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via europa.eu

via europa.eu

 

 1989. What a year.

Tiananmen Square. The Salman Rushdie affair. Exxon Valdez. Poll Tax in the UK. The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Solidarity winning the Polish elections. The flight of people into the West from Hungary. The freeing of the Guildford Four. The end of the Berlin Wall. The Velvet Revolution. The fall of Ceaucescu.

In one mere year the world had changed utterly. 

It was like that in my life too. In 1989 I turned 21. I was in my last year in college, I got my driving license and I travelled to the USA for the first time, on a wonderful four-month work visa in Ohio. A year later and I had a major career decision made – one that influences what I do to this day. I would be in Belfast, doing some real work, gaining new friends, traveling to far flung places and looking upon life with a very different set of beliefs compared to the preceeding decades. 

What is truly odd is how recent it still feels to me. As if it were just yesterday. In a sense, I feel that little enough has changed about me since then. The things that enthused me then still occupy my mind now. I’m pretty sure that if I was blogging back then that I would be writing about much the same things as I write about now. If I were to write down my personal interests and fascinations, many of them would date back precisely to this period in my life. It’s as if a flowering took place then, and I have spent most of the rest of my life building upon its foundations. 

Of course I have changed in many ways. I know lots more. I understand myself better. I have much greater responsibilities. I know what love, loss and fatherhood means. I have had my setbacks, and I have learned to take them on the chin. There are a few more grey hairs, blotches and scars, but these are the inevitable external factors associated with the passing years. Deep down, I am essentially the same man who emerged from adolescence those twenty years ago. 

It’s scary. I strongly believe that  life is all about personal development and growth, and yet it’s stunning to observe how little my thinking has moved on since I first moved into adulthood. I’d like to feel that during the next 20 years (should I be lucky enough to experience them) that I can develop  myself in surprising and different ways. As I am learning however, this may be quite a formidable challenge.

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On Sunday I participated in an annual charity walk from Ballycotton to Ballinrostig in Co. Cork. It’s a pretty special occasion because it is the only time in the year that walkers are permitted by the local land-owners to hike the route. As the video below will testify, the scenery is quite stunning. It’s not the easiest of walks – you have to negotiate quite a few barbed-wire fences – but the end is definitely worth the effort. The weather on Sunday was unseasonably good, which helped greatly. 

So here is the video. Enjoy!

So, what are your must read blogs? There are a few blogs on the Internet that I particularly enjoy reading*. Among them are the following sites:-

Bad Astronomy. Phil Plait takes on the loonies while keeping us up to date on the latest in the astronomy field in a high-octane, informative way.

Strange Maps. A collection of weird and wonderful maps from across the interwebs.

Word Spy. The latest additions to the English Language.

Unreasonable Faith / Friendly Atheist. For the heathen in me. Daniel Florien and Hemant Mehta share their thoughts on life without God.

Presentation Zen. Garr Reynolds has oodles of ideas about jazzing up your presentations.

Boing Boing. Cory Doctorow presents clippings and odd news stories from around the Internet. It is indeed a crazy world.

Techdirt: Mike Masnick does a regular deep dive into the Intellectual Property wars. There are a lot of people out there that don’t really “get” the Internet.

Erk. I feel naked having shared all this stuff with you, now that I have revealed myself to you as a quirky, pedantic, godless, astro-geek! Which blogs should I consider adding to my “must read” list? 

* Friends’ blogs not included here. Trust me, your writings are much cherished by me!

An eye on the Commons

I brought my daughter to London on Saturday. It was her first time on an aircraft and she had never been in the UK before either. My intent was to cram as many new experiences as possible into her growing brain over the few short hours we would be together in this endlessly fascinating city.

We saw Buckingham Palace, St James’ Park, 10 Downing St, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Bridge and we asscended the London Eye. After that we visited Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square and Covent Garden. We then visited Hamleys in Regent St and finally we took a Tube to Hammersmith where we saw “Sponge Bob Squarepants the Musical”.

Impressions from a 6 year old:

She was disappointed that the Queen didn’t live in a castle. To her, Buckingham Palace looked like a hotel.

After visting the Palace she wanted to know what language people spoke in London. All around her were people speaking in Japanese, Italian, French and a myriad of other languages.

Her favourite moment ever was watching the street entertainers beside the London Eye. Her even more favourite moment of all time was travelling in a double decker bus. Her favouristest moment ever in the whole world was the Musical. Not to mention getting a pink toy poodle from her dad, having an ice cream for lunch, looking at how tiny the people were from the London Eye, and traveling in a big green plane above the clouds. 

And my favourite moment? Being able to pamper my delightful little daughter all day..

800px-a_small_cup_of_coffee

In our main cafeteria, a sachet of instant coffee costs 10 cent. In the coffee docks the very same sachets are free. There are two coffee machines in our cafeteria. One machine brews a 30 cent mocha. The machine right beside it brews a mocha for 1 euro 20 cent. Not to be outdone, beside these two machines is a brand new coffee bar, where you can now buy a mocha for a whopping 2 euros 10 cent. Meanwhile, the best coffees come from an espresso maker right beside our general manager’s office. This coffee is free. The coffee in the smaller canteen is free, but if you want an extra large coffee, it costs a euro.

And if you can understand the economics of all that, you deserve a cup of coffee.

humanism.png

When you are admitted into hospital in Ireland, one of the first questions you are asked is your religion. The main reason, apparently, is because if you don’t manage to clock out when your stay is over, they want to be able to contact the right cleric to look after your affairs.

This bothers me. First of all, it is assumed that all residents of Ireland must have a religion. The mere idea of people walking around with no religious belief whatsoever seems to be anathema to our public services. It’s as if we ,who profess no religion, are somehow lying and that deep down we believe in a god, but that we are suppressing it. This is not a good assumption. We do not believe because there is no evidence, and plenty of contradictory evidence, despite what some people would have would have us believe. We liken belief in God with belief in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny.  Nobody would ever be accused of living their lives in secret denial of the Tooth Fairy, would they?

Second of all, for many non-religious people in Ireland, religion is something that we have struggled for many years to free ourselves from. Some people have painful memories from the past, others wish to undo the indoctrination of our early youth, and many of us shake our heads at the great reverence and respect shown in our society to what we see as gross irrationality. Why then are we expected to give in to religion when the final paragraphs of our lives are being written? Surely hypocrisy has no part to play in the most serious and honest moment in a person’s life?

Finally, it presents an unfortunate challenge at an unfortunate time for many non-religious people. A purely secular sending off is not open to us, as it is with people who subscribe to a particular creed. If we want to express our dissent from the consensus, then we are obliged to organize these affairs ourselves. Given the fact that there are so many of us nowadays, this is a situation that needs changing.

Organisations such as the Humanist Association of Ireland exist to provide assistance to people during major life occasions. They officiate at births and weddings and other secular ceremonies. They counsel people in their last moments and work with families and friends prior to, during and after death. However, humanist counsellors and chaplains are few and far between, particularly in the city where I live. The only non-religious funeral I have ever attended was a lonely, amateurish and sad affair that cannot have been easy on the spouse of the man who had passed away. Surely singing and poetry and prose; the hug, the handshake and the kind word, is not the sole preserve of the priest and pastor?

Irish society is growing up, so there should be more humanist options available to us to help us celebrate the major stages of our lives. It should be possible to celebrate the big moments properly – the joys, the hopes and the sadness – without the mumbo-jumbo. The non religious – the agnostics, the atheists, the secularists and free-thinkers amongst us – are as entitled to our public moments of elation, contemplation and bitter grief as anyone else. These moments should be facilitated by trained men or women who can ease the pain, organise the occasion and add to the memories.

It is something I would like to explore further.

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