Friday, 16 December 2011

RIP Christopher Hitchens (although you'd be the first to point out you have no other option)

I was genuinely saddened this morning when one of the first things I saw on my news feed was the death of Chris Hitchens. While I strongly disagreed with some of his points of view I had great respect for his intellect and articulateness and the whole hearted way in which he immersed himself in his convictions. And he always forced me to think, and think hard and that is one of the highest compliments I can pay any writer. Obviously, as an atheist, I agreed with most of his writings on the subject and was always a fan of his biting humour.

I also think he would have appreciated the flame war on twitter where Christians are behaving in a non-Christian manner (as some of them are wont to do) and threatening violence on those atheists who have begun using God is not Great in a hash tag as a tribute to the man (http://news.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474980917773) . I can't help but think that Hitch would be amused by this one last controversy.

The world has suddenly become a much dumber place over night and I'll end with thoughts the man himself had of death:

"I'm not afraid of death myself, because I'm not going to know I'm dead."

"I have often thought that when I do die it will be out of sheer boredom."

‎"I do not especially like the idea that one day I shall be tapped on the shoulder and informed, not that the party is over but that it is most assuredly going on - only henceforth in my absence... MUCH more horrible, though, would be the announcement that the party was continuing forever, and that I was forbidden to leave."

and finally, as I'm sure we'll be enduring endless nonsense in the coming days:

"If I turn out to be mistaken [about the Afterlife], at the bar of judgment, I shall argue that I deserve credit for an honest conviction of unbelief and must in any case be acquitted of the charge of hypocrisy and sycophancy. If the omnipotent and omniscient one does turn out to be of the loving kind, I would expect this plea to do me more good than any trashy casuistry of the sort popularized by Blaise Pascal. One could also fall back upon the less-principled and more shiftily empirical defense offered by Bertrand Russell: 'Oh Lord, you did not give us enough evidence'."

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Archbishop Martin urges lapsed Catholics to leave the church

http://www.independent.ie/national-news/archbishop-urges-lapsed-catholics-to-leave-the-faith-2959884.html



Diarmuid Martin has urged lapsed Catholics to have the maturity to leave the Catholic Church. One has to wonder how he expects them to do this considering it is the church who prevents formal abdication in the first place. On one hand I admire his openness and his willing to no longer have cultural Catholics make up the bulk of membership. On the other hand I really think he needs to have a word with the Pope about the relatively recent rejigging of Canon law that prevents people from leaving. Or did Diarmuid Martin not get that memo from his holiness. To me what Archbishop Martin says is eminently reasonable, and can only be a positive for secularists. In fact it is what non-believers and secularists have been wanting for ages, a bit of reality among both believers and lapsed. Let those who are really catholic be catholic, and those who don't really believe be honest about this.
Though I don't think he realises that absolute collapse the church would suffer if all the part-time, uncommitted, wishy washy, only-go-at-Christmas catholics left. They will be left with a bunch of old people and a hard core of fundamentalists, who were much more absolutist than even the clergy.

But back to my main bugbear - he needs to have a word about the Pope about this, or is it a mere ecumenical matter.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Breaded cheesy chicken and cheesy potatoes

I'm of the opinion that there are very few things that can't be made better by either a)breading them b)putting cheese on them or c)both

This is the second time I've tried the breaded cheese chicken combo and it's another staple favourite

Ingredients:
Boneless chicken breasts
Breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
three cloves of garlic chopped
two eggs
3tablespoons of milk
grated cheese of your choice (so far I've tried parmesan and mozzarella but the parmesan was far nicer)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C
Mix up the breadcrumbs, the cheese and the garlic in one bowl
Mix the soy sauce, egg and milk in the other
Place the chicken breasts first in your egg mixture and then in the bowl of breadcrumbs ensuring it is as coated as possible
Place in the oven for twenty-thirty minutes



Cheesy potatoes
Ingredients
Potatoes
Olive oil
2 cloves of garlic chopped
Black pepper
A mixture of herbs
grated cheese of your choice

Directions:
Preheat oven to 200C
Coat the bottom of a casserole dish with the olive oil
Slice the potatoes, place in the dish and coat with olive oil
Add the garlic, black, pepper and herbs and mix to ensure an even coating on the potatoes
Cover with grated cheese
Cook for about 40 - 45 minutes

Monday, 28 November 2011

Horizon: Are you good or evil?

I love the Horizon series and while this one is certainly thought and discussion provoking it doesn't sit so well with me. My first problem with the programme is the initial, outright use of the word evil. Are we really heading back to Biblical times with this one? Is there a psychological trait called evil? No, of course not. Throwing around words like evil in the 21st century is just ridiculous and we need to park evil at the door and let it be until the next time we want to have a witch hunt.

Secondly the word psychopath is bandied about with ease as the programmers know that the word is a very emotive one that will conjure up images of serial killers and chainsaw massacres. While psychopaths are disproportionately responsible for violent crime, most psychopaths are rarely psychotic. In fact most psychopaths are what the contributors to the show referred to as 'Successful Psychopaths', often business people, thrill seekers, political leaders. Successful psychopaths make good leaders, have a natural tendancy to be charming – and can intellectually understand emotion without the baggage of actually feeling someone’s pain.

Consider the Virtual Reality experiment with adult human guinea pigs who had control of an elevator to an art gallery. Five (stick) people were on the top floor; One person on the ground floor. A red person with something in its hand is let up to the top by the guinea pig and then, all hell breaks loose! The red person starts shooting everyone on the top floor. The guinea pig's reaction is to freeze or thumble around with the control, trying to put the serial killer red man on the ground floor where only one would die instead of five. However the delay usually ends in tragedy with many stick people dead. Now,what would happen if a security guard was the guinea pig? I presume they'd react quicker and save lives because of their training. What if a psychopath were tested? Well, they would should no emotion and will not freeze under pressure with result that fewer lives would be taken. Who is more dangerous to society in this situation? The average person who freezes or a psychopath? I'd choose the average person. We need some psychopaths in society I'm afraid...

A similar experiment was done with toddlers on the Horizon episode. It involved watching a puppet show and then picking out either the good cuddly toy who gave the ball back or the bad cuddly toy who ran away with the ball. Seventy per cent of the babies went with the good guy, suggesting that we're born with some kind of moral instinct. That's nice. Now this leaves thirty percent who didn't go with the good guy. Does this mean these babies are psychopaths? Not necessarily. Some of the babies fell asleep and some of them got distracted, some of them probably liked the colour of the bad puppet. No doubt there was possibly one little Kevin that we may or may not need to talk about. But on the whole it was inconclusive and I felt not really necessary to the show.

What was much more interesting was the work of Professor Jim Fallon – a neuroscientist who discovered he could identify psychopaths from brain scans – and that all had a variant of a gene which predisposed them to violent behaviour, the warrior gene. On testing his family he discovered that one person had both the brain pattern and the genetic make up of a psychopath and could be categorise as “high risk”. And yes – it was him. However, what Fallon established from the fact that he was not a killer, was that nurture – a good upbringing – could override the “natural” predisposition to violence. And that many psychopathic killers had suffered horrendous abuse as children.

This could have been an excellent episode but instead it was mediocre at best due in particular to dumbing down complicated issues and hamming up the narrative with questions such as “Are babies born evil?”. Your common sense will probably have given you the answer before you’re informed of the scenic route our friends in white lab coats took to get there: you can have the wrong genes, the wrong chemicals and bits of your brain scan the wrong colour, but unless you also had the wrong childhood, the wrong marriage or fought in the wrong war, things will probably turn out okay for you. Nature, nurture, free will, what side of the bed you got out of this morning - there’s just too much fuzzy greyness for black-and-white science to deal with in matters related to the mind..

Friday, 18 November 2011

Pizza is a vegetable now!

"The US Congress has deemed that pizza is a vegetable. The bizarre move, which was decided in a vote on the annual spending bill for the Department of Agriculture, happened for purely political reasons.The crucial bill had oversight over subsidised school meals, and the department was seeking to restrict pizza, chips and starchy vegetables from the menu for school children in a bid to combat child obesity. Politicians had been lobbied heavily by the frozen food industry who didn’t want to see a major revenue stream cut off given how often pizza is found on the menus of school canteens in the US. After some debate, Congress voted that anything containing two tablespoons of tomato sauce can be labelled a vegetable, putting pizza into the vegetable category."



So let me wrap my head around this one. It had apparently been decided that to combat child obesity that state sponsored school dinners should contain more fruits and vegetables presumably and less junk food. But due to lobbying by the frozen food industry Congress have decided that anything containing two tablespoons of tomato sauce is a vegetable. The mind boggles. Not to mention that the tomato is actually a fruit in its raw state! But that's not the issue obviously. Tomato sauce is not and should never be classed as a vegetable or fruit. It is NOT one of your five a day no matter what Pizza Hut says. It's worrying that the Americans may just end up eating five pizzas a day to catch up but on the bright side the next generation are all going to be too fat to invade anywhere. The US has the highest rate of obesity in the world and they seem to think they can cure this by just classifying whatever they want as vegetables. They should just put two tablespoonfuls of tomato sauce on every congress member who voted this in and let the kids eat them instead.

Somewhere Jamie Oliver is crying into his pesto!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Oh Chuck...

Remember how great we all thought Chuck Norris was? Remember all the jokes and posters? Remember how we laughed that "Chuck Norris is so tough that..."

Well it turns out that it's all a big sham and Chuck Norris appears to have been beaten around the head and left bruised and bloodied by the Andrew Wakefield stupidity stick. In his column for the 'Human Events' website which boasts "More powerful conservative voices" Norris seems determined to drag up the link between vaccinations and autism yet again. Despite the fact that it has been over ten years since this idea first hit the headlines. Despite the fact that Andrew Wakefield was found guilty of serious misconduct and using un-scientific methods in his findings and struck off the medical register. Many people still believe that there is a strong link between the MMR (or all) childhood vaccinations and the onset of autism. It begins to feel a bit like Groundhog day every time some celebrity who doesn't have two brain cells to rub together weighs in.

I'm not saying people shouldn't be questioning and sceptical about what they or their children are being vaccinated with. I'm the complete opposite I think a good dose of healthy scepticism would keep people on the right track. What I have a problem with is someone taking Chuck Norris' word over people who are qualified to to their jobs and reams and reams of data from experts in cell biology, biochemistry or toxicology. Chuck Norris may be a master in martial arts but he is no doctor. A wise man once said "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing" and Norris, like Jenny McCarthy has just enough knowledge to be very dangerous. Norris maintains that Mercury in Thimerisol used in vaccines is what can cause disorders on the autism spectrum. I'm not going to go in to the ins and outs of why this is not the case. Even if it were many states in the US have removed Thimerisol from their vaccinations and yet instances of autism continue to rise.
This is scaremongering to a most dangerous degree. With every medical procedure we have to take a risk however big or small. If you have a tooth pulled there's a chance that your jaw may get broken, if you have an anaesthetic you risk nerve damage and if you have a vaccination the same stands there's risks involved. BUT with every medical procedure we weigh up the minuscule chance of something bad happening versus the good that will come of getting the procedure done. In the case of MMR the child has a small, completely unproven risk of developing autism or has the much bigger and more dangerous risk of developing a lethal disease. The current generation has little experience with disease because the majority were vaccinated in the eighties. In the last number of years diseases like measles, mumps and rubella are on the rise in a big way. The way we have obliterated many of the world's diseases is through vaccine and now it looks as if some people want to bring them back again.


As I said a healthy dose of critical thinking and scepticism is a good thing but I would prefer if people looked to legitimate sources rather than a self professed "Martial arts master, actor, and concerned citizen" with no medical training whatsoever.

The Chuck Norris article is here: http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=47383 and for further reading on the MMR/Wakefield/autism debate, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure by Paul Offit.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Wearing of the Poppy

So it's that time of year again when some people will wear a poppy and get flack for being a West-Brit, some people won't wear a poppy and get flack for living in the past and some people won't care too much one way or the other and will just let the whole thing pass them by (what are we commemorating anyway?).

This is still a time and place in Ireland where every Barstool Republican will vilify poppy wearers in mostly anti-English terms. And there are still people who legitimately argue that the money raised from the sales of poppies went to give aid to those who were in the infamous Black and Tans, those who perpetrated Bloody Sunday etc. Nowadays people argue that poppy wearing supports those in Iraq or Afghanistan - yet no army ever picked their battleground. Even in Britain itself the wearing or not wearing of the poppy can be very controversial. The rule that was enforced by the BBC that all presenters must wear one takes away from people's choice. Dara O'Briain didn't don a poppy one year  and said his hate mail was so vast that he wore it the following year, which meant he merely replaced British hate mail with Irish hate mail. Robert Fisk in an excellent article for the Independent recalls his father (who had fought in the Great War) eventually stopped wearing the poppy because he felt it was a war that had been fought on lies and it sickened him to see "so many damn fools" wearing it to look patriotic, or to fit in when they had no idea of what it was like. (article here and well worth a read http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-do-those-who-flaunt-the-poppy-on-their-lapels-know-that-they-mock-the-war-dead-6257416.html)

I doubt there is a person in Ireland that doesn't have some ancestor who fought or died in either of the World Wars for the British Army. Indeed in the case of WWI all of our Irish ancestors were technically British. I know in my own family I have two great-uncles who were killed in action in WWI and my grandfather fought in WWII. And there are many whose relations are still fighting and dying in that same army.

Which brings us back to the poppy. The poppy was chosen as the symbol to commemorate the sacrifice made by they young men in WWI because of its blood red colour and the fact that it was the only flower that deigned to grow on the fields of the Somme. It has been immortalised in many poems following the Great War. As a symbol, the poppy has ancient origins, much of which focus on the narcotic properties of the flower.Although the poppies of Flanders do not contain opium, the association with narcosis remains. This association is especially important in the ritual of remembrance, helping to console the bereaved. Another aspect that makes the poppy important is its very commonness. Poppies grow virtually anywhere, and because the poppy is found in such large numbers, it is fitting that it is a symbol strongly associated with the first major industrialised war, where everything was done on a large scale: bombardments, attacks, battles, casualty lists. Here poppies can be used to symbolise the masses of soldiers who fell in battle. Poppies, like those who enlisted in the army, are also easily obtained, due to their very availability. Indeed, the throngs of men standing to enlist outside army recruiting offices seen in many photographs from the initial stages of the First World War, can be likened to masses of poppies found on the battlefield. Poppies need no preening or cultivating, they grow, unlike the finer rose, without having to be trained or tended. Poppies are a short-lived flower - it symbolises well the soldiers - the life expectancy of the front line troops was also very brief.

And this brings us back again to the young men that fought and often gave their lives. Over the past couple of days I've been researching and trying to get my head around our abhorrence to commemorating our war dead in some way. It doesn't have to be with a poppy but surely there could be some way of venerating the sacrifice made by so many young men of this country. More men from Ireland were killed in battle during the Great War than were during any other conflict, more men were killed in WWI than were killed during all the troubles in Northern Ireland. Those who weren't killed were effectively ostracised from their communities on their return from war. Let us not forget those men, who died either because they had been peddled the great lie that independence was just around the corner once they fought first, the lie that was peddled by the Irish alongside the British. Let us not forget men for whom times were so hard that they would take the King's shilling so long as it put food on their family's table. Those men who have been whitewashed from our history with an efficiency Stalin would have envied.

So wear a poppy or not - it's up to you and if you have personal and or political reasons for not or doing so then your wishes should be respected. Ultimately it is an expression of personal freedom and wasn't that what the soldiers in the Great war and WWII (and could be argued the Irish war of Independence) fighting for. Whatever you do cast an occasional thought to those young boys who died for us to get to where we are today. The dead of the 1914-1918 War are to some just names on paper but to others they represent the generation which lost its youth as brave young men went to War in a cause which was to unite families in grief. For too long we pushed to one side their memory forgetting that bravery wears many uniforms. Their life sacrifices must always be a constant reminder to us of how our neighbours suffered, why our neighbours grieved and why their dead must always be remembered.

In memory of Lance-Corporal Patrick Flynn killed in action 14th September 1916  and his brother Private Christopher Flynn killed in action 28th July 1917 

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

What the hell guys?

Honestly I can't leave the country to you for five flipping days. I feel like a parent returning home to my teenage children's den of inequity to clean up! 
Monday last I'm flying out in typical, Irish weather, a few hours later having landed in Spain I check the news to find someone forgot to switch the tap off when I was gone and you managed to convert most of Dublin into a swimming pool. You also let some X-Factor dude announce Irish tour dates.
Tuesday I find out you're shipping bikes from the "Bike to Work" Scheme to Africa because apparently you're too lazy to use them (mind you they'd want to be fitted with life rafts given what happened on Monday). But we can't afford to have those modifications because we're going to have to pay for the fire safety rejigging at Priory Hall. You also let Martin McGuinness look good by slam dunking Sean "Fianna Fail bagman" Gallagher over payments received.
Wednesday there's a fall in profits for Amazon - I knew I bumped up their balance sheets alright, but seriously three days out of the country and they start losing money.
Thursday you went to the polls and I'll give you a reprieve on choosing the least bad of the not so magnificent seven. As I settle down with my final nights bottle of beer I'm just hoping you won't feckin' elect Dana. My mother sends me a funny but not so family friendly text message giving a run down of some of the choice candidates (something about McGuiness blowing the head off you, Dana giving you all kinds of everything and...well I'll leave the Norris one up to your own imagination)
Friday I return home to good old wind and rain again. I sit for two hours in the bloody traffic because I'd forgotten the Bank Holiday (that must be Linda's English influence rubbing off on me ;)). And now I'm just having a look around to see what other damage you've caused. In future when I go away I'll have to get a babysitter. Probably my mother - she did manage to feed himself for nearly a week and that's no mean feat!


Friday, 21 October 2011

A Storm of Swords: 1 - Steel and Snow

Okay I think these books are beginning to turn me into a bigger insomniac than I already am, judging by the amount of nights himself finishes reading and rolls over to sleep while I'm hanging on for "just one more chapter...".

I'm a bit sorry that I wasn't reading the all-in-one US version because the last few chapters of this book really ramp up the suspense and action and I found myself turning the pages faster and faster. Then suddenly, I turned over only to be confronted by the Appendices, which take up a rather hefty 50 pages or so. Although I really enjoyed the story, hitting this situation invoked an even bigger feeling of anti-climax than is usual when reading a good book. That said I'm sure my poor little wrists are probably quite thankful not to be holding on to a huge book every night, particularly considering my fall last week and the bone in my left wrist is now jutting out even more than it already was.

Tyrion Lannister remains a favourite of mine for his quick wit and self-deprecating humour. It also seems as  the books move on more and more characters find things to blame him for, no doubt by the end of the series Tyrion will be held to blame for all the world's woes if it keeps up. I'm always wary of saying that I like a character because Martin seems to have no qualm about killing off anybody and I do think the books would lose something if Tyrion were to die.

Sansa Stark become almost likable in this book also. She grows up and hones her wits. She has learned to trust nobody and knows that nothing is ever as it seems. While she will never be a patch on Arya and in no way could she survive the way the younger Stark girl has, she certainly is managing to survive the lion's den   though she does make her foolish girl mistakes every now and then (I don't entirely trust Ser Dontos, I don't know why. I think she should have left with The Hound).

The shock to me in this book is that I'm also starting to like Jamie Lannister, granted he's as power hungry and obnoxious as the rest of them but the addition of chapters from his point of view lend him some humanity. I was going to say that he lacked some of Cersai's ruthlessness but then I remembered how he chucked Bran Stark out the window in the first book. In other words you could probably enjoy a pint with Jamie provided you never turn your back on him.






Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Remember those faster than light neutrinos?

Great, now forget them! Turns out the neutrinos along with not mutating and heating up the planet are also not travelling faster than the speed of light, they're just travelling *close* to light speed. Boo! Hiss! A Dutch scientist has completely rained on CERN'S parade. It's all very complicated but essentially what it boils down to is that the GPS satellites used to measure the departure and arrival times of the racing neutrinos were themselves subject to Einsteinian effects, because they were in motion relative to the experiment. This relative motion wasn't properly taken into account, but it would have decreased the neutrinos' apparent journey time. Or something to that effect, basically they don't go faster than the speed of light until someone from CERN comes back to tell us otherwise (yes yes I know you're all waiting with baited breath).

My point anyway is that this is what I love about science. "Science knows it doesn't know everything, otherwise it would stop." We're not going to see a cataclysmic schism akin to the Reformation over this. The CERN scientists will turn around and go "Bugger, perhaps we should try this again." And someone else will be waiting in the wings to test and test again until they break their big giant Haydron Collider and have to rebuild that all over too. We do not have to rely on faith, the CERN scientists are not going to say that the Dutch scientist is wrong because "It is writ in the great book that the neutrinos have traveled faster than light, and those who believe may also travel at the speed of light. And those who lack faith will forever be condemned to travelling on Ryanair!" It doesn't work like that, the Dutch scientist is not going to be burned for being a heretic or turn into the Martin Luther of the neutrino world. All that's going to happen for the next while is that you'll have to cancel your E-Bay bid on that Delorean because you're stuck here for another while.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

A Clash of Kings - George R.R. Martin

I've tried as much as possible not to include spoilers :)

The first book in this series set up a clear precedent in terms of Martin's writing style. This author likes to carry the reader through the action using the perspective of different characters, has no qualm in killing characters that would never die in most books, and enjoys shocking his audience with totally unforeseen events. In the end of "A Game of Throne" we find out that dragons have just returned to this world, a fact that left most readers eager to jump right into "A Clash of Kings" as soon as they could. Himself's copy disappeared so I was left longing for a couple of months!

Summer has ended after more than ten years, and everyone is getting ready for the long winter that is certainly coming. But there are other much more important things to consider, because after the death of King Robert, the Seven Kingdoms are divided once more. Joffrey was named King, but there are already people challenging his right to the throne on the basis that his mother, Cersei, has not borne any children by King Robert. All the kids are the result of Cersei's affair with her brother Jaime, and this is slowly becoming vox populi. Joffrey is the most dislikable character I have come across in a long time - seriously the kid is a little shit who has now become king. There's strong sociopathic tendencies to him where he likes people to die for his own entertainment and has no loyalty whatsoever to anyone except himself. Of course a lot of this is Cersai's doing, she put him on a pedestal for all his life and when it comes to sparing the rod someone should have kicked seven shades of shit out of Joffrey years ago. At least Tyrion manages to slap a little sense into him. There is a duality to most characters in the book but Joffrey is not one of them. He's an evil fool who thinks he's playing a game.

Joffrey is being challenged from multiple fronts, Stannis and Renly, King Robert's brothers, are both seeking to rule in the Seven Kingdoms. Meanwhile, Robb Stark is consolidating his power in the North and is ready to fight. Of course there are other layers that complicate matters even more, since Robb holds Jaime Lannister as a prisoner, while Cersei controls the destiny of Robb's sister, Sansa. The girl is betrothed to Joffrey, but now she does not want to be his wife anymore and is being held against her will.

Gendry, Robert's illegitimate child and real heir to the throne does not even know about his rights, and has been taken out of King's Landing by a company that is traveling towards the Wall to join the Black. Arya is also part of this group, traveling disguised as a boy and trying to escape unharmed from Cersei's reach. Another character that I feel must be mentioned is Tyrion, Cersei's brother, and new Hand of the King. The dwarf is my favorite character so far because of his intelligence and the way in which he compensates for his physical disabilities with his crafty schemes. I also like the fact that it is almost impossible to determine whether he is using his ploys to go about his evil ways or to find justice for those that deserve it. He is loyal to his family the Lannisters as a whole but he hates them all. I love the Tyrion chapters and can't wait for them to roll around.

This duality in most of the characters is one of the main factors that make this series so enjoyable. It is uplifting to find an author that has no fear from separating himself from the traditional good vs. bad pattern and presents the readers with more human characters, who possess both good and bad qualities. Even Cersai who is arguably one of the most 'evil' characters in the book has a back story to allow you some sympathy - after all lying under the fat sweaty Robert Baratheon from the age of girlhood while he pines for Lyanna and whores around would drive many a good woman to murder. In a way I could liken her to Sansa, Sansa has become a more likable character in this book because she's had to grow up. She's no longer the simpering little lovestruck fool that she was in the first book and if she were forced to marry Joffrey I could see her too turn out like Cersai.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

"Great" Works of Literature that you don't find all that great.

Mark Twain once said whenever he read Pride and Prejudice he wanted to dig up Jane Austen and beat her to death with her own shin bone (and this before Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) So I am heartened that it is not just mere mortals like myself that struggle to see what is so great about some of the greats.

To my eternal shame I once bluffed an entire module on James Joyce using sparknotes (quite successfully I might add - I got a first in that module). Oh yes I could sit in Professor McGuinness' tutorials and earn his wan smiles as he gruffly committed "Good insight there Dalton" and then went to pick on the others. But in truth, despite being a voracious reader, I bought Ulysses, read the first chapter, and then placed it in my locker where it lived until the end of the academic year when I brought it home and it now lies abandoned I don't know where. Likewise with Portrait of an Artist and Dubliners (although I was a bit more successful with the latter and managed about four of the stories). And what's worse is I've met bloody loads of French and Germans and Italians who've read the whole bloody lot plus Finnegan's Wake cover to dusty bloody cover. Who, upon hearing that I'm Irish, and I love to read, and I have a degree in English want to sit down and enthusiastically talk Joyce with me. And then I have to rouse up that old knowledge from my sparknotes so they won't know.

On an episode of South Park a few years ago Cartman et. Al got all excited about reading The Catcher in The Rye, that (supposedly) most scandalous of novels that's been offending the older generation for years. They were, of course, horribly disappointed. As Kyle says, it's "just some whiny annoying teenager talking about how lame he is." Is there more to it than that? Lots of people seem to think so but it seems to have completely passed me by. But maybe coming from the 'South Park' generation swear words are not as provocative anymore. But still I can't buy into the myth that Caulfield is some sort of representative American teenager, even taken in his time. And that fantasy about catching children in a field of rye - what's all that about.

So since philistinism loves company feel free to align yourself with the likes of me, Twain and the South Park kids and tell of the Great works of literature that aren't all that great.





Friday, 7 October 2011

I like grumpy old men

Sometimes I think certain old people should be given a free pass to say what they want within reason because they've been on the planet for a lot longer than most of us. Like the way my Nana maintained that climate change was caused by Neil Armstrong landing on the moon and won't let me contradict her because I wasn't born and she was "so there!".

And I have a particular penchant for grumpy old men, mostly I'd love to give them a hug but they'd hate me for it. And I really want to give my latest favourite grumpy old man: Maurice Sendak a hug after reading his latest interview.

Sendak (author of Where the Wild Things Are) is 83, and he lost his partner of 50 years Eugene Glynn in 2007 so he gets a free pass. Not to mention some of his extended family being destroyed in the Holocaust. Something he quietly alludes to when his interviewer sees his German Shepard, Herman : "He doesn't know I'm Jewish"

He hates a lot of things, most of which I agree with (apart from the Roald Dahl thing, I love Dahl).

On E-books he says "I hate them. It's like making believe there's another kind of sex. There isn't another kind of sex. There isn't another kind of book! A book is a book is a book"
On the American Right: "These Republican schnooks would be comical if they weren't not funny."
On New York: "You get pushed and harassed and people grope you. It's too tumultuous, it's too crazy!"
On Rupert Murdoch:"His name should be what everything is called now." But he publishes you! "Yes!
Harpers. He owns Harpers and I guess the rest of the world, too. He represents how bad things have become. But I don't know a better house. They're all in trouble. They're all terrible."


He says his rage is only an echo of what it formally was when Eugene was alive, which makes me wonder what a crochety old character he must have been beforehand. But Maurice has the essence of what makes certain children's authors great. The capacity to tell the truth and show the darkness to children. Beyond a certain age children no longer want things sugarcoated. Childhood can be vicious and it can be lonely and it is wonderful men like Sendak (and Dahl) who provide the material for children who don't fit the Famous Five goody goody roll.

As for Maurice I hope he finishes his new book and above all I wish him what he calls a "yummy death", may he sing like a lark.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/oct/02/maurice-sendak-interview?newsfeed=true




Tuesday, 4 October 2011

In the Garden of Beasts - Love and Terror in Hitler's Berlin - Eric Larson

Being a fan of Larson since he wrote The Devil in the White City which followed the architect Daniel Burnham and the serial killer H.H. Holmes, I've been really looking forward to reading In the Garden of the Beasts. Also while I have a keen interest WWI II history I have not read as much as I would like about the preceding period
Larson follows Dodd, reluctant American Ambassador to Germany and his family, in particular his daughter Martha as they are situated in Berlin. Although a work of non-fiction, this like Devil reads like a novel, painting a vivid picture of life in pre-war Berlin, and using extracts written by Dodd and Martha. Dodd's lame and tame attitude means he does not see evidence of the growing anti-semitism around him for at least a year (although there is an interesting aside, in the want to save money he rents his embassy house from a Jewish Banker who insists on remaining to live in the 4th floor with his mother, knowing that the safest place for a Jew at this time is in the American Ambassador's house). Martha is more of a social animal than her father and quickly embraces the Berlin scene and becomes involved in a number of affairs with high ranking officials including the head of the Gestapo and an NKVD (KGB) agent.
While I still think the Devil in the White City is a greater achievement I loved the insight into pre-war Berlin from a personal aspect and it aided in seeing how easily war escalated when all parties involved at their heads firmly in the sand.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Carrots

Forgot to add my new favourite recipe to my most recent post but since I've told Linda about the recipe and my blog it's only fair I put it up now (because she'll probably check it tomorrow and she said she had lots of carrots.

Carrot and Lemon
Ingredients

  • Carrots (duh!)
  • Lemons (ditto)
  • Sugar 
  • Water
Method

  1. Put the carrots in a pot, grind the rind of a whole lemon over them.
  2. Juice one or two lemons (enough to cover the carrots)
  3. Add a quarter cupful of water to the juice and a spoon of sugar
  4. Pour over the carrots, place over  a low to medium heat and cook until soft

My Dad (inspired from a thread on boards)

Have been browsing The Gentleman's Club on boards (bold I know since I am of the XX Variety) about memories of your dad.
Now I am lucky enough to have both parents still living and hopefully will be for a longtime yet, but I was thinking of some favourite memories that I have of my dad.
Some of them I can't remember quite so clearly but I have the photos to prove they happened.
There's a lovely photo tucked away in my parents house of me when I was about two sitting on the kitchen table in a little blue fuzzy all in one babygro (fashionista oh yes!), holding a box of Johnson's Baby Powder (I'm guessing there had been a nappy change just previously and since my sister wasn't born at the time I'm going to have to own up to that one) and my Dad is standing behind me and we both have HUGE, MASSIVE,THE TYPE THAT CAN'T BE FAKED grins on our faces. This is one of the ones that I can't remember being taken but I look like I'm having a ball (probably because I've just had my nappy changed.
Another photo of me and my Dad and he's wearing a sparkly, tinsel, multi-coloured wig and grinning like a cheshire cat. I do remember this one. Dad rarely drank (Christmas and Weddings) and had just come in from a rare night out and my Mam and me did what we always did when Daddy was drunk - thought it was hilariously funny and took photos of him. In this one we had put the wig on him and he was either lauging too much or not sober enough to prevent it. It's looking back at times like that, that I'm always glad that my father was good natured and silly when drunk.
As I came into my late teens and early twenties on the (still rare) occasions that my Dad would come home from the pub I loved the nights we sat up and had our long talks about everything and anything. I really am lucky that I can talk to both my parents about anything and these talks were legendary and usually carried on until my Mam came down and ran us both up to bed.

I remember how proud he was when I finished college and when I did my H.Dip. and how happy he was when I got my first teaching job. He had driven me to lots of interviews and been there for the subsequent rejection letters and was brimming when I finally told him I had got the job.
My recent favourite memory is my Dad walking me up the aisle to Van Morrison's Days Like This, a thoroughly fitting song for my wedding day, hearing the love for me in his speech (behind the slagging of course!) and dancing a father-daughter waltz with him. I am thankful to my Dad for so much and I firmly believe that the reason I have so much respect for myself in relationships is because of the way that my Dad treats my Mam and through that he taught me that I deserve to be treated with love and respect too. 
My Daddy is one in a million and if I live to be a hundred I will never be ashamed to say that I am still a Daddy's Girl.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BteIwbKU_iQ

Thursday, 1 September 2011

In Search of perfection

So I've found myself in a mundane position. Since I'm not working (though I am urgently and actively seeking) I'm now a housewife, or maybe a newly wed. Newly wed doesn't sound as old. The problem is what does a housewife do? Tidy up? Not my strong point. I find myself well into adulthood and still living in the cluttered mess I did ten years ago, only the location has changed. Luckily I have a husband of infinite patience and modern ideas so he won't beat me for this transgression.

On the other hand, I can cook. This came as a huge surprise to me. When I was in secondary school I avoided 'girly'subjects such as Home Ec in favour of German and Accounting. When I first moved in with Himself my parents used to joke that he'd starve because I could barely boil an egg. But it turns out that cooking (and baking) was merely a much hidden talent for me. Not only am I good at it but it relaxes me, particularly after a hard day of educating, mammying, disciplining and taming students and I enjoy the process (except when other people butt in, then I'm likely to channel the spirit of Gordon Ramsey to make them leave my kitchen).
As we have friends visiting this weekend and in honour of my blog title I'm making my much lauded pan fried brie.
Directions are as follows:
Ingredients
a block of brie
2 eggs
half a cup of milk
Flour
bread crumbs
Olive/veg oil
A chutney of your choice (I love cranberry or apple)

Directions

  1. Whisk the eggs and milk in a bowl
  2. Take the outer skin off of the brie and chop into chunks
  3. Rub the chunks of brie in the flour and then put into the egg mix
  4. Put the breadcrumbs on a plate and roll the individual chunks in the breadcrumbs until fully coated)
  5. Put a frying pan on the hob at a medium heat and with lots of oil
  6. Fry the brie until brown turning occasionally add more breadcrumbs as you cook if needed
  7. ENJOY
The first time it's made it can be tricky but when you get to grips with the recipe it's very easy to make. This is one of my favourite recipes and Himself loves when people come to stay as he knows I'll make it. It's absolutely addictive.