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

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

 

Anarchist Cook

William Powell

William Powell, author of the Anarchist Cookbook.

Powell gave Anarchy a bad name.  He was disenchanted as a young man growing up in America in the 1960’s.  He observed a culture of government sanctioned violence.  Police bully tactics, violent attacks on peaceful civil rights protests, baton charging of student protests and all the way up to imposition of the draft sending young men to Vietnam.

His reaction to government violence was to arm the counter-cultural movement with techniques to fight a against the state through guerilla tactics and sabotage.  His book give recipes for home made weapons using commonly available products.  He also included some sabotage techniques for electronics, and some information on home made drugs.

Powell made the mistake of giving control of the publication to the publisher.  The book was published in 1971, and by 1976 Powell wanted it removed from sale.  Many years later he said in an interview:  “Over the years, I have come to understand that the basic premise behind the Cookbook is profoundly flawed. The anger that motivated the writing of the Cookbook blinded me to the illogical notion that violence can be used to prevent violence.”

The book is still in publication and has been blamed as providing the information for a number of home grown terror attacks in the USA.

I have observed many cases in history of angry young men who passionately call for violence and then grow up to advocate the far more difficult path of non-violent, but no less confrontational routes to reform.  Are there cases where young people begin with non-violence and come to a realization later in life that violence is a better path?

 

Still I Rise; by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

De Ma

Skerries

A short few lines about de Ma, because yesterday was the first Mother’s day in my life without a mother.  The photograph above says it all really.  She was always hovering in the background of my life even when she was not in a leading role.  A constant presence. Mothers are a bit like the Fates.  They weave the threads of your destiny, for good or ill, and they are as subtle about it as an anvil in a sight gag from an old slapstick comedy.

In the modern business world you will hear a lot of guff spoken about “Corporate Values” which reflect the “DNA of the Company”.  Values are things that people have.  Not corporations.  If there are values in a corporation they are the values of the senior managers in that corporation.  If those managers recruit staff with similar values this can make it seem like the company has a set of coherent values.

The truth is values are fed to you by your mother with every bite of bread, every spoonful of oatmeal and every sip of juice.  She spreads values on you with sunscreen and antiseptic.  She dabs them on with drops of iodine on scratched knees.  She interviews you about your friends, then she interviews your friends, and their parents too.  She ingrains you with attitudes to the most basic things in life, such as hard work, sick leave, ownership, permission, self-respect, equality, charity, religion, education, racism, xenophobia, curiosity, danger etc etc.

If you are in a company and they decide to “introduce a set of corporate values” ask them how long they plan to take over this exercise.  1 Year?  5 Years?  How many of your personal values were nailed down by the age of 5?  And that was with 100% devotion from your mother.  How can a company even hope to put a scratch on the values embedded in staff by their mothers for over 20 years?  Or 30 years?  Or 40 years?  Because let me tell you, Mother does not stop just because you got married and bought your own house.

De Ma can be a right interfering oul’ witch, sticking her nose into everything, still trying to run your life long after she has any right to do so.  Until she passes away and leaves a great big gaping hole where all that interference used to be, and you realize how much you miss it.

 

In Memory of My Mother; by Patrick Kavanagh

I do not think of you lying in the wet clay
Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see
You walking down a lane among the poplars
On your way to the station, or happily

Going to second Mass on a summer Sunday –
You meet me and you say:
‘Don’t forget to see about the cattle – ‘
Among your earthiest words the angels stray.

And I think of you walking along a headland
Of green oats in June,
So full of repose, so rich with life –
And I see us meeting at the end of a town

On a fair day by accident, after
The bargains are all made and we can walk
Together through the shops and stalls and markets
Free in the oriental streets of thought.

O you are not lying in the wet clay,
For it is a harvest evening now and we
Are piling up the ricks against the moonlight
And you smile up at us – eternally.

Greed for power.

I wish I could recall who pointed this out, but I have forgotten.  He is an astute man and I cannot claim credit for the thought.  He pointed out that man is inherently greedy.  We want more.  As long as this is an abundant resource go knock yourself out.

Want smiles, help yourself.  Hugs, compliments, handshakes, kisses, well wishes all do the world a power of good.  Indulge in this stuff and you will surround yourself in happiness and positivity.  Bulk up on love and romance.  If you are the religious type overdose on prayer.  Have as many friends as you want.

Material things also inspire greed, but of a less esoteric nature.  We look down the glutton who does not know when to stop eating.  We revile the drunkard and the drug addict.  Many people hold a certain respect for those who amass piles of money, property, cars, handbags, shoes etc.  But when you think about it how does a man with ten cars differ from a man who drinks too many whiskeys?  But if that’s what you want go for it.  There are plenty of whiskeys and plenty of cars in the world.

At some level of course, greed becomes so all consuming that it has the potential to harm the planet.  The greed of those who want to drink leatherback turtle soup, eat millionaires cabbage, dine on Ortolans drowned in Armagnac, wear Vicuna knitwear, Gorilla skin gloves and are happy to drain desert aquifers to water a golf course.

However, greed becomes something really sinister when the object of the greed is power.  Power really means “power over others”.  We see it in politicians, in generals, in business C-Suite executives.  Power is not an infinite resource.  The higher you rise the more finite it becomes.  The hunger for power is a tournament, a competition, a zero-sum game.

If you want to buy 200 cars I can ignore you.  If you want to be the ruler of 2 million people, me among them, I cannot ignore you.  Objectively the greed of mankind is a shallow thing, but when the greed is for power it is both shallow and dangerous.

Power over people is not a thing that should be lightly given.  Increasingly I find myself inspired by the tenets of Anarchism.  To paraphrase a biblical epigram:  “Politician!  Rule thyself”.

 

 

Sonnet XCIV; by William Shakespeare

They that have power to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing, they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmovèd, cold, and to temptation slow,

They rightly do inherit heaven’s graces,
And husband nature’s riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others, but stewards of their excellence.

The summer’s flower is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself, it only live and die,
But if that flower with base infection meet,
The basest weed outbraves his dignity.

For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

Food is social capital

pancakes

The first thing I taught my kids to cook was pancakes.  On this pancake Tuesday it comes to mind, Louise having a Sunday morning lie in.  Me with three rugrats at the kitchen counter, getting them to beat eggs and flour.  Cooking up the pancakes.  Having fun tossing them.  Letting them drown them in syrup as a treat.

Years pass and tastes change, but they still love those pancakes.

You seem to spend a lot of your life having mini-battles about food.  “Try this, you’ll like it.  Go on, just three bites, just one bite, anything”.  As parents we worry if they are eating enough.  Then we worry if they are eating the right things.  Then we worry they are eating too much.

Food is an education.  Food is social capital.  We learn all the most important things over food, our societal mores, our family values, our means of transacting and interacting with others.

When children go out into the world they carry this social capital with them.  A knowledge of food is an entry into society.  It demonstrates the type of home you grew up in.  The truth is we judge people every day by what we see in their shopping baskets.

Then our children come back from their exposure to the wild world and can surprise us.  Esha fell in love with Burritos from Boojum up in Galway on work experience.  Our youngest, Gavin, just returned from Kolkata, India and said in the quiet way he has that he has become mostly vegetarian.  I came across this poem which sums up how I feel about the way kids express their maturity through food.

 

For the Love of Avocados ; by Diane Lockward
I sent him from home hardly more than a child.
Years later, he came back loving avocados.
In the distant kitchen where he’d flipped burgers
and tossed salads, he’d mastered how to prepare
the pear-shaped fruit. He took a knife and plied
his way into the thick skin with a bravado
and gentleness I’d never seen in him. He nudged
the halves apart, grabbed a teaspoon and carefully

eased out the heart, holding it as if it were fragile.
He took one half, then the other of the armadillo-
hided fruit and slid his spoon where flesh edged
against skin, working it under and around, sparing

the edible pulp. An artist working at an easel,
he filled the center holes with chopped tomatoes.
The broken pieces, made whole again, merged
into two reconstructed hearts, a delicate and rare

surgery. My boy who’d gone away angry and wild
had somehow learned how to unclose
what had once been shut tight, how to urge
out the stony heart and handle it with care.

Beneath the rind he’d grown as tender and mild
as that avocado, its rubies nestled in peridot,
our forks slipping into the buttery texture
of unfamiliar joy, two halves of what we shared.

 

 

 

Anarchism, Italy and Ireland

carlo-tresca-1910_cropped

 

In August 1920 Carlo Tresca, a New-York Italian Anarchist, helped Ireland in the War of Independence from Britain.
He organised to picket the British Embassy in Washington.  He also organised for boycotts of British ships by crews from Italy, Greece etc.

Tresca opposed British tyranny in Ireland, and tyranny anywhere in the world, be it in Fascist Italy, Communist Russia or Mafia dominated unions.

He was murdered, on this day, in 1943, probably by a mafia gunman.

Many people make the mistake of holding Communism as the polar opposite of Fascism.  In fact Anarchism belongs in that position.

Anarchism may be defined as: the liberation of the human mind from the dominion of religion;
the liberation of the human body from the dominion of property; liberation from the shackles and restraint of government.
Anarchism stands for a social order based on the free grouping of individuals for the purpose of producing real social wealth;
an order that will guarantee to every human being free access to the earth and full enjoyment of the necessities of life,
according to individual desires, tastes, and inclinations……………Emma Goldman (Anarchism and Other Essays)