NEWTON'S OPTIC: Staff at the Department of Agriculture, the Irish Land Commission and the Central Statistics Office have scuppered plans for their new office building in Portlaoise after learning that it would be near four electric pylons, writes NEWTON EMERSON .
There is no evidence that working near pylons is dangerous, especially if your working day only runs from 10am to 3pm with two hours for lunch. But the staff have signed a petition, bless them, so evidence is neither here nor there. The entire four-storey 21,000sq m building and its 770-space car park may now never be built.
This is obviously fantastic news for hard-pressed taxpayers, not least because some of the civil servants already decentralised to Portlaoise may end up losing their jobs. So what other irrational health fears could the Government encourage to get rid of surplus public sector workers?
Low-energy lightbulbs offer a targeted approach to cost-effective bureaucrat removal. This year alone, these completely harmless devices have featured in high-profile health scares involving migraines, seizures and mercury poisoning. Installing low-energy lightbulbs directly above unwanted civil servants should frighten them away while leaving nearby colleagues largely unaffected. To drive out an entire office floor or even shut down a small agency, electromagnetic hypersensitivity might prove more useful. Sufferers of this completely non-existent condition believe that they are adversely affected by wireless computer networks. Scientific studies show that it is all in their imagination but this only makes their suffering all the more imaginative.
Ministers wishing to exploit fears of electromagnetic hypersensitivity should make a high-pitched whining noise whenever they walk through their department. Ideally, this should be somewhat louder than the high-pitched whining noise made by their staff.
Tackling Ireland's estimated 850 quangos will prove more of a challenge. Most of these organisations are based in plush city centre buildings with no prospect of new pylons nearby. However, phone masts often have much the same deterrent effect. The Government could commission 850 dummy phone masts for a modest sum and place them directly outside every quango office. It is not certain if this will work but it is quite certain that nothing else will work so there is really very little to lose. The Poolbeg incinerator offers a chance to tackle public sector employment on a much grander scale. The incinerator will emit fewer toxic particles in a year than a single backyard bonfire emits in one night.
Fortunately, this is no consolation at all to the wilfully ignorant. The incinerator will also produce electricity for distribution via pylons to mobile phone masts broadcasting wireless computer networks. This has the potential to terrify thousands of civil servants across Dublin. If nothing else, it should finally kick-start decentralisation. But with the budget deficit growing larger by the day it may be necessary to go for the nuclear option. For 50 years the Sellafield nuclear facility has repeatedly leaked, broken down and caught fire without producing any measurable health impact whatsoever.Nevertheless, it is an article of faith among Irish paranoiacs that one dropped test tube will instantly irradiate the entire east coast. With the right encouragement, surplus civil servants from Dundalk to Wexford could run screaming from their offices, never to return. Better still, those fearing imminent death might even cash in their pensions.
© 2008 The Irish Times
NEWTON'S OPTIC: Worried about the recession? Not sure where your next sundried tomato is coming from? The Irish Times presents this handy cut-out-and-keep guide to the Top 20 Middle-Class Money-Saving Tips.
1. Stop eating. Two-thirds of Irish people are overweight and two-thirds are worried about their grocery bills. Coincidence? Hardly.
2. The average house loses 10 per cent of its heat through its cavity walls. Once you have lost enough weight (see Tip 1), move into your cavity walls and cut your heating bills by 90 per cent.
3. A widescreen television consumes 50 per cent more power than an ordinary television. Using a hacksaw, carefully remove six inches from either side of the screen.
4. Even in standby mode, your wife is still draining energy. Switch her off completely by talking about work.
5. Connect the outflow pipe on your dishwasher to the hot water inlet on your washing machine. At the end of the day it's all dirt, isn't it?
6. Grow your own food at home. The mould around your bath provides as much nutrition as an entire mushroom. Serve raw and garnish with some hair from the plughole.
7. Only keep long-life milk in your holiday cottage.
8. Drink the expensive wine first, then move on to the cheap stuff once you're too plastered to notice the difference.
9. Switch your mortgage to an American bank. They might shred your paperwork before the Feds arrive.
10. Use second-hand websites like eBay and Freecycle rather than risk being spotted in Cash Converters.
11. Cut down on the cost of evenings out by shopping at Lidl. You will soon be too depressed to leave the house.
12. Always use the maximum 300 characters when sending a text message. If you do not need all 300 characters, wait until you have something else important to add.
13. Insist that keeping a chicken qualifies you for green diesel, at least for the lawnmower.
14. Only drive downhill.
15. If you have teenage children, ask them where they got their fake over-18 ID for the off-licence and get yourself a fake over-65 ID for the bus.
16. If you have 20-something children still living at home, charge them market rents, add hotel rates for meals and laundry, and take a 10 per cent cut on their drug deals.
17. It is not strictly necessary to pay for the following items: sugar, salt, ketchup, napkins, cutlery, soap and toilet paper.
18. Take a night class in DIY, car maintenance or horticulture. Even if you don't learn a thing, it will still be cheaper than sitting at home with the heating on.
19. Plant tobacco in the garden. Seriously, why don't people do this?
20. Never fill up the whole kettle for a cup of tea. Nobody actually does this, of course. Nobody has ever done it. Why would you fill up the whole kettle for a cup of tea? It would be a complete waste of time. You wouldn't even do it if electricity was free. But we'll include this tip anyway. It fills up the article.
© 2008 The Irish Times
NEWTON'S OPTIC: AS A British taxpayer, Newton Emerson is often asked: "How do public-private partnerships [PPPs] work?"
The answer is surprisingly simple. Suppose a government has strict rules on the amount it can borrow but it wants to spend more on houses, schools and hospitals.
If a private firm takes out a loan to build them instead, the government can pay it back over decades in regular instalments without officially increasing the national debt.
As a British taxpayer, I am often asked: "Isn't that just another type of government borrowing?"
The answer is yes. However, it is not strictly the type of borrowing that the government has strict rules about.
As a British taxpayer, I am often asked: "Why in God's name would the government pay a private company to take out a loan when nobody can borrow as cheaply as the government?"
The answer, as I feel I have already explained by this point in the conversation, is that there are strict rules about government borrowing, and breaking them openly might be even more expensive than a PPP.
As a British taxpayer, I am often asked: "Is that the only official excuse for this exciting policy development?"
The answer is no, of course not. There are dozens of official excuses for this exciting policy development. For example, PPPs stimulate the economy by using private firms to build houses, schools and hospitals.
As a British taxpayer, I am often asked: "Didn't the government always use private firms to build houses, schools and hospitals?"
The answer is yes, I suppose it did. But by using them to arrange the finance as well, civil servants benefit from private-sector expertise.
As a British taxpayer, I am often asked: "Doesn't the private sector actually use its expertise to run rings around civil servants?"
The answer is yes, if you insist on putting it in such a negative manner. But private firms have to negotiate the best deals for themselves to offset any risks.
As a British taxpayer, I am often asked: "What risks? Aren't PPP contracts always guaranteed by the government come hell or high water?"
The answer is that you should calm down. You sound like a communist. Private firms need cast-iron guarantees to justify the extra cost of borrowing on the open market.
As a British taxpayer, I am often asked: "Isn't that a circular argument? Also, as this borrowing takes place on the open market, don't the markets know all about it?"
The answer is no, it's really more of a triangular argument and yes, the global financial system has now noticed the UK's hidden PPP liability and is starting to question our national accounts and downgrade our international credit rating. But it will take years to rewrite the auditing rules and a week is a long time in politics.
As a British taxpayer, I am often asked: "So this is your government's brilliant idea for public service delivery? Turning an obscure ideological experiment into the biggest accounting trick since Enron, dumping all the needless extra costs and risks on to future taxpayers and wrecking the public finances for decades, just to create the passing illusion of fiscal responsibility?
"What other country would be stupid enough to entertain such madness, especially one still running a budget surplus?"
But that would be a North Circular argument.
© 2008 The Irish Times
NEWTON'S OPTIC: Newton Emerson writes a guide on what to do in a state of emergency
National Movement Emergencies
The National Movement Emergencies booklet has now been distributed to every Fianna Fáil home in the country. Newton Emerson reviews its life-saving advice.
While rarely fatal, the rising waters of a Flood tribunal can still cause significant property damage.
What to do
- Look for high ground
- Hold your breath
- Cling to anything that floats
Towards the end of its useful life a Taoiseach can leak and contaminate people near by.
What to do
- Check which way the wind is blowing
- Stand as far back from the Taoiseach as possible
- Do not swallow anything
Every now and then the climate can change.
What to do
- Change right along with it
In an environmental disaster, something which was once Green and pleasant can suddenly turn toxic.
What to do
- Phone the Chinese ambassador
- Apologise profusely
- Incinerate the affected area
Tectonic shifts in Europe may open up hidden fault-lines across Ireland.
What to do
- Run into the countryside
- Hold on to a farmer very tightly
- Cry "Yes! Yes! Yes!" until the earth moves
This can happen by itself or be caused by other disasters, except a "No" vote on EU reform, which will only cause economic collapse in Africa.
What to do
- Award yourself a 10 per cent pay increase
- Pay everyone else to produce stupid booklets
Dublin 4 Eruption
Any serious attempt to address crime, welfare dependency or the size of the public sector will cause Dublin 4 to blow its top. Thousands could be injured by flying lava-lamps.
What to do
- Do not address crime
- Do not address welfare dependency
- Do not address the size of the public sector
(See Dublin 4 Eruption)
By far the most indiscriminate of all the rhyming catastrophes, with the possible exception of a carte blanche avalanche. An endemic pandemic is usually caused by an influenza epidemic.
What to do
- Contact a medic
- Take your prescription to a pharmacist
- Take the pharmacist to court if he does not cut his margins by half
Man-made black hole in Switzerland sucks in the entire planet.
What to do
- Console yourself that England goes first.
Your assistance is required to protect the public against extremists.
What to do
- Remain vigilant
- Report all men with beards
- Take measures if you notice anything suspicious
Extremists may require your assistance to protect the public.
What to do
- Remain calm
- Ignore all men with beards
- Take no notice of any suspicious measures
Although technically dead, Fine Gael can still surround the slow-moving and attempt to eat their brains.
What to do
- Make it clear that you have no brains
Signs of impending anarchy include newspaper photographs of the Defence Minister brandishing a gun.
What to do
- Lock the armoury
- Give the Minister some other nonsense to do instead
- He can't possibly embarrass you now, can he?
© 2008 The Irish Times
NEWTON'S OPTIC: HOW CAN the people of Zimbabwe drive their president from office? Newton Emerson imagines one obvious solution.
Mr Justice Mbargo: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I hereby open day 3,961 of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Electoral Matters and Problems and call President Robert Mugabe to the stand.
President Robert Mugabe: This is an outrage! I have a country to run! I'm 94 you know! The entire British government is homosexual!
Mbargo : Mr President, I must ask you to withdraw all those remarks except the last one. Now, if we may return to the matter of your claim that you would "paint the homeland red with blood". What exactly did you mean by that?
Mugabe: I wanted to do some redecorating. Is that a crime? My exact words were that I wanted to paint the house but it would be bloody hard work. I was deliberately misquoted by that troublemaker Vincent Black on Radio Harare.
Mbargo: Ah yes, the famous journalist Mr Black. Nobody has seen him now for quite some time. Why is that, Mr President?
Mugabe: Because nobody watches him on TV Bulawayo.
Mbargo: Fair enough. However, while planning to "redecorate" you received a cheque from Matabele Motors for Zim$45,869 million. Is it a coincidence that on the day this cheque arrived it was worth exactly €1?
Mugabe: It might as well have been a coincidence. By the time my secretary got to the bank it was only worth €0.65.
Mbargo: You also received a blank cheque from Zambezi Canoes. What was that used for?
Mugabe: A dug-out.
Mbargo: Let us see if your secretary has a different recollection. Call Ms Truly Ndeep to the stand.
Truly Ndeep: I don't remember! It was 15 years ago! Do you know how many cheques were coming in? Why is this still happening to me? (Ms Ndeep breaks down and is carried from the court.)
Mbargo: That was most unfortunate and entertaining. But Mr President, it does not explain how you could bank a cheque to redecorate your house when you had no bank account and no house.
Mugabe: Why would I have a bank account in Zimbabwe? The exchange rate is a joke. I just cashed cheques and kept cash in my house.
Mbargo: But I thought it was not your house.
Mugabe: Technically, no, it still belonged to a farmer who let me live there for free. This was all perfectly normal at the time. People were not always as obsessed with property ownership as they are today.
Mbargo: But you later obtained the deeds?
Mugabe: I refuse to say anything more about my deeds. This tribunal operates under British law and may well be homosexual. You should be ashamed of harassing an ordinary man with no savings or assets who is also a hero of the liberation struggle. I have done nothing to disgrace any office with a safe which I have held.
Mbargo: Mr President, your speech has moved us all to tears...
The tribunal continues.
© 2008 The Irish Time
Newton's Optic Having worked assiduously on the figures, Newton Emerson finds that the Taoiseach is underpaid
It might seem strange that the Taoiseach is paid more than the US president, but the explanation is surprisingly simple.
George Bush governs a country of 300 million people. Bertie Ahern governs a country of four million people. If Mr Bush sets the benchmark for a world leader's public sector pay, then Mr Ahern would need to govern 333 million people to justify earning 11 per cent more than the occupant of the White House.
But this fails to account for the many people outside the State yet within Mr Ahern's control. Under present EU voting arrangements, Ireland bears 1/27th of the responsibility for governing 494 million people.
This effectively adds 18 million to Mr Ahern's total, bringing it up to 22 million. Mr Ahern has also held the rotating presidency of the EU for six months out of his 10 years in office, making him president-on-average of 1/20th of its population over the entire period. This adds a further 25 million to his total, bringing it up to 47 million.
The Irish diaspora beyond Europe has been conservatively estimated at 80 million people. In 1998, under Mr Ahern's leadership, Article 2 of the Irish Constitution was amended to read: "Furthermore, the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage." These 80 million people cannot expect to be cherished by the Irish nation unless the leader of the Irish nation receives commensurate compensation.
This brings Mr Ahern's total up to 127 million.
Finally, Mr Ahern has just announced that Ireland's main party of Government will enter politics in the United Kingdom, adding 60 million people to his burden of office. This brings his total up to 187 million.
The final figure still falls some way short of the population of the United States. However, Dr Pat Answer of Dublin Sunday Business College believes that a direct comparison is unfair.
"Mr Bush is only head of the executive branch of government," Dr Answer said.
"Mr Ahern is head of both the executive branch and the legislative branch, so you should multiply his 187 million by two for a standardised measure, giving a total of 374 million equivalent Americans governed. From this, it would appear that Mr Ahern is actually somewhat underpaid."
While numbers alone can easily explain the Taoiseach's salary increase, plus any subsequent increase, mere numbers can also mask the powerful moral argument behind those increases.
"The best reason to pay our leaders well is to discourage corruption," Dr Answer explained.
"This principle of enlightened self-interest is applied by political elites across the world, just as it applies in your own daily life.
"For example, suppose you work in a shop. You tell your boss that you want a raise or you'll just take the money out of the till.
"Obviously, your boss will agree at once. Surely our leaders deserve nothing less?"
Already there are signs that the Taoiseach's new salary has improved standards in public office.
Reports from Drumcondra indicate that over the past week nobody has redecorated a house they don't own with money that nobody gave them.
"That's all the convincing I need," Dr Answer said.
"A Bertie in hand is worth two times a Bush."
© 2007 The Irish Times
Newton's Optic: In lieu of his usual column, Newton Emerson offers his latest piece from Burma's Sindochina Independent . This item is not available online
It is now clear that domestic reactionaries and their allies in the foreign press have failed in their bid to depose Gen Bankh Mi Chek, our Glorious Leader.
But this does not mean that the danger has passed. Frustrated opponents of the regime remain in positions of influence and they are not about to admit defeat and accept the will of the people. This conspiracy of so-called "intellectuals" tried to bring down our Glorious Leader purely to flatter their own self-importance.
For months they deliberately and maliciously spread all manner of treasonous questions about our Beloved General's tastefully redecorated Rangoon pagoda. Yet nobody is ever allowed to ask questions about this shadowy group of manipulative agitators, except here in the pages of the Sindochina Independent and on government radio and television.
Have these traitors no respect for our Beloved General's staggering achievements? Do they not care that he seized power after a legitimate election? Do they not realise that he brought peace with the rebel tribes in the North? Do they want orange-clad religious zealots marching in the streets?
Surely this matters more than who paid for our Beloved General's diamond-encrusted diving board? Sophisticated pragmatists understand that doubts over the diamond-encrusted diving board could cause an uprising in the North and perhaps even a coup by a rebel tribal leader, making it our patriotic duty to ask no further questions about this or any other matter.
Meanwhile, it is time to examine more closely those arrogant and decadent popinjays who naively insist that even a great leader is not entirely above the law.
Who is Vin Tan Tool of the Mandalay Times to judge our Beloved General, for example? He may well be an internationally- published author and historian with two decades of experience reporting political graft. But he also wears glasses. Clearly, he is a bourgeois class enemy!
Then there is Vin San Bwown, who is only bitter because his dull radio programme was replaced by the hugely popular Peasant's Hour.
They are supported by many foreign subversives on the world wide inter-Mail, which is well-known to be a weapon of our former colonial oppressors.
Finally, we have the so-called "investigative journalist" Fan Kong Lee of the seditious Centre for Provisional Inquiry. Mr Fan was the first person to mention our Beloved General's diamond-encrusted diving board, except for all the other people who mentioned it but are more difficult to discredit.
However, it is a known fact that Mr Fan also received a diamond-encrusted diving board from a mysterious benefactor! Furthermore, this benefactor was an American industrialist!
It may be true that Mr Fan declared the gift and was later seen falling off it. But here at The Sindochina Independent we firmly believe that two diamond-encrusted diving boards do not make a right, or two wrongs, or anything else which might imply that our Beloved General is no better than Fan Kong Lee.
We simply believe, as do all the plain people of Myanmar, that one diamond-encrusted diving board and a fairly competent economic record make a leader above all criticism. What could be more respectful of democracy than that?
• Newton Emerson was appointed to the Burmese senate five minutes ago