancient Greeks found it impossible to do this, the resulting wars lasted decades, sapping Greek strength and ultimately leaving them prey to outside conquest. Modern Europeans should make sure they do not follow a similar fate -there are plenty of forces outside of our continent who would love to see us argue like this indefinitely.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Letter to IT on GRA involving itself in referendum debate (I'm for Yes BTW)

it is a shame that reactions to the GRA's call for a Yes vote have broken down along partisan lines -with those of a similar viewpoint supporting the GRA's action and those of a different view opposing it.

However, this is to confuse two different issues. Whatever view one takes on the referendum, maintaining a politically impartial police force is important to our society and in particular to the holding of polls. Given the important role that Gards play in the holding of polls, maintaining outward impartiality is as important for them as it is for Returning Officers and other poll workers. This burden of maintaining impartiality falls on Gards as a collective -and also as individual Gards. The GRA, in speaking for their members in this way, have shown scant regard for their members' responsibilities to remain outwardly impartial. No matter how sincerely they support this viewpoint, the GRA are letting their members down by compromising them in this way.

I'm sure the majority of Gards (regardless of which views they hold) would prefer if their representative body would respect the role that they will have to perform on May 22nd and avoid making further comments about either referendum on their behalf. Many of them will have important public roles in the  security of polling stations, count centres and especially ballot boxes. They need the trust of the public and both sides of the referenda campaigns to discharge these roles properly. The GRA should not get in the way of that.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Pictures of solar eclipse projections -taken Mountbellew Agricultural College 20 March 2015

While studying for an exam this morning I took the opportunity of making some observations from my car. The sun cleared twice and I punched a little hole in a sheet of paper and made the following images with it. They came out very well I think. I was late into my exam as I was taking the second photo.
852 AM


Thursday, April 24, 2014

development of downpatrick head, ballycastle

Dear sir/madam,
I recently attended an information evening on the proposed development of downpatrick head as a significant point of interest on the wild atlantic way. I'm delighted with the overall thrust of the idea.

During the meeting, a representative of the council circulated drawings of a possible concept for the development of pollaseantine, the blowhole. I understand though that this concept is not yet confirmed for the site and that you are accepting submissions still for how to develop the site.

To my mind, the wild atlantic way should try to be what it claims to be -ie, the wild atlantic. We should avoid interfering with the landscape except where there is a real benefit, and leave the landscape mostly as it is. I understand from the meeting that this was a key point in the early planning of the route, as it was understood to be what tourists want.

On the other hand, I picked up from the information evening, that market research showed that tourists also want to be able to see down into the blowhole. So some development is needed here, to allow a good view, while being as unobtrusive as possible.

Rather than building an earthen bank around the blowhole (as in the concept I saw this week), may I suggest instead that two to three balconies are created over the blowhole? The view of the blowhole is always obstructed by the need to keep back from the edge, giving limited line of sight to the viewer. Though the plans circulated at the meeting are good and well thought out, they do not radically improve the line of sight of the viewer, and I believe are more obtrusive to the wildness of the place than is strictly necessary. Indeed, in the plans, they include a diagram examining the line of sight afforded to the viewer and it Is not radically better than the present arrangement.

If instead, we had 3 simple balconies, supported by a steel frame anchored well back from the edge, then these would be minimalistic in appearance from the distance, but when the tourist arrives at the hole, they will be able to walk out over the hole and look down directly at most of the blowhole from one vantage point. Walking around to the other balconies would allow them to take in the remainder. Rather than have a glass wall shield them from the spray, they would have the wind and spray coming directly up at them from below. Some unobtrusive reading material could also be included nearby, with geological, historical information, but not on the balcony itself, as this should be reserved for looking at the blowhole. I would also keep the idea from the current concept, that a simple rest area can be provided, but this should be rotated to face east, as the sea spray from the side of the down and from the blowhole would make this generally unusable if it faced in any other direction. The reading material would ideally be fixed to this structure.

Furthermore, the watchtower at the top of the down currently lacks any explanation as to its purpose. A brief explanatory passage needs to be fitted to this to explain its presence. Perhaps the inside of the watchtower could have some aerial shots of the down, as there are many very beautiful aerial photos of the seastack, which visitors may or may not have seen previously.

Finally, above the cavemouth, on the south west side of the down, there is a grand view of crashing waves directly below the viewer and west towards ceide. Though this is presently unmarked in any way, I think a little handrail and maybe a description of the places viewed from this point, would draw people over to this spot-one of the best views in Ireland I believe.

Overall, I am pleased that something is to be done with the down. I know from my own experience of having visitors that they are always blown away by it and if tourists can be persuaded to include it on their itineraries, they will love it and it will deliver a real wild atlantic experience. If they start to arrive, we will start working on developing the local economy from this.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Letter to the President on State visit to the UK

I'm a bit late writing to you about this, but I think it would be a very well received gesture if the President addressed the issue of Irish neutrality during WWII while he is in the UK. I believe he will say something about WWI while there, but our stance in WWII really appalled a section of the British public and is still a very significant issue to many ordinary Britons.
I'm not saying that the President should apologise for neutrality, but to many Britons our stance was seen as equivocal if not actually sympathetic to the Nazis -perhaps it was. I think it would be very well received though if we expressed regret at not having done more to oppose fascism in Europe -by peaceful or other means.
The truth is that because of our rather fraught relations with Britain and a degree of inherited prejudice, we chose to equivocate about continental fascism, rather than help Britain in an hour of need. It is a lasting shame on Ireland that needs to be addressed some day.
Just as with 1916 in ireland, WWII has an aura of origin about it for modern day Britain and our part is seen to have been on the wrong side of it. This hardens the hearts of many Britons against Ireland even today, and I would like to see the President using this opportunity to have a go at softening them.
One meaningful sentence on this, could do a lot.
It would be especially fitting, as the Queen herself is of that generation, and of that struggle.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Submission on the revision of wind turbine guidelines

Dear Minister,
In response to the consultation on proposed revisions to the wind energy development guidelines 2006 –I would like to submit the following:

1.      When assessing setback as a noise control method, I would discard the assessment of ground cover types. Ground cover can and probably will change many times in the lifetime of a windfarm. If a forestry exists today to shield a home from excessive noise, this could be felled within 12 months and returned to pasture. Likewise, a home sheltered by trees, could lose them all in a storm or to disease. It is not permanent enough to assess noise.

2.      The proposed minimum separation of 500m for amenity considerations is too static. Current minimum distance requirements have been left behind by the rapid inflation in the size of wind turbines over the period. Rather, the minimum separation should be a multiple of the height of the turbine. This is already the case in other jurisdictions.

Personally, I believe the minimum distance should be quite high and I would like to see a minimum separation of at least ten times the height of the wind turbine. In the recently rejected planning application for a windfarm development in Cloghan, Co. Offaly, the inspector deemed that the proposal for 170 metre tall wind turbines would excessively dominate the landscape as viewed from 34 houses in a 1200m radius. This equalled a distance ratio of 7 times the height of the wind turbines. However, it should be remembered that this development was deemed unacceptably obtrusive and I believe we should therefore implement a minimum distance that is generously in excess of this. Therefore, a distance of ten times the height of the turbine seems reasonable to me.

Furthermore, this will give more opportunities to more moderately sized developments, while keeping the really enormous projects away from habitation.

3.      I believe the definition of a noise sensitive property should include all buildings in which the same people are compelled to spend a significant amount of time. This should include fixed places of work -even without permanent structures.

4.      I note that the 40dba noise limit is considered to be at the lower end of the scale internationally. However, I believe it should be exceptionally low. Ireland has a dispersed settlement pattern and will generally have many more people effected by windfarm noise than in other countries. We should be international leaders in this regard.

5.       In assessing noise at preconstruction stage, the windspeed used to assess noise output should be at hubheight –not groundspeed.

6.      There is also an issue which I believe should also pertain to proximity and which is not listed in the consultation document. Proximity to household watersources should be a factor in assessing wind turbine developments. The deep foundations required for windturbines inevitably interferes in watersources. Where householders are depending on watersources in the vicinity, this should be a factor in granting permission for development.

7.      Finally, though not mentioned in the document, visual impact of windturbines should be considered in their own right, in accordance with the Offaly decision.

Letter to Minister for Transport about the outrageous cost of RSA licence testing.

Dear Minister,
I am writing to express dismay at the mounting cost of obtaining driving licences.

I have recently considered adding a c category to my licence, but have abandoned the idea purely because of the cost involved. I estimated that it would cost around 1000 euros for lessons, but also a further 700 euros in admin fees. The combined cost of tests, administration and obtaining documents is completely excessive I believe and a serious disincentive to anyone minded to do this test for employment reasons.

Can anyone justify a system where you have to pay for a theory test and once you pass it and have your permit, then have to pay for and sit another theory test (CPC test -now mandatory for all c licences). Likewise, we must now pay for and sit a practical test for CPC before paying for and sitting the actual driving test. This is pointless and expensive duplication.

Furthermore, the cost of each of these tests and admin procedures is excessive. How on earth can it cost 55 euros to add a category to an existing licence? Or 72 euros to sit a computerised multiple choice test?

I fully support efforts to have a high quality testing process, but the present system is unnecessarily complex, segmented and expensive. The RSA should be self sufficient -but not racketeering. You need to impress upon them that as a public monopoly, they must be more responsible with their demands for money.