Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What Is TRULY Valuable

What is the most valuable thing you own?
I suppose, a few months ago, most of us, in Ireland anyway, would have said, our homes.
For reasons which weren't quite clear to us, houses we bought four or five years ago - ordinary, small, terraced, Edwardian houses - doubled in value. Or more.
For some, talk of the value of their homes became a reason for hosting dinner parties, increasingly lavish dinner parties washed down with expensive wine which may, or may not, have been worth what was paid for it.

Our cars - mine is an exception - were or are valuable too. Many who made money bought cars which could not be driven, legally, at even half the speeds of which they were capable. Sports cars stuck in traffic jams.
Now, though, we've all begun to think.
For a start there are now 100,000 fewer people working. By the end of 2009, that figure will be 200,000. By this time next year, there will be more than 300,000 people in Ireland without work. Many of them will be the husbands of wives without work and the wives of husbands without work. Many will have bought their homes not long ago and watch them halve in value.
Suddenly, we realise that where we live is just bricks and mortar - and something for the bank to manipulate to make profit.
And cars are just for getting from A to B.
Suddenly, we realise that these things have no real value. A cost, yes. A value or a worth, no.
Because the most valuable things I have - and I own neither - are my family and my friends.
Spike Milligan once said: A Friend in need is a pain in the neck.
He probably wasn't wrong.
But in the tough year or years that lie ahead, family and friends will become increasingly important and valuable for us all.
And it won't necessarily be in a material sense. This recession will hit everybody bar those who got us into it - greedy bankers and inept politicians.
Family and friends will become valuable because, if you're lucky, they'll be there.
They'll listen. They'll support. They'll talk. They'll love.
And you won't get that from a house or a car.
You won't get anything back from your 'valuable assets'.
Family and friends are extraordinary things - if you have them.
And if you don't I can only pray that, at least, you find friendship somewhere.
The older I get, the more I come to appreciate how lucky I was with the parents I had and with the siblings I have.
I realise how lucky I am with my friends, some of whom have been friends for almost all my life.
And do you know what?
Times aren't easy and haven't been, what with bone marrow transplants, losing a good job because of my health and now a recession which will make it tough for all.
But the value of having a wonderful family and good friends, well, that's multiplied by a factor of 100 a times like this.
And the great thing is, it never, thank God, ever falls victim to the vagaries of economics or politics.
It just keeps on rising.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Why I Love Christmas

I am one of those who genuinely wishes it was Christmas every day.
Notwithstanding the downside - greed, rudeness, drunkenness, puke on every footpath and the inevitable disappointing tv output - it’s a wonderful time.
And it’s wonderful not just because of children, though they really do add a special dimension.
I loved Christmas long before Charlotte arrived. I just love it infinitely more now that she’s here and, well, kind of aware what’s going on.

I love Christmas because some, not all, people are nicer to each other than they normally are.
I love Christmas because, even if the actual television out put is lousy, I can choose to watch some of my favourite movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Hard Day’s Night.
I love Christmas because I like buying presents.
I love Christmas because I like receiving presents.
I love Christmas because - especially now that I’m in a kind of isolation (seven months on from the bone marrow transplant, I’m not allowed into pubs or restaurants or crowded places) it’s good to see friends when they call around.
I love Christmas because I love the decorations and my wife Connie is the brilliant at it.
I love Christmas because there’s loads of rugby on.
I love Christmas in Ireland when it’s mild, which it is, which means we can go for a nice walk on Stephen’s Day.
I love Christmas because, in Ireland, we still choose to call it Christmas and not ‘Holiday.’ We do so because we are not afraid to do so.
I love Christmas because it reminds me of the joy of friends and family who are no longer with us. It’s wonderful to remember them at a happy time.
I love Christmas because of what it is, a celebration of the birth of Christ whose message is one of love and joy and peace.
I love Christmas because even the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, those professional atheists, can’t ignore it.
I love Christmas because it reminds us of the gift we have been given by God, the gift of his Son, of life, of opportunity.
This is my 55th Christmas.
And I regard each one as special.
This one in particular is special.
It is special because I will spend it, in relatively good health with my wife Connie and our beautiful daughter Charlotte in our home in Dublin.
We are all facing into a tough year.
But we will, with God’s help, survive and come out strong when this man-made, greed-driven recession ends.
Have a happy Christmas.
And even if you don’t share my faith in God, remember that the message of Christ is for everyone, not just those who believe.
Be nice to one another.
And peace to all.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Wrong In Every Way Possible

WRONG: Sean Fitzpatrick

An Irish banker, who has overseen the value of his company slump by 90 per cent, hid a loan of €87 million in a rival financial institution every year for eight years.
And, he says, he did nothing wrong.
Now, whether or not what he did broke the law or not - and if it didn’t then it is the law is sadly lacking - he certainly did something wrong.
Morally wrong.
Ethically wrong.
In fact, what he did was wrong in almost every way imaginable.

This is the guy who said, before the budget, that we should all feel some pain because of the economic situation, a situation his bank, and the world’s banks, created.
Now, he’s all sorry.
Sorry, that is, that he has been caught in his subterfuge, sorry his deceit has been uncovered. sorry he’s been rumbled.
But will it make any difference to him?
Not a jot.
Will he suffer?
Not a bit of it.
Will he now know what it’s like to be poor?
Not a snowball’s chance in hell.
Because these people, people like Sean Fitzpatrick, don’t inhabit the same planet as the rest of us.
They life on planet greed. They are - still - disciples of the “Greed is Good’ God of Gordon Gecko.
We all were, to a degree.
We were paying €3 or more for a coffee on the way into work in the morning. And we didn’t think it too much.
We were paying €5 for a pint and not complaining.
We were jumping taxis for trips of less than a kilometre, paying for movie channels and never watching them, buying gadgets we didn’t need and never used, buying ‘labels’ to wear at exorbitant prices when equivalent clothes cost less than half the price, we were buying ‘exotic’ foodstuffs and learning to like them, we were buying wine by the price - because we assumed that if it was expensive it was good.
On that subject, a man I know who works in the wine department of a supermarket, told me that they often price lousy wine, wine they know won’t shift at €5.99, at between €10 and €15 because people who know nothing about wine buy in that range assuming what they’re buying is ok.
Anyway, we fuelled bastards like Fitzpatrick by pandering to our own egos.
Crap artists sold for sums vastly above what they were worth, because people paid what galleries asked.
We paid €100 or more to see gigs in lousy venues.
We bought cars with gizmos we didn’t need.
We bought pricey furniture because we wanted to show off.
We wasted our money.
And now, it’s all over.
I, like many others, have to take a pay cut.
But I have a job.
Which makes me lucky.
Sean Fitzpatrick currently doesn’t have a job.
But he still has money. More money that you and I would have if we won the lottery.
Won it twice a week for a month.
Because that’s how unfair it all is.
That’s the way of it.
The bad guys win.
And we pay the price.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Sad Naked Greed of Ireland's Legislators

The entire world is in trouble.
And it is generally agreed, that, well, greed is what has caused the problems for us all.
We - I - have pointed the finger at bankers. And they are, without any doubt, guilty.
But here in Ireland, there is another group which is as greedy. Another group that appears to be in utter and total denial. Another group which seems to believe that it should make no sacrifice whatever in the current climate. Another group that says one thing and does another.
And that is the group of people made up of our elected representatives.

We have 166 TDs, Members of Parliament, men and women elected almost two years ago to represent us in the legislature.
They receive, on average salaries of more than €100,000 a year. Some earn considerably more having been elected a long time ago.
On top of that, they receive an allowance for actually turning up every day.
This size of this historic payment depends on how far it is they live from Dublin. More than 25k - and you can be sure hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens live considerably further away than that - and they pick up around €150. Tax free. Every day.
And incredibly, if they live closer, they receive a payment of a bit more than half that to COMPENSATE them for not living further away. Can you believe it?
They receive tax free allowances for their phones.
They can mail 21,000 items a year, free. They often use this allowance to send Christmas cards to constituents they don’t even know.
They also receive financial help to run their constituency offices - offices that exist largely as part of their re-election campaigns.
Many TDs use state money - our money - to pay members of the families to do this work.
And they receive travelling expenses.
And they receive general, unvouched expenses. That is to say, that unlike the rest of us, they do not have to provide receipts. They just claim the money. Tax free.
Some claim up to €80,000 a year - tax free (I don’t mind saying that again) and on top of salaries of €100,000 or more.
How many TDs have suggested that, as tens of thousands of people lose their jobs. as tens of thousands of others are forced to take pay cuts, as families lose their homes, as people struggle to keep their heads about water, that they, our public representatives, should look at cutting some of what they get?
Not one.
Not a single one.
We do not have one TD, one public representative who thinks that what they are getting is, in the current situation, a bit much, a tiny bit inequitable, a wee bit unfair.
We do not have one TD, socialist, Christian or otherwise, who thinks they should give up one red cent of what they get, paid for by us.
We do not have one decent person, one with a conscience, one with the tiniest bit of moral fibre which would nudge them in the way of saying: This is wrong.
They live in their own world of short days, long holidays and, compared with the rest of us, wealth.
And it is desperately, terribly sad that it is so.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bad People

Bernie Madoff is a crook
And the only difference between Bernie Madoff and many other bankers is that he got caught.
The irony is, he was caught by the dishonesty, incompetence and sheer irresponsibility of other bankers.
If the boom had gone on, he would have gone on.
Bankers have been exposed all over the world as people who cared little and still care little about anything other than themselves.
Those running companies which have gone under - losing pensioners everything, losing the only savings some poor folk had, ruining lives - left with millions. And left without a care in the world.
They've done ok. They've still got their myriad homes, yachts, cars - whatever money can buy.
They didn't lose. They rarely do.
Indeed, in Ireland we had bankers who have presided over a 95 share collapse in their companies, telling our government how to run the economy.

(That is not to say that the government couldn't do with help running the economy. A 12 year old boy doing basic mathematics could probably provide advice sounder than that which the Irish government is currently receiving.)
It is the blinding arrogance of the bankers, and I think our Irish ones in particular, which irritates so much.
Their behaviour, their incompetence, their dishonesty, their greed has seen unfortunate shareholders see the value of their stock vanish. But yet, the bosses say they are doing a good job.
They lie continuously about their bad debts. They loaned money to people who clearly were never going to be able to pay it back. The money was loaned on the basis solely, of property values rising for ever and ever, something they clearly couldn't do.
And they cling onto their jobs, paying themselves vast sums, handing themselves bonuses, presiding over what are now mythical empires, vast wealth that exists now, only in their heads.
They wait and wait for the turnaround, the bounce back - unaware that as long as they are running the banks, there will be no turnaround, no bounce back.
It is in jail they should be.
Or better still, in the stocks on O'Connell Street for us to through rotten fruit at.
Let he who is without cash throw the first tomato.
And that will be me.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sometimes Blogs Are Nothing To Write Home About

There are many good reasons for not updating a blog every day or even on a regular basis.
A close examination of some blogs is proof of the pudding.
Many bloggers blog when they have absolutely nothing to say.
Now, I could have spent the past week rattling on about how the Irish Government completely and utterly overreacted to a minute amount of dioxin in a few pigs.
(According to the European Food Safety Agency, eating the ‘contaminated’ Irish pork every day for 90 days wouldn’t pose any risk. And yet, it appears to be perfectly legal, to stand outside a public building and blow deadly smoke into the faces of people trying to enter or leave.)
But everyone was rattling on about it and, well, to be honest, I’m rattling on about it in my column in the Sunday World next Sunday and I don’t want to cheat by duplicating in one what’s on the other or on one what’s in the other.
And to be quite frank, after almost four weeks in hospital with an infection, picked up from my two and a half year old, Charlotte, I’m pretty bunched.
(It was a 48 hour bug which, for her, lasted - oh - about 48 hours. For me, it’s been five weeks so far and I’m still not the better of it.)
So apologies.
Or maybe not.
Better write nothing than just rattle on for the sake of it.
Like some do.

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