Monday, 14 May 2018

saor รณ dhleacht

Having passed through the gates of Shannon Airport ourselves a few times, we found it quite fascinating to learn that the terminal in western Ireland on the river’s estuary was home to the world’s first duty free shop and will be sure to make special notice of it next time around.  Planet Money fills us in on the life and times of consummate hospitality professional and marketing expert Brendan O’Regan (1917* - 2008 †) whose talents intersected with the limitations of early trans-Atlantic air travel and recognised a business opportunity.
After realising the popularity of Irish Coffee (his first contribution to the world), O’Regan catered to regular arrivals of weary, battered travellers whom had just made the rather arduous hop from North America to Europe and had to land at the first opportunity or were outbound for the same daunting journey, since early planes lacked modern amenities and range and had to make landfall at the first and last opportunity for re-fuelling—which Ireland geographically availed herself of—and saw that his rather captive consumers, elite jet-setters to a person, whose money was burning holes in their pockets, and O’Regan wanted to alleviate their boredom on this layover leg of their trip. Referencing an ancient custom still codified in the law books of allowing sailors to purchase booze without taxes if it was for export and personal consumption, O’Regan successfully pled his case to the Irish government in 1947 to allow him to experiment with an exercise that undercut the government itself by not collecting taxes and losing out on revenue with the promise that by showcasing local items, keepsakes and souvenirs including speciality Irish whiskeys—and manufacturing provenance after a fashion—at a discount, the scheme would encourage local tourism and more than make up for lost revenue on the trinkets.

The model was an instant success and proliferated quickly to airports worldwide—then cruise ships, border-crossings, etc. with some products, like Toblerone (previously) owing its cosmopolitan success to careful product-placement in duty-free stores. O’Regan’s third act was as peace ambassador, helping to end the strife in Northern Ireland and promoting cooperation between Ireland and the UK.

Friday, 20 April 2018

walled garden

Prior to learning about this breaking development thanks to Super Punch, I was mulling the notion of reinstating part of PfRC’s and my personal media presence once the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation went into effect, but the company’s surprise decision to repatriate its Ireland-based international operations means that the new law will have magnitudes fewer beneficiaries.
The four hundred million or so EU-area residents that are creators and consumers of digital content will be covered, and had the headquarters remained in Ireland and under EU jurisdiction so would the rest of the global population of over a billion and a half users whose activities are banked there, with the exception of North American records which are stored in California. With only Europe cordoned-off, all other data from accounts around the world will migrate to servers in the US and the company will have far greater latitude in what it does with people’s history and demographics. What do you think? Though we are glad to be afforded at least a measure of protection and control (maybe, hopefully a meaningful one), it seems like a real jerk move on the company’s part to deprive the rest of the world by centralising its clearinghouses and now I don’t think in good conscience reanimate my account. What we let this company get away with informs how all other stewards of privacy and truth behave going forward.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

bedfellows or now let’s get to work

With rather alarming alacrity, Prime Minister May visited the Queen on Friday afternoon following the General Election once all jurisdictions had declared—foreboding of what looked to be a hung Parliament—to propose to form a government, whose composition looked to be a less preferable and less tenable option than prolonged anarchy or even relinquishing rule to Her Majesty herself. Her ministerial role propped up by the tacit backing of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland. This socially conservative group that has in the past supported paramilitary forces and stoked sectarian violence, in exchange for being the junior member of a technically workable, minority coalition which gives the Conservatives in total a few more seats than it had prior to the vote, but it’s hard to argue that was calculated, will certainty expect some cabinet appointments and some policy concessions for its support.

Saturday, 3 June 2017


Whilst some seem to have as much of a problem acknowledging truths outside of their default level of ignorance or denial, others are making it free to be you and me with the Republic of Ireland is managing to elect its first openly gay (and half Indian) Taoiseach, and heart-warmingly a devoted couple of male vultures residents at a zoo in Amsterdam, as Dave Log v 3.0 informs, have adopted and hatched a chick, keepers having given the frustrated but diligent and caring pair an egg that was rejected by another bird. Dear Leader has predictably remained silent on the matter of declaring the month of June as pride month, allowing his Number One Daughter to usher in a celebration for the sodomites.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

the shavian alphabet

The elves at Quite Interesting—whose media properties include, funnily enough (after reading the below) the podcast There’s no Such Thing as a Fish—always present us with some very engrossing morsels of knowledge—not trivia—that we’d like to learn more about.
Often times it seems some serious scholarship—more than we are ready to commit—is required to go beyond and tease out a deeper explanation and one of their latest briefs looked to be the same sort of cul-de-sac with the fact that playwright and literary critic “George Bernard Shaw left a considerable portion of his estate to increase the [English] alphabet from twenty-six to forty letter; this was never achieved,” but happily a little research yields more answers and speculation.  Consistent in his disdain for the received rules of English orthography throughout his life (whereas Shaw was just a likely to reverse other intellectual tenants as he was to fight for their honour) and how the whole convention was fraught with confusion and indignities of spelling that no one ought to suffer for the sake of lucidity, Shaw urged spelling reforms and stipulated in his last will and testament that future royalties ought to be paid into a trust with his stated goals in mind. Truly with some forty-four phonemes commonly occurring in English and just a few letters being dual- and trice-hatted, English could admit more letters, and though his legacy did not result in widely accepted changes to traditional spelling his bequest did posthumously fund the creation of an eponymous Shavian alphabet in 1960 (a decade after his death), which represented the spoken language as phonetically as possible and had a distinct script from Latin characters (this shorthand was also used for Esperanto) so that the new spellings were not taken as misspellings.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017


crate & barrel: a glimpse inside the outfitteries that design and deliver prefabricated Irish Pubs around the world, via Boing Boing

la gioconda: researchers, including a relative of the Bishop of Bling, in Germany conclude Mona Lisa’s smile means she happy

inception: more recursive, panoramic landscapes from Aydฤฑn BรผyรผktaลŸ, via Kottke 

pacific rim: demonstration of robots controlled by the hemispheres of two separate volunteers’ brains

ligature: a clever type face that reacts intuitively to the characters that precede and follow 

Sunday, 5 February 2017


My first reaction to this bit of table decoration was shock since I thought four-leaved clovers were lucky due to their rarity—something of an extension to the parable that Saint Patrick used the three-leaved clover to illustrate the Trinity to pagan Ireland, and each single leaf represented faith, hope and love and with a fourth, one could have good fortune as well.  Genetically mutating clover to produce leaves of four without fail seems like it would be rather tempting fate. Rather than outright meddling with Nature or gaming the system on an industrial scale, however, the ornamentation is a cultivar of the sorrel plant from Central America called the “iron cross,” and is technically one leaf with four leaflets. Botanists aren’t even sure whether it’s genetics or environmental factors responsible for the rare occurrence. I suppose our lucky charms are safe and secure after all.

Monday, 30 January 2017

taste the rainbow

Thanks to the observant TYWKIWDBI, it’s apparently standard practise in the States to pass off substandard candy as animal feed. Disclosure came when a lorry overturned and spilt a shipment of Skittles destined for the ranch. The digestive systems of ruminants—at least in this instances, apparently are so different from that of humans, dietary concerns and the deleterious effects of so much sugar or food colouring do not apply.
Depending on market-fluctuations and farm subsidies, it’s cheaper sometimes to offload surplus or defective sweets this way. Even if it’s not technically “unhealthy” for the cows, it strikes as cruel and not a treat. What do you think? I wonder how wide-spread the practise is. I feel fairly confident that this wouldn’t be permitted in Ireland but maybe it could have accounted for those flocks of sheep tagged in tie-dyed colours.

Monday, 2 January 2017

decency is indecency’s conspiracy of silence

Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw declaimed that “the reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Although I thought differently at first and was sure that I knew the message, I honestly can’t say what that quote means anymore after a bit of reflection. How would you un-pack it?

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

i know the kings of england and can quote the fights historical from marathon to waterloo in order categorical

I was very sparing about listening to successive back episodes of the excellent podcast series The Rex Factor, hoping to prolong the experience of their review and rating of all the monarchs of England from Alfred the Great to Elizabeth II since I was a late-comer (my podcast play-list is filling up and it’s hard to find enough hours in the day—especially when something’s more than background noise) and knew that the hosts, Graham Duke and Ali Hood, had covered that material from 2010 to mid 2013. I was delighted to discover, however, that there were more series to follow with more players subject to the signature Rex Factor treatment, including the kings of the Scots, which I am enjoying now, and is on-going to capture some of the supporting actors and even a few fictional characters to see how they’ll fare against some of the real masterclass regents. Do yourself a favour and download a few episodes to get an idea of their well-researched but very accessible and attention-holding approach; I’m sure you’ll want to hear more.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

finn maccool or disunited kingdom

I appreciated the controversy that the outcome of the Brexit referendum had regionally for the United Kingdom, with a significant majority of Scotland and Northern Ireland voting to remain. I understood how the Scots might try again to declare independence and that Northern Ireland has the only land border with a European Union member, but did not realise just how thorny it was.
Not only is it an unpalatable prospect to have frontiers returned between the exclave of the UK and the Irish Republic and create obstacles to movement and trade, the Republic has extended the right of citizenship to any resident of the island in hopes of reconciliation and ultimate union after so many years of violence and animosity. So called Peace Lines partition sections of Belfast and Londonderry, cities still divided by sectarianism long after the wall came down in Berlin. What would it mean to the notion of dominion if seven out of every ten adults chose to see past historical difference and protest against very recent developments that don’t play their self-interests and trade their allegiances? I am not sure how Britain would react to a de facto reunification.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

parity of esteem

Since first hearing about the small village outside of Antwerp over the summer on NPR’s Invisibilia, I’ve really been intrigued about the story of Geel and its approach to addressing mental illness and appreciated Hyperallergic’s giving the community and its mission further exposure. After becoming a pilgrimage destination for the mentally ill in the late twelfth century, the villagers have hosted displaced and alienated souls, bringing them into their homes and providing a course of treatment and therapy that doesn’t try to make their guests conform.
This unusual patronage is traced back to the daughter of a pagan Irish chieftain and a Christian mother, called Dymphna (Little Fawn) who herself converted to Christianity against her father’s will. Dymphna’s mother passed away when she was a teenager and her father became absolutely inconsolable, quickly descending into depression. His courtiers pleaded with him to re-marry, and reluctantly, the chieftain agreed, provided he could find one as beautiful and charming as his lost wife. The chieftain’s overtures turned towards the teenaged Dymphna, and fearing what would come next, she fled to Belgium with her confessor and, oddly, the Court Jester. Dymphna and her crew problem would have never been found, but at Geel, where they settled she founded a hospital for the poor and suffering and her charity eventually made its way back to Ireland. Her father went to Geel to retrieve Dymphna but she refused at which point her father beheaded her. Though perhaps not the imbalanced party and unsuccessful at that particular juncture, many of the demon-plagued who visited the place of her veneration were pronounced cured of their condition, maybe not advancing the understanding of mental disorders in the broader public awareness but at least reducing the social stigma on a local level. The lives of the boarders are chronicled in a series of photographs that blurs the distinction between guest and host and is in stark contrast with the usual methods of reintegration through institution.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

lingua franca or brexit, stage left

To the disdain of the Maltese and Irish—whose concerns are being downplayed as they elected to make their first official languages Maltese and Gaelic, respectively, some in Brussels want to see the use of the English language in official parlance scaled back. Although there’s no legal status accorded to the “working languages” of the European Union and French and German are only spoken by tradition, some feel that the UK should take its linguistic and cultural dominance with it. What do you think of this proposal? I am already a little fearful that a large percentage of the world might forget about Europe as some byzantine amalgam that’s just alien and just the end of some long, strange continuum of foreignness without the Anglo-Saxon element.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

the un-dead or working-title

A recent entry on the superb Futility Closet informs on the early character-sketch of Count Dracula through Bram Stoker’s preliminary notes outlining the novel. Among the draft attributes that did not make it into the original story but are sometimes woven into later popular mythology—surely a remnant of folklore—are:
the inability to be photographed (shows up as a skeleton) or captured in painting (ends up with the likeness of someone else) and is tripped up whilst crossing thresholds, unable to do this without assistance.  Arithmomania is not among the strengths or weaknesses, but interestingly, Dracula was to have picked his destination, engaging a solicitor through a form of rhapsodomancy, consulting Virgil or various classic poets’ random verses for guidance. Alternately, the Count was to have dabbled in bolomancy—that is, throwing darts at a map. Incidentally, such practise of bibliomancy, usually turning to the Bible, were not condemned by the Church as witchcraft and were perfectly acceptable means of seeking guidance and council, whereas the casting of bones or favomancy (divination through tossed beans) and the like were judged sorcery.

Monday, 14 March 2016

the dubliners

In anticipation of Saint Patrick’s Day, Kuriositas treats us to a fine whistle-stop tour through Dublin to visit the statues and public monuments that people the capital. As fond and committed city commissioners are for honouring local sons and daughters, residents are just as keen to bestow affectionate monikers on these silent neighbours. Read more about the “Tart with the Cart” or the “Hags with Bags” and other choice nicknames for the street urchins of Dublin and sight-see during your next visit with native knowledge.

Friday, 11 March 2016

steeple bumpstead and chignal smeally

The always marvellous Nag on the Lake poses the question why many British toponyms are so odd, eliciting sniggering or a blush but also some really fascinating history of occupation, migration and conquest.
A Sunday drive through the Midlands connecting Wednesbury, Newton Burgoland and Ashby-de-la-Zouch also conveys one through ages from the Celts, the Romans, the arrival of the Scandinavians, through to Norman times. Despite all the diverse influences and upheavals, these place names are retain a certain Englishness whether or not original rooted in that language, which is just as adaptive and with the same pedigree. Many others, of course, are later Anglicisations of places on the peripheries of the isle. I recall when we were travelling in County Cork passing through a fine and picturesque village called in Irish Bรฉal รtha Leice (meaning the flat stone at the mouth of the bay) which was unfortunately transliterated as Ballylickey on the road signs. There is also a fun, interactive map that gives select etymologies of England’s town and villages.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

eye in the sky or death by powerpoint

Earlier in the week, a somewhat silent moment of panic circulated through the general tensions and fears but was quickly subsumed with more pressing business of the day when the pilot of a maverick airliner had to concede that he’d been temporarily blinded by the dazzle of one of those laser-pointers—the kind which might enthrall cats or manage the boredom of an audience girded for a rather long presentation. Through the aircraft was forced to divert to another airport, the only casualty was inconvenience, this single incident—duly but forthcoming about report—highlights that this was not a unique near-miss and there have been some six thousand such occurrences world-wide in the past six years.
The annoyance is a prickly subject since we are not fans of the posture of a nannying-state but such intensity laser beams for public-consumption seem to serve no further purpose than that of blinding of airplane pilots. Given the penchant of the West for air-warfare for combatting Vanilla-ISIS, one wonders why they just can’t invest in a high-powered disco-ball like we have to lay low all their opposition. If one has the technical capacity to make a laser that’s above the requirements of the classroom, then go ahead and terrorise all of us. There’s the chirping of crickets in the auditorium now—as most of our sleeper-cells or time-travellers we’ve sent back have started that conversation with “well, you have an internal-combustion engine” or “you take a drone” and the conversation ends there—with the temporal-tourists burned as witches and the terrorists dismissed as not having the acumen alone for malice. An old and burdened argument holds that no nation in the Middle East held the manufacturing capacity to make its own weapons of destruction, but the same probably holds for the post-industrial West. Why re-invent the wheel? There is an age of majority for operating a car and such and one wonders if one ought not have at least a rudimentary understanding of the workings behind such conveniences in order to use them—for everyone’s benefit.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

mmxv: annus horribilis

These end-of-year annuals have become somewhat of a tradition here (here, here, here, and here too) at PfRC but never before in these annuls of time has one period been so stand-out negative and gloomy.  We tried to accentuate the positive but that was yeoman’s task, so this year-in-review is coming out a few days early in hopes that the holidays will be a time of lasting good cheer to cleanse the palette and that some last minute joys might befall us all.  There were a few bright points which mostly involved accomplishments in space exploration, but on balance, we are happy to be saying good riddance to bad rubbish.

january: Unpegging the Swiss franc from the euro unleashes more turmoil on financial markets and oversees the gradient of reserve currencies levelled out. With the situation in Ukraine still very tense, the Eurasian Economic Union comes into being. In Nigeria, Boko Haram’s brutality goes unrestrained. Elements of the Cosplay Caliphate in Paris assassinate cartoonists and satirists.

february: Faced with its own deck of sanctions, Russia drafts and submits to the United Nations for passage Resolution 2199 that provided for asset-freezing and curtailing financial resources for the Cosplay Caliphate, strongly condemning as well the group’s destruction of ancient archaeological sites in Syria. The Egyptian armed forces retaliate for the beheading of Copts in Libya by the Caliphate—with more atrocities broadcasted. Sadly, Leonard Nimoy passes away.

march: A space probe visits the Dwarf Planet Ceres. An unholy alliance forms between terror groups as al Qaeda tries to distance itself from these extremists. A suicidal pilot deliberately crashes an airplane full of passengers in the French Alps.

april: A massive earthquake causes destruction across south-east Asia.  Writer Gรผnter Grass and performer Percy Sledge passed.

may: Ireland, by popular-vote, legalises same-sex marriage. Truer to the original, audiences began getting hints of the continuation of the Stars Wars saga to be screened later in the year.  We had to bid farewell to musician B. B. King.

june: Fรฉdรฉration Internationale de Football Association chief resigns pending an on-going criminal probe into corruption allegations championed by the American Federal Bureau of Investigation. A real estate magnate and beauty pageant judge announced his candidacy for president of the US.  The Caliphate perpetrates several horrific attacks during Ramadan. Actor Christopher Lee died.

july: Greece becomes the first country to miss a payment to the International Monetary Fund and political revolt is unable to extricate them from this web of debt. New Horizons visits the dwarf planet Pluto. Cuba and the USA normalise diplomatic relations after half a century of hostilities. Video game godfather Satoru Iwata passed away.

august: The march of refugees from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to Europe via the Balkans in unending.  We had to say goodbye to philosopher Oliver Sacks.

september: Liquid water is confirmed on Mars. A major German automaker was found to have doctored the cleanliness of their fleet of vehicles. The proxy war continues in Syria, with Russia launching air-strikes and powers are at odds with which party to back. Personality Jackie Collins died.

october: The Caliphate sabotages a jetliner of holiday-goers in the Sinai Peninsula. Maureen O’Hara departed.

november: Turkey destroys Russian fighter jets for violating a tip of its airspace, possibly setting off World War III. The Caliphate again attacks Paris with horrific and terrifying efficiency. Weeks later, the UN holds its climate change conference in the same venue. Former Chancellor of West Germany Helmut Schmidt passes away.

december: Tragically, yet another mass shooting takes place in California, inspired by religious fanaticism. A wayward Japanese space probe that over-shot its mark five years ago gets a second chance to rendezvous with Venus. Stone Temple Pilot Scott Weiland passed away.  Recognising what the world needs now, Pope Francis threw open the Mercy Gate at the Vatican.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

instant karma or everything zen

I was really kind of baffled to learn that the Laughing Buddha, a traditional fixture of Asian take-away, is in fact not the sage Gautama Buddha or an avatar thereof—like thin Elvis versus fat Elvis, but a completely different character called Bรนdร i.
This friendly monk represents contentment and enlightenment as well but his following developed at a time when Buddhism was taking root in a unified, ancient China and the two were conflated. I suppose the distinction is always just out of grasp for someone not intimately familiar with Eastern thought, but maybe the Buddha is the Bรนdร i as the Dionysian force is to Dionysis (Bacchus, the god of wine). The Buddhism that was taking root across China was also a significant departure in terms of practise from the original foundations. Thanks are owed to the bureaucratic harmonisations underlying the teachings of Confucius and his disciples, that instilled a sense of place and hierarchy that in some senses enabled disparate kingdoms and people to come under one mantle, but the revival of Buddhist thought needed some adjustments to fit to the present and enduring societal framework. As paralleled by the independent stance that monastic Ireland took towards a centralised Church authority in Rome, Buddhism as first envisioned was also meant to be a retiring one—cloistered from the illusionary, impermanent world-at-large. It surprised me even more to learn that the concept of Zen (Chร n), with a somewhat divergent but very well attested history and scholarship, was incorporated into Chinese outlook in order that each could mediate in his or her own manner and discover Buddha’s teachings—know that enlightenment is attainable in the everyday—without cossetting oneself in an abbey.  While I am not sure it was exactly planned by the state (nor less authentic for it) to promote civility, there are certainly practical reasons behind it as well, since a coherent community could not very well have all its eligible men skivving off their responsibilities to hearth and home by becoming monks.  There is a delicate balance, I think, between not selfishness but rather self-interestedness, that is concern for one’s salvation in private, and the civic-mindedness of seeking the same while a part of the society around one. 

Friday, 27 March 2015

local colour or instaham

The ever excellent Quartz magazine has an interesting piece of reporting for holiday-goers, that has some destinations affecting an accent and cultivating a culture in order to deliver to tourists the experience that they are expecting. Notwithstanding Bavarian taxi cab drivers and waiters really hamming it up, it seems to me that this programme is more than a marketing campaign and could transform into something positive.
Instead of souvenirs and native crafts that are really only sustained by visiting throngs—though one cannot generalise any experience or attraction whether established or on the rise—a step towards insincerity leads maybe to a stronger hold in the long run on genuine customs and outlooks that were suppressed to extinction either by the forces of hegemony or the encroachment of domineering globalisation. I know I am forever the guilty anthropologists for wanting to hear sheep-counting in Gaeltacht, but maybe that is not wholly condemning.  Maybe the sightseer, even for the expectations of clichรฉ, have help to revive a moribund language—which I think is certainly worth a dose of dissimulation. What do you think? Are these enclaves and tours on offer a charade or a chance for visitor and local alike to discover something new on journey’s end?