How to choose a college course.

College Choice

As one cohort of students begin their first year in college a whole new batch are embarking on their final school year.  Somewhere along the way this year they need to fill in a form to apply for college places.

In Ireland the university and college applications process is centralised by a government body called the Central Applications Office.  So you will hear Irish kids talk about their CAO form and their CAO choices.

For the vast majority of Irish kids the system is entirely meritocratic.   It is a points based scoring system.  If you get sufficient points in your exams you get the place in college.  There is no opportunity to sway the opinions of a “selection” committee with a jazzy video or a fat donation.  There are some sensible exceptions.  Places for art schools generally involve an additional points allocation based on your portfolio.  Music schools award separate points for musical ability, awards and prizes.  But for the most part the selection is based on the results of your secondary school leaving certificate exam.

So in Ireland, when the Leaving Certificate results come out you will hear conversations about the “points race” and the “CAO Points”.  For reasons of social etiquette it is gauche to ask what points someone (or their child) received.  It is OK to ask “did they get their first choice?”  A high performing kid might get 525 points and be disappointed because they needed 550 to get into Law.  Another kid might be over the moon because they got the 300 points they needed to secure their first choice course.

These days it is possible to recover from a terrible leaving certificate and negotiate alternate routes into third level education.  But the leaving certificate remains the simplest and fastest way to get from school through college and into the workplace.

Hence the Venn diagram at the top of the article.  Confucius is supposed to have said that if you do something you love you will never work a day in your life.  It’s a nice idea and it is certainly wonderful to have a job you love.  It makes your days fly by and every morning is an engaging challenge rather than a depressing trudge to a workplace that seems like a prison.  The modern equivalent of the “dark satanic mills”.

Putting an old head on 18 year old shoulders is a challenge.  When I see a college course in data science I see a future of possibility, interesting work and excellent pay.  My 18 year old sees a lot of boring stuff on the syllabus.

Which brings me to the TV jobs farce.  When you look at TV what are the exciting jobs?

Lots of TV shows glamorise a law career.  Those sharp clothes, beautiful people, shiny courtrooms, exciting cases, sexy colleagues.  It all seems such a rush.  For me “Better Call Saul” is probably a fairer view of a law career.  There is glamour and excitement, for the senior partners.  For the grunts there are long days of work that is often boring and tedious, with risk of severe criticism for any mistake.

Law is categorised (Freakonomics:  Dubner & Levitt) as a career that is structured as a tournament.  You have a very wide entry base and a very narrow apex of the pyramid.  Those at the top, the partners, reap huge rewards from the work of their teams.  It is a microcosm of the capitalist system.  You get rich by taking the value of the work of your low paid staff.  Careers structured as tournaments are great if you win.  Not so great if you lose.  Either you spend your life being paid less than you are worth, or you depart from the competition to accept a more stable position, having given your best years to a senior partner.

Big 4 accounting firms are similarly structured as tournaments.  Kids need to be aware that if they enter that race they need to be up for the long haul.  20 years of 50 to 60 hour weeks, breakfast and lunch at the computer, working weekends, cancelling holidays, having kids who think the mobile phone is called “daddy”.

TV is also pretty good at glamorising jobs that do not pay.  TV is filled with interior design shows.  It seems there must be a booming career for interior designers.  But riddle me this, the last time you did a home makeover, how much did you spend with your interior designer?  What?  You didn’t use one?  Why ever not?  Oh, they cost too much.

So you have a handful of well connected interior designers who work for millionaires, who are probably the sons or daughters of millionaires themselves.  You then have a handful of designers who are connected to the right industries, such as hotels or restaurants, but they seem to get ALL the work in those industries.  Each year hundreds of young hopefuls enter college to study interior design and end up working in the restaurant business serving food instead of designing rooms.

My advice to young people selecting a college place, for what it is worth, is this.

  1. Use the Venn diagram above.  Be honest with yourself.  If you get 50% in Maths and you really love maths, but you get 80% in Spanish, you are better at Spanish, even if you hate it.
  2. Add up your points from the last set of exams you sat.  That is your base working assumption.  Unless you plan to really, really work really really hard, you are looking at a good approximation of your final marks.  Look at the courses in that points range.
  3. Search job sites, and the kind of job you would eventually like to have.  Look at the qualifications they specify as mandatory requirements.
  4. If you are selecting a career speak to some people who actually work in that career.  Don’t fall for the corporate literature or what you see on TV.  For instance a recent survey found that most US college students in nuclear physics learned most of what they knew about the subject from watching the Simpsons.
  5. Keep your options as open as you can early in your college life.  What I mean here is select the general rather than the specific.  If you have a choice of “General Science” or “Food science” go with the General and you will find that there are options to specialise all along the way.  If you go too specific too early it can be hard to back out if you hate it.
  6. Finally, don’t stress about it.  Most people end up working in a career that has little or nothing to do with their undergraduate college course.  Life takes you in some strange directions.  Whatever you do choose, stick with it.  Complete the course and get the degree.  Employers are impressed by people who finish what they start, not by people who found themselves on a beach in Thailand instead of sitting their finals.

 

 

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The missing Menorah

Titus.png

On this day in AD 70 the siege of Jerusalem ended with the destruction of the Second Temple by Titus, son of Vespasian, at the head of a Roman army.

According to the historian Josephus the Menorah of the temple was taken as spoils of war and brought back to Rome.  It was carried in the Triumphal Procession of Vespasian and Titus and is recorded on the Arch of Titus.

Using the spoils taken from Jerusalem Vespasian constructed the Templum Pacis, the temple of peace in the Forum of Vespasian.  The Menorah was stored in the temple for hundreds of years until the sack of Rome by the Vandals in 455 AD.

The Vandals brought the Menorah back with them to their capital in Carthage, in the Roman African province, modern day Tunisia.

One hundred years later the Vandals had become soft from living on the fat of the land.  Their armies were no longer the terror of the western Mediterranean.  Emperor Justinian of the Eastern Roman Empire sent his favourite general, Belisarius, to retake Africa for Rome.  In 533 AD Belisarius defeated the armies of King Gelimer and his brothers.

According to the historian Procopius the Menorah was found amongst the treasures of the Vandals and was taken to Constantinople.  It was displayed in the Ovation given by Justinian to his victorious general.  Gelimer was prostrated before the Emperor, and was allowed to live out his life on a Roman estate.

According to Procopius Justinian gave the Menorah back to the Jews in Jerusalem.  On the one hand it is hard to believe that such an ardent Christian emperor would have given this treasure to people he regarded as little short of heretics.  On the other hand he may have looked at the fate of the Second Temple, Rome and Carthage and wondered if he really wanted to keep the Menorah in his capital.

Whatever the truth this is the end of the tale for the Menorah.  It is never seen again.  Some say it is hidden in the Vatican City and the Vandals never found it.  Others say it was looted from Jerusalem when the Persians sacked the city in 614 AD.  Some think it was in a ship that sank in the Tibur when the Vandals were leaving Rome and that it lies at the bottom of the sea outside Ostia.  Others think it was still in Jerusalem during the Crusades and was taken by the Knights Templar.  Whatever the truth it is a tempting theme for a “Da Vinci Code” style adventure, or a new quest for Indiana Jones.

Psalm III : by Allen Ginsberg
To God: to illuminate all men. Beginning with Skid Road.
Let Occidental and Washington be transformed into a higher place, the plaza of eternity.
Illuminate the welders in shipyards with the brilliance of their torches.
Let the crane operator lift up his arm for joy.
Let elevators creak and speak, ascending and descending in awe.
Let the mercy of the flower’s direction beckon in the eye.
Let the straight flower bespeak its purpose in straightness — to seek the light.
Let the crooked flower bespeak its purpose in crookedness — to seek the light.
Let the crookedness and straightness bespeak the light.
Let Puget Sound be a blast of light.
I feed on your Name like a cockroach on a crumb — this cockroach is holy.

 

Big Dog

Castelveccio

Can Grande translates as “Big Dog”.  Interesting name for the Scaliger family who ruled Verona with an iron fist in the middle ages.  Can Grande II della Scala was also nicknamed Can Rabbioso or “The Rabid Dog”.

It was he who built Castelveccio and the Castelveccio bridge to protect himself and his family from the people he exploited so heavily that they fell into penury.  The castle turned out to be a wasted effort because in classic Italian style Can Grande found his end at the point of his brothers knife.

How much you can learn from an obscure reference in a line of a poem.  What did we ever do before Google?  Happy Birthday Richard Aldington who did his own “googling” in the British Museum.

 

In the British Museum; by Richard Aldington

I turn the page and read:
“I dream of silent verses where the rhyme
glides noiseless as an oar.”
The heavy musty air, the black desks,
the bent heads and the rustling noises
in the great dome
vanish …
and
the sun hangs in the cobalt-blue sky,
the boat drifts over the lake shallows,
the fishes skim like umber shades through the undulating weeds,
the oleanders drop their rosy petals on the lawns,
and the swallows dive and swirl and whistle
about the cleft battlements of Can Grande’s castle…

Gondola

Happy Birthday Maxine Kumin

Snowwhite

The true feminist knows that the fairy tale wedding is just a beginning.  In the aftermath of those tales how many of those tall, dark and handsome narcissists could you genuinely tolerate for more than a few years.  Dina Goldstein addresses the idea in her scathing set of “Fallen Princesses” photos.

Academic, feminist, horse breeder and mother of three Maxine Kumin was born Maxine Winokur on June 6th 1925.

The poem below is interesting as my daughter just told a joke on the same theme.  How do you drastically shorten a Shakespeare play?  “Oh Romeo, oh Romeo, hast thou found Jesus?”

 

Purgatory : by Maxine Kumin

And suppose the darlings get to Mantua,
suppose they cheat the crypt, what next? Begin
with him, unshaven. Though not, I grant you, a
displeasing cockerel, there’s egg yolk on his chin.
His seedy robe’s aflap, he’s got the rheum.
Poor dear, the cooking lard has smoked her eye.
Another Montague is in the womb
although the first babe’s bottom’s not yet dry.
She scrolls a weekly letter to her Nurse
who dares to send a smock through Balthasar,
and once a month, his father posts a purse.
News from Verona? Always news of war.
Such sour years it takes to right this wrong!
The fifth act runs unconscionably long.

Now for Rónán Mullen

Yes

 

I voted against the 8th referendum in 1983.  I was in the minority and it passed.  I was 20 years old and I felt out of touch with my own country.  I could not understand how the holy Joe brigade won on that day.

I clearly remember them handing out lapel badges with tiny feet on them, to represent the feet of foetuses.  I remember the praying women, bearing their crosses and their rosary beads, marching up and down the central reservation in O’Connell Street, saying the rosary.

I remember the convents being cleared out on the polling day to make sure that nuns who had not been outside their walls in decades were engaged to cast their votes.

Thirty years on the climate has changed in Ireland.  The winds from Rome have weakened considerably.  They iron hard grip of the church on society has slackened.  The hand of the church is liver spotted, wrinkled, veined and atrophied.  The church has failed to move with the times and faces dissolution.  It is losing control of its two strongest bastions, education and health.  Ireland is well on its way to becoming a fully secular nation.

I am not anti-christian.  I actually think the Christian church was in its day the greatest force for positive change on the planet.  The preaching of a message of peace and love was a giant leap forward from some truly awful religions.  The breaking of bread and the drinking of wine as votive rites are much more civilised than chaining virgin girls to rocks, stoning sinners to death or slitting the throats of sheep and goats.

My issue is not so much with Christianity as it is with organised religion.  My position is summed up by a speech from the film “Kingdom of Heaven” where the Hospitaller knight says to Balian:

 I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of God. Holiness is in right action and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness. What God desires is here [points to head] and here [points to heart] and what you decide to do every day, you will be a good man – or not.

In summary:  Regardless of your intentions, we are what we do.

In the Repeal the 8th campaign we saw, yet again, what the Religions Right actually do.  They lie.  They cheat.  They bully.

These are people who hold themselves up as the model of morality in our society.  Their intentions are all good.  But their actions are a disgrace.  They intentionally distort facts to make their point.  Sometimes they lie through omission and they have been caught in outright overt lies.  When they are called to account on their lies they employ the tactics of “Deny, Delay, Defend”.

Uniquely in this campaign the social media giants like Facebook and Google decided they would not accept political campaign postings in the lead up to the vote.  OK this is anecdotal but I did notice a fall off in “Repeal” material on my social network feeds.  On the eve of the election I was still seeing “Vote NO” material.  The no campaign exploited every loophole they could find to keep their campaign going.  I classify this as cheating.

The bullying was overt throughout the campaign.  Removal of Repeal posters.  Attacking campaigners in the streets.  Toppling their tables.  Throwing their leaflets to the ground.  Shouting down debaters in public discussion.  It was all ugly behaviour and none of it was reflective of what I think of as the Christian ethos.

These are people who took the lesson of Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers in the Temple, and use it as a model for how to wage every campaign.  They weaponize religion.

They lost this campaign.  They lost the same sex marriage referendum.  They lost the right to travel referendum.  They lost the divorce referendum.  But every loss makes them smaller, tighter, closer and more and more fanatical.

Rónán Mullen is the tip of this spear.  Elected by my own Seanad constituency.  Who, who, who is voting for this Smeagol, this Gollum, this hobgoblin.  Out, out, out I say.  This must not stand.

 

El Camino

Monet

Kahlil Gibran famously describes parents as archers and children as the arrows in his book “The Prophet”.  Parents provide the stablility, the bow, the platform from which children can launch into the future to pursue their dreams.

Aja Monet describes it in a different way here.  I live in the bloodline. We are all a product of our heritage.  We are all a product of the blood, the genes that we receive from our ancestors.  But more than that we are a product of the achievements and choices of our forebears.  I was the road you took here. I am la Camina. I was the way.

I too am the Grandchild of a revolutionary.  In Ireland we can now search the Census online for 1901 and 1911.  My Grandfather, Jeremiah Clancy, was living in Nicholas Street in St Mary’s Parish in Limerick City, aged 6 in the first census.  His mother Ellen, was head of the household because my Great Grandfather Paddy passed away in 1896.  Grandad was living with his sisters Delia and Annie and his brother Paddy.  I remember them all very well.  We used to visit my Clancy relatives in Limerick and Kilbane each year on the way to holidays in Kilkee.  The aunts never married.  They were spinster aunts to my father.  Paddy married our Great Aunt Hannah and they had a house in Grace Park Road, Drumcondra.  Paddy and Hannah separated in an Ireland where such things seldom happened and he returned to Limerick to end his days in Kilbane as the postmaster.  I grew up thinking of him as a bachelor.

By 1911 Ellen had passed away, not reaching her 58th year.  Paddy, Annie and Delia moved down the street to live with their older sister Lissie and her husband Francis McNamara.  They had four boys of their own, two boarders and a servant.  Busy house.  My Granddad was elsewhere.  In 1911 he is to be found in Smyth’s, Ballygar where he was a 16 year old apprentice in the Hotel business.

Sometime during World War 1 he was photographed in his Volunteer uniform firing a graveside volley (front row right hand side).

ClancyJ2

He also pops up in this photo, the dashing chap in the back row sporting the dicky bow, probably his hotel uniform shirt and tie.:

ClancyJ

They are all wearing lilies, suggesting a commemoration of the Easter 1916 rising so it may be 1917 or 1918 putting him at around 22 years of age, which looks about right.  So these photos are the earliest evidence we have of his road to revolution.  He was later arrested for leading a military parade in 1918.  His defense in court was that it was a religious procession.  My brother Jerry thinks the second photo was the first taken, on the basis that he is wearing only a partial uniform in the second photo, but is fully kitted out in the kneeling shot.

He never left the military life and following the overthrow of British rule in Ireland 1922  he became a professional soldier.  He joined the Free State Army in Tipperary, served a time in Limerick before being posted first to Kilbride, Wicklow and later to GHQ in Dublin, housed in McKee Barracks in Dublin, where my Father grew up.  My parents were raised in a new Ireland.  It was the world described by William Butler Yeats as “No Country for Old Men” (Sailing to Byzantium).  A land where those who fought for our freedom rose to become the new political class.  It was a social democracy, a meritocracy where class and past heritage were more of a hindrance than a help.  It was an evolving society of potential and possibility where a hungry person could define their destiny.

This is the path that was mapped for me and my siblings.  You make your future, you define your success, everything is possible through hard work, dedication and desire.  I wonder if we have lost something of this attitude in Ireland today?  Where are next years revolutionaries?

 

What my Grandmother meant to say was; by Aja Monet Bacquie

I taste of salt. My fingers cannot sit still. I smuggled
tears from smile to smile. When I became too tired
to run, I swam. What love does not reach beyond
borders? I swam. I rose. I flew. I dreamed. I fell in
love with litte to no food. I belonged to no where,
no one, no thing. I fell in love with everywhere, every
one, everything. I was hungry and cold. I hated hunger
and cold. I hated everywhere with no food. I hated
everyone with everything. It was different. I was
a woman. I was stupid. I was waiting to become
more than what happened, more than a bird fleeing
it’s country, to bathe in being afar, more than a land
scape or an image to cast a shadow on, the flip
of a tricky coin, seductress of men, visions aching
for a new story to tell you. My children, riding on
the dragonflies of sacrifice, I left them. I turned back
many times, I almost became the devil they wanted
but I left. A devil, nonetheless. I was a woman ahead
of her time. I shimmered in the scars. I live in
the bloodline. I imagine more than broken families.
I come from the laughter of aspiring lovers, the lure
of trembling in anothere’s arms. What about what
I wanted? What of the loss – of culture, of dreams,
of home? There were many secrets. We fled from
the revolution. I could not protect my children from
everywhere. I made offerings. I cleansed. I repented.
I am their mother. I am not God. I was a Candela.
I glowed. I was luminous. I lit up the room. I was
the light gleaming in the Sierra Maestra at night. I was
the mountains. I swayed the sunrise, yearning. I danced.
I was a witch they could not burn. I was la Fuega. I am
their mother. I am not God. I made choices. I made peace
with them. I was a woman ahead of her time. I was
the road you took here. I am la Camina. I was the way.

Sinko Da Majo

Mexican

Today many people in the USA celebrate Mexican Independence Day.  This is a source of amusement for most Mexicans who celebrate their Independence on Sept 16th.  But if you own a Mexican restaurant are you going to argue with hungry customers?

Cinco de Mayo is in fact the celebration of a victory over the French rather than independence from the Spanish.  The French lent money to Mexico and the Mexicans defaulted on the loan.  The French invaded Mexico to reclaim the money or to seize goods equal to the value of the debt.  The Mexicans thwarted them.  So the 5th May celebration is really more in the nature of a celebration of beating the repo man.

I think that is a celebration that might resonate with Mexico’s most famous poet, Octavio Paz.  A committed socialist he founded a school to educate poor kids in Yucatán.  He fought with the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War.  He later advised that Mexico should steer its own path free of Communist and Capitalist influences.  He was appointed Mexican ambassador to India in the 1960’s but resigned his post in protest against Government treatment of student demonstrators.  A winner of the Nobel prize for literature in 1990.

The Street; by Octavio Paz

Here is a long and silent street.
I walk in blackness and I stumble and fall
and rise, and I walk blind, my feet
trampling the silent stones and the dry leaves.
Someone behind me also tramples, stones, leaves:
if I slow down, he slows;
if I run, he runs I turn : nobody.
Everything dark and doorless,
only my steps aware of me,
I turning and turning among these corners
which lead forever to the street
where nobody waits for, nobody follows me,
where I pursue a man who stumbles
and rises and says when he sees me : nobody.