Archives for category: Uncategorized

Why so many people voted for that charmless fraud is a question that will exercise historians for decades.

To so many of us, Trump was a nightmare president. Narcissistic to an extraordinary degree, petty, nasty, uninterested in the world or the wider concerns of humanity, uninterested in solving any problems other than his own, dangerously tempestuous, and a profound bully who valued abject obeisance over truth. What we saw was an authoritarian who explicitly wanted an end to American democracy, to be replaced by one-man rule: a fascist dictatorship in effect. Despite all this, nearly 70 million people preferred him to the alternative. Without a massive democratic counter-vote, he would have won a second presidency. That would have been disastrous.

70 million Americans. Is it that those people are avowed racists? Some, but surely not all of them. Is it that they are all deprived working class people? Almost certainly not. In fact, his vote seemed to transcend many of the traditional categories, with plenty of Latinos voting for him, women, urbanites, suburbanites, and younger people too. Almost everywhere in America – rich and poor, there was a substantial Trump vote. On many levels, this was a very scary and disturbing election.

The best and most common explanation I’ve seen is “He told them what they want to hear”. I believe a whole lot of people were convinced by a particular narrative: that their lives and livelihoods were under threat, and to stop it they needed a monster on their side. This way of thinking put them in the centre of this story, making them out to be the most put upon, most maligned people in America, with others out to take what they had away from them.

A whole media universe was in place – 24×7 – to tell them how great they were; particularly if they had earned a bit of money, owned their own house, educated their kids, and put away savings for their retirement. Now a nasty socialist government was coming to tax them hard, take away their prized possessions, and laugh at them in the process. Tax money would be given to the undeserving poor to fund their drugs habits and there were so many rich urban elitists who were there to ridicule them, dictate to them and possibly control them through undefined means. To survive, they needed to go to battle. The general they chose seemed like the right fit: exceptionally pugnacious and unwilling to leave anything on the floor, except blood.

This narrative, while compelling, is absent of one crucial ingredient: hope. Should the vision be realised, it would only lead to more division, more anger, more nihilism, and more hatred. It’s the vision of a grubby medieval state at best. At worst, it leads to concentration camps.

To fight the rot, the narrative will need to be fought, and fought hard. There are better narratives available- ones that ask people to work together to confront the considerable problems facing America and the wider world. Ones that don’t think zero sum and instead think about building a better world that raises all boats. Ones that help the younger generations to come together with new ideas for a world-leading society. Ones that engage with friends rather than seeing everyone as mortal enemies.

Combating the narrative will require lots of hard work at government and grassroots level, where local leaders, activists and workers can feel invested in the future. It’s not just ad campaigns and messaging. Big and bold new projects may be required – on the level of the 1960’s Space Programme or greater – to get Americans working together again. Whatever they are, they need to be inclusive and defined, and not grand outsourcing projects passed to crony monopolists and fulfilled in distant lands. It is time to be bold.

Trump’s presence on the world stage caused many to dive deeply into a very dark narrative. With new hope in the air and a new president, perhaps people can start to move away from such an entrenched, hopeless position. Bold, inclusive projects that create hope and dispel the cynicism seem to be an obvious way the narrative can be changed.

There are two ways the shitstorm that is the United States goes now.

In one scenario, it gets worse. America becomes a police state, run by rich white people for rich white people. The president gets to stay on, and on, and on, passing the reins onto Ivanka or Jared when his brains eventually turn to mush and he spends his days barking at the TV, his howls a meaningless sequence of animalistic drivel as he shits into his underpants. The country doubles down on foreigners, minorities, women and everyone else that gets in their way. America, the horror story: a republic in name only.

In another scenario, it gets better. America gets over this. China had bad emperors, but it kept going. Britain had some terrible kings. As did France and Spain in their heyday. An anomaly such as Trump has to happen sooner or later, if the history of any great nation is long enough. It doesn’t mean that the country falls just because it elected a Nero or a Caligula.

Despite everything, I still believe the second scenario will happen. America is better than this. It is bigger than all this.

I think we are seeing something like what happened in Russia, before the Soviet Union fell. It’s not an exact comparison of course and I expect some might be pissed off with the analogy, but bear with me.

America stopped working for most people a while ago, and that’s why there are riots and street protests, and they’re getting louder. Healthcare is a joke. College fees are unattainable. Infrastructure is crumbling. Drug abuse is sky high. The climate is changing and despite it all, fuck all is being done. The philosophies that lead to this are bankrupt. Only the super-rich have benefitted from the current state of affairs. It’s unsustainable.

Right now, those who profited the most are in a state of near constant panic. That’s why they chose a ghoul to lead them and they’ll stick with him through thick or thin. That’s why they need to pack the courts with their sympathisers. That’s why the police are so fucking aggressive and the prisons are full. Thats why their media is so toxic. That’s why gun sales are through the roof. It’s because they are losing, and deep down, they know it. They are doing everything they can to prop it up, through fair means or foul.

In the long run, it’s not going to work.

And just like the Soviet Union, in the end it could all come down very quickly, because more and more people are tired of the bullshit. It’s not the country of entitled Christian white people any more. Like it or not, they have to share it with black people and brown people and Asian people and gay people and women and Muslims and atheists and educated people and lots more folks. Those people are not going away. They are in America to stay and they want, and deserve, a slice of the pie.

And in its place, who knows? The older generation have fought so hard and with such bitterness that what happens now is going to be very painful indeed, even if, as I hope, things get better.

Right now, the talk is of civil war, but I don’t know.

Middle aged people do not great revolutionaries make. We can’t run far or fight for long. We have heart problems, weight problems and joint problems, cholesterol problems and bowel disorders. Something is always inflamed or in pain. All we have is our anger and disgust for everything and anything. Full of rage and fear and self-righteousness, we’re pathetic.

In a straightforward battle with the youth, the youth always win. Always. They will outsmart us, outthink us, outmanoeuvre us, outpace us. They have boundless energy and time on their side. You pick a fight with young people, you lose. Eventually, they will emerge victorious.

More likely, it will remain very, very chaotic for a while more. We will probably witness some terrible scenes yet, before the anger of the aged class subsides into inevitable depression and hopelessness, and the harder the fight, the deeper that depression is going to be, A hated generation: that’s us. We better get used to it.

But green shoots could arise yet. A fairer society. A more diverse, equal place. And from there, I think America rises again, albeit humbled and weaker compared to peer nations. Maybe eventually it becomes again a place where people want to travel to: that shining beacon on the hill. Maybe.

Or not. What do I know? Americans might yet be kneeling prostate in front of statues of Empress Ivanka as the Imperial Forces goose-step down Pennsylvania Avenue.

After an 18 month voyage around the North Atlantic, with no crew aboard and nothing but the currents and endless storms to guide its way, the MV Alta ended its travels on the rocks of Ballyandreen, Co. Cork: no more than 10 km from where I live.

Apparently the ship was travelling between Greece and Haiti when it got into trouble. Its crew, running low on food and water, had to be rescued by the US Coast Guard. It was last seen somewhere near Bermuda. A jogger, running by the Ballycotton cliffs on February 16, was first to see it.

It’s unlikely to be going anywhere else for some time.

50 years ago today, during a time of strife, great political division and poor leadership, three Americans blasted off on a journey of hope for all humankind. Theirs was a mission of incredible risk, but behind them stood 400,000 people, all guided by a singular goal: to set foot on another world.

They travelled so far, you could hide our whole planet behind an outstretched thumb.

50 years later we still applaud the achievements of these people. They brought the world together, allowing us to imagine something greater than ourselves. The trip to the moon was such an expression of what we as a species are capable of when we set our minds to an awesome task.

In a time of political turmoil, strife and great impending danger for humanity, with political leaders unequal to the challenge faced, we again need this kind of inspiration.

When things seem gloomy and grim, it inspires me to think about all the things that are wonderful and marvellous about being alive on this planet, right now. We are so privileged to have the fortune to be conscious and aware enough to appreciate them.

I can think of so many:

Bumblebees, old castles, rocket launches, thunderstorms, Mozart, eyes, waterfalls, snow-covered mountain tops, deep sea living organisms, rainbows, probes on distant planets, supernovas, volcanoes, singing, colour changing chameleons, rock concerts, spiral distance athletes, galaxies, a capella, laughter, children, kittens, long Jupiter’s clouds, oxygen, microscopic insects, octopuses, global religious celebrations, magnets, hobbies, auroras, holograms, echolocation, ice ages, dinosaurs, the smell of rain on a summer day, friendship.

What else can you think of?

This world – this whole universe – is extraordinarily wonderful. We only get one chance at experiencing it. Even though sometimes it’s not possible to appreciate it fully, we should try not give up on it.

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here.

I guess I could say that I’ve been concentrating on other things, that life has taken over and that there have been other priorities in my life recently. All true, to an extent. Also, blogging doesn’t seem the same as it used to be, what with the dominance of social media and everything. It’s hard to write something when you know so few people will read it.

But to an extent, it’s about me: I turned 50 some months ago and with it has come a melancholy of sorts. I’ve lost interest in things. I seem to crave being alone more than I used to. It’s more of a struggle to make the effort to do something for myself, even though I know when I do it, I will feel better afterwards. I question what I am about and I often wonder how the last 20 years have just passed by so quickly. I feel that I have aged.

My photography has been doing well. I got a new camera for as a birthday present to myself. It has added a new dimension to my photos, with one of them recently ending up in the Daily Mail, of all places.

I hope I can get back here again, and start writing again.

Maybe now is a start.

If you step outside

Of the International Space Station

With the planet spinning below you

At 17,500 miles per hour,

You will not fall to Earth;

The forces keeping it up

Apply to you too.

But if you push yourself away,

The Space Station just inches

From your grasp,

You cannot return;

There is nothing you can do

No arm movements,

No contortions,

No forward crawls;

You will gently slip away

Your salvation always in sight.

This is a terrifying thought.

What it must have been like to live in the Middle Ages. Though it’s often unfairly caricatured as a time when people knew nothing, there is a case to be made that these times were very different – a time when humanity was in its childhood.

The people of these times knew nothing much about nature, so they relied on stories and myths to explain it all. Religion was all powerful. Anyone who could set themselves apart as a mystic – who could somehow claim to know the unknowable – had a certain advantage over others. It explains why religion and power went hand in hand over the centuries and across so many cultures. The need to understand what was hidden from us provided a great market opportunity for charlatans and storytellers of all hues.

People were at the whim of natural forces in a way we find it difficult to fathom today. Storms, earthquakes and floods could take away your livelihood. A disease could wipe out your family overnight. Bad weather could cause great famine and wipe out communities. People lived their lives at the behest of forces they knew nothing about.

During medieval times, you could play the cynic and state that all things were unknowable. The systems of thought to pursue knowledge were in their infancy, so often truth boiled down to who told the best story and who had greater authority and power. Ultimately, everything was an opinion back then. Unless you were in some sort of technical area, building castles, bridges, mills or weapons of war, nobody knew anything.

Ultimately, the technicians won out, and the same processes of trial and error used by them started to be applied to all sorts of questions about the universe. Knowledge, now substantiated by experiment and evidence, got elevated over mere opinion. It was no longer so easy to play the cynic. We discovered that certain things were knowable. It wasn’t necessary to fall back on comforting fairytales anymore. We could use our newfound knowledge to create objects not found in nature, and to apply these to our own purposes. Today, planes fly above us, we can chat comfortably with someone in another part of the world, there is plenty of food on our tables and we have a better chance than ever to live healthily into old age.

The knowledge that supports this is often arcane. It involves particles traveling at light speeds, enormous nuclear forces, complex molecules performing coordinated activities, and mathematical formulas being played out billions of times simultaneously. There are no more simple stories to explain everything in our world. It’s just too complicated. Instead, we depend on lots of expertise and deep knowledge from specialists in their narrow, focused areas, often themselves relying on massive computers to grasp what’s going on. No one person can possibly understand in detail all there is to know.

We’re now in a place where the knowledge is available to explain many of the things we thought were mystical, but most of us have only the most tenuous understanding of it, if we understand it at all. Science has moved on, but our minds remain medieval. This is what we see when people deny evolution or global warming or vaccines, or they claim the earth is flat. They don’t understand the science or they refuse to understand, so they rebel against it.

We need to redouble our efforts to explain science, support science education and foster careers in science, otherwise our world could relapse into medievalism rather quickly, and we will be left alone in our caves, cursing the stormy night.

This year has to be one of the most uncertain years in living memory, what with Trump and Mueller, Nazis and Ultra-Nats, Mexican Walls and corruption on an epic scale, Yellow Jackets, cyber disinformation campaigns and stock market wobbles. Meanwhile Putin schemes from the Kremlin, while Turkey, China, Brazil and Saudi Arabia practice their own form of heavy diplomacy in a world with no real leadership anymore. The ghastly mess of Brexit ooses its way towards a conclusion of sorts – what that is we don’t know, but it’s likely to make a lot of people very angry.

William Gibson couldn’t have dreamt it up if he tried. Everything seems to be in flux at the moment. I wish you a happy New Year, but I fear we’re in for a very rough ride.

Apologies for the paucity of postings this year. I’ve been remiss on my 2019 anniversaries (for what it’s worth – it’s of interest to almost nobody other than myself) and I’ve yet to start collecting my favorite photos for the year. There are many explanations for this, and none. I’ve had something of a writer’s block over the past few months with a brief visit of the black dog during the latter part of the year. I’m ok, but many things I’ve been passionate about in previous years are not as strong this year. Ebbs and flows.

I wanted to write about something I’ve been mulling over these past days: my ancestry, and in particular my paternal ancestry. My father’s father’s father’s father’s line, and on back into antiquity. I could choose any combination of course – my father’s mother’s father’s mother for example, but the male parental line is perhaps the most obvious one, with the dubious benefit of maintaining the family name, at least for a few generations.

Who were these people? I don’t know. Prior to a farmer called Richard who lived in the mid nineteenth century (my great great great grandfather), I am clueless as to who any of them were, how they lived or where they came from.

I can surmise a few things.

1) They lived and survived through the roughest times in Ireland: the famines, the plagues, the penal times and the various scourings of the country by the English. Throughout all these calamities they survived, at least long enough to have had a male child, who himself was healthy enough to have children. It’s a pretty amazing feat given how often Ireland was devastated in the past centuries.

2) There were always just a few of them around at any one time: probably three (son, father, grandfather), often maybe just two of them or even one, in rare cases four. But nevertheless, just a handful of individuals- in any age – making up this paternal line. Faces in a crowd. Perhaps they were famous. More than likely, not.

3) We share the same Y chromosome, more or less. Y chromosomes don’t change much. They get passed down the male parent line almost intact from generation to generation. Interestingly, there are probably quite a few men around today who are related to me via the many brothers of some of these men. The mutations that do occur must be very revealing. I wonder have there been any studies on this, and what it tells us about the dynamics of the Irish ancestral population?

4) Although the surname typically gets passed down through the male line, amongst certainly, there was a break. An opportunistic scoundrel or just a chance encounter and a resulting pregnancy. The name then perhaps skipped into a different family with a different name. I wonder when this happened, and in the last thousand years, how many times?

5) Then there’s all the inbreeding: in how many ways does my ancestry lead back to this same parental line? In a small country like Ireland, this is probably more than I might allow myself to imagine.

A narrow line of individuals. Sons, fathers, grandfathers. All living lives that cannot easily be imagined. Nevertheless, real people, who bore witness to all the great events of their time. Each with their own problems, worries, hopes and concerns; now lost to time. All connected to me. I have so many questions.

Happy New Year.

%d bloggers like this: