Thursday, July 29, 2010


Just finished David McCullough's 1,000 page biography of Harry Truman - and what a riveting read it was, and what a cast of characters: Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt, and even a cameo appearance by JFK. The book while generally lauded has been described as "a valentine to Truman" and indeed it is hard to find a lot that is critical. But the times he embraced were so important and eventful and he showed such strength and character that you are inclined to gloss over aberrations like the Loyalty Program - where federal employees were vetted for any communist tendencies. And what times: the creation and dropping of the atom bomb, the founding of NATO, the creation of Israel, the Marshal Plan and the Korean debacle. Having dropped the bombs on Japan following intense military pressure he was horrified at the civilian casualties and strongly resisted any subsequent use - the military wanted North Korea taught a lesson as well. His finest hour may have been the highly unpopular sacking of General McArthur who had lost the run of himself in Korea and was ignoring White House orders.

Incidental curiosities were unbuttoned quotes from those non-PC times where casual anti-semitism was rife and a farm boy from Missouri had no problems calling a spade a spade.

As history I'm not sure that this is the definitive word on Truman, but as an entertainment about a fascinating character and auspicious times it's hard to beat.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Galway Farces

Here's a few thoughts about the Galway Races:

1. It's a party not a race meeting. Anyone interested in racing would be at Goodwood this week.

2. The races are mostly over-subscribed handicaps full of mediocre horses who have been running dishonestly for the past year to improve their handicap marks.

3. The exception to 2 are horses trained by Dermot Weld who is an honest trainer, a nice guy and extremely successful at this meeting. He's the only trainer I'd back knowing that I'll get a run for my money based on previous form.

4. The RTE commentators are racing insiders who will never rock a boat or raise a critical eyebrow. They're a bloody disgrace and the ugly red-haired one is creepily inclined towards sexist remarks - like when he twice importuned Barry Geraghty about his feelings for the generously proportioned female owner when Invisible Man won today.

5. Tracey Piggot is evidently a nice woman but a mind-numbingly tedious and talentless interviewer. Her special subject is the bleeding obvious and she shows no special insight into the horses or the jockeys. She may be the great Lester's daughter but he was famous for his riding and his taciturnity. I reckon RTE should have taken notice of the breeding.

Transports of Delight?

The way our chauffeur-driven government continues its war of attrition against the private motorist (NCT, VRT, more tolls on the way, and of course the impending speed cameras) you would imagine we had a reasonable alternative. But of course the Luas lines don't connect, the DART serves only those based around around Dublin bay, the buses are slow, infrequent and finish too early, the trains lack basic amenities, and there's no coordinated ticketing strategy. Beyond all this is an endemic contempt for customers from all these bloated unionised semi-state organisations. I remember travelling in first class from Cork to Dublin a while back and having to endure what seemed like a union meeting in the next section. A bunch of uniformed staff ate sandwiches and argued vociferously as the snail like breakfast service dragged on around them. Getting the Luas from Sandyford recently at 09:00 there was only one ticket machine working and a long line of agitated commuters watched as their fellow travellers fumbled with the one machine - a touch screen system almost unusable in the bright sunlight. Later that morning I was getting a DART from Tara street and found that the decrepit ticket machines took neither my debit card nor a 50 Euro note. When I finally located a tiny ticket desk, the pimpled churl behind the counter took major umbrage at my temerity in proffering a 50 Euro note.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Hurling Accusations

The season is taking shape and I don't like what I see. Are we going to have to suffer more cheap triumphalism from the charmless Cody (we haven't forgotten his antics at the final whistle last year). Kilkenny combine the sublime skills of Sheflin with the controlled aggression of Tommy Walsh - a winning formula. All the remaining teams are deficient in different ways. Galway are a one-trick pony, without Joe Canning they are toothless. Cork are in decline and are missing someone like Seanie O'Leary or Joe Dean up front. The twin towers strategy was found wanting against Waterford. Tipp have all the skills but I feel they are short a few Tommy Walshes. Also they keep tinkering with their half forward line. Surely to God they can cobble together a decent unit from all the talent in the county. And, by the way, Seamus Callanan is not the answer. On current form Waterford are the closest to a match for Kilkenny but a lot of their senior players are on the wane and I'm not convinced the new guys will compensate - although I liked the cut of Shane O'Sullivan's gib. The only way Kilkenny are going to get beaten is if Tipp put together a half forward line and, more importantly, discover within themselves the kind of passion and physical commitment they encountered in Pairc ui Caoimh when Cork hammered them. An unlikely scenario.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Art in Schull

A recent trip to Schull coincided with their art week. The local shops and restaurants featured work by artists based in the area. These ran the gamut from dire to excellent. Representing the dire was Michael Whelton and there were a whole bunch of insipid landscapes by Jules Thomas (whose partner is Ian Bailey - Schull's most famous denizen) in the Black Sheep pub. Anyone looking for tell-tale expressionism from that source was out of luck. The estimable Chapter One bookshop had 3 pieces by John Doherty - two good ones of buoys in Sydney Harbour and an outstanding piece of a Carrick-on-Suir shop front - preserving for posterity the picturesquely decrepit. Further up the town in East Meets West had ceramic work by the supremely talented and frequently self-destructive Pat Connor. While he occasionally creates benign elephants and smiling birds, his stock-in-trade is angst and agony - gaping mouths and tortured poses. Many of his figures bring Munch's The Scream to mind and of late he has been producing wretched couples yoked together in Beckett style misery. Great stuff. There was also a smart abstract piece by his daughter Jo Connor.

Monday, July 12, 2010

This Sporting Life - July

The World Cup eh, the apotheosis of all that's trite and overblown - presided over by the super-annuated suspender expert Sepp Bladder. Even the bloody ball was garish and unreliable. And don't tell me South Africa benefited - apart from generating an awareness that you may not get car jacked if you steer clear of Johannesburg. From time to time there was magic - a couple of the Argentinian goals, Germany's devastating counter attacking against England and Argentina, the spirit of Landon Donovan and the Yanks, the pure skills of Spain before the clogging started, and the passion of teams like Ghana and Uruguay (especially the splendid Forlan).

The flat racing season is getting interesting. Despite the fact I bet on him I do feel that Workforce will prove to be an overrated Epsom Derby winner. He was beaten easily by Cape Blanco in the Dante and that horse flopped in the French Derby. Though he did redeem himself in a workmanlike way in the Irish Derby. The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Ascot, when these two meet the older horses, will show us the wiser.

Wimbledon had its moments. The Ladies Final was effectively the match between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova in the last 16. Two big hitters pounding each other over two close sets. The only difference is that Sharapova's service technique has too many moving parts, which leaves her prone to double faults, especially at tight moments. This proved the difference between her and the Williams juggernaut. The Wimbledon ladies finals have been deeply monotonous in recent years - Serena Williams' powerful and reliable serve repels all boarders except, occasionally, her big sister. The best woman's match I've seen this year was the final of the French Open where the Italian Francesca Schiavone defeated Samantha Stosur from Australia. Here we saw skill, shot variety and protracted rallies. I do like a sliced backhand and and a subtle drop shot. On the men's side we saw that as long as Nadal stays fit Andy Murray will never win Wimbledon. The reason is simple - Nadal's looped forehand is reliable, Murray's forehand falters under pressure. Of course Nadal retrieves better as well but Murray's service is marginally stronger if less reliable. Both have excellent temperaments but Nadal is a machine and Murray is a mere mortal.

Another great match between Cork and Waterford yesterday. Looking at it selfishly as a Tipp man I'm delighted with the draw - the ultimate loser will be vulnerable in the playoffs. But it's hard to call. That Cork half back line are the fulcrum of that team. Gardener, Curran and Sean Og are mighty men and Cusack is a hero in goal - but they are lacking in the forwards and this may undo them down the line. Mullane and Kelly may prove decisive in the replay especially if the Brick Walsh and newcomers like Shane O'Sullivan repeat their performances. As for Tipp's pyrrhic victory over Wexford, it'll take more than that to rekindle my enthusiasm. I need a win over Galway, Kilkenny or Cork.

Will Padraig Harrington ever win a golf tournament again? He's so bloody erratic off the tee these days that I doubt it. But I do feel that Graham McDowell, after his ice cold US Open win, has another one in him. He's got the right stuff temperamentally and a rock solid technique. What to do with Darren Clarke? He's playing well, especially tee to green, but he looks so bloody rueful all the time you suspect he's waiting for something to go wrong - as it did in the Scottish Open last weekend. If you could combine his accuracy off the tee and the fairway with Harrington's short game you'd have a decent golfer. As for the British Open this week, I fancy anybody but McElroy who will never win a major because he can't putt. This spake Zarathustra.