Nominative Determinism

Originally the concept of nominative determinism arose as a humorous feedback thread in New Scientist Magazine as readers observed how authors names reflected their research topics.  Polar explorations by Daniel Snowman,  a urology article by Splatt and Weedon.

This was a build from joke books of my youth.  “The Tower of Pisa” by Eileen Over.  “Legal Jurisprudence” by Argue and Phibbs.  “Treating Tennis Injuries” by Savage, Racquet and Ball. There are lot of those:  Funny books and authors  

Erik the Red, who founded the Viking colony on Iceland wanted to keep the island for his own people.  To dissuade other Norsemen from following he gave his colony an unattractive name.  His son, Lief Eriksson, did the opposite in an attempt to encourage colonists to settle in his new discovery, Greenland.

Some people have begun to take nominative determinism more seriously.  Some pointed to the fact that many names originated in the middle ages when people were named for their trade, and families stayed within a trade.  Thatchers roofed houses.  Wrights made wheels.  Smiths beat metal.  Fletchers made arrows.  Is there a genetic disposition to excellence in a field of endeavour?

A family that has genetically poor eyesight will not survive long in the lacemaking trade.  Do genetic traits in agility, intelligence, strength etc contribute to our aptitude for certain careers?

Then there is the environment.  The child of a musician is raised in a world of music practice, has a learned knowledge of what harmonies work well, grows up playing with musical instruments.  Learning to read music comes easier than learning to read language.  Smiths know the techniques for tempering steel, learned over many generations and passed orally from Father to Son.  Fletchers know how to make good glue.  Dyers know the recipes for pigments that stain cloth but do not fade rapidly in sunlight.  Tanners are used to the smell of piss and shit.

So in the modern world, when we are socially mobile, does our heritage still carry cues to our abilities.  Is nominative determinism a real thing?

For me the funniest example of nominative determinism is given in Joseph Heller’s novel Catch 22.  With a surname of Major a vindictive father stepped in when his wife was comatose after childbirth and named his son Major Major Major.  The child is drafted into the US Air Force in WW2 as Private Major Major Major.  It is only the work of a short time and standard military bureaucracy before the Private is promoted, by clerical error, and assigned as Major Major Major Major.

Miniver Cheevy; by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
He wept that he was ever born,
And he had reasons.

Miniver loved the days of old
When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
The vision of a warrior bold
Would set him dancing.

Miniver sighed for what was not,
And dreamed, and rested from his labors;
He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
And Priam’s neighbors.

Miniver mourned the ripe renown
That made so many a name so fragrant;
He mourned Romance, now on the town,
And Art, a vagrant.

Miniver loved the Medici,
Albeit he had never seen one;
He would have sinned incessantly
Could he have been one.

Miniver cursed the commonplace
And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;
He missed the medieval grace
Of iron clothing.

Miniver scorned the gold he sought,
But sore annoyed was he without it;
Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,
And thought about it.

Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
And kept on drinking.

 

Ship of Death

Schooner

Here is a verse composed by Henry Van Dyke Jr “For Katrina’s Sundial”

Time is
Too slow for those who Wait,
Too swift for those who Fear,
Too long for those who Grieve,
Too short for those who Rejoice,
But for those who Love,
Time is not

There is a huge bank of sundial poetry and mottoes.  Many of the epigrams are in latin.  Most are about time, how we use it, how short it is, how our lives are fleeting things.  I also like this poem from Van Dyke where he uses the ship as a metaphor for the life of a person.   Ships as symbols for death are not uncommon.  Perhaps the clearest examples we have are from Pharaonic and Viking burials.  I attach a couple of good examples at the bottom.

Van Dyke was born on November 10th, so I am belatedly wishing him a happy birthday.

 

 

Gone from my sight: by Henry Van Dyke

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, ‘There, she is gone’

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me – not in her.
And, just at the moment when someone says, ‘There, she is gone,’
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, ‘Here she comes!’

And that is dying…

Death comes in its own time, in its own way.
Death is as unique as the individual experiencing it.

 

Khufu

Model of the Khufu Solar Barge found in his tomb.

 

Viking ship, Oseberg, a 9th century burial ship, Vikingskiphuset (Viking Ship Museum), Bygdoy peninsula, Oslo, Norway, Scandinavia, Europe

The Oseberg Burial Longboat

Dublin 1029

TECallcard

Back in 1988 when life was miserable and Ireland languished in recession the government was looking for any reason for a celebration.  A historian uncovered a document indicating that the Norse King of Dublin, Glúniairn, recognized Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill as High King of Ireland and agreed to pay tribute/taxes to him in the year 988.

He was not the first Viking King of Dublin.  Dublin was probably established by the Vikings in 839.  Using 988 as a “foundation” date is somewhat strange.  It is more properly the date on which the Irish Gaels established nominal control over the city.  But such niceties were lost on the downtrodden miserable debt ridden Dubliners of 1988.  When the government of the day offered to stump up for a party the population were happy to pretend that it was a millennial celebration.  1,000 years of taxes, hurray!

In 1988 I worked for the Irish national telephone company, Telecom Eireann.  It was previously the Government Department of Posts and Telegraphs.  This was split in 1984 into An Post and Telecom Eireann.  The latter no longer exists.  It was broken up and sold in the interests of competition, better services for consumers, lower prices etc.  This is why I don’t have decent broadband in my home.  So much for the better services.

The Mobile phone arm of the company, Eircell, was sold to Vodafone in the 1990’s.  In 1996 Denis O’Brien won a second Mobile phone operating licence for ESAT Telecom.  The Minister for Telecommunications at the time was a Tipperary politician called Michael Lowry.  There were rumours of dodgy dealings which were eventually investigated by the Moriarty Tribunal.   The Moriarty Tribunal found in 2008 that the awarding of the licence was influenced by payments made by O’Brien to Michael Lowry.

In the last general election in Ireland Michael Lowry topped the poll yet again in the Tipperary constituency, which says everything you need to know about Irish voter attitudes to probity in public office.  Denis O’Brien lives as a tax exile, but still has unrivalled access to business opportunities under government control, such as the recent award to provide water meters.  Given the findings of the Moriarty tribunal one would seriously question why any politician would have dealings with such a businessman, unless they aim to profit as Lowry did.

One of the hot new services we pioneered in the 1980s was the Call Card.  Instead of using pesky money to make your phone call in the public payphone you could buy an all new singing and dancing call card.  The photo above shows the millennium celebration limited edition Telecom Eireann call card from 1988.

Today you would be lucky to find a public payphone, let alone find one that works.

If my career in Telecomms taught me anything it taught me this; there are some things that should not be privatized.  Never privatize a network, that applies to road, rail, power, water, communications, information.  Keep them public, let them serve the common good.

That’s my rant over for today.  Happy Birthday Dublin, 1029 years old today…… or 1178 years old, depending on the government of the day.

Milkbottle

Dublin Milkbottle: Another thing we have no more.

Final Journey

viking_funeral

When your time comes what will be done with your remains?
Do you want to be buried or burned?  Perhaps a native American Indian sky burial?  A last trip down the Ganges?  Opt for the Tibetan solution of being fed to vultures?
Dissolved in acid perhaps?  Cryogenically frozen?  Mummified?
Preserved in a glass case like Snow White and lots of Catholic saints?

And then what?  Do you expect a memorial?
Perhaps a huge mausoleum like a Bronze Age Monarch or a Mexican Drug Lord.
Would you prefer your molecules to return to earth with minimal fuss and no lasting impact on the landscape?  A biodegradable eco-coffin, or ashes scattered on the fields.
When the flesh has fallen from your bones would you like to rest in an ossuary?
Do you have a family grave or crypt?  Will the current residents let you in?
Who holds the grave papers?

Will your wishes be honoured by your executors?  Will you know if they are?  Will you care?  Will they?

Just let me go on record now.  I expect the full Viking funeral.  Longboat filled with my possessions.  Battle axe in my right hand, shield in my left.  Helmet – no horns (Authenticity please).  Dog (dead) at my feet.  Point me to the west and set the vessel on fire.
If funds are a problem maybe cremate me and put my ashes into a very small Viking ship.  Don’t kill the dog.  Keep my possessions.  But I want to sail into the west.

-o0o-

Ashes: by Paula Meehan

The tide comes in; the tide goes out again
washing the beach clear of what the storm
dumped. Where there were rocks, today there is sand;
where sand yesterday, now uncovered rocks.

So I think on where her mortal remains
might reach landfall in their transmuted forms,
a year now since I cast them from my hand
—wanting to stop the inexorable clock.

She who died by her own hand cannot know
the simple love I have for what she left
behind. I could not save her. I could not
even try. I watch the way the wind blows
life into slack sail: the stress of warp against weft
lifts the stalling craft, pushes it on out.

 

 

Reign of Terror

viking-jump.jpg

 

June 8th, 793 was the official opening of the Viking era.  Founded by the Irish monk St. Aidan the Lindisfarne priory sat on the isolated “Holy Island” off the coast of Northumbria.  Out of nowhere Norsemen pounced on the undefended Christian community.  What followed was a brief and brutal raid which caused consternation amongst the Christian communities of the English mainland.

For the Norsemen it was a bonanza.  They returned with holds overflowing with silver and gold, fine cloth and a fat crop of well fed slaves.  Overnight the economy of Scandinavia shifted from subsistence farming to rapine and pillage.

In the margins of a manuscript in St Gall in Switzerland a short poem was found, written in Gaelic by an Irish monk.  You get a sense of the awful terror he must have felt when the weather was fair for sailing.

Bitter is the wind tonight
tossing the seas to spume
no anxiety need I suffer
when only crazy Norsemen go a-viking.

Anon.