Foucault

Foucault’s pendulum in the Panthéon in Paris is a physics experiment to demonstrate the rotation of the earth.  Léon Foucault was born on this day in 1819, so 200 years today.  Happy birthday.  Foucault would have been a medical doctor until he discovered he had a phobia for blood.  Medicine’s loss was physics gain.

Foucault’s Pendulum is also the title of a great novel by Umberto Eco published in 1988 which pokes fun at conspiracy theorists of the Holy Grail, Knight Templars, the Holy Family and goes on to demonstrate how these conspiracies are preposterous but can be tweaked and prodded to make them believable.  It is the antidote to the Da Vinci Code.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Checkpoint

Image result for Garda checkpoint

Reading:

 

Recent recommendations 

The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell,

Spin – Robert Charles Wilson

When a Crocodile Eats the Sun – Peter Godwin – very topical just now as Robert Mugabe has just passed away – a journalists account of the collapse of Zimbabwe.

 

Current read 

Children of Earth and Sky – Guy Gavriel Kay  (Loving it)

 

Next reads in my TBR pile

In a Glass Darkly – Sheridan Le Fanu

American Pastoral – Philip Roth

One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

 

Listening:

The Teachers Pet Podcast

5 Day

This American Life 388:  The Rest Stop

Blindboy Podcast: Soss Potion

Science VS:  The Abortion Underground

 

Watching:

Game of Thrones is over. Do I deleted it from the Sky Box now?

Peaky Blinders

Star Trek Discovery

Lord of the Rings – Movies – Again

 

Playing:

Sniper Elite 4

 

Projects:

Integrated Assurance Management System

Corporate Planning Tool

Selling in Tipperary and Buying in Cork

 

Kids:

Jerry offered an MPhil with TUD in Aerobiology, Atmospheric monitoring and Environmental Sciences:  Fully funded and sponsored by EPA.  Booked into the Point for accomodation.

Esha started 3rd year Elec Engineering in UCC on a WIT scholarship for tuition from Intel.  In a house share in Cork.

Gavin started 1st year Engineering in UCC staying in Deans Hall residence.

 

Fitness:

Rudely healthy but terribly unfit.  Friday lunchtime yoga classes.  Fitbit is broken, but it’s the free one Jerry gave me.

 

Politics:

Still all Brexit, Brexit, Brexit.  UK parliament is prorogued by Boris Johnson the PM.  Prorouge is the word of the year.  Irish parties are pretending they don’t want an election to protect the stability of the country at this sensitive juncture.  In reality they have nothing to gain and the Dáil appears to operate more efficiently with a minorty party in power than it does with a majority.

Greta Thunberg just sailed to the USA for Climate Action.

Donald Trump sent Mike Pence to Ireland to bump his re-election campaign.  Pence insulted the Irish Goverment, many times.  Do Irish American Republican voters even care?

When I read this back in years to come I hope Greta Thunberg is ascendant and nobody much remembers Trump, Pence or Johnson.

 

Car:

I need an oil change.  Driving on an amber light.  Renault megane dynamique 1.4 diesel 131 TN One short of the number of the beast.

 

Louise:

Watching masterchef Australia.

 

Cat:

Likes cheese.  Also likes mice.

 

Sporting Highlights:

Ireland Rugby team are No. 1 in the world rankings.  World cup begins Friday week.

Liverpool lead the Premier League with 4 wins from 4 matches.

Dublin play Kerry on Sunday (again) for 5th Sam Maguire in a row.  The last game was a draw.

 

Poem that sums up my life right now:

Begin; by Brendan Kennelly

Begin again to the summoning birds
to the sight of the light at the window,
begin to the roar of morning traffic
all along Pembroke Road.
Every beginning is a promise
born in light and dying in dark
determination and exaltation of springtime
flowering the way to work.
Begin to the pageant of queuing girls
the arrogant loneliness of swans in the canal
bridges linking the past and future
old friends passing though with us still.
Begin to the loneliness that cannot end
since it perhaps is what makes us begin,
begin to wonder at unknown faces
at crying birds in the sudden rain
at branches stark in the willing sunlight
at seagulls foraging for bread
at couples sharing a sunny secret
alone together while making good.
Though we live in a world that dreams of ending
that always seems about to give in
something that will not acknowledge conclusion
insists that we forever begin.

Image result for cork docks

Telling Lies #11: Fake News

Fake News

Once upon a time journalists were seen as heroes of the people.  They fought against “the man”.  They exposed the elaborate cover-up by dint of hard work, hours of laborious investigations in dark libraries (the libraries were always dark), cultivating whistleblowers by having meetings in car parks at night.  They were threatened by the powers that be with jail time but they would not give up their sources.  You could trust a journalist.  A journalist was solid, brave, loyal, resourceful, basically a boyscout.

Good journalists were given Pulitzer prizes for their investigations.  They were given international awards for exposing corruption, white collar crime, tax avoidance, all that stuff the top 2% hate you to hear about.

So then “The Man” took over the news organs.  The “independent press” became a mouthpiece for the interests of the Global 2%, the Davos set, the Bilderberg crowd.  You could not trust the headlines, or the stories.  Investigative journalism was fine if it exposed low-lifes, organised crime or benefit cheats.  But God Forbid it should look into the tax affairs of Billionaires.  In 1983, 90% of US media was controlled by 50 companies; in 2012, 90% was controlled by just 6 companies.  This pattern is reapeated worldwide.

Then along came the internet and the 5th Estate.  On Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Quora etc we get the truth, straight from the horses mouth.  You can talk to the person at the source.

The Media Moguls who now owned the 4th Estate needed to disrupt the 5th Estate.  The tool they use is called “Fake News”.  If you flood the media with sensational fake news you can create so many side conversations that it is difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff, the truth from the lies.

The age of the investigative journalist was over.  Success in journalism today resides in the ability to write good clickbait.  The headlines that go viral are the Pulitzer prizes of today.  Nobody cares about the actual article.  So these days as a Journalist you may write an excellent and insightful article which is published widely, only to find that it is topped with a clickbait headline you did not write.  The headline may not even bear any resemblance to the article itself.

In a world where every politically charged news item is presented with wildly contradictory “facts” the average Joe just retreats from the war for airtime.

Karl Marx famously commented on how the oppressed retreated into Religion as an anodyne to the realities of a hard life, something to distract the attention of the worker from his or her own exploitation, a promise of something better in the next world.  In the modern social-media world religion has been replaced by “Reality TV”.  Keeping up with the Kardashians, Love Island, America’s Got Talent, Who wants to be a Millionaire, Big Brother, Survivor, The Bachelor, America’s Top Model, Duck Dynasty, Ice Road Truckers, Storage Wars and so on.  All of these shows are examples of Hyperreal simulacra.  They represent an idealised life that does not exist – Disneyland for adults who find themselves out of touch with the cold hard realities of the modern world.

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people” Karl Marx

 

Im Westen nichts Neues

Related image

This is the cover of the novel that we had at home, the one I read.  The hand, the barbed wire and the butterfly make an image that has stuck in my memory.  Erich Maria Remarque, born Erich Paul Remark, on this day in 1898.

Remarque is remarkable for three main reasons.

  1.  He wrote of World War 1 from the German perspective.
  2. He wrote the defining novel about a war that is celebrated in reams of poetry.
  3. He began the tradition of war veterans writing about their own experience of war.

Novels about war were not new.  Stephen Crane wrote the Red Badge of Courage in 1893 and it tells of the US Civil War from the standpoint of an ordinary soldier.  It reads like a personal account, but Crane was a novelist, not a soldier.  He was born after the war and based his book on interviews with veterans of the war.

Remarque fought in WW1, and was wounded.  He became a teacher after the war and then wrote the novel in 1928.  In the novel he is particularly hard on teachers who instill mindless nationalism in their students.  Above all it is an anti-war novel.

The Nazis hated it.  Remarque was declared “unpatriotic” and his books were removed from German libraries and added to the bonfires.  He moved to live in Switzerland.  In Germany the facts of his military service were denied by the Third Reich and his citizenship was revoked.  He moved with his wife to the USA before the outbreak of the war and eventually became a US citizen in 1947.

His sister in Germany, Elfriede Scholz, was tried on a charge of undermining morale and was beheaded.  The court stated “Your brother is unfortunately beyond our reach — you, however, will not escape us”.

Kropp on the other hand is a thinker. He proposes that a declaration of war should be a kind of popular festival with entrance-tickets and bands, like a bull fight. Then in the arena the ministers and generals of the two countries, dressed in bathing-drawers and armed with clubs, can have it out among themselves. Whoever survives, his country wins. That would be much simpler and more just than this arrangement, where the wrong people do the fighting“. (3.42)

 

Industrial landscape or green island?

Image may contain: grass, sky, outdoor and nature

If you look really carefully at the skyline in the photo above you will see a line of electricity generating windmills.  In the field are dairy cattle and on the gate is a warning  about a bull and electric fencing.  All these elements got me thinking about the environment.  But don’t believe a word of what I say – the “Beware of the bull” warning applies to my posts too.

I hear a lot of people complaining about windmills in the countryside, and how they are ugly things, and how they ruin the landscape and how they kill birds etc etc etc.  These are the kind of people who look into this field and see nature.  Then they go to the shops and feel very morally superior when they drink soy instead of milk.

I look at this landscape and what I see is a factory.  The field is not natural, it is a creation of man.  The cows are not natural, again we created them through breeding.  There may be a bull in the field but I guarantee he is only servicing the cows that missed out impregnation with the top quality AI sperm.

The windmills in the distance are no less “natural” than any other element in the picture.  The countryside is a factory, a unit of production, an industrial landscape.

There is a balance to be struck.  Hardline vegans say that the dairy industry is engaged in the rape of cows and the forcible kidnapping of their calves.  It is emotive language.  At the extreme conclusion of their philosophy we plant a fraction of the currently farmed land with vegetables, fruits, grains and pulses and the remainder becomes rewilded.  This is a dystopian horror future for farmers.  More importantly for the nation it results in the depopulation of the rural countryside.  If you want a vibrant rural economy there must be jobs.

We have already seen the conclusion of the extreme commercial approach to farming.  Cows so heavy with milk they cannot walk anymore, riddled with infections which are controlled by massive amount of antibiotics.  Meat animals in cramped conditions where diseases are controlled by antibiotics and where hormones are used to accelerate growth.  Widespread use of insectisides, weedkillers and fertilisers that are undoubtedly harming the environment and killing off pollinators.  Destruction of biodiversity in favour of commerical monoculture.

Funilly enough the result of both extremes – High intensity automated commercial farming at one end, and a rewilded vegan world at the other, is rural depopulation.

I believe Ireland can and should lead the world as a Green Food Island.  A place where the most environmentally positive farming practices are the minimum standard.  A place with a reputation for compassion in husbandry.  A country that keeps people in the countryside by valuing less profitable family size farms that provide employment on the land.  And keeps people in the countryside by rewarding the situation of production in the rural infrastructure.

That is a vision of a world in balance.

 

 

 

 

To Make Someone a Saint.

Image result for glass of powers gold label in pub

The evening sun slanted through the window inscribing a triangle of golden light across my newspaper.  I was struggling with the final clue on the simplex crossword, and this was war!  I don’t mind failing the Crosaire, but I’m in a foul mood if I can’t finish the Simplex by the end of the day.

“To make someone a saint.”  Eight letters.  I thought it was “Sanctify” this morning.  First clue and I was so sure I had it right.  I scan the crossword quickly when I pick up the paper in the morning, read all the clues, allow them to percolate slowly into my brain.  I jot down any obvious answers.

The real challenge comes at lunchtime.  There is the race to finish the Simplex and see if I can crack open the Crosaire, the real brain buster.   If I fail at lunchtime then I sneak in to the local on the way home and try to nail it before dinnertime.

There is a rule at home you see.  Born of the experience of sitting in silence, watching me wrestle with one problem after another, my wife brought out the big guns.  Once I get home the Irish Times becomes a newspaper and only a newspaper.  No crosswords, no puzzles, no Sudoku.

So I face this unfair challenge to complete before I return home.  The challenge sometimes drives me to the local for a drop of golden sunshine in a glass, a Powers Gold Label.  Another family habit passed down to me, father to son, like the crossword.  It drove my mother insane too, but my father boxed clever.  He told her it was an education in the English language, a way to understand words better and a tool for expanding my vocabulary.

So, part of my evening homework was to sit with my father, puzzling out the clues, as he sipped on his glass of Powers.

My oldest child is only five.  When can I decently roll out my dad’s plan?  I figure three, maybe four more years.  But until then what can it be but “sanctify” which does not fit?  The laptop beside me knows the answer.  A matter of seconds to look it up, but that would be cheating.  “You may cheat others but you can’t cheat yourself” my dad always said.

The phone rings in my pocket.  “Hi honey” I answer, “I’m just leaving the office, should be home by six.  Would you like me to pick up anything on the way home?  Bread, milk, bottle of plonk?”

“Who canonised you?  Go on then, but no Chardonnay.”

C-A-N-O-N-I-S-E.  And I didn’t cheat!

Related image