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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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.

Playing God

Galaxy

Imagine you are God and you decide to create a universe.  When you create this universe you set it up as a game with three broad conditions.  To “Win” the game two intelligent species have to meet each other and communicate.

Broad Condition number 1:  Entropy

The Universe begins with a huge injection of energy.  You have this big bang which creates all these galaxies, stars, planets and moons.  From the point of origin they will all drift outwards.  As they drift outwards the energy of the creation will eventually dissipate.  The end state for this creation is death.  Cold dead pieces of rock drifting ever outwards away from each other.

Broad Condition number 2:  Evolutionary time

In order for these intelligent species to meet each other the species must firstly evolve.  You cannot put icing on a hot cake straight out of the oven.  It has to cool down.  The steam has to evaporate.  The conditions need to be right.  So in this universe it takes time for life to develop from primordial chemical soup.

A couple of billion years for development of photosynthesis so that oxygen can be produced.

A billion years to the development of Eukaryotes  and another billion to develop into multi-cellular organisms.  And all this time those galaxies are drifting apart, drifting apart.

Then things can speed up.  From the first multi-cellular organisms it only took another billion years to see the arrival of hominids.  From the arrival of early hominids it only took a million years to the arrival of civilization.  Then it only took 7,000 years for us to leave our planet and reach the moon.

We reached the moon in 1969.  With a bit of luck it may take only 100 years from there to put a man on Mars.  But even then we will not have reached Level 1 on the Kardashev scale and if we are to “Win” the game we will need to become a Level 3 Kardashev civilization. We need to become a Galactic civilization.

Broad Condition Number 3:  Resource Constraints

Here is a sting in the tail.  Each origin planet for a species is given a delicately balanced resource package.  If those resources are not managed sensibly there is a strong possibility that a developing civilization will implode before they make the great leap into space.  Civilizations rise and fall, rise and fall over time.  But few of them have ever tested planetary resources in any meaningful way, except ours.

At the rate mankind is destroying this planet we will have poisoned our environment long before we reach Kardashev level 1.

That Fateful Meeting

And let us pretend we somehow achieved that meeting with another civilization in space.  How many humans would suggest a shoot first approach to communication?  We have a poor record of engagement with newly discovered tribes and peoples of men.  How would we fare with an alien species?

Carpe Diem

Born in the Consulship of Cotta and Torquatus (65BC) the poet we now know as Horace lived through the greatest era of Roman History.  In the year he was born Pompey Magnus was at the very height of his power.  He was fighting Tigranes in Armenia and Mithridates the Great.  Julius Caesar was Consul in Horace’s second year of life, and Cicero was consul in his third year.

He lived through the two Civil wars that defined the boundary between Republican Rome and Imperial Rome.  Too young to participate in the Civil War of Julius Caesar.  He found himself on the wrong side in the Octavian civil war at the Battle of Philippi (42BC) where he was on the losing side with Brutus and Cassius.

Luckily Horace was favoured by Maecenas, Octavians right hand man and an avid patron of the arts.  Horace became an Imperial court poet under Augustus.  He was in the inner circle during the creation of the Roman Empire.  He saw the young Octavian rise to become Princeps and then Augustus.

So, as it is your birthday, Happy Birthday Horace.  Seize the day!

 

Ode I-XI “Carpe Diem”; by Quintus Horatius Flaccus

Ask not Leuconoë for we never know
what fate the gods grant, your fate or mine.
Waste no time on futile Babylonian astrological reckonings.
Better by far to suffer what comes
whether Jupiter grants us more winters or if this, our last
is stripped away like those cliffs by the Tyrrhenian sea.
Be wise, mix the wine, life is short, temper your long term ambitions.
Time is envious of this moment, even as we speak: Seize the day, trust not to tomorrow.

Grandfather Africa

Tatamkulu Afrika translates from Xhosa as Grandfather Africa.  It is the nom de plume of Mogamed Fu’ad Nasif who was born in Egypt on this day in 1920.  His initial publications were under what he called his Methodist name; John Carlton.  This was the name given to him by his Foster parents in South Africa after his Egyptian father and Turkish mother died of the flu.

That would have been the global pandemic Spanish flu which took people in the prime of their lives and left behind the aged and infirm and the small children.

He went back to the land of his birth in WW2 and fought in the North African campaign, was captured in Tobruk.

After the war he moved to South West Africa, now modern Namibia, and became Jozua Joubert when fostered by an Afrikaans family.

In 1964 he converted to Islam and became Ismail Joubert.

He moved to Cape Town and was active in protests against the whitewashing of District 6 under the apartheid regime.  His Egyptian/Turkish heritage permitted Joubert to classify as a white.  He refused.

Grandfather Africa was given to him as an honorific, as the Indians named Mohandas Gandhi “Bapu” and “Mahatma”.  But he was not the pacifist the Indian was.  He was imprisoned along side Prisoner 46664 for 11 years for terrorism, so maybe we should say that his was a Chimurenga name?

Egypt, Libya, Namibia and South Africa, the name fits.

afrika1

 

Nothing’s Changed; by Tatamkulu Afrika

Small round hard stones click
under my heels,
seeding grasses thrust bearded seeds
into trouser cuffs, cans,
trodden on, crunch
in tall, purple-flowering,
amiable weeds.

of my lungs,
and the hot, white, inwards turning
anger of my eyes.

Brash with glass,
name flaring like a flag,
it squats
in the grass and weeds,
incipient Port Jackson trees:
new, up-market, haute cuisine,
guard at the gatepost,
whites only inn.

No sign says it is:
but we know where we belong.

I press my nose
to the clear panes, know,
before I see them, there will be
crushed ice white glass,
linen falls,
the single rose.

Down the road,
working man’s cafe sells
bunny chows.
Take it with you, eat
it at a plastic table top,
wipe your fingers on your jeans,
spit a little on the floor:
it’s in the bone.

I back from the glass,
boy again,
leaving small, mean O
of small, mean mouth.
Hands burn
for a stone, a bomb,
to shiver down the glass.
Nothing’s changed.

Poets and their legacy

Poets

Joyce Kilmer and Osbert Sitwell

Two war poets were born on this day.  Joyce Kilmer, born 1886, was a well known poet before he shipped for France.  He died in July 1918 at the 2nd battle of the Marne.  Best known for his poem “Trees” he has been widely quoted and as widely ridiculed.  His “War Poems” are paeans of sacrifice where he celebrates death and compares troopers to Christ on the Cross.  Well known but no longer well respected.  If you want to read his poetry you will not find it on this site.

Osbert Sitwell was born in 1892 and joined the war in 1914.  He began his poetry career in the trenches and his poems are anything but a celebration of that hell.  He went on to become a well known and highly respected writer.  Well connected in English society and inheriting a baronetcy himself, he moved in illustrious circles in his lifetime.

Today Kilmer is famous, a household name, although often parodied and mocked.  Sitwell, who has heard of him?  His name has faded.  A solid but unremarkable poet.

Fame is a fickle mistress.

This Generation: by Sir Osbert Sitwell

Their youth was fevered – passionate, quick to drain
the last few pleasures from the cup of life
before they turned to suck the dregs of pain
and end their young-old lives in mortal strife.
They paid the debts of many a hundred year
of foolishness and riches in alloy.
They went to the death; nor did they shed a tear
for all they sacrificed of love and joy.
Their tears ran dry when they were in the womb,
for, entering life – they found it was their tomb.

 

This is not a job, it’s a religion!

Clappy

Beware a Job where they keep clapping for nothing.

It is quite simply the most horrific thing I have read in years.   A true horror story.
The scene begins in the Apple Corporation……

Johnson and Jobs wanted ambassadors whose ostensible role was not to sell products – uniquely, Apple store employees receive no commission – but to create positive customer sentiment and repair trust in the brand when it broke.

In 1984, a group of professors at Harvard Business School published a book, Managing Human Assets, aimed at updating workplace organization for a new era.

Previously, the book argued, labor discipline could be achieved in a relatively straightforward top-down manner, but now it required something else. “The limitations of hierarchy have forced a search for other mechanisms of social control,” the authors said. The mechanisms they proposed consisted, at root, of treating employees as nominal stakeholders in business success, but within narrow limits that would increase rather than challenge shareholder profitability.

How do you create an engaged, happy, knowledgeable workforce that can pass, however implausibly, as an entire battalion of geniuses in towns across the country? More importantly, how do you do all of that without the stick of the authoritarian boss or the carrot of a juicy commission?

Apple’s solution was to foster a sense of commitment to a higher calling while flattering employees that they were the chosen few to represent it. By raising the bar of admission, crafting a long series of interviews to weed out the mercenary or misanthropic, Johnson soon attracted more applicants than there were posts. Those keen enough to go through the onerous hiring process were almost by definition a better “fit” for the devotional ethos of the brand, far more receptive to the fiction that they weren’t selling things but, in an oft-repeated phrase, “enriching people’s lives”, as if they’d landed a job at a charity.

“When people are hired,” Johnson explained, “they feel honored to be on the team, and the team respects them from day one because they’ve made it through the gauntlet. That’s very different from trying to find somebody at the lowest cost who’s available on Saturdays from 8 to 12.”

While not the lowest, the cost of these eager staff was still low – relative to industry averages, to the amount they made for the company, and to the $400m that Johnson earned in his seven years at Apple.

Lower wages also had another, less obvious effect. As Apple store managers explained to the New York Times, the lack of commissions meant that the job didn’t pay well enough to support those with dependents: older workers were functionally excluded from representing the brand without the need for a formal policy – or the attendant specter of discrimination lawsuits that it would raise.

Products are clapped, customers waiting overnight to buy them are clapped, their purchases are clapped, claps are clapped. Clap, clap, clap. “My hands would sting from all the clapping,” said one manager. Claps, cheers, performances of rapturous engagement provided, by design, a ready-mixed social glue to bind teams together, reaffirming both the character of the brand and employees’ cultish devotion to it.

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