Sunday, September 15, 2013

Distance from the Event - Go See It!

Disclaimer: Before I start this I must admit that I know little about art or theatre, but I saw an intriguing play last Monday night and I wanted to share it, and I want everyone to go see it so I can talk about it with them. Also, full disclosure, a good friend of mine is the producer.

Distance from the Event is the new play by Collapsing Horse Theatre Company, one of the hottest new theatre groups in Ireland. Having seen (and absolutely loved) their Monster/Clock show earlier in the year, I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of Distance from the Event.

“It’s very, very different”  was all the information I got about the play before I saw it.

Oh boy is it different. Set in a future world where human colonies are sent around the galaxy, the play centres around the exploits of two detectives who are trying to foil a paper smuggler who seems to be always one step ahead of them. At the same time a mystery starts to unfold about an entire human colony that has gone missing in distant space. Intriguing. I don’t want to go too far into the plot, but it is intricate and it leaves quite a lot up to the audience to interpret.

What struck me most though about this play was the astounding ambition. Here is a group of young writers, directors, actors and producers who aren’t afraid to think differently and take massive risks in the pursuit of delighting us.  While I was watching it I just felt that this is what art should be all about. In an age of auto-tune and focus-group designed productions, here was a play that dared to try something totally different. The play probably isn’t for everybody but I absolutely loved it, and even if you don’t like it I promise it will leave you thinking and more hopeful about the future of Irish theatre.

Basically, go see it, and let me know what you think. It’s on as part of the Fringe Festival until 21st September in the Samuel Beckett Theatre in Trinity:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The See-Saw Madness of International Football Management

Arrivederci Trapattoni

Trapattoni is gone. I thought he was a great Irish manager, but in the end there was too much against him and it’s probably time for a change. 

And so now it all starts again. The see-saw madness of international football management. Whenever one manager finishes his time with us, we focus on some of the core features of that manager and demand the opposite in his replacement.

A Short History of the See-Saw in Action: 

Jack Charlton played route one football. While he had some big successes, we eventually became tired of that. Time for something new.

Mick McCarthy comes in promising a new brand of attractive passing football (culminating in botched attempts to play with wing-backs, which was popular at the time). McCarthy was obviously successful in getting us to a World Cup, but ultimately when McCarthy’s time came to an end, we decided we wanted somebody who had more managerial experience.

In comes Brian Kerr, with lots of experience managing teams successfully in the underage tournaments for Ireland. When he didn’t work out so well, we all agreed that his lack of experience playing international football was a problem.

"Wait!" we said "who has played lots of international football?"

Steve Staunton! He was the highest capped Irish player of all time. I don’t need to dwell on how bad that was. Why? Because Staunton had absolutely no managerial experience.

"So….who has the most managerial experience in the world?"

Bongiorno Giovanni Trapattoni.

So now, after 5 years of Trapattoni, you can bet your life that it will not be another foreign manager. We might be able to stomach a Scottish or even an English manager. But good luck to the FAI if they try to appoint another manager for whom English is not their first language.

This swinging back and forth to extremes isn’t helpful when you’re trying to make important decisions about which manager to choose, especially when drawing from such a small pool of potential applicants.

It seems like Martin O’Neill would tick all the boxes that we are looking for, but if he’s not willing to do it, we should be open to the whole world of football managers, and get the best man for the job, regardless of how we feel about what has gone before.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Imaginary World of Polls

In the build up to the American Presidential election, we're hearing a lot about the impact that the debates are having in the polls, how in day to day polls, the lead that Obama has is increasing slightly or decreasing slightly, with pollsters giving the reasoning behind this based on the performance (or lack of) in the Presidential debates, or due to Romney's behind the scenes comments.

The Irish Times reported yesterday that "46% of likely voters said they would vote for Obama in the election, while 45% said they would back Romney. Yesterday, Obama was ahead by three percentage points at 46% compared to 43% for Romney."

Interesting stats right? Might we infer that Romney's strong performance in the first debate and solid performance in the second debate has seen him make up ground? Should Obama be worried?

Unfortunately for the pollsters, their little polls have a problem. They aren't accurate to infer anything of the sort.
"The precision of Reuters/Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.0 percentage points for likely voters."
So any gain that we have seen from Romney could be completely (or mostly) due to the fact that the polls have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. Of course that's not as interesting as declaring a tightening in the race, or assigning causation between what's happening in the race and what's happening in your polls.

While the Irish Times note the margin of error at the bottom of the article, the rest of the piece reports the figures as if they are accurate, as if the margin of error doesn't exist. Our media need to get more savvy and honest in reporting these statistics and make it clear to readers that nothing at all can be inferred from these numbers.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"I'll give you a discount if you pay in cash..."

"I'll give you a discount if you pay in cash"

A tempting offer no doubt. Save money on some work you're getting done.

But what's going on here is that somebody is saying to you:

"Hey, you know that agreement that we have as a society where we all pay a set proportion of our income to fund the services that we all use? Yeah well I'm not going to pay all of the amount that I owe. But listen I'll split the difference with you by giving you some money off my charge. That way we both win." 

But everybody else loses. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Higgs Boson and the Beauteous Forms of Things

Yesterday evening a group of scientists discovered what they believe was the Higgs Boson fieldIt explains why all matter has mass. Quite breathtaking that humans have been able to discover this and a very exciting development.

As it happens, I was reading this old poem the other day from William Wordsworth. I don't know many poems but this is one of my favourites. I think what he says is worth remembering at the moment when we're so focused on the amazing intricacies that we've been able to discover about the nature of the world. Perhaps sometimes we need to close our books and enjoy the world without having to understand how it all works?

The Tables Turned by William Wordsworth

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you'll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun above the mountain's head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There's more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

Monday, July 2, 2012

An open letter of thanks to the taxpayers of Ireland.

"It's all pissed against a wall. P.S the wall is now owned by NAMA."  
(A comment by 'MrMatisse' I found on in relation to how tax money is spent in Ireland. )
Dear taxpayers,

I've been feeling a bit bad for you guys lately. You see you've been paying tax for many years, and it has been spent in a variety of ways. Some would posit that it has been wasted, while some feel it was spent wisely. I'm not writing to get into a conversation about the wisdom of how your money was spent, or where your money was spent. That's a debate for another day.

No, the reason I feel bad is that you've been paying all of this money, and nobody has said 'thank you'. Nobody has even told you where your money is going. It just disappears directly from your paypacket every week, without a whisper. I posted recently about the lack of clarity around the TV Licence, but the lack of recognition of general taxpayers is at a whole other level.

When was the last time you got a note recognising your contribution to the country we live in? When has anybody ever given you an indication of where your money is being spent and what difference it is making to our country? Do you have any idea what impact your contribution makes?

The idea of taxation has somehow been construed as a burden. The very word, 'taxing', has negative connotations. The Beatles have a song about it, painting the taxman as the bogey man.

 "Don't ask me what I want it for, if you don't want to pay some more"

How did it come to this? A lot of it is probably due to the origins of taxation, as a payment imposed by a Lord on peasants. But in a democracy it shouldn't be this way.

Imagine a group of people coming together for the first time. Their land is barren and they have no basic services. They have two options: (1) Every man for themselves, let's try to build stuff individually and see how far we get. (2) Let us all pool our resources according to our ability to pay, and build shared roads, services and provide a range of supports for members of our society.

We're basically living in option number 2, but what should be a voluntary decision to contribute our fair share to the society around us (to contribute towards the roads that we use, towards the education of our neighbours and towards a safer society) has become a burden on our pay packet.

Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy and Senator Catherine Noone have raised this issue, and information like the below has been compiled to give a sense of where the money is going. But how ridiculous is it that you have to come along to a blog like this to get a sense of where your money is being spent?

So, while everybody else is waiting around, I thought I'd take this opportunity to offer my thanks. Hopefully, in time, we'll develop transparent and open systems. I believe that as the custodians of our money, the government have a responsibility to tell us what they are doing with it, and even more importantly, the government has the opportunity to engage taxpayers in how they spend the money. 

Maybe soon we will see where our money is going, we will see the impact that it is making, and won't feel so bad about that mysterious number in our paycheck. Here's hoping. 

Is mise le meas,

Darren Ryan

Appendix - After I posted this blog, a friend asked me how our spending compares to other countries. Here's a sample breakdown of expenditure from Canada for 2010 - 2011, breaking up every dollar that they get in. It's a nice way of displaying the info.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Hello, TV Licence Inspector

This little item came through the postbox the other day. It's time to renew our TV Licence.

Every year in our humble abode we pay €160 to own a television. Why do we do this? If you listened to the adds on the radio or TV you'd swear the reason we pay the TV licence is because of the fear of the TV Licence inspector; the fear of fines. You could even go to court for non-payment of this. TV Licence inspectors visit 18,000 homes and premises each month. Be afraid.

"Don't answer doorbell, it could be the TV licence inspector" 
- an actual quote I've heard from friends of mine.

What is missing from this equation is the why. Why do we pay this? On the nice letter from our friends in TV Licence HQ, there is not a word about why we pay it. Not a word of thanks. No mention of the difference that our contribution has made to the development of public television in Ireland. No indication of what that money was spent on, what it achieved and how Ireland is a better place because of the fee. 

Personally I believe that a strong public service broadcaster is great public good. If we relied on something like TV3 to provide us with our broadcasting, it would be bad for society. Tallafornia. Lawless Ireland. Ireland’s Bogus Beggars. We need to be spared from that rubbish. 

So I pay my TV licence because I'm happy to make that contribution. 

But why don't they ever talk about the reason for our contribution? Why don't they run broadcasts which say: "Pay your TV licence, as this money allows us to run excellent television services that are free to all, and make Ireland a better place." 

Perhaps they fear that they wouldn't be able to stand over such claims? And if they can't then continuing to fear people into paying for something that they don't value is just pointless.