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Trees make a long shadow and a light sound

Monday, 5 September, 2016 0 Comments

“I’ll lie here and learn
How, over their ground,
Trees make a long shadow
And a light sound.”

Louise Bogan (1897 – 1970)

Mother and trees


Homo homini lupus

Sunday, 4 September, 2016 0 Comments

The Latin proverb Homo homini lupus, or in its complete form Homo homini lupus est, means “A man is a wolf to another man,” or more concisely: “Man is wolf to man.”

“What is a saint supposed to do, if not convert wolves?” asked Umberto Eco in How to Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays, and when Pope Francis canonises Mother Teresa today in St Peter’s Square in Rome, he will be making a saint a woman who epitomises his desire for a Church dedicated to the poor and acting as a shelter for the weak who are at the mercy of homo lupus. Cormac McCarthy described the human wolf thus in The Crossing: “that malignant lesser god come pale and naked and alien to slaughter all his clan and kin and rout them from their house. A god insatiable whom no ceding could appease nor any measure of blood.”

The company of wolves

“Wolves are not ruled by law. They are ruled by the alpha wolf’s policy. Individual wolves can do anything not prohibited by the alpha wolf. They can do anything they can get away with doing. To the wolf — breaking sheep law or the alpha wolf’s policy only becomes serious if caught.” The Wolf and the Sheep


Mrs Merkel and her Humpty Dumpty great fall

Saturday, 3 September, 2016 1 Comment

According to the polls, the anti-establishment Alternative für Deutschland party has overtaken Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats party in the run-up to tomorrow’s state election in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. If the prediction becomes reality, it would represent a massive shock and setback for Merkel in her home state.

Why this now? Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan noted that Merkel, without consulting the people, opened up Germany to 800,000 migrants from the Middle East last year. In the end, more than a million arrived, and 300,000 are expected this year. Those who weren’t consulted are now left to deal with the consequences: Social unease, political division, increased crime, fear of terror, fear of burqas, sexual assaults by migrants and numerous other bits of nastiness that Merkel and her clique remain insulated from. As Noonan writes:

But there was a fundamental problem with the decision that you can see rippling now throughout the West. Ms. Merkel had put the entire burden of a huge cultural change not on herself and those like her but on regular people who live closer to the edge, who do not have the resources to meet the burden, who have no particular protection or money or connections. Ms. Merkel, her cabinet and government, the media and cultural apparatus that lauded her decision were not in the least affected by it and likely never would be.

Nothing in their lives will get worse. The challenge of integrating different cultures, negotiating daily tensions, dealing with crime and extremism and fearfulness on the street — that was put on those with comparatively little, whom I’ve called the unprotected. They were left to struggle, not gradually and over the years but suddenly and in an air of ongoing crisis that shows no signs of ending — because nobody cares about them enough to stop it.

Falling off the wall The powerful show no particular sign of worrying about any of this. When the working and middle class pushed back in shocked indignation, the people on top called them “xenophobic,” “narrow-minded,” “racist.” The detached, who made the decisions and bore none of the costs, got to be called “humanist,” “compassionate,” and “hero of human rights.”

Merkel is falling in the polls, as Germans realize what she’s done to them. And around the world we see the rise of Trump-like populist campaigns, appealing to citizens who feel that their rulers despise them. If the rulers feel neither loyalty nor empathy toward the ruled, the ruled can be expected to return the favor. The results, unless the rulers change their ways in a hurry, are unlikely to be pretty.

When the people of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern go to the polls, Chancellor Merkel will be rubbing shoulders with the global elite at the G20 Summit in the Chinese city of Hangzhou. Local concerns appear trivial from such a great distance and such a great height, but Humpty Dumpty did take a great fall, and neither all the king’s horses nor all the king’s men, nor a media and cultural apparatus could pick up the pieces again.


Yes, he did.

Friday, 2 September, 2016 0 Comments

On Wednesday, here, our post was about the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, who died on 30 August 2013. As Henry Miller put it in Tropic of Cancer: “In this chthonian world the only thing of importance is orthography and punctuation. It doesn’t matter what the nature of the calamity is, only whether it is spelled right.”

He did


Ireland, Apple and the three-comma club

Thursday, 1 September, 2016 0 Comments

Definition via the Silicon Valley Dictionary: “Three commas to imply a billion dollars as $1,000,000,000 has 3 commas. To be in the three commas club is to be a billionaire.” In the wild, as it were, the term was spotted last month in the Wall Street Journal in an article by Veronica Dagher titled “The Rich Get Richer as Billionaires Increase in Number.” Here’s the usage: “For most billionaires, however, it takes more than an inheritance to join the so-called three-comma club.”

The three-comma club and the meaning of membership made a memorable appearance in the HBO series Silicon Valley, Season Two, Episode Seven:

And now, Ireland and its three-comma Apple tax windfall. Most countries don’t tax non-residents so there’s a constant enticement for states like Panama to offer a low-tax environment and attract the world’s richest people. Similarly, Ireland lures the world’s biggest corporations by having lower taxes than other EU countries and Switzerland tempts wealthy people with a negotiated annual tax payment. So, unless there’s a global wealth tax collected by a world government, rich bastards will keep getting richer. After all, the rich can afford the best financial advisors and thus earn a higher return on investment than non-rich people. But life’s not fair, so taxation utopianism remains an illusion. For Ireland, this means back to basics.

“The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities.” — Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations


The season of the wasp

Wednesday, 31 August, 2016 0 Comments

Chester Britt, chairman of the Iowa State Department of Sociology, died yesterday after a severe reaction to a wasp sting suffered earlier while jogging. He was 54.

A wasp sting is extremely painful and can be fatal since the sting produces an anaphylactic reaction in some people who have allergies. The August/September transition is the season of the wasp when the insect displays a complete lack of respect for personal space and will aggressively insist on tasting your food and drink. What to do? Those who have allergies should carry medication, such as an EpiPen, which can be used to treat anaphylaxis in an emergency. A local café slices an orange, perforates it with whole cloves and places it on a plate. Kabooom! Wasps away.

Wasp repellent


I remembered her head bent towards my head

Tuesday, 30 August, 2016 0 Comments

The poet Seamus Heaney was born on 13 April 1939 in a “one-storey, longish, lowish, thatched and whitewashed farmhouse” in Mossbawn, Co. Derry. He was the eldest of nine children and he grew up in a culture that was “Catholic, folk, rural, Irish”. He died on 30 August 2013 in Dublin, after a short illness.

Seamus Heaney shows us a sepia snapshot here of a mother and her son preparing dinner. It is a simple, almost hum-drum scene, with the silence being broken by “pleasant splashes” of water as their peeled potatoes drop into a bucket. The next sounds we hear are of sobbing and of murmured prayers: “some were responding and some crying”. As his mother dies, Seamus Heaney recalls the peeling of those potatoes “when all the others were away at Mass,” and the beauty of that moment is heartbreaking.

In memoriam M.K.H., 1911 – 1984

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives —
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

Picking the potatoes


Robopocalyptic conflict in Westworld

Monday, 29 August, 2016 0 Comments

The second trailer for Westworld teases the robopocalyptic conflict between a futuristic theme park’s automata residents and their human keepers. The key figure in this clip is Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), a frontier “host” who’s actually the park’s oldest resident, having been resurrected after countless “deaths” that she’s been programmed to forget.

In 1973, the late, great Michael Crichton wrote and directed Westworld, a science fiction western-thriller about amusement park androids that malfunction and begin killing visitors. With stories about job-stealing robots and fears of wayward artificial intelligence filling the news stream, HBO feels that what our world needs right now is an upgrade of Westworld. The story has been re-engineered for this young century and we’re expected to sympathize with the sentient bots enslaved by their scary creator, Dr Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). Westworld is tapping into the Zeitgeist as people are increasingly alarmed about a society that seems to be out of control, especially because of what information technology and the life sciences are making possible.


Balkan mushroom wisdom

Sunday, 28 August, 2016 0 Comments

“All mushrooms are edible, but some only once.” — Balkan proverb

mushrooms


Behind the veil in Saudi Arabia

Saturday, 27 August, 2016 0 Comments

“On every vacant lot in time appears the jumble of brownish brick, the metal spines of scaffolding, the sheets of plate glass; then last of all the marble, the most popular facing material, held on to the plain walls behind it with some sort of adhesive. From a distance it lends a spurious air of antiquity to the scene.” Hilary Mantel’s Saudi Arabia, as depicted in Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, is a place of impersonal ugliness and stifling heat, a kingdom of sexual repression, corruption and violence.

Andrew Shore, a civil engineer, accepts a lucrative package from a British firm that has been commissioned to erect an opulent office building for the Saudi government. When his contrary, independent wife, Frances — a cartographer by trade — arrives in Jeddah to join Andrew, she’s instantly disquieted by the city and soon finds herself despising this masked society peopled by expats, who are mostly alcohol-sodden mercenaries, evasive Muslim neighbours and cruel, capricious officialdom. Confined in her apartment for most of the day, she begins to hear sounds of suffering from the supposedly empty flat above. Shopping provides some relief, but not much:

In the supermarket, Francis bought mangos. She put them in a plastic bag and handed them to a Filipino. He weighed them, twisted the bag closed, gave it back to her, but he did not even glance her way. Around her, women plucked tins from shelves. Women with layers of thick black cloth were their faces should be; only their hands reached out, heavy with gold.

She caught up with Andrew, laying her hand on the handle of the trolley beside his, careful not to touch.

“I didn’t know the veil was like this,” she whispered. “I thought you would see their eyes. How do they breathe? Don’t they feel stifled? Can they see where they’re going?

Andrew said, “These are the liberated ones. They get to go shopping.”

Thirty years after its original publication, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street is still as disturbing as ever. Frances Shore is not a radical feminist but Hilary Mantel’s character is a dedicated opponent of fabricated separatism: “I would like to stride up to the next veiled woman I see and tear the black cloth from her face and rip it up before her eyes. I know that would be wrong, but I would like to do it.”

The naqab


The Great Phatsby

Friday, 26 August, 2016 0 Comments

Just in time for our annual reading of F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic jazz age novel comes news that The Simpsons will hit their 600 episode milestone later this year and the series will celebrate with a 60-minute special titled “The Great Phatsby”, which will be shown in January. The story focuses on Mr Burns and his friendship with a hip-hop mogul called Jay G (a nod to Jay Gatsby and Jay-Z). The action will take place in the Springfield Hamptons with Homer providing the narration in a Nick Carraway manner.

“This was just going to be a regular episode but the table read went so well, in a fit of passion and excitement and ambition and excess, we decided to supersize it,” executive producer Matt Selman told Entertainmnent Weekly.

The Great Phatsby will also see Marge open her own boutique store and Lisa snag a rich Bae, while Empire‘s Taraji P Henson will voice a “Simpsons version of Cookie” called Praline who helps Homer, Bart and the gang take their revenge on Jay G after he takes over the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. Until then, there’s the timeless original.

“If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that registered earthquakes ten thousand miles away.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby