Monday, December 28, 2015

The Year in Sports

Dublin’s All-Ireland title, their third in five years, makes a strong case for Dublin’s status as Gaelic football’s team of the decade. Not least as there could still be more titles to come.

This is not to say that they are invincible. And if anyone wants to quibble with Dublin’s achievement he or she could point out to the poor quality of opposition Dublin have met in finals – Mayo in 2013, and Kerry’s extraordinary collapse. There is also the continuing embarrassment of Leinster football, an embarrassment that looks set to continue with a bizarre venue having been chosen for Dublin’s first Championship away game since Biddy Mulligan was a slip of a girl.

But these are pointless cavils. Dublin are the best team in the country because they have the best players. And those best players don’t look like they’re going anywhere just yet.

Who can challenge them? The stark division between haves and have-nots continues, as mortal counties are crushed between the twin rocks of the back-door system and that most exclusive club that is Division 1 of the National Football League.

Kieran Shannon of the Examiner has made the point this year that addressing the League structure would be far more helpful than codding ourselves that the Championship will – or can – be changed. The Croke Park grandees have paid this not one blind bit of heed, and seem determined to bring back the unloved B Championship. Sigh.

Of the potential challengers, Tyrone may have overtaken Donegal in the pecking order, but otherwise it’s as-you-were for the Big Four. The people of Mayo will wonder if Stephen Rochford is the long-awaited Messiah but the reality is that the team is now manager-independent, really. Unpleasant though it was, the putsch of the previous management team shows that this Mayo panel is now complete in every way.

Everything you read in the papers about Mayo being short a forward or being too loose at the back or not knowing what to with Aidan O’Shea is just paper-talk. Only some truly poxy luck has kept Mayo from winning an All-Ireland since the revival of the 1990s, and luck has to change sometime.

Christy O’Connor had a typically excellent piece in the Indo a few days about the Kilkenny Hurling Imperium, and how it continues even though the playing standard is not what it was. The kings will be kings until someone rises to challenge them, but who that someone might be is anybody’s case.

Your correspondent is a great fan of the Banner County but, although far from a hurling expert, I will eat every single hat I own if Clare win the All-Ireland. Although hailed in the media as a triumph, the inclusion of Dónal Óg Cusack in the Clare back-room team is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. Neither Dónal Óg nor Davy Fitz are noted for their ability to get along with regular people. How in God’s Holy Name they are meant to get on with each other is a Sixth Glorious Mystery. It’ll all end in tears before the hay is saved.

Speaking of tears, it is a generally odious thing to say I told you so, but this is the still the Season of Goodwill so I will chance my arm. This is from last year’s sports review piece in this space:

Reader, Ireland have never won a World Cup playoff game in the seven times the competition has been held, including two years, 1999 and 2007, when Ireland couldn’t even get out of their group. The Irish rugby public should think about crawling before thinking about walking.

And lo, it did come to pass. It was speculated here before the event that the Rugby World Cup would be a crashing bore, something that did not go down well with the public at the time. It wasn’t a crashing bore, but anyone who’s paying attention and is brave enough to be honest with him or herself can see that the game is changing massively, both in the way it’s played and the way it’s organised. The question, then, is whether the change is evolution or devolution.

Rugby has generally been the best of all sports in adjusting its rules to remain true to the spirit of the game as teams seek every edge, but it’s behind the times now. There are too many games decided by penalties at the breakdown which, when it comes to great sporting spectacles, make for rather Hobbesian viewing.

A sign of that evolution – or devolution – was in an offhand comment from Brian O’Driscoll while holding a mic for BT Sports during the recent Ulster v Toulouse game at Kingspan Ravenhill. O’Driscoll has a keen eye and praised Vincent Clerc for taking up a particular defensive position at one stage in the game, and that’s great. But nobody every paid in to watch Simon Geoghegan defend, or David Campese or, God save us, Doctor Sir AJF O’Reilly. If rugby isn’t about running with ball in hand it’s about nothing. Dangerous times for the ancient and glorious game.

Rugby has ruled the roost as the Nation’s Choice for the past number of years because people like winning. Martin O’Neill’s achievement in getting Ireland to the European Qualifiers may challenge rugby’s dominance. It was funny to note all the soccer journalists second-guess O’Neill all they way until the team actually qualified, by which time the u-turn was made in a cacophony of screeching brakes and stench of burning rubber.

As it was with the players, not least the much reviled Glen Whelan. It is worth closing, then, by noting that not everyone was derelict in his or her duty by Whelan when nobody was singing because nobody was winning. The great Keith Duggan wrote a marvellous piece in the Irish Times about Whelan, his role for Ireland and the nature of the professional soccer player back last June. Treat yourself friends, and check it out.

Monday, December 14, 2015

What the Climate Summit Was Really About

The demise of journalistic standards is one of the unexpected consequences of this connected age, a point made very well by both Laura Slattery of the Irish Times and Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post only last week. But not even the perfidious internet can be blamed for the weak reporting of the Conference on Climate Change that ended on Saturday.

The major news media of the world hailed the thing as a complete success. What is not being reported are the serious scientists who say the thing was a fake.

Front and centre of these is Professor James Hansen of Colombia University, who has spoken about the danger of climate change since 1988. The Guardian interviewed him about the Paris conference, and he’s not impressed. “It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”

So why have we been hearing about it all week? Just what exactly is going on?

A Climate Change Primer
The industrial revolution saw man’s relationship to the environment change. The new industries and industrial processes altered the balance of nature, to the extent that the planet could no longer adapt to or dispose of the waste produced by man. Two hundred years later, that waste has damaged the ozone layer that surrounds the atmosphere of the earth. The ozone layer protects the planet from deadly radiation that exists in space. The more it’s damaged, the more of that deadly radiation gets through. And that would be bad.

But ... Why Don’t We Just Stop What We’re Doing and Do Something Else?
This is where the bad reporting comes in. Civilisation isn’t just about science. It’s also about politics and economics. It’s chic for certain writers in the west to write about these things in terms of evil corporations sucking the life-blood of Mother Earth because that fits in with a popular culture narrative. But the truth is, as ever, more complex.

What’s Really Going On
The Global Carbon Report has some excellent infographics on the current state of play as regards carbon-based pollution, the big beast of all pollutants. Take a look at this chart, taken from one of their infographics:

The west is rich because the industrial revolution was a western phenomenon. Now, the rest of the world, especially China and India, want to be rich too. You get rich by increasing industrial production, and the cheapest way to fuel that industrialization is by using coal, oil and gas.
The world isn’t run by scientists. The world is run by politicians and economists. The Climate Change Summit wasn’t about science. Science was coincidental to the real discussion, which is about who gets to run the world.

The infographic shows quite clearly that the major polluters of the present day are the major Asian economies. The West wants those Asian economies to stop using coal, oil and gas to fuel industry, because we’ve already used too much of those.

And who exactly is this we, asks the East, folding its arms and tapping its foot. You used it, not us. Now it’s our turn and if you don’t like it, well boo sucks to you.

All the climate summits, from Kyoto on down, have been about this standoff between the West, whose wealth was powered by fossil fuels, and the East, who want to catch up and are not impressed when they get to the head to the queue to see the Yanks pull down the shutters and say, sorry, the beer’s all gone – would you like a 7-Up instead?

This side of things isn’t reported by western media, for all manner of reasons. The decline of media standards, the general dumbing down of the population, the knee-jerk tendency of current media to check their privilege, and all the rest of it. But as regards the writing of history, these summits are about the West and the rest of the world butting heads to see who gets to run the world.

But … What About the Planet?
The planet will be fine. Right now, there’s too much money tied up in fossil fuels (and this isn’t Mr Monopoly rolling in a bath of fivers here – think of all the pension funds of ordinary people that have shares in Exxon Mobil and Texaco and the rest) to invest properly in alternative fuel research. But that doesn’t mean research isn’t going on.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t some scientist in a lab somewhere working on how to make nuclear fusion work, which would eliminate fossil fuel reliance at a stroke. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t groups of scientists working on better batteries, because the hardest thing about electricity is effective storage. This work is going on all the time. Science has got the memo about fossil fuels, and is on the case. Rest easy, world, and try to take what you read in the papers with a pinch of salt.