The Power of sound – Blogging the #Octonauts: Kwazii Meets the Mixed Up Whale

Following a recent post on possibly excessive self-sacrifice in an episode of the Octonauts, here’s a more unambiguously positive post on an episode which neatly illustrates an environmental issue that could be somewhat recondite in other hands:

This put me in mind of previous posts on whales and silence, and passages in Gordon Hempton on the many impacts of noise on marine and other species What is impressive is that all this handled in a manner that relates well to a 4 year old (or younger) audience.

“the overbearing mother, the emotional repression, the teasing sort-of girlfriend, the constant guilt and fear ” – draft review of The Cure, Rachel Genn, TLS, 2011

The TLS ultimately used a much edited version of this review of a book I evidently didn’t like. Perhaps I was uncomfortable with the line “having sex with Séamus in a pub toilet.” Bad sex writing ahoy!

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Eugene Mahon is a familiarly depressive fictional Irish male, living a
life of quiet desperation in Salthill, Co. Galway. He is kitted out
with the accoutrements of his type – the overbearing mother, the
emotional repression, the teasing sort-of girlfriend, the constant
guilt and fear. His father, Séamus, died some years before, marinated
in alcohol – his drinking accelerating after a Shoreditch building
site accident which left another man worse off than dead. And in a
familiar move both in reality and fiction, Eugene lights out for
London town; specifically to work on the sites and to live in The
Beacon, the pub lodgings where his father had stayed.

Della, landlady of the Beacon, receives Eugene’s letter announcing his
arrival with dismay. She recalls, in a passage that alternates
logistical and lyrical modes, having sex with Séamus in a pub toilet
(“Between the sink and the toilet there wasn’t much room for the V of
her thighs – ‘Weightlifter’s thighs,’ Seamus had kidded, his fingers
digging into the underside of them for a second … Even then, at the
moment where wanting becomes having, she had known that she would wake
with the barbs of who and where carelessly jagging over her” ). Jack,
a confrere of Seamus’ from the old days, is still is residence at The
Beacon. Della’s Oxbridge educated daughter Julia (“Little Miss May
Balls” as her mother mockingly calls her), and Julia’s shiftless
philosopher-boyfriend Rhodri (working on a volume of aphorisms and
daydreaming of a column: “’Grey Matters – where Psychology meets
Philosophy meets the Popular.’ The better Sunday supplements were
crying out for it. Perhaps even the TLS if he shaved off the
expletives.”) also populate this dive.

Upon arrival, Eugene goes to work on a site presided over by the man
who employed his father, tough but benevolent Buck O’Halloran and his
far from benevolent son Noble. The sites are no longer the preserve of
Irish refugees from miscellaneous misery; this is a truly
multinational crew. Eugene livens up – a little. Of course, an
Irishman in a novel cannot be all that happy for all that long, and
Eugene eventually wakes in a police cell, with a charge of racially
aggravated assault and no memory of how he got there or what lead to
the charge.

“The Cure” reminded me inescapably of Fitzgerald’s dictum that “Begin
with an individual and you end up with a type, begin with a type and
you end with – nothing.” Eugene’s almost stereotypically miseryguts
Irishman may live a little in London, but never takes on a spark of
life. His mother, his brother, his girlfriend back in Salthill – all
seem barely reheated leftovers from an Edna O’Brien novel. The writing
is slightly livelier, slightly more engaging, dealing with the
multiethnic crew of the site – but even these figures feel half formed, and tend to speak in the contemporary equivalent of Kipling’s aspirate-free Tommies.
Of all the characters, Rhodri’s absurd philosophising and pretension
(“he believed that writing in pencil let more of the self out”) are
closest to memorable, striking attributes.

While the flashbacks to Salthill largely read like an updated Angela’s
Ashes, there are some moving moments. The rain-sodden depressive
Irish caricature has a basis in reality, and Genn captures some
elements of the mother-son relationship very well – but more in discursive
passages (“it was obvious to her that her children had been trying to
get one over on her since the day they were born so she countered this
with apocalyptic predictions”) than in action or dialogue. These moments aside, The Cure moves with plodding overinclusiveness towards an unearned epiphany.

Lough Neagh sand in Croke Park and Stormont – An Irishman’s Diary, January 2008

Came across an interesting Irishman’s Diary on Lough Neagh by Paul Clements from 2008 . Some highlights:

Lough Neagh was famed in the past for its winter floods and many people feel it is best visited in winter. Migrating birds agree that this is the best time to come. Tens of thousands of wintering wildfowl, including tufted duck and pochard, fly in from eastern Europe while whooper swans, scaup and greylag geese swoop in from Iceland to feed over the winter.

Eddie Franklin, the retired warden of the Portmore nature reserve in the lough’s south-east corner, knows the birds well. Spend a little time with him and he will show you the hiding places in the reed beds of the ruddy ducks, explain the activities of the rare male smew, and tell you about the families of gregarious nesting tree sparrows as well as the lapwing recovery project.

It’s not just birds for which the lough is renowned. The eels in Lough Neagh travel more than 4,000 miles to breed in the Sargasso Sea and the young fry return by drifting on the Gulf Stream back over the Atlantic, entering the River Bann as young elvers. The lough also has its own unique species of fish including dollaghan, which is a huge trout, and a small freshwater type of herring called pollan.

and

Those with an inquiring mind may wonder, for example, how Kettlebottom Island in the south-western corner of the townland of Balloo got its name. According to the Ordnance Survey Revision Name Book of 1856 it came, prosaically enough, from its shape, which “resembles the bottom of a kettle”. Or what of the delightful-sounding place called Half Umry? It was first recorded in 1637 when it was referred to as the half towne of Umery.

Other names that roll mellifluously off the tongue include Clintycracken and Knocknamuckly, Limnaharry and Moneyquiggy; and two that twist the tongue are Tamnafiglassan and Gortnagwyg. As every broadcaster knows, the village of Magheralin is pronounced as in Marilyn Monroe, while the civil parish called Montiaghs – from Na Móinteacha, “the bogs” – sounds much like chocolate “munchies”.

The curiously named townland called British stretches from Ballyginniff on the west side to the Dunore River on the east and includes the terminal of Belfast International Airport. The name derives from the Irish word briotás, a direct borrowing from the Norman-French bretesche.

 

and

And incidentally, as well as forming a base layer in Croke Park, Lough Neagh sand was used for the mortar in the building of Stormont Castle in east Belfast.

“Water”, Philip Larkin

If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.

Going to church
Would entail a fording
To dry, different clothes.

My liturgy would employ
Images of sousing
A furious, devout drench.

And I should raise in the East
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.

There’s an interesting discussion here between poets A E Stalling and Daisy Fried. They rather good humouredly accuse themselves of “overthinking” at one stage, which is probably true, but there are some good insights:

Because art has many motivations and requirements which aren’t necessarily thematic. The poet wants that image. Or has some other desire more to do with aesthetics or formal necessities than with thematic content. Larkin may not have been much invested in constructing a religion at all. Poems aren’t necessarily made because we have something to get off our chests, or because we’re after a factual recording of experience. Maybe Larkin wanted to build contrast across the poem. Sousing and fording and drenching—those big-muscle, full-body actions—followed further on by the crystallization of light in water, in a contrastingly tiny vessel.

And maybe he wanted the beautiful inflection of “any-angled” and the way that multitude of angles fits into the tiny vessel. Could he have wanted everybody in the whole world who ever lived (“congregate endlessly”) also to fit in that glass?

Maybe the whole thing adds up to a simultaneously strenuous and weightless vision—and maybe that’s where the authentic experience of religion lies in this poem, or rather, an authentic desire for what religion might be. So that freshness or derivativeness of the ideas in “Water” may not be as important to Larkin as achieving the energies and contrasts in the poem, which seem to me to translate emotionally and (maybe) spiritually in a struggle both towards and away from faith.

10 things I’ve learnt about conservation optimism

10 things I’ve learnt about conservation optimism

I have posted before about #OceanOptimism. This post is an interesting summary (in handy listicle format) of some learnings from the movement and the wider conservation optimism philosophy. This is an ethic which is far from being blandly reassuring about very wicked problems but is also not falsely wallowing in a rather ostentatious virtue-signalling misery.

A View To Sea

  1. ‘Conservation optimism is about planning for the future, not just holding the line’ – Elizabeth Bennett. Conservation optimists are focused on making positive change and taking real steps forward for recovery, turning passion into practice.
  1. It’s a powerful movement that’s growing fast, thanks to the drive of hundreds of motivated and inspirational conservationists.
  1. We need to widen who can call themselves a ‘conservationist’. As Heather Koldewey spoke about at the Summit, anyone can be a conservationist. You don’t have to have a science degree – this is for anyone from any discipline, with concern for our environment and the drive to work to protect it for future generations. No lab coat required.
  1. The passion showed by young people is the engine of the movement. School children’s voices have been seen to have strong weight in political decision-making, and the skills and optimism shown by young conservation professionals entering the field…

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St Leonard’s Well, Dunnamaggin, Kilkenny

St Leonard’s Well, Dunnamaggin, Kilkenny

St Leonard is the patron of Dunnamaggin, as well as women in labour and imprisoned people. KCLR fm have an mini documentary on this well with an interesting and charming interview with Ned Kirwan, the owner of the land who restored and maintained the well. There is a Swiss connection discussed and also the fact that no Dunnamaggin person is known to have died by “thunder or lightning”.

From the road through Dunnamaggin , one sees a neat sign :

And in a field , a well kept enclosure surrounds the well. You get over a small step-stile into the field and over you go.

There are information sheets posted on trees in the well:

This reads “St Leonard’s Well is midway between the old church and cemetery and the present church. It was a place of pilgrimage where a procession began and proceeded to the old church. The well has been renovated in recent years and in 2012 the annual mass of welcomes was celebrated at the well. The area is on the land of Ned Kirwan who maintains it to a very high standard”

“In ca 1800 an alabaster statue was discovered, presumably of St Leonard, by the Brennan family who owned the land. In cases of dispute among neighbours, arguing parties made declarations with hand placed on the statue believing that the testimony given was as binding as an oath.”

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There is also a longer sheet with a biography of St Leonard from Fr Alban Butler’s The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints. Unfortunately I cannot find the text of the third volume of this online… so here is a link to his Wikipedia page and Catholic Encyclopaedia entry

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#OceanOptimism & the psychology of powerlessness and hope from current BBC Wildlife Magazine

The current issue of BBC Wildlife Magazine has a fascinating cover story by Elin Kelsey on hope and optimism versus despair in how we think and act about the environment. Essentially, much media discourse on the environment tends to be gloomy, doom, and generally despairing. Kelsey cites a wide range of research on how this negativity effects how we think about the environment and our beliefs about what can be done – and therefore what is done – to improve things. The BBC Wildlife article is not available online.  This article from Smithsonian Magazine is briefer and has fewer references to specific researchers, but the ideas are the same:

Things are far more resilient than I ever imagined. Me, green sea turtles, coral reefs blown to bits by atomic bombs. In a twist of fate that even surprised scientists, Bikini Atoll, site of one of the world’s biggest nuclear explosions, is now a scuba diver’s paradise. Bikini Atoll located in the Pacific’s Marshall Islands didn’t just inspire the famous bathing suit; the US Army detonated the first hydrogen bomb there. Between 1946 and 1958, 23 nuclear explosions were carried out, at an incalculable cost to the people and the marine environment. Fifty years later, scientists record a thriving coral reef habitat that includes large tree-like branching coral formations with trunks the diameter of dinner plates. “It’s made a brilliant recovery,” says Zoe Richards, a scientist at the Australian Museum.

I’ve been awash in uplifting news about the ocean lately. Each day, tweets from #OceanOptimism alert me to marine conservation successes happening all over the world: a new marine sanctuary in the Galapagos Islands to protect the world’s highest concentrations of sharks; green sea turtles in Florida and Mexico no longer listed as endangered thanks to successful conservation efforts; a major fishing deal offers protection to Arctic waters.

Kelsey founded the Ocean Optimism project to highlight the resilience of ocean ecosystems, and the progress already made in preservation and restoration. This was inspired by her own experience of how children in particular react to environmentalist nihilism:

For me, the impact of doom and gloom on kids, in particular, came as a shock. For years, I had worked with aquariums, museums, and international environmental organizations, creating strategies to engage people with marine issues. As an academic, I understood the national statistics about what people in many different countries knew and what their attitudes were toward climate change, overfishing, and other problems. But how all that “knowing” felt was nowhere to be found in that vast pool of information.

I realized that omission when I was invited to speak with young people attending a United Nations children’s conference on the environment in 2008 in Stavanger, Norway. The participants, who ranged in age from 10 to14 years old, came from more than 90 countries and a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds. “How do you feel when you think about the environment?” I asked. I don’t remember what I expected them to say, but so many of them expressed such a chilling sense of dread that I felt powerless to comfort them. I knew exactly what they meant. I, too, often felt despair about the state of the world. I just never imagined such feelings were shared among children living in vastly varied circumstances.

Global dread, eco-anxiety, environmental grief—despair about the future of the planet has garnered many labels in recent years. In our noble zeal to emphasize the urgency and enormity of environmental issues, we may inadvertently be raising a generation that feels hopeless about the future of the planet. Studies within the past decade from the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States find a quarter to a half of children surveyed are so troubled about the state of the world, they honestly believe it will come to an end before they get older.

Kelsey describes the legitimate reasons ecologist and environmentalists have for trading more in bad news than good – particular not wishing to play into the hands of denialists of various stripes (digression – AutoCorrect changed “denialist” to “dentists” just now) However, in so doing, they man be undermining the very efforts they are advocating for:

Hopelessness undermines the very engagement with marine issues we seek to create. According to researchers at Columbia University’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, there are limits to the amount of concerns we can deal with at one time. They call it the “finite pool of worry.” Overburdening people’s capacity for worry with too much doom and gloom leads to emotional numbing. When we believe our actions are too small to make a difference, we tend to behave in ways that create the conditions in which those expectations are realized. By bombarding people with bad news about the oceans at scales that feel too large to surmount, we cause them to downplay, tune out, or shut down. Hopelessness is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The rest of the article is worth reading for its insights into how #OceanOptimism can move people from this position of hopelessness to one of hope and therefore potential action. I had not come across the “finite pool of worry” concept before. In the BBC Wildlife article Kelsey cites Elke Weber of Columbia University as the originator of it. The BBC Wildlife article also has a good quote from Nancy Knowlton  of the Smithsonian Institution that gets to the heart of the matter;

“I look at marine conservation biologists as akin to doctors of the ocean,” Knowlton explains, “and doctors don’t train just to write obituaries. They fill medical journals with stories of advances and successes”

The article is thought-provoking (and hopefully hope inspiring and action provoking in many ways, some of which I will explore on my more medical blog… but one link to a recent post here came to me – Marie Thompson on noise, “the conservative politics of silence”, and soundscapes. Thompson writes:

To my mind, the conservative politics of silence informs a number of assumptions that are frequently made about what are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sonic environments; it relates to a preference for the simple over the complex, sameness over difference, past over present, predictability over unpredictability, the ‘synthetic’ over the ‘natural’ (whatever that might mean) and, ultimately, quietude over noise. This ideological framework underlines much ‘common sense’ about auditory experience, however it frequently remains unacknowledged.

Perhaps what Thompson omits is that the “conservative” politics of silence is often really a discourse of decline and loss. Silence and natural (or “natural”, if you prefer) soundscapes are defined by their absence, by their loss. This kind of cultural pessimism can be very seductive. And of course, it is rooted in a reality . Gordon Hempton’s One Square Inch of Silence  is a good example of a hopeful project, almost archetypal of the better-light-a-candle-than-curse-the-darkness philosophy, and naturally enough having to fight against threats near constantly .