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Life

“I don’t use a machine,” the gravedigger said

Saturday, 29 June, 2019

“He was walking back through the cemetery to his car when he came upon a black man digging a grave with a shovel. The man was standing about two feet down in the unfinished grave and stopped shoveling and hurling the dirt out to the side as the visitor approached him. He wore dark coveralls and an old baseball cap, and from the gray in his mustache and the lines in his face he looked to be at least fifty. His frame, however, was still thick and strong.

“I thought they did this with a machine,” he said to the gravedigger.

“In big cemeteries, where they do many graves, a lot of times they use a machine, that’s right.” He spoke like a Southerner, but very matter-of-factly, very precisely, more like a pedantic schoolteacher than a physical laborer. “I don’t use a machine,” the gravedigger continued, “because it can sink the other graves. The soil can give and it can crush in on the box. And you have the gravestones you have to deal with. It’s just easier in my case to do everything by hand. Much neater. Easier to take the dirt away without ruining anything else. ” — Philip Roth, Everyman

Grave


People of the Year 2018

Wednesday, 26 December, 2018

Ann Walsh-Fitzgerald, Holger Seidl, Mary O’Brien, Reinhard Meier, Atty Hennessy, Ian McMaster, Mike Daly, Shila Ajdari, Mike Fitzgerald, Doris Fleckenstien, Noel Donnelly, Patricia Donnelly, Danko Szabó,… each and every one, and many more, helped to make this year better. Without them, this post would not have been possible.

As Irving Berlin said: “Got no checkbooks, got no banks. Still I’d like to express my thanks. — I’ve got the sun in the mornin’ and the moon at night.”

Thanks.


Be kind. Always.

Thursday, 5 July, 2018

Kate Spade

Kind person


Spade & Bourdain: Humans are complex

Friday, 8 June, 2018

Earlier this week, the fashion designer Kate Spade hanged herself in New York. This morning, we learned that the celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain had killed himself earlier today in France. Each expressed creativity and ingenuity during their lifetimes and both enriched the lives of others during their time among us. May they Rest in Peace.

Every human life is unique and every death, especially death by suicide, is different. We are complex creatures. Bye, Kate. Bye, Anthony.

Farewell


Augustus crosses the Alps

Saturday, 9 September, 2017 0 Comments

“I have come to believe that in the life of every man, late or soon, there is a moment when he knows beyond whatever else he might understand, and whether he can articulate the knowledge or not, the terrifying fact that he is alone, and separate, and that he can be no other than the poor thing that is himself.” — John Williams, Augustus

Augustus

The Augustus Bevilacqua in Munich’s Glyptothek, the city’s oldest public museum, depicts the Roman emperor “in sovereign elegance and aloof beauty.” He is pater patriae.


Life and death in the Gulf Stream

Friday, 27 January, 2017 0 Comments

Life: Crew members of the US Coast Guard cutter Cushing from Atlantic Beach in North Carolina have released 27 “rehabilitated sea turtles” into the Gulf Stream. The turtles had been treated for “cold water shock” they suffered earlier this winter.

Death: Further down the coast, in Key West, Ernest Hemingway created the “Death in the Gulf Stream” cocktail in 1937. Here is how the great man himself mixed it:

“Take a tall thin water tumbler and fill it with finely cracked ice. Lace this broken debris with four good purple splashes of Angostura, add the juice and crushed peel of green lime and fill glass almost full with Holland Gin… no sugar, no fancying. It’s strong it’s bitter, but so is English ale strong and bitter, in many cases. We don’t add sugar to ale, and we don’t need sugar in a Death in the Gulf Stream… Its tartness and its bitterness are its chief charm. It is reviving and refreshing; it cools the blood and inspires renewed interest in food, companions and life.”

Drinks links: Angostura bitters, Holland Gin

This excellent illustration of “Death in The Gulf Stream” by Yoko Ueta is from The Cocktails of the Ritz Paris by Colin Peter Field.

Death in the Gulf Stream


Epitaph in a country churchyard

Saturday, 7 January, 2017 0 Comments

“He thought himself awake when he was already asleep. He saw the stars above his face, whirling on their silent and sleepless axis, and the leaves of the trees rustling against them, and he heard small changes in the grass.” — T.H. White

RIP


Human cruelty and evil

Friday, 5 August, 2016 0 Comments

Yesterday’s post here about artificial and emotional intelligence referenced Simon Baron-Cohen’s book, Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty. The book appeared under a different title in the United States: The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Human Cruelty. The use of the “e as in evil” added to its impact in the bookstores, no doubt, as the combination of “Evil” and “Cruelty” beats “Empathy” and “Cruelty” when it comes to visceral reactions.

Evil The cruel person, says Professor Baron-Cohen, treats someone as if they are an object — ignoring their thoughts and feelings. This is one of the worst things a person can do to another human being. A person suspends empathy when thinking only about his or her own mind (single-mindedness) because empathy is the ability to “identify what someone else is thinking or feeling and respond to that with appropriate emotion,” writes Baron-Cohen. This “empathy erosion” arises from emotions such as resentment or hatred and those who entirely lack empathy are borderline personalities: psychopaths and narcissists.

Compared to the cruel person, an empathic person does not merely ask someone how they are feeling, rather he or she avoids hurting their feelings, considers how to make them feel good and evaluates the impact of his or her words and actions on others. The empathic person listens to what is said, notes how it is said and responds in a decent way. In this way, empathy is a human and a saintly quality.

In the final chapter, “Reflections on Human Cruelty,” Baron-Cohen deliberates on the risks of indifference to cruelty and terrorism. Hannah Arendt’s famous “banality of evil” characterization of Adolf Eichmann is assessed in light of the criticism expressed by the late David Cesarini that she observed only the beginning of the war criminal’s trial. Had she stayed longer, she would have seen how the Nazi displayed extraordinary creativity in planning mass murder. As regards terrorists, their unempathic acts are not necessarily the result of lack of empathy claims Baron-Cohen. “The belief and/or the actual political context may drive the behavior,” he says. This may be so, but as the 9/11 terrorists flew their planes into the Twin Towers, few would deny that their switched-off empathy had led them down a path of cruelty to acts of incomprehensible evil.

Cruelty and evil are facts of life. We should not shy away from naming and shaming them or those persons who engage in human cruelty and evil.

“In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.” — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago


At the setting of the sun

Sunday, 17 July, 2016 0 Comments

Family, friends, colleagues will gather today to honour Professor Christian Schreiber, whose 51st birthday should have been celebrated on Friday. Instead, he was taken from those he loved on 4 July after a year of unbearable suffering. Franz Kafka put it aptly: “One sees the sun slowly set, yet one is surprised when it suddenly becomes dark.”

Christian Schreiber


It’s just a different wolf

Tuesday, 12 July, 2016 0 Comments

“Fear isn’t so difficult to understand. After all, weren’t we all frightened as children? Nothing has changed since Little Red Riding Hood faced the big bad wolf. What frightens us today is exactly the same sort of thing that frightened us yesterday. It’s just a different wolf.” — Alfred Hitchcock

Wolves have survived in the wild, Terry Pratchett once remarked, because they learned that human meat has sharp edges. But not all humans are human. Some are far more lupine than the wolves and neither mother nor father are spared their sharp edges. Those sharp edges were to the fore in the excellent drug-cartel thriller Sicario.


The sixth Station: Childhood

Sunday, 29 November, 2015 0 Comments

One of my best friends in this photo is a dog. Actually, the dog is more of a playmate than a friend here. Animals are not toys, but they can offer children endless delight. Cuddly creatures are far more fun than gewgaws of wood or metal, no matter how cleverly these things might be designed and crafted. Farms are zoos of a kind, and while most of the animals are involved in the earnest business of converting their meals into milk, meat and eggs, there are other players on the periphery, such as cats and dogs, and their roles blur the line between work and play.

Childhood in Cullane

One of the noticeable things about this photo is the lack of things, apart from a very utilitarian bucket, a tin can and some items drying on the wall. Subsistence farming in the rural Ireland of my childhood did not generate luxury. It wasn’t quite a cashless society, but there was little in the way of disposable income. Despite this, there was no hunger and neither was there material or spiritual poverty. Ghosts still existed and fireside stories about “the troubled times” and characters who “drank the farm” had the power to enchant — if one was disposed towards enchantment, that is. And I was.

Even the prosaic had charm. On the last night that I sat and spoke to my mother beside the fireplace, she told how a neighbour, Hanny Egan, assisted her with the knitting of jumpers. Going to a shop and buying clothing for children was still a novelty at the time. The money wasn’t there, anyway, so the alternative was to make the clothes oneself. Hanny Egan wore a long black coat and she would put a large ball of yarn in each pocket. As she walked to the village of Ballylanders and back, with her knitting needles in hand, she would cast on the stiches — one plain, one purl — and pass away the journey productively. Hanny specialized in the knitting of sleeves, which was quite tricky; my mother worked on the bodies of the jumpers, which required more exertion, and the two of them would then join up the parts over tea.

Love cannot always be articulate, but this act of love was one of many that made for a happy childhood and the creation of those jumpers says all that one needs to know about these people. Within their limited means, my parents did heroic things for their children. They were totally selfless. No holidays for them. No extravagances, either. There may not be much in the way of stuff in that photo but the things that are absent could not be bought nor captured by a camera.

Our next station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Farming.