Happy Birthday Omar Khayyam

Although we know him best for his poetry it is worth remembering that Khayyam was a mathematician of some note, and an astronomer.  As a scientist he had views on religion that were not popular when he lived when he was labeled a skeptic and a sinner.

In truth he was probably more of an agnostic than an atheist and more of  a Sufi mystic than a sinner.  At heart, as he displays in the quatrain below, he believed that we make our own fate.  He rejects the notion, so beloved of venal faithful of all religions, that you can behave badly on earth and be somehow rewarded in the afterlife.

I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of that After-life to spell:
And by and by my Soul return’d to me,
And answer’d “I Myself am Heav’n and Hell

Khayyam

The 5th Estate

tennis_court_oath

The Tennis Court Oath, Versailles, 1789

In the traditional model of rule, dating back to feudalism, there were three powers in the realm.  These were called the “Estates General” in pre-revolutionary France.

The first, and foremost was the Lords Temporal, made up of the hereditary royalty of the realm.  In effect these were the main landowners.

The second estate was the Lords Spiritual, the Cardinals and Bishops who ruled the church and wielded the power of “God” on earth.

The third, most numerous, and also the weakest estate was traditionally made up of commoners.  This is not to say they were poor peasants.  In fact the “Commons” were merchant princes, bankers, lawyers and aldermen selected to represent the interests of the middle classes.

Three great events in the 17th and 18th Centuries changed the dynamics of the Estates General forever.

  • In 1649 the British Parliament ordered the execution of King Charles, shattering the concept of “Divine Right” to rule.
  • In 1776 13 colonies of the United States of America declared their right of self-determination, a right of the 3rd estate to be free of the rule of the 1st estate.  No taxation without representation!
  • In 1789 the French 3rd estate seized power from the 1st and 2nd estates and firmly issued in the age of enlightenment.

Never again were the 1st and 2nd estates to hold power in the Western world without the agreement of the 3rd estate.

In the midst of this redefinition of the balance of power Edmund Burke, an Irish peer, made an address to Westminster on the reporting of parliamentary business by the Press.  He pointed out that the Press represented a 4th Estate which potentially wielded more power than the 3 estates general.  It proved to be a prophetic prediction.

Today almost every coup d’état begins with the seizure of the organs of the media, the presses, the radio stations and the TV stations.  Politicians and their military arms know that the media battle is as important as any conflict of arms.  Tight autocratic rule is only possible where the rulers control the media, the 4th estate.

The concept of a 5th estate, non mainstream media, emerged in the counter cultural revolution of the 1960’s, originally as the eponymous Detroit Newspaper.  It spread to a variety of media, but was restricted by traditional constraints on output.  The odd piece of output made a splash, such as the “Anarchists Cookbook”, but most of the small publications and independent radio broadcasts were lost to tiny circulations.

Then the internet arrived.  The 5th estate has blossomed on media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and in the darkest corners of the deep web.

Despite the best efforts of autocratic regimes it is very difficult to control the 5th Estate.  China is the best example of a state that exerts tight control.  Even the great firewall of China is porous.  The regime cannot control all the information that filters in and out of the nation.  People import smartphones from abroad, or use various tricks to bypass state control of the firewalls.

The “Arab Spring” revolutions in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and the Middle East were made possible by the 5th Estate.  Rebels were able to use social media to tear apart the propaganda and lies of the ruling elite.  They then used social media to coordinate and organize protests, uprisings and even battles.

Mainstream journalists use and abuse social media to bypass super injunctions by courts to control celebrity scandals.  They breach the laws of sub judice reporting in a manner that is impossible in the 4th estate.  Whistleblowers use social media to release data into the public domain including Julian Assange, Linda Tripp, Edward Snowdon, Bradley Manning etc.

The impact of the 5th Estate on Western Democratic politics is only now beginning to crystalize.

The rules are being formed but we get an emerging sense of the landscape.
Cover-ups don’t work.
Fraud is uncovered.
Nepotism is exposed.
Secret donations do not remain secret.
Past statements of politicians are dredged up and used as a stick to beat them.

The age of the media savvy politician and his spin-doctor sidekick is over.
We are entering a new era of politics, where consistency, honesty and openness are the sine qua non of political survival.

Large central parties are fracturing and falling apart as their corrupt members are isolated and exposed.
For the individual politician loyalty to the constituency is more important than loyalty to the party.
We see this in the rise of the independents, the mavericks, those outside mainstream politics.  The Trump factor.

The new era will favour smaller groupings with tighter internal agreement on issues and higher levels of trust between members.  “Family” style groupings who share values.
Governments will be by coalitions of these small groups.
The practice of governing will become more fluid as alliances are made, broken and reformed based on prevailing economic and political priorities.

The 4th estate has been increasingly controlled by the wealthy, who can afford to buy the media, and establish editorial standards.  Would the Watergate Scandal see the light of day in the current media climate?

By contrast the 5th estate is uncontrollable.  It can be influenced by those with the largest social media followings.

In the next 20 years you will see attempts by the wealthy to influence the 5th estate by buying influence.  Anyone who is seen as “bought” will rapidly lose traction.

King Canute (or Cnut) is famous for trying to hold back the tide.
In fact he was criticizing sycophantic nobles who accorded him divine powers.
He demonstrated that for all his power he was unable to order the tides.
Canute would understand just how uncontrollable is the 5th Estate.

king canute on the beach

Canute holds back the tide

 

Visions of War

Yesterday the USA dropped the largest ever non-nuclear weapon ever used, the GBU-43/B.  They dropped this massive piece of ordnance in a cave system in Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan.  The stated intent was to deny a system of caves and tunnels to ISIS fighters.  A truer intention is Donald Trump flexing his muscles for the Russians and the Chinese to show he is a serious military threat.  But that too is secondary, because his primary audience is the American people.  I’m sure the people of the USA feel a little bit safer today knowing that several miles of caves in Afghanistan have been destroyed.  (That last sentence is called sarcasm)

Today I have three images for you, all stolen from the Guardian photos of the day.  Image 1 is of US troops marching in step at a NATO rally in Poland.  Hey Mr Putin, look at those gung ho young American boys, marching in neat lines.  We have big bombs too.  Boo Yah!

BooYah

The second photograph is from further east, in the city of Mosul, Iraq.  The smart uniforms and the neat lines of troops give way to the true face of war.  A man pushing his daughter through a blasted landscape in a wheelchair.  It is pathetic.  As you sit down to your Easter Sunday dinner spare a thought for what awaits this family on their table.  What did he do to deserve this fate?

Al-Abar

The final image is of a pretty girl taking a selfie in a field of flowers.  It could almost be in Holland, with the bright blossoms in neat lines, except for the fact that the girl in question has a machine gun on her back.  Nir Yitzhak is a kibbutz on the border of Israel with the Gaza strip.  If ever there was an image of the absurdity of war this is it.  Page down to a war poem by Yeats!

Nir Yitzhak

On being asked for a War Poem : By William Butler Yeats

I think it better that in times like these
A poet’s mouth be silent, for in truth
We have no gift to set a statesman right;

He has had enough of meddling who can please
A young girl in the indolence of her youth,
Or an old man upon a winter’s night.

 

 

 

Mermaid or Siren?

Odysseus

Odysseus tied to the mast

This morning in work a lady was singing softly as she filled her water bottle from the ever so slow water filter in the office.  It reminded me of the passage below.  Do Mermaids really sing?  I thought it was just Sirens.  I thought the Sirens lured you onto the rocks with their singing, and the Mermaids saved you from drowning, if you were good looking enough!

 

—————————-

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
 
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

…………………..From: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: by T.S. Eliot

Death in Paradise

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As I set up my compost pots and plant my seeds for the coming season I am pondering the rabbit issue.  The word paradise is derived from the Persian word for a Garden.  A garden is the ultimate symbol of man’s dominion over nature.  We build a fence or a wall to surround a patch of land.  Then we drive out the wild influences and cultivate what lies within.  The vegetables are larger, fleshier and sweeter than what grows out in the wild.  The fruits are more succulent and delicate.  The flowers are bigger and brighter.

To create this wonderful space is a statement of the control of man.  This control is represented at its greatest in the gardens of the Augustan period (early 18th Century), paved walkways, symmetrical and geometric layouts, neat box hedges, espaliered fruit trees, pulses supported by cane frames, clear boundaries between the area under control and the wilderness outside.  During the Augustan period this control was celebrated as beauty.  Wildness was represented as ugly.  It was not until the Romantic period that wild spaces and unregulated nature were appreciated.

Control of a garden also involved control of pests.  These can be very small pests, like greenfly, wireworms, codling moth larva.  They can also be much larger pests such as rabbits, dogs, deer and even certain types of people.

The poem below is the sad tale of a dog who had a good thing going until he made the mistake of becoming a garden pest.

A Dog’s Mistake: by Banjo Patterson

He had drifted in among us as a straw drifts with the tide,
He was just a wand’ring mongrel from the weary world outside;
He was not aristocratic, being mostly ribs and hair,
With a hint of spaniel parents and a touch of native bear.
He was very poor and humble and content with what he got,
So we fed him bones and biscuits, till he heartened up a lot;
Then he growled and grew aggressive, treating orders with disdain,
Till at last he bit the butcher, which would argue want of brain.

Now the butcher, noble fellow, was a sport beyond belief,
And instead of bringing actions he brought half a shin of beef,
Which he handed on to Fido, who received it as a right
And removed it to the garden, where he buried it at night.

‘Twas the means of his undoing, for my wife, who’d stood his friend,
To adopt a slang expression, “went in off the deepest end”,
For among the pinks and pansies, the gloxinias and the gorse
He had made an excavation like a graveyard for a horse.

Then we held a consultation which decided on his fate:
‘Twas in anger more than sorrow that we led him to the gate,
And we handed him the beef-bone as provision for the day,
Then we opened wide the portal and we told him, “On your way.”

TheVegetableGarden.jpg

Marching out to war

mars

When the Greco-Roman God of War rides to battle he carries with him in his chariot his two sons and his lover/sister.  His sons (the moons of the planet Mars) are Phobos and Deimos (Fear and Terror) and his sister/lover is Enyo (Discord).

The Greeks did not love Ares.  They, who valued mental discipline, saw him as an embodiment of the madness aroused by the passions of battle.  Something to be avoided in favour of good planning and strategy.

 

Life on Mars; by David Bowie

It’s a God-awful small affair
to the girl with the mousy hair
but her mummy is yelling no
and her daddy has told her to go

But her friend is nowhere to be seen
now she walks through her sunken dream
to the seat with the clearest view
and she’s hooked to the silver screen

But the film is a saddening bore
for she’s lived it ten times or more
she could spit in the eyes of fools
as they ask her to focus on

Sailors fighting in the dance hall
oh man look at those cavemen go
it’s the freakiest show

Take a look at the lawman
beating up the wrong guy
oh man wonder if he’ll ever know
he’s in the best selling show

Is there life on Mars?

It’s on America’s tortured brow
that Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow
now the workers have struck for fame
‘Cause Lennon’s on sale again

See the mice in their million hordes
from Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads
rule Britannia is out of bounds
to my mother, my dog, and clowns

But the film is a saddening bore
‘Cause I wrote it ten times or more
it’s about to be writ again
as I ask you to focus on

Sailors fighting in the dance hall
oh man look at those cavemen go
it’s the freakiest show

Take a look at the lawman
beating up the wrong guy
oh man wonder if he’ll ever know
he’s in the best selling show

Is there life on Mars?

Maura Clancy R.I.P.

maurame

My mother passed away quietly today attended by four of her seven children.  She joins her husband Paddy who passed away ten years ago, much to her annoyance.  She felt that she should have gone first.

She was 89 years old in October and lived what can only be called a full life.  She leaves behind on the planet seven children, 20 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren so far.

A lot will be said about Maura by others in the days and weeks to come.  I want to take this opportunity to share some words from Maura directly.  Back in 1998 when I was researching my masters degree I was developing an interview system and used members of my family for practice until I had it road tested for full roll out.  Sometimes the stream of speech may seem a little random and disjointed, but these are real words as spoken.  People often do not speak in a linear manner so there are some strange seeming jumps from topic to topic.

I asked Maura a question about how she behaves in an environmental manner and she replied as follows:

What do I do?   Well, I suppose my big thing is I don’t waste…..since I learned about compost I….you know I don’t waste vegetables.  I try to return to the earth what it, em, what belongs to it.  I have a guilt complex about plastic bags.  I don’t know what to do about it, they’re just dished out everywhere.  I really think if we were all made to pay for the plastic bags, or if we were made to bring our own baskets it would save an awful lot of pollution.  We have this thing [green box recycling pickup] where they come once a week and there’s things that go into it.  But if there are any old  clothes there is a woman up the road now that will take anything; old bags, old clothes, and they are ground down into making mats for somebody out in the missions in Africa.  So that’s another thing I’m hoping to do.  But I suppose, the environment, I em, I hope I haven’t done anything consciously to destroy it.  But then of course maybe I have.  Maybe we should all be looking at washing powders going into the water…..

Maura got her wish on the Plastic Bag issue when the Irish Government introduced a levy on plastic bags in 2002.  Now we all bring our shopping bags or baskets to the shops as she wanted.

Later I asked a question about the things that define people and this is Maura’s answer:

Cycling I suppose.  I started off thinking I’d love to act because I was interested in drama but I know from my years of experience now that I would have made a damn good teacher.  But people didn’t go back to work [in Ireland women had to give up their jobs when they married].  But I think through my interest in drama and through my ability to teach, I think I can be proud of the family I brought up.  I think they would be my….identity.  But as against that there is me.  I mean, I don’t want to be a slave thing.  I always wanted to do things, get around.  I wouldn’t have had so much opportunity I suppose, I loved going off to Kilkee and I loved the oul’ holiday because it was a break in routine.  I did enjoy all the sewing, it was creative.  I suppose I’m….I like the creativity.

I think I like, I like somebody to say they’d like to come for a meal [One of her sons] there last week said can I come for a meal and I was just going to do the ordinary, a run of the mill dinner, throw on the chops.  Ah, it’s nice to do something a little different, which is creativity.  I suppose in that way, and that’s why I’m not doing as much painting [Art] as I should.  I suppose I should get more and more absorbed in the painting.  I spend a lot of time reading and thinking I’ll do it, and I will, because I am learning all the time.  But I see me as getting a buzz standing in a spot that I’ve walked or cycled to, and looking at a lovely scene.  I know that music is beautiful and I know that drama… and I don’t think anything can match a God given scene, a landscape with the glisten on the water maybe, or the colours on a mountain and especially if you’ve had to achive something to get there.

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