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If on a summer’s night in Bansha a traveller

Wednesday, 27 June, 2018

Classical reference in the title to If on a winter’s night a traveller (Italian: Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore), a 1979 novel by Italo Calvino. The narrative is about a reader trying to read a book called If on a winter’s night a traveller.

Bansha (Irish: An Bháinseach, meaning “a grassy place”) is a village in County Tipperary strategically located on the eastern approaches to the Glen of Aherlow and the Galtee Mountains. There’s a neighbouring castle and one pub, the excellent Nellie’s.

Bansha


Synthetic biology

Tuesday, 26 June, 2018

What is it? According to the Royal Society: “Synthetic biology involves the design and construction of novel artificial biological pathways, organisms and devices or the redesign of existing natural biological systems.”

At the core of synthetic biology is DNA editing that will make it inexpensive to modify living organisms to our design specifications, but the outcomes will be so far beyond our current ethical frameworks that art is needed to visualize where the journey is taking us. Given that a video clip is worth many words, this visual essay by Vasil Hnatiuk transports the future of synthetic biology beyond the sci-fi horizon where combinations of organic and mechanical archetypes will life forms that defy imagination.


Donald Hall kept country hours

Monday, 25 June, 2018

The death has taken place of the American poet Donald Hall, who wrote about a handful of themes that included his childhood, baseball, sex, farming, the death of his parents and the loss of his second wife and fellow poet, Jane Kenyon. They met in 1969, when she was his student at the University of Michigan. By the mid-70s they were married and living at Hall’s beloved home, Eagle Pond Farm, built in 1803 and belonging to his family since the 1860s. But Kenyon was diagnosed with leukaemia and died in 1995, when she was 47. Hall never stopped mourning her and had arranged to be buried next to her. Now, they are united again.

In one obituary today, it said: “He kept country hours for much of his working life, rising at 6am and writing for two hours.” The Black-Faced Sheep is beautiful and honest.

The Black-Faced Sheep

Ruminant pillows! Gregarious soft boulders!

If one of you found a gap in a stone wall,
the rest of you — rams, ewes, bucks, wethers, lambs;
mothers and daughters, old grandfather-father,
cousins and aunts, small bleating sons —
followed onward, stupid
as sheep, wherever
your leader’s sheep-brain wandered to.

My grandfather spent all day searching the valley
and edges of Ragged Mountain,
calling “Ke-day!” as if he brought you salt,
“Ke-day! Ke-day!”

When the shirt wore out, and darns in the woollen
shirt needed darning,
a woman in a white collar
cut the shirt into strips and braided it,
as she braided her hair every morning.

In a hundred years
the knees of her great-granddaughter
crawled on a rug made from the wool of sheep
whose bones were mud,
like the bones of the woman, who stares
from an oval in the parlor.

I forked the brambly hay down to you
in nineteen-fifty. I delved my hands deep
in the winter grass of your hair.

When the shearer cut to your nakedness in April
and you dropped black eyes in shame,
hiding in barnyard corners, unable to hide,
I brought grain to raise your spirits,
and ten thousand years
wound us through pasture and hayfield together,
threads of us woven
together, three hundred generations
from Africa’s hills to New Hampshire’s.

You were not shrewd like the pig.
You were not strong like the horse.
You were not brave like the rooster.

Yet none of the others looked like a lump of granite
that grew hair,
and none of the others
carried white fleece as soft as dandelion seed
around a black face,
and none of them sang such a flat and sociable song.

Now the black-faced sheep have wandered and will not return,
even if I should search the valleys
and call “Ke-day,” as if I brought them salt.
Now the railroad draws
a line of rust through the valley. Birch, pine, and maple
lean from cellarholes
and cover the dead pastures of Ragged Mountain
except where machines make snow
and cables pull money up hill, to slide back down.

At South Danbury Church twelve of us sit —
cousins and aunts, sons —
where the great-grandfathers of the forty-acre farms
filled every pew.
I look out the window at summer places,
at Boston lawyers’ houses
with swimming pools cunningly added to cowsheds,
and we read an old poem aloud, about Israel’s sheep,
old lumps of wool, and we read

that the rich farmer, though he names his farm for himself,
takes nothing into his grave;
that even if people praise us, because we are successful,
we will go under the ground
to meet our ancestors collected there in the darkness;
that we are all of us sheep, and death is our shepherd,
and we die as the animals die

Donald Hall (1928 – 2018)

The black-faced sheep


TIME: The fake but accurate magazine

Sunday, 24 June, 2018

Here’s the explainer: “The original version of this story misstated what happened to the girl in the photo after she taken from the scene. The girl was not carried away screaming by U.S. Border Patrol agents; her mother picked her up and the two were taken away together.”

That’s the correction TIME Magazine added to this week’s controversial anti-Trump cover story:

Headline: “‘All I Wanted to Do Was Pick Her Up.’ How a Photographer at the U.S.-Mexico Border Made an Image America Could Not Ignore”

Sub-head: “‘This one was tough for me. As soon as it was over, they were put into a van. I had to stop and take deep breaths,” Getty photographer John Moore said'”

It should be a big story when TIME Photoshops, misleads and the apologizes, but journalism isn’t what it used to be and the TIME has adopted a new low standard: fake but accurate.

TIME


Huh!

Saturday, 23 June, 2018

Nigeria’s Ahmed Musa put two goals past Hannes Thor Halldórsson, the Icelandic goalkeeper, yesterday in Volgograd, to secure a vital 2 – 0 win for the Super Lions. It was a disappointing day for Halldórsson, but he’s got options. Until four years ago, he was a film director who played football for fun. Now, he’s the keeper for Randers FC, which plays in the top-flight Danish Superliga.

In the run up to the World Cup, Halldórsson returned to his old job to direct a commercial for Coca-Cola featuring the Icelandic national team and the famous Huh! chant that has become an anthem for underdogs. Talking of underdogs, Iceland must now beat Croatia on Tuesday and hope Nigeria don’t beat Argentina. That’s a big ask. In the end, goal difference could be critical so Iceland need to win big as Nigeria can still advance to the next round with just a draw. Huh!


Charles Krauthammer, RIP

Friday, 22 June, 2018

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist, Charles Krauthammer, died yesterday. He was 68. The cause was cancer of the small intestine. On 8 June, explaining what he called his 10-month “uncharacteristic silence,” Krauthammer revealed in The Post that despite surgery for the tumour last August, cancer had recurred and that he had only weeks to live.

“This is the final verdict,” he wrote. “My fight is over.”

Charles Krauthammer, a former psychiatrist and self-described Great Society Democrat metamorphosed into one of America’s most persuasive conservative voices. He originated the phrase “the Reagan Doctrine” for the president’s strategy of going beyond the policy of containment to actively encourage anti-communist insurgencies. He coined the term “unipolarity” to describe the era of American power after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, and he diagnosed as “Bush Derangement Syndrome” the response many people had to the presidency and even the very existence of George W. Bush.

This is from Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics:

“For the Europeans there really is a peace dividend, because we provide the peace. They can afford social democracy without the capacity to defend themselves because they can always depend on the United States.

So why not us as well? Because what for Europe is decadence — decline, in both comfort and relative safety — is for us mere denial. Europe can eat, drink and be merry for America protects her. But for America it’s different. If we choose the life of ease, who stands guard for us?”


Summer solstice stars

Thursday, 21 June, 2018

Today, Thursday, 21 June, marks the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. We celebrate the longest day in the year with Summer Stars by Carl Sandburg.

Summer Stars

Bend low again, night of summer stars.
So near you are, sky of summer stars,
So near, a long arm man can pick off stars,
Pick off what he wants in the sky bowl,
So near you are, summer stars,
So near, strumming, strumming,
So lazy and hum-strumming.

Carl Sandburg (1878 – 1967)


A German writes about Germany and Trump

Wednesday, 20 June, 2018

Jochen Bittner, a political editor with the German weekly Die Zeit, addresses the enormous hypocrisy of Europe and, especially Germany, in a New York Times op-ed titled What Trump Gets Right About Europe. Snippet:

“Mr. Trump’s anger at America’s allies embodies, however unpleasantly, a not unreasonable point of view, and one that the rest of the world ignores at its peril: The global world order is unbalanced and inequitable. And unless something is done to correct it soon, it will collapse, with or without the president’s tweets.

While the West happily built the liberal order over the past 70 years, with Europe at its center, the Americans had the continent’s back. In turn, as it unravels, America feels this loss of balance the hardest — it has always spent the most money and manpower to keep the system working.

The Europeans have basically been free riders on the voyage, spending almost nothing on defense, and instead building vast social welfare systems at home and robust, well-protected export industries abroad. Rather than lash back at Mr. Trump, they would do better to ask how we got to this place, and how to get out.

The European Union, as an institution, is one of the prime drivers of this inequity. At the Group of 7, for example, the constituent countries are described as all equals. But in reality, the union puts a thumb on the scales in its members’ favor: It is a highly integrated, well-protected free-trade area that gives a huge leg up to, say, German car manufacturers while essentially punishing American companies who want to trade in the region.

The eurozone offers a similar unfair advantage. If it were not for the euro, Germany would long ago have had to appreciate its currency in line with its enormous export surplus.”

What sort of lives do people/nations, who pose as being moral, lead? Jochen Bittner has posed the question and answered it, too.

Language note: The word “hypocrite” came to English from the Greek hypokrites, which means “actor” or “stage player.” Hypokrites is made up of two words that translate as “an interpreter from underneath,” and that makes sense when you know that actors in ancient Greece wore masks to represent the characters they were playing, and so they interpreted the story from underneath their masks.

Hypokrites took on an expanded meaning to refer to anyone wearing a figurative mask and pretending to be someone they were not, and this meaning was imported into medieval French and then into English, where it appeared with the spelling, ypocrite, in 13th-century religious texts to refer to those who pretend to be pious to deceive others. By the 16th century, hypocrite had gained its initial h-.


Kane is able and quotable

Tuesday, 19 June, 2018

Although he’s a mere 24, the England captain Harry Kane has already a Brainy Quote page devoted to his wise sayings. Example: “Obviously, everyone’s different, but I love just settling down and having a barbecue with my friends at the house.”


Riversdale House: 18 June 1952

Monday, 18 June, 2018

On this day in 1952, Michael Fitzgerald and Catherine O’Donnell were married in the village of Lisvernane, County Tipperary. The ceremony was followed by a meal at the famed Riversdale House in the Glen of Aherlow in County Tipperary. Built by the Massy family in the early 19th century, Riversdale House was bought from the Massy Dawsons by John Noonan in 1922, who ran it as a hotel.

Riversdale House

Transport for the bride and her family was via a Ford V8 driven by Jack Fraser, grocer/publican/undertaker. Cars were scarce in the Ireland of the early 1950s so some of the guests cycled. The wedding cake was prepared by the bride, baked by Mrs Ryan-Russell, who had a Stanley Range cooker, and the icing was added by the confectionery specialists of Kiely’s Bread Company in Tipperary town. The sun shone and the couple went on to spend 59 years together, during which time they earned love and respect from those who loved and respected them.

Mammy and Daddy

Scaffolding is one of the first poems Seamus Heaney wrote. It’s a metaphor about marriage and the measures needed to keep it firm in the face of the shocks. Walls of “sure and solid stone” will be strong enough to stand on their own, says Heaney. “Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall / Confident that we have built our wall.”

Scaffolding

Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.

Seamus Heaney (1939 — 2013)


Tweet of the World Cup… so far

Sunday, 17 June, 2018

And the award goes to football commentator @MatthewStanger for this gem about that remarkable 1-1 draw between Argentina and Iceland yesterday:

Iceland