Wyrms

White Worm

Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, also wrote “Lair of the White Worm”.  This is based on the old English word Wyrm.  The Wyrm was a giant legless and flightless serpent.  A cross between a Dragon and a Snake.

In Gaelic a Wyrm is called a Péist.  Pronounced like the English word “pest”.  Ireland is a country with no snakes, but many placenames suggest that they were once home to mighty Wyrms.  Poulnapeasta translates as “Hole of the Beast/Worm” and idiomatically translates as “Dragons Lake”

In the tale ‘Hunting of Sliabh Truim’ there is a péist with ‘ears as large as the gate of a  fort’ and ‘tusks as big as a tree’.

Irish mythology is full of warriors slaying dragons in lakes and Monks destroying dragons with the power of Christ.  Scattery Island in the Shannon Estuary, St Senans Isle, was home to a beast slain by St. Senan.

The story of St. Senan describes his encounter with the Wyrm as follows:

and then they went to seek the monster, to the place in which it abode.

When the monster heard them it shook its head, and its hair stood up upon it, and its rough bristles, and it looked at them hatingly and wrathfully. Not gentle, friendly, mild was the look it bestowed upon them, for it marvelled that anyone else should come to visit it in its island. So it went to them strongly and swiftly, insomuch that the earth trembled under its feet. Hideous, uncouth, ruthless, awful was the beast that arose there.

Longer was its body than Inis na h- Urclaide. A horse’s mane had it ; an eye gleaming, flaming in its head, and its mien savage, forward, angry, edged, crimson, bloody, cruel, bounding. Anyone would think that its eye would go through him when it looked upon him. Two very hideous, very thick feet under it ; behind it a mane. Nails hard as iron on it, which used to strike showers of fire out of the rocks of stone wherever it went across them. A fiery breath it had which burned like embers. A belly it had like the bellows of a furnace. A whale’s tail upon it behind. Hard, rending claws upon it, which used to lay bare, on the path they came, the surface of the ground behind the monster. Equally did it traverse sea and land when it so desired. Then the sea boiled from the greatness of
its heat and from its virulence when it entered it.

Now when the monster came savagely to the place where Senan was standing, it opened its maw so that, as it drew nigh the cleric, its entrails were clearly seen over the maw. Thereat Senan lifted up his hand and made the sign of Christ’s cross in its face. Then the monster was silent, and this is what Senan spoke to it :

‘ I say unto thee,’ saith he, ‘ in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, leave this island, and hurt no one in the district over which thou wilt go, nor in the district into which thou wilt come’.

The monster went at once at Senan’s word out of the island till it reached Dubhloch of Sliabh Collain. And it did no hurt to anyone till it came here, nor after arriving ; for it
durst not oppose Senan’s word.”

Was Ireland a nest of Dragons in ancient days?  Or is it possible that the Early Christian Church used serpents and dragons as metaphors for Pagan Gods?

 

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Tonight’s the night

Guillotine

Tonight’s the night.  Theresa May faces a no confidence motion in her leadership.  The UK parliament faces the vote on the Brexit deal.  The five years since David Cameron first promised the Brexit referendum come to a head tonight.

Westminster is imploding under the weight of imperialst bombast.  Clowns to the left of her, Jokers to the right, Theresa May is stuck in a limbo not of her own making.

I thinks she has done a wonderful job with a terrible hand of cards.  She leads a party split between Hard Line Brexiteers, disillusioned remainers and confused Euroskeptics.  She is reliant on the Lunatic fringe that is the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland to prop up the Conservative majority in parliament.

Her opposition is lead by the very confusing Jeremy Corbyn who seems to stand against the interests of his core vote by supporting the Brexit.  But he wants to undermine any realistic deal of a Brexit that is workable for the British Economy because in addition to supporting Brexit he has to oppose Theresa May.

May herself started from a position of “Remain”.  Yet she is the only Tory who seems capable of delivering any sensible exit strategy.

To say that the entire omnishambles is like a scene out of the Office being led by David Brent would be an insult to David Brent.  His managerial capabilities are head and shoulders above anything exhibited in Westmister in the last few years.

It is on days like this we should remember the great words of Winston Churchill:

We shall go on to the end.
We shall fight in Felixstowe, we shall fight in the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confusion and growing strikes in the air,
we shall destroy our island, whatever the cost may be.
We shall fight each other on the beaches,
we shall fight each other on the stairs and landing,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills;
we shall fall asunder, and if, which I firmly believe may be the case,
this island or a large part of it were penniless and starving,
then the European Union beyond the seas, assisted and guarded by the British Fleet,
would carry in supplies and famine relief, and with all its power and might,
step forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old farts who voted to leave.

 

 

Emily Dickinson: Scientist

Hangnail

On the Birthday of Emily Dickinson I am delighted to learn that she was a fan of science.  Like another great write, Roald Dahl, she will tell you to vaccinate your child.

Many of the anti-vaxx brigade see themselves as people of faith.  They cleary never learned the lesson that God helps those who help themselves.  If you believe in God why is it so difficult to believe that he created in us the ability to understand the scientific precepts of our world?  Why is it so difficult to believe that God would have created in us the ability to heal ourselves through science?

If you don’t believe in God you belive the same thing, not through blind faith, but through reason.

Either way, why would anyone ignore the best evidence of science in favour of irrational actions motivated by hearsay and anecdote?

Fear.  That’s why.  Try to live a life devoid of fear.

 

Faith; by Emily Dickinson

“Faith” is a fine invention
when gentlemen can see –
but microscopes are prudent
in an emergency.

Happy Birthday Eileen Shanahan

West-Gate-Clonmel

Clonmel West Gate

 

Eileen Shanahan was born in Dublin on Oct 28th 1901. She worked as a secretary at the League of Nations in Geneva from 1929 until the invasion of France in 1940. Published widely in magazines and anthologies, she never published a collection of her poems and her work remains uncollected. The Three Children is her best-known poem.

I too have three children, and live not too far from Clonmel.  I too am a king of all that I survey, a road, a mile of kingdom, of banks and stones and every blooming thing.

 

The Three Children (Near Clonmel); by Eileen Shanahan

I met three children on the road,
the hawthorn trees were sweet with rain,
the hills had drawn their white blinds down,
three children on the road from town.

Their wealthy eyes in splendour mocked
their faded rags and bare wet feet,
the King had sent his daughters out
to play at peasants in the street.

I could not see the palace walls;
the avenues were dumb with mist;
perhaps a queen would watch and weep
for lips that she had borne and kissed —

and lost about the lonely world,
with treasury of hair and eye
the tigers of the world would spring,
the merchants of the world would buy.

And one will sell her eyes for gold,
and one will barter them for bread,
and one will watch their glory fade
beside the looking-glass unwed.

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.

 

 

Maurice Sendak: 90 today.

Wild Things

The wild things cried “Oh please don’t go – We’ll eat you up – we love you so.”

Personally I always felt that Sendak had a poor grasp of seamanship.  He draws a boat with a bowsprit and with three forward stays, but the flying jib stay should be stayed much further out on the bowsprit.

And don’t get me started on the mainsail.  It appears to have no boom and the mainsheet is hanked from the transom to the clew.  That is just not going to work.

The luff of the mainsail is only fastened to the mast at top and bottom.  That is never going to give you a laminar flow across the sail.

Not a running rope or a pulley block to be seen and what is this arrangement of shrouds and some type of ladder to climb the mast?  Preposterous.

Sail

And yet such a yar craft, sprightly and trim.  Firm in the chop, a good solid looking hull.  Clearly has a well designed self-steering rig since Max can sit up waving in the prow as the boat beats into a headwind leaving the island.

Sendak did not illustrate a boat.  He captured the idea of a sailboat, the magic of sailing, without fussing over the mechanics.  As such his drawing is capturing the emotion of sailing rather than the physics, he is drawing a poem instead of a novel.

 

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.