Archive for the ‘Discuss This’ Category

Uh oh, they’re sorry they’re here…

Well, half of them. Them being large multinational companies.

This can’t be a very good news in time of economic downturn. Almost half of multinational companies surveyed by IDA (they surveyed 97/538 companies, which works out about 18% of client portfolios) that are currently based in Ireland have indicated that given a second chance to relocate their companies, Ireland would not have been their choice. The two main cited reasons – high business costs and poor infrastructure. It appears not only the residents here are tired of rip-off Ireland, foreign investors are also unhappy with fatigued accountings.

With the widening of European markets, there are more options than ever for any company that’s currently looking into tapping into the continent. Of the companies that said they would have chose a different location, almost 2/3 of them would choose Eastern Europe. Not only that, some 16% would even go to UK. This must be sending some major alarm bells to the government!

But of course Ireland does have its own saving graces, since the other half surveyed are happy where they are right now and would not have choose an alternative location. Top of the list of graces is the favourable corporation tax rates, which even McCain evoked time and time again during his (now lost) presidential bid debates and speeches. The other main advantages are skilful set of labour, high technological knowledge (although we still sorely need better telecoms and broadband infrastructures) and favourable regulations for multinationals relocating here.

However, in times of global competitions, the balancing act is tricky at best (e.g. maintaining high living standard but battling rapid increases in wages which reduces profits and thus taxation) for the government. Not only that, the international economic climate also influences decision making by large international firms which are trying to remain competitive. For one, a large number of the multinationals currently based in Ireland are American-owned, and if tax breaks offered by President-elect Obama be deemed more favourable, the companies may begin to downsize their operations here and return to US for their expansions.

I guess we won’t know right now how the events will unfold. Only time will tell. In the mean time, the government has to stop sitting on the laurels of Celtic Tiger, and start to think of Plan B (and C and D) to keep the economy of the country growing. One thing that I can think of right now is, stop spending frivolously on all sorts of overbudgeted and overran (time wise) projects!

There’s no one as Irish as Barack Obama?

Taking a break from the usual Dublin-related blog entries, I came across this video while catching up on some US election articles on The Guardian. Hurray to the Irish for embracing diversity and never forgetting one of their own – Obama’s great great greatgrandfather hailed from Co. Offaly.

(By the way, all the 4 main names on the election tickets have Irish ancestry. I wonder if the others have songs written and dedicated just for them the way it does for Obama.)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EADUQWKoVek[/youtube]

You can sing along to the chorus too, if you wish:
O’Leary, O’Reilly, O’Hare and O’Hara,
There’s no one as Irish as Barack Obama,
From the old Blarney Stone to the green hills of Tara,
There’s no one as Irish as Barack Obama.

Not sure though if Bill O’Reilly would be pleased with such inclusion. He hasn’t exactly been a fan of Obama of late from what I gather from the media…

Check your grocery receipt!

Trying to pack the items after the checkout staff scanning them along as quickly as possible. Heavy items in first so fruits and vegs are placed on top and will not be squashed. The eggs even higher over to avoid cracks. Separating food and non-food items. Pay for the purchase. Put purse/wallet away. Move away because there are items coming through for the next customers even before you can evacuate the packing area.

All these happen at the checkout so quickly that, seriously, how many people actually look at their receipt and check if it’s correct before they leave the premises?

I’ve always tried to at least scan through my receipt, although not always, especially when I’m in a hurry. Lately however, I’ve been particular about checking my receipt, after one too many incidents where I ended up being overcharged. Surprisingly, or maybe not, I’ve never been undercharged.

It all started when I was being charged a lot for some toothbrush that I thought I’ve found a great promotional deal on. Upon recheck of the price, apparently the item on promotion wasn’t the one that I’ve bought. That was a case of mislabelling, or so I was told. Except this “practice” seems to be more widespread than ever. It happened several times that I started scrutinising every detail on the labels to ensure that I’ve picked up the right item. I’m nearly not surprised anymore on seeing similar items placed side by side, with ambiguous promotional sign placed in front. Pick the wrong one and you could be paying a good deal more.

As extension to that, I also started paying more attention to my grocery receipts. It is astonishing, how often I’d still be overcharged. I would have imagined, now that I have ensure I’ve picked the right items in relation to the prices displayed, and with the barcoding system, this shouldn’t happen. But no, I’m still being charged more. They are usually items that are marked to have reduction in prices, except somehow at the check out, the deduction didn’t happen – I would have been charged the full price!

Of course, the shops normally have policy that if you found such discrepancies, they will refund the difference. But the onus to this is, as a consumer, you need to be aware of every little details of your purchase and you will have to alert them of this. Surely as a merchant, they also have the responsibility to ensure their system is working correctly and that the customers are paying more than they should. However, when overcharging is happening nearly everytime I shop, I have pretty much lost the confident and trust in the merchant.

I query such discrepancy every time, even when the amount is negligible. And even when the queue behind me is long and everyone’s getting impatient. I refuse to let them think they can get away with such small deception each time. Little by little, if people don’t notice nor query it, they can make a pretty profit out of it!

International students, welcome to Ireland..?

It’s the time of the year where students are starting or going back to college. First there are students of UCD starting in mid-September, then students of RCSI, DCU, DIT etc starting a week or two after that, and last but not least TCD in early-October. That’s the trend for Dublin colleges as far as I know of.

At the same time, flights are arriving in Dublin airport with fresh-faced students, be it someone from Europe on an Erasmus exchange or someone who’s here and registered as a fully-fledged international student. For the Europeans, their main worry would most likely be competing with the Irish for accommodations. And maybe a small sense of inadequacy in using English 24/7 for the first time in their lives. For the non-Europeans though, add on another (major) headache – the immigration.

This article in Irish Times today highlights the immigration issue that every foreigner faces in this country – the procedures involved in making sure your entry and residency status in this country is legal and above board. But as pointed out in this article, the immigration procedures are arbitrarily carried out and trying to pinpoint on guidelines is a mammoth task for many.

If you are an international student who applies for a visa while still residing in your home country, this is the minimum guideline from the immigration service website. The international students office in your education institution should also be able to provide assistance and further information that you require.

For continuing students, things should be more straight forward as there would be a record file in place and one who also already have some experience dealing with the immigration bureau. Please note that the processing fee for visa this year has increased from €100 to €150.

The following is a list of minimum documentations that everyone applying visa in person should be aware of, and hopefully these would be all that would be asked to produce. The thought of re-queuing outside the GNIB office with hundreds of other students should be an encouragement for anyone at all to ensure he/she has all documentation at hand the first time round.

  • Passport, with at least 6 months validity post-course completion date
  • Letter from college, certifying that you are a registered student with fees paid
  • Valid student card, obtained following registration week in college
  • Bank statement showing sufficient funding, or letter from sponsor
  • Proof of course attendance, particularly if attending private colleges e.g. DBS
  • Evidence of private medical/health/personal insurance
  • Specific bank giro of €150 for processing fee, or credit card to pay this amount

[Note: this is only a guideline, and is by no means exhaustive. The invididual immigration officers dealing with the cases may exercise their rights in requiring more documentations and in approving/declining the visa applications.]

I am uncertain of this year’s application procedure (this has been changing several times in the past years) so I would just write on what I know based on last year. While the immigration bureau on Burgh Quay opened its door at 8am, students were asked to queue outside (it snaked around to the back to the building/block even) before numbered tickets were distributed starting at 9.30am. The number of tickets distributed per day was limited. Someone who was too far back at the queue may not get a number and would have to return another day.

A good book and a music player won’t go astray while one waits for his/her turn inside the office once a numbered ticket is obtained. For some, based on the number given, it could well be hours before their turn to talk to an immigration officer. Some people leave to return later, but my advice on this is, if you’re doing that, time it smartly. If your number is called and you miss it because you’re not there, then you’re back to square one and will have to queue again another day.

A few minor things. Be courteous and respectful. Turn off the mobile phone. Put it on silent otherwise. The office will most likely be packed this time of year so your bag doesn’t need a seat. Hours spent at the immigration bureau is frustrating, but everyone is in the same boat. Good luck!

If you have any other tips, or have been at the bureau recently, share it with us through the comment box.

Where have all the gentlemen gone?

I was catching up on some news through Huffington Post when I came across this article (full text below). Interesting attention grabbing headline, until I read further and the writer was drawing examples from this very city itself! I don’t really have much time to assimilate the details within this article right now (work beckons!) but thought I’d post it here for your reading pleasure.

What’s your thought on it? Were anyone in the audience of the debate? (And I wonder if it was L&H Society that organised this debate?)

* * * * *

In Ireland last week, in front of hundreds of students at University College Dublin, I participated in a debate on whether pornography is destructive or harmless. Numerous speakers on the pro-pornography side argued that pornography was a central part of women’s liberation, a point which met with thunderous cheers from the women in the audience. When it was my turn to speak, I asked the young women present to raise their hands if they needed a man. Not one hand went up. I then told them that commensurate with the degree to which men are becoming immature, porn-obsessed schoolboys, women are giving up on the hope of ever finding a noble, well-mannered gentleman. As women confront the vulgar reality of how men treat them, they discover that becoming masturbatory material to men is not particularly liberating.

The despair of Dublin’s women was mirrored the next evening in a conversation with a twenty-nine year old woman who told me that she had given up on finding a good man because the men in Dublin were conditioned ‘to treat women as orifices.’ She said, ‘A huge number of women play along by coming out on Friday and Saturday nights in their skimpy mini-skirts in the freezing cold, getting completely drunk and doing anything the guys want in the mistaken belief that somehow this will bring them love. After a few years they give up on men and become like me.’

Nowhere in the Western world are we raising a generation of men who pride themselves on their restraint and respect toward women. We are likewise failing to cultivate women who refuse to be complicit in their own degradation and who insist that their sexuality be shared with a man only in the context of a serious and tangible romantic commitment. It’s a man’s world. Women just live in it.

This is even true in marriage as more and more relationship experts blame a cheating husband on his wife. If a man is unfaithful, they argue, it is often due to the fact that he feels lonely and unappreciated by his wife. By recognizing that their husbands have emotional and sexual needs which wives may be ignoring, a wife can win her husband back and ensure that he does not stray.

A few months ago I mentioned that this was the position taken by Dr. Laura Schlesinger after the Eliot Spitzer affair and it has since been echoed by other relationship writers.

But this attempt to blame the victim ignores the fact that the principle reason men womanize is to shore up their broken egos. There are so many damaged husbands who think that a nurturing stranger who both desires him and wishes to be an ear to his pain will be a salve to his painfully low self-esteem. In many cases, these are husbands who have wives who could not be more devoted, who give them sex whenever they want, who pine for them to come home at night, all to no avail. No matter how much she huffs and puffs, she cannot inflate his perforated ego.

Would we really suggest that, as Elizabeth Edwards ran around the country with incurable cancer catering to her husband’s yearning to be president, he cheated on her because she wasn’t caring enough? After Silla Ward Spitzer garnered national ridicule by quite literally standing by her husband in his greatest moment of shame, would we inflict the final insult on her by telling her that her husband hung out with hookers because of her neglect?

In this age of husbands who are sports and TV addicts, I dare say that there are probably more wives who are ignored by their husbands than the reverse. But women seem much more capable of controlling themselves and deciding that a husband’s neglect is no excuse to corrupt one’s character and become immoral. Indeed, the only way to truly affair-proof one’s marriage is to decide that the pleasure of righteous action and moral heroism by far outstrips anything that can be experienced in illicit sex. This is something magical in a man’s ability to turn down an opportunity to stray and walk away from the encounter a devoted husband and moral giant. One of the prime reasons we all suffer from low self-esteem these days is that we are not the people we want to be. Becoming a liar and a cheat is probably not, in the long run, going to make us feel a whole lot better about ourselves. But deciding to behave righteously even when we are in pain will.

To be sure, wives should of course work to reach their husband’s buried emotions. Contrary to what many women believe, men are intimacy seekers. In these challenging financial times, wives should ask their husbands not, ‘How did your day go?,’ but, ‘How do you feel about all the convulsions in your company?’ They should nurture their men’s hearts and do their best to address their pain. But in the final analysis, if a husband cheats, it’s his fault. Period. He has his own selfishness and ingratitude to blame.

As I survey the current cultural landscape I often wonder, where have all the gentlemen gone? Our movies are filled with male bathroom humor. Our sporting heroes like Alex Rodriquez can’t seem to respect their commitments. Our college campuses are filled with frat boy party animals for whom womanizing is an integral part of ‘higher’ education. Do men today only aspire to an internet startup but not to refined character? Do they yearn for the Forbes Four Hundred list but not to set an example for their own sons of how a great man honors his wife and prioritizes his family?

There was a likable young man I met in Dublin who was very smart but also very cynical. As I spoke with him he shared with me his desire to be recognized as a great director. He also said, matter-of-factly, that when he meets a woman he is unapologetic about trying to have sex with her. When I asked him if he wanted children, he said, “I love my future children enough not to have them. I would inevitably mess them up.” Of course, by the same logic he might as well never try and make a movie. But then, great directors get Academy Awards while gentleman receive no public accolades other than the knowledge that they alone among men tamed and harnessed the beast within.

[Rabbi Shmuley Boteach hosts a daily national radio show on “Oprah and Friends.” His most recent book is the ‘The Broken American Male.’ (St. Martin’s Press) www.shmuley.com]

* * * * *

Everyone *IS* blogging

… or so it seems.

One of the latest blogs drawn to my attention is that of the President of Dublin City University – Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski – entitled University Blog. He muses some, shares his hobbies and favourites (he is gadget-loving and also totally into A Fine Frenzy), and talks about education and stuff.

While everything is pretty in University Blog, there’s a disgruntled academic in DCU who has started blogging too (at more or less the same time). Academic Tenure in Ireland is bent on informing everyone of the precarious position an academic could face given the same Professor above-mentioned challenged the traditional sense of a “tenure”.

Interesting to see scandals within Irish higher education institution aired so publicly. It makes me wonder how much more juicy scandals there may be that we never know about… :rolleyes:

Update 2nd Sept : I was pointed to yet another blog, also confusingly/deliberately called University Blog, but with a tagline that this is the diary of an University Professor. This is a very young blog of a month old but its objective is similar to that of Academic Tenure in Ireland. Watch out, more bashing!

Shop at Lidl?

The last couple of posts by Sheena that touched on (non) recession and rip-off Ireland reminded me of this blog that I came across a couple of weeks ago, but didn’t quite occur to me to share the link because the blogger Kate Nolan is based in Kilkenny. Silly me. She may be based outside Dublin but what she blogs about is relevant to pretty much everyone in this country.

Lidl Treats was started to dispel the “shame” in shopping at Lidl – it’s strange, in my opinion, to have people complaining about prices then would be ashamed of being seen shopping somewhere where the prices are reasonable – and to show, how products from Lidl can be comparable in quality and value to products in other supermarkets, if not of better value. However, it’s not always just downright approval for all the products from Lidl, and Kate does point out if she prefers particular products over another of the same line. Frank opinion is always a good thing.

For any sceptics out there, Kate also pointed out that she’s not on Lidl’s payroll (scroll down to comments section). In fact, she was a little sorry about the choice of the name for the site, because it’s going to be limiting on what she blogs about.

I wonder if there is someone out there writing about Aldi Treats…

In case you’re also interested in what a couple other bloggers are saying about value for money and other consumer related issues, have a look at Irish Times Pricewatch blog, Value Ireland and Money Guide Ireland as well.

How much ROI?

I was at Eason’s last weekend when this advertisement thingy was dangling and bobbing up and down at me at the cashier. Something about millionaire raffles. Two grand prizes worth a whopping million Euro each. And only 300,000 tickets would be sold nationwide.

What’s the catch? Each raffle ticket will set you back by 20 quids.

So quick calculation. €20 x 300,000 = €6 million. This should generate a really nice profit margin for the National Lottery, isn’t it?

Of course, my friend pointed out, surely there would be more than just two prizes. How about the smaller prizes? Since we didn’t have time nor the inclination to ask for details, we left and when I got home I did a little search on their website for information.

In total, 532 prizes would be at stake, putting each raffle ticket owner at under 0.2% of winning something (a pretty good odd in comparison to normal lottery draws I guess), ranging from €500 (there are 300 of them) to the million euro cheques (only 2 I’m afraid).

Even then, total prize payout would only sum up to some €3.6 million. Total income generated from the sales, as calculated above, €6 million. Taking account of some associated costs in running the promotion etc, there still ought to be a cool 35%-40% of net profit to be made through this little venture.

In the end, who really is the millionaire winner? Not you. Not me. (Well, I don’t have a ticket in any case.) It’s the National Lottery. When their coffers fill up by at least another couple of million Euros.

Sponsor a child

Children can be incredibly aware of social issues, and this was demonstrated by my colleague’s daughter just a week or so ago. While watching her favourite kiddie channel, an advertisement came up, seeking for sponsorship of children in countries that require continuous support. She turned to her mother and very candidly asked “Mummy, these children don’t look very happy. Is it because they don’t have food and toys? Can we help them?”

My colleague and her husband made an agreement then that they would try to seek for a programme to sponsor a child, and hope by this they would educate their daughters of charity and awareness about poverty.

But first, they want to know where to start.

I have been sponsoring a child from Ethiopia for a while now, through Action Aid (UK) because at that point when I started, Action Aid Ireland didn’t yet have such programme in place. My understanding of this organisation is that the money doesn’t go to the child individually but to the community where various projects to improve the living standards and education levels are being carried out. In return the organisation would send periodical progress reports (so to speak) along with maybe a sketch or two by the child.

Not wanting to sound heartless, but I’d rather not receive any of the correspondence by post. I am more than happy to receive email correspondence (this is more environmentally friendly, plus it means less cost on printing and postage) and would rather the money be spent less on administrative items and more on community projects. So far, I’m happy with the level of correspondence (or non-correspondence) that I’m receiving.

But I digress.

So where can you start if you’re considering a worthwhile project like this? Here, I am suggesting 5 organisations (in alphabetical order) that are/have Irish base which you can investigate further, of their aims, their projects and how they are helping the communities that need assistance.

1) Action Aid Ireland
2) A-Z Children Charity
3) Child Fund Ireland
4) Plan Ireland
5) World Vision Ireland

Most of the sponsorship plan requested between €20-€30 per month, and on a long term basis so that there’s continuous funding to carry out appropriate works without constant worry (and administrative duties) of seeking for new sponsors to replace those who withdraw after just a short period of sponsorship. The key here is community development, so it is a little bit of a long term commitment from all parties involved.

It is not a huge sum of money involved – one less fancy meal in town per month – but it will make such a difference to the life a child somewhere. To have basic comforts such as housing with clean water facilities. An oppportunity to education. The list continues. These, are priceless.

Lost in conversion

Have anyone gave a read to today’s Irish Times Pricewatch article (premium content, subscription needed) about Irish consumers being ripped off, not just by virtue of high prices but also by losing out in the process of currency conversion?

Many of the retailers within the city are part of UK chains, such as Topshop/Topmen, Oasis, Coast but to name a few, and often times, you do see the prices on the tag, being in Euro and in Sterling. Some European retailers such as Zara and H&M would have pricing in Euro as well as other European currencies not within Eurozone.

In facing this, how many consumers are actually asking if we’re being charged accordingly?

Given the strong Euro at the moment, we should rightly be paying less for our purchases. However, such currency advantage is not being passed on to us at all. If anything, should the conversion rate be following the other trend, I can bet that the price would be hiked immediately to reflect the market situation. “We have no choice” would be the mantra of the retailers. But of course, the current situation is one that shows stronger Euro, and these businesses simply have no wish to pass on the benefits and rather keep the profits higher to themselves.

Such discrepancy is more apparent when dual pricing tags are operational. To that end, some retailers are now moving to display only single currency unit (i.e. Euro) and remove the Sterling for comparison. A tad sneaky really.

I have switched a good bit of my purchasing to online shopping of late, particularly those of books and CDs and the likes. By being exchange rate-aware and choosing the appropriate currency for payments to be charged, not only am I paying a cheaper price to start of with, I’m also making a saving through the currency conversion. Even with the delivery costs associated, I’m still paying less.

It pays to be price aware, and don’t let bad business practices flourish!

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