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Author Archive: Eamonn Fitzgerald

Ex-pat Irishman keeping an eye on the world from the Bavarian side of the Alps.

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Myles & More: April Fool’s Day

Monday, 1 April, 2019

The great Brian O’Nolan, aka Flann O’Brien, spent much of his life creating surreal humour and it was in keeping with his wry world view that he died on April Fool’s Day. “Evil is even, truth is an odd number and death is a full stop,” he said, wryly.

Along with novels and plays, he wrote a weekly column for The Irish Times titled “Cruiskeen Lawn” (from the Irish crúiscín lán, “full/brimming small-jug”) using the pseudonym Myles na gCopaleen (“Myles of the Little Horses”). As a columnist, he deployed a mix of Irish and English, with occasional splashes of Latin, French and German, to pour scorn upon four major targets: the Dublin literary elite, the government of the day, the “Plain People of Ireland” and Gaelic language revivalists. The following Cruiskeen Lawn snippet is topical in that it makes reference to Germany, the Chancellor of which country will visit Dublin on Thursday.

Curse it, my mind races back to my Heidelberg days. Sonya and Lili. And Magda. And Ernst Schmutz, Georg Geier, Theodor Winkleman, Efrem Zimbalist, Otto Grün. And the accordion player Kurt Schachmann. And Doktor Oreille, descendant of Irish princes. Ich hab’ mein Herz / in Heidelberg verloren / in einer lauen / Sommernacht / Ich war verliebt / bis über beide / Ohren / und wie ein Röslein / hatt’ / Ihr Mund gelächt or something humpty tumpty tumpty tumpty tumpty mein Herz it schlägt am Neckarstrand.

A very beautiful student melody. Beer and music and midnight swims in the Neckar. Chats in erse with Kun O’Meyer and John Marquess… Alas, those chimes. Und als wir nahmen / Abschied vor den Toren / beim letzten Küss, da hab’ Ich Klar erkannt / dass Ich mein Herz / in Heidelberg verloren / MEIN HERZ / es schlägt am Neck-ar-strand! Tumpty tumpty tum.

  • The Plain People of Ireland: Isn’t the German very like the Irish? Very guttural and so on?
    Myself: Yes.
  • The Plain People of Ireland: People say that the German language and the Irish language is very guttural tongues.
    Myself: Yes.
  • The Plain People of Ireland: The sounds is all guttural do you understand.
    Myself. Yes.
  • The Plain People of Ireland: Very guttural languages the pair of them the Gaelic and the German.
    Myself. Yes.

Tumpty tumpty tum.


The violence of a peaceful demonstration

Sunday, 31 March, 2019

News from the real world: “Channel 4 News has apologised after its presenter Jon Snow said he had ‘never seen so many white people in one place’, referring to the pro-Brexit protesters who flooded the centre of London on Friday.”

Ballard What a pity J. G. Ballard is not alive at this hour as his take on Brexit take would be very entertaining, no doubt. Acidic observations dripped from the pen of the late British author: “Nothing brings out violence like a peaceful demonstration,” is a classic and here’s another good one: “My brief stay at the hospital had already convinced me that the medical profession was an open door to anyone nursing a grudge against the human race.”

The writer of Empire of the Sun, Crash, Cocaine Nights and Super-Cannes could turn a memorable phrase and many of the best can be found in J.G. Ballard: Quotes, a 400-page volume drawn from 40 years of writing. Seven gems:

  • “Sex times technology equals the future.”
  • “Sooner or later all science fiction comes true.”
  • “The only definition of real happiness: to find yourself and be who you are.”
  • “A general rule: if enough people predict something, it won’t happen.”
  • “The advanced societies of the future will not be governed by reason. They will be driven by irrationality, by competing systems of psychopathology.”
  • “A widespread taste for pornography means that nature is alerting us to some threat of extinction.”
  • “Learn the rules, and you can get away with anything.”

Ballard isn’t for everyone. He tended towards the dark, so if you’re feeling down, wait until the clouds have cleared before opening any of his works. Still, he gets it right a lot of the time, especially about the “new totalitarianism”, which is what he called the emerging mix of bland architecture, pervasive computing, docile citizenry and cultural relativism. He sums it up brilliantly here: “The New Totalitarians come forward smiling obsequiously like head waiters in third-rate Indian restaurants, and assuring us that everything is for our benefit.” J. G. Ballard warned us, quotably.


Sliteseier for Solskjær at Old Trafford

Saturday, 30 March, 2019

There’s nothing like the glamour of the Premier League to brighten up the day for those who toil far from the green and pleasant fields of England. Millions of Egyptians, living in squalor and under repression, have been inspired by the deeds of Mo Salah at Liverpool FC since 2017, for example. And, in a very different climatic region, up in Kristiansund, where heavy snow showers are forecast for tonight, the 20,000 Norwegians who call it their home are warmed by the fact that a local lad has made good and is now the new manager of Manchester United. Ole Gunnar Solskjær had his official managerial debut today at Old Trafford and Verdens Gang (“The way of the world”) was keeping a close eye on the game.

Overall, the Manchester United vs. Watford match was a pedestrian affair, declared the tabloid. The Norwegian word Sliteseier can be translated as “abrasion” and, depending on circumstances, an English synonym — tedious, characterless, monotonous, unimaginative, prosaic — might be better at putting the ball in the back of the net. That said, Manchester United vs. Barcelona on 10 April in the Champions League should produce a very different headline word. Nervepirrende, perhaps.

SLITESEIER FOR SOLSKJÆRS UNITED


The Genus Rosa

Friday, 29 March, 2019

An anecdote from the introduction to The Genus Rosa by the British horticulturalist Ellen Willmott, which was published in two volumes between 1910 and 1914:

“The Persian poet Omar Khayyam, who flourished in the eleventh century, has much to say about Roses. A hip from a Rose planted on his grave at Nashipur was bought home by Mr. Simpson, the artist of the London Illustrated News. It was given to me by the late Mrs. Bernard Quaritch, and reared at Kew. It proved to be Rosa damascena, and a shoot from the Kew plant has now been planted on the grave of his first English translator, Edward FitzGerald.”

Roses at home


Annie Leibovitz fawns over a famous person

Thursday, 28 March, 2019

Yes, the obsequiousness is breathtaking, but Annie Leibovitz is not shy when it comes to putting her cards on the table, especially when she’s dealing with the man who has parlayed his fame into “cable-news ubiquity and a potential 2020 presidential run,” according to Vogue.

“I met him at the rally the next day, and was pretty much with their group through all of that. And we met again the next morning and did the cover. He was by himself. He didn’t have anyone there. I always admire that too. I was in a quandary about whether he should wear a blue shirt or something more relaxed. So when we went out there, I said, ‘Listen, if you’re going to run, wear the blue shirt. If you’re not going to run, let’s wear something else.’ And he said, ‘Let’s put on the blue shirt.'”

Michael Avenatti


Keen on Democracy

Wednesday, 27 March, 2019

“Hi. I’m Andrew, and this is Keen on Democracy. A chill is enveloping the world. Everywhere I go these days, the conversation is the same. Everyone is fearful about the fate of democracy in our digital age. The same worried question is on all of our lips: What or who is killing democracy, everybody wants to know. There’s certainly no lack of suspects: Trump, Putin’s trolls, Mark Zuckerberg, authoritarian populism, the Wall, Viktor Orban, #FakeNews, Brexit, Bolsonaro, surveillance capitalism, Erdogan, Twitter or, last but certainly not least, the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping.”

Thus begins Andrew Keen’s intro to each episode of the podcast he calls Keen on Democracy. Keen is a professional internet scold like Jaron Lanier, Nicholas Carr and Evgeny Morozov, to name but three pundits who are doing very nicely by deploring the very thing that enables them to earn a comfortable living as they whizz around the world from talkfest to talkfest. Each of them has a different shtick. Keen, for example, began his by accusing the internet of degrading culture and society. He’s updated his critique and now he’s saying it’s putting the very notion of democracy in peril.

Keen on Democracy

Intelligent and eloquent, Andrew Keen is the author of Cult of the Amateur, Digital Vertigo, The Internet Is Not The Answer and How To Fix The Future. History might look back and see him as a brave canary in the data mine, or it may treat Keen, Lanier, Carr and Morozov as more modern, cleverer versions of Ned Ludd. Unlike Ned, they’re not interested in destroying the machines because those very machines enable them to podcast, publish and trouser tidy sums of money.


And Brexit killed the suit, too

Tuesday, 26 March, 2019

One of the worst articles ever published by GQ appeared under the title, “The death of the suit? Thanks Brexit.” Who was responsible for this mess? Lou Stoppard. More precisely, readers were informed that “GQ’s Contributing Editor Lou Stoppard talks you through the jacket that is slowly replacing the suit”. Still, Stoppard got one thing right in the article and it was this: “You can link most current British phenomena on Brexit, or the lack of Brexit, depending on how you look at it.” Exactly.

The other interesting thing about the article is the publication date: Tuesday, 7 November 2017. The demise of the suit has been signalled for some time now and the Wall Street Journal, a former bastion of suit wearers, is finally on it. According to Suzanne Kapner today, “Men Ditch Suits, and Retailers Struggle to Adapt.” The reality of what’s going on here has got nothing to do with Brexit and everything to do with the state of the labour market. In the USA, where it’s very tight, business casual is on the rise and getting even more casual because management wants to keep workers and wants to keep them happy. If that means throwing the suit out the window, so be it.


IPA: the alphabet, not the ale

Monday, 25 March, 2019
  • For hipsters, the abbreviation IPA means India Pale Ale, a trendy beer flavour that oozes hops.
  • For linguists, the abbreviation IPA means International Phonetic Alphabet, a system of phonetic notation based on the Latin alphabet.

Back in June 2015, Halle Neyens explained how it works in a Language Base Camp post titled “Linguistics for Language Learners: What is the IPA?“, and the post was accompanied by an excellent infographic showing where the sounds English speakers use are produced in the mouth and throat.

IPA

Note: Language Base Camp is a community-based hub where language learners and language lovers “connect and help each other along the path of self-directed language learning.”


Russiagate is this generation’s WMD

Sunday, 24 March, 2019

In light of Mueller, Matt Taibbi says that while the Iraq war faceplant damaged the reputation of the press, Russiagate has just destroyed it. He goes so far as to declare: Russiagate is this generation’s WMD. Snippet:

“Either Trump is a compromised foreign agent, or he isn’t. If he isn’t, news outlets once again swallowed a massive disinformation campaign, only this error is many orders of magnitude more stupid than any in the recent past, WMD included. Honest reporters like ABC’s Terry Moran understand: Mueller coming back empty-handed on collusion means a ‘reckoning for the media.’

Of course, there won’t be such a reckoning. (There never is). But there should be. We broke every written and unwritten rule in pursuit of this story, starting with the prohibition on reporting things we can’t confirm.”

What a shabby, amoral, vile, dishonest trade the news industry has become.

Mueller


Down with Article 13, which is now Article 17!

Saturday, 23 March, 2019

The EU, despite its enormous bureaucracy and budgets, has singularly failed to produce an Apple, a Google, an Amazon, a Facebook, a Twitter, an Instagram, a Microsoft, an Adobe, a Whatsapp, a Reddit, a Procore, a Wikipedia…. The list goes on and on and on and on and on.

Despite its enormous budgets and bureaucracy, though, the EU is very good at one thing when it comes to technology: the shakedown. If it’s not European tech and it’s really popular, fine it. That’s the thinking in Brussels, and this has turned out to be a rather nice little earner over the past decade.

The latest scam is a proposed reform of EU of copyright law (PDF). Brussels claims this would force internet platforms to share revenues with artists by forcing the likes of Google and Facebook to pay publishers for displaying news snippets and removing copyright-protected content from YouTube or Instagram. The platforms would have to sign licensing agreements with rights holders such as musicians, performers, authors, publishers and journalists to use their work online. To do this, the platforms would have to install filters to prevent users uploading copyrighted material, but these algorithms might not see the joke in Hitler’s comments about Boris Johnson. And the filters are seen by many as the thin end of an EU wedge to throttle free speech and impose Brussels-like dreariness upon a creative continent.

The European Parliament is set to have its final vote on the proposals next Tuesday and protests against the legislation are scheduled across Europe today. The demonstrations are being organized by the Save Your Internet campaign, which has labelled the legislation “a massive threat to the free exchange of opinions and culture online.” So, sign up, hit the streets and sing along.


No feelings of overworth

Friday, 22 March, 2019

Almost two decades ago, the American-British journalist and bestselling travel-writer Bill Bryson had the notion of writing a a clear, concise and entertaining guide to the problems of English usage and spelling, so he proposed the idea to “a kindly editor at Penguin Books” by the name of Donald McFarlan and the response was positive. Or as Bryson puts it in the introduction to Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words, “To my astonishment and gratification, Mr. McFarlan sent me a contract and, by way of advance, a sum of money carefully gauged not to cause embarrassment or feelings of overworth.” That’s finely put, the “feelings of overworth” bit.

On page 218, Bryson arrives at the letter “Y” and “year’ time” is the second entry.

“In 1865 an influential book by Stanley Jevons argued… that Britain would run out of coal in a few years’ time” (Economist). The author is to be commended for putting an apostrophe on years, but the effort was unnecessary, as pairing time with years is inescapably repetitious. “In a few years” says as much and gets there quicker.

Finely put, that.