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.

 

 

 

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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  In Germany the facts of his military service were denied by the Third Reich and his citizenship was revoked.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)

 

Mental Health

Blind

Blindboy Boatclub and Mr Chrome: AKA Rubberbandits

I take my mental health advice from a foulmouthed Limerick goul who wears a plastic bag on his head.  It’s much more convenient than Catholic confession and much cheaper than a shrink.

In the process I get to learn a lot about history, politics, sport (he hasn’t a clue), the artistic process, Limerick, words the Corkonians are trying to steal, cocktails, short stories, how to distract Banshees, vaping and backing Jazz.  And that’s just from the first episode.

Home

https://www.patreon.com/theblindboypodcast

The bit about mental health is not a joke.  Pure serious.

Marriage is Creation

Louise Hourihan Hi-Res (14 of 104)

Lifestyle for sale!

We grow up hearing the Hollywood Fairy Tale which brings a relationship to the point were the hero and heroine unite at last, true love triumphs, barriers to happiness are removed, a marriage ensues and …… they all live happily ever after.

But that is not reality.  In real life the wedding ceremony is only a beginning.  People who see their “perfect day” as some kind of ending to be enshrined and treasured forever are fated to be disappointed.

Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion, it is not the desire to mate every second minute of the day, it is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every cranny of your body. No, don’t blush, I am telling you some truths. That is just being “in love”, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.”                  from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Berniéres

This entwining of roots is an interesting metaphor.  From the day of the wedding we begin a long journey of co-creation.  We create the partnership and to a great extent we create the person that our partner becomes, and they have a heavy hand in creating the person we become.

Every day in every act and interaction we give each other tiny permissions, approvals, disapprovals, censures etc.  We validate certain behaviour patterns with our permissions and we invalidate others with our refusals.  As the years go by we settle into these patterns like the couple on the beach in Beckett’s play “Happy Days” who settle deeper and deeper into the sand of their routine.

So think about this;  If you get 40 years into a marriage and you find you can’t stand your partner just think about the fact that this is a person you created.  You are rejecting the very thing you have had a strong influence in building.  What does this say about your feelings for the person you are?

If on the other hand you are lucky enough to have a marriage that deepens in love and mutual respect then well done and give yourself a pat on the back.

The house above is our current home and we have it up for sale.  It is a home where my wife has deep roots, her Grandmother was born here.  The DNA of her extended family is woven into the very fabric of the building.  While I have had a role in creating the person Louise is today there is no doubting that this house, this land, these fields and streams had a role in creating her too.  Never have I felt more like Thomas Kinsella than in this house.

P.S. If you want to buy my lifestyle it’s for sale here:  Ballykelly

 

Another September: by Thomas Kinsella

Dreams fled away, this country bedroom, raw
with the touch of the dawn, wrapped in a minor peace,
hears through an open window the garden draw
long pitch black breaths, lay bare its apple trees,
ripe pear trees, brambles, windfall-sweetened soil,
exhale rough sweetness against the starry slates.
Nearer the river sleeps St. John’s, all toil
locked fast inside a dream with iron gates.

Domestic Autumn, like an animal
long used to handling by those countrymen,
rubs her kind hide against the bedroom wall
sensing a fragrant child come back again
– not this half-tolerated consciousness
that plants its grammar in her yielding weather
but that unspeaking daughter, growing less
familiar where we fell asleep together.

Wakeful moth wings blunder near a chair,
toss their light shell at the glass, and go
to inhabit the living starlight. Stranded hair
stirs on still linen. It is as though
the black breathing that billows her sleep, her name,
drugged under judgement, waned and – bearing daggers
and balances – down the lampless darkness they came,
moving like women : Justice, Truth, such figures.

African American Beauty

Black Beauty

199 years old today Anna Sewell is the famous author of Black Beauty, one of the ten best selling childrens novels ever written.  Born to a Quaker family in 1820 in Norfolk in England.

In 1807 the UK parliament passed the Slave Trade Act which banned slave trade but not slave ownership.  In 1833 the UK parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act which banned slavery in the British Empire.  Sewell lived to see the emancipation proclamation in the USA in 1863.  She also lived long enough to see the Jim Crow laws passed in the USA ushereing in an age of apartheid to replace the age of slavery.

As a child growing up in Ireland in the 1960’s and 1970’s I was oblivious to the problems with the word “Black”.  In that Ireland we did not have black people.  Irish people left this island for opportunity abroad, nobody came here.

Besides, in the Irish language the black man “An Fear Dubh” is a nickname for the Devil.  People with black skin were called Fir Goirme (Blue men).

Over time we have seen people struggle with how to address the issue of skin colour.  The word Negro has fallen out of fashion, and yet the “N” word is used prolifically in Hip-Hop culture when people of colour refer to each other.  It is only banned in the mouths of whites.

People of colour.  African-american.  Black african.  They are all terms with issues.  I heard a white American refer to a Black British work colleague as “African-American” and the British guy laughed when he heard.  He said “I’m neither African nor American mate, I come from Birmingham”.

British black people, who were emancipated in the 19th century, appear to have fewer hangups than Americans.  Ditto for the French black population.  As far back as WW1 American Negroes who wanted to fight had to enlist with Canadian or French regiments.  Those who enlisted with the French were astounded when they were treated as equals.

Black americans have never been treated as equals and quite rightly struggle with the word black.  Black carries many negative connotations in the English language. Gloomy, dirty, angry, evil and wicked are all meanings of black.  White by contrast represents purity, cleanliness, goodness, honesty, all the good stuff.

So the word black has developed many deep and symbolic meanings.  Black power.  Black lives matter.  Black and proud.  Blacksploitation.

I suspect if Anna Sewell wrote her book today the publisher might toy with the title.  After all there is no “official” colour for horses that is black.  A black horse is usually either a Grey or a Bay or even a very dark Chestnut.  After all, look at the problems caused by the name of a dog in the Dam Busters movie.  It has caused huge difficulties with a remake.  It raises the important question: “Do we change historical facts to assuage modern PC sensibilities?”  The danger is that we begin to rewrite history to suit modern attitudes, and that leads us to a 1984 dystpoia of alternative facts and post-truth.

 

 

Quod sumus hoc eritis

Bernt_Notke_Danse_Macabre

Danse Macabre in St Nicholas Church, Talinn, Estonia

Danse Macabre, Gather Ye Rosebuds, Ozymandias, Death the Leveller.  For a time we live.  The fleeting glories of our short lives are nothing but the crowing of a cock on a dungheap.  Next time someone puts you under pressure telling you how important the deadline is and how it simply MUST be met just whisper to them “Vitae summa brevis” – brief the sum of life.

What do you choose to leave behind in 50 years time, if your choice is that you stayed in the office for 16 hours to deliver that crucial report, or you sat on your childs bed and read a story?  Who will remember that night in 50 years time, your needy boss, or your nostalgic, well adjusted child?

 

Vitae Summa Brevis; by Ernest Dowson

Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam; Horace

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
we pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
our path emerges for a while, then closes
within a dream.

Who Knows?

nose

We’ve all been there.  You can feel that THING growing in your nose.  You feel your nose swell up.  It is hot.  The skin is tight, stretched and painful.  When you rub your finger over it you can feel the thing, turgid, massive, disfiguring.  It must be on the point of exploding!  You can feel everyone looking at you.  The disgust in their faces.  You must look like Quasimodo at this stage….

Then you get to a mirror and……. where is it?  You can’t see anything.  Oh, well if you look really close it’s obvious, but just nothing like as big and disfiguring as it feels.  This has been impacting on you all morning.  You are full sure everyone was staring at your face.  But now you know it was all in your imagination.

Some things are like that.  Some physical attributes or character traits can dominate your life.  You are full sure that everyone can spot them and that they are judging you for those traits.  But often you are wrong.  Nobody even notices the things that cause you so much angst.  Those are not your real problem.

The real problems are the character traits and bad habits that you carry which are not on your radar, but are impacting on your life.  There are things we do without noticing that can severely impact on how others behave around us, and the opportunities opened to us.

I have seen people eat their meals with mouth wide open and half chewed food on display for all to see, with small flecks of their meal spraying freely across the table onto everybody else, on their clothes, on their food.  These are people who come from a family of open mouth eaters who are unaware of the impact it has on others.  They wonder why the boss did not bring them to dinner with an important client and why Dave, the junior analyst who chews with his lips together was tapped for the best contract of the year.

Personal habits are things we need to be aware of.  We need to be very aware of them in business situations.  Personal hygiene and grooming.  Clean and ironed clothes.  Down to polished shoes.

Habits that can drive others insane.  Noises such as constant tapping on tables, kicking chairs, sniffing, coughing and sneezing relentlessly.  Talking loudly on the phone, talking loudly on the mobile phone while walking up and down the office.

Selfish or inconsiderate usage of common facilities.  Leaving toilets in a disgraceful state.  Cooking smoked fish in the office microwave.  Leaving dirty dishes on your desk.  Stealing (borrowing) other peoples food. Regularly asking to borrow money.

Personal traits are a big issue.  You may come from a family that settles disputes by shouting at each other.  You can’t bring that to the office.  Nor can you ghost your boss and give colleagues the silent treatment.  Aggressive or over assertive behaviours were accepted back in the 1970’s or 80’s but not any more.  Passive-aggressive behaviours have endured, but do you no favours.

The big problem with all of these traits and habits is that normal polite people are reluctant to take you aside and tell you that you have a problem.  They will try to ignore it, or drop vague hints that fly totally over your head.  Your career stagnates, or goes into reverse, and you have no clue why.

I once attended a week long residential Executive Communications Workshop (Grid Management Training) where the week concluded with everyone being rated objectively by their peers.  It was a fantastic opportunity to hold a mirror up to myself and see how I was perceived by a room of strangers.

From “An Essay on Man: Epistle II” by Alexander Pope

I.
Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is man.
Plac’d on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the stoic’s pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a god, or beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reas’ning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much:
Chaos of thought and passion, all confus’d;
Still by himself abus’d, or disabus’d;
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl’d:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!