I don’t understand things anymore…

Like most people, I’d like to imagine I’m a reasonably intelligent person.  I’ve managed to get this far in life, hold down a job – do quite well at it, usually; raise a family without mislaying any kids for too long;  partake in debates and hold my own;  I’ve even managed to successfully submit an expenses claim on our Oracle system and have the money appear in my bank account!

But I’ve reached the limit. I’m at a point where I can no longer fathom how society works. Or, one aspect of it.  One organisation in it, to be precise – RTÉ.

The issue:

On January 11th, 2014 both Panti and the man who plays her, Rory O’Neill, appeared on The Saturday Night Show with Brendan O’Connor. Comments made by Rory on the topic of homophobia, during the interview, mentioned individuals involved in Irish journalism, including John WatersBreda O’Brien and the conservative lobby group The Iona Institute. Mr. O’Neill’s view was that those mentioned displayed homophobic behaviour due to their opposition to homosexual equality on issues like gay marriage and gay adoption. Those mentioned, in-turn, threatened RTÉ and Mr. O’Neill with legal action.[10] RTÉ subsequently removed that section of the interview from their online archive.[11] The legality of Mr. Waters’ display of support for censorship was subsequently questioned since he was a member of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.[12] Two weeks after the initial incident on The Saturday Night Show, John Waters resigned from his post at the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.[13] There was further comment on the strange lack of coverage of the censorship by The Irish Times, who regularly publish Waters’ articles.[14]

On the January 25th episode of the RTÉ Saturday Night Show Brendan O’Connor issued a controversial public apology on behalf of RTÉ to those mentioned by Mr. O’Neill in the interview held two weeks previously. Even though RTÉ censored Mr. O’Neill’s statements from their online archive, Mr. O’Connor ended his RTÉ apology with the contradictory insistence that “It is an important part of democratic debate that people must be able to hold dissenting views on controversial issues.”[15] The fact that the Irish State broadcaster (RTÉ) censored a citizens opinions, and then was rumoured to have offered compensation to those promoting the censorship, became a controversial issue, discussed by members of government.[16][17][18][19]

~ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panti#RT.C3.89_Censorship_Controversy

(Thanks for that, Wikipedia! Saved me rehashing the public record. I love CC-SA!)

So what I don’t understand is – some people think they were defamed and threaten to sue RTÉ – and RTÉ decides that rather than giving them a right of reply, or saying that Ms Panti/Rory O’Neill‘s statements were obviously personal opinion and therefore didn’t come under the heading of defamation, or telling them to go ahead and sue and the jury could decide, or any one of a number of other options – RTÉ apparently instead decided to just pay them money.

Not damages or compensation, because that would imply that they had been damaged or required compensation. It appears that RTÉ just received some solicitor’s letters, and decided on some kind of ex gratia payment to forestall anything else.

A payment to Iona Institute members, who seem to have unfettered access to any number of RTÉ radio and TV panels…  This payment, remember, is being paid for out of the TV licence fee that goes to our state broadcaster.

RTÉ does have an odd history when it comes to compensation payments, though.  Like that time they defended a libel action taken by Beverley Cooper-Flynn, who had encouraged people to avail of illegal investment schemes. RTÉ just waived half of the €2.4 million they were due to be paid by her.  No reason.  Just because.

I sent a complaint off to complaints@rte.ie about the issue of the apology by O’Connor. I received a reply that says that they can’t talk about it because of legal action. So – they’re still being sued?  Or part of their “settlement” with some or all of the people/panellists/Institutes was that they’d say nothing more…

(By the way – RTÉ are on 847 complaints and counting… )

It’s all a bit fishy, really.  A bit like that self-proclaimed “Institute” which nobody can join except by invitation and doesn’t have a published membership or a declared source of funding or published accounts – but which is a registered charity…

Howlin’s most petty last “last ask”

In the past couple of weeks, some public servants have started receiving emails and circulars regarding their temporary cut to annual leave.  This was one of the minor clauses contained in the Haddington Road Agreement (aka Croke Park II), something glossed over or ignored by the unions when advising staff to vote in favour of it.

In essence, those on the max of their salary scale, earning between €35k and €65k per annum, and with more than 23 days’ annual leave entitlement, lose up to six days’ annual leave, temporarily, between now and 2015.  So, e.g., an Administrative Officer reaching the top of their scale this year will lose 2 days in 2014, 2 more in 2015, and one in 2016 – and in 2017 will be back to their full leave entitlement.  People effected are essentially working an extra six days over three years.

Why? Er, reasons. Just because.

I suppose ostensibly Howlin will claim it’s necessary, it’ll increase productivity, and sure look, it’s part of the (cue his overused phrase) “last ask” for public servants.

So the Administrative Officer on max of scale loses 6 days leave. Her division head on more leave and a lot more money loses nothing.  The Junior Systems Analyst on max of scale loses 6 days leave but his boss on possibly less money loses none.  Two people in the same grade but where one started a couple of months before the other – one loses days, the other doesn’t.

It’s petty.

It won’t increase productivity by any measurable amount.  Every office, department, and public body has lost staff that haven’t been replaced.  Some of us working an extra two days a year for a couple of years doesn’t – can’t – make up for that.

It’s there because Robert Watt told Brendan Howlin to do it, because, on paper, x number of civil servants working 2 days extra per year for three years can apparently roughly translate into a monetary amount that can go onto one side of a balance sheet.

What isn’t taken into account is that after the pay freeze, the numerous pay cuts, the lack of any promotional opportunities, the longer hours, the reneging on the Croke Park Agreement by Labour and Fine Gael, the gutting of family-friendly work practices (such as flexi-time and term-time) and everything else, this latest unnecessary, inequitable exercise does come at a cost – whatever goodwill or flexibility that may have remained.

Another cost may well be a pretty direct relationship between the number people losing leave and the number of votes lost by Labour and Fine Gael…

#kenringwatch results for January. No earthquakes!

In prediction version 1 (on air, Today FM and Radio Kerry), Ken Ring said:

3. “Mr. Ring says that 2014 will bring in bitter cold temperatures of -10ºC as the new year is rung in.”
4. Snow Jan 9th & 10th snow in midlands

In version 2 (in the comments on that linked post), Ken Ring widened his prediction:

3. 2014 could bring in cold temperatures of perhaps up to -10ºC in the north in the first 10 days of January.
4. Moderate snowfall possible (nothing is ever definite in weather forecasting) within a day or so of Jan 9th & 10th in midlands

Well, our most northerly weather station is Malin Head.  You’ve to play around on this Met Éireann page, but you can select weather stations and dates.  Malin Head, 1st Jan: a cool 3.2C, up to 7.2C.  On the 2nd and 3rd – roughly the same.  The 4th is a little cooler – it drops to nearly zero.  But nowhere near -10 degrees centigrade.  Zero for one.

So, snowfall.  On the 9th or 10th.   Or 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th or 12th, in the second “Whoops, someone took note!” predictions.  But – we had no snowfall at all in the midlands.  Or anywhere else. Zero for two.  Under both sets of predictions.

I’ll also refer you again to this post, where the Auditor General states:

“For ice warnings and severe weather alerts, there are three possible outcomes which can be monitored

  • hit: where the forecasted weather actually occurs
  • miss: where the forecaster fails to predict an exceptional weather event
  • false alarm: where adverse weather is forecast but fails to materialise.”

This seems a fair way to measure predictions.  You’d imagine that the most severe storms to hit Ireland in years might have merited a mention from Mr Ring when he was talking to Matt Cooper, but nope – not a dickie bird about storms.

Storm Christine inbound

Storm Christine inbound

January’s Storm Christine, by the way, is estimated to have cost in the region of €300 million in damages.   I’d call that a miss.

But, in fairness, we never said we’d measure misses, so we won’t count those.  (Although, despite claiming to have predicted the Christchurch earthquake, there’s nothing on Mr Ring’s site at all about today’s 6.2 magnitude earthquake on New Zealand’s North Island, either.  There’s a lot about climate change denial, though.)

An interesting couple of days ahead for #kenringwatch

Today and tomorrow are the next days of interest for #kenringwatch.  “Snow Jan 9th & 10th, snow in midlands” was the prediction.  Notably, Mr Ring modified that to “Moderate snowfall possible (nothing is ever definite in weather forecasting) within a day or so of Jan 9th & 10th in midlands” in the comments on my last post.

Of course nothing is definite in weather forecasting.  Nobody said otherwise.  Ken Ring claims an accuracy rate of 80% to 85%, though. Which would be impressive if it’s borne out.  That’s up there with the last accuracy reports relating to Met Éireann.  Mr Ring asks why I’m not tracking their progress, in comparison to his.  Well, the main reason is that to compare like with like, Met Éireann would need to make long range weather forecasts for the whole year ahead, specifying events such as snow or rain on specific days (or, perhaps, “within a day or so” of specific days).  And as that’s scientifically impossible, they simply don’t.

Mr Ring also questions why I’m not checking Met Éireann’s past accuracy, given that I pay for their services.  Well, not my job.  But somebody does – they’ve been audited in the past by the state’s Auditor General.  They say in part:

“For ice warnings and severe weather alerts, there are three possible outcomes which can be monitored

  • hit: where the forecasted weather actually occurs
  • miss: where the forecaster fails to predict an exceptional weather event
  • false alarm: where adverse weather is forecast but fails to materialise.”

and

“A special exercise to consider the accuracy of severe weather alerts (fog, wind, snow and rain) in the period November 1998 to January 1999 indicated a hit rate of 92%.”

Not bad.  Admittedly, those figures are for 15 years ago.  But with improvements in instruments and software, I can’t imagine that Met Éireann has become less accurate over time.  It is an issue that Met Éireann’s last issued annual report (which also contains accuracy figures) was for 2007, and that they’re no longer reporting on their accuracy due to staff and budget cuts.  I don’t think that’s useful at all – how can you improve if you don’t know where you’re starting from?

But they are still providing short term forecasts that, on the face of it, seem reasonably accurate to me, rather than being jarringly inaccurate.  They’re also providing and contributing to scientific studies such as this one, on global climate change (pdf).

Oh – Mr Ring doesn’t believe in climate change, either…

But speaking of 2007, it turns out that someone else was checking Ken Ring’s accuracy back then.  Oh dear…

Announcing Ken Ring Watch 2014 – #kenringwatch

So true to form, my prediction from early last year came to pass – Ken bloody Ring reappeared on our airwaves, peddling his “weather almanacs”, that he claims are based on tides, the moon, and past events.  Unfortunately, unlike 2013, I didn’t have time to go back and check his predictions for the year just over. But why don’t we try a little experiment for 2014?  Let’s call it #kenringwatch.

On The Last Word, Ken Ring claims an accuracy of 80% to 85%.  Which would be impressive if it were true.  I don’t believe his claim, because, a) if he could get anything wrong in 2012, he did, and b) his “science” is, frankly, bullshit.

All he’s doing is drumming up traffic for his website and his real business of selling “almanacs”.  But as Today FM and our other media outlets never seem to challenge him on his claims or past predictions, he gets away with it.

But we have his predictions for 2014 – reproduced below, and with links to the broadcasts and news stories (thanks to Joe Whyte for the links to Radio Kerry, which Joe posted  in the comments on this Greenside Up post).  So – let’s measure Ring’s predictions, month by month.

He makes 28 predictions, reproduced below.  Ring claims 80% to 85% accuracy. (1)  That means Ring needs to get between 22.4 to 23.8 of his predictions correct.  Rounding, that’s 22 to 24 out of 28 predictions.  Admittedly, some are vague.  “The coming winter won’t be severe”, he said back in September – but what defines severe?

Lahinch Promenade during January storm

Lahinch promenade during one of January’s storms. Photo by George Karbus, http://www.emerald-vision.com/  (Not severe, per Ken Ring).

And some predictions are contradictory.  He says on The Last Word that February’s snow won’t be heavy, but on Radio Kerry, he says it’ll be “intense.”  Maybe that’s just in Kerry?

Anyway – we’ll measure his predictions here, month by month, and see how he fares.  And maybe, just maybe, if he scores less than 50%, Matt Cooper will forego the “slow news day, what can we use as a filler, oh, let’s get Ken Ring on!” temptation in 2015?

Check back in early February, where we’ll see how he fared for January, and then month by month…

The predictions: 

Overall:

1. The coming winter (2013/14) won’t be severe (2)
2. No hotter than 25 or 26 degrees at any point in the year (1)

Jan
3. “Mr. Ring says that 2014 will bring in bitter cold temperatures of -10ºC as the new year is rung in.” (3)
4. Snow Jan 9th & 10th snow in midlands (1)

Feb
5. Heavy month for snow in terms of number of days of snow, but it won’t be heavy (1)
6. Snow on 5th and 6th (1)
7. Snow on 14th to 19th (1)
8. Most concentrated snow time of the winter (1)
9. Snow “Intense” from mid-February onwards (2) (how this squares with The Last Word, where he says it won’t be heavy, I’m not sure)
10. February expected to be bitterly cold and snowfalls expected around Valentine’s Day. (3)
11. Kerry, he says, may get the heaviest falls around Feb 17 to 19. (3)

Mar
12. March 3rd to 7th, light snow flurries (1)
13. Snow 19th and 20th (1)

Apr
14. Subzero(!) temperatures finish around April 19th (1)
15. Snow 22nd April (1)

May
16. Lots of sun, 14th to 20th/21st (1)
17. Snow 30th May (1)
18. 3rd week of may, very cold (subzero?) temperatures (1)

Jun
19. Last week of June the hottest (1)

Jul
20. Last week of July the hottest (1)

Aug
22. Lot of wet days interspersed with dry days. (1)

Sep
22. 8th to 30th, no rain anywhere (1)
23. 22 to 23 degrees, more in the 3rd week (1)
24. Not much sunshine except last week (1)

Oct
(Nothing said at all about October)

Nov
25. Mild temperatures up to November (1)
26. 19th November, subzeros back (1)

Dec
27. 4th to 9th, first snow of winter (1)
28. No white Christmas, but subzero on the 24th, 25th (1)

Sources:

(1) http://www.todayfm.com/player/podcasts/The_Last_Word_with_Matt_Cooper/The_Last_Word_with_Matt_Cooper/8455/0/ken_rings_2014_weather_predictions

(2) http://www.radiokerry.ie/news/new-zealand-weather-forecaster-predicts-a-typical-irish-winter/
(3) http://www.radiokerry.ie/news/forecaster-predicts-heavy-snowfall-in-kerry-in-february/

Digital Rights Ireland needs your help

Digital Rights Ireland is a small volunteer organisation dedicated to defending civil, human and legal rights in a digital age.  They are perhaps best known thus far for their participation in the Stop SOPA in Ireland campaign – the attempt to stop Seán Sherlock bringing in the law that Sherlock promised couldn’t and wouldn’t be used to block access to any websites.

So, when the music industry recently brought a court case against Irish ISPs to force them to block access to some websites, Digital Rights Ireland applied to be an amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the case.

 

Digital Rights Ireland

Digital Rights Ireland

Long story short, the music industry opposed the application, and the one day hearing to determine if DRI could be heard in the case landed them with a legal bill of almost €30,000 (later halved on appeal (which itself cost €1,900!) to €13,700.

(As an aside, how come just about the only “recommendation” of the Troika to not be implemented was reform of the legal profession?!)

So, without help, Digital Rights Ireland could be shut down by the music industry.  These guys are working for every citizen – please don’t let that happen!  You can donate via the links on their site, at http://www.digitalrights.ie