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A sense of place

Monday, 10 July, 2017 0 Comments

Landscape is a mirror that reflects life. Those fields, woods, rivers and mountains reveal the soul of a place. The English filmmaker Max Smith began his “Sense of Place” series of videos in the Argyll Forest Park on the Cowal peninsula in the Scottish Highlands, and he’s just added the Cairngorms, a mountain range in the eastern Highlands that forms part of the Grampians. The two clips offer a combined seven minutes of sublime place.


In the world of the cloud-capped peaks

Sunday, 9 July, 2017 0 Comments

The poet Yu Xuanji was not permitted to be a candidate for the all-important imperial service examinations in mid-ninth-century China, but she lived a full life outside the privileged world of the court bureaucrats, nevertheless. She became a concubine, lived a scandalously promiscuous short life and was executed for allegedly beating her maid to death. In the midst of all this, she wrote poetry that continues to enthral.

“In a gauze dress / I read among my disordered / Piles of books,” she says in Living in the Summer Mountains. And then there’s the famous On a Visit to Ch’ung Chen Taoist Temple I See In The South Hall The List of Successful Candidates in The Imperial Examinations. The “Cloud-capped peaks” in the first line are, of course, those candidates who were successful in the civil-service exams.

On a Visit to Ch’ung Chen Taoist Temple I See In The South Hall The List of Successful Candidates in The Imperial Examinations

Cloud-capped peaks fill the eyes
In the Spring sunshine.
Their names are written in beautiful characters
And posted in order of merit.
How I hate this silk dress
That conceals a poet.
I lift my head and read their names
In a powerless envy.

Yu Xuanji (844 – 868)

Wang Hui


The smug face of Left-wing nihilism

Saturday, 8 July, 2017 1 Comment

The thug here caught snapping a selfie during last night’s so-called “anti-capitalism” riot in Hamburg is using an iPhone 7 Plus, which costs a cool €899. Priceless!

Hamburg thug

Described by the liberal press as “activists”, these spoiled brats and ruffians spent the night looting shops run by hard-working locals, immigrants and families who are trying to make decent living. What is truly appalling, however, is that the gangsters were encouraged by the likes of the leftist (!) millionaire (!) German publisher Jakob Augstein who, on Thursday night, tweeted: “The price has to be pushed so high that no one will want to organize such a conference. G20 like the Olympics is for dictatorships”

The looting, the burning, the injured police officers are a high price to pay for the satisfaction of well-fed smoked-salmon socialists.


Fortitude in a time of suffering and Twitter

Friday, 7 July, 2017 0 Comments

Our thoughts go out today to our favourite Benedictine nun, Sister Catherine Wybourne, the Prioress of Howton Grove Priory in Herefordshire. In her ongoing battle with cancer, she has shown grace, dignity, wit and humanity. Here’s an example of her thinking and writing that offers an insight all cancer suffers will appreciate:

“Anyone with small children or a debilitating illness such as cancer will understand when I say there is a kind of tiredness so complete that any effort seems impossible. One wakes tired; one goes to bed tired; and in between times one just is tired. In my own case, I have more or less given up pretending it can ever be otherwise. I have even stopped snarling when people tell me to rest! Because, of course, the reason one is tired is that one cannot rest or rest itself is no longer restful. I refuse, however, to allow this state of apparently perpetual tiredness to be entirely negative. I bumble along quite happily until I simply flop — a sudden loss of energy, an overwhelming desire to close my eyes for a few minutes, you know what I mean. One doesn’t have to have children or be ill to know such moments, but they are probably more frequent if one does/is. At such times one can moan and groan a little, lament what one can’t do, or one can learn — painfully slowly in my case — that they are a moment of grace, to be treasured rather than railed against.

When one is very tired, life becomes much simpler. There is no need to pretend, no need to argue, no need to worry about what others think. What one cannot do, one cannot do — and that’s an end of the matter. One cannot plan ahead and one’s memory of the past is defective, so one is forced to live in the present moment. Jean de Caussade wrote beautifully of the sacrament of the present moment, but I must admit that until I became ill myself, I had never really appreciated the richness of meaning behind the phrase.”

No day here is complete with a tweet from @Digitalnun. Each one is a gem. The juxtaposition of faith and charity, the local and the global, is unique:

#Praying for all tweeps on the feast of St Irenaeus, esp all who love scripture, & for those battling the latest global ransomware attack.

Praying for all tweeps, esp those killed/injured outside #FinsburyParkMosque last night, and those involved in #Brexit negotiations. #prayer

Praying for all tweeps, esp those affected by the floods in Uruguay, and those who are moving house. #prayer

The Digital Nun


Trump endorses the Three Seas Initiative

Thursday, 6 July, 2017 0 Comments

Readers of today’s earlier post will understand the significance of the Three Seas Initiative to Poland and the other members of this new Eastern/Central European alliance. In short, it’s a project designed to prevent former Warsaw-Pact countries becoming pawns in Russia’s energy game. In his speech earlier today in Warsaw, President Trump addressed the Three Seas Initiative at the outset of his remarks:

“President Duda and I have just come from an incredibly successful meeting with leaders participating in the Three Seas Initiative. To the citizens of this great region, America is eager to expand our partnership with you. We welcome stronger trade and commerce as you grow your economies and we are committed to securing access to alternate sources of energy so Poland and its neighbors are never again held hostage to a single supplier of energy. Mister President, I congratulate you along with the president of Croatia on your leadership of this historic Three Seas Initiative.”

For Moscow, Berlin and Brussels, the Three Seas Initiative represents a serious challenge to their different plans for a Europe in which energy supply and energy dependence will be critical. Energy will be central to the 21st-century version of the Great Game and Washington is signalling that it’s going to be a player in every theatre.

Pipelines


Trump in Poland: The Three Seas vs. Nord Stream 2

Thursday, 6 July, 2017 0 Comments

The election of President Donald Trump was an existential shock for Poland’s liberal elites. And, like their pals the world over, they remain in grief and denial, unwilling and unable to comprehend what has happened to their certainties. That said, Poland’s conservative government didn’t appear thrilled by the change in Washington, either. Trump’s reputed admiration for Putin suggested that an emboldened Moscow would have a free hand to increase its intimidation of Warsaw, but the increasingly frosty climate between America and Russia has put that nightmare to rest. And that’s why President’s Trump speech today in Warsaw is so important, and it explains why Poland is greeting the US President as a hero. When the speech ends and Air Force One flies off to the G20 Summit in Hamburg, however, the success or failure of the visit will depend on President Trump’s position regarding the competing visions represented by the Three Seas initiative and the Nord Stream 2 project.

Poland

The Three Seas Initiative: This aims to unite twelve countries in Central and Eastern Europe by creating a North-South infrastructure, between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Seas, in the telecommunications, transportation and energy sectors. The main goal is challenge Russian influence in the European energy sector, and prevent Moscow from using energy as a weapon against neighbouring states.

Nord Stream 2: This is a second pipeline being built by Russian energy giant Gazprom and Germany’s BASF and E.ON energy companies. It will run in parallel to the first Nord Stream pipeline, which was completed in 2011, and it will carry gas under the Baltic Sea directly from Russia to Germany. Adjoining states regard this as a move by Russia to bypass traditional transit countries (Ukraine, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Belarus and Poland) and see it as part of a long-term plan by the Kremlin to exert political influence over them by threatening their gas supply without affecting supplies to Western Europe.

As one can see, some of Europe’s oldest fault lines are exposed here. By calling their project the Tree Seas Initiative, the founders have revived memories of the Intermarium — a Polish-led bloc in Central and Eastern Europe as a bulwark between Germany and Russia. Some also regard it as a challenge to the EU and an act of potential separatism. Anything the US says and does, therefore, will be seen as hostile by some in Berlin and Brussels but all those who have been crying “Isolationism” since last November might admit that keeping this US administration interested in the affairs of Central and Eastern Europe is of value.

But, but, but… Last month’s vote by the US Senate to expand sanctions on Russia has rocked the boat. Part of that expansion will target European countries that cooperate with Moscow’s efforts to build out its energy infrastructure in Europe and the most prominent target is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The proposed sanctions would affect those who “…invest or support the construction of Russian energy export pipelines.” The Wall Street Journal has the details.

Europe and America. Russia and Poland. Oil and gas. It’s complicated.


Light and high beauty for ever

Wednesday, 5 July, 2017 0 Comments

Remembering those who are no longer with us and thinking of those today, who are in need of our prayers, candles and reassurance.

“For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” — J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Our candles


America, America!

Tuesday, 4 July, 2017 0 Comments

“We’ve optimized the site for mobile devices to make all of our content readable on any screen size,” says the Poetry Foundation commenting on the two-year project that brings users “an engaging, immersive online reading experience while making the range of poems, biographies, podcasts, articles, and other content from our archive more discoverable.” And very handsome it all is, too.

Especially for today, there’s a section devoted to “July 4th Poems” and everyone from Whitman to Ginsberg to Angelou has their Independence Day say. Another indispensably American voice is that of Delmore Schwartz, who once said, “Time is the school in which we learn / Time is the fire in which we burn.” This poem is timeless.

America, America!

I am a poet of the Hudson River and the heights above it,
the lights, the stars, and the bridges
I am also by self-appointment the laureate of the Atlantic
— of the peoples’ hearts, crossing it
to new America.

I am burdened with the truck and chimera, hope,
acquired in the sweating sick-excited passage
in steerage, strange and estranged
Hence I must descry and describe the kingdom of emotion.

For I am a poet of the kindergarten (in the city)
and the cemetery (in the city)
And rapture and ragtime and also the secret city in the
heart and mind
This is the song of the natural city self in the 20th century.

It is true but only partly true that a city is a “tyranny of
numbers”
(This is the chant of the urban metropolitan and
metaphysical self
After the first two World Wars of the 20th century)

— This is the city self, looking from window to lighted
window
When the squares and checks of faintly yellow light
Shine at night, upon a huge dim board and slab-like tombs,
Hiding many lives. It is the city consciousness
Which sees and says: more: more and more: always more.

Delmore Schwartz (1913 – 1966)


WTF?

Monday, 3 July, 2017 0 Comments

That’s the question Tim O’Reilly asks in his new book, which will be on shelves in October. WTF? What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us comes at a time when we’re being told that 47 percent of human tasks, including many white collar jobs, could be eliminated by automation within the next 20 years. And we’ve all heard those stories about how self driving cars and trucks will put millions of middle-class men out of work. Tim O’Reilly does not shy away from these scenarios, which have the potential to wreck societies and economies, but he’s positive about the future. Sure, we could let the machines put us out of work, but that will only happen because of a failure of human imagination and a lack of will to make a better future. As a tech-optimist, who breathes the enthusiasm of Silicon Valley, Tim O’Reilly believes that what’s impossible today will become possible with the help of the technology we now fear.

The tech thing we’re most afraid of has a name. AI.

AI, Tim O’Reilly claims, has the potential to turbocharge the productivity of all industries. Already it’s being used to analyze millions of radiology scans at a level of resolution and precision impossible for humans. It’s also helping doctors to keep up with the tsunami of medical research in ways that can’t be managed by human practitioners.

Consider another of our coming challenges: cybersecurity. The purpose of the DARPA Cyber Grand Challenge was to encourage the development of AI to find and automatically patch software vulnerabilities that corporate IT teams cannot to keep up with. Given that an increasing number of cyberattacks are being automated, we will need machines to fight machines and that’s where Machine Learning can protect us.

Tim O’Reilly is a hugely successful entrepreneur, but he’s also a Valley idealist and he wants a future in which AI is not controlled by a few corporations but belongs to the Commons of mankind. For this to happens, he says we must embed ethics and security in the curriculum of every Computer Science course and every data training program. The rest of his ideas will be available in October when WTF? goes on sale.

WTF

Note: Just to show that life need not be taken too seriously, this site enables you to create your own O’Reilly book cover.


The gift of the garden

Sunday, 2 July, 2017 0 Comments

Diplomat, dissident, defector, poet, Nobel Prize winner… What a life Czesław Miłosz lived. After World War II, he served as Polish cultural attaché in Paris and Washington but, disillusioned with Communism, he defected to the West in 1951. His resulting book, The Captive Mind, became a classic of anti-Stalinism writing.

From 1961 to 1998 he was professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Berkeley, and he puncutated his stay in the USA by winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980. Fellow Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney described Miłosz as “among those members of humankind who have had the ambiguous privilege of knowing and standing more reality than the rest of us.” Born on 30 June 1911, Czesław Miłosz died on 14 August 2004 in Kraków.

Gift

A day so happy.
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

Czesław Miłosz (1911 – 2004)

The garden


Two Corants for Lyra Viol by Alfonso

Saturday, 1 July, 2017 0 Comments

On the face of it, a blog entry with the title “Two Corants for Lyra Viol by Alfonso” has a touch of the perplexing about it. What’s a “corant”, and why two of them? And then there’s the “lyra viol”. Not just a viol, mind you, but a lyra viol. Topping if all of, we have “Alfonso”. If people had to pick an Alfonso, most would opt for Alfonso Cuarón, the film director, whose works include Children of Men and Gravity. In this case, however, we’re talking about Alfonso Fontanelli (1557 – 1622).

Alfonso Fontanelli was an Italian composer, diplomat and courtier. He was one of the earliest composers in the seconda pratica style during the transition to the Baroque era but his career was interrupted in November 1601, when he discovered that his wife had been having an affair. He murdered her lover, but spared her life, unlike his musical acquaintance Gesualdo who, in similar circumstances murdered both his wife and her lover. As punishment for the crime, Alfonso was stripped of all his possessions. Still, he found refuge in the opulent Roman household of Cardinal Alessandro d’Este, and was thus saved from indignity. Alfonso Fontanelli became a priest in 1621, and died in early 1622 from an insect bite while in the Oratorio della Chiesa.

The lyra viol is a small bass viol, used primarily in the 17th century, while a corant was a type of dance popular in the late Renaissance and Baroque era.

Bringing it all together now: The Irish viola de gamba player, Liam Byrne, is part of the Icelandic collective Bedroom Community and he features with violist Nadia Sirota on Tessellatum, their upcoming album and film. That’s all a long way from the Renaissance world of Alfonso Fontanelli, but everything’s connected.