Category Archives: Ruminations

The gates of history

gate of historyYou can pass something for days or weeks on end and it doesn’t stimulate much thought – and then one day it does.

I catch a train to work every morning and on the way to the station I pass a car park.  Nothing very remarkable about that.  But I also pass the remains of a gate.  It stands on the perimeter of the car park boundary like an alien intrusion.

It’s a little bit incongruous, in the middle of a fairly barren expanse of tarmacadam splattered with a few lonely looking cares.  It seems like someone started and then forgot about building something.  That is until you realise that someone did build something and this is all that remains – not a beginning (although once it was that too) but an end.

It’s not that long ago that there was a house here.  I have vague memories of it.  As far as I can recall it was two stories, cosy looking, maybe ivy clad, with a garden that was bit overgrown but all the more authenic and slightly fitting for being that way.  If I remember correctly, it was a fairly large house and rather appealing.

People even wanted to buy it and that it would make a nice home.  It was a quaint old building with the certain something that give some houses a character and an appeal all of their own, it was in a good location, with a generous amount of green space.

And then one day it was gone.  Bulldozed for some ambitious development scheme during the Celtic Tiger.  At this stage, I have no idea what the plans were.  I had no interest in the at the time.  I thought the house and garden was a perfect little oasis as it was, a bit of a haven of greenery and scenary for eyes and the mind.  Then the Great Recession came and the house was gone, the garden was gone and the plans for the wonders to some fell through.

Now there’s  nothing but a windswept car park, a smattering of cars and the lonely gate.  And the odd thought and memory of the morning passer-by………..

[Tom Clancy’s] Jack Ryan

TCJackRyan

I didn’t hold out much hope for this series.  I’d read some of the original books by Tom Clancy on which the series is based and they were not most subtle.  The Hunt for Red October was the first and perhaps the best known of Clancy’s books.  It came out way back in 1984 with the Soviet Union still in being and the Cold War with the US looking like it might never end. They were books very much of their time.

In Red October the Americans are almost always the virtuous good guys and the Russians, and everybody else, children of a lesser deity.  Black and white were the theme colours and little was complicated by shades of grey.  Square jaws, red, white and blue and the Star Spangled Banner…..you get the picture.  They were good stories and massive bestsellers but could be hard to take for non-Americans. In the age of Trump, they would come across as a parody or a tasteless joke.

The TV series however is entirely different.  It takes the basic skeleton from the novels but thankfully adds far more meaty substance to the plots and characters.  It isn’t cynical or negative but it is realistic.  The characters are less black and white, there is more than one view and no one has all of the answers or an easy life.

It’s less gung-ho but most definitely does have action sequences and moments of tension.  The story has its focus in the Middle East but, like real life news, it makes connections and roams the globe.  The main opponent is Muslim but so is the head of the CIA unit that Jack Ryan works for.  All of the characters have histories that explain, to some extent, their outlook on the world and their motivations in doing what they do.

To say anything more would be give away some of the pleasure in watching and learning as the series develops.  Do give it a watch if you like an well crafted, soundly written and entertaining action drama.

The Hat is back!

Man in hat
Hats are back!

Only fools make predictions – which is why Historians leave such risky ventures to economists.

Usually.

Breaking with established wisdom and any modicum of good sense I might have, I’m going to make a prediction, right here, right now.

Hats for men are back!

From being an exceptionally rare sight on our streets, and worn only by men of a certain age shall we say, hats are back on male heads of all ages.

Hipsters have adopted/usurped the Irish farmers go-to statement fascinator – the cloth cap beloved of generations of mountain men everywhere. Grafton Street sometimes looks like a band of Richard Harris lookalikes are trying to recreate ‘The Field’ – without the muck and soggy sandwiches.

richard-harris
Hipsters? I’ll give you hipsters…

 

Slightly more stately/less hairy men have taken to the old classic – a Panama hat, as well as slightly wider brimmed variations. These gentlemen are generally rather well-heeled, blazer or suit wearing, and invariably for some reason carrying a bag.

Panama-Sean-Connery
A hard-working civil servant takes a break in St Stephens Green (reconstruction with some Scottish dude).

Further along the spectrum are those brave souls who try to rock a pork pie hat – the type made famous, depending on your age and viewing habits, by either Gene Hackman in The French Connection or Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad – or indeed both, if you’re having none of this categorisation and stratification nonsense. Wanna-be wearers of this crown-topper bear in mind that things didn’t work out all that well for either of the two fictional aficionados….

Heisnebergpopeye doyle

And then last but not least, well actually it probably is least – the choice of those whose heads seem afflicted by a cold that even the hottest summer sun cannot effect: beanie hats. What’s there to say really? Only that, honestly, those successful musicians and singers you’re trying to ape are successful in spite of the silly headgear and not because of it. Seriously, it doesn’t matter how long you wear it, even if you never take it off between now and Doomsday, success will not come tripping from inside the murky confines of a mystical beanie, fleas yes, outlandish world fame, no – you’d be better off actually practicing. Or washing. Or both.

beanie.jpeg

 

Like or loathe hats on men, keep a weather eye open in the next wee while and I think you’ll see that the trend is evident – and growing.

Mark my words, you heard it here first – hats for men are back!

A web of woe: this could be London or could it?

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Manchester and then London. And London before. And Paris and Brussels. And Stockholm. And Berlin. And Damascus. And Kabul and Mosul. And Istanbul.

Terrible tragedies and awful, senseless loss of life.

No one place is more worthy of expressions of sorrow and condolence than any other, none is more human, nowhere is life less valuable.

That being said, when something dreadful happens in London or Manchester I think it’s understandable that it resonates and reverberates more in Ireland. It’s close, only a few hundred miles away in London’s case, while Manchester is closer to Dublin than Killarney. Many of us have been to both cities, many of us too have family and friends there. And, sooner or later, many things that happen in the UK happen in Ireland. We’re entangled, whether we like it or not.

So, should we be afraid on this side of the Irish Sea?

Maybe that’s the wrong question. The geography that matters today is that of the internet cable and broadband access, the satellite signal and mobile phone reception. Physical remoteness may not save us.

Our creaky infrastructure just might slow things down. However, it would be too easy to dismiss the possibility entirely.

Many of the people who carry out these attacks are broken and disillusioned, with nothing to lose. They seek easy targets, presenting as little a challenge as possible. Almost anywhere can be chosen to be a ‘legitimate target’ when logic and reason are entirely absent – and anybody: it is well to remember that vast majority of the victims of ISIS, Al Qaeda and the many other loosely affiliated groups plying these mass slaughters are Muslims going about their everyday lives in Damascus or Kabul or Istanbul – though we hear far less about those killings.

The grim fact is that the people who carry out these attacks can be ‘radicalised’ anywhere and can decide to attack anywhere – willing to shed their own (often, in their own eyes, burdensome and worthless) lives for their cause, they have no compunction about who else or where else they kill.

Realistically, the next attack could be anywhere; it’s not possible to protect everywhere.

The best response would be to try to understand why these attacks happen – it’s a far from simple task. The reasons are complex and many – and different in each specific case, though with commonalities. A matrix of rage, and despair, and arrogance, and resentment, and hatred, and hopelessness, and dreams, and longed for meaning – the gospel of the lost and the lonely, determined to draw others into their nightmare with one final dreadful act to give their existence purpose.

How to combat that? You can’t bomb, shoot or imprison a sentiment.

Perhaps a starting point might be a book by anthropologist Scott Atran – Talking to the Enemy: Sacred Values, Violent Extremism, and What it Means to be Human Penguin, 2011.

No easy solutions, but maybe somewhere to start grappling with the web of woe ensnaring us all.

When is a train not a train?

Navan view railway station

Have you ever been truely bamboozled by something? Brought up short by an incongruity your senses just cannot reconcile?

Let me give you an example and see if you know what I mean.

Navan in Co Meath is the fifth largest town in Ireland (according to Wikipedia anyways). 25,000 people live there.

It’s an hour or so from Dublin by road. Thousands of commuters travel everyday to work in the city.

Now, you might be thinking that such a large sized town would have a rail link with the capital. But no – you can’t get from Navan to Dublin by train.

Here’s the astounding thing though. Navan does actually have a railway station. And train tracks. And level crossings. All working and operational. Everything you need for trains to run. And trains do run from the town.

The rub though is that they don’t carry people. Only lead/zinc ore from Tara mines to Drogheda port.

So here’s the situation that flummoxes me.

One of the largest towns in Ireland and main dormitory centres for Dublin has a working railway line. But it doesn’t transport passengers. And the situation has been like this for over twenty years. Yet all the way through the Celtic Tiger years very little was done.

Is there a context where this makes sense? Is there a logic I’m missing?

Surely the investment would have been worth it to remove cars from the road?

And still is?

Yours in befuddlement.

The 1950s: the mental Jurassic Park of David Quinn

Childcare Costs

The Irish Times reports a proposal being considered by the Irish Government to implement a limited subsidised childcare scheme.

It might be surprising to realise this doesn’t exist already; maybe even more surprising that there is opposition; and perhaps most surprising that those opposed to caring for children consider themselves ‘pro-life’.

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/subsidised-childcare-unfair-and-unjust-on-stay-at-home-parents-1.2793608

Does David Quinn know it’s not 1950 any more?

And the same point as with abortion, applies to this scheme – if you don’t want to avail of it,  fine,  but don’t set your own personal perspective as the inflexible arbitrary norm for everyone else.

And has he seen the costs of living recently?  Does he know how much the average person earns?  And that in the vast majority of cases one income is not going to keep a family fed,  clothed and housed?

I’m guessing most of the people he knows are rather well to do,  upper middle class,  as comfortable financially as they are conservative socially.

But his little world is a fantasyland,  a mental Jurassic Park of an imagined society that never actually existed,  except for a tiny number of very privileged people.

For everyone else, life isn’t and never has been as Quinn imagines – it’s rather more demanding and at times desperate,  with worries about making pennies stretch and holding everything together day by day.

A little subsidised childcare might go a ways to making things a bit easier. I can’t for the life of me see what’s wrong with that – I don’t have any kids, I won’t benefit,  but I think it’s a really good idea,  and not unfair or unjust to me in the least. I’m fairly certain a lot of people think the same way.

I can’t fathom how or why Mr Quinn views the world as he does,  but his outlook seems to lack,  or expressly deny, understanding,  empathy, and basic humanity.

I suppose we live in hope,  and one of these days,  like Mr Scrooge,  he might yet develop a heart…..