Monday, November 29, 2010


Frozen Assets

"I don't want to sound paranoid, but this is a fucking government conspiracy" I opined to Rosie as we slipped n' slid down the snowy streets to collect Annie on our way to the protest march on Saturday. I was temporarily convinced that local roads were deliberately being left ungritted in order to immobilise the population, thus denying many of them the opportunity to attend the protest. In hindsight, I may have been crediting the leaders of this country with a greater level of intelligence and creativity than they possess. They don't really need to put any thought or intent into being inadequate, they just are.

As we neared the starting point of the march Annie and Rosie started to discuss whether or not it would be a good idea to withdraw all our cash from bank accounts, in case the banks collapse and they freeze everyone's assets. "It won't come to that," I started out grandly, in that way I have of pretending to be knowledgeable on subjects I haven't a fucking notion about. Even I know it's annoying, at this stage. "The bank bail-out guarantees that won't happen." "But, umm, aren't we on our way to protest against the bank bail-out?" asked Annie.
"I dunno, isn't NAMA separate to this...IMF...interest rates...burble burble..." I trailed off, realising that I was definitely not sure of my facts, and that crossing the road towards Christchurch was going to be something more of an ordeal than I thought. Truth is, it's very hard to know what affects what any more, and what the repercussions of anything are. I never thought for a second that marching on Saturday was going to stop the government from signing us up to the IMF bailout, and I don't think many people really did. No, for me it was about standing on the street and saying Fuck you, Brian Cowen, fuck you for being a fat, boozy, embarrassment of a leader. Fuck you for never looking like you care what anyone else thinks, fuck you and your party for always putting yourselves first, for being such pathological liars. For being such snivelling cowards. For never once telling it like it is. Fuck you for never saying sorry.

It felt good, for a while, being on that march. We skidded and slushed along the streets and enjoyed the pageantry of it all. I wanted to eyeball the gardaí and say You are an evil tool of The Man, and if you come swinging for me with your batons I won't be responsible for my actions. But they were smiling and convivial and, perhaps through their sheer weight of numbers, never looked unnerved by the event. Placards were, as ever, delightful in their schadenfreude. An early favourite, spotted at Wood Quay, read "YOU USELESS BASTARDS!!" on one side, with "Not you, the government (obviously)" on the other. This was only equalled by the sight of an eight year-old on O'Connell Street,trudging along with a sign bearing the legend "My mam told me Justin Bieber would be here." And then there was this little beauty.

Later, back in the comfort of home, the alarmingly superficial RTE news coverage will tell us that official estimates put the attendance of the march at around 50,000 and not the 100 odd thousand the organisers were claiming at the time. I'd probably throw my tinfoil hat back on and scream PROPAGANDA BULLSHIT! at that one, were it not for the fact that I feel it necessary to limit myself to one conspiracy theory a day. But I've been to enough football matches and music festivals to know what a crowd of 50,000 looks like, and Saturday's was far, far more than that. Later still, as we mosey home after an evening of alcohol consumption and snowball-dodging a man on the far side of the road is chanting, a full twelve hours after the end of the march, "Brian Cowen take a hike, we demand a national strike." Wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which fills up first, I think to myself. But still. Still.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


I trust I can rely on your vote?

From the excellent Wheel Spinning Hamster Dead
It's weeks like this when you feel like you really have to write something on your blog about Irish current affairs. I never quite know what to say. We know that we have been let down by our government, we know that life is about to get financially harder for just about everyone, we know that the next generation are likely to still be stifled by things the current administration has done.

We also know that there will be a general election before too long.

This should represent a simple opportunity to kick Fianna Fáil and the Greens out of government and, with any luck, reduce their political influence to that of a sparrow farting in the breeze. But you wouldn't know, not in Ireland. Or perhaps, with 17% of the polled electorate still saying that they would, even at what must surely be their lowest ever point, vote for Fianna fucking Fáil. Sure, throw in a bit of spin, some canny canvassing and some snazzy posters and they could probably have that figure up to 30% or higher within a month. And that, with the vagaries of the proportional representation system, could amount to them getting back into government. Just imagine it. A vote of confidence for their lies and their conniving and their startling incompetence. A slap on the back for their slavering alcoholism. And a mandate (a real one this time) for their four year plans and whatever other havoc they might like to wreak on the country.

A sentence you may hear a lot in the forthcoming weeks is "Ah, those politicians are all as bad as each other." People who say this fall into two categories:

1. Those whose unspoken follow-up sentence is "So I won't bother my hole voting or attempting to influence things in any way."

2. Those whose unspoken follow-up sentence is "So I'll carry on voting Fianna Fáil just like I've always done. Just like my parents and grandparents do."

The election, and the decisive change that this country needs, will be decided by how many of each category there are. And, sad to say, it won't much be influenced by what we read or write on blogs. There have been some excellent examples of articulate rage floating around the internet this week, in the usual places as well as interesting new blogs like Rise Like Lions! , but it is not going to be the blogosphere (or whatever other disgusting term you might have for it) where the decisive battles are fought for this election. It would be easy to gaze around and see like-minded souls everwhere; a critical mass of people who want this government to become one of those anomalies that history students will ponder in the future and think "How the fuck could people ever have put up with them?" I've been reading a wide range of blogs for three years now and I've never seen so much as one comment indicating any level of support for Fianna Fáil. Not one. But the average punter doesn't read blogs. Most of my friends don't, my family don't. Tonnes of twenty and thirty-somethings are still far more concerned with reality TV than reality. Without wishing to talk in very broad strokes, I don't think the elderly (the most committed of voting demographics) are checking in on Twenty Major's polemics with any great regulaity, either. Which means not many people are seeing stuff like this. Which means not enough people are seeing the important work that the likes of The Story are doing.

We can contnue to entertain ourselves in a kind of "No, I hate Fianna Fáil even more than you do!" kind of a way, but we might as well carry on being frivolous because it is surely only preaching to the choir. Standing outside your local polling centre hectoring every young apathete (I may have invented a word there) to get in and vote, and chiding "Don't do anything stupid, now, dear" to every OAP going in might prove to be a more effective tactic. Blogs will continue to provide a useful point of catharsis in these enraging times, but it might be foolhardy to expect much more.

Friday, November 19, 2010


Ajai Chopra: economist, saviour, deviant

A student asked one of my colleagues today why Irish people are so obsessed with economics. It's funny now to think of a time when we weren't. Terms like I.M.F., toxic loans, bailouts, Olli Rehn, mortgage arrears and E.C.B. certainly didn't always have such a large part in the vernacular. But while it's hard not to feel like the sky is falling in at the moment, I still maintain that most of us don't really have a fucking clue what's going on. Sure how could we when we're lied to by the government on a daily basis and receive a drip-feed of misleading and contradictory information. In much the same way as it seems that property developers and bankers made out like bandits during the boomtime it might just be that financial journalists and economic experts will be seen (along with politicians, inevitably) as being the villains of the busted years, for having made a mini-industry out of the public's confusion. For every genuinely well-informed commentator there's some cowboy who knows no more than the average barstool economist making a living from shit-stirring and scaremongering. There's something vaguely immoral about it.

With this in mind, Chancing My Arm took it upon itself to get hold of Ajai Chopra, the man leading the IMF's rescue mission to Ireland, in order to cut to the chase and find out what exactly the bloody fuck is going on. Here, exclusively, is the complete and unedited transcript from my exclusive interview with Ajai:

Ajai, thank you for taking some time out from bailing out our sorry asses to talk to the readers of Chancing My Arm.

You're welcome, Andrew, I myself have a blog , so I'm totally down with this. I love your blog, that shit you wrote about nailing both of the Sweet Valley High twins in a hot tub was righteous. High five, dude!

Thank you, Ajai. Though I must confess that it didn't really happen. First and only time I'll make stuff up to put on my blog, I promise. Now, down to brass tacks. Tell us, did this whole global economic ooopsy entirely originate with the collapse of Lehman Brothers?

Well, yes and no. After Lehman Brothers defaulted in September 2008, global trade collapsed, capital inflows into the region plummeted, credit growth suddenly stopped, and domestic demand plunged.
But pre-crisis domestic imbalances and policies made a difference in how these shocks affected each country’s economy. Some countries saw declines in gross domestic product (GDP) similar to those in the Great Depression (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine), while others avoided declines altogether (Albania, Poland). But the seeds of the crisis were sown, in large part, in the five years before the crisis. Between 2003 and 2008, much of the region experienced a boom in bank credit, asset prices, and domestic demand. This boom was fueled and financed by large capital inflows.
With low interest rates in advanced countries, banks in western Europe expanded aggressively into emerging Europe—where returns were higher. And, while the influx of capital boosted growth, it also led to rising imbalances and vulnerabilities.

I see, but what kinds of imbalances and vulnerabilities, exactly?

Current account deficits increased to unprecedented levels in some countries, and inflation accelerated. And substantial vulnerabilities emerged in bank and household balance sheets, particularly because much of the borrowing was in foreign currency.

Fascinating. Tell me, Ajai, in your brief time in Dublin have you had a chance yet to savour any of our local delicacies?

Oh, yes. Strawberry and vanilla YOP is famous the world over and after a good skinful at the bar in the Merrion Hotel a few of us ended up hopping in a taxi and telling yer man we were really jonesing for one. They were harder than expected to locate but we finally achieved success at a Shell garage on the Dargle Road in Bray.

Lovely part of the world. I once dated a girl from Bray, she was a right goer.

Is this Mary Coughlan woman from Bray? She introduced me to brown flavour Hula Hoops. I love her.

It's barbecue flavour, Ajai, not brown. Have some respect. Now, tell me, why was Ireland amongst the hardest hit by the global collapse?

Countries that experienced the fastest credit growth during the boom years saw the deepest recessions. And it now appears that average GDP growth over the full business cycle in this group was no higher, and in some cases was lower, than in countries with more modest credit growth.

In other words, we talked ourselves into believing our own bullshit?

To be succinct, yes.

Right, when you're walking into a high pressure, cards-on-the-table, heart-in-your mouth, cocks-in your-hands meeting with the likes of Brian Cowen and Angela Merkel do you choose to freshen up beforehand with Lynx Africa or Lynx Nevada?

Truth be told, I always favoured Lynx Tempest. I certainly associate it with the years when I did most of my shifting - is that what you call it, "shifting"? - with girls in nightclubs. I fell into a terrible depression for years after it went out of production and chose to wallow in my own faeces instead of deodorising. My career briefly stagnated as a result.

No doubt. Did the high price of housing in Ireland have a lot to do with our misfortunes?

Well, you all thought it was worth spending about 750 grand on a two bedroom semi-detached in Ballaghaderreen, so you tell me.

Don't knock Ballaghaderreen, Ajai. The wildest retirement party I ever went to was in Spelman's Motel there, you know.

The wildest retirement party I was ever at was my uncle Sanjay's. I snorted petrol and got off with one of my cousins. I wish I could remember which one it was, it would have been prudent of me to have made a note of it. Speaking of prudence, Ireland needs to learn to adopt a more prudent fiscal policy. This is a policy of saving money when revenues are growing instead of increasing spending and boosting public wages. Prior to the crisis, fiscal positions in emerging Europe looked good—better than in other emerging market regions. But those good-looking headline numbers masked a deterioration of the underlying fiscal position. Public expenditure was surging, financed by a temporary revenue boom. This not only further contributed to overheating; it also set the stage for large fiscal deficits. So when revenue plummeted in 2009 and fiscal deficits increased sharply, many countries had no choice but to cut spending precisely when this was most painful.

Uh huh. And if things start looking up a bit, what would you advise?

When revenue takes off during the next boom, it should be used to build up fiscal buffers rather than boost expenditure. Politically, this may be very challenging—when revenues abound there is strong pressure to increase expenditure or cut taxes—but this will help dampen the boom and create fiscal space that can be used to soften the impact of the next recession.

So no public sector pay rises ever again, ever?

Nope. Do you have Mary Harney's number? I would like her to be my wet-nurse.

You're a sick puppy, Ajai. But our futures rest in your hands. Now, Cash in the Attic is on soon and you're boring me, so any other pearls of wisdom before we wrap this up?

Going forward, growth in the region should become more balanced, and less dependent on domestic demand and capital inflows. Much of the shift will come about through private sector actions. Now that profits in the nontradable sector (finance, real estate, construction) have shrunk, investments will seek more promising venues. More balanced macroeconomic policies and wage restraint can also help maintain balanced growth by preventing the overheating that pulls resources from the tradable to the nontradable sector.
Above all, it will be important—when the next boom comes—to be wary of claims that “this time will be different.” Such narratives often have some plausibility and attractiveness in the heat of the moment. But a careful analysis of the drivers of growth, current account deficits, asset price developments, and credit growth should always be used as a “reality check.”

Lovely. And finally, if I may change tack entirely for a moment and imagine that I am a radio presenter, is there any particular song you'd like me to play for our listeners today?

Yes, it being the only song I'm aware of to namecheck the I.M.F. it has to be 'Electioneering' by Radiohead. But I'd like to dedicate it to Marek and Sklopek for indulging my whims at the hatch of the Dargle road Shell station and to Larry the cabbie for making the magic happen. Yiz fuckin' rock and I wish success and fiscal solvency to yiz all!

Monday, November 15, 2010


Are you carrying a weapon? I know a lot of you are.

When I was 15 I was suspended from school for being a little bollix. It had manifested itself in various ways, such as shoplifting on a school tour, but had culminated in me and a mate getting busted for our 'convo book'. Bored as every other student, wary of getting caught passing notes, before the advent of teenagers and texting, we took to writing down our every waking thought in a copy book and then sliding it across the desk to the other. This meant that teachers were not inclined to notice anything, and merely assumed we were doing our work. Fancying ourselves as devastatingly witty we prided ourselves on the collection of stuff we wrote, even fancying that one day someone might want to publish our observations. Like Adrian Mole.
But, inevitably, we got caught by a teacher. Who confiscated the copy. And read some of its content. And looked horrified. And passed it on to the principal.
He was not amused. Our book was filled with the usual teenage complaints about school and parents, sometimes fairly bile-flecked. And, of course, lustlorn paeans to female classmates and teachers we fancied. Far from depraved, it was, but it was honest enough and it probably looked mildly deranged in accumulation. My defence, when confronted with the disgust of principal and parents, is that there was nothing there any worse than what everyone else was saying. That everyone had these complaints, these turns-of-phrase, these desires. They did, and much worse, but I learnt the painful lesson then that what you say and what you write down are two very different things. The written word can be taken vastly out of context and can be augmented in a tone that was never intended. And it's there for posterity, not blown in a breeze down the corridor. My mate and I had never intended to offend anyone, but we did, and we came to regret it badly. He wanted to keep hold of our other convo books that he had squirrelled away at home but I insisted that he burn them. As a pretty accurate record of teenage selves that slip further and further away they would probably crack us up to look back over now, but I still feel the right call was made.
I think of that situation, now half a world away from me, when I see stories like the PricewaterhouseCooper one, the Twitter joke trial, and the stupid Tory tit who thought it was merely 'glib' to tweet about stoning someone. As we choose increasingly to replace conversation with online interaction and to inscribe our every brainfart, people are going to have to realise that this kind of shit can't be unsaid, that words are still potent and that they go a fuck of a lot further these days than they used to.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Mo' money

I have, largely out of vanity, signed up for Movember, whereby I'm supposed to grow a moustache and get sponsored lots of money for it, in order to fight cancer. I had initially intended my good deed for the month to be the Mini Miss Ireland competition, but the lassies from St. Pat's declined my help, on the spurious grounds that my appearance onstage in a bikini might spark riots in Copper's on Thursday night.

Truth is, I rather like having a mo'. A coat of arms for your face, as the website puts it. As arduous fundraisers go it's certainly not up there with running a marathon or appearing half-nude in front of a load of cops and farmers, but should you, Strangers from the Internet, feel so inclined as to stick something towards prostate cancer research my Mospace is here. If not, then see if you can identify me among this craftily constructed mo'saic (see what I did there?). I join some illustrious company, I can tell you. Super extra bonus kudos to anyone who can name all eleven of my moustachioed brethren.

Friday, November 5, 2010


feelgood friday

I have, despite being told my job was up a week or so ago, been given something of an indefinite stay of execution at work, and carry on for the time being. I could use the respite of unemployment right now, if I'm honest. The only real time off I've had since February was nine days in which to get married twice, interview for a better, ultimately unattainable job, and go on honeymoon. Mornings are a hazy fugue at the best of times, but these days they're met with a new level of melodrama. "I don't think I can do this much longer" I croaked to Rosie as I shambled out of bed on Tuesday. I was tired and had a mild to middling headcold, you see. My wife, who gets up earlier, works a longer day, does a more important job, commutes much further and gets paid a lower hourly rate for the pleasure gives me a hug and makes sympathetic noises when I make these statements. I must stretch her patience fiercely at such times. I've passed on the headcold to her, too.

Still, in these DJ-wanking budget-looming student-rioting garda-bashing garda-retaliatory-bashing red paint-slinging days it can be difficult to feel too fucking chipper in the morning. What we need is a song by a bunch of Canuckistanis from thirteen years ago to capture the national mood perfectly.

Do give it a listen, if you can have ten minutes to devote to full-on gloom, and feel free to mumble along apocalyptically with the opening monologue and somehow feel a little better:

the car's on fire and there's no driver at the wheel
and the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides
and a dark wind blows
the government is corrupt
and we're on so many drugs
with the radio on and the curtains drawn
we're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine
and the machine is bleeding to death
the sun has fallen down
and the billboards are all leering
and the flags are all dead at the top of their poles

it went like this:

the buildings tumbled in on themselves
mothers clutching babies picked through the rubble
and pulled out their hair
the skyline was beautiful on fire
all twisted metal stretching upwards
everything washed in a thin orange haze
i said: "kiss me, you're beautiful -
these are truly the last days"
you grabbed my hand and we fell into it
like a daydream or a fever
we woke up one morning and fell a little further down -
for sure it's the valley of death
i open up my wallet
and it's full of blood