On Bearded Union Leaders

With all the murmurings from Governments building about public sector pay cuts and the threats of “Mayhem” from the unions in today’s papers, if the stereotype holds true, there is one thing you can count on – Prepare to see much more angry facial hair on the nine o’clock news over the next few weeks. But how true is this stereotype of bearded union leaders and where does the trend come from? To answer the first question, I decided to do a highly scientific study of both opposing sides of the “Social Partners”, examining the level of facial hair in the members of their respective leaderships.


Jack O'Conor (SIPTU)- Standard Bearer

First up the left corner of the ring, we have SIPTU, ICTU and IMPACT. SIPTU is proudly lead by the heavily bearded Jack O’Connor (pictured), whose thick Sinn-Fein-esque face mane must be the envy of every shop-steward in the country. However, the remaining members of their board, Joe O’Flynn and Brendan Hayes have decided to go for the clean shaven look, giving SIPTU a disappointing 33% hit-rate. Over at ICTU, they only furnish one picture, that of David Begg, sporting a more dashing trimmed white beard and matching quiff. No other pictures of the leadership are available, giving ICTU the full 100%. I would give more points if I could for Mr Begg’s refined look, but I sure David would agree with me on union principles that all beard should be rewarded equally, independent of merit.


David Begg (ICTU) - The refined beard

Finally we have IMPACT, the public sector union that are going to be revving into full gear over the next few months opposing Lenihan’s plans. But are they equipped for the job? Well, General Secretary Peter McLoone is letting the side down badly, but his deputy Shay Cody makes amends with, if not the full beard at least a very impressive goatee, giving them a score of 50%. So overall, the leadership of the three main unions are going into battle with a beard ratio of 3/6 or 50%


Brendan McGinty (IBEC) and Jim Curran (ISME) - Committed capitalists or closet communists?

Over in the right corner of the ring, we have the government, IBEC, and ISME. While hardly ardent capitalists, the two Brians score full marks for the government with 0%. Heading further right, we have IBEC, and of the six men on their executive board, only Brendan McGinty is in trouble, with a dubious moustache. Not the full crime, I’ll let him off with half-marks, giving IBEC 8.3%. And finally, we have ISME. Again, six men on the executive, but Jim Curran had to go even further than Brendan with a goatee, which I will have to penalise fully. While ISME would consider themselves the true voice of free enterprise, over and above the semi-state influenced IBEC, their facial hair tells a different story, with a score of 12.5%. So no-one displays the full beard in the coalition of the government and the business bodies, but a goatee and moustache means that overall, they have a beard ratio of 1.5/14 or 11%

So the results are in. Irish union leaders are almost 5 times more likely to have a beard than their opposition in either government or the business bodies. The union beard is truly alive and well in 21st century Ireland, and will no doubt be getting bushier over the coming months. Now for the second question, where does this tradition come from and why do the union leaders persist with it?

I assume they are just copying a trend started their communist forefathers Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, and continued on by newer generations like Che and Castro right through to today. But what was the point of the original beards. Were Marx and Lenin really distinguishing themselves from the establishment with beards back in the 19th century? Hardly considering beards were much more the norm back then, for both the working man and the men at the top. However, Marx’s beard was a sensational effort, only really equalled by Charles Darwin, and of course the beard of their joint nemesis, God.

Perhaps it symbolises how the common working man might not be able to afford a fresh Gillette Mach 3 blade, and the extravagance of clean shaven faces on the union leadership would not display solidarity with their proletariat. Who knows?

On Taleb and Chesterton

Before heading off for the Christmas break in Oregon, I strolled into Blackrock to pick up two books for the trip.  First stop was Carraig Books, a little second hand bookstore on the way into the village opposite the library I hadn’t been into for years.  The front of the shop was mainly old books about Irish history and culture. The rear section was split evenly between a bizarrely large section of books on Catholicism (you have to see it to believe it), and one with a mix of general history and fiction.  What stood out though was an old portrait on G.K. Chesterton on the wall for sale for 750 euro, guarding the Catholic section, which I thought quite fitting considering his many works on apologetics.

methuenAnyway, down the back was a treasure trove of books by the big man and I picked up a little old book from 1933 called ” Methuen’s Library of Humour: G. K. Chesterton ” which is a collection of some his amusing essays on various topics, both trivial and serious, from his Edwardian day.  There was a list of other authors on the inside leaf that were also featured in the the same Methuen series, although the only ones I had heard off were P.G. Wodehouse and A.A. Milne.  It is interesting how few authors endure the generations, and Chesterton is a man whose profile hasn’t deserved to fade as much as it has.

I then proceeded to Dubray books to get something a little more contemporary and grabbed a copy of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable”.  This guy has turned into a media darling since the credit crunch started, I was interested to see what the fuss was about.

The Chesterton collection I devoured during the horrendous 46-hour weathered delayed journey to Portland, but Taleb’s book took me the trip to finish, as I only managed to read it in pieces between Christmas engagements. His quirky writing style actually suit this choppy reading quite well (check out this taster on his website).  The two men write about very different topics in very different eras, and yet have very much in common.

Chesterton’s essays ranged from light hearted discussion on the joys of lying in bed and the lack of cheese related literature (“Poets have been mysteriously quiet on the subject of cheese” ), to more scathing attacks on the changing face of his society.  He throws particular scorn at the philosophers and scientists of his day, who he refers in the singular as just “The Professor”, ridiculing his leaps of faith into material reductionism and his blind application of Darwinian theory to every realm of society’s problems.  I guess his debunking method could be referred to as in the reductio ad absurdum school.  A dogged love of the traditions of his homeland also shines through in almost all the stories.

the-black-swan4The main focus of Taleb’s book is to the debunk almost all modern financial mathematics, claiming that we rely too heavily on past experience and rigid mathematical models to predict a future whose greatest changes are caused by entirely unpredictable and improbable event he refers to as “Black Swans” ( Basically, all swans were assumed white until those ugly ones were discovered in Australia).  He saves particular ire for Nobel prize winning economists who use Gaussian distributions to design risk strategies.  I particularly enjoyed these sections, as I share similar opinions on economists in general.  However, despite the aim, he meanders at will into all sorts of shorts essays discussing everything from politics to his background in Lebanon, through to who he considers to be the world’s greatest thinkers.

Both books were very enjoyable are for similar reasons.  They made me think about everyday things in a different way, had very distinctive writing styles and unique humour. Both are attacking dogmatic self-righteous establishment views, and there take downs are very convincing.  I guess what I find most fascinating is just how broad a range on topics that they are able to discuss while still knowing what they are talking about and staying within their depth. So many modern authors have an incredibly narrow focus and concentrate on a single pet theory.  These two guys are able to step back, see the big picture, and how badly the modern theory or mindset fits into it.

Not much to complain about really but if I had to, I guess sometimes Chesterton’s christian drum can bang a little too loudly in the background, while Taleb sometimes gets a little too nasty when describing the suit wearing Nobel prize winning economists who live in the Bell-curve hills of “Mediocristan”.

With all this cold weather, if only a Taleb or Chesterton would come out of the woodwork and write a meandering humourous book taking down the dogmatism of global warming. Oops sorry, my error, I mean climate change. That’s what they are calling is now, right?

On Perseverance

There was an abundance of joggers pounding the frozen cements pavements tonight. While such activity on a Baltic night is a recipe for tearing cold muscles and breaking one’s neck, these people are not as mad as they appear. It is early January, and they are full swing into their new year’s resolutions of getting fit or losing weight. Inside in the warmth, I am starting this blog.

Basically, I would like an outlet to rant and rave about current affairs, review books I am reading, and highlight some of the many interesting facts and stories I obsessively research on a daily basis. After the cold streets clear out in February of miserable runners, will this blog still be in use?

Only time will tell………