They know whereof they speak

For over a year the most incisive comments on the whole Brexit fiasco have come from the wonderful Irish Border Twitter account. The anonymous writer (I am the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. I’m seamless & frictionless already, thanks. Bit scared of physical infrastructure) provides a running commentary on the absurd pronouncements of ‘experts’ and politicians in London, Brussels and elsewhere as they try to find yet another solution to the backstop conundrum. (The answer is, there isn’t one.)

Another person who understands all this is the comedian and TV presenter Patrick Kielty, who comes from Co Down. His analysis of the absurd situation was published in a terrific article in Tuesday’s Guardian, with his credentials summed up in a chilling three sentences at the foot of the page: “His father was killed by loyalist paramilitaries in 1988. Those responsible were later released under the Good Friday agreement. His documentary, My Dad, The Peace Deal and Me, exploring the legacy of the Belfast agreement won a 2018 Grierson award.”

Keilty writes eloquently how for the DUP (“the political wing of the Old Testament”) Brexit is about “proving they’re biologically British, not adopted. It means the party will always order what Johnson and Farage are having but, unlike them, actually eat it.” However, as he adds, the irony is that their hardline position could mean that they end up by jumping off the cliff, thereby causing a hard border, a border poll in Northern Ireland and the perfect economic storm where it might lose that vote.

It’s worth reading Kielty’s article in full, but here is a substantial quote:

As the prime minister Maybots her way through the charade of alternative arrangements, there’s only one thing you need to know – there are no workable alternative arrangements. If there were, you’d have heard of them by now. The details of this technological masterpiece would already be a double-page spread in the Daily Mail with Rees-Mogg mocked up as Alan Turing under the headline “Enigma cracks Enigma – spirit of Bletchley takes back control”. If an alternative arrangement that worked actually existed (or was likely to exist in the next couple of years) Brexiteers would have already accepted the backstop, knowing they could easily replace it with their idea during the transition. The fact that they won’t bet on themselves tells you all you need to know about what they have in the locker.
… All of this could have been avoided if the majority in Northern Ireland had been listened to during the referendum campaign. But as Nigel Farage and Johnson trumpeted their migrant-free magic kingdom, we were Kevin in Home Alone – only remembered at the baggage carousel after the plane had landed. It’s why the minutes of the first meeting between Michel Barnier and David Davis will never be released. “So, what do you propose for your land border with Europe?” Polite laughter. “We have a land border with you guys?”
Even at this late stage, it remains the unanswered question – how can you take back control of your borders when the only land border you have can’t be put back in place? The fact that more than 70% of people in Northern Ireland voted to give up control of that border via the Good Friday agreement so they could live in peace remains totally ignored.
When Conservatives say they care about Northern Ireland, they actually just mean the freehold. Like a stable block with planning permission, they know the extra square footage adds value but they’ve no intention of actually developing it. Just as long as they can see it from the big house, they’re happy. As for those who live in the stable? If Brexit has proved anything, it’s that many Tories don’t give a stuff about the people of Northern Ireland – not even the unionists. If they did, they wouldn’t dream of a hard Brexit because it only guarantees one thing – a border poll.
That’s one that will be decided not by Sinn Féin or DUP votes, but by the moderates in the middle – nationalists who once felt Irish enough post-Good Friday agreement and those pro-European unionists applying for Irish passports. The inevitable economic downturn and border circus of a hard Brexit might just be enough to swing those floating voters and Northern Ireland out of the union. So, why would any member of the Conservative and Unionist party take that risk? Because no matter what they say in public, they’ve never honestly believed Belfast is just like Finchley.

As a Brit who has lived in Dublin for twenty years, I completely agree. Most people in Britain have some vague notion that Ireland is that other island on the left hand side of the weather map – the bit where the temperature symbols only appear in the top corner. But they can’t tell the difference between the accents of Eamonn Holmes and Louis Walsh and if they work in a call centre or mail order firm they inevitably say “Is that in Southern Ireland?” when I give them my address.

These are the kind of people who couldn’t give a toss about the unintended consequences of the Brexit decision. They just want the politicians to “get on with it”. They voted to “take back control” and the fact that taking back control could well result in the break up of the whole United Kingdom is a consequence that they just haven’t thought through.

But we are not allowed to disagree with them because they represent “the democratic will of the people”. Never mind that the slim majority in 2016 was brought about by a perfect shit storm: lies and chicanery from the Leave camp and ineffective support from the Labour leadership for the Remain campaign. This has led to the terrible position of there being a small bunch of  Labour MPs who voted Remain themselves but, because a majority in their seats voted Leave, will probably support a Tory Brexit. It will be a sad, sad day if they are the ones who – along with the DUP – finally carry Theresa May’s disastrous deal over the line.

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Quids in for Dublin’s Facebookers

A recent Irish Times report by Mark Paul about salary levels at Facebook’s Dublin-based operation gives us a salutary lesson in how modern capitalism works. In 2017, Facebook employees received an average salary of €154,000, more than three times the average Irish industrial wage which stood that year at €46,000. The report showed how this was was made up:

The financial statements show that the 1,008 staff directly employed last year by Facebook Ireland each received an average salary of €95,766. Add in share payments, bonuses and so on, and the average pay packet of a Facebook Ireland staff member in 2017 was €154,000, up from about €140,000 in 2016 and €123,000 the year before.

Comparisons with one of the best-paid “indigenous” Irish companies, the electricity suppliers ESB, were almost as staggering. Its 7,790 staff last year were paid an average of only €77,000 in 2017, with another €7,000 or so pension payments. The AIB – one of the country’s pillar banks and the traditional provider of one of those much-coveted “jobs for life”, a post in banking – can’t even match that. Its 10,100 staff were paid average salaries of about €56,000 in 2017, almost €100,000 less than Facebook.

And, as if to rub salt into the wound, Facebook recently confirmed that it plans to move onto the plush D4 site in Ballsbridge, just vacated by AIB, where it will have space to expand its workforce up to 7,000.

Facebook might well be the market leader, but there is no doubt that the other internet giants with a presence in Dublin are also paying these high salaries to their core staff. No wonder, as Mark Paul says, that the rocketing cost of living in Dublin is creating pressure points all across those parts of the economy that don’t face Silicon Valley. Currently, there is building work going on all over the Irish capital, but how many of these homes are being constructed for hard-working families on normal wages has yet to be ascertained.

Whose Christmas is ruined?

News that two completely innocent people have had their lives ruined by the UK’s tabloid press will come as no surprise to those who follow its vicissitudes.

Paul Gait and Elaine Kirk have said today that they are deeply distressed by what they called their “disgusting” treatment in sections of the media, after they were detained in relation to the drone flights that brought Gatwick airport to a standstill last week.

They were released after 36 hours of questioning. Their friends expressed dismay that the couple had been arrested in the first place. Within a few hours of being arrested, their pictures appeared on a number of Sunday newspaper front pages. The Mail on Sunday went furthest with its headline “Are these the morons who ruined Christmas?” Meanwhile television presenter and ex-newspaper editor Piers Morgan had to apologise after describing the pair in a tweet as clowns – a description which he later deleted.

It’s very reminiscent of a case from 2010 when Bristol landlord Christopher Jefferies was arrested on suspicion of murdering his tenant, Joanna Yeates. His character was thoroughly maligned by the press, although he was completely innocent of the crime. Jefferies ended up winning substantial damages. Let’s hope Gait and Kirk also get their day in court.

Medial caps get camelised

Pic: The Wandering Nerd

A question on last week’s University Challenge made me think for a second. I don’t have an exact transcript but it went something along the lines of “In typography, what is the term for an uppercase letter in the middle of lowercase letters, particularly in proprietary or commercial names?” I was casting about in my own mind for the definition when in buzzed one of the contestants with the answer “camel font”. Jeremy Paxman agreed that this was good enough, but supplied the words which must have been written on his card, “camel case”.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this is the correct typographical definition. The one I was mentally searching for (and I confess that I had to find it after the show by going to the Wikipedia page on camel case) was in fact “medial caps”. These have been around for decades (think CinemaScope, AstroTurf, InterCity) but became much more common in the 1980s (think WordPerfect, PageMaker and, later, iPod and its ilk). Camelcase  is a definition of the same practice, but comes from computer programming rather than typography.

Writing about this, however, gives me a great opportunity to use the illustration above which I found on the Wandering Nerd blog when I Googled “WordPerfect”. This shows the little crib sheet supplied by the manufacturer which you were supposed to place above the function keys on your keyboard to remind you of the shortcuts needed for various operations: F6 for Bold, F8 for Underline, etc. I wrote the whole of my book Editing Design and Book Production for Small Publishers in WordPerfect. By the time it was published in 1993 it was already going out of date, with the arrival of DeskTop Publishing (more medial caps). But that’s another story.

By the way, Emmanuel College Cambridge beat St Peter’s Oxford in the University Challenge match. I think they may go far in this year’s series.

We’re all on WhatsApp now

News that the European team’s victory in the Ryder Cup was bolstered in part by their bonding in a WhatsApp group has resulted in another slew of publicity for everyone’s favourite messaging app. Even an old-fashioned blogger with an aversion to Facebook like me finds it a great tool. (I know that it is now owned by Facebook but I take all the reassurances that the social media behemoth can’t access its data at their word.)

What is even funnier is the news that a bunch of Scottish Conservatives opposed to the blatant leadership manouvering of professional buffoon and erstwhile UK Foreign Secretary are using the codename Operation Arse “so that we’d be clear who we were talking about.” Let’s hope that they have a WhatsApp group of the same name.

Preparing the Phoenix

My daily trip to the Phoenix Park has become very complicated. A huge central area has been cordoned off to enable the construction of a venue big enough to hold the expected 500,000 people who will attend a Mass to be celebrated by the Pope. This is taking place on Sunday 26 August.

The result of all this activity is that I have had to move my dog-walking start point from the Papal Cross car park to the one on Glen Road. This happens to be the area where most of the females and this year’s fawns from the park’s fallow deer herd hang out. This part of the Fifteen Acres is where the deers would normally be at this time of the year, but they are confined to the eastern part of the space by the temporary fence.

My enforced move has meant that I am much closer to the dozens of people who turn up every day to feed the deer, something that is actually prohibited by the park authorities. Every day I see several bunches of deer, each surrounded by tourists proffering food – mainly carrots and apples. This activity is bad enough (according to the Wild Deer Association of Ireland, even carrots and apples are not good food for deer) but then some of the feeders make things worse by leaving their litter behind.

The other day, I saw one hind with something shiny in its mouth. It was too far away for me to get a photograph, and it dropped the object as I got closer. But this is what I found when I got to the point at which it had been grazing:

There was a major outcry about what we are doing to our habitat when the Blue Planet TV programme recently broadcast the effect of plastic pollution on the species with whom we share our earth. And yet people still leave their rubbish behind in a field where wild animals graze.

Looking around the interwebnet for material on deer feeding in the Phoenix Park I came across some incredible examples of general idiocy. Here is a man feeding a buck with some sort of biscuit:

And here is ‘Dublin-based model’ Brittany Mason (whoever she is) delighting her 77,000 Instagram followers with her cute picture. She apparently ‘made friends with Bambi today’, carefully remembering to add her sponsor’s hashtag to the post.

I took these examples from a very good piece posted in 2016 on the Dublin Inquirer site, and there are many more horrifying pictures there.

One of the reasons why the trend has grown is because tourist guides and social media are encourgaing the practice. Here are a couple of examples I turned up:

Some proper research needs to be done on the effects of this rapid increase in feeding. According to a recent Mooney Goes Wild radio programme, where one Spanish student was found to be giving the deer popcorn, Laura Griffin from UCD is looking at the subject. I hope that this will be published soon, and perhaps then the OPW will take a much more active stance on prevention.

In the meantime, maybe people will realise that the deer are wild and really shouldn’t be approached. Particularly during the annual rut, which will start in a few weeks time. Here is a piece which appeared in the Irish Sun, written in the usual sniggery language we have grown to expect.

Smart timing for Rolex ad

While following the Open golf online on Sunday afternoon, I noticed this clever ad from Rolex, where the displayed watch is actually telling the correct time.

I usually find online ads a bit of a nuisance  — on my older computer, a page will often freeze as a result of a “slow script”, and it’s nearly always caused by an over-complicated code-heavy ad — but sometimes you have to applaud the concept and execution. Very simple, very well put together.