Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe

City

As a writer Poe is more about the macabre than about horror.  His skill is to paint brooding and ominous mental pictures replete with gloomy portent.  He explores the darkest recesses of our deepest fears and does it in style.

Born two years to the day after Robert E. Lee, Poe could, in different circumstances, have become a general on the Union side of the conflict.  He enlisted as a soldier in 1827 and was rapidly promoted to rank of Sergeant Major.  From there he bought out his enlistment as a soldier and entered Westpoint as a military cadet.  Poe did not graduate Westpoint.  Instead he had himself expelled on purpose, and pursued his writing career.

Robert E. Lee graduated from Westpoint the year before Edgar Allan Poe entered the college.  Both of them were artillery men.  Poe’s third volume of poems was published thanks to contributions from his fellow Westpoint cadets and contains a dedication to them.

Poe died at age 40, in 1849, a broken wreck of a man, probably from alcoholism. His family had a bad relationship with alcoholism.  For Poe this appeared to be exacerbated by the fact that the women he loved had a habit of dying on him.  His father abandoned the family with Poe was a baby and his mother died of Tuberculosis.  He was adopted by the Allan family and had a very up and down relationship of spoiling and over-discipline.  At age 26 he married his 15 year old cousin, Virginia.  She died after a five year battle with tuberculosis in 1847.  The darkness of his writing is a mirror of the demons that haunted his life.

 

 

The City In The Sea: by Edgar Allan Poe

 

Lo! Death has reared himself a throne
in a strange city lying alone
far down within the dim West,
where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
have gone to their eternal rest.
There shrines and palaces and towers
(time-eaten towers that tremble not!)
resemble nothing that is ours.
Around, by lifting winds forgot,
resignedly beneath the sky
the melancholy waters he.

No rays from the holy heaven come down
on the long night-time of that town;
but light from out the lurid sea
streams up the turrets silently-
gleams up the pinnacles far and free-
up domes- up spires- up kingly halls-
up fanes- up Babylon-like walls-
up shadowy long-forgotten bowers
of sculptured ivy and stone flowers-
up many and many a marvellous shrine
whose wreathed friezes intertwine
the viol, the violet, and the vine.
Resignedly beneath the sky
the melancholy waters lie.
So blend the turrets and shadows there
that all seem pendulous in air,
while from a proud tower in the town
Death looks gigantically down.

There open fanes and gaping graves
yawn level with the luminous waves;
but not the riches there that lie
in each idol’s diamond eye-
not the gaily-jewelled dead
tempt the waters from their bed;
for no ripples curl, alas!
along that wilderness of glass-
no swellings tell that winds may be
upon some far-off happier sea-
no heavings hint that winds have been
on seas less hideously serene.

But lo, a stir is in the air!
The wave- there is a movement there!
As if the towers had thrust aside,
in slightly sinking, the dull tide-
as if their tops had feebly given
a void within the filmy Heaven.
The waves have now a redder glow-
the hours are breathing faint and low-
and when, amid no earthly moans,
down, down that town shall settle hence,
Hell, rising from a thousand thrones,
shall do it reverence.

VR is future tourism.

Newgrange

When I was a teenager I was lucky enough to be trucked around Europe by my parents.  We visited attractions such as the Tower of London, the Eiffel Tower, Peniscola in Spain, Chamonix Mt Blanc, Seville Cathedral, the Alhambra, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the British Museum, Stratford upon Avon, Nimes Amphitheatre, the Pont-du-Gard etc etc.

Later, as a young adult I visited the Parthenon, Ephesus, the Palace of Minos at Knossos, Mycenae, Venice, the Vatican Museums, St. Peters Basilica, Il Duomo in Florence, the leaning tower of Pisa, Pompeii etc etc ad infinitum.

The last times I was in London, and Paris, and Rome and I saw the length of queues for the major tourist attractions I pitied those who have not seen them yet.  The queue for the Vatican Museums (I don’t remember any queue in 1986) was about 4 hours, just to get in the front door!

Tourism is killing the very attractions that stimulate tourism.  There is a sea of humanity trekking to tourist sites and filling them up with……tourists.  So many tourists that you can no longer see the attractions, let alone appreciate them.

Many, if not most, of these tourists have little real interest in the attractions, other than ticking off some box on a virtual bucket list, taking a selfie and posting it on Facebook.

In some circumstances this sea of humanity is causing physical damage to the attractions.  Last time I visited the Alhambra I was told (very sensible I thought) to take the backpack off my back and wear it on my front, to prevent the bag from banging the delicate tile mosaics.

Sensitive sites like the Galapagos islands are under serious environmental threat.  Governments the world over are struggling with the balance between protecting heritage and permitting access to it, with all the attendant economic advantages.

The future is VR.  Not Victoria Regina, but Virtual Reality.  We can allow all area access to our most fragile heritage sites using the wonders of both Virtual and Augmented reality technologies.  Virtual reality will allow us to tour sites in an immersive way using a VR headset without having to visit the attraction.  Augmented reality allows us to tour real places and imagine what they looked like in the past.  We can experience the New York Wall Street of the 17th Century as we stroll down the modern street of today.

By visiting the Coliseum in Rome without ever leaving your home you incur no flights, no taxis, no carbon footprints.  The challenge facing the worlds great heritage sites will be a balancing act.  How to monetize worldwide VR access is step 1.   How to price the remaining restricted access to the sites is step 2.

One example that tourism operators might like to consider is Newgrange in Ireland.  This iron age passage tomb is in extreme demand for one day a year, the winter solstice.  On that morning, if the sky is clear, the site is transformed from passage tomb to ancient timepiece.  Access to this rare event is by lottery.

Using VR we can reopen access to sites that have already been closed such as the prehistoric cave paintings of Lescaux and Altamira.  The future is now.

 

 

A Grain of Sand:  Robert William Service

If starry space no limit knows
And sun succeeds to sun,
There is no reason to suppose
Our earth the only one.
‘Mid countless constellations cast
A million worlds may be,
With each a God to bless or blast
And steer to destiny.

Just think! A million gods or so
To guide each vital stream,
With over all to boss the show
A Deity supreme.
Such magnitudes oppress my mind;
From cosmic space it swings;
So ultimately glad to find
Relief in little things.

For look! Within my hollow hand,
While round the earth careens,
I hold a single grain of sand
And wonder what it means.
Ah! If I had the eyes to see,
And brain to understand,
I think Life’s mystery might be
Solved in this grain of sand.

Anniversaries

AnneFrankSchoolPhoto.jpg

This is our wedding anniversary.  On this day in 1993 I tied the knot with Louise in Holy Cross Abbey, 24 years and still muddling through.

It is Anne Frank’s birthday.  When she was 13 years old, on this day in 1942, she received a diary as a birthday present.  She wrote in it regularly for two years and two months until the family were captured by the Germans and interned in concentration camps.  Only the father, Otto, survived the war.  He found the diary and had it published as “The diary of a young girl”.

Today my daughter, Esha, sits her Maths 2 paper in the morning and the Irish 1 in the afternoon.  This is the busiest exam day in her Leaving Cert Schedule.  Esha is 18, an age never attained by Anne Frank.

Over in England people are fuelled by Brexit jingoism and xenophobia heightened by recent terror attacks in Manchester and London.  In the recent election Theresa May was leaning in favour of internment of suspect terrorists and deportations.  Effectively she was speaking about an assault on civil liberties.  That is a dangerous road.

The last time the British Government tried internment was as a solution to violence in Northern Ireland.  Far from solving the problem Internment was responsible for bringing the leading lights of Sinn Féin and the IRA together, facilitating them to organize and acting as a recruitment drive.

Anne Frank was born a German citizen in Frankfurt. Her family moved out of Germany in the early 1930’s as the Nazi’s dismantled the civil liberties of certain sectors of the population including communists, gypsies and Jews. By 1941 Anne Frank no longer held citizenship and was effectively a stateless person.

Theresa May can show good reasons for removing civil liberties as a means of protecting the populace from terror attacks but there are better reasons for protecting civil liberties.  Remember the poem by Pastor Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

For the love of poetry?

Leaving Certificate Exam, English literature paper is sat today in Ireland.  All those lucky students are now scanning their notes for the last time to remember the nugget that will land them an extra few points.  Have you tended your garden of knowledge well?  What was it that Iago said about Virtue and Figs?

“Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens to the which our wills are gardeners.”             Othello, Shakespeare

Each year students in their tens of thousands play dice with the poetry syllabus.  They are given eight poets to study.  Eight wonderful poets with beautiful rich compositions.  Eight leading lights to brighten the dark corridors of your existence.  What do students do?  Study all eight?  No way.  They play dice, and gamble on how few they can study and land a question they can answer.

This year the poets are Paul Durcan, Elizabeth Bishop, T.S. Eliot, Eavan Boland, Sylvia Plath, John Donne, John Keats and Gerard Manley Hopkins.  Durcan, Bishop and Eliot came up last year, so unlikely to resurface.

There is usually a woman, so Plath is hot favourite.  There is always an Irish poet, so Boland is a favourite.  Fingernails are being chewed to the quick as the minutes tick by!  What do those mermaids have to do with the musical “Cats”?  Oh God, my teacher told me this……………..

 

The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock; by T.S. Eliot

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;

Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin —
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?

 

And how should I begin?
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? …
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,

 

Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it towards some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,

Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
That is not it, at all.”
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—

And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—

Almost, at times, the Fool.

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.

 

Ancient Greeks developed techniques for computer coding

Socrates-Quotes-1

We tend to think of computer coding as something very new, dating from the 1960’s and later. Basic launched in 1963 and many think of it as the first language because it underpins much of modern SQL.

FORTRAN was developed by IBM in the 1950’s

More knowledgeable historians will refer me back to ENIAC in 1946, or project Ultra in 1941.

Even better historians will take me back to 1804 and the punch card programming system used on the Jacquard Loom to weave patterns in silk.

I think we can go even further and wind the clock back to 500BC because coding has a far older history. Today, when we design classes in education we could learn from the ancient Greek method of the Trivium (3 ways).

The trivium was a system of education taught in Greece and Rome to master the art of oration, which is the foundation of all courtroom trials, most business presentations and almost all political speeches and debates.

It involves 3 disciplines, Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric.

  • Grammar: definition of terms, language, limits, data etc.
  • Logic: how to arrange your data, build arguments, test them, link them and test them again.
  • Rhetoric: how to deliver the final output in a succinct, engaging and compelling way.

To any experienced coder the schema above looks eerily familiar:

Input – Process – Output

Does it sound preposterous that the Greeks worked out early forms of programming?  Remember these are the people who gave us much of our mathematics.  By 100 BC they were building clockwork computers such as the Antikythera mechanism.  This level of sophistication was not achieved again in Europe until the 14th century.

antikythera-title

 

Fight against Educatism!

People have the right to reject argument and scientific proof as Educatism.

Educatism is discrimination and prejudice towards people based on their educational attainment level.

Today, the use of the term “educatism” does not easily fall under a single definition.

The ideology underlying educatist practices often includes the idea that humans can be subdivided into distinct groups that are different in their social behavior and innate capacities and that can be ranked as inferior or superior.
While the concepts of education and intelligence are considered to be separate in contemporary social science, the two terms have a long history of equivalence in both popular usage and older social science literature.

‘Innate’ or ‘Natural’ Intelligence” is often used in a sense close to one traditionally attributed to ‘race’.
The division of human groups based on qualities assumed to be essential or innate to the group.
Races with a long history of institutional work, involving reading, writing, mathematics, accounting and meetings have evolved higher IQ levels.
Those races who are more suited to heavy outdoor labour and subject to pain and deprivation have generally less need of intelligence. They are genetically disposed to being pretty dumb.
IQ tests are employed to isolate these individuals and discriminate against them.  Goverments also use complex form filling for activities such as voter registration, claiming social benefits and health insurance.
‘Cultural Intelligence’ is used in a sense to describe embedded practices of certain races to practice forms of education.
Some races prefer recitation over reading, and avoid printed matter.  Races that favour trading and money dealing will stress mathematics over literature.
Some members of these races may demonstrate an animal cunning, which enables them to negotiate IQ tests and form filling.
More subtle tools are used by governments to identify and isolate these populations.  These include racial profiling, religion, language, hair styles, fashion choices and so on.

According to a United Nations convention on educatism, there is no distinction between the terms “natural” and “cultural” discrimination.
The UN convention further concludes that superiority based on educational differentiation is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous, and there is no justification for educational discrimination, anywhere, in theory or in practice.

People who avoid reasoned argument are unlikely to read this far, will believe the headline, and think this is a true thing.
Some of you will have seen the satire already, and now the penny drops for the rest.

Educatism