Wednesday, January 2, 2008

on passing by- again

I wrote last month about the Community Liaison Committee and the total lack of information from Kildare County Council. I wondered if perhaps Billy Hillis could shed any light on the situation. Sad to report, though not unexpectedly, that there still seems to be an information embargo on the whole subject. I have given up contacting the council as I really do have better things to do and would rather contact people where I know I have a better than evens chance of getting a reply. I am beginning to think the whole thing may have been a sham from the start and the committee bit was just to assuage local anger at delays in setting up the fund. I would love to be proven wrong but on past experience its looking more and more doubtful.

I have been watching Eamon Gilmore in the Dail and I have to say he is not a patch on Pat Rabbitte when it comes to the oul speech. Pat could always be counted on to bring the art of oratory to new heights when questioning the Taoiseach or anyone else on the benches opposite. He could sustain a great train of thought and turn it into continuous speech, unlike our great leader with his sucession of em’s and ah’s.
Perhaps Eamon could delegate more of the talking to Pat. It would certainly be more entertaining and would definitely provoke more from the government benches.

While I am on the subject of Dail I was intrigued by a recent piece in the Sunday Tribune. The Dail, in common with most parliaments, has official note takers. They write down the various statements and exchanges between T.D.s and then this becomes part of the official record of the Houses of the Oireachtas.
On Wednesday October 24th the Taoiseach was queried by Enda Kenny about a point concerning the Shannon debacle, as to how a senior official in the department of transport failed to inform Noel Dempsey that Aer Lingus planned to abandon the Heathrow service. According to the Irish Times on the following day the Taoiseach replied thus:
“ Reports are done in such cases. Every department is complex and deals with a huge range of issues. I always defend those involved in such matters”.
Sounds ok so far, yes?. Sounds like the type of official statement you could happily put on the record. Unfortunately, elsewhere in the Irish Times, Miriam Lord actually had what she described as the “ uncut version”. It’s a bit long but I really think it deserves to be quoted in its entirety. What Bertie actually said was:
“In relation to Minister Dempseys department, or my own, I mean, there are sometimes, for some reason or another, something isn’t brought to the attention of all the relevant people, whether that’s the taoiseach, or minister, minister of state, or some other public servant- there will be reports done in that case- but I have to say, in fairness, in every department, it is complex, there’s a huge range of issues going on and I would always defend those involved in them because its so easy, I mean, when I walk- deputy Kenny will appreciate- when I walked the corridor to here, I’m everyday, I’m everyday and back, caught by officials and well “is it alright by me if we move in this or what we said last week at a cabinet committee or there’s this meeting in Northern Ireland or there’s this meeting in Europe” and I give instant decisions”.
Unfortunately, there’s more.
“If I was to think every time, then some official goes in, puts this all in an e-mail. If you were to show me that in two months, you know, the complexities that are involved in that, the only thing I find- you would, wouldn’t take this away from me- is watching this: how everyone is having so much difficulty remembering what happened a month ago and the eminent people in another location expecting me to answer remember everything with certainty what happened 17 years ago, but that’s maybe they accredit me more intelligence than anyone else, but anyway”.
So, the garbled grammar, the strangulated syntax and the perilous punctuation have all been airbrushed out of history. Surely a note taker is not going to take this responsibility upon them selves without instructions from higher up?. So how high up was it?. Alas we shall doubtless never know.

Still no reply from either of the Green Ministers about the reduction in the grants for alternative energy appliances, despite their regular appearances and pronouncements on the state of the environment and their plans to help it. One of the sunday papers recently ran an article on energy conservation in the home and carried some comments from the chief executive of Sustainable Energy Ireland, David Taylor. He was telling us how to save energy and using the prospect of saving money to push people along. Slightly hypocritical when his own organisation is reducing the grants.
What is perhaps even more surprising is that the general media seem to be either unaware of the situation or are just ignoring it. Either way the Greens seem to be taking the attitude that if they just ignore it then it will go away. And we wonder where Kildare County Council gets it attitude from.

All for now. Mike Edmonds.

Brendan McWilliams – Weather Eye.
Meteorology in the Service of Art and Nature
The following are extracts from some of the treasured cuttings I have from the lately departed Brendan McWilliams’ Weather Eye, covering just some of the varied uses which the author introduced to his daily column in The Irish Times for nearly twenty years, endeavouring to show how one part or form of existence is complementary in some way to another, sometimes unbelievably so. In another way, it is a tribute in gratitude of his extraordinary ability and gift to communicate and translate, sometimes humorously, from an otherwise droll Meteorological language, matters of science, into topics of common interest. His range was virtually unlimited, from the phenomena of the cosmos to the flight of Swallows; or from the dangers of lightning on the golf course to the colour of wind. It is hoped that the full series of Weather Eye will be published in its entirety in one or two volumes, for the edification of all.

While fishing through the various kept articles of Weather Eye, it dawned on me that categorization of some of these might yield some special fruits or insight into his psyche, but I first had to acknowledge that the ones I retained were those I happened to prefer; so, unwittingly my sin is, I had already prejudged. Nevertheless, while his contributions were wide-ranging, they make for very pleasant reading, as in Funny, but what colour is the wind? (3.4.2006)
That he could, in the service of Weather Eye, draw readily from his own vast knowledge, is illustrated by his reference to “Myles (na Gopaleen) at his most whimsical” in The Third Policeman when Mathers “expounds his ideas on the wind.”
“No doubt you are aware,” he says, “that the winds have colours, and that a record of this belief can be found in the literature of all ancient peoples. The wind from the east is deep purple, from the south a fine white shining silver; the north wind is a hard black and the west is amber.
“People in the old days had the power of perceiving these colours and could spend the whole day sitting quietly on a hillside watching the beauty of the winds, their fall and rise and changing hues, and their magic when they interweaved like ribbons at a wedding.
“What could be more exquisite than a countryside swept lightly by cold rain reddened by the southwest breeze?”
In Greek times too, all the winds had their own derivations, the greater winds appointed superior over the lesser winds and so ad infinitum, each being called upon in time of dire distress or for special needs, to alleviate difficulties. Most markedly in Homer’s Illiad, the winds were called upon during the Battle of Troy, when the Greek ships were becalmed prior to the invasion of Troy, but that favour required the life of Iphigenia; and in Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, winged Zephyrs are drawn with pouting lips, calculated by the artist to deliver sufficient force, depicted by thin white/grey lines in an accurate direction, gently wafting the naked sea-born goddess safely to shore on a scallop shell.

A Lesson on research and detail, for Artists.
In his epistle of 10.9.2005, Brendan McWilliams titled it The artful Sir Sloshua and the earth’s shadow, referring to Sir Joshua Reynolds’ propensity to use improper and unstable pigments and of ignoring proper use of detail, quoting Wm. Blake: When Sir Joshua Reynolds died, all nature was degraded; The King dropped a tear in the Queen’s ear, and all his pictures faded.
Sir Joshua was the foremost painter of the 19th century but was rebuffed by the Pre-Raphaelites and others for his ‘passé technique’.
Brendan wrote: “Sir Sloshua’s fuzzy background is nowhere more evident than in Cupid Unfastens the belt of Venus. The nondescript backdrop to the scene focuses our attention on a chubby little cherub who sits beside the Roman goddess who is reclining in her dishabille.
“The cherub is – well – doing exactly what it says on the label. To meteorologists, however, the “belt of Venus” is something altogether more mundane and less, risqué, and has nothing to do with either the goddess or the planet.
“On an evening when the sky is cloudless and the weather is hazy, it is sometimes possible to see, just after sunset, the shadow of the earth projected against the sky over the eastern horizon. It appears as a dark bluish-grey horizontal band rising slowly upwards shortly after the sun in the west has disappeared. The more hazy the atmosphere, the better it acts as a screen onto which this shadow is projected. High up the sky will still be its normal colour blue, displaying perhaps a slight pinkish tinge. But in between this brighter area of blue and the dark, eastern shadow down below, is a narrow band – a horizontal fringe to the shadow, as it were – which is reddish brown.
“It is caused by the scattering by the atmosphere of the red light of the setting sun in the direction of the observer, and is called the “belt of Venus””.

In Paint’s love affair with the weather, (11.7.2002) he began thus; “The purest and most thoughtful minds,” declared the 19th century guru John Ruskin, “are those which love colour most.” Ever defensive of his own patch, he then proceeded to dally with paint manufacturers about their “liberal use of metaphors from meteorology” when naming their products, referring to them as “a litany of popular distempers”, taunting them for instance, about their ‘variations of a bluey hue’ of the sky.
Taunting others, he was not content that for some unfathomable reason “’thunder’ is also blue” and the “confusion with the colour of a stroke of lightning” or that “flash, which should really be blue, turns out to be a rather unexciting shade of grey”.
As for the wind; it is also seen as ‘blue’, whether calm, breeze, storm or tempest “are all blues or bluey shades of grey. The exception that proves the rule is ‘Zephyr’, which turns out to be a kind of beige or creamy brown”.
Perhaps something escapes me, but while Weather Eye quotes admirably from the poets to emphasise a distinction, in these cases, of colour and hue, he seldom seems to draw from artists (!), well, except poor Sir Sloshua, above, and in this same article he then turns to Percy Bysshe Shelley for guidance on “other meteorological phenomena for a variant of yellow, for instance, branded ‘harvest mist’ and a kind of orange labelled ‘misty morn’. Both of these, perhaps owe something to Shelly’s picture of autumn dawn, a time he describes as being ‘when the golden mists are born’”.
Not surprisingly, he ends the article with another possible meteorological phenomena – Chinese scientists are developing a ‘thermochemical’ paint which under varying temperatures will change colour, viz: “to a cosy red, when winter’s ice and snow appear”, the more to keep your house warm.

Showing flashing versatility, he brought one of nature’s wonders to the fore when in timely fashion (August), he demonstrated how little Ladybirds could be part-inclusive of his own profession as weather forecasters, aides, so to speak, to troubled meteorologists, this year above all, when with tongue in cheek he wrote; Ladybirds endowed with extra sensitivity (13.8.2007)
“There are 400,000 species of beetle on this planet….most of us dislike 395,000 or so of these prolific beetle families to the extent that we would just as soon the Almighty hadn’t bothered. The 5,000 exceptions are the Coccinellidae species which we fondly recognize as ladybirds.
“You can use a ladybird to get a weather forecast. To find the short-term prospects, you sit your ladybird on your open palm; if it crawls across the hand before dropping limply to the ground, then rain is on the way, but if it ups and flies away in lively fashion, tradition has it that the weather will be fine. The long range forecast, on the other hand, depends on the number of spots upon the insect’s wings; if you have caught a ladybird with fewer than seven spots, the coming harvest will be good, whereas one with more than seven spots is a harbinger of empty barns”. But when a ladybird has exactly seven spots, the long range forecast will be inconclusive.
The winter of 1975 was mild and most of the ladybirds survived to a wet spring, a fertile climate for aphids, mostly greenfly, staple food for ladybirds, so much so, that the ladybirds bred enthusiastically. By mid summer, there were so many ladybirds but so little food left that they had to emigrate to England.
“In the early days of August that year, billions of them took to the air in search of food, traveled up to 400 miles until they reached the sea, and descended as a well-publicised plague on Britain’s eastern beaches”.

Expounding on the dangers and power of lightning, he wrote of a player at Baltray Golf Links in Lightening can and does strike twice (7.4.2004) when a golfer walking down a fairway during a heavy hail-shower was struck by lightning and “the victim suffered extensive burns, lost parts of three fingers of his right hand, suffered ruptured eardrums and several perforations of the lower bowel – these last presumed to have been caused by a rapid expansion of the gas inside as the current surged throughout the body. But happily, in this case also, the victim was able to resume his game some months later…survivors should be careful; there is no truth whatever in the notion that lightning never strikes at the same place or person more than once”. Weather Eye then went on to instance the poor unfortunate American “who was struck by lightning for the first time in 1942, losing a toe-nail; in 1969 he had his eyebrows singed when he was hit again, and in 1970 he had a shoulder badly burned; his hair was set alight in 1972, and a year later his hair, now re-grown, was ignited yet again; in 1976 he suffered an ankle injury from a lightning strike and when he survived his seventh and final hit in 1977, he was left with painful chest and stomach burns. Having endured these attacks with minor injuries, Mr. Sullivan in the end was smitten by a fatal blow of an entirely different kind; he committed suicide in 1983, reportedly suffering from the pangs of unrequited love”. Lightning was discussed a number of time in Weather Eye under different guises, each of them hugely informative.

There were two tracts (meteorologically of course) which Weather Eye seemed to favour, and to which the column returned on a number of occasions. I dare say it was because of the author’s love of the sheer complexity of the matters involved. Both had as a common theme - lunar movements. One was the “dating of Easter (in Ireland)” problem, and the other, the eleven lost days, known in England as the Lord Chesterfield Act, (W/Eye 3.9.2002) when in 1752, the government reluctantly conformed with continental Europe by altering their calendar to the changes made by Pope Gregory X111 in 1582, and were in force across Europe since that date.
Briefly, prior to the Gregorian change, Julius Caesar was advised to alter the calendar of that time, 45BC, in order to correct or update the ancient Roman calendar, so adding three extra months to that year. But since then, matters had escalated, and it was necessary for Gregory to delete (!) ten days to put matters in order. Between 1582 and 1752, an extra day was lost to the English calendar, and when the Act came into force on September 2nd, the following day was deemed to be September 14th. England lost 11 days. Invidious England rebelled and riots ensued. Weather Eye (22.4.2006) pointed out a peculiarity in on the same subject; while Wm. Shakespeare and Miguel Cervantes both died on April 23rd 1616, yet Cervantes died 10 days earlier!

Brendan McWilliams passed from us (Monday, October 22nd of this year) to a higher world; ascended to a place perhaps already familiar to him, as would befit a Meteorologist such as he, a scholar, an enlightened and inspirational gentleman. Requiescat in pace. Michael Ward.

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