Banking for Dummies

Dateline: Friday June 8, 2018

In today’s Irish Times, it is reported that Supporters of a radical scheme to upend Switzerland’s financial system have made an 11th hour appeal to voters to approve a proposal to strip banks of the power to create new money through lending”. What a brilliant initiative and about time. I’ve just had a dust-up with my own bank, y’know, (Well, I don’t actually own it but you know what I mean) because they have the nasty, sneaky, practice of taking money out of my back pocket and giving it to people they don’t know without asking my permission. If I want to pay a bill, but don’t have enough money to cover it, then, of course, they will slap me (metaphorically, of course, across the knuckles) and say “No, no, no, you naughty man, not till we tell you that you can”. Well, what they are actually doing is processing incoming debits before my pension is lodged. They could have done it in the other sequence of first lodging my pension, and then peeling off enough to pay the incoming demands, which, I hasten to add, are legitimate. I have checked with a few other people including small businesses and the same is happening to them. As we already know, the banks are now completely controlled by computers and human staff reduced to work like robots, while their directors behave towards the public like Daleks in Dr. Who?

The trick, just in case you didn’t know, is that the system pays incoming POS (point-of-sale) requests from traders from whom you have bought something or (in my case) with whom you have a standing order for regular subscriptions. Then, if the account balance is low and there is not enough in the account at that instant, the debit is made in any case, putting the account into the red, incurring a penalty charge. When the debits have been processed, any incoming credits, e.g., my pension, are then processed, and (in my case) bring the account back into the black but with the effect of effectively reducing my pension sometimes by up to 20%.

Now if the sequence were the other way around I would not have paid any penalties in my nearly 20 years with the Bank! I have gone to the trouble of graphing my bank balance against time since I first opened the account in 2003. The clear pattern emerged that shows that anytime I have incurred a penalty was between 02.00h and 04.00h on Friday mornings. In the middle of the night! This is when all, or nearly all, of the bank staff and their families, are in the arms of Morpheus. That is also when I am usually asleep. But, as they say, money never sleeps. Note this, however, someone chose to brief the IT people in the Bank to devise that system. In that way. On the few occasions where I had been hit badly and painfully by the process I challenged them and lodged official complaints.

I should explain that my complaints were always on an ethical, moral, even a philosophical  basis. I think that it doesn’t sound right to speak about money as if it were something dirty and grubby. But then I don’t really understand finance. Between you and me and the wall, I believe that money is an imaginary entity, a concept without a reason, a spirit without a body. My sympathies have always been with the Unwise Virgins. Why should any normal young woman, keep her wick trimmed and her lamp lit in the middle of the night just in case her boss came home late and on the off-chance that he might have lost his keys. Indeed I often wondered why those Virgins, Wise and Unwise, didn’t join up with the Labourers in the Vineyard while the Boss was away. I’d say now that Ten Unwise Virgins would have sorted out those Vineyard boyos, whether they came late or early. Any way, back to my complaints. One of them was acknowledged by the Complaints Department who promised to reply to my complaint within a fortnight. That was two years ago and I still have not received a reply! But me being a “cute hoor” I’m still counting down on the clock! There could be one hell of a fairy goodwill gesture in the pipeline. Hope springs eternal in the human breast.

The other magic trick to look out for is what I call “The Ride of the Little Old Man”. When someone transfers money to me it doesn’t show up in my account for about four days. The same is true if I am sending money to you. It goes out of my account immediately but won’t show up in your account for about another four days either. Where has the money been for those four days? Well, in the old days, when the bank officials wrote with quill pens and home-made ink, it did genuinely take time to record every single transaction, have it checked, signed off by the manager, and details sent to the Central Bank or wherever for whatever central banks do with that information. In fact, they sent a little old man on a high Nelly bicycle with a big woven-willow delivery box hanging off the handlebars, and it full of envelopes containing all the financial information to stoke the financial fires of the Central Bank.

Needless to say, given his age he probably stopped off every now and then to slake his thirst, chat with the lads, you know yourself. But that was back then. And it took time for the L.O.M to get there and back. And certainly he had to make more than one journey of it. And that was a thirst-creating job. And stressful in the extreme. And now? Well, you know, traditions die hard in these great, important, financial institutions. And they have maintained the tradition of “The Little Old Man” to bring a whiff of nostalgia and a stabilising sense of tradition to the business.

You have only to look at their advertisements on the telly to see how much they care about young couples starting out, starry-eyed on life’s journey, having smiling babies, buying their first house. The same financial institutions are also thoughtful to take care of the money saved up by the elderly for their retirement and, sure, isn’t that why they are smiling and untroubled by anxiety, even though their eldest son is still sleeping at home on the coach. He is at least married but his wife and children are with her mother’s people. The elderly smiling couple alluded to above. At least, the fees for the photo shoots might pay for tomorrow’s dinner. And so on. You are doubtless impressed by the care and forethought of the financial institutions, aren’t you? Like *%^??#?/*%^??#?/ (expletives deleted). Oh, and by the way, whenever I have complained very LOUDLY, and remonstrated, and used very strong undeleted language, do you know what? Within a week a fairy seems to have sent me a “goodwill gesture”. At least, that’s what it said on my account statement, the gesture, I mean. Not the fairy. And now, in my “cere and yellow years”, that’s why I still believe in the good fairy, the tooth fairy, and the f-f-f-f-f-inancial f-f-f-f-airy!

Goodnight now to children everywhere. Sleep tight and don’t let the bugs bite. Don’t forget to say a little prayer to Holy God, for your local Bank Manager and Bank Directors. And don’t forget the Swiss Banks as well. Sure, don’t they all need the odd oul’ prayer to protect them? Because they don’t know the day nor the hour when the Law Officer will come knocking on the door. “I’d like to invite you to come down to the Station with me to answer a few little questions”. Cometh the day, cometh the sentence! And, of course, it’s about time, isn’t it? The longer the time the better, sez you!

Filming an Owl at Night

Democracy wishes to elevate mankind to teach it to think, to set it free. It seeks to set it free. It seeks to remove from culture the stamp of privilege and disseminate it among the people

Dateline: Sunday June 3 2018 13.00h

Shillelagh, Co. Wicklow, Ireland

When I checked my mail and incoming messages this morning, I found a post from my friend and translation guru, #Antain_ Mac_Lochlainn

Mick and thoul

This is it!

Why is today’s Google Doodle an image of Mick McCarthy filming an owl?

Ever the one for the smart-arse reply, I penned the following and went about my day.

i think that th’oul owl is holding the prompt sheet for Mick while he is operating a concealed but very sophisticated ballistic missile guidance system of North Korean origin to assassinate the woodpecker, who, as every Irish Soccer supporter knows, is a symbol representing our renowned Keano (nudge, nudge) Cork hit-man, who was always pecking away at poor Mick and making his life a misery as manager of the national team. The image of the stag in the background is a literary allusion to the words of the German poet who wrote that “the Irish will always drag down a noble stag”.

Introduction:

I admit, after that response, I felt a nagging regret that I couldn’t remember the name of the German poet who made that remark. Perhaps the reader would get the impression that the quote was composed by me and think I was initiating an assault on the people of Ireland. I get enough abuse as it is for some of my sharper comments about Irish life, so I did a Google search to see if I could get evidence to clarify the origin. And I did.

I got a real shock when I followed the thread of the search. I then purchased an online e-book (referenced below) to confirm the details and got further information. C.J. Jung was right. There is such a thing as coincidence. But there is also synchronicity. I will let Jung speak for himself and when you finish reading come back here and see what it means in practice: Link <http://www.thinking-minds.net/carl-jung-synchronicity/>

It reaches parts of the brain that ordinary thinking hasn’t reached.

Reference:

“Blood Kindred – W.B.Yeats – “The Life, the Death, the Politics”

by W.J. McCormack

Publisher Pimlico 2005

Epub ISBN 9781446444245This link will take you to the book I refer to in the blog


And so the story begins … … tread softly, and all that jazz!

In Ireland in the late 1920s and early 1930s, after the Civil War, there was a period of unsettled ideas during which there were attempts made to re-orientate an emerging Irish national identity. Think: de Valera and comely maidens dancing at the cross-roads whilst lusty young men were batin’ the tar out of one another in the field over the ditch. At the same time a younger Sean Lemass was dreaming determinedly of clouds of smoke from industrial activity over the Lakes of Killarney, bringing pollution (what’s that) and prosperity (yes, please) to a fairly poverty afflicted country. Around the same period, anti-Semites were also emerging as a result of World War 1. In the ferment of ideas, attempts were made to create links between Irish aspirations and the developing ideas in Europe concerning nationhood. And the names of many that are known to us and revered by us now, such as, W.B.Yeats were caught up in that debate. There was also, Maud Gonne who was one of Yeats’ “intimate” friends who also, it appears, had anti-Semitic leanings. Incidentally, one of the first files opened on a citizen by G2, the Irish Army Intelligence Unit, was opened on said Maud Gonne. The celebrity list is long so try googling a few other names that come to your mind.

Links were being identified between anti-Semitism and the rise of totalitarianism in Europe in the first half of the 20th century. The poets Ezra Pound (America) and T.S.Eliot (England) expressed strong views on Fascism in general. Yeats joined with them but he was more interested in events developing in Italy under Mussolini. Pound and Eliot commented on the threats posed by Jews and Judaism to what Ezra Pound regarded as a “civilised society”, e.g., his own America and Eliot’s England. In Germany Karl von Ossietsky was committed to a Nazi concentration camp in the late 1930s because he was a Gentile who defended the Jews from the anti-Semites. His supporters petitioned the Nobel Peace Prize Committee to award their peace prize to Ossietsky. Yeats’ friend, Ethel Mannin also supported their petition. Yeats wrote to her: “If the Nobel Society did what you want, it would seem to the majority of the German people that the Society hated their Government for its politics not because it was inhuman”. This refusal by Yeats to offer public support for a Gentile victim of Nazism has led some people to suggest that Yeats was a supporter of Nazism. But the story was not clearly black and white regarding Yeats. The emerging information of implied friendship between Yeats and notable Jews he met in Ireland was seen by some as evidence of a vague kind of affinity between the two nations, the Irish and the Jews, because they were both perceived to be victims of history and of persecution.

While Yeats was touring in the United States in 1920 he publicly supported the Palestine Restoration Fund (PRF). This should NOT be confused with today’s Palestine Liberation Front! The PRF was an initiative of the Zionist movement which had been launched to establish a permanent Jewish homeland. This seemed to raise doubts about where Yeats really stood on the situation. How could he support the promotion of a Jewish homeland and at the same time fail to confront a German State that was publicly hostile to the Jews. Truth is we do not know for sure whom he was supporting.

The Balfour Declaration (1926 and 1930) was not clear in its intentions. Was it actually supporting the creation of a new homeland for the Jewish diaspora? Was it part of Britain’s imperial policy for expansion including the Middle East? Or did it owe something to the apparently parallel histories of the Irish and the Jews? Don’t forget also that W.T. Cosgrave, President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, was an official representative of the new Irish State at that meeting so the views of the Irish Government were being expressed also! Or, indeed, was the aim of the founding and establishing of a “home” for the Chosen People (i.e., the Jews) a conspiracy to get the Jews out of Europe and dump them on some other part of the world. Uganda and Alaska had been mooted as alternative sites where they might find room and be removed from their problematic presence in a Europe which was divided about their presence!

Other information adduced about Yeats’ attitudes were based upon the occasion in August 1928 when he was accused of being very rude to Erich Gottgetram, a Jew, when they both were house guests at Coole Park, Maud Gonne’s family home in Sligo. The evidence is slim and the interpretations many! But in McCormack’s book referenced above he suggests that Maud Gonne was in contact with the German spy, Oscar Pfaus, who was chosen to contact the IRA early in 1939. And don’t overlook the fact that Roger Casement had earlier been in contact with the German Government soliciting their aid for the Irish rising in 1916.

Pfaus was the Hamburg chief of an organisation called “Fichte Bund”, whose motto was “Union for World Veracity”. According to McCormack “… they debated Jewish responsibility for the partition of Ireland with Pfaus insisting that ‘most of the British propaganda which is flooding Éire is coming from British-Jewish sources in Belfast’ and (Maud) Gonne in return (was) seeking evidence of ‘Jewish interference in this matter.”

In February 1934, Yeats was awarded the Goethe-Plakette because his plays and poetry with their mystical and folklore interests were clearly compatible with the ideology they were proclaiming. Yeats’ plays in particular had been translated into German and were popular with the Government and its supporters. But not all Germans were of the same opinion.

Thomas Mann, the German writer and winner of the 1929 Nobel Prize for Literature, wrote about a different future for Germany. His concerns were about “democracy considered as thought”. He wrote: “Democracy wishes to elevate mankind to teach it to think, to set it free. It seeks to set it free. It seeks to remove from culture the stamp of privilege and disseminate it among the people – in a word it aims at education”. I suggest that Mann’s views are as relevant today, perhaps even more relevant, in an Austerity Era where education and art and music and culture, need to be made available to all. Instead they are being withdrawn from the reach of those who need them most. These are not luxury items to be reserved for one group only. They are essential to enable all citizens to participate fully in the development of their own society. These so-called finer things of life are also the building blocks of a free society. They are part of the very soul of democracy.

My trawl through the back streets and quaint resources of the Internet this afternoon gave me the opportunity to browse through those nuggets of information, telling me about the role of Irish leaders in the early development of our State. But all those described above fade into the background, yet provide the base upon which I can display the treasure of my random rummaging of information. And in a happy “coincidental” manner it provides a tantalising background to the final item. In all honesty, this one frightens the life out of me.

In a pamphlet produced by Terramare Publications of Berlin in 1937, two years and two months before I was born and two years before World War II started, Rudolf Frerds’s “Population Papers” iwere published as a pamphlet under the title “Germany Speaks”. He wrote “… [this paper] addresses the problem of the falling birth rate among ‘families hereditarily endowed with the highest qualities’ and the rising rate among ‘families with a large number of social inadaptable elements’.”  Nazi laws had been introduced in July 1933, the year in which my paternal grandfather, Rudolf Pratschke, gave my father, František Mořic Anton Pratschke (known in Cobh as “Tony”) a copy of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”.  He told him to read it and protect himself.

My Dad had Austro-Hungarian citizenship up until 1933 and if, as was the fear when the war started, that with the help and support of the IRA and the Irish people, Hitler might invade Ireland from the Atlantic side and create a pincer movement on England, then my father could have been drafted into the German Army. Can you imagine a man who spoke Irish, a member of Connradh na Gaeilge where he met my mother, who was an athlete with Ballymore Athletic club, who played hurling with Carrigtwohill and coached young hurlers in the Cobh Hurling Club, suddenly sucked into the vortex of war and death and destruction. The fears and anxieties that I experienced as a child in my pre-verbal years left an indelible mark on my psyche that only now I am beginning to evaluate and try to understand?!

In 1938, Joachim von Ribbentrop was appointed Hitler’s Foreign Minister. In the National Library of Ireland in Dublin there is preserved a copy of that book which came from Yeats’ personal book collection. Von Ribbentrop liked Yeats’ plays and felt that they resonated well with Nazi Germany’s efforts to integrate their mythological Teutonic past, just as Yeats integrated our mythical Celtic heroes into his vision of Ireland. There is another article in that book, “Germany Speaks”. It is titled “The Prevention of Hereditary Diseased Offspring” and it includes reference to the provision (28 June 1935) abolishing “the maxim according to which no offence can be punished unless it is specifically in the existing code of law”. In other words, if it’s not listed as an offence then there is no offence.

My thoughts now, as I review my afternoon’s exposure to this flow of “coincidental” (sic!) incidents from Ireland’s history are focusing on the central question. What Pandora’s Box have we now opened as a result of the recent Referendum on the Eighth Amendment? I would ask you to consider that question and try to imagine what might happen over the next several years if we fail, again, to identify the legal framework required to enhance the lives of Irish people as civilised human beings who are concerned with ultimate questions for which we struggle to reach a consensus decision. How sure are we that we will always be able to elect a Dáil with the competence, the intelligence, and the courage to appoint a Taoiseach and Ministers who can and will lead our people and protect them from the evils that flow from failure to understand the issues facing us, and an unwillingness to face and discuss our shared perceptions of reality?

And to finish, I am glad to say that I identified the quotation source. Yeats had repeated a remark made by the German poet, Goethe who had written: “The Irish seem to me to be like a pack of hounds, always dragging down some noble stag”. Think about it. Please.

Footnotes:

I was unable to find a direct reference to this article by Frerd, but I stumbled on this item which is of related interest. It is an onine (available free) copy of Deirdre Toomey’s “Yeats and Women: Yeats Annual No. 9” which contains a lot of information relating to Yeats and eugenics.

ii The web site linked to the “German Voices” will have brought you to a German language site. It is not necessary to understand German because I just wished to draw your attention to the fact that W.B. Yeats is the only one on that list of winners in the era concerned who does not have a German name. He appears to have been the only foreign winner over that period.

The Hero’s Journey

Remember that each one of us will, at some stage or another or even at many different stages in our life, come to a door or a path or a life option that is closed to us. We have the choice to turn away or to open that door, to travel that path, to make that choice.

theFoolI first heard about the “Hero’s Journey” back in the early 1970s. A colleague of mine, Paddy Walley, mentioned it in passing around the time that I was recruited as a Training Specialist in N.E.T., the fertiliser plant in Arklow. I didn’t know much then about the “Hero’s Journey” other than that occasional references to it appeared in the media dealing with training and organisation development issues. About the same time, I was encouraged by an Irish consultant, a behavioural scientist, the late Pat Quinn, who was working with the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, based in the U.K., to attend their annual Leicester Working Conference.

This “conference” was unlike anything I had ever experienced up to then. It was (and still is!) an experiential learning event. Unlike most conferences, where there is a lot of socialising and networking contacts, a lot of talks by panels of experts, and a “jolly good time” is had by all, financed usually by the sponsoring employers (think: scaled-down Davos and a rite of passage for aspiring executives), the Working Conference is an intense learning experience driven by the participants themselves, both consciously as a result of their desire to learn, but also unconsciously by their subliminal needs and desires and personal make-up.

A Working Conference as an experiential event is certainly different. There you learn from your own direct experience of interacting with others in the “here-and-now” as you work with them in an emerging organisational structure and struggle to understand what it’s all about. At one level, you are thinking about the work you are trying to do from scratch, while at the same time, you are being encouraged to examine the process in which the group is engaged, communicating, thinking, doing, arguing, agreeing, visualising. That is, you are dealing with the what and the how of the Task but at the same time, struggling to understand the emerging dynamic of the Process of working together.

The conference consultants focus on analysing what the various groups and sub-groups are doing and interject from time to time with their hypotheses about what is happening in the group, as-a-group. They rarely if ever interact with individuals in the group, because their focus is the group as a group, as if it were a separate “animal” and the individuals merely different, but intrinsic, aspects of that “animal”. The focus is on the dynamic way in which the Task and the Process interact, on how that interaction affects and is affected by the individuals in the group, at the level of both conscious and unconscious awareness, thinking, and behaviour.

The group consultant’s only information is what they see and hear and sense around them. From that they develop a working hypothesis as to what might be going on in the psyches of the group members. It is impossible to describe the effect this has on each participant. Suffice it to say that on the morning of the second day (the conference lasted for a fortnight), I spent almost an hour before breakfast, on my knees, in the toilet bringing up what felt like everything I had ever eaten in my life. By the end of the fortnight, I was aware that the world had changed for me and that I had choices to make. In many ways a Working Conference is another example of the Hero’s Journey in a limited time frame. My career took a radically different direction from then on. I would now in retrospect describe my life as surfing from one wave to the next, even from one Working Conference to another, caught up like a small canoe negotiating dangerous but exciting rapids. I have also attended three further working conferences and trained as a group relations consultant with the Tavistock Institute.

I mention all the above, because over the past few years since 2002, when I returned to Ireland, I have been struggling to cope with the consequences, some good, some bad, others yet to be evaluated, of my life in general. But I have learned how to look at these these situations in a more useful way, and most importantly, to accept life as it is rather than wish it were different. As part of this developing scenario, the name of Joseph Campbell arose again and again. He was the originator of the “Hero’s Journey”! In this, his work is invaluable if you struggle at times to make sense of what is happening to you in your own life. The diagram below is just one of many different examples of how the different stages of the Hero’s Journey may occur.

Three-Act-Structure
A schematic diagram showing different stages in the Hero’s Journey.

Joseph Campbell was born in White Plains, New York,[2] the son of Josephine (née Lynch) and Charles William Campbell.[3] He was from an upper-middle-class Irish Catholic family. He was a scholar and was strongly influenced by the work of James Joyce. His book, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, gives a good overview of his ideas. His work has influenced many modern writers and film-makers, such as George Lucas and “Star Wars”, “The Matrix”, the Harry Potter series, and many others. The popularity of those films and others like them, including folk tales, mythology, and fairy tales, is in large measure due to those stories being built upon a simple framework that we instinctively recognise and respond to as being rooted in our shared human nature.

herosJourney01
The Hero faces his Nemesis

Today I came upon the film “The Timeless Tale of the Hero’s Journey”. [NOTE: This link will take you to a YouTube video summarising the Hero’s Journey and that is then followed by a one-hour film expanding on the first video and pointing out the implications of the myth]. I have no regrets that it has taken so many years for my life to come full circle since then, with many repeated cycles of the Journey, from Paddy Walley’s reference to it nearly fifty years ago right up to now. You will always find the Hero’s Journey relevant to your search for meaning in your life, as well as helping you to recognise the “Here be Dragons!” sign.

 

The key point for anyone watching this film is to remember that this is not about a pantheon of heroes to be admired from a distance. Every human being since the dawn of our history is unique. We live in a gigantic, multi-dimensional, mind-boggling, cosmic arena that we still struggle to understand, so there is still plenty of room for your and my and his and her uniqueness to emerge and flourish. Remember that each one of us will, at some stage or another or even at many different stages in our life, come to a door or a path or a life option that is closed to us. We have the choice to turn away or to open that door, to travel that path, to make that choice. You don’t have to be famous, or fantastically clever or skilled or wealthy see your life as your Hero’s Journey.

Watch this film and you will understand why!

Heros-Journey-Cartoon

The Second Law of Thermodynamics, Modernism, Post-modernism and Me

An Irish Government in Exile – just another English translation for the word Dáil, like Tír na nÓg

Scenario

A large disused garden shed, somewhere in the galaxy. Or maybe in another galaxy.

cosmic-taijitu

The Stage is empty. Entities are scurrying around in the dark. A single overhead spotlight, with green filter, creates a cone of light. An old man enters (stage left), looking slightly out of place and embarrassed. He stands near the cone, occasionally looking up at the spotlight.

Voice (stage right): “Stand directly under the light, please”.

Old Man: “Oh, I see. Thanks. By the way, will they understand that there is no difference between ‘The Tao’ and ‘The Path’?

Voice: “You don’t need to worry about that.”

Old Man: (smiles nervously)

Voice: “Oh, get on with it.”

Beginning

Cow in Val di Scalve, Alps mountains, Italy
Cow in Val di Scalve, Alps mountains, Italy

Imagine that you are assembling a jigsaw puzzle of 4,000 pieces1. You have a picture of what the final assembled jigsaw will look like. Now, why would anyone want to painstakingly and with great difficulty, by trial and error, assemble 4,000 random pieces of colourdy cardboard in order to create a picture that you can stick painstakingly, with glue, and with great difficulty to a large sheet of brown paper, then frame it and hang it over the fireplace in your sitting room, when you could have framed the original picture and just dumped the 4,000 pieces of colourdy cardboard?

Anyway, there you are with the 4,000 pieces finally assembled into a picture that is the same as the one on the box that originally contained the pieces of the jigsaw and you are now carrying that picture on a large sheet of stiff cardboard or plywood into another room to show to your friends what you have achieved , when you trip over the cat, or the dog if you don’t have a cat, and if you have neither just imagine that you tripped somehow and dropped the jigsaw on the floor. As a result, the jigsaw breaks apart into its separate pieces which now lie scattered all over the floor. Get it? OK. Good!

Cow in Val di Scalve, Alps mountains, Italy
Doppelganger Cow in Val di Scalve, Alps mountains, Italy, in  a parallel reality.

Now, imagine that in a parallel reality, someone who looks exactly like you is carrying a box with a lovely picture on the cover, and in the box there are 4,000 similar pieces of colourdy cardboard. Again, for some unknown reason, that someone like you trips over the cat, or as I explained above, trips over a dog, or just trips, dropping the box, which falls open on the floor and all the 4,000 pieces are now scattered over the floor. Get it? OK. Good.

Middle

But why on earth do those two different scenarios end up with the same result? Why, in the second case which is the reverse of the first, do the dropped pieces not assemble into a picture like that on the box when they hit the floor? Why? Because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics2, that’s why. The what? What in the name of all that is good and holy has the Second Law of Thermodynamics got to do with jigsaws? Well, it just does! That’s what every scientist since the Age of Enlightenment will tell you! Get it? O.K. Good!

Now the same scientists from the Enlightenment onwards have checked with one another and compared results and are unanimoniously agreed that the planet we now inhabit was first a cloud of cosmic dust that was set spinning in Space after the Big Bang, and gradually, because of the spinning motion over billions of years , the bits of dust kind of stuck together tightly until it formed a rock. Then drops of water that had become frozen together somewhere else in space after the Big Bang, froze together into one huge, really huge, snowball, or ice ball, flying through space and eventually, accidentally crashed slap, bang, into the stony lump that had been dust.

dreamstime_l_52443973
Smaller lump of rock

Then, later, other bits of debris from the Big Bang, together with other lumps of rock that had been formed elsewhere in Space, crashed into that lump of rock, which now had big, really very big, in fact, ginormously big oceans of water as well as additional lumps of rock that had arrived in the meantime, and caused a relatively smaller but still a very, very big lump of rock to break off and start spinning around the bigger piece, which then became a humungously enormous big rock with oceans with a smaller lump of rock called a Moon spinning around it.

Over the next few billion years, funny things happened on that big lump of rock and water3 which now , due to the Laws of Gravity, was causing teeny, weeny bits of even tinier bits of dust to start sticking on to other teeny weeny , tiny bits of even tinier dust which, over another few billion years, formed atoms and then atoms stuck on to other atoms to form molecules, and then molecules got stuck onto other molecules, until eventually a blob of matter flopped out of the sea somewhere and landed on a dry rock.

220px-Homo_erectus_pekinensis_-_archeaeological
Gouger (Homo dubliniensis)

Incidentally, that dry rock can be seen from the Great Atlantic Way off the West Coast of Ireland and has been nominated by an Irish Government in Exile (just another English translation for the word Dáil, like Tír na nÓg) as another Unesco site worth preserving because we might get a few extra shekels from the E.U. to keep it clean after the gougers from Dublin on holiday in the West wrote inappropriate graffiti on it. Get it? O.K. Good!

And this little blob, over the next few millions years joined with other blobs and formed bigger blobs with blobs attached to them and then, one day, one of those multi-blobs saw its reflection in the water surrounding the rocks

dreamstime_m_28250959
Selfie by blob

and realised that there were other blobs around it that looked just like itself. The He-She-It blob called all the other blobs to view their reflections in the water. Then one blob looked up at the sky and called out in ecstasy: “That’s not Space, that’s the expletive deleted Cosmos”. Whereupon all the other blobs fell to their knees even though it would have been easier for blobs to sit in the Full Lotus Position. Unfortunately, lotususses had not yet become part of the landscape.

And that is how Evolution started.

End

But what puzzles me, after all those billions of years, why didn’t the atoms and molecules and blobs just fall apart like the pieces of the completed jigsaw that you dropped in the second paragraph? Get it? Good. Rrrright! We’re nearly there now. So, what was the difference? You tell me! Because if those blobs and multi-blobs had behaved according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, then we would never have produced Donald Trump, Theresa May, Ching Duk Qwan (or whatever his name is), or Isis,  or Will-Will, or religion, or atheism or whatever and whoever they are, and our World wouldn’t be in the mess it now is. And what’s more, we would never have arrived at the situation we are now in.

That is why a very wise, really stunningly wise, poly-blob called Lao Tsu4, once wrote:

When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.

When Goodness is lost, there is morality.

When Morality is lost, there is ritual.

Ritual is the husk of True Faith,

The Beginning of Chaos”

Long silence.

Old Man: “Can I go now?”

Voice: “Sure! I’ll turn the voice-over off later”

Some Notes

1 At an earlier stage in life, when I worked as an Organisation Development consultant, I was asked to run a course in Management Skills for a project management team. One of the exercises I designed involved a 4,000 piece jigsaw. I emptied the box of pieces onto the table and told the participants that they had one hour to assemble the picture. They dived into the task immediately, asked no questions, and no one challenged my wisdom. It was clear to me that the participants had been on other management training programmes run by reputable self-sustaining drip-fed institutes that I refer to now as WOT Seminars, where WOT stands for “Ways of Talking”. Content never changes but the way of expressing the eternal truths of management do change to maintain the drip-feed.

An hour later we sat in a circle to discuss the task. After dutifully trotting out the standard answers, they were somewhat taken aback when I asked them to include my role in their discussion of the task. Then the penny dropped and we had quite an interesting discussion about the perceived role versus the actual behaviour of management! This sage advice has nothing to do with the main story here. Or maybe it does.

2The Second Law of Thermodynamics is about the quality of energy. It states that as energy is transferred or transformed, more and more of it is wasted. The Second Law also states that there is a natural tendency of any isolated system to degenerate into a more disordered state. Ergo, our post-modern society now. But this also relates to the intolerance of scientists towards environmental activists, New Age unwashed, anybody who uses the word “Namasté” or practises Yoga, Qigong, Shamanism, or Druidry, because they are always complaining and demanding the we conserve energy.

3I know you can’t have lumps of water – lumps of snow and ice, yes, but not water. But for all purposes, a huge mass of smashed rocks and mind-boggling masses of water, can collectively be referred to as a lump when spinning in Space.

4Caveat! Some people say that Lao Tsu never existed and that it was a few other psycho-blobs who were bored one night and decided to write a very clever book on “How to rule without actually getting blamed by the mob of blobs”.

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Birth of the Ampersand et al.

As I invite you to follow me into one of the larger stone buildings, please do not distract those hard at work at the sloping wooden desks.
Come with me now on a magical, mystical journey back through time to a small cluster of little stone buildings clinging to the side of a rocky island breasting the rolling waves of the unknown Atlantic

This is the Scriptorium, the Room of Writing.

I am launching an appeal for the preservation of the “.”
Yes, the much maligned, abused, and misunderstood Full Stop or Period. Restore our Mr., our etc., the I.R.A. Shun the abusive use of USA, UK, EU, and their likes! Omitting the humble <.> is a sign of ignorance, an absence of respect, and a further decline into willful barbarity.
Why do I write with tears of desperation misting my smart phone. Why do they still use a special key for the simple, unpretentious <.>! Quite simply because the dumbing downers have misunderstood the advice that “Brevity is the Soul of Wit”.
I beg you, Friends, Romantics, and Fellow Countrymen, lend me your ears, just for a mo. And in that short phrase at the end of the previous sentence lies a clue!
Lay aside you concerns, your petty irritations, turn off the radio or television, and open your mind and imagination to the greatest gift that our Irish ancestors gave and gave freely to Europe and to the world at large.
Come with me now on a magical, mystical journey back through time to a small cluster of little stone buildings clinging to the side of a rocky island breasting the rolling waves of the unknown Atlantic off the Western coast of a mysterious island marked on the maps of Roman and Egyptian seafarers as Hibernia, the Island of Saints and Scholars, and departure point of leather boats and currachs for Tír na n-Óg, the Land of the Ever Young.
As I invite you to follow me into one of the larger stone buildings, please do not distract those hard at work at the sloping wooden desks. This is the Scriptorium, the Room of Writing. Here you see the Scribes at work. They have prepared their pots of ink from natural materials. Some of those raw materials have been delivered by traders who traded their way up the original Great Atlantic Coastal Way extending from the Mediterranean in the South to the Hebridean Islands north of Scotland. That was a time when Europe was thickly forested and wild animals marauded in the wilderness between isolated communities.
Some Scribes are sharpening the points of their goose feather quills. On the sloping work surface of his desk another Scribe has fixed the prepared calf hide upon which he will apply the ink with the quill. But first he must mark out the space which will be his page. Nowadays, of course, with your P.C., or your iPad, or your smart phone, this is done automatically for you. Left or right justified? Italics? Bold? Which font, what colours? Just set your requirements by tapping the relevant icons and off you go. Not so then! Not so even when I was starting out as a student!
In 1959, I had just completed my first year as an engineering student at University College Cork. I had spent part of that year learning the basic skills of engineering drawing which involved blocking out the different sections of the drawing including penciling in the text boxes where I would insert the explanatory text. My father, with intriguing foresight or perhaps just wishing to pass on to me his skill in the calligraphy required when preparing important legal documents such as leases, contracts, and wills, introduced me to the subject.
He sat me down at my own Dickensian desk in his office in Cobh, Co. Cork, complete with the tools of the trade, a sheet of waxed paper, an array of nibs, a wooden pen-holder, a razor blade, and a little bottle of black Indian Ink. Any error or blob of ink had to be dried and the stain that was left carefully and delicately scraped off. Then the roughened surface was rubbed with a chamois leather cloth to warm the underlying waxed surface to restore the original smooth, glossy surface of the vellum. It took a whole day of writing to reach the standard required before I proved that I could be trusted with the actual job in hand. It was worth it.
Years later when I became interested in studying ancient manuscripts and translating from Latin and Irish to English I found that early experience invaluable when deciphering the manuscripts.When I, like the ancient Scribes, embarked on writing my manuscript I had to plan how many words and letters I would fit into each line. The spacing had to be uniform on my documents. The Scribes had a different problem that in some ways made their job easier. They didn’t put spaces between words! They just wrote uninterruptedly from the first word to the last word of the document! Yes, the whole page. I think that the modern equivalent is the help files supplied with software programs where you need to know the answer to your question before you can understand the turgid prose of the author who is supposed be helping you find that answer. Those manuscripts were hard to read!
Now the early Irish Scribes were way ahead of today’s help file compilers. They listened to the feedback they received from the sponsors who commissioned the manuscripts as the following (imaginary!) dialogue demonstrates:
King/Lord/Abbot commissioning the manuscript: “The formation of the letters is very pretty and I really like the animal and bird decorations but I feel like a right gargoyle dick-head when my guests and my friends don’t dig it if I run out of breath halfway through the story. I need something better if you are to continue receiving my bags of gold.”
Chief Scribe: “I hear what you’re saying, King/Lord/Abbot Boss. Leave it to me.”
So the C.S. called the team together for a brain-storming session. He used motivational techniques common at the time to encCome with me now on a magical, mystical journey back through time to a small cluster of little stone buildings clinging to the side of a rocky island breasting the rolling waves of the unknown Atlantic cosmic-yin-yang-symbolourage the team. Phrases like “that’s your bonus package for Paradise terminated if …”, “No more trips to Tír na n-Óg for you, Brother …”
And it worked. A sequence of lateral, vertical, and horizontal thinking exercises and the team came up with some of Monastic Ireland’s greatest contributions to world literacy and literature. Firstly they invented the FUCome with me now on a magical, mystical journey back through time to a small cluster of little stone buildings clinging to the side of a rocky island breasting the rolling waves of the unknown Atlantic cosmic-yin-yang-symbolLL STOP to indicate the point at which one part of the message ended and a new part started thus providing a discrete cue for drawing breath. And thus was the SENTENCE born. Shortly after that some bright spark added the gloss of decorating the first letter so that Kings/Lords/Abbots would remember where they stopped if they had lifted their eyes to check quickly which of their so called friends and guests had fallen asleep or slipped out for a quick chat with one of the temping, and often tempting, serving wenches. [Thanks, Google predictive for that opportunist pun!👍].
Thus did our Irish ancestors invent and introduce CAPITALS. To put this in context, if Monsanto, or Nestlé, were involved in such an invention today, they would demand copyright control and charge a hefty fee for every time we used them. Instead those brilliant and entrepreneurial monks took vows of poverty and anticipated the GNU Commons License. Well done, lads!
Nevertheless, as we usually find in Life, solving one problem exposes another. In those days they didn’t have access to consultants who would, as part of their investigations, show conclusively that there really was no problem there at all that a little re-organisation of resources couldn’t eliminate and that a spin-doctor could prove was in fact an “opportunity” and not a “threat”. So they had to find a solution to this new problem.
No matter how hard they tried to plan ahead it was virtually impossible to finish a line of text at exactly the same point as the previous line. And Kings/Lords/Abbots did so love their fully justified text with its military precision of left and right edges being parallel. They must truly have been idealists because the natural world in which they lived was certainly lacking in straight edges! But thus was conceived and brought into existence the concept of the “abbreviation”, the crowning achievement of our Irish Scribes!
When you come near the right edge of your text block and you have to fit, for example, the word “September” and there is space only for four or five letters, then you feel like screaming and filling in “shit” just to release your frustration. But no, Brother Scribe taps his nose with his right forefinger, and inserts “Sept.” and thereby saves the day and the vellum. This <.> is now no mere prompt for an indrawn breath. It is an indicator that the preceding letters are a generally understood and accepted ABBREVIATION. That was really putting it up to the educated elite to prove they were educated and knew the codes.
These abbreviations proliferated giving us a donkey-load of useful ways, not only of fitting a big word into a small space, but also of fitting more text into the same space. This is basically the foundation also of Shorthand, a defunct skill now that we have voice recorders. With the increasing use of Latin as a lingua franca for the educated elites across Europe, our Scribes gleefully used abbreviations that had to be understood to be deciphered in a text. A delicate touch of monastic one-up-manship! Not unlike the way that today we use slang and jargon to parade our expertise or professional connections. Thus, the Latin glosses and their abbreviations, such as “et cetera” meaning “and others”, abbreviated to “etc.” with the <.> signifying that it is an abbreviation. The ampersand symbol “&” is an imaginative and artistic squiggle based on the letters ‘e’ and ‘t’ of the Latin “et” meaning ‘and’. Even today legal eagles become scrotally damp with excitement at opportunities to parade phrases they no longer understand.
This brings me to the abbreviations I listed at the beginning of this homage to ancestors. The <.> used in each of the, U.S.A., E.U., etc. is an indication of an abbreviation deriving ultimately from the practices of our early Irish Scribes. They, writing in Old Irish, then in Early Irish, and Latin, preserved not only Irish oral tradition but, together with Latin and Greek scholars aided and abetted by Islamic Scholars in the Middle East, preserved the first written literature and mythologies and hitherto oral traditions of Europe, a treasure-trove of European culture and identity that might have been lost forever during the Dark Ages.I have it on the reliable evidence of a previous Irish President, that at that time the adventurous Colmcille opened discussions with European tribes about rolling out the concept of Europe. Even though Hibernia was at the edges of the then known world, our hearts were at the centre of the Europe to be.
I wonder is it a coincidence, or perhaps even a synchronicity, that the countries and cultures listed above, Latins, Greeks, Irish, Islam, the Middle East, are the ones suffering most today under the lash of neo-liberal capitalist exploitation? Just a thought.
I believe in, and I am passionately committed to, that noble heritage from my Irish and European ancestors. I would not like to see that heritage destroyed because of a lack of understanding or a barbaric obsession with the destruction of what we do not understand. Perhaps it’s time for another diplomatic and cultural assault on the Goths and Visigoths of Europe.
Troglodytes of the World Unite before they beat out our Brains.

Ireland’s history and relationship with Europe

The Europe that subsequently developed from those raw beginnings, and the way that we Irish related to those changes tells a lot, about the European leaders and about the Irish people.

I wish people would differentiate between Europe and the EU. The EU has been hijacked from its origins as a Coal and Steel Community after the Second World War. It was originally supported by idealists on the one hand, who thought that developing trade ties and prosperity between the warring factions of Europe would be preferable to regular wars in Europe. On the other hand it was supported by the US as a way of exporting their trade surplus and developing American hegemony in Europe as their global role developed. The EU is now a prosletiser for the neoliberal agenda spanning the US and Europe and undermining democracy on both sides of the Atlantic as well as extending its economic and trade tentacles into the Pacific Rim area. Global institutions, both corporate businesses and national governments, wield power in an increasingly undemocratic way. Can nothing stop this behemoth from destroying our world?
Let me address this reply to Nóirín Gannon who responded to my original Facebook comment. I deduced from her reply to my comment that she is equally as aware as I am of Ireland’s history and relationship with Europe. But there was something in her comments that resonated with me and deserved more than a quick Facebook reply.
Let me recap a few points and please forgive me in advance, because I am not as polite and forgiving as most of you, my readers. I also need to explain for the sake of those who do not know me, that I was born, raised, and educated in Ireland, roughly half my ancestry on each side of the family coming from Gaelic Ireland and the other from Central and Eastern Europe.
dreamstime_m_33348151I am now 76 and I have lived through WW2 (as a young child when sugar sprinkled on bread and butter was a real treat), through the Cold War with the threat of nuclear destruction on a scale that was difficult to comprehend, through the emergence of the European Coal and Steel Community  (ECSC) when as a teenager and young adult with pen friends in Germany, Greece and other European countries fanning my curiosity about the world around me, then through EEC and more recently the EU. Back in 1964, I attended a Conference of European Teachers in Milan as an Irish representative. We were young, enthusiastic and undoubtedly idealistic in our expectations for Europe as a result of what we and our families had experienced in Europe from WW1, through the rise of Fascism in Europe, through WW2, to the promise of a new Europe. I remember vividly to this day my reaction to one speaker after another speaking of a Common Market and the future of Europe as it was then unfolding. I declared to my colleagues “Europe must be for everyone, from barmaid to bishop, from chamber maid to chancellor. We want a Europe of the People”.
The Europe that subsequently developed from those raw beginnings, and the way that we Irish related to those changes tells a lot, about the European leaders and about the Irish people.
“Nobody understands the workings of the EU”. I agree. But the situation was not like that in the “Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy”, the famous trilogy (in five parts!) by Douglas Adams where the application for planning permission for the removal of planet Earth to make room for a hyperspace bypass was displayed for one million years on a remote planet in the Andromeda galaxy that no earthling bothered to consult. We, however, in the planning stages of the new Europe had newspapers, we had radio, we had commentators, we had politicians, who collectively behaved like gombeen businessmen, interested only in what they could get out of doing a deal. The Fianna Fail government under Jack Lynch, aided and abetted by Foreign Minister Paddy Hillery, demanded a better deal for Irish farmers, dumping Irish language and culture prerogatives that would have proudly proclaimed our heritage in Europe extending back over a thousand years and which was expected from us by the Brussels bureaucracy at the time. No, we got a deal for farmers which has led to the destruction of rural Ireland, the industrialisation of farming in favour of big agricultural interests and the destruction of rural Ireland. The sniff of grants from Europe was already enough to beguile a population that had lost respect for itself and who had an acne-ed version of its cultural identity.
You are also right, Nóirín, about the way that a craven national government allowed itself to be bullied by Brussels and whose members were too arrogant, too ignorant, too lacking in courage, to stand up for our country and our people. European bureaucrats, bankers, financiers and other low-life forms of capitalism were responsible for what happened, but we had already sealed our fate over decades by dumping malfunctioning TDs and other officials that might cause problems at home on Europe as Commissioners and high ranking officials. We, as a country have behaved irresponsibly over the years, fighting to suck up as much as we could in localised grants and aid to pave boreens, and build commercial principalities, tossing brown envelopes to local officials and big wigs to get their support. Meanwhile, no one in the population cried “stop”, because too many lived in hope that their turn would come to suck on the hind tit of the European pig.
pollution and waste

The other ills you list, the butter mountains, the beef mountains, the spilt milk, and the crocodile tears of regret, were all part of that reality. A reality of greed, a dream of easy money, a non-functioning democracy raised and perverted on a distorted nationalism and a bowdlerised version of religion. Anyone who dared to question what was happening, was vilified and ignored. Having been actively involved in left wing socialist politics in Ireland, in the sixties and seventies, I found myself unable to get work here during the recession of the 1980s. I was fortunate to find work on development aid projects overseas, in Indonesia, in Africa, in the Middle East, and from 1989 onwards, in East Germany, Poland and Russia. But at that stage, international capitalism and the new religion of neoliberal economics had infiltrated the EU. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US and the EU conspired to deconstruct the countries of the former Soviet Union so that they would never recover to threaten them again. The IMF blocked the renewal of my contract in Russia because, as they alleged, I was “anti-American”.

dreamstime_s_46142943I had worked hard in the Russian Oblast of Nizhny Novgorod to develop rural consultancy centres for the new private Russian farmers who were being given private farms in a kind of mad lottery, with skeletons of rusted agricultural machinery, no access to banks or financial aid, and land that was so polluted by abusive use of fertilisers, that in some areas, the use of fertiliser had to be banned and in others up to a metre of top soil had to be removed because of chemical contamination. My work was appreciated by the Russians, however, and I was acceptable to them as one who had their interests at heart, as a result of which I was appointed Team Leader in Moscow of the Russian Bureau for Technical Assistance to the Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS), working with Russian and European experts to prepare the annual request for an EU development aid programme until that was again subverted by the oligarchs and the EU bureaucrats to provide aid to Yeltsin in his exploitation and domination of Russia. And I had to move on!

six-of-pentaclesIt is not the sole fault of the EU bureaucracy, that global corporations stole our oil and gas from us in Ireland, that farmers had to pour their milk down drains, that our government polluted our country by breaking environmental regulations, that our political leaders conspired with our tormentors to prostitute our country to foreign investors and vulture funds. As Connolly said, “the great seem great because we are on our knees”. It is we though who must arise from our knees. It is we who must take responsibility for our actions. It is we who must now question the authority that was delegated by us to our leaders and we must get answers and an account for their stewardship. It is we who must demand that our self-styled left wing leaders today put their petty differences to one side, that they subdue their lust for small rewards and inflated egos, that they lead us and stand with us.
We live in interesting times. We have inherited a political, economic and social structure that is no longer fit for purpose. Admittedly we have gained some benefit in the form of dreamstime_s_29860986technical, scientific, medical and other developments but we have paid a heavy price for these. Our society has been reduced to an aggregation of isolated, lonely, dispossessed, sick, angry and alienated individuals that can no longer provide community support for one another. Our politicians and other corporate and institutional leaders have carved up the system so that they can continue to make their fortunes and control a country that is now in hock to foreign investors, whilst our young people are exported to provide fodder for other countries to exploit. Yes, again, you are right, Nóirín, the EU is a corrupt and corrupting institution. It must change or it will collapse. Yet, despite that, there are still people in Ireland and in Europe who do care, who do see what has to be done, and who will, I believe, win through eventually. But it is going to be a bumby ride. And as we tread that pot-holed road to the future, together, we must ensure that we remain in step. We must differentiate between dreams and reality, between friends and betrayers, between fact and fiction. Yes, these are certainly interesting times. May we be blessed rather than cursed by the way we live them.
day 1 sun in the glade

Learning Curve!

Who can Ireland know, who only Ireland knows?

I have been experiencing difficulties in developing my web site, <www.wolflander.ie>, because I didn’t really plan it sufficiently in advance, and, like Topsy, “it just grow’d”! I had a fairly good idea of what I wanted to do, but as it developed, I began to find difficulties in achieving the layout and the content that I had planned. This was partly because the hosting program that provides all the gizmos and bits and pieces that I needed was apparently designed for people with a different mind-set to me. That’s not meant as a criticism of them but more of me. I had underestimated the amount of planning that it needed. I am now trying to rectify that and will transfer my web site to WordPress as soon as I have done this course. I hope that I can link the two, web site and blog, together more easily and thereby create a consistent and recognisable image.

For that reason I am now following a WordPress course in “Learning the Fundaments” of blogging and generally writing on line. They send me a small task each day and I must try to implement it following their guidelines. This should help me to achieve what I am aiming for,  by giving me a more structured approach. It will also allow me to test the capabities of WordPress before I jump ship! So, here goes.

My name is Tony Pratschke. I was born and reared in Ireland and I am aware of how deeply the culture of Ireland has shaped me. As you might guess from my surname, my father and his line of ancestors came from Central Europe, mainly from what is now the Czech Republic, Austria, and Hungary, but the fact that his mother was Irish is masked by her marriage name. More about that later. On my mother’s side, her family name was Pumphry, which also has connections with France and the Channel Islands, but most of her ancestors were O’Gorman, O’Sullivan, and some other Irish clans that I have yet to verify.

You may have noticed that I wrote that I am aware of the influence of Irish culture on me. That may seem to some a strange statement. But it is accurate. You see, with a surname like “Pratschke” most people who don’t know me, assume that I am Central European. Even when they have heard my accent, a few have remarked upon my ability to speak English! And have treated me like a foreignor as a result. Because of that, I have grown up like a stranger in my own country and much of my experience of Ireland has come to me in the way that it comes to other foreignors who have come to Ireland. But having been born and reared in Ireland, attended school and university here, as well as working here for many years before then living abroad for extended periods working on projects, I have also had the privilege of experiencing Ireland, as it were, from the inside out. That has the components of a unique viewpoint. As a poet once wrote: “Who can England know, who only England knows?”. I would echo that and say: “Who can Ireland know, who only Ireland knows?” I hope to expand on these aspects in later blogs.