Sunday, October 24, 2010

Crossing the Floor

In most modern parliaments there are examples of members crossing the floor to join a rival party on some point of principle. In Ireland, due to strict party discipline, this is a rare occurance. In fact apart from the political wanderings of Conor Cruise O'Brien and Michael O'Leary bailing from Labour to Fine Gael, I can't think of any other changes that didn't involve whole parties splitting, forming or merging.

So it was with some shock that I read some of Chris Andrews' tweets from last night
  • FG are not getting the traction in the polls because people see little difference between FF and FG. A merger makes sense to me
  • If people were serious it shouldn't take long. I believe there is as much difference within FF as there is between FF and FG
  • It's all pretty much speculation because it's unlikely to happen. Maybe after next election is would be considered.It's a big leap
Here is an elected FF politician finally admitting something that we have all known for a long time - that there is no fundamental difference between the two centre-right, Civil War parties. Sure, the personnel in FG might be a bit more straight edged and FF a bit more rough around the edges, but from a policy and ethos point of view they're not that far apart. Of course Chris, as a Dublin South East TD, is facing a tough battle to retain his seat whenever the next election comes around. As I posted over a year ago DSE is going to be tough for the government parties. Based on the most recent poll with FF on 18% nationally, they must be somewhere near 10% and transfer toxic in DSE. At the moment I'm going to stick with my prediction of 2Lab, 1FG and 1FF but that is now extremely shaky - could be a second FG.

If Chris does cross the floor it will make for an interesting FG selection convention. With Lucinda Creighton as a sitting deputy, Eoghan Murphy pushing hard with seemingly endless resources behind him and the specter of Michael McDowell's return to electoral politics looming over them, this four way battle would put the Labour DSE in-fighting of earlier in the year in the ha'penny place. I'm sure Phoenix magazine would have a field day.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

UPC versus the Music Industry

While I'm no legal eagle, I have dipped in and out of Justice Charleton's ruling in the UPC vs the music industry case. A lot of it went way over my head in terms of references to specific laws, EU directives and the like. However, from reading his description of various technical matters about which I know a fair bit, I think a lot of those went way over the Judge's head.

The story of Willie Kavangh and his visit to that "well-known site for facilitating music piracy called ‘The Pirate Bay’" is quite funny. He recalled looking for the Dark Knight. I wonder if he tried looking for any Linux ISOs or other legitimate material on the site? While TPB isn't necessarily always in the right, they provide a valuable service in hosting stable, reliable trackers for any material. The Aslan story, which has already been shown to be rubbish, is treated like gospel. In all honesty, does Christy Dignam really think that 28,000 people want to steal his badly written tunes?

The round the clock nature of the internet obviously hasn't hit the Justice Charelton's radar either when he states "another careful international survey indicated that between 49% and 83% of all internet traffic, with a night time peak of 95%, is accounted for by peer-to-peer communications." Pity that legal judgement don't have references like academic papers require so we could see exactly who carried out this "careful" study and on behalf of what vested interest. Of course the experts from DtecNet could never be considered vested interests since they have absolutely no relationship to RIAA and IFPI. However it is worth remembering that these would be the same experts who tried to confuse a court in Australia on the use of bit-torrent by targeting a single ISP, the one they happened to be in court against.

At least in point 30 of the judgement, the court did recognize the legitimacy of P2P as a means of content distribution. It also noted in point 32 that any attempt to impose a technological block on P2P will be pointless as users and developers will quickly find workarounds. However, by point 134 this point has been forgotten where a 20 minute delay in coming up with a work around was considered worthwhile. I don't get the Aran Islands analogy, but if he thinks having to phone the operator for find torrents is going to slow people down, when the operator is Google, then he may just have missed the point.

This judgment is the right decision for all the wrong reasons. We should have strong protection of network operators against the actions of purchasers of their service. If I buy a knife in Arnotts and then proceed to stab someone with it, does Alan Dukes (now kind of running Arnotts) get a 20 year jail term? We also need due process and the presumption of innocence. For one corporate entity to be judge, jury and executioner is not acceptable. If EMI or whoever suspect me of filesharing, then go to court, get a warrant and then talk to my solicitor. To be able to disconnect me from the internet on their say alone is not acceptable.

The biggest fear is that on the back of this judgement, emergency legislation will be pushed through the Dáil to close the loophole. Perhaps the easiest solution is for EMI to set themselves up as a religion and then declare P2P to be abhorent in the eyes of their god. Dermot Ahern could then sleep easy knowing that he doesn't need to come up with yet more bad legislation.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Political tweetup

After Brian Cowen's "hoarse" performance perhaps it was proven that politics and alcohol shouldn't mix. However, tonight we're going to have another go by having a tweetup* with a political slant in the Market Bar from about 8pm. Kudos to Johnny Fallon and Jennifer Kavanagh for sorting it out. I'll report back over the weekend on how "congested" we all get.

* For those who are wondering, a tweetup is where people who know each other from (The) Twitter meet up in real life and have awkward interactions as people you previously flamed unmercifully now turn out to be normal humans.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Metro North

Over the weekend just gone, Eamon Gilmore was interviewed on Marian Finucane's show on RTE radio. By all accounts it was quite a good interview but one item which he mentioned was possibly postponing the building of Metro North. Following on from a brief discussion of MN last week on Twitter with various people I feel the need to put my views on MN on paper.

Firstly, it is not just a link to Dublin Airport. MN is the key north-south spine of the integrated transport system planned for Dublin since the DRRTS report written in the mid 70s. In its current form it joins the city centre with the Interconnector, both Luas lines, and the Maynooth (and Navan whenever it gets re-built) line as well as hitting the Mater Hospital (site of the new children's hospital), DCU, Ballymun, Swords and a park and ride facility near the M1. The entire corridor is earmarked for denser residential development with high-tech and light industry as well as commercial in the mix.

Secondly, we can't just build a spur from Dublin Airport to say Portmarnock and then run trains into town along the existing alignment. This route is already suffering from congestion with the mix of DART, Suburban and Enterprise services and cannot be quad-tracked due to the width of the cuttings from Clontarf through to Kilbarrack.

Thirdly, while it will cost money to build MN, it won't cost money now. It is being built as a PPP, a model that I don't like but in this case it works in our favour. When the line opens in 2017 or thereabouts, we will start paying for it over the next 30 years or so. The expected cost of construction is about €2B so we are effectively taking out a mortgage on the infrastructure. Once paid off we will be able to reap the benefits for years to come. Admittedly rail has a high capital cost, but the return on investment is huge. Consider the line from Pearse to Dun Laoghaire. It was laid in 1834 and with two major changes, 1840s converting from standard to Irish gauge, and 1980s electrification for DART, it is still transporting tens of thousands of passengers a day.

Finally, if we don't build it now, when will we build it? Since DRRTS we have been dragging our heels on bringing Dublin up to 20th century levels. With construction costs substantially down and large numbers of construction workers unemployed this is the perfect project to undertake in the downturn. It is estimated that between 3,000 and 4,000 people will be directly employed on the scheme with an additional 7,000 or so contractors, suppliers, hauliers etc required as well not to mention the infinite number of breakfast roll makers to keep all the above fed.

Between them Metro North and the Interconnector are vital to Dublin's future as a viable city. As projects they are far more important to the nation than many of vanity schemes such as the Western Rail Corridor, Atlantic Road Corridor and the M9 that have already been built or are still on the agenda. Some of those are more like this ...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Burning Anglo

One of my favorite tunes of recent times is Doomsword's Heathen Assault. It is a song about the onslaught of the Danes through medieval England and features a very simple refrain that gets the crowd singing.
Burn! England to the ground
Burn! Jorvik to the ground
To my mind this is currently the best option for Anglo Irish and their bond holders as well. And unlike what various ministers might like to portray (Mary Hanafin I'm looking at you) it wouldn't be the end of the world or some sort of treason to suggest it as a course of action.

If the government pulled the plug on the blanket guarantee of Anglo the the company becomes insolvent. At some point the creditors would get together and insist a liquidator is appointed to wind up the company as a going concern. This leaves three groups looking for money back - depositors, senior debt holders and subordinated debt holders. Remember the equity holders have already been written off when the bank was nationalized. The first two have primary call on the assets of the bank and it is unlikely that these assets would cover the liabilities to them. This leaves nothing for the subordinated holders so they get burned.

This leaves the assets of the company to be divided between the seniors and depositors. I would imagine that the assets would be split pro-rata between the two groups. So if there were say €10B in deposits, €30B in bonds and only €20B in assets then the depositors would get 25% or €5B and the bond holders the remaining €15B with each bond getting effectively a 50% hair cut. On the deposit side again the €5B would be split pro-rata amongst the depositors. All deposits would be covered up to €100k by the old fashioned deposit guarantee, but beyond that the big depositors would also end up being burned as well.

To my mind, that seems the most straight forward solution to the Anglo problem. We've had enough dumping of good money after bad into this corpse. Of course it doesn't suit those who are invested in Anglo compared to the current policy, but to be honest I don't care. They invested in a flaky company, took their high rewards and so now should have to face some of the consequences. You can't have the tax payer on the hook for all of this.