“The model which is broken should not be repaired”

Last night, Michael D Higgins, TD for Galway West and Labour Party President delivered what is likely to be his last speech in the Dail after 25 years in that Chamber, and 42 years of public office. It doesn’t disappoint. The speech is nominally about the Finance Bill being passed, but takes in a lot more amounting to a summation of Higgin’s political beliefs. It’s a shame he’s stepping down, but I really hope he gets elected as our next President. How many other TDs are we likely to see in our life times that can reference things that Slavoj Zizek personally told them?

We need to go back and recover the promise of a real republic that would be built on citizenship and that would reject as outrageous in a republic the kind of radical individualism epitomised in that ugly statement of Michael McDowell’s that inequality is needed for the stability of society. It ranks with the mad Margaret Thatcher view that there is no such thing as society. It stands there as such a notion. People should have seen immediately how incongruous it was to speak like this with the language of radical individualism.

The full text is here, and the video is below.

My lord, we need a lot more Michael D. Higgins in this country.

Do Nothing For 2 Minutes

Came across this interesting site via @eoghanmccabe on Twitter.

Do Nothing For 2 Minutes invites you to do just that. It times you to see if you can just sit there and enjoy the sounds of waves for 120 seconds. And that’s it! I really like it, such a simple, well executed idea. As I said on Twitter, it could be a nice first taste of the world of meditation for some people, or at the least it could be used a nice daily time-out from the sea of windows and blinking apps. Interestingly, its from the guy who a few years ago did that Million Dollar Homepage idea.

I really must write a blog post about my meditation practice soon….

When is a quote not a quote?

I was walking to work this morning, and as I am engaging in a photo-a-day type thingy this year, I had my trusted camera by my side and my eye out. One of the things which caught my attention was a poster for a play, which featured the quote “A nation is the same people living in the same place”, attributed to James Joyce.

It immediately got me thinking. Is that statement correct? Would I agree – is that the definition of a nation? I was thinking about this, and plotting a post around it and thought that I should first research the quote and find out the context in which it was written.

It turns out it is a quote from Ulysses. It is spoken by the character Leopold Bloom in a dialogue with John Wyse.

— Persecution, says he, all the history of the world is full of it.
Perpetuating national hatred among nations.
— But do you know what a nation means? says John Wyse.
— Yes, says Bloom.
— What is it? says John Wyse.
— A nation? says Bloom. A nation is the same people living in the same
— By God, then, says Ned, laughing, if that’s so I’m a nation for I’m
living in the same place for the past five years.

It then occurred to me, is it totally accurate to present that line as being from James Joyce? He did actually write it, but he wrote it as the words and thoughts of Leopold Bloom. Bloom is a fictional character, and he doesn’t necessarily share the same thoughts and ideas as Joyce. Joyce wrote the dialogue from the point of view of Bloom, but by writing that line and attributing it to Joyce without any context, it is implied that Joyce believed that.

Consider the following:

I don’t want to see my country fall into the hands of German jews
James Joyce

If you were to see that quote printed by itself on a poster with no other context, how would it make you feel? You may well think Joyce was anti-Semitic and/or some kind of paranoid rabid nationalist.

Of course, this too is a line of dialogue from a character in Ulysses. Furthermore, the character Haines isn’t talking about Ireland, he is talking about his own native Britain. Would it be fair or honest to print that line in such a way as to suggest Joyce said it? By selectively quoting and placing the actual author of the lines name next to it, the words, their meaning and their origins are skewed.

I often wonder how many other quotes we take for granted are taken completely out of context like this and attributed to their author when in fact it is the words of a fictional person. I don’t know if I think its right to quote a line of dialogue from a fictional character and attribute it directly to the author. Of course, the author did write it…but it can imply the author endorses or believes it. Would it have been more honest for the poster to attribute the quote to Leopold Bloom?

(P.s. I think Bloom/Joyce is wrong…..)

In praise of the fog-horn

When my mother stopped me this morning to tell me something, she began to speak in the manner one uses when informing someone of a death. I immediately braced myself for the worst, and whilst what she did tell me was no where near as serious as the death of a person, it certainly deserved such a sombre delivery.

She told me that on January 11th fog-horns were no longer going to be used around the coasts of Ireland.

I, like she was when she heard, was immediately saddened, in a weird hard-to-define way. Something intangible had just slipped away. And most people that I’ve informed since then have also reacted with a similar melancholy.

For anyone who grew up near the sea, the fog-horn will have a special place in their hearts. As someone who has spent the majority of my life laying my head to rest next to lapping waves, the various sounds, smells and sights of the coast have burrowed themselves deep into my subconscious, and the fog-horn especially captured my imagination.

I distinctly recall many a night waking in the dark, or trying to drift off to sleep and hearing the distant, other-worldly call of the fog-horn out in Dundalk Bay. For such a mournful tone from the dark, the fog-horn was one of the most comforting things you can imagine.

Beyond being a lovely sound, I wonder why people have such fond memories of the lowly fog-horn? I suspect that its dependable age-less sound reminds us that out there, in the dark, someone is looking out for all the lonely souls out at sea. On a still, quiet night, how many other souls are awake in the dark and can hear it?

Sadly, modern technology has made the humble fog-horn obsolete, and it is to be retired. Progress marches ever further, and like the boats it warned, the fog-horn now drifts into the hazy mists of time. It will be missed.

Update: Via Alex, here’s a nice wee bit from Radio 1 about the demise of the fog-horn.

Another piece from Radio 1 about fog-horns and their imminent retirement.

Some old Golden Age dream of man

Mainly, I felt like a floating Khan on a magic carpet with my interesting lieutenants and gods…some ancient feeling about old gehuels [sic] in the grass, and temples, exactly also like the sensation I got drunk on pulque floating in the Xochimilco gardens on barges laden with flowers and singers…some old Golden Age dream of man, very nice.

Jack Kerouac describes his experiences on Mushrooms with Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg. From “White Hand Society: The Psychedelic Partnership of Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg” (via an exclusive extract at Boing Boing)

The Digital Diet Starts Now

As readers of this blog will know I am often drawn to wondering about the effects of technology on how we think, and I worry about my increasing ability to be distracted. Well, tis the New Year, and its traditionally the time of year when we try to change our ways and develop better habits, so rather than just think about these things, I’m trying to do something about them.

Whilst many people are running off to gyms and binning the chocolates in reaction to the Christmas-time consumption, my problem, info-gluttony, also requires a similar solution. I need a diet.

And like trying to tackle the waist-line, the problem is not so much how much you consume, but what you consume. I think its the same deal with info-dieting. Neither food nor information is inherently bad, in fact, you need them. But deciding what to take in is important. I also will be looking at quantity too.

So, some steps i’m taking:

1. Reviewing RSS subscriptions / Twitter following / Facebook Pages
This is tackling head-on the ‘quality’ of my information in-flow. I need to do an audit of what my various tentacles are absorbing. What blogs are I just not reading? How many titles do I consistently skim over in my RSS feed? Are there Twitter accounts that I get nothing from? They have to go.

2. Narrowing my focus.
I have a wide-range of interests which I like to keep up on by consuming lots of various media on them. Beyond these I find myself encountering random topics daily. None of this is bad, but I wonder how much I am really absorbing by spreading myself so thin. I need to consider limiting the scope of my consumption, to really drill down into topics and develop deep-understanding. Of course, there has to be room for expansion and to encounter things outside of my comfort zones, but I need to try to some degree to focus on my core interests. This will be tough, as I like to engage in many different areas.

3. Less multi-tasking
This may seem counter-intuitive, but it goes hand-in-hand with trying to develop deep-thinking skills. Really what it amounts to is this; when i’m consuming something, I focus on that. I have developed a terrible habit of jumping in and out of a text or piece of media whilst reading/watching. This scatter-shot approach to reading is known to hinder proper understanding, and is one of the primary results / causes of the distraction I encounter online. So, from now on, when I’m reading an article, no matter how long, I stick with it till its finished. Or if I find myself wandering, I need to evaluate whether or not its worth continuing. In the past I have soldiered on, but at the same time jumping to Twitter, and to Instant Messaging windows etc. The result is I physically finished the piece, but how much did I actually take in? Would it be better to cut my losses and abandon? I’ve already begun using a series of tools (such as Instapaper and an iPad) to help streamline and focus my online reading. I hope to continue this through to even the smallest piece of online media.

I do think there is a place for using a medium such as Twitter to help add a live, social layer to television watching, and I will still do this, but more discerningly. When I’m watching a film the feeds are going down.

These are just a few ideas I’m sketching down to get me started. I used to be really skeptical of the whole “New Year’s Resolution” idea, but I can see how it can be used as a good point in which to review and change. Let’s see how I get on.