Trump was undone by ignoring Covid. He might have won otherwise. Nov17

Trump was undone by ignoring Covid. He might have won otherwise....

Courtney Weaver writes in the FT Weekend Magazine (Oct 3/4 2020) that a huge part of Donald Trump’s support is the Evangelicals. Before you wonder who they are, just consider that there are an estimated sixty million of them in the US and it’s judged that about 85% of them voted for Trump in the 2020 election. That’s, well, a lot! So who are they? Well for one, their numbers are increasing because of “growing support among non-white evangelicals.” Latino immigrants to the US sometimes come from socialist countries in Middle and South America and are not impressed by the Democratic Party’s occasionally socialistic leanings. (For the best exploration you’re likely to find anywhere of what socialism is, see “Socialism: What is it and why do we need it?” by Graham Harrington on this website.) Evangelicals are preachers who claim to know God and often come on radio and TV telling people about God. They argue that the Bible should govern how we live our lives. They’re often represented by figures like Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell. Graham was so popular he was called “America’s Preacher” and Falwell, well you get an idea about him from this quote in reference to the 1954 Supreme Court decision to end segregation in schools: “If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God’s word and had desired to do the Lord’s will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made. The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line…The true Negro does not want integration…. He realizes his potential is far better among his own race.” (Source: Britannica.com) Check out Martin Luther King’s Letter from Jail, also on this...

What’s going on in America? Edward Luce explains. Nov13

What’s going on in America? Edward Luce explains....

What’s wrong with the American Constitution? A recent Edward Luce article in the Financial Times Weekend Magazine (October 17/18 2020) explains a lot about what’s going on in America. Like all good stories, it’s about people. He begins with Rosa Brooks, a law professor, who asks her students what they think of the American Constitution which is the user’s manual for America and it’s 233 years old. Her students are proud of it. She asks them if they’d just as quickly use 233 year old medical text books to study medicine today or 233 year old maps to navigate the seas. Hmm. The reality of the American Constitution is that it was a messy, more or less thrown-together document that tried to keep everybody happy in a very different age – the age of slavery. It calls for the separation of powers between the legislature (Congress,) the executive (the President,) and the judiciary (the Supreme Court.) These three power centres are supposed to be independent of each other. They’re each supposed to watch the other two carefully to make sure there’s no funny business. The point was to avoid ever returning to the way things had been in America before the American War of Independence – rule by a despotic king from afar (King George III of England.) Conservatives and liberals at war All that sounds pretty reasonable maybe but one doesn’t have to be a legal expert to see that things aren’t working out so well at present. Mostly the problem is the country is split down the middle into two competing camps: conservatism and liberalism, often known as the right and the left. On the right you have those who want to return to the days of the Constitution’s birth; they’re known as “originalists.” Think of people who take the Bible literally: do you believe that Adam and Eve actually existed, that whole bit about the snake and apple? Now fair enough if you do but it’s probably safe to assume that most people don’t take it literally; they likely view it as a parable, a demonstrative story to help us think about sin. Well, originalists take the Constitution literally which means that they believe that it should still be the lodestar, the guide, the rule book, never mind that there were only 4 million Americans when it was written or that women, Native Americans and blacks didn’t feature in the politics of the day. On the left tend to be those who believe that there are historical injustices (think of Black Lives Matter for instance) that need redressing and that the Constitution, while a great achievement of its day, is kind of out-of-date by now. But this of course is a simplification: there are far more groups and ideas on either side which complicates things even more. With Trump, the system of three power sources acting as watchdogs for each other has broken down. Trump doesn’t show any respect for it; neither therefore do his followers and there are 70 million of those. When you’ve got 70 million fans of course you’re going to keep making that pop music! Who’s the boss of the Constitution? The guardians of the Constitution, the people who decide what the Constitution actually means in real life are those on the Supreme Court. Clearly, Trump wants his own people in there – so do the Democrats. The problem is that the job of being a Supreme Court Justice is for life and it’s not easy to get rid of someone whose loyalties are to the other side. When a liberal Justice named Ruth Bader Ginsburg died recently Trump took the opportunity to replace her with Amy Coney Barrett who’s a member of People of Praise who believe in traditional gender roles: women are subordinate to men. With Barrett now in place the Supreme Court is mostly conservative: it’s 6-3. That means...

The Book of Ecclesiastes or “Stuff Trump hasn’t read.” Nov11

The Book of Ecclesiastes or “Stuff Trump hasn’t read.”...

I just read all of the Book of Ecclesiastes though it mostly makes no sense at all. Several times it does reveal the true purpose of existence though, which is nice.  “There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil,” it says; then he (he is only known to us as “a Royal Philosopher”) says it again a slightly different way: “I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.” Then he says it again: “Likewise all to whom God gives wealth and possessions and whom he enables to enjoy them, and to accept their lot and find enjoyment in their toil – this is the gift of God.” And then he says it a fourth time: “commend enjoyment, for there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves, for this will go with them in their toil though the days of life that God gives them under the sun.” Now, you might be thinking, “Alright, alright, we get it,” but just in case you might say so without really getting it he tells it a fifth time but this time with a twist: “Go, eat your bread with enjoyment and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved of what you do. Let your garments always be white; do not let oil be lacking on your head.” Funny how you’ll still likely find people saying that being gay is a sin because it says so in the Bible but not failing to...

“Use wore off the glamour of traditions:” “A Wheel within a Wheel” by Frances E. Willard...

Frances E. Willard is little known now; I only came across her myself recently and only today did I read her wonderful piece of prose about the bicycle called “A Wheel within a Wheel: How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle.” Who knew that the bike was a political as well as a leisure pursuit? Willard recounts how she was free and wild and able to grow stuff in her garden and follow “the occupations of the poulterer and the farmer ” because of her “inveterate opposition to staying in the house.” She was what we might call nowadays a “tomboy,” a term which I suspect is no longer politically correct. But everything changed for at the age of sixteen at which point she was entrusted with becoming a young lady: “the hampering long skirts were brought, with their accompanying corset and high heels; my hair was clubbed up with pins,” she had, in other words, to “cop on” probably so that she could find a husband. “My work then changed from my beloved and breezy outdoor world to the indoor realm of study.” Enter the bicycle! Cycling wasn’t entirely new to her at the age of fifty-three, a time when she was without her mother who’d died and was feeling that her “mental and physical life were out of balance.” She had tested out tricycles – the ones with three wheels – which women were more suited to, presumably because it was near impossible to fall off them. One fascinating reflection on the bicycle is that it was the means by which people who could never afford either the danger or the cost of a horse could nonetheless experience through “this bright invention […] the swiftness of motion which is perhaps the most...

Martin Luther King’s letter from prison, April 16, 1963 Nov08

Martin Luther King’s letter from prison, April 16, 1963...

Martin Luther King was imprisoned because the peaceful direct action in which he was involved and which he asserted was necessary was deemed illegal by law in the state of Alabama. His letter is addressed to his “fellow clergymen” because he believes their criticism of him is “sincerely set forth” though he admits he doesn’t usually respond to such criticism since to do so would take up all his time such is the volume of opposition to his activities. The outsider myth His argument in his letter is that he is not an outsider, not least because there are 85 affiliated organisations in the South with which he has legitimate business. (This charge of being an outsider is very cleverly taken up again later in the letter.) He was invited to the South because of these “organisational ties” which I think is a challenge to the church leaders who were likely threatened by the sheer force of his personality and the “inescapable network of mutuality” he identifies in Alabama and elsewhere. Are these detractors worried that they are those who “stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevances and sanctimonious trivialities”? Toward the end of the letter King expertly comes around again to the notion of the outsider in reference to “the early Christians [who, when they] entered a town [discommoded] the people in power” and suffered accusations of being “disturbers of the peace and outside agitators.” Underlying conditions and effects He is in Alabama and he is in prison because “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere” and “whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” This style of his of echoing (you see it repeatedly in the letter – no pun intended!) comes from the Bible which is often written with the...

“Enough is Enough” by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill Nov06

“Enough is Enough” by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill...

The authors argue here that GDP is not a good indicator of global health or happiness. It also rises in line with population and population has exploded – from 1.5 billion in 1900 to almost 8 billion in 2020. Our behaviour, especially when it comes to consumption, means that we’ve passed the “safe operating boundary” for three earthly activities: climate change; biodiversity loss; and the nitrogen cycle. Our ecological footprint, the land we need to make the stuff we want and to absorb the waste products of that activity, is heavy and large because our practices are unsustainable. Dietz and O’Neill successfully guide the reader through a story of where we’re going unless we change and while the book is certainly not jargon-free, what technical terminology there is is well-explained. For instance, the EROEI is simply “energy return on energy invested;” in other words, what’s the ratio of benefit to cost with respect to resources. In 1930, the EROEI of oil (the benefit of having the oil to use compared with the cost and effort of its acquisition and refinement) was 100:1; in 2005 that ratio was 15:1. Put another way, using oil has become more than six times less efficient in 75 years. We’re told – some are reminded – that GDP (gross domestic product) is linked directly with pollution: the more GDP, the more pollution, and yet we think GDP is synonymous with happiness but it’s not. Sure, income is good; we all like to have money to buy the things we like to have but this is only true to a certain point beyond which there are ever-decreasing returns. You only need a certain amount of money to be happy; after that it just becomes about competition, wanting to have more...

Voices to the Heart by Mannan Nazar...

It’s ravishing isn’t it The word beautiful is dull in comparison This majesticness of a summer’s dusk, Can you not feel it? How the distant hills line with the ocean of the sky Which is not a screaming blue but a quiet pink As the layers of some hard candy, Though itself is much softer to the eyes It echoes a silence in my heart that drowns my recent unrest, For in these times nature still prevails To remind us once more of what it means to be alive....

Dangerous politicians, Orwell and more Feb17

Dangerous politicians, Orwell and more...

One of the books I got recently is James Gilligan’s Why Some Politicians are more Dangerous than Others. He’s a psychiatrist and was trying to work out why there are periodic spikes and dips in lethal violence in The United States. He was able to use data to demonstrate that there’s a direct correlation between Republican presidents and rises in lethal violence and falls during the tenures of Democratic presidents. He tells us on page 3 that “When [he] subjected these yearly changes to statistical analysis, [he] found that in all three cases – for suicide, for homicide, and for total lethal violence (meaning suicide and homicide rates combined) – the association between political party and lethal violence rates was statistically significant.” What’s more, the data shows that murders and suicides rise and fall together which is remarkable because, as Gilligan rightly says, we don’t see suicides (the people that is) as being very similar to murderers. Suicidal people “are generally considered to be either sad or mad; they are patients usually seen in a psychiatric office or hospital. People who commit homicide are usually seen as criminals and considered to be bad. They are commonly regarded as needing not treatment but punishment, and they are found, for the most part, in prison, not mental hospitals or private offices.”  On the subject of motivation for murder and suicide, Gilligan argues that “shame [is] the proximal cause of violence, the necessary – although not sufficient – motive for violent behaviour.” He wonders whether “unemployment, relative poverty, and the sudden loss of social and economic status have been observed to increase the intensity of the emotion of shame.”  Orwell on Nationalism Then I turn to George Orwell’s essay, Notes on Nationalism. He writes that this is...

Americans, Brains and Ezra the Scribe Feb02

Americans, Brains and Ezra the Scribe...

The Monroe Doctrine This was what would now likely be termed an isolationist policy adopted by the Americans which stated that the Europeans had no business interfering in any way on the continents of the Americas – that is, Central and South America. The Americans supported independence movements in Chile, Argentina, Colombia and Mexico. They were the first to recognise Brazilian independence in May, 1824. The British approached the Americans in 1823 to make a joint declaration to the effect that ex-Spanish colonies in the Americas were irrecoverable to Spain. In the end, the Americans decided not to make a joint statement but a separate one stating, in a word, “Hands off the Americas, Europe!” (Source: The Treasury of the Encyclopædia Britannica, Viking Penguin, 1992 Brain Surgery Henry Marsh, in his book, “Do no Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery,” admits to causing harm to a patient in an attempt to help her. His efforts to remove a tumour from her brain resulted in paralysis. He writes that “[He] had been insufficiently fearful.” He wouldn’t feel at peace again until the next successful operation had been completed. (Source: Marsh, Henry, Do no Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery, Wiedenfeld & Nicolson, 2014 Ezra, the Scribe After the Judeans were banished sometime around the 6th century B.C.E. they were allowed to settle in Nippur, near Babyon. One of their tribe was Ezra, a scribe. He and some followers were tasked with going to Jerusalem by Artaxerxes, king of Persia. They had his protection but his interest wasn’t altruistic: he wanted them to establish an imperial outpost. Ezra was horrified by what he found in Judea: it was nearly deserted, and those who did live there were ignorant farmers who’d shed their...

Dull like the black star by Mannan Nazar...

The stars they spread their gaze on the platter we live, They see me but I fail to see, It is the uncertainty I have been told, They say the weather is not suited for the occasion, Weeks, years, months I am a boy longing for the sight, Is it selfish to ask, is it selfish to want the sparkles they have? To shine so bright like a black...

Words – by Mannan Nazar...

Phrases letters sentences full stops, They bring order like nature, though nature is hard to master, I find it daunting nonetheless,  a little less advantageous but by others your ideas are considered ranch, indigestible. Sorry, I can’t master the sea of words,  No one has taught me the ropes,  And the tides are now so much rougher than before, I hold my head higher than the tides looking out to the plot of land, Stretching my hand as far as I can in hopes for just a touch of what it has in offer,  But my hands like the rain get lost  Absorbed by the spongy...

Everything Passes Lyrics by Tom Healy...

From the cool side of the pillow  To the dark side of the street From smiling with my eyes To looking at my feet From the first rush of emotion To the dark side of the moon  From fixing dates in stone To saying yeah, real soon And everything passes And everything ends From running to meet up  To hoping we’ll be friends Yeah everything passes And everything ends From trying hard to breathe To trying to pretend  From thinking that you’ve got it made To wondering how you got here From thanking your lucky stars  To crying in your beer From seizing every moment  To wishing time away From trying to get closer  To vanish in the haze And everything passes And everything ends From running to meet up  To hoping we’ll be friends Yeah everything passes And everything ends From trying hard to breathe To trying to pretend Because nothing stays the same And entropy is real And everything passes That’s just the...

Creatures by Mannan Nazar...

Creatures live, Creatures die, Creature become sick and tired of lullabies, They cry, they wage wars, They even run your corner stores, They build buildings as tall as mountains,  They destroy them into ash fountains. Why you might ask? For the grass that grows or is it for what grows on the grass? I reply with an answer as simple as the intricacies of life, Ask my dad.  The face of...

Immrama Travel Writing Competition...

This is the 4th year of the Schools Travel Writers competition sponsored by Aer Lingus. It is affiliated with the Lismore Travel Writers’ festival held in Lismore between June 12th and 16th (inclusive.) The prize for the winner is a Chromebook and an Amazon voucher worth 100 euro. Students need to write a 500 word “Letter to Home” about their favourite holiday or journey. The winning stories will be published in Cara, Aer Lingus’s inflight magazine. There are two categories – Junior Cert. and Leaving Cert. For more information please go to...

Cork City Libraries short story competition, 2019...

Cork City Libraries are hosting a competition again this year which invites 14 to 18 year olds to write and submit a short story. More information can be found on-line. Also, the writer John Boyne will be in town over Easter on April 24th. More information about that can be found by contacting eibhlin_cassidy@corkcity.ie. To enter the short story competition you’ll need a cover sheet. I can provide you with one of these or you can go on-line and print one off...

The Cloud welcomes a new writer: Review of “Glass” by Robert Palmer Jan26

The Cloud welcomes a new writer: Review of “Glass” by Robert Palmer...

Warning: This article contains spoilers for “Unbreakable,” “Split”, and minor spoilers for “Glass.” “Glass” has a strange existence. It is a sequel to M.Night Shyamalan’s previous movies “Split” in 2016 and “Unbreakable” in 2000, released 16 years apart, and is a collaboration between Universal and Disney who made the previous two films. The big twist ending of ”Split” was that it was a sequel to “Unbreakable.” This means the trilogy’s completion took 19 years for most of which nobody knew it was a trilogy. However, the film is as strange and confusing as the circumstances of its production. The film begins with David Dunne (Bruce Willis), the protagonist of “Unbreakable,” encountering Kevin Crumb (James McEvoy), the antagonist of “Split,” on the street and using his powers of seeing visions of others, tracks him to a warehouse where Kevin has kidnapped a group of teenagers. Kevin has 24 separate personalities, known as the Horde, and one of them, The Beast, possesses superhuman strength. David and Kevin fight only to be taken into custody by a mental asylum once they are found.  The asylum also has in its care David’s nemesis, Elijah Price (Samuel Jackson), also known as Mr. Glass. Glass has brittle bones but has superior mental capabilities. The lead psychiatrist aims to prove that people with superhuman abilities are simply traumatised people with a medical condition. Remarkably, the titular character doesn’t appear until around half an hour into the movie and doesn’t get a line of dialogue until the hour mark has passed. Still, he steals the show in most of his scenes and where he doesn’t Kevin’s personalities take the spotlight. The way McAvoy can change his body language and accent in a single scene ranging from a nine-year-old boy to a polite mother to a teenage girl to the feral Beast is spectacular. The cunning plan by Glass is also one of the highlights and is a joy to watch unfold. The music is only present when necessary and drastically improves the atmosphere of a scene. This is where I stop singing this movie’s praises. The side characters in this movie don’t get much room to grow and all the characters introduced in this movie exhibit stiff acting or dialogue that is painful to witness. In particular, Casey, the returning protagonist of “Split,” is reduced from a smart character that escapes from the clutches of the Beast to a mere plot device that only serves to calm him down and also seems to have developed a sort of Stockholm Syndrome which I found disturbing. The pacing fluctuates between relatively fast to a snail’s pace, especially in the second act, where it also seems that David disappears for what feels like a long time. This is slightly redeemed by Mr. Glass and the Horde, who are simply more interesting characters. There are also many, many coincidences that only exist to advance the story, such as: why there are only around 3 security guards in the area where the three most powerful men in the world are being held? Why do all the main characters just so happen to be in the same location at the climax of the movie without contacting each other or some not even knowing each other? Now, the ending. Let me just say that Shyamalan’s trademark ending twists appear here in full force. One of them makes some sense in the story and the barrage of twist after twist and false ending after false ending made me wish for the end. David also had the table scraps of what seemed like a character arc but it was concluded simultaneously in the worst and funniest way possible. The grand conclusion to the heroics that appears in all three movies involves a puddle. I am not even joking. The last scene had some potential but went in the complete opposite direction of what I think should...

Cloud of Think competition and latest ideas: Spring, 2019...

CloudofThink – 2018 Creative Writing Competition AND MORE! CATEGORIES for COMPETITION THEME: THE ONE AND THE MANY: THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE COMMUNITY OR HOW TO BE ALONE WITHOUT BEING LONELY. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE AN INDIVIDUAL? WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BEING ALONE AND BEING LONELY? IS IT MORE DIFFICULT TO BE YOURSELF TODAY THAN IN THE PAST? HOW DOES A PERSON MAKE THEIR STAMP ON THE WORLD? WHAT IS THE ROLE OF CREATIVITY IN INDIVIDUALITY? CAN IT BE LONELY BEING ONESELF? Flash Fiction (50-250 words or between a quarter of an A4 page and a whole page)Short Story (500-2500 words or somewhere between two and ten pages)Poetry (unlimited but generally will fit in one page.) PRIZE DISTRIBUTION Winning entry in each category to be published on CloudofThink and also in Spioraid Signals at end of year. Book vouchers will be awarded too; the winner of each category get a €15 voucher for Waterstones.Runner-up entries in each category to be published only on CloudofThink. DEADLINE: MONDAY 25TH OF FEBRUARY IDEAS FOR MORE Is there time to invite a writer to the school? Could be done in conjunction with the launch of the competition. For example, Cork performance poet Billy Ramsell (very cool guy, worth looking up – if anyone could change a student’s mind about the value of poetry, it’s him). I believe Poetry Ireland has a fund for writers to visit schools (must be confirmed).Book Club Vibes and Scribes Wordsworth Classics (out of copyright). You can buy books that are out of copyright for very little in Vibes and Scribes. Bletchley Park idea:  a challenge on the website every week. Collaboration Book in teams, each team doing a different category. Social Media Reddit  – sub-reddits, different category: writing prompts. Opinion piecesPrinted anthology History of the school?WATA?...

Two letters from fathers to sons Dec10

Two letters from fathers to sons...

Julius Rosenberg wrote a letter to his son Michael on August 16th 1951. Julius was, a few months earlier, sentenced to death by Judge Irving Kaufman for selling atomic secrets to the Russians at a time when the US was “engaged in a life and death struggle with a completely different system,” that is, Communist Russia. Julius’ crime was to threaten democratic institutions not to mention American lives since the atom bomb was “a missile of destruction which can wipe out millions of Americans.”  A few months later Julius wrote to his son Michael saying that he was confident that he and his wife Ethel, “will be set free because Mommy and I are innocent and we will fight in every possible way and through the courts to win our freedom as soon as possible.” In that August 16 letter, Julius wrote to Michael that he’d make more pictures of trains, buses, cars and boats if he liked. He signed it, “Your own Daddy – Julius.”  A couple of years later Francis Crick wrote to his twelve-year-old son who was also called Michael that he had, along with Jim Watson, discovered the basic structure of DNA. He tells his son that “[their] structure is very beautiful” and that “D.N.A. can be thought of roughly as a very long chain with flat bits sticking out.” He draws a diagram of the double helix for his son. He goes on to assert that “we think we have found the basic copying mechanism by which life comes from life.” In 1962 Crick and two others received the Nobel Prize for their work.  References from Schrecker, Ellen, The Age of McCarthyism: A Brief History with Documents, St. Martin’s Press, 1994 and Usher, Shaun (ed.) Letters of Note: Correspondence...