Saturday, 24 November 2012

Not crossing that thing

.. said the horse to the rider across from our house. If you want to cross it, get off.

The laptop has been in the shop again, so posting has been more sporadic than usual.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Point of view

The Girl and I were singing "Whiskey in the Jar," an Irish folk song about a bandit who is captured and must face punishment.

Do you like the man singing the song, the bandit in the story? I asked.

"He's not a nice man," The Girl said, and I agreed. It's first-person, I said, and he's telling the story, so he's called the narrator, I said. But we don't necessarily believe what he says, so he's an unreliable narrator.

We talked a bit about how to tell a story first-person vs. third-person, and past and present tense. "What about telling a story second-person?" The Girl asked. "Or future tense?"

I explained that was nigh-impossible; if the first person is "I crossed the river," and the third person is "She crossed the river," then the second person would be "You crossed." But you didn't, and if you did you don't need to be told the story. The same is true of future tense; you can say something happened, or is happening now, but it's difficult to tell a story about what will happen.

The Girl thought a moment. "I own a story," she said, "written in the second person, and in the future tense."

What is it? I asked.

It's called "Instruction Manual," she said.

Photo: The Girl with her basket of mushrooms. 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012


Since she was little, I have shown The Girl the BBC's treasurehouse of nature documentaries, and Sir David Attenborough has long been one of our heroes. I usually had to watch them in advance, however, to know when she could see the lovely and comical flamingos, and to scroll past the baboon attack.

"Why are you fast-forwarding it, Daddy?" Oh, just a part you won't be interested in, I say. Oh look, we're to the cute hedgehogs now.

I slowly let in more and more as she seems ready to accept it; I don't want her growing up eating chicken legs unless she knows where they come from and be able to harvest them herself, even if I prefer that she eat les messily than the baboons. As time goes on I also expurgate less of the animal courtship; I feel we will need to talk about the human equivalent soon, and I would rather she understand early that we are animals too, whatever else we are.

The one thing I played for her unattended, though, was Attenborough's The Private Life of Plants, which held her spellbound, and which -- I assumed -- there would be no violent deaths. In reality, though, there were some scenes which disturbed her four-year-old self, but which she has quickly embraced with the gruesome glee of childhood; she now makes clay models of predatory plants, and got me a Venus flytrap for my birthday.

We've been feeding it the spiders that come in with the firewood, and while she has a little girl's fear of spiders, she feels much better after feeding them to the houseplants.

Photo: Her plasticine model of a pitcher plant.

Sunday, 11 November 2012


In the countryside here, Halloween was the day to remember the dead, as the days grew dark again and the land grew gray and stark. It always felt appropriate to me, then, that it was so close to Remembrance Day -- Veterans Day in the USA -- when we remember the fallen. I also like that this day does not signify the triumphant nationalism I saw in my own country, but mourning for a tragedy.

Such rituals are not popular in our culture anymore. In the strange culture of the energy window, death is no longer the constant presence it was for our ancestors, so we have hidden it as we once hid sex, but behind veils less attractive than courtship. This age of inhuman speed and unlimited promise has removed our sense of passage, the sense that our uncommon lives are flowing to their common destination. Millions of us who grew up in this age, I think, will find themselves at the end, their busyness for nothing, wondering what happened to their lives, and unprepared for what happens next.

Friday, 9 November 2012


As regular readers know, we don't have internet access where we live, so my link to the non-local world is a laptop that I can use when I'm on the bus to work in Dublin. My laptop has been in the shop and might be in the shop again soon, which is why I haven't blogged this week.

I will write more in the next few days.

Saturday, 3 November 2012


Most of my countrymen are shocked when they discover the disdain in which they are held around the world;  news media across Europe tend to regard US elections as a comedy programme, endlessly replaying the most egregious flubs of the most dubious political characters as though they represented the quintessence of my native land.

Yet the US election still dominates the headlines here, either because people fondly remember the America that was or simply because US military and economic disasters cause trouble for everyone else. As the resident North American accent in the pub, I have to field a lot of questions about the latest election news. I disappoint people by telling them that not only am I not following the campaign trail, but I've also done everything I can do avoid it.

It's not that I don't care. It's that my vote takes a few days of research, not a year of hearing gossip. Before I mail the absentee ballot, I make a list of the issues I care about and compared them to candidates’ campaign contribution and voting records — not the coverage, the records themselves — calculate my choice and move on.

I want to see the United States restore its rail system, for example, so any candidate that made some meager noises in that direction gets some meager points on my list. Period. I don't care about their race, their reproductive plumbing, their flamboyant piety or from what wacky character they are six degrees removed. I don't care about the teacup scandals that crawl across the bottom-screen news feed or the hall-of-mirrors news coverage of the coverage of the coverage. I don't want to know.

The mainstream media tends to treat an election as the Super Bowl, a New Top Model, an American Idol, the Oscars or an apocalyptic smackdown. In reality, it simply should be a job interview, and you are the employer.

Forget this idea that your candidates represent two opposite ideologies. The two major parties represent slightly different alliances of investors, smashed together by the accidents of history. There is no other reason that evangelicals, for example, should be in the same camp with libertarians, or neoliberals with conservationists.

Finally, remember that change mostly happens between elections in a hundred thousand living rooms and library basements and county halls and percolates into the halls of power under sustained pressure.

No election let women vote, or created the civil rights movement, or laws to protect our air and water. These things happened because neighbors met, organized, protested, ran local candidates, went to prison — and moved and moved and moved until they were a movement. America, and countries in general, get better when people get it into their heads that they should be the ones running the country, and cajole and intimidate elites until the elites back down.

This Tuesday, pick the guy you think will back down first.

This piece was adapted from an Opinion piece I wrote for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2008. I put in the blog two years ago, but thought it appropriate at the moment.