Sunday 30 September 2018

Die Göttliche Ordnung

That would be The Divine Order, a 2017 film about suffragettes in Switzerland . . . in 1971! It was the film that launched the 2018-19 season of the Blackstairs Film Society and we went Out On The Village last night, paid our sub and were delighted by the film. It seems appropriate to review such a film on International Blasphemy Day.  1971? The year women got the vote in Switzerland?? Surely that's a typo of 1917??? Because women got the vote in Ireland on 6th Feb 1918. Not all women, mind you, only sensible women who were older than 30. It took the foundation of Saorstát Éireann the Irish Free State (1922) to give women equality with men in their voting rights. For Britain and Northern Ireland in took a while longer [Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928]. The nuttiness of extending voting rights in 1918 was exposed by a dispensation for men - if you had fought in the Great War, you could vote at 19 rather than 21.  Recent research on the adolescent brain, suggests that 18 might not be the best milestone for the age of discretion. Far too many young men in their teens and twenties seem to be bat-shit crazy when it comes to cars, booze, bullying, office-hours and sex. Should boys who drive cars with drink, but no seat-belts, on board be allowed to determine who gets elected to parliament?

Meanwhile back to Switzerland, 1971. The trailer for Die Göttliche Ordnung catches it: there is a referendum in the air: it will determine whether The Cantons can join A is for Azerbaijan, Belgium, Côte d'Ivoire, Dominica, Egypt, Fiji . . . in treating women like adults. The lead is a young mother who is happily married and embraced by her wider family and the local, isolated, rural community. She is a helped to reconsider her position by a younger Italian immigrant and an unmet desire for wider, bluer horizons. The film is neat, probably too neat, in its investigation of the issues. A shrewish, elderly, secure-in-her-certainties woman is the main employer in the village and also ardently against change. A rakish, elderly, slightly dissolute woman is our heroine's first local supporter. There are stupid, boorish, violent, complacent men. But there are also men who are confused about their position in a rapidly changing world, who want to do good, who are fundamentally kind. Its basically happy ending ties everything up with a neat bow.

But getting the goddamn vote is just the beginning. In Ireland, women got the vote in 1922 but could only be employed in the civil service if they were unmarried. They were expected to get back in the kitchen and spoil their sons rotten after that. The pay scales were skewed, the glass ceiling was bullet-proof, and it's only this year that we're starting to deal with uterine autonomy by Repealing the Eighth.

As it happens we are having a go at blasphemy on 26th October 2018 with another constitutional referendum [issues explained] to decide this following change to Article 40.6.1 of the Constitution:
The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.  
And what is blasphemous? Eamonn de Valera had no doubts about what he meant when he drafted the Constitution in 1937. But that's because he confused himself with earlier Patriarchs like Moses: Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Bring the one who has cursed outside the camp, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head; then let all the congregation stone him." [Leviticus 24:13]. I'll probably get myself in a lather later this month but for now I'll suggest we might be happier voting on
The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law. 
Free people must debate in the market place of ideas about thing which matter. I think it's indecent

  • that children are homeless in Ireland, 
  • that mental health is pathetically under-resourced
  • that the CEO of AIB gets €500,000 which is 15 times the average pay in AIB

and I'm all for conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch [=sedition] on such matters.

Saturday 29 September 2018

Last Sept Sund 2018

Very miscellaneous

You can't get good help

Once upon a time a couple retired, in the normal course of events, and about the same time (he 65, she 60) they moved to a tiny cottage on Costa na Déise = The Waterford Coast. That was a good choice for two pensioners with limited means: 
  • small is cheaper to heat; 
  • small has less space for distracting clutter; 
  • small can be cleaned quicker. 
The tiny cottage [IDed R], built about 100 years before, came with a mighty garden: 1.058 acres = 0.4 hectares = 100m x 40m. That was because, in the 1890s, cottagers were expected to plant sufficient rows of spuds to feed their extensive "every sperm is sacred" families. The previous owners had split the property, with a monstrous Leylandii hedge, into a lower paddock and a neat garden with exotic trees nearer the house. For years Pat kept a few goats to munch their way through the paddock but undertook to mow the rest of the grass himself. A third of an acre = about 12 ares = a helluva lot of mowing, especially if you go over it whenever there is a dry spell (in case the grass gets out of control, you understand). For the next 20 years, Pat mowed for Ireland. Then, quite abruptly just after he turned 85, he downed tools and a) refused to drive the car b) refused to mow the lawn: maintaining in both cases that he was now a liability to himself and others.

Over the next couple of years me and Dau.II split the lawn-mowing because someone had to do it. It was part of the weekly Pension Run where we picked up the old folks, took them into town to draw the pension, buy some groceries, load up on meds and get home in time for lunch. Mowing the lawn was the alternative to watching day-time television and both had their positive aspects. But there was no way I was going to gather up grass clippings to dump them down in the paddock. Then my in-laws moved into town, which meant they could walk to the post-office, Dau.II left home and I didn't feel responsible for the new lawn in the new place. Accordingly, a local bloke was contracted to mow that lawn for €25 a go, "whenever he thought it needed a cut and he could fit the job into his busy schedule". 

Well that was a creeping disaster altogether. This lawn-bloke . . . 
  • didn't come with any regularity
  • wouldn't respond to txts or e-mails
  • dumped the clippings over the wall into the neighbour's horse paddock
  • mowed over some lavender plants that had disappeared under the unmowed grass
  • was truculent when called to account
  • thought that €25 for 40 minutes work wasn't really enough
  • still didn't come with any regularity
and now it looks like [dang and blast it] I've got my old job back. The lawn, having been unmowed for a month, was looking 'tufty'. When I set to, Pat was sitting in the garden with a silent / supervisory demeanour so I couldn't fire the clippings over the hedge. Nothing for it but gather up all the grass into a 1 tonne builders' rubble sack and take it away in my car. Sounds good in theory. But the mowing and gathering happened in the evening while take it away in my car wasn't until the following morning.

Well the following morning the inside of my car was like a tropical rain-forest. I couldn't see through any of the windows with their thick occluding pall of condensation. And there was a most peculiar smell which was probable the early stages of silage fermentation. I had to drive all the way to work with all the windows open hoping thereby to dry out the upholstery. Did someone mention rain-forest?

Notes to self: next time use smaller water-proof sacks . . . . and don't leave it so long between mowings yeh lazy git. And did someone mention the €25/ 40mins? meeeeeeeeee!

Friday 28 September 2018

Small World

Like all geeks, I have reflected on the increasing power of computers and their decrease in size during my working life.
I recently came across two parallel attempts to convey how much information can be stored in so little space. On your left, we have Bill Gates comparing the information stored on a CD comared to a stack of paper the height of a house. The fact that Gates looks young, shows just how ancient CDs are. On your right is Margaret "NASA" Hamilton [bloboprev] showing how much code she wrote for the operating system of the Apollo space program. If you bought your external hard-drive (for back-ups) recently, it is likely to have 1 terabyte of storage capacity. That's 1000x more than Bill Gates' CD! Hamilton's stack  was keyed into the Apollo computers which had a tiny 72 kb of memory:  it weighed 30 kg!  The CD has about 10,000x the capacity of the instrument that flew to the Moon and back.
The government is about to release its budget for 2019. The Finance Minister will stand up in the Dáil and, like Caligula in the Colosseum, throw million$ and billion$ out to the waiting public. Most of us won't have a clue about the magnitude of these numbers except to believe that a billion [bicycle, biped, bicentennial] is about twice a million. In the Budget every year there are 3 ENORMOUS line-items
Social protection40%
Sum=82% and the rest, individually, nowhere.

Thursday 27 September 2018

I can work . . .

. . . I'm an African woman, give me a job and I can Work. That's a quote from a CBC piece about crossing the US-Canadian border just N of Plattsburg NY.  It just broke my heart. Maybe because these Nigerian and Haitian asylum-seekers are my sort of people: articulate, educated, wanting a better life for their children. They'd rather be banged-up arrested in Canada and put through the mill of bureaucratic scrutiny with a very real chance of being deported at the end of the process. I've deleted the banged-up [slang for imprisonment] because I am fairly confident that the RCMP are going to do their job with efficiency and compassion and without shooting anybody because they're black. Roxham Road [sat-map]is an illegal [accès interdit aux pietons] crossing point but there are tents on the Canadian side;  and police-officers officers are deployed according to the Greyhound bus schedule for arrivals in Plattsburg. taxi-drivers make a handsome living from the 40km one-way fare to a place in the woods. Here's a piece about what actually happens Canada-side nowadays and how the process differs from the USA.
My empathy is also driven by the fact that in 1981, I also made an illegal crossing of the US-Canadian border. My boss and I were on a field trip in the big old Ford Galaxy [a bit like Thelma and Louise without the cliff-edge ending] from Boston up north to Montreal, Trois Rivières, Québec, Caribou, ME and so home. We spent one night in Edmundston, NB and were fossicking around gathering data. Neil spent a few teenage years just down the road in Caribou, Maine and so was quite at home. He suggested that we stroll across the St John River and get a bite to eat in Madawaska ME. We presented ourselves to the US Customs and Immigration with a strong waft of The Patriarchy about us. The official at the desk waved us through, we loafed around, had dinner and then walked back to our temporary digs in Canada. My Visa to the US clearly said, Student and Multiple Entry and I was definitely cleared for Canada, so we thought no more about it.

The next morning we were back again, this time with the car, the same official was unaccountably delighted to see us. It turned out that he'd got a bollicking from his supervisor the night before for allowing an undocumented alien to cross the border even if accompanied by a [patriarchal] US Citizen. According to the official record, the said Alien was still in the USA doing who-knows-what. My miraculous re-appearance from the Canadian side allowed him to balance his books. Seemingly, he should have made me fill out Form 1032/A/56 so that the number of Multiple Entries on my visa could be clocked for statistical purposes. Those were much easier pre-9/11 times especially to-and-fro to Canada. It must be desperately stressful now. Making the bureaucrats work.

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Uncle Godfrey

Despite teaching on the Cert in Pharmacy Tech course, I really rarely need to visit any pharmacy. Which is a good thing because I don't particularly want my [ex-]students knowing about my rashes, weeping sores, and over-active bladder. (Doctor, doctor, I'm Paris; What do you mean, Paris?;  It's In Continent innit!). I might be tempted to buy some off -pharmacy remedy that worked and could be obtained without too much scrutiny or enquiry.

Anyone who has raised children will tell do that the sleep deficit is the real killer. When The Boy was born we were living in Dun Laoghaire in a garden flat. We had to make it up as we went along, being a long way from either of our mothers, and do the best we could. Hadn't a clue, me. I thought The Beloved had ruptured a kidney when she went into labour 1 week early, which meant she was in the wrong (local; Ob&Gyn-absent) hospital. It was a nightmare to raise an inter-hospital-transfer ambulance at 0200hrs, whereas a collect-labouring-mother-from-home ambulance would have been there in 20 minutes. The only thing I thought you could do with a crying baby was change its diaper.  We changed diapers seven times one night! Several of them bone-dry. But the child continued to grizzle or howl for hours.

Another solution would have been welcome. If we'd been managing the problem 100 years earlier, it is quite likely / just possible we would have tried Godfrey's Cordial. Which was well-known to put infants to sleep. . . and keep them in that state. I've written before about buying Dozol for G, when she lived in London - although it is sold as a painkiller [paracetamol] and anti-inflammatory [anti-histamine] the name and the label tell the World that babies will sleep in Dr Dozol's care. I was wrong to believe at the time that it was 4% alcohol: that's gripe-water. Even gripe-water, invented in 1851 by apothecary William Woodward, contains no alcohol in its modern formulation. As young parents all we needed was enough sleep each night to be able to function during the day-time. In the 19thC, some poor mothers had a rather different agenda: they needed to keep the child quiet while they went out to work: singling turnips, pulling carrots or making hay.
It's a bit like several species of African antelope where the dams, when their time of delivery approaches, find a quiet and secluded spot to drop the calf. There are two survival alternatives: either the newborn is up and ready to trot within a few minutes or it needs to be fattened up and continue its development. Secreters return to base once or twice a day, meanwhile making a living feeding themselves to replace the milky calories. The calves are programmed not to bleat for mammy and presumably some evolutionary changes have been made to how they [don't] smell.
The problem was that these opium-quieted babies often died, not so much from opium addiction or the direct effects of the booze; it was more likely that 'inanition' or 'failure to thrive' would appear on the death certificates. What this basically means is that the poor wean was too sleepy to feed and wound down in a spiral of unresponsiveness.

Lots of convincing sounding alternatives:
1 apothecaries pound = 12 ounces = 370g
1 ounce = 8 drachms = 31g
1 drachm = 3 scruples = 4g
1 scruple = 20 grains = 1.3g
1 grain = 65mg

Tuesday 25 September 2018

Diversity rules OKBLT

Few things induce hand-clapping joy in my daily life so much as evidence of the increasing diversity in The Republic. At The Institute I found, at the student societies fair, that there is now a college cricket team! Cricket was quite decisively repudiated by post-colonial Ireland as the protestants leaked away and the GAA got an increasingly bigger voice. Talking to the secretary of the Cricket Soc revealed that all the players hailed from the Subcontinent but, he hastened to add, some white folks had joined the club this year. I wrote years ago about how Pakistani and Indian students at The Institute had embraced each other though so far from home. 45 years ago in Ireland, chicken tikka marsala, pizza, caldo verde, were unheard of; there were two sorts of cheese [red and white], and two sorts of wine [red <Ruffino chianti> and white <Blue Nun>].  We are spoilt for choice on all fronts now.

As well as my shoes and glasses, when I leave for work in the morning I make sure I have my diversity-rainbow wrist-band on. I have apologised to all my classes in advance about the glasses: "If I blank you in the corridor, it's not because I am aloof, it's because you are unrecognisably out of focus". You see how this patriarch shifts the blame onto them? When I acquired the wrist-band, I was given a document, hereinafter The Leaflet, that explained the new landscape of identity for those born in a time when there were just boys and girls. I tell my students that you don't really understand something until you can explain it to someone else. I will accordingly give you a summary here.

I think I got stuck at LGB: that not all people fancied the opposite sex and that some people were attracted to both. My experience was consonant with the Kinsey Report that maybe 10% of us were not strictly heterosexual in our predilections. I felt comfortable enough with that to be able to poke gentle fun by using BLT rather than LGB. Then I started to feel overwhelmed: there was LGBT, then LGBTQ then LGBTQI then LGBTQI+ and now The Leaflet tells me that we are up to LGBTQQIA. Correct me if I'm wrong, but if each added category is a smaller segment of the population, then we are getting to quite small groups who are demanding parity of esteem . . . not to mention their own bathrooms. 

T for Trans. This is an interesting departure from LGB because it's not so much about relationships with others as about relationship with self. Trans is nevertheless a grab-bag term for a number of different states of disagreement with the gender assigned at birth following a quick glance down there by the midwife. These include identifications are transgender [the symbol for which R which they included on my wristband], transsexual, agender, crossdresser, genderqueer, androgynous, gender variant, differently gendered. The symbol has unicode authenticity: ⚧ which is more than can be said for some of the others.

Non-binary. This for all the people (including many in the previous category) who baulk at being binned as M or F. The leaflet introduced me and The Beloved to a new term: neutrois = gender neutral, agender, genderless. aporagender otoh have a strong sense of gender but it's neither male nor female and so is semantically indistinguishable from maverique or aliagender. Greygender are non-binary but not so vehemently out there. Demiflux, demifluid and genderqueer are all different again. Dang but it's complicated: I hope they don't get all People's Front of Judea with each other.

Cis-gender. That's the 90% who agree with the midwife and are happy about the assignment.

Trans Man, Trans Woman.  The named sex in the destination. A trans man started out life being dressed in pink by the parents [dang that midwife for getting it wrong] and a trans woman in blue. At some point they joined the other side.

Misgender. is when you make a blunder in how you address, or interact with, a 10%er. I suppose it's like an earlier fight we had when adult blokes were all Mr but women needed their marital status specified: Mrs vs Miss. Ms made is a lot easier for everyone. In Japanese they have ~san [さん] for everyone - M&F; LGB; TQQ; IA; Vogon - which makes things easier again on the misgendering front.

The restless rest. You may be sure that the language and the bathroom wars will get more nuanced, difficult to navigate in the future as more people Out themselves in their own particular, peculiar and wonderful identity.

No essay on language issued from Ireland would be complete without giving Irish parity of esteem:
Lesbian Leispiach
Gay Aerach
Bisexual Déghnéasach
Transgender Trasinscneach
Queer Aiteach
Questioning Ceisteach
Intersex Idirghnéas

And the rainbow flag? In 1978, it used to have eight stripes [pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic, indigo for harmony and violet for spirit] and now it has been trimmed to six [red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, blue for harmony and purple for spirit]. Simple math will show that sex and magic have been left on the cutting-room floor. Interesting but painful multi-book review of the AIDS epidemic in LRB. Timeline executive summary.

Monday 24 September 2018

The left hand of twinness

Being a twin makes me marginally more interested in Twins than normal people.  I had a thought [hypothesis would be too strong] that in opposite sex fraternal twins the boy would weigh more than the girl.  But just because that was true for me and my sister, doesn't make it true in general. This year I am down to one class of 1st year cell biology. I noted that there were two women with the same surname, and their thumbnail-pic suggested that they were twins. On enquiry, that hypothesis turned out to be correct. At the end of class, the students are meant to write up the day's events into a lab book. I felt virtuous because many of last year's finished lab books were less than half used. So I had ripped out the so last year darling old pages and invited the kids to reuse the rump. Some enterprising students even took these half books for using for their physics and chemistry labs. I think I've saved about 10 kg from landfill.

But here's the thing: "my" twins were writing their reports with opposite hands! In this they were like Allie and Brook Sabia [R signing contracts]. What's that about? Is that normal, or common, or rare? We know that left-handedness is determined partly by genetics and partly by environment. Whatever the cause, the statistics are quite consistent:  about 10% of us write sinister. People of the generation now ending their lives, including my late lamented m-in-law, all too often had left-handedness b'ate out of them, so there are fewer kacky-hands of that age. It turns out that, in twins, whether monozygotic MZ identical or dizygotic DZ fraternal, the rate of discordant handedness is about double what you'd expect - 20-25% of twins have one of each.

That makes you think about how handedness is determined in utero. Could it be that, in the packing, one hand is free to wave about and the other is inhibited by the extra body?  MZ twinning happens much later in the process that I thought. I imagined that the separation of the zygote into two lumps would happen at the 2 4 8 cell stage. But not so; current theory  holds that around 4-5 days after fertilisation, the hollow ball of cells called the blastocyst collapses in on itself and two hollow balls are formed. These implant in the wall of the uterus as usual.

Sunday 23 September 2018

Bits 23SEP18

Not food
What cervical hell author Kate Beaton does in her day-job: Hark a Vagrant:

Saturday 22 September 2018

Vanity brows

The great thing about the beard [R - between hat and shirt] is that I don't need to shave every day. That means I only have to look in the mirror 3 times a month. I know there are other ways to approach this. When O'Manch was wwoofing with us in 2014, he asked in some distress but where is the mirror? because he liked to check himself out every morning to look his best for the day. We'd removed the bath-room mirrors when painting several years before and hadn't put them back again. There's a certain type of person - men and women both - who by reflex glance at their reflection when the pass shop windows. What goes through their minds? "you're lookin' grrrreat, tiger" ?

We had a UK week in mid-August with The Boy and his family. His new engineering firm had recently lost their Man in Singapore and TB volunteered to spend a week out there in a holding action to not lose the two valuable clients. It was short notice but he knew he should look his best and decided that getting his unruly monobrow threaded had to be part of the protocol. You can do it yourself: you just need 60cm of dental floss and two steady thready hands OR, as The Boy chose to do, you can put yourself in the hands of the professionals. He went down-town and into the first shop that seemed appropriate. We all know that women a) are more likely to care about unruly face-hair b) have a higher pain threshold. I think that he was as surprised as everyone in the shop when, feeling the first pass of the plucking threads, he started from the chair with an unexpected
 "Jesus, Mary and Joseph"
He endured the rest of the ordeal without further outburst, which secured him a small round of applause from the girls when he went to pay.

Threading is the least of it on the eyebrow front: you can get extra hair put in, or fake it with a bit of delicate tattoo: it's called microblading. Removal with waxing, plucking or trimming is also possible. I guess there must be In eyebrow shapes and shame-in-the-office if your brows are deemed to be so yesterday. One of the system failures experienced by old men is that the mechanisms for controlling where hair sprouts tend to break-down. Tendrils sprout from the ears and nose and start curling up up and away from the eye-brows. Accordingly I tend to give a rough pass on the eyebrows with my electric hair/beard trimmer [last time in a barber 1997] when my face is before the mirror. If I don't do this, I know I'll get distracted while driving when something grey loops down and waves in my peripheral vision.

As with so many things that are more or less useless - soccer, boy-bands, painting - there is a lot of money to be made from grooming for looks rather than grooming for lice. Look at [the left eyebrow of R] Anastasia Soare, she's the Eyebrow Queen and a billionaire having arrived in the US from Romania without a word of English 30 years ago. Aspirants to that career can get a diploma in Cosmetology. Just make sure it is approved by the Confederation of International Beauty Therapists and Cosmetology (CIBTAC)

Friday 21 September 2018


When I opted to go to Higher Options for The Institute, I was told to collect my exhibitor's wristband from D531 but ditzy-me barrelled into D551 asking for the wristband liaison officer WLO. It caused a mild stir of consternation, as you can imagine. Perhaps more so because there was a packing case full of wristbands in D551. And that is how I acquired, a few days before the official launch, a handful of multicolored, 'debossed' silicon wristbands to celebrate / assert Diversity [see R]. I also got a neat glossy A5 160gsm flyer explaining all the diversity terms. They gave me a few wristbands, not to make it look like the sleeve of a parti-coloured shirt, but to distribute these symbols of right-on-ness among the Rads of my department. debossing is the opposite of embossing: messages are gouged out of the band.

I've found out a bit about wristband culture, which I will share with you and the historical books after this fad has gone the way of Beanie Babies, pet rocks and cuff-links. First off is that they cost money: from about €1.50 [for 100@] down to €0.25 [for '000s@]. The next point is that the untearable 'paper' wristbands at events are made from Tyvek. Tyvek is another Dupont product [prevs Kevlar  - PET] invented 50 years ago and consisting of HDPE [high density polyethylene] fibres. It has amazing properties: apart from its resistance to tearing, it is impervious to wet water but permeable to water vapour. This finds utility in the construction industry: we have Tyvek roofing 'felt' in the 2016 woodshed and another outbuilding that we got re-roofed in 2007: vapour going out + rain not coming in = less condensation and fewer internal drips.

An interesting property of silicon is that it absorbs chemicals, especially hydrophobic examples, from the local environment and stores them in a way rather similar to the behaviour of human cells. Wrist-bands have, for example, been used to monitor exposure to dozens of toxic chemicals including PAH [polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons], nicotine, caffeine, fire retardants, solvents, plasticisers and insecticides. That paper elicited a scientific comment noting that epidemiologists could use silicon breast implants to generate a back-story of adverse internal chemical exposure.

It is damnably difficult to recycle silicone wristbands, so you'll have to try re-use instead. They are exactly the right size to put on the lid of an un-openable jam jar to give you a bit more traction. And for gawd's sake give the bands a snip before you throw them in the bin. They must be as bad as six-pack rings for strangling turtles, albatrosses and baby dolphins. And if you care about these things switch to Carlsberg which has replaced their six-rings with little dobs of glue which serve the same purpose and save the company, and the oceans, 1,000 tonnes of plastic every year

Thursday 20 September 2018

Country matters

I wrote a few days ago about pulling an unfortunate sheep out of a shallow stream. A couple of people have asked for an update on the sheep. One enquiry came on Tuesday evening in the window between end of class at The Institute and presenting something about Hurricane Florence and pig slurry to the Wexford Science Café. I had intended to have an early supper (call it tea with a massive fry if you want) and maybe a zzzzzzz in anticipation of a late night in a Wexford pub. But the enquiry pricked my conscience, so I threw on a hat, phone, binoculars, camera, glasses, boots and set off up the mountain into the blustery, intermittently sunny, evening. Well I regret to report that EI-00445355-4639E is gone to a better place. She managed to shuffle about 10m from where I left her in the sun on Sunday before pegging out. 48 hours later and she was about half recycled. It seems that being stuck in the river wasn't the fundamental problem. Being sick and weak, she may have tumbled into the water and been too tired to get out.

I went off to the Wexford Science Café [WSC] despite this loss, because life must go on. I was ready to present what little I know about Hurricane Florence and polluted waterways. WSC is a lottery, there are 50 people of the mailing list but you never know how many (and who) will turn up on the night. One of our members works for the county council with the environment protection brief. He knows far more than I do about water (and other sorts light, noise, particulates of) pollution. Inevitably, when I speculated about the adverse consequences of having a storm cause a slurry lagoon in North Carolina to brim over; he had a better and more immediate story. An aged pig farmer was grassed up to the Council by a driver who was delivering feed. The place (which after all was producing food for human consumption) looked worryingly untidy and the smell was something else entirely. On inspection, it turned out that most of the smell came from two dumpsters on the far side of the pig-house. They were brimful of dead pigs, the weight of recent additions causing a certain degree of pressure liquefaction at the bottom. Bubble bubble whiff whiff. Farmer was due in cort this week. Here's 3 mins positive propaganda for a properly isolated slurry lagoon

The first storm "Ali" of the 2018-2019 season has just whistled through the country blowing things down that are usually upright. On my way to work yesterday, a big lump of a branch had fallen off a beech tree and was blocking half+ the road. Two cars ahead of me pushed through the branches and sped on their way. Me, I stopped and started to clear the road. Two young fellers also stopped and asked "Can we help you with that, Sir". I liked the "Sir" = respeck! The three of us were able to shift most of the raffle, including the fat end of the branch to the side of the road. As the boys went on their way, I fetched the bow-saw out of the back of my car and cut off the last bit of obstructing branch. The whole aktionsbaum took less than 5 minutes. People don't generally stop like that. I know because several years ago, when I still drove over the mountain along the back roads to work I narrowly avoided a rock which had tumbled out of the ditch into the roadway. I swerved a bit and carried on to work. When I came back home 8 hours later, the golldarned  rock was still there!   I resolved in future to clear these things up on the first pass rather than leaving such a hazard behind until dark. That is why I try to have a saw, a shovel, jump-leads and a tow-rope in the car at all times. Not much anyone can do about suicidal sheep in the road.

Storm Ali?  It is the first named storm of the 2018-19 Winter weather fronts for Britain and Ireland. That's very inclusive: the original and best Ali [ibn Abi Talib] was the son-in-law of The Prophet and is a quintessentially new-Irish name. Pity that Met Eireann, NewstalkFM and RTE pronounced it Allie like it was short for Alison, rather than actively embracing a bit of cultural diversity. Last year we only got from Aileen to Hector. Let us hope we don't get to the second half of the alphabet this season. Here's the full list: Ali, Bronagh, Callum, Deirdre, Erik, Freya, Gareth, Hannah, Idris, Jane, Kevin, Lily, Max, Niamh, Oliver, Peggy, Ross, Saoirse, Tristan, Violet and Wyn. Note that they alternate boys and girls. I don't think that we have any quintessentially non-binary names yet.

Wednesday 19 September 2018

Girl on her hunkers

When we re-assembled the Ringstone in 2010 part of the debate at lunch was where to put the pieces. Having the Ringstone in our yard would make it easier for interested parties to find; contrariwise that would increase the likelihood that the whole 1750kg would get lifted by cultural looters.  There are 140,000 archaeological entries in the SMR (Sites & Monuments Register)  or 2 for every in the Republic. As it is also about 10,000 for each employee of the Archaeological Service, they can't be expected to protect them all. Protect them from theft, vandalisation, graffiti or even protect them from the weather.  There was a documentary on RTE last week about one, then famous, case of archaeoklept in 1990.

Some carvings are a lot more interesting than our Ringstone. Ireland, for example has the highest frequency of sheela-na-gigs in the World. Here are six:
Yes, they are a bit fuzzy and pixellated, but that's because I have readers in Namibia and Cloughjordan who have band-width issues. Even when they were created, the shockin' fuzz had to be imagined rather than explicitly represented in stone. And, to be honest, nobody has a clue about their original function. Heck there isn't even consensus about the derivation of the name, which was first written down by the Ordnance Survey in 1840, capturing a local name for an example of the genre on Kiltinan Castle in Co. Tipp. Indeed that S-na-G, its theft and its replication, is the subject of the RTE documentary cited above. Could be Sighle na gCíoch / Síle na gCíoċ [hag of the breasts] or Síle ina Giob [Cecile on her hunkers].

The distribution mostly in The Pale, few in Hell or to Connaught, and their location almost always in the fabric of buildings of the Anglo-Norman era, suggests that the idea was a continental import. The 'hideous' features designed to discourage an interest in what is being predominantly displayed. That might be a much later Calvinist / Irish-Catholic interpretation from a time when sex was sin rather than fun.  Feminist revisionists have floated the idea that the carvings predate the Anglo-Normans, indeed pre-date Christianity and are best interpreted as a Joy-of-Sex Earth Mother. I think I'm with the Come-on-in-Lads school.

The GoTo site for info on Irish Silés. A previously unrecorded example turned up this April "somewhere in Ireland".

Time for ee cummings.
i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite a new thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body.- i like what it does,
i like its hows.- i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones, and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which i will
again and again and again
kiss, - i like kissing this and that of you,
i like, slowing stroking the, shocking fuzz
of your electric fur, and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh . . . And eyes big love-crumbs,

and possibly i like the thrill

of under me you so quite new

Tuesday 18 September 2018

Ending it

The Irish State has been decidedly and officiously pro-life in a number of cases both at the beginning and ending of the sojourn in this vale of tears. At least this year in May we filletted the protection of the unborn out of the Constitution in the Referendum, despite the weight of the patriarchy being behind retention. Constitutional protection is a blunt instrument that fills the pockets of lawyers and prevents reasonable choices in unforeseen cases. We are still waiting to legislation to determine the circumstances in which a pregnancy may be terminated. My take is that it is invidious for the state to insist that women will carry every pregnancy to term unless and until the state fully indemnifies its citizens for the cost [financial, social, emotional] of bringing up baby. Most of us manage to raise kids without extra help [although thanks for all the Children's Allowance [€140/child/mo/] but for those who struggle there is little enough help and that is grudgingly given.

At the other end of life, Susan Lyall has a recent heart-warming essay in the NYT about failing to terminate her mother with barbiturates, despite a pact to do so; but succeeding in reading the old lady to death with Charlotte's Web.

On a related story, Gail O'Rorke was back in the news because a documentary was aired about her helping to Off her pal Bernadette Forde in 2015. Ms Forde was in an advanced stage of MS and wanted to go to Dignitas the death-factory in Switzerland. Being barely able to move, she asked O'Rorke to make the arrangements with a travel agent. The agent grassed them up to the Gardai who prevented them from travelling - although the right to travel is actually legal. Well it is explicitly legal at the other end of the spectrum as The 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1992 added "This subsection shall not limit freedom to travel between the State and another state." to the, just repealed,Article 40.3.3. which gave the unborn equal rights with the carrier. Having been thwarted in the expensive end game in Switzerland, [Exit by Dignitas costs about £10,000] O'Rorke visited Western Union to pay for a quantity [~€400 - bargain] of barbiturates ordered by Forde from Mexico, which she later used to finish herself off.

A long while after Forde had avoided a long undignified dependency in a nursing home and contrived to die at home, O'Rorke was brought in for questioning by the Gardai . . . several times and eventually prosecuted under the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993, which decriminalised suicide but made it a crime for another to assist in the process. Three threads were tangled up in the prosecution a) the debacle at the travel agent b) ordering the barbiturates and c) helping Forde with planning her funeral. The fact that O'Rorke was a beneficiary of Forde's will muddied the minds of the Gardai a bit. After a legal wrangle with the Judge, the ordering and planning crimes were struck out and the prosecution relied on the abortive assisted travel evidence. The jury eventually (7 hours!) acquitted O'Rorke of the crime and she was able, after nearly four years of being ragged around by the legal system, to walk free and pick up the pieces of her life. O'Rorke is still sure that she did the right thing by her pal.

In 2014 I wrote about Marie Fleming and her efforts to involve herself a test-case for assisted suicide for the lucid but physically infirm. The every life is sacred view is widely and deeply embedded in the social mores and law in Ireland. At least part of the underlying argument is about the thin end of the wedge: if anyone is allowed to end their own life with the help of others or if anyone decides that putting their beloved out of their misery is the kindest option . . . then all kinds of people will get offed because they are merely inconvenient, or exhausting, or smelly. And we probably all agree that it's wrong to terminate your long-suffering mother because she's occupying a big house which is near the golf-course and convenient to the shops. Nevertheless, I've visited enough elderly female relatives in a wide variety of nursing homes and conclude that existence in such a place is really only fun for the home's manager and shareholders.

Monday 17 September 2018

MSF Moutonecins Sans Frontières

You know how it is. You've had an exhausting weekend wearing out the sofa and shouting yourself hoarse at the stupidity of the referee. The sun is clipping the trees on its way to bed and you're lining up [as in R] the evening's entertainment. You are maybe also thinking about something to eat. The end of a perfect day.  Then there's a voice at the front door: one of our regular hill-walkers is there to report that there is a sheep in the Aughnabrisky river up of the hill above us. "It looks like it's stuck; it's certainly exhausted; it's got a red mark on its back; I tried to pull it out of the water but it was too heavy".  Well dang-and-blast-it, that is far too little information to identify the owner, so that I can allay my conscience with a phone call.

Harrrumph. I guess it's up to me, in my MSF scrubs. At least I had sort-of-directions as to which section of river "between the red van and the corner of the forestry". I threw on m'hat, seized my Nokia 3310 and set off North by North East. Despite recent rain, the river was still really low after the long hot dry summer that we've had and I started well down-stream of the most likely Sheep Down location and worked my way uphill. Soon enough I found the wet sheep half immersed in water and rather than filling my boots and soaking my clothes, I stripped off and plunged into the river. It didn't take long to wrastle the moribund cr'ature onto the bank and drag her clear of the water to a level place which could catch the last rays from the setting sun.  The red mark on her back was, if you  know what to look for, an S. I also made a note of the number on the ear tag EI-00445355-4639E. Job done! Clothes On.

When I got home and reported in to The Beloved, she suggested that the headline in next week's local paper might be "Naked farmer has way with sheep - drone footage".  But it wasn't me, I've been Garda vetted.

Sunday 16 September 2018

Sunday 160918 Misc

Stuff and nonsense

Saturday 15 September 2018


We have had quite out of the ordinary weather here in Ireland these last 12 months. It worries me because I now have a job that requires me to travel 40km every day to teach about 100 different students in any one week. It's not fair if, because I choose to live so remote, I fail to turn up to class because of adverse weather. Being brought up to a sense of duty, I get anxious at the thought of missing classes, so much so that on three occasions, I've found a bed in town when dire weather is predicted. We had Storms Ophelia (Oct '17) and Emma (Mar '18) which caused some disruption to my schedule but nobody died. It's got to be said that Ireland has a really mild climate and reasonable weather. I reflect on this every time there are floods in Bangladesh, Houston, even as "the wettest December in Ireland since records began" [= 2015] fades from memory.

This weekend, it is Hurricane Florence which is making waves especially in North Carolina where she made landfall round about breakfast time on Friday. The press seemed to be making a hullabaloo about the potential for disaster associated with slurry lagoons associated with pig farms. That's my sort of story so I offered to talk about it at next Tuesday's Wexford Science Café. The poor old WSC, is tottering along with a thin load of passengers and not enough drivers, but it needs someone to speak each month and it's easier for me to deliver the shite, because I can always fork through the backlog on The Blob.

The Guardian dug through the archives for a story that characterised the state of North Carolina as thick as pig dribble for being in denial about climate change and sea-level rise.  They passing legislation to prevent flood-protection action based on a 2012 report by its own Coastal Resources Commission that sea-level might rise by 990mm in the next 100 years. That was too disconcerting for the interests that were hoping to develop the Carolina coast so it looked like Florida's . . . and make themselves a fortune which they could spend before the sea washed away their whole project.

The rest of the press has been dining out on Carolina pork. As indeed have I this last week. Lst weekend, I bought a 900g bacon joint for €3.50, boiled it up and have eaten nothing else (bar some spuds and a handful of peas) all week. How can 'they' raise so much protein, sell it for so little and still make a profit? Well the answer to that is location, location, location. In Duplin and Samson counties, about a third of North Carolina's 9 million hogs are raised in intensive feed-lots. In those, dirt-poor, mostly black and hispanic, counties hogs outnumber people about 30-to-1. There is a certain irony in the fact that, going against the prevailing haemorrhage of capital, China's largest pig company has opened a plant in Duplin County - because labor costs are so low.

Local residents are hardly likely to complain about the smell because a lot depends on the industry: the arable farms are largely producing corn, soy and wheat . . . for the pigs. The pigs of NC deliver 5 million tonnes of wet animal waste each year. Much of this matter is stored in open lagoons quietly evaporating while replacing the coliforms with a succession of different bacteria. One potential effect is the nitrification - denitrification process which converts
  1. ammonia [pig-pee] to nitrites by Nitrosomonas spp.
  2. nitrites to nitrates by Nitrobacter spp.
  3. nitrates to N2 by Pseudomonas spp. and Alkaligenes spp.
That could be good post-Florence because some of the nitrogenous waste has bubbled up and is now back in the atmosphere. The rest is a disaster post-Florence if the 1000mm of rain causes these lagoons to spill over into the surrounding rivers. Then NC will have a eutrophication crisis because in normal water, nitrates are a limiting resource, its absence keeping the growth of algae and bacteria in check. Adding 1000s of tonnes of nitrogen rich slurry, causes an algal bloom as these small plants rapidly go forth and multiply.  Growth requires energy, energy requires oxygen; which is sucked from the water until all the fish, pearl mussels, crayfish and other invertebrates turn belly up and die:
Which causes a bonanza for other bacteria and fungi which have a brief gluttonous feast before they in turn die. It takes years to recover from such an event. And all this shite, with a dressing of dead fish will be delivered to the sea-shore in front of all the lovely condominiums built on a tsunami of climate change denial. And it's not like this has never happened before: in November 2016 lagoon flooding occurred with Hurricane Matthew; it was even worse with Hurricane Floyd in 1999. If you can't learn from your experience you deserve a v e r y  s l o w  h a n d  c l a p, lads.

Stop press: across the state line in South Carolina, they're leaving 650 inmates, and their guards, in prison while evacuating the surrounding county. Now there's a case for cost-benefit risk-assessment analysis. Remember that, when Mount Pelée erupted in 1902,  Louis-Auguste Cyparis survived because he was in locked in jail, while everyone else in the city of Saint-Pierre [N=30,000] died inhaling boiling air in the pyroclastic flow.

Friday 14 September 2018

Severn crossing

We went to hang out with the in August which is getting to be a habit. Getting there is a long day's journey. Leaving home at 0650hrs and not arriving in Bath until tea-time. The journey was  a lot longer and winklier when we travelled from Portsmouth to Ireland via Fishguard and Rosslare in the early 1960s. No motorways then, and we had to drive all the way up to Gloucester to cross the mighty river Severn on  the first bridge across the estuary. My father preferred that to using the Aust Ferry which was able to take a handful of cars across the water to Beachley on the Welsh side of the river. I'm not sure if it was the money or a mariner's distrust of the beat up boat and the rippy tides. Here is one chap who opted to take his limo on the ferry. If you watch the trib vid you can see the cables of the Severn Bridge in place in the background.
The ferry could have continued to offer an alternative, scenic, earth-bound, water-borne mode of transport but the new toll bridge charged only half-a-crown against the ferry's 9/6d - as near as dammit a quarter of the cost of the boat-trip. Accordingly, the ferry closed down the day the bridge opened for business. Sic transit.
The bridge was arrestingly beautiful but not without its problems. Down on the Waterford coast, where we spend a lot of time hanging out, the half-life of a steel wheel-barrow is about 18 months. Even a mile from the actual sea the corrosive salt-laden air makes short work of any exposed irons. The Severn is tidal, even periodically boring, so corrosion of the steel fabric of the bridge is a major concern. The main cable-stays are spun from 8,000 x 5mm steel wires, and the road bed is made from sections of box-girder that were fabricated on the shore, floated out into the stream and hauled up to height. That ABC method of construction is cheap and cheerful until, like in Sweetwater this spring the whole thing comes tumbling down.  You can only paint the outside of the cables and the road-bed is covered with asphalt, so inaccessible to easy inspection, let alone remediation against the rust. I've written about the extent of this corrosion problem in the context of 50,000 bridges the US Interstate system many of which were constructed in the same decade as the Severn Bridge.

In early 2017 His Trumpiness was quick to say that he would allocate $1,000,000,000,000 [$1trillion] to refurbishing the transport infrastructure of the USA. That's a fantastical amount of money: more than 10x the annual spend by the government of Ireland. But it is nowhere close to what will be required. Reflect along with Financial Pundit Pete Browne [aged 6 ½] that getting a single [albeit very large] dam back into working order is going to cost $1.1billion. From that analysis, the American tax-payer is going to have to find 50 times as much money as Mr Trump is prepared to cast in concrete. $50 trillion ÷ 325 million people is "only" $15,000 for every man-trans-woman-and-child, so that they can continue to drive cars where- and and when-ever they want in the American way. For perspective the new World Trade Center Towers 1 and 2 each cost $4 billion to build.  The Empire State Building, back in the day, cost $40 million == about $500m in today's money.

What I really want to write about here is the fact that the cables on the Severn Bridge are subject to another intrinsic-to-design problem - resonnnnnance. I wrote about this in 2014 w.r.t. trees and tall-buildings flapping about in the wind and breaking-step while crossing bridges. Although the Severn Bridge connects two quite low parts of the flood-plain, the structure is nevertheless at right-angles to the prevailing wind which funnels up the estuary from the Atlantic. At certain wind-speeds, characteristic for the length of the structural cables, the wind will start to strum them like a huge cello. the cables will hummmm back in tune, the wind will exaggerate that response and before you can clear the bridge of traffic the whole structure could be dumped onto the low-tide mud 40m below. But engineers know all about this, since the Tacoma Narrows Bridge shoook itself to death in 1940. What they do is make a model of the structure in a wind-tunnel to calculate the stresses under predictable wind-speeds and add Stockbridge dampers [L the dog-bones on an electricity cable] of particular mass on the ends of a subsidiary cable attached to the main catenary [prev]. The picture [L] comes from PylonOfTheMonth, with an nice essay on the theory of dampers. And, hey, they work.

The transport ministry in UK has since built a second bridge across the Severn to alleviate the traffic congestion and better integrate the industrial heartland of South Wales. More recently that eliminated tolls in one direction and doubled them in the other. This was primarily to avoid a tail-back from the toll plaza adding 600 stationary tonnes [3 lanes, each with 1 tonne of vehicle occupying 5m of roadway] of traffic all the way to the main 1,000m span across the river. In the mild, if salty,  Atlantic Gulf Stream falling ice is not usually a problem but on two occasions, one at each end of 2009, both bridges had been closed traffic when 10kg roof-piercing icicles started to rain down from above.
Enough? Enough! 

Thursday 13 September 2018


I have a bit of a reputation at work for a) often volunteering to do anything different b) always volunteering if there is a free lunch c) making a batch of flapjacks for the office on the slightest excuse. Yesterday I was up super-early to catch a bus to Dublin to sell Science at The Institute at the Irish Times Higher Options Event at the RDS. Volunteers like me could claim for their bus-fare and a per diem for all the food and lattés they would have to consume while away from their desk. It's something like €25 if you're away on Institute business for more than 5 hours. I paid myself €24.99 to make a cheese and rocket sandwich before I left home. I have a long and sorry record making the most of these 'entitlements'.
The coach-park Simmonscourt barn Pavilion [above looking empty by comparison] was rammed by the time I got there 30 minutes after opening (the bus was running late) and a huge mill of school-kids were lining up to get in. I had my exhibitor's wrist-band already, so slipped in the back door through the junk-food catering park. Inside it was roaring, the very high ceiling helped dissipate some of the noise of more than 1000 teenagers on a day out of school. There were colleges from all over Ireland, about 20 from the UK, 3 from the Netherlands (one of which was handing out stroopwaffltjes - win! for me), and others from Denmark, Poland, Hungary. All these European colleges teach through English and hope to persuade Irish kids to cut the apron-strings and live foreign. As always at these events, the stand attracting most attention was the Irish Defense Forces: and it's not only a boy-thing anymore.

I did [honest] shill for The Institute, especially for our new BSC in Brewing & Distilling, but was also giving advice to (for gawd's sake)
  • take a gap year rather than going straight from school to college. Especially if you don't have a clear course in mind. Heck, a lot can happen in a year and you may be able to bypass a marginal college course altogether.
  • immerse yourself in college: it's not just the means to an end; it's four years out of your young life and it would be a shame to be miserable for that amount of time just because the ordeal will land you a desk job [or flight-dispatcher, midwife, engineer, teacher, librarian] afterwards
  • don't ask me about careers after college. things will change utterly in the next five years. Jobs will emerge and be available that are not invented yet. Jobs that look comfortable and secure now will be replaced by robots. Heck-n-jiminy, the floor on which we stand might be permanently covered in water by 2023. College trains you how to think through and solve problems and manage your time effectively. If you can master those skills then you are a desirable gun-for-hire in any organisation.
  • don't over think the decision: success and happiness in college is mostly dictated by the incoming peer group (among whom you probably meet your life partner) and over which you have no control at all at all.
Apart from gratuitous advice I spent some time returned college prospectuses back to their home place. The event managers had put a wheelie-bin near The Institute's stand and I noticed it had a miscellaneous stack of brochures piled on the lid. Everyone was handing out brochures most of which weighed about 1kg. It seemed wasteful for them to have a useful life of about 20m between Stand-TCD and the bin. One of the student interns took his brochures back but asked "What are we like? Hasn't anyone in the room discovered On Line yet?". I am a bit old fashioned that way but I did suggest to some of the customers that they could have a look in the index to find the pages that interested them, rip 'em out and dump the rest of the brochure. That way they'd be less likely to herniate themselves carrying a sackful of paper back to school. Round about lunchtime the organisers delivered us a pallet full of more brochures because the first one was nearly empty. The delivery note on the top said "Count = 1430" and I guess they weighed a tonne. Me, I'd enter our brochure cover into the competition for dullest design in the room. But at least it didn't feature a stock-photo of clean and diverse young people 'having fun' at college.

Inside, all the brochures are dull dull dull; full of details and language that are alien to 18 y.o.s about to choose what to do for the next four years of their life. IT Tralee has a great cover: so good that I brought one home to show out school liaison people. But inside it has [random page] "the aim of this programme is to produce a technician <yawn> with a fundamental knowledge <zzzzzzzz> of the essential engineering skills associated with agricultural machinery" what [tf] does that mean? It means "Hey we'll teach you how to dismantle a PTO [the yellow shaft R] and put it back together without leaving any parts on the floor of the barn - this will win friends and earn money all over the parish back home".