World Vegetarian Day 2015

11781648_10207810181721950_5923997489452800412_nIts an honour to speak on something this close to my heart. I am looking forward to it and to listen to these other very learned speakers. Its looking rather like an excellent day. Do drop by on Sunday 27th September St Andrews resource Centre 114-116 Pearse St. Dublin 2.

 

A Year On

 JpegSarah Lundberg

It has been a year today (July 25th 2014) since Sarah Lundberg ended her own life. Distressingly there has still not been an inquest, and so the full details of what happened on that day have not emerged. On a more positive note several memorial services are occurring today, some of whom I have been invited to. I decided not to attend, basically because I prefer to remember her in my own way, as I have by habit done with other friends and loved ones I have lost through the years. Friends have warned me repeatedly about the necessity of taking it easy, especially today. To be frank, I am not worried. These last weeks have been particularly difficult, and I know I have not been myself (apologies to loved ones and friends for being so difficult and thanks for your patience). I expected it, accept it and know that like all things, it will pass. Patience and taking a broad perspective on things is one of the few things learned from living past one half of a century, at least for me.

When someone close to you completes suicide, there is a sense of feeling haunted, a sense that the tremendous potential of that person’s life has not been achieved, and as such their presence lingers. I know I have felt it. It’s as though one will be forever left at that moment of loss, and to move past it seems impossible. You do move past it. You really do learn how to move on and you learn how to forgive the past. But you also get flashbacks, images, at the most unexpected moments, a sense of overwhelming sadness suffusing the happiest of times, and a level of anger and resentment at what happened that surprised me.

And then there are questions. The inevitable unanswerable questions as to why, what motivated such a terrible act of self-destruction is also something that haunts one. And despite all the talking and speculation and reading aside, it’s simply the wrong question. Suicide of someone close to you is a situation where no actual answers will ever take away either the shock and pain of what happened that day 365 days ago. The truth, and I knew Sarah better than anyone, is that she was one of the most malice free people I ever knew. You knew where you stood with her, than though she had many faults as we all do, she knew how to never hold a grudge. If she were here now she would want me to move on. And this is what I do every day, and though its immensely difficult, I can feel my old self returning.

I am not a religious person. I was once upon a time. But that was a long, long time ago now. If I were religious, I would probably agree with a friend who commented that he now knows Sarah is in a better place. She struggled against nearly impossible odds. She achieved so much and yet I often think had she lived there was so much more for her to do. I often imagine what she would have done had she lived, the new writers she would have published, the new books she would have written, the dozen or so Bob Dylan concerts she would have gone to, the animals she would have rescued, the countless kindnesses she would have given to so any people. She had a huge heart.Photo0058

The second picture I have chosen for this blog post is probably an odd one for such a sad occasion. I saw it as I was packing stuff away and immediately remembered the exact location, one of those moments of sensory immersion, almost Proustian in its intensity. For some reason I don’t really care about right now, I thought a picture of us doing something as pedestrian as shopping seemed right, as so much of our life together wasn’t taken up with big books and literary readings, but was taken up with doing little things. I remember this day back in the nineties. This photo was snapped by a friend as we came out of Tesco’s. I remember I was worried about our dogs being left alone at home and if I had left my office door open and if my pages and stuff were okay. I needn’t have worried. For once our pets were well-behaved. Everything was fine.

No Belief Systems Remain Unharmed by These Blogs

Raif-Badawi--008I believe in blogging. I am often shocked what other bloggers endure in order to keep on blogging, in a forum wherein one supposedly can engage in some kind of free expression. The most obvious one is that of the Saudi Blogger Raif Badawi who was recently sentenced to 1000 lashes in Saudi Arabia for ‘cybercrime’ and ‘insulting Islam’. Word has it Raif Badawi will now be tried for apostasy, which carries the death penalty. I did not realize Islam was so sensitive to criticism. In point of fact, I do not think it is, that is, normally speaking. Generally speaking any belief system that inflicts this type of extreme punishment against its dissidents is somewhat doomed. History is littered with examples of failed purges.  Anyhow Islam is a rather fascinating and magnificent system. Personally I don’t believe a word of it, but some of the finest cultural artistic and scientific advances have occurred within the context of Isalm, including the glorious invention of beer (which came not from Saudi Arabia which is our topic right now, but Iraq 4000 years ago, and developed there from through Islam) But to return to Saudi Arabia, it is not a country a secular atheist writer might feel the warmest of welcomes, seeing as it thinks little or nothing of administering rather brutal punishments on those whose views it violently disagrees with. There are other examples of Islam doing such things on unbelievers, many others like this. According to Sarah Anne Hughes (communications assistant for the American Humanist Association.) She writes “Recently in Bangladesh, the government removed hundreds of online posts by seven atheist and secular bloggers who “defamed Islam and the Prophet Mohammed,” according to the AFP. The country’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pledged to punish the bloggers who spoke against Islam. So far, four bloggers – including one who openly identifies as a “militant atheist” — have been arrested and now face up to ten years in jail if convicted of violating cyber laws.” (read the article in full here : http://americanhumanist.org/HNN/details/2013-04-atheist-discrimination-the-weird-and-serious-ways-no )
I of course have no personal or spiritual interest in Islam, nor any faith, aside from enjoying the Koran the few times I read it. Faiths have been rooted out and destroyed and recreated in numerous indeed hundreds of forms throughout history. But that is another issue. Its also true in my experience that not one of the Muslims I interact with have ever espoused such extremist views as what one reads about. In ways it seems almost like an exercise in Islamophobia to read so many negative stories about the faith of Islam so often in the press. That being said, it’s outrageous to see fellow writers, or indeed anyone persecuted for their basic human right to free expression as freedom is freedom to express the self without harm to another. Given the crooked and labyrinthine world of the internet, it’s inevitable too that divergent views of all kinds will emerge in even the most narrow and repressive of regimes given the rise of blogging, a medium extremely difficult to control, and largely out of the reach of governmental control. Think of how easy it is to respond to, or write about the contents of another blog or post, for good or ill.

Torture, imprisonment, lashes, and religious or political police who take your ideological and doctrinal temperature and make of you a spy upon your neighbour or family is one way of controlling the minds of a population. It is quite effective, and the more bloody and brutal and spiritually inspired, its more justified. During the middle ages, for example, the justification for such torments inflicted upon Christian schismatics and unbelievers was the blessings of confession and forgiveness and as a consequence, the glories of heaven and the joys of God’s presence in eternity. But you can’t have that in the West. Firstly that’s just not legal, unless one whisks a suspect off to a black site injected with some kind of anesthetic and hooded where he or she can be tortured far from the inconveniences of the Geneva Convention, tormented and broken in peace, that is, until they confess their sins. Outside of purely political ‘terror’ suspects you just can’t do that to the general public. People ask questions. If you have them by their minds, their hearts and wallets will inevitably follow. Anyway by an large torture doesn’t work. Torture is an instrument of power. It doesn’t change your mind. Secondly we have the problem of the internet. It doesn’t matter how many people one questions, word spreads at the speed of light. For instance this picture was posted on Facebook and received seventeen thousand views and forty nine thousand shares. Facebook, like the NSA and MI5 and all the other governments involve in the intelligence community, keep count of everything.

Not exactly a political view an establishment superstructure would want propagated through the online community. Of course this is easily dismissible as merely a witty meme filled with politically apt language, giving something of a left of center conspiracy theory on the operations of a worldwide governmental military industrially manufactured control structure, a worldwide governmental conspiracy to spy on our every online move, that and just about every aspect of our lives, generate wars, and manufacture our consent to the status quo, whatever that status quo might be at any given historical juncture. Yes I expect one could dismiss it, if it hadn’t been proven by Edward Snowden’s revelations. If we don’t believe that Big Brother is really watching us, if we don’t believe that enemies are manufactured for the purposes of waging war to increase governments market share, if we don’t believe that we are given just enough education to be controllable, then we are simply ignoring the evidence that has been presented to us. We simply have not been paying attention and the lessons of history are lost unto us.

But surely bad people should go to jail? Yes. But only after a fair publicly accountable trial, not a mafia style hit by Special Forces in the dead of night.

Which brings me back to the importance of us all keeping talking to each other. Blogs help. Online communications help. The idea is that ideas matter. We need something to change our minds, and each of us has a unique perspective and that unique perspective has the ability to open other people’s minds. The best communication of all is face to face, physical meetings and physical confrontations, not that the gift of the internet has not been a good thing. So belief systems should be harmed by these blogs. And the more the merrier. Lets keep talking.

THEY READ EVERYTHING

GOOGLE’s BOOKWORMING EXPERIMENTS AND AI DEVELOPMENT

I love reading. I read about 3 books a week. I know many people who read more, much more. Reading and writing goes back about thirty thousand years. The act of scribbling things down in various formats, from stone walls to tablets to wax to wood to paper to print to computers forms a method of recording everything, from casual notes to high culture to science. Its  is one of the essential elements for a species’ survival and advancement. Without text civilization would suffer failure. In other words civilizations that don’t  record things, pass on technology and skillsets and develop, well they simply collapse. Equally true is the fact that a society with superior technology and recorded skillsets will rule others. Knowledge is power. Its a cliché, but things become clichés for a reason.

One of the more under-discussed, under-reported and unexplored things that I have frankly been haunted about is the fact that in recent years the multinational Google are big readers. They have surpassed their goal of reading every book that has ever been written and making it available online in Google Books. Google say that 129 264 880 books are the total on the planet. I think its into the billions myself, not to mention the exponential speed of text growth since the inception of the internet. More to the point Google’s reading experiment, no doubt hugely successful, has changed our civilization forever.  It’s not simply because all the reading and scanning  of all of those millions of books without the permission of the copyright holders resulted in a much publicized lawsuit. Its because knowledge is the most valuable asset and the most useful currency available. If it is, as I hold it to be, then why do this?  Why would Google want to read and store every book available? What’s so interesting about reading every book ever written? I was intrigued. Then I read how Google had gotten into robotics and artificial intelligence.

Put this way, a book represents the most complete representation of a human thought process, the most comprehensive working out of human interactions in the world as recorded in language in fiction history, geography, poetry, maths, philosophy, science and the arts. One mirrors the human experience through reading, especially books. A book comprises an approximation of a complete act of consciousness, moving from premises, accumulating data, putting forward arguments, telling a narrative, drawing strands of various objections to opposing arguments, reflecting on emotions and human and non human interactions at many levels of complexities, and finally reaching what we understand as a satisfying conclusion to the book. Added together in all the books we get something approximating the deposit of recorded human experience. From there we move on into music, the plastic arts, painting and so on. So, one of the most perfect sources for a schematic of human consciousness and intelligence’s grasp of the many problems of life in constructing Artificial Intelligence is in reading.

Reading is not so much an obligation, but for the most part, enjoyable. Wonderfully enjoyable. In fact it can become an addiction. I would go further and say that people who read little or nothing except what their work demands or the daily tabloids are missing out on not only one of the great pleasures of life, but one of the truly great consciousness expanding experiences possible for anyone. Regarding the act of reading as something that is the purview of students or academics or nerds is simply a type of anti intellectual prejudice about something that is essential for living. I shudder to think what might be the effects of this kind of attitude if were to become more widespread.

But to get back to what Google might be working on. If they build a working AI, which seems a little more than likely, then it will become an essential component for all high functioning robots. If this happens, then the technology will undoubtedly become cloned and copied and cheaper and widespread very quickly. AI technology will then become part of what we now know as the internet, but will transform the internet utterly into something we no longer recognize as the web.

AI will do everything we do. It will perform all automated functions, will run departments, do accounting, become part of scientific work, build roads and ships and planes, look after our children and run our hospitals and operate our transport systems. AI will be field tested in battle and become the indispensable weapon for every modern army.

In fact as predicted in so many science fiction novels, AI will grow exponentially in sophistication to such an extent that they will probably be regarded as people at a certain point, that is if and when they pass something akin to the Turing Test.  Some wont, of course and will be left in another new sentient life form classification.

As so much work will be done so much more efficiently by AI, populations will drop hugely because it will become economically unviable to have anything more than two children, as there will simply be no work for them and average incomes will drop as work done previously by humans will now be done by AI. Its hard to believe that it could happen but AI will sadly increase even further the gap between rich and poor, and will lead to more wars.

New missions to find habitable planets will increase in effectiveness exponentially with the use of AI, and it won’t be long before people will begin to ship off world to find new places to live. New colonies and new sources of wealth will be discovered off world and life will be discovered on other planets. All this is speculation on my part. I know that.

I also could go on. The possibilities get wider and wider and wilder and wilder. My views are also pretty dystopian on this AI development. But I am not going to speculate further. But from all this one thing is highly likely. It is this: like so many revolutions before, the act of reading as a mirror for all that we know, all that we are, has become yet another key starting point for a new technological revolution.  

 

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Notes Scribbled in Dejection in JC’s Cake & Cafe Shop Newtownmountkennedy

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When you are stuck in a Cafe in Newtownmountkennedy an hour or two before an appointment, one can become intolerably bored. Being a bit of a bore myself, I start talking to complete strangers, who for the most part have come in for a quiet time by themselves and don’t want a strange hairy talkative man discussing economics and brands of coffee with them. The other possibility, being the one I found myself doing after talking too much this particular Wednesday morning, was to ensconce oneself, read too much, and start making notes, too many notes, notes on a book that is quite brilliant.

Peter Watson, in his truly wonderful unputdownable Ideas, a history from fire to Freud (Orion Books ISBN 978-0-7538-2089-6), which deals in one thousand odd pages the development of ideas from the emergence of the first Chimpanzee/proto-human (about six and a half million years ago, give or take) to around 1933 just as the Nazis began to turn Germany into a war economy. I picked up this particular tome after I came across the second volume of this series (it deals with 1933 onwards) from seeing and reading bits of it years ago in a friends library and desperately coveting a copy of it myself. The second volume is called A Terrible Beauty – The people and Ideas that Shaped the Modern Mind, which, as I said, takes us from 1933 onwards to the late  1990’s. I read it and think I may have either lost it or gave it away.

The first volume (Ideas …) glides swimmingly through the millennia of history and deals deftly with vast tracts of ideas and cultural shifts with élan, clarity and compelling prose. Its definitely worth a look. Think about it as a Christmas gift for readerish friends.

In the last hundred or so pages, the area of the book I found myself in that Wednesday morning, Watson begins to talk about the flowering of German Genius, an event that happened between the years 1848 and 1933. The picture on that sits oddly on the top of this web page is a photograph of page 906 of Ideas  I took on my phone. It gives one and idea of just how many rather clever German individuals were around at that time. One or two names, however I do take exception to. For instance I notice Franz Kafka’s name is on the page, about midway down. Kafka was actually a Czech. He subsequently lived in Berlin and died in Austria- so he kind of barely makes the list. Ludwig Wittgenstein was born in Austro Hungarian Vienna in 1889, and spent a lot of time in Cambridge, England.  Also the photo of p. 906 is of a list of most but by no means all the rather clever individuals that came out of Germany between the aforementioned years. This flowering is an event that runs parallel but is not necessarily inextricably linked with the development of the most repugnant scientific racism (pseudo scientific if one looks at it closely) that was gaining momentum during the time, also in Germany and surrounding countries. The scientific racist, whose logic hides to my mind a profound bigotry that seeks rational defensible explanation, believes (borrowing an idea taken from the Enlightenment) that being human is a biological rather than spiritual or theological or metaphysical fact. This belief, coupled with Primarily Western European historical contact with other races and a firm misapplication of Darwinian Principles of Evolution, led some  thinkers to believe that not only are all races not equal, but equality doesn’t come into it. Some are just not as evolved as others. The misinterpretation of Germany’s Renaissance, (if you might like to call it that) was misinterpreted. It gave us a huge advance in so many disciplines. Yet it was also used a proof of racial superiority. This racist thinking, backed with jackboots and weaponry was a kind of poacher-turned-gamekeeper thinking that leads nations to impose their versions of democracy and/or religion on others, believing they to be the one in the right and all others by default in are in error.

However if one looks down the list in the photo of page 906, one sees how few of those artists and thinkers would for a moment hold such views. I would like to very quickly single out one name and point out that Nietzsche was not one of those aforementioned thinkers. He was not a racist in any way, shape or form. He split with Wagner for instance because he loathed, among other things, Wagner’s racism.  Moreover Nietzsche’s sister Elizabeth who looked after him during his years of dementia was a racist. She also married a fascist, someone Nietzsche loathed and despised and would have nothing to do with. Elizabeth Nietzsche’s subsequent associations with Hitler, and her poisoning of her brother’s writings and legacy has done much to distort the reputation of one of the greatest philosophers, prose stylists and psychologists that ever lived, and its a deep shame that such a thing happened.

Anyway – so many exceptional artists, philosophers, scientists, engineers, musicians, painters, sculptors, writers did not emerge in a void. Something had to have triggered it – for instance the unification of Germany in 1848, without question triggered events. Indeed to crib lines from Fawlty Towers – there is ‘enough material for several volumes’ trying to tease out the causes of the German Renaissance. One thing that Watson points out as a big cause is the profoundly interesting and dynamic German concept of what constitutes cultural activity. German Kultur came to stand for intellectual, spiritual, or artistic activity  – but not to the same extent political, economic or technical life.

Kultur was a synonym for societal  manifestation for a type of creativity of a higher order, perhaps the highest, one of the profoundest expressions of the German Spirit. Thus for a person to engage in such intellectual, spiritual, or artistic activity, ones work was more than welcomed, but seen as central to the furtherance of the nation’s well being. This is somewhat different to how such work is seen now. It is the province of universities and study groups paid for think tanks and the work of vast multinational corporations who invest huge sums in universities and trawl for talent across the world for those people to work in vastly well stocked labs on projects that are deemed useful mainly fiscally attractive rather than good in themselves. It is a sad truth that novels are written for sales now more than anything else. If one decides to become a writer or a poet one is really talking about someone who teaches college and gives creative writing classes and as a side project writes. They operates so cohesively within the system as to never have an opportunity to adequately critique the world they live in. Other than that they either become part of the one percent who write a best seller or remain forever on the fringes of the golden circle, giving readings at open mics and getting their work published in small presses. An artist needs an audience, and so many gifted artists work shrivels on the vine of rotted potential simply because the world we live in views the creative thinker as something extraneous to what is central and most important, being economic viability.  Painting and sculpture is a huge business and viewed as such. As a consequence has thus far completely lost its teeth with the exception of a few labouring in isolation. Academics in universities are, as well as teaching and publishing duties, are expected to bring in money from corporations and perform studies for a price as part of their contract. There thus is a world of difference between the use of genius ( an unpopular word I admit – perhaps giftedness is a less controversial word) as a commodity and the pursuit of artistic and intellectual goals as a good in itself. The irony is that the rather romantic view of pursuing such goals as a good in itself has a massively beneficial effect on society as a whole. The post 1848 Germany for all its many many faults, was a place where such work went on precisely because of such values. And we are happily living with its many benefits since.  The chapter that covers our present age is in real terms remains unwritten. The commodification of skill sets tends to more benefit the needs of the corporate thinker, the organizational psychologist, the investor, and the team leader. The irony of the lessons of this Watsons chapter in German prewar history seems to be this : the more the truly creative person works/writes/paints/builds  for themselves, the more they work for others. This is not egotism, which goes nowhere. This is the selflessness of true creativity, which transcends not only the bounds of egotism but says something about what it is to live in the world.

Sarah Lundberg 1968-2014

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Sarah Lundberg: writer, historian, animal rights activist, humanitarian, feminist, vegetarian, environmentalist, archivist,  publisher, animal rescuer, talker extraordinaire – was my spouse for twenty years, my friend for twenty four years and my lover for twenty two years.

Sarah Sunflower Lundberg (born Brenda – she changed her name) was known primarily as the founder of the small press Seven Towers, as well as being the agent for many poets and writers and singers, including myself. She published writers such as Ross Hattaway, Noel O Briain, Eamonn Lynskey, Raven, Quincy R Lehr, Estate of Ray Pospisil,  Eamon Carr, John Liam Shea, republished John D. Sheridan’s Paradise Alley, as well as literally hundreds of other writers, artists, graphic designers, cartoonists. She also agented other books, for instance Steve Conway’s excellent memoir of his time on radio Caroline Shiprocked. So many writers got their very first real publication with a real press thanks to her. Books suffused her life. I met her when she was working in Dublin public library and we talked books from there on. She went to extreme lengths to promote the writers she believed in. I remember her walking up to Bob Dylan’s representation at a concert and giving them a copy of one of my novels and extracting a promise from them that Bob actually get the book. It was an extraordinary moment I will never forget.

Sarah also promoted the arts fearlessly and with great energy. She ran hundreds of readings, open mics, occasional festivals, liaised with other presses to ensure their authors got a fair reading of their work, happily collaborated with other presses, and set up a transatlantic open mic between New York and Dublin, which was the very first of its kind. The Last Wednesday open Mic, which migrated from one location after another was to the best of my knowledge the longest running open mic in Ireland, was a hugely popular event and attracted poets and writers from all corners of the Earth. I recall one hilarious night when a New York rapper turned up very stoned just as the event was going to close and recited a very fine poem about the birth of his daughter. I recall too the look of fear in his eyes as he stood alone in the center of that little stage downstairs in the Box in the Twisted Pepper, Abbey Street and the crowd respectfully silently attentively listened to him and he knew here were a group of serious writers who really would pay attention to his every word. He needn’t have worried. The poem was very moving and very good.

In later years Sarah’s Interests moved into local history and historical research (we always shared a passion for history and our home was filled with history books). Around the time of her death she was involved in a large project which she sadly never finished. She was an excellent writer of prose. Her style was crystal clear, unadorned, and leaned towards the gentle understatement of fact rather than any ostentatious dramatic effect. She was interviewed occasionally on local and national radio stations on historical subjects that she was researching and one of the more telling aspects of her interviews was her adherence to fact, her awareness of the human element in any story, and her humour in seeing the contradictory and ironic aspects of human actions and motivations. She never wasted time on padding her conversations with empty chatter and though she could talk endlessly, she usually had something to say. I always had a hard time convincing her she had done well in such interviews, because she was always so nervous giving them. She had a prodigious memory, an intimidating recall of fact, and a grasp of language’s many subtleties that made arguing with her something of an act of futility. Despite her many many gifts, Sarah was a shy self deprecating individual, an introvert who loved the world of books and ideas more than any kind of public arena. She hated cameras, loathed publicity, and could be seen at events with her head down and her knees crossed, wearing a jumper and jeans, possibly knitting something, and listening silently to whoever was performing their work. Though she may have given the impression she was somewhat distracted, she never missed a thing about what was going on at any event. She was simply one of the cleverest people I ever knew.

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In losing Sarah we have lost a great figure in the Irish Arts scene, a departure largely unacknowledged by Government bodies or official arts organizations in Ireland, despite the outpouring of shock and grief at her death by the artistic community. One can only imagine what other great things might have come from Sarah had she remained with us, both in her own writing and in her contribution to the careers of other artists and writers.

Sarah tragically ended her own life on 25th July 2014 in the early afternoon. Sarah and I separated around August- early September 2013 and I had no contact whatever with her since that time, except for Marriage Mediation, which we never completed. For anyone who has been through it, Mediation mainly involved with money and property matters and little else. She did not return my calls or messages to my great distress. This tragically was not the first, or indeed the second time Sarah had made an attempt on her own life, as she carried the effects of being raped with her throughout her life. Countless friends and loved ones and admirers reached out to her and cared for her and loved her and supported her, but the devastating effects of all that she had suffered became too much.

Though our marriage had ended, our love never did and never will. Though she had gone through so much, she achieved so very much. She will be missed, terribly, by friends and loved ones.  One could never forget Sarah Sunflower Lundberg. We shall not see her like again.

                   Ah! Sunflower

Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done.

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire,
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

by William Blake