Saturday, December 12, 2009

Yultide Greetings

To Madeleine in Australia, Fateme and Amir in Iran, Michael and Penny in Bangladesh, Tom in Denmark, Mary in Paris, Peter in Abaco, Karen in Galway, Brian in Cork, Maureen in Tipperary, to all readers everywhere of the blog, I want to thank you for your interest and your comments over the year and would like to wish you and your families peace and, in this season of re-birth, every best wish for 2010.

I am not a religious person. Faith-neutral is probably the best description, with neither an avowal nor denial of any particular belief or non-belief agenda. That said the Christmas periods of my childhood were happy ones and although suffused with the religious environment that prevailed in Ireland in the late 50’s and early 60’s, for some reason the time of year, then and now, had and has a cadence rooted in a seasonal rebirth and nature.

It has always been cause for celebration, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. The Grianstad an Gheimhridh or midwinter solstice of our Proto-Celtic ancestors, the Shab-e Yalda of Mithraic Persia, the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the Day of the Birth of the Unconquered Sun, of the Romans – all originally dated for December 25 in the old Julian calendar (Julius Caesar circa 42 BCE, but shifted backwards to December 21 by four days with the newer and more astronomically accurate Gregorian calendar in 1582 CE) – the Christmas Day of early Christianity in the Western Rite (9 months from the more agreed upon conception day, and a date rather than a day maintained by the Gregorian adjustment), and for me the fascination of the Teutonic Jul or Yuletide.

My childhood nightmares and dreams fuelled by Viking sagas, the Brothers Grimm, of deep forests and elves, and giants and dwarfs … and my mother’s Yultide log (Christbrand, Tréfoir).

Every year about this time three small logs of Yew (the bark thick and tactile) would be delivered to the house, would then be wrapped in ivy, layered on top with a snow of icing sugar (or Plaster of Paris), and studded with berried Holly. Into the centre of the log would be placed a candle and the logs positioned carefully in the centre of the two fire mantelpieces in the house (one was always given away as a traditional present). It would be lit on Christmas Eve.

Yew, Ivy and Holly the very evergreen, very pre-Christian plants.

When Iseult (Esyllt) the Irish princess won the right to be with Tristan, her Cornish lover, she sang:

Three trees are good in nature:

the holly, the ivy, and the yew, 

which keep their leaves throughout their lives:

I am Trystan's as long as he lives!

May all that is good in nature watch over all of you and your families in the days ahead and the coming year.

Further Information:

Friday, December 11, 2009

Goodbye Rory

Shortly after posting my last blog about the death of Ramin Pourandarjani I received a text informing me that a friend, Dr Rory O'Connor had passed away peacefully, in the care of his family, in the early hours of the morning. Rory tragically succumbed to a rapidly progressive neurological disease. I called over to see Rory last weekend. Although he was unable to articulate properly we still managed to have a conversation, by way of exclusion tactics and the use of his eyelids. He had borne the ravages of his illness with both fortitude and bravery and my thoughts at this time are with his wife and two young children.

Rory was one of of life's gentlemen, a good colleague and a good man. He will be sorely missed.

Safe onward journey, Rory.

Month’s Mind – The Torture and Death of an Iranian Doctor

Dr Ramin Pourandarjani and a torture sculpture by
Ahad Hossein in the Azerbayjan Museum
of his home city of Tabriz, Iran.

In your thoughts please remember the life and death of Ramin Pourandarjani, and for his grieving family.

On November 10, 2009 Dr. Ramin Pourandarjani, a 26 year-old junior doctor from Tabriz, died in mysterious circumstances in the health unit attached to Tehran’s central prison. The authorities first said the causation was a heart attack, then they said poison and then finally suicide. Ramin was coming to the end of his compulsory military service and was about to emigrate to Germany to take up a fellowship in his chosen speciality. He had everything to live for and yet the authorities claimed he had committed suicide.

Ramin Pourandarjani’s life had been in dire jeopardy. In an earlier posting at the notorious Kahrizak prison facility he had looked after the detainees who had been moved there after being arrested during the street disturbances which followed the very disputed Iran elections in June 2009. Mohsen Ruholami Najafabadi was one of those beaten to death in the prison by the guards and the young Dr. Pourandarjani was brave enough, despite threats to his life, to issue a death certificate to that effect.

He later gave verbal and documentary evidence confirming this report to the Iranian parliamentary committee investigating the deaths in custody in Kahrizak prison and information coming out Tehran say that prior to giving that evidence he had been detained and threatened by Acting Chief of Tehran Police Brigadier Gen Ahmed Reza Radan, the man responsible for the Kahrizak facility. Radan was to call the torture and deaths at Kahrizak a ‘minor incident’.

A ‘minor incident’! The characteristic diminutive dismissal by someone who is pathologically evil. History teaches us nothing. Time and time again, in every society, in every era, sociopathic monsters are initially given power because of their ‘unique’ talents and willingness to suppress dissent to that society. That gift of power then reinforces the messianic pathology that courses through their veins. In years to come, when he is brought before the International Criminal court, Radan will protest as all monsters protest: ‘Who me? Just doing my duty judge. I rather be ringing chicken necks and doting on my grandchildren.’

Radan will be the reason the Islamic Republic of Iran will fail. Too late for the very courageous doctor-poet Ramin Pourandarjani! Please remember him.

Brig Gen Ahmed Reza Radan and a torture sculpture by
Ahad Hossein in the Azerbayjan Museum, Tabriz, Iran.

On a more positive note the Censorship Research Centre in San Francisco, USA (and I hope to God they are as genuine as they seem and not a CIA-fronted organisation) is developing specifically for Iran an internet communication tool that can bypass the blockade the Iranian authorities presently exert. The below is taken directly from the home page of their website:

Haystack is a new program designed to provide unfiltered internet access to the people of Iran. The software package is compatible with Windows, Mac and Unix systems, and specifically targets the Iranian government’s web filtering mechanisms.

Haystack is not an ordinary proxy system. It employs a sophisticated mathematical formula to hide users’ real Internet traffic inside a continuous stream of innocuous-looking requests. In addition to providing anonymity, Haystack uses strong cryptography, ensuring that even if users’ traffic is detected, it cannot be read. Trying to find and decipher our users’ traffic amidst all the other traffic on the web really is like trying to find a needle in the proverbial Haystack.

Once installed Haystack will provide completely uncensored access to the internet from Iran while simultaneously protecting the user’s identity. No more Facebook blocks, no more government warning pages when you try to load Twitter or access news sites -- just unfiltered Internet.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Trucial Troubles – The Sheikhs are Sitting

Dubai Creek 1946 and 2006.
The Wind Towers of yore replaced by the Air-conditioned towers of now.

John, my neighbour, committed suicide earlier this year, driven to despair by the failure of his property investment in Dubai, it was a tragic portent of the now general implosion of the ‘fantasia’ that exists there with both Dubai World and the private investment arm of the ruling al-Maktoum’s family seeking delay on the repayment of 40-70 billion dollars worth of debt.

When Wilfred Thesiger travelled throughout the southern Arabian peninsula in the 1940’s he was a guest of Sheikh Zayid bin Sultan Al Nahyan the future iconic ruler of Abu Dhabi and from 1971 of the United Arab Emirates, at the oasis town of Al Ain/Buraimi. In the mornings a servant would come and inform Thesiger that Sheikh Zayid was ‘sitting’ or in audience, receiving visitors and resolving disputes. At the time the disputes centered mainly around the camel stealing activities of the tribe of the Bani Kitab, and indeed much time was spent adjudicating on the relative merits of the batina, banat farha, or banat al hamra breeds of camels as to whether they were worth stealing back or not.

Times, if not the economic importance of appropriate decision making, have changed on the Trucial Coast. The Sheikhs of the Emirates are now going to have to decide how or whether they will, or can, bail out the enormous debt that Dubai World and the Al Maktouum ruling family investment vehicles have wracked up. Abu Dhabi controls most of the oil wealth and given disputes between the al-falasi – to which the al Maktoums of Dubai belong – and the al-falahi – to which the al-Nahayn of Abu Dhabi belong – sections of the Bani Yas tribe that resulted in a war in 1947 and continued after the amalgamation in 1971 it is uncertain whether Abu Dhabi will be rushing into help. I suspect ‘sitting’ will be the only action we will see, until any settlement extracted fully satisfies an al-falahi sense of superiority.

The UAE is a federation of seven states that has its origin in the General Peace Treaty that Great Britain entered into with 12 signatory sheikhs in January 1820 in order to suppress piracy on this part of the Arabian penninsula that was then known as the Pirate Coast. The initial treaty was further supplemented by the Maritime Truce of 1835 and the Perpetual Maritime Truce of 1853, when additional efforts were made to suppress slavery, and finally the 1892 treaty. After the United Kingdom withdrew its protectorate status in 1971 Bahrain and Qatar went their separate ways and six of the emirates (Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Quwain, and Fujairah) formed the UAE in December 1971 (to be joined later by Ras al-Khaimah – the pirate state that originally precipitated the Royal Navy reprisals and the 1820 Treaty – in 1972)

Of interest in the original treaty Great Britain insisted that the signatory sheikhdoms should include in their maritime flags the colour white to show that they were allies:

"In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate! Praise be to God, who hath ordained peace to be a blessing to his creatures! There is established a lasting peace between the British Government and the Arab tribes, who are parties to the contract, on the following conditions:

Art. 3. The friendly Arabs shall carry, by land and by sea, a red flag, with or without letters in it, at their option; and this shall be in a border of white, the breadth of the white in the border being equal to the breadth of the red, as represented in the margin, the whole forming the flag known in the British Navy by the title of 'White pierced Red'; and this shall be the flag of the friendly Arabs, and they shall use it, and no other."

All of the current individual emirati flags as well as the federation flag still include the ‘white’ demand.

John, my neighbour’s tragic involvement was not the first from the west of Ireland. Indeed the history of the transition from a camel-stealing, and pirate-raiding based economy to the excess of now was precipitated in the main by the oil and gas exploration licences granted to the D’Arcy Exploration Company by the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi in 1931. William Knox D’Arcy was the son of an Irish solicitor from the D’Arcy family of Gorteen, Co. Mayo. He made his first fortune in Austalian gold and then nearly exhausted this fortune exploring for oil in Persia. The D’Arcy Exploration Company on its last financial legs found oil just in time in May 1908. The Anglo-Persian Oil company was formed with D’Arcy Exploration and was then later incorporated into what became British Petroleum. Knox D’Arcy had made his second fortune and died in 1917, not that well liked. His first wife Ella, whom he had divorced, contributed, with Kipling, Conan Doyle and others, a short story called Irremediable to an 1893 book called Victorian Short Stories of Troubled Marriages.

D’Arcy Exploration went on however. In March 1955, D'Arcy Exploration Limited building on the 1931 concessions was granted "the sole and exclusive right to explore for, drill for, develop, product, transport and dispose of oil within an area of the seabed and subsoil lying beneath the high seas of the Arabian Gulf contiguous to the territorial waters of Abu Dhabi, and which had been proclaimed on the 10th of June 1949 to fall within the jurisdiction of the Ruler of Abu Dhabi". The total area of the Concession was 30,370 square kilometers and had a validity of 65 years. The first large offshore oil field was found at Umm Shaif in 1959.

Trucial Oil and the Original UAE Emirs

Oil and gas began to flow, and in the slipstream, fantastic prosperity, development and air-conditioned and desalinated greed. The hopes of individuals and investors destroyed, lured by the bright-light ‘opportunities’ that we as a society are continuously attracted to. And now in the UAE there is an enormous economic vacuum and in that dangerous vacuum will flower a resurgence of angry anti-western Islamic al-Qaeda fundamentalist opposition.

The Sheikhs are not sitting they are sh**ing!

Proposed Ethiad Building in Dubai
Will the sun rise again?

Thursday, December 03, 2009


Syntactic Musings

I am reading at present the very accessible and very thought provoking book A History of Language by Stephen Roger Fischer. In describing the evolutionary path of human communication he points to the development of syntax as being the most important attribute of that development. Yes, he points out, animals, birds, and insects do have a lexicon of ‘words’ which are communicated in different ways i.e. phermones, wing-rubs, sonar pulses etc. but as he describes it ‘choreography does not replace articulation’. Language development in humans, he attests, is a product of an evolutionary ‘cerebral sense of belonging’ of words being together. And yet in our modern world the historical development of syntax-rich ‘daughter languages’ to a dominant language (English in the main at present) appears to have foundered in the very abbreviated and very accelerated world that Twitter and Texting language have brought us to.

Perhaps if language was to be analysed from the listener’s perspective – or sense – rather than the more usual articulator’s perspective then perhaps we should divide the ‘cerebral sense’ of synthetic (rather than syntactic) Rap, Twitter, Techno and Text language into the categories of Ab-sence, Non-sense, Sense-less, Sens-ual, and Sens-ible of their various constructions.

This brings me to a new word to perhaps describe its constrained development: Imposense.

Well not quite a new word. In Googleworld there is an avatar or wandering web-soul using the name and some years ago a blogging French poet called Mysteriuse entitled one of her poems l’imposense. I have quoted it below because I really like the poem. She is no longer blogging so I have not been able to get permission for this but I did try to track the source. I hope she will understand.

Mysterieuse's Musings

Imposense for me implies the notion of an imposed sense of understanding – a Foucaultian gridding – on the receiver of the language, which is dictated by the ‘rhythm’ rather than ‘rhyme’ of the communication, the tyranny rather than the freedom, the time constraints rather than the timeless words, and in a reversal of language evolution the choreography rather than the articulation. Equally at a quick glance the word somehow evokes confusion with Impotence and a failure to satisfy. Perhaps the impotence involved is the fault of the listener or receiver … or perhaps it is just me.

My imposense!

Am I making any sense? I like the notion of belonging that an apostrophe or dialect brings. Is language better for their loss? Does a sequence of nouns serve a more useful function than adjectival attachment? Will simplification and brevity reflect the reality of modern life (and the dominance of English) thereby allowing quicker communication in the now rather than having to deal with a complex communication from the past? The future will take care of itself? I am not so sure.

In the future, Fischer concludes, and I agree, the loss of language will result in a loss of identity, of protest, of diversity, and will result in alienation rather than universal brotherhood.

C u there! Ggg…goog….google …ga