Archives for category: stuff

In the beginning, we were Important.

God made a whole Universe, just for us.

He spent a few days at it, then we arrived.

Us, the pinnacle of his creation.

 

He told us not to fuck around

And not to fuck with Him

Do that, and we could live forever,

Because we were Important.

 

Life was simple with God.

Somewhat shit,

And somewhat short,

But uncomplicated.

Anyway, Important people shouldn’t ask questions.

 

Then a Polish priest asked a question.

What if?

What if we were not Centre of the Universe,

But off a bit, to the side?

Ever since, that’s been the story.

More questions,  more sidelining.

Turns out we’re not that Important after all.

 

This made a lot of people Very Angry.

But what about Creation?

And what about the Rules?

And Life after Death?

And what about God?

Good questions,

From people not supposed to ask them.

 

So here we are, not Important,

Life’s not so simple anymore

But better,

And full of hope.

We’re important to each other

And that’s what counts.

 

 

Ten Years Ago (2006)

Twitter is launched. Saddam Hussein is executed. A terrorist bombing campaign in Mumbai kills 209 people. The New Horizons mission is launched towards Pluto. In the same year, Pluto is no longer classified as a planet. Former Irish Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, dies. Opening of the Dublin Port Tunnel. Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin is killed by a stingray in the Great Barrier Reef.

Twenty Years Ago (1996)

The Docklands bombing in London signals an end to the 1994 IRA ceasefire. Chess champion Gary Kasparov is beaten by a computer. The Dunblane massacre takes place in Scotland. The Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, is arrested in Montana. An IRA gang kills Detective Jerry McCabe in Co. Clare. Journalist Veronica Guerin is killed in Dublin. Dolly the Sheep, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell, is born. Prince Charles and Diana are formally divorced. Fox News TV channel is launched in the US. Death of science advocate Carl Sagan. Divorce is legalised in Ireland.

Thirty Years Ago (1986)

Space Shuttle Challenger explodes, 73 seconds after take-off from Cape Canaveral. A fire at the Chernobyl nuclear facility in the Ukraine causes a nuclear meltdown. Spain and Portugal join the European Union. Swedish prime-minister Olof Palme is assassinated. Diego Maradona scores his “Hand of God” goal against England in the Mexico World Cup; then goes on to score the “Goal of the Century“. Thousands are suffocated after a massive release of carbon dioxide from Cameroon’s Lake Nyos. The M25 Motorway is opened in London. Death of Thin Lizzy frontman, Phil Lynott.  Jack Charlton becomes manager of the Ireland football team. A referendum introducing divorce in Ireland is defeated.

Forty Years Ago (1976)

The deadliest earthquake of the 20th Century occurs in Tangshan, China; over 250,000 people perish. The Concorde supersonic jet takes passengers for the first time. The Apple Computer Company is formed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The Cultural Revolution in China comes to an end with the death of Chairman Mao. Police clash with thousands of rioting youths in Soweto, South Africa. The Viking I and Viking II landers arrive on the surface of Mars. Israeli forces free 102 hostages from a hijacked plane in Entebbe, Uganda. The Supreme Court of the United States reinstates the death penalty. The first known outbreak of Ebola occurs in Zaire. An advertisement in Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Dublin leads to the formation of the rock band U2. President of Ireland, Cearbhall O’Dalaigh, resigns after being called a “thundering disgrace”.

Fifty Years Ago (1966)

Nelson’s Pillar is blown up by the IRA in Dublin. Soviet spacecraft land on the Moon, crash-land on Venus and go into orbit around the Moon. Ian Brady and Myra Handley are convicted of the Moors Murders. The beginning of the Cultural Revolution in China. The Beach Boys release Pet Sounds. They think it’s all over… England beats West Germany 4-2 in the World Cup Final in Wembley. The Beatles hold their last commercial concert in San Francisco. The first episode of Star Trek airs on US TV. A coal mine landslide in Aberfan, Wales, kills 116 school children. Walt Disney dies. The Vatican formally abolish their list of banned books.

Sixty Years Ago (1956)

Elvis Presley hits the US Charts for the first time. Pakistan, Tunisia and Morocco become independent countries. The first Eurovision Song Contest takes place in Lugano, Switzerland. The Hungarian Revolt takes place and is violently suppressed by Soviet Russia. Brendan Behan becomes the first person in the world to say “fuck” on a television programme. Egypt nationalises the Suez Canal and is attacked by Israel, France and Britain. Shockley, Bardeen, and Brattain win the Nobel Physics Prize for their invention of the transistor.

Seventy Years Ago (1946)

The electronics company that would eventually become Sony is formed in Japan. Jordan and the Philippines become independent countries. Italy becomes a republic. Senior Nazis are executed in Nuremberg. William Joyce, a.k.a. “Lord Haw Haw“, is executed in Wandsworth Prison. The United Nations meets for the first time – UNICEF and UNESCO founded the same year. Science fiction novelist H.G. Wells dies.

Eighty Years Ago (1936)

Nazi Germany re-occupies the Rhineland. Josef Stalin begins his Great Purge in Russia – an estimated 680,000 people are executed over the following 2 years. The Spanish Civil War begins after an attempt to oust the elected government of Manuel Azana.  Edward VIII abdicates after proposing to marry Wallace Simpson. Construction of the Hoover Dam is completed. Aer Lingus is founded as the Irish national airline. Alan Turing lays down the basis of machine based computing with his paper “On Computable Numbers“. Margaret Mitchell’s novel, “Gone With The Wind” is published in America. The first Olympic Games to be televised live takes place in Berlin. At the games,  Jesse Owens wins the 100m sprint, much to the chagrin of Adolf Hitler. The thylacine goes extinct in Tasmania.

Ninety Years Ago (1926)

Ireland’s first radio service (later RTE) began broadcasting. John Logie Baird demonstrates his mechanical television system. Fianna Fáil political party founded by Éamon DeValera. AA Milne publishes Winnie the Pooh. Magician Harry Houdini dies after a ruptured appendix. The NBC radio network starts operation in the US. Violet Gibson shoots Benito Mussolini three times while he was sitting in his car. The main Chicago to Los Angeles route is named Route 66. Birth of David Attenborough.

One Hundred Years Ago (1916)

The Battle of Verdun, the Battle of Jutland and the Battle of the Somme in World War I – over 1 million men are killed or injured in the Battle of the Somme alone.  The Easter Rising breaks out in Dublin and is suppressed by British forces within 5 days. Many of the ringleaders are executed. Ernest Shackleton and 5 companions complete a hazardous boat journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia. BMW motor company is founded in Germany. Murder of Grigori Rasputin in Russia.

Two Hundred Years Ago (1816)

This is The Year Without A Summer across the Northern Hemisphere as a result of the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. Argentina declares independence from Spain. Humphrey Davy introduces the safety lamp into coal mines. The stethoscope is invented by René Laennec. Mary Shelley starts writing Frankenstein. Indiana becomes the 19th US State.

Three Hundred Years Ago (1716)

The old monarchies of Spain are dissolved and Spain becomes a single unified country. The leaders of the Jacobite Rising of 1715 in Britain are executed. The first lighthouse is built in America.

Four Hundred Years Ago (1616)

Willem Schouten rounds the tip of South America and names it Cape Horn. Death of shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu in Japan. Catholic theologians declare that Copernicus’s idea of the Earth orbiting the Sun is “foolish and absurd“; Copernicus’s book is banned. Deaths of William Shakespeare and Miguel De Cervantes. Pocahontas arrives in England. Construction of the Blue Mosque is completed in Istanbul.

Five Hundred Years Ago (1516)

The disparate kingdoms of Spain are united under the Habsburg monarch Charles V.  The Beer Purity Laws are instituted in Germany, limiting the ingredients to water, hops and barley. Thomas More publishes Utopia. Spanish explorers reach the Rio La Plata. A Dominican monk travels to Germany to sell indulgences for the reconstruction of St. Peter’s Basilica. This turns out to be a very bad idea.

Six Hundred Years Ago (1416)

Execution of Jerome of Prague at the Council of Constance. Jerome was a follower of Jan Hus who had been executed for heresy the previous year. Ma Huan writes his account of the Chinese age of exploration.

Seven Hundred Years Ago (1316)

Great Famine rages across Europe. The Bruce Campaign devastates Ireland. Death of Alauddin Khilji of India – one of the few rulers who defeated the Mongols during his reign.

Eight Hundred Years Ago (1216)

Death of King John of England of Magna Carta fame. Foundation of the Dominican Order.

One Thousand Years Ago (1016)

Death of Æthelred the Unready. King Cnut of the Danes assumes the Kingship of England.

Two Thousand Years Ago (AD 16)

Roman general Germanicus defeats the Germanic army of Armenius in retaliation for the massacre of the Teutoburg Forest in AD 9.

Two Thousand Four Hundred Years Ago (BC 384)

Aristotle is born.

 

On the First Day of Richmas, Richard Dawkins Tweeted Me

 

On the Second Day of Richmas, Richard Dawkins Tweeted Me

 

On the Third Day of Richmas, Richard Dawkins Tweeted Me

 

On the Fourth Day of Richmas, Richard Dawkins Tweeted Me

 

On the Fifth Day of Richmas, Richard Dawkins Tweeted Me

 

On the Sixth Day of Richmas, Richard Dawkins Tweeted Me

 

On the Seventh Day of Richmas, Richard Dawkins Tweeted Me

 

On the Eight Day of Richmas, Richard Dawkins Tweeted Me

 

On the Ninth Day of Richmas, Richard Dawkins Tweeted Me

 

On the Tenth Day of Richmas, Richard Dawkins Tweeted Me

 

On the Eleventh Day of Richmas, Richard Dawkins Tweeted Me

 

On the Twelfth Day of Richmas, Richard Dawkins Tweeted Me

 

Twelve Prize Winnings,
Eleven Old Men Griping,
Ten Pedophiles Equating,
Nine Date Rapes Comparing,
Eight Abortions Advising,
Seven Hero’s Presuming,
Six Violence Implying,

Five Free Beheadings,

Four Clockwork Bombs,
Three Tribesmen,
Two Normal Curves,
And Religion as a Terminal Disease.

 

 

I recently arrived at my 48th year on this planet. With a good bit of luck, I can make it to 2050. Thirty five years. It’s as far away from me now as 2015 was when I was 12 years old.

In 1980, people wore jeans, t-shirts and runners. They had colour TVs, digital watches and Tupperware. Star Wars was already a thing. The big difference, of course, was computerisation and mobile technology, but even so, there was a familiarity about those times. In the same way, 2050 may not be too foreign to modern sensibilities when it eventually arrives. We are well on our way to this future date.

By now, it should be obligatory for me to tell you that the years fly by too quickly, and that I remember the 1980s like they happened yesterday. But honestly, it was a long time ago. I was a child back then. I can’t lay claim to that title anymore, however hard I have tried to delay the onset of adulthood.

I think this feeling of ‘tempus fugit’ is something of a delusion. Life doesn’t fly by as fast as we think it does. Days might whizz by, but there are a few hundred of them in each year. It’s a lot of time. 10 years is a whole heap of time and 30 years practically an eternity. It’s just that our brains make the past seem so much closer than it really is.

I’m pretty sure that this sense of time passing by quickly is a function of a memory system that best remembers the things we remember the most. Music, particularly the most popular tunes, seem recent only because we hear them often. So too with places visited regularly, like my mother’s home, or local schools and shopping centres. We recall distant events there clearly only because we are minded to remember them quite often. The gap in time is shortened only because we frequently remember the memory, not the event itself.

Maybe it’s where I am now in my life. With my children now passing into teenagehood, I seem to remember their earlier years as a transient blur. But in reality, I don’t think it was quite so speedy. There was plenty enough time there for my father to fall sick and pass away; for my marriage to crash-land and for a while, chaos to take the place of security. It’s just that I have forgotten so much. Perhaps that’s the real tragedy of ageing: so many experiences have been scattered to the four winds. What remains now are bare threads.

Life is long. It’s long enough for us to make big mistakes and to recover from them. It’s long enough to breach the surface after diving the depths of despair. It’s long enough to see green shoots where once there was bare earth. Even in middle-age, there is still time to find peace; to make life more livable for those around us; perhaps to yet follow our dreams. 

Despite the awfulness of forgetting, maybe  there is more time there than we normally appreciate. And in that, I think, there is hope.

Some weeks ago, a work colleague from the US asked me if it was a good idea to hire a car when she would be in Cork.

I had to think about it for a minute, and then I gave my answer:

Hell No.

Cork is a driving disaster zone, not because our drivers are somewhat absent minded, nor because of inclement weather, nor because we drive on the other side of the road to US drivers, nor because we have these teeny narrow streets you have to navigate through. No. It’s a disaster zone because, come rush hour or moderate traffic, you need to have truly psychic powers to navigate yourself around the city.

To drive successfully in Cork traffic you need something akin to the Knowledge, cherished by London cabbies. This is an intimate understanding of the unwritten rules on which lane to move into and when to do it, before executing a manoeuvre. Crucially, the correct positioning might be required in a totally different part of the city.

McCurtain Street for instance. To be in the correct lane when you reach the Leisureplex Coliseum, you need to be deciding lanes way back on Patrick’s Bridge.

Or try Brian Boru Bridge, turning left, straight on or right by the Bus Station. To get it right, you need to have pre-chosen your lane in McCurtain Street. Get it wrong and you’re in a whole lot of trouble.

Following the same road down Clontarf Street to the City Hall, you need to have picked the correct lane by the Bus Station, or woe betide you.

Another beauty is the South Link road heading into town. If you are intending to go to Dublin or Rosslare via the Lower Glanmire Road, you need to have already chosen the correct lane at the Elysian Towers, half a mile away.

Or try the Christy Ring bridge from the Mallow Road – actually, don’t bother. Christy Ring Bridge itself is a traffic nightmare zone at the best of times, no matter what direction you approach it from. I’m sure its traffic light system was part of a psychological torture plot in a former life.

These are just a few examples of a traffic system not just designed by committee, but probably designed by camels. My advice to anyone driving through the city? Lodge a flight plan in advance. And bring emergency supplies. Getting through Cork in rush hour may take some time.

There is a difference between Science and Religion.

Science needs evidence. Science embraces evidence. If the evidence tells you something that conflicts with your beliefs, then in science, the evidence wins. It must win, because that’s how progress happens in science. Scientists follow the evidence, irrespective of how uncomfortable that might mean towards their beliefs.

Religion needs belief. Religion embraces belief. If the evidence tells you something that conflicts your beliefs, then in religion, the belief wins. It must win, because that’s the way religion preserves itself, often passing down the generations. Religious adherents follow the belief, irrespective of whether evidence exists to support those beliefs or even if if it refutes those beliefs completely.

If you are a scientist, and the evidence starts to conflict with your beliefs, but you hold fast to those beliefs despite strong evidence to the contrary, you are no longer practicing science. You are practicing religion.

If you are a religious adherent, and the evidence starts to conflict with your beliefs, so you change your beliefs to come in line with the evidence, you are no longer practicing religion. You are practicing science.

There is a difference between Science and Religion and this difference is unreconcilable. A wide, yawning, unbridgeable gap. You either accept that evidence has primacy, or that belief does. You can’t have both. Efforts to reconcile the two are unlikely to be very productive.

There is a difference between Science and Religion, but perhaps the issue is somewhat moot. The real question is what difference this makes to most of us. The problem is our brains, you see. Our brains have an interesting relationship with ideas, both scientific and religious. In our brains these things tend to get mashed together, confused with each other. Our brains can accommodate conflicting ideas. While science and religion are different, when it comes to scientific people and religious people, the distinction is far more blurry.

Most people don’t think about religion or science all the time. Most people spend their time thinking about other things. Whether they left the heating on, the pain in their foot, the hallway that needs a paint job, the local team losing last Saturday. Most people have friends to talk to, families to care for, work to do. Muslim, atheist, Christian, secular, Buddhist: when it comes to life and everyday concerns, we become less different. We become more human. The gulf can be traversed. It’s no longer black and white. It’s complicated.

There is a difference between Science and Religion, but our humanity keeps getting in the way. 

I was about 13 years old when I came out to my dad. I’m sure he had known it for years already and had probably prepared for the worst. He must often have wondered what he did wrong to have a son like me. He had his dreams, but alas, those aspirations would never be fulfilled.

He had to face the truth. I was utterly useless at hurling.

Now, it wasn’t all bad, because I was equally rubbish at football, tennis or golf. In fact, almost all sports eluded me. For a man of sport, in a county where the ability to play hurling was more important than winning the Nobel Prize or landing on the Moon, his first son was an unfortunate freak of nature.

The thing was, my dad was exceptionally good at sport. In his youth, he played Minor hurling for Kilkenny (which made him a minor god in the locality). He loved nothing better than to go to a game, or watch a match on the TV. I remember going to many matches with him during my childhood – and being bored out of my wits – while he savoured every puck of the ball. There was no-one quite like my dad to read a game and explain how a team won or lost. For me, it was just a mass of confusion.

In my teens, he encouraged me to take up golf. Surprisingly, I loved it. I was never much good at it, of course, but I enjoyed the game and I enjoyed being with him. We both loved ideas, so in between shots, we debated endlessly with each other – science, politics, religion, current affairs: you name it. In a time when I was learning how to be an adult, these games brought us both together.

That’s one of my memories of dad. He passed away ten years ago this month, after a long illness that slowly sucked any quality of life away from him. I miss those games of golf. I miss going with him to hurling games listening him talk about the tactics, the heroes and the mistakes. Most of all, I miss him.

Now, with sons of my own – all of whom, incomprehensibly, are very talented sports players – I feel that an important part of him has been passed on. It’s a nice feeling.

How big is Tenerife compared to more familiar areas in Ireland? Or Tasmania? Or Malta? Since my recent trip to Singapore, I’ve had an interest in such questions. I found a website called MAPfrappe and off I went, attempting to have my questions answered.  MAPfrappe enables you to trace out any area of interest, then displays what it looks like compared to any area on Earth.

So here are some examples: Just click on the maps below to compare with your own localities.

Tenerife

Tenerife would stretch from Limerick to Tralee and back down to Killarney. At 2,034 sq km, it’s about the same size as an average sized county in Ireland.

 

Malta

Malta is pretty small, about 27 km long, so it would comfortably fit into most counties in Ireland. In Cork, it would stretch from Kinsale to Macroom.

 

Tasmania

Woah! That’s pretty big. Tasmania, at 68,000 sq km, has about the same area as the Republic of Ireland. It’s not something I would have expected, given it’s tiny size in comparison to Australia. Then again, most of Western and Central Europe can easily fit inside Australia, so I shouldn’t be that surprised.

 

Singapore

Singapore is very small, but it has over 5 million inhabitants. It would be like squeezing the whole population of Ireland into an area around Cork, stretching from Midleton to Bandon. I’m not sure if many Cork folks would be happy with that prospect.

 

Ibiza

Most of Dublin city would accommodate the area of Ibiza. That’s about it though.

 

Crete

 

Crete, at 260km in length, would quite perfectly stretch from Dublin to Connemara.

Cuba

This one surprised me hugely. Over 1,250 km long, it would stretch from Kerry across the UK, into Belgium. Incidentally, Jamaica is much the same length as Crete.

Here are a few more comparisons that might be of interest:

Bali, Barbados, Bermuda, Corfu, Corsica, Cyprus, Easter Island, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Hawaii, Jamaica, Koh Samui, Langkawi, Lanzarote, Madeira, Mallorca, Maui, Menorca, Mauritius, New Zealand, Oahu, Phuket, Rhodes, Saint Lucia, Santorini, Sardinia, Sicily.

 

 

Vladimir Putin Withdraws From Crimea

Apologises for invasion and pledges to work with Ukraine to develop democracy and co-operation.

 

Uganda Welcomes Gays

Repeals laws and pledges a clampdown on homophobia.

 

Iona Institute Disbands

“Frankly, we’ve been a bunch of dicks”, acknowledges David Quinn.

 

Saudi Arabia Permits Women Drivers

We’ll even allow them to be taxi drivers, pilots and anything else they want, announces Interior Ministry.

 

New York St Patrick’s Day Parade Committee Resigns

Next year’s parade to be wide open to all colours, creeds and inclinations, claims next year’s organisers.

 

Pope Announces Liberal Reform Measures

“Man, that contraceptive ban was way out of line. What were we thinking?”, says Pope Francis.

 

Alan Shatter Resigns.

Obviously.

 

Any more?

 

We Irish don’t look at St Patrick’s Day in quite the same way as other countries. While St. Patricks Day is a welcome break and a chance to prepare for spring, we tend to look at the kitch and global celebration of Irishness with mild embarrassment, as if someone invited us to a party in our honour, but sent it to the wrong people, and we went along with it anyway, rather than spoil it for them.

What is Irishness anyway? Perhaps, when Ireland was a mono-cultural society, defined along rigid sectarian lines, there might have been a case to be made – commemorating a history of oppression and struggle against sometimes massive odds. Nowadays this story holds none of the same resonance.

Ireland today is a relatively modern country and home to a broad range people from all over the world. Our religious identity is disappearing. We are quite well integrated into the wider European community and thus more likely to share most of the values and aspirations of our continental neighbours. Our health and education systems are chaotic and under-funded, but functional. Our political leaders are salesmen. Sport is a national obsession, as is the price of property. A bracing combination of engaging scenery and bad weather keeps us grounded. All thing considered, we don’t particularly stand out, and that’s ok with us.

But, to consider the pomp around St Patrick’s Day, you would think we are wildly special, different by a long shot from all other people on the planet.

Alcohol consumption might be a factor, but we’re certainly not the only nation with a love of drinking. In fact, if our empty pubs and middle-age health obsessions are anything to go by, drinking is rapidly on the wane here.

Arts, music, literature and poetry, yes, perhaps; but it seems this too is overblown. Our artistic heritage is often more complicated, in any case, than it appears at first glance – owing a lot, in many cases, to other nationalities, conveniently forgotten in our self-made myths.

Maybe it’s the love of the craic, the raconteur, the devil may care attitude, the life and soul of the party, or whatever you are having yourself, but it seems that these are more universal values than we care to accept.

It’s all very hazy. We’ve moved from a patriotic love of Ireland and its dominant religion to this nebulous concept of “Irishness”, and we don’t really know any more what it means.

Here’s what I think it should mean. Rather than focusing on one small culturally ambiguous island in the Atlantic, St. Patrick’s Day should be all about displacement. It should be a global celebration of emigration, immigration and movement away from home, both forced and unforced. In a world where mobility is expected and often mandated, it’s good to have a day when we can think about where we came from, and the journeys we have made to get to where we are. This is true, both for us as individuals and our wider historic backgrounds. The Irish, a nation with form in this area, are just as good ambassadors as anyone else.

So there it is: if you live somewhere that is far away from the homeland of your childhood, or even if you feel a connection to somewhere other than your current home, whether that be China, Gabon, Vietnam or Co. Offaly, then happy St. Patrick’s Day. This day is for you.

%d bloggers like this: