Category Archives: Life

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.

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…..

A Man Called Ove

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I heard a lot about this book and have to confess I was a bit skeptical.

How wrong is it possible to be be?

If you’ve read The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out A Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson you’ll love this too – it has a very similar style.

Not a word is wasted. There’s very little flowery exposition, just lean spare evocative writing that shows much much more than it tells – the author respects his readers and relies on their intelligence to pick up the nuances and commonalties of human experience and feeling.

Without being in the least saccharin or mawkish, it’s both funny and positive – and surprisingly affecting.

You’ll be sorry to reach the end but exceedingly glad you read it!

Learning from a Presbyterian Buddhist skeptic – David Hume and life

David Hume - Enlightenment Historian
David Hume – Enlightenment Historian

 

Just read this rollicking good tale of unexpected connections and the virtue of tolerance for and learning from divergent views…….

………and the prime dictum of History (and Life – if there’s a difference):

 

Diary of a quarantined man

So, to use a word that has become quintissentially infuriating recently to so many for no really discernable reason,  one had the flu recently.

Which like war is a lot less of an experience than many accounts would have you believe.

Mainly it involves having a brain with the functionality of a sand-filled bobble-headed doll, wedded to the vitality and vigor of a mummified sloth.

There’s not very much interesting about any of it.

Thankfully I’ve progressed to mostly well again, with the odd outbreak of a marshy mucuousy wheeze briefly breaking into a chainsaw buzz death rattle. (I might have made the last bit up).

Thus ended quarantine.

 

Earth as a goldfish bowl?

I’ve just been reading the excellent Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.

In just 400 pages or so he traces the history of humanity from our African origins to today – and indeed beyond – it’s truly fascinating, exceptionally written and a trove of interesting information and thought-provoking perspectives on what we are and what makes us what we are; and what we might become.

One of his key concepts – perhaps the overall theme of the book – is that after a period of divergence across the face of the globe, the different branches of humanity are fast reconverging into a single whole. In future the different divisions that we employ today to differentiate between groups of Sapiens will diminish steadily in meaning until it makes no sense to think or speak of anything but a single human society.

Yet Harari also points out that a strong motor and facet of almost all human societies and cultures throughout history has been a strong ‘them’ and ‘us’ distinction. At our origins we there no shortage of others – different species of humans, as well as dangerous animals. Then came migration out of Africa over thousands of years and separation of different human bands across continents.

For thousands of years now though this process has been in reverse, ever more comprehensive and ever faster, with previously distant ‘peoples’ reintegrated into one society. Today only tiny numbers of humans in the remotest of areas remain beyond this renewed shared space – and arguably even they are in truth not detached entirely from the impact of our own world.

The fascinating question perhaps now is what happens when there is no more readily discernible ‘them’ and ‘us’? Harari sees a future where religion and ‘race’ no longer mean very much, and where standards of living are relatively harmonised in a single unified global space.

Who then are the ‘others’? Do we need others?  Will we develop some new divisions? What or whom do we measure ourselves against? Where will the spirit of competition lie? Do we need that? Will there be a fundamental shift in human nature and motivation? Or shall we seek friends and neighbour and yes even enemies beyond Planet Earth? Will homogeneity spur a search for new opportunities for exploration, travel and ‘experience’?

What will historians write of in the (utterly welcome) absence of wars, famine and pestilence? If our dearest dreams come through, what then for humanity? If we live in a world with Star Trek-like harmony and tolerance – but nowhere to go and nothing to do that isn’t already ‘here’? What happens if a species which has been constantly moving and adapting for all its existence arrives at a stage where it can do neither?

What happens if ‘here’ is everywhere? And everywhere is here????

 

Finding the angle of attack

True Detective returned last weekend for season 2 with an all-new cast: Rachel McAdam, Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughan and Taylor Kitsch.

The first series attracted rave reviews, nearly universally. And good it was, if weird in places.

The second season opener followed the same pattern very closely – a troubled moody cop in an interview room, followed by initially disconnected flashbacks. We don’t know nor understand much of what’s going on but it definitely holds the attention with no shortage of dramatic moments.

It’s almost a carbon copy of last year’s episode 1 in structural terms, and last year plaudits followed, to an almost hysterical level.

This year the reviews are more mixed though the story and the actors are if anything better.

It seems almost as if some critics and some publications have decided to adopt a contrarian view as a strategy to stand out from the crowd. Except that many other outfits had the same idea and the pack have ended up in largely the same place. Again. But on the negative side of the argument.

Is it because True Detective is no longer niche? Or new? Or is just uncool to like it when almost everybody seems to?

Is the way to attract attention, readers and web clicks to find an angle of attack whether it’s deserved or not and rain on the parade long and hard, irrespective of what’s actually happening on-screen? Of how good or bad what we’re actually watching is?

A cynical approach surely but increasingly common, online at least. If the Easter Bunny and Unicorns turned out to be real tomorrow, or world hunger and poverty alleviated,  you can bet someone would find a negative perspective in order to chase the viral wave and elbow themselves to the front of the optic queue.

It’s a cheap and tawdry tactic and hopefully one that falls flat.

Nuanced reality is much more interesting if harder to produce and lets hope it wins out. Or at least survives.

Kamikaze Crazy

Someone  mistook me for a tourist in Dublin yesterday.

Not because I looked lost but because I waited at traffic lights for the signal to cross.

‘Only tourists do that’

Most days and hours in Dublin people and machines move in a kind of fretful manic anarchy, where the general will often prevails against logic and law.

Cars bullet through red lights, and far too often through the ‘green man’ for pedestrians at the next crossing, since the timing is linked in sequence on traffic lights. The drivers appear oblivious or if they are aware or notice as they rocket past, they turn a blind eye, obey translucent blinkers and stare straight ahead fiercely – determined to convince you and probably themselves that they’re invisible and immaterial.

Cyclists do exactly the same, sweeping in from every direction under the sun like Ben Hur without the horses but the same zeal to scythe obstacles from their path.

Pedestrians blithely zip into traffic, anxious to save the precious two minutes that seemingly are worth more than the rest of their lives. Large enough herds of walkers, in true zombie fashion, can be emboldened to face down buses and trucks.

Ignore something and it doesn’t exist – lights, laws, lives.

To hell with logic.

Usually no-one gets hurt; sometimes they do; occasionally there are deaths.

It’s all rather pointless.

Everyone gets frustrated at times with waiting.

But the ‘anything goes’ free-for-all at the moment is actually causing chaos for everybody – and delays for everyone.

Many of the more frantic speedsters who jump lights are reacting to knock effects from earlier jousts, and the vicious -and potentially deadly – cycle continues as frustrations and anger flare and flourish.

A little patience and a lot more common-sense could be a lifesaver.

Literally.

 

 

 

Interstellar

Poster for Interstellar
Stellar Interstellar

‘I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.’

It’s hard not to think of that line, and many other ‘science fiction’ films when coming to a movie like Interstellar.

Especially a movie like Interstellar. Humans. Machines. Space Exploration.

There however the similarities cease. Nods and oblique references, some quite funny, are made to these predecessors, but Interstellar is very much its own film. And all the better for it.

Humanity is at the core, the heart of Interstellar. It might seem strange but it’s as much and actually much more of a love story than a space epic.

Tech and adventure provide the stunning backdrop for a story of human relationships, encompassing everything from romantic,  family and friendship to the bonds that link us all.

How strong are those bonds? How far do they reach? What would we do to save those we love? Who would we sacrifice for them? Is a planet full of people worth less than one special person?

It would be unfair to unravel any more of the threads that go into to weaving this story together.

Like the science of worm holes it folds back in and through itself in complex ways that thoroughly reward the viewer.

In its best moments and there are many, it’s a heart thumping thrilling experience – made all the better by the immensely powerful soundtrack, crescendos of perfectly chosen notes lending power to scenes throughout the film.

It’s rare to say that all the parts of a movie work, but in this they do: concept, story, script, actors, music, pace, visuals – and even the message.

It’s an emotional roller-coaster transcending genres in much the same way as the scientific theories at the heart of the movie aim to short cut reality, and in the same way as black holes are, apparently, inexplicable from the out side , the only real way to understand the magic of this movie is to go see it!

Do. It’s well worth it, even for those who have no interest in science or science fiction.

You just need to have a heart – or have known one once.