How big is Tenerife compared to more familiar areas in Ireland? Or Tasmania? Or Malta? Since my recent trip to Singapore, I’ve had an interest in such questions. I found a website called MAPfrappe and off I went, attempting to have my questions answered.  MAPfrappe enables you to trace out any area of interest, then displays what it looks like compared to any area on Earth.

So here are some examples: Just click on the maps below to compare with your own localities.

Tenerife

Tenerife would stretch from Limerick to Tralee and back down to Killarney. At 2,034 sq km, it’s about the same size as an average sized county in Ireland.

 

Malta

Malta is pretty small, about 27 km long, so it would comfortably fit into most counties in Ireland. In Cork, it would stretch from Kinsale to Macroom.

 

Tasmania

Woah! That’s pretty big. Tasmania, at 68,000 sq km, has about the same area as the Republic of Ireland. It’s not something I would have expected, given it’s tiny size in comparison to Australia. Then again, most of Western and Central Europe can easily fit inside Australia, so I shouldn’t be that surprised.

 

Singapore

Singapore is very small, but it has over 5 million inhabitants. It would be like squeezing the whole population of Ireland into an area around Cork, stretching from Midleton to Bandon. I’m not sure if many Cork folks would be happy with that prospect.

 

Ibiza

Most of Dublin city would accommodate the area of Ibiza. That’s about it though.

 

Crete

 

Crete, at 260km in length, would quite perfectly stretch from Dublin to Connemara.

Cuba

This one surprised me hugely. Over 1,250 km long, it would stretch from Kerry across the UK, into Belgium. Incidentally, Jamaica is much the same length as Crete.

Here are a few more comparisons that might be of interest:

Bali, Barbados, Bermuda, Corfu, Corsica, Cyprus, Easter Island, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Hawaii, Jamaica, Koh Samui, Langkawi, Lanzarote, Madeira, Mallorca, Maui, Menorca, Mauritius, New Zealand, Oahu, Phuket, Rhodes, Saint Lucia, Santorini, Sardinia, Sicily.

 

 

Last Friday, I was climbing a stepladder when it gave way, collapsing in a heap on the ground with me onboard. I wrenched my foot in the process. It hurt. A lot.

After a sleepless night and a morning trip to the doctor, I was assured I had not broken anything, although a few foot muscles might be somewhat worse for wear. I’m recovering quickly now, my chances of making Brazil’s first 11 slightly diminished.

What has struck me is how difficult the small things become when something like this happens. Carrying things, crossing over uneven ground, descending steps, opening and closing doors, going to the bathroom: all became challenging tasks. Just a small walk up down the hall was beyond me for a while. What I’ve also noticed is the kindness of people – the cup of coffee out of the blue, the genuine concern, the people willing to get things for me (I could get used to that).

I can’t imagine what it would be like to break my ankle as I am greatly assured it is pain an order of magnitude more intense. Neither can I imagine what it would be like to live with disability or chronic pain on a daily basis. I’m nowhere near understanding these things. What I did get was the tiniest of insights. It’s given me pause for thought.

Colm:

This blog is well worth a read, given how ready we are to complain and belittle our country here. Any time we receive praise from outsiders, an a cynical response can be expected, almost by reflex. When I was growing up, Ireland was poor by the standards of neighbouring European countries. Since then, and despite the economic crash, we are broadly on a par with them. That’s a huge change in fortunes. It’s not to say we don’t have problems, or inequality, or lots more to do to improve our country, but parroting the line that we are a basket case, or the worst of the worst, is wildly off the mark.

Originally posted on unshavedmouse:

Dear Whiny Bitches,

How’ve you been? I am good. Let’s talk about that recent survey. You know the one? Recently something called the Good Country Index released a survey stating that Ireland was the “best” country in the world. Now, there’s a been a lot of confusion on this so first of all let’s just clarify that the survey was not necessarily the best place in the world to live, the survey was actually trying to measure which countries contribute most to the welfare of humanity (in stuff like global aid, peace-keeping, diplomacy, fighting climate change and so on) and which countries are dragging everyone else down. Now, I’ll admit I was surprised that we got the number one spot, not stunned, but surprised. But sure, we do give a lot of money to overseas aid and we’ve been involved in UN Peacekeeping missions since the early sixties so fine…

View original 1,051 more words

It’s World Cup time again and as usual I’m changing into the person I normally swear never to be: a football addict. I mean addict. I have watched almost every match since the competition began, honourable exceptions being the Ivory Coast vs Japan, which kicked off at 2am last Friday, so perhaps there is still hope.

I have been a fan since the golden year of 1990, when Ireland found itself getting into the quarter finals of the World Cup in Italy. The magic of those weeks is something few people of a certain age will ever forget.

I’m not sure what it is about the World Cup that turns me into the type of person I normally have little in common with. Football can be exciting, sure, but often it is boring and uneventful. There are many people who can speak to the intricacies of midfield strategy and defensive positions at the goal mouth. For me, I usually just see players kicking a ball to each other and sometimes getting tackled for their efforts.

No, for me the excitement comes from elsewhere. It’s the drama and the stories that unfold in the course of the tournament: the freak chances and frequent injustices that send whole nations from elation to depression in seconds, and vice versa. The World Cup can be seen as a collection of narratives more intriguing than anything the world of fiction has to offer.

This has been a particularly exciting World Cup. The terrific performances of Algeria and the USA had me on the edge of my seat. The surprising ineptitude of Spain and Portugal had me mystified. Suarez’s biting incident and Arjen Robben’s dive. England doughty performance that ultimately came to nothing. The last minute goals, the questionable decisions. What an event. What a spectacle.

It’s also an opportunity to bond with my sons. They are far more knowledgable about football than I could ever be, and I appreciate their answers to my unending questions. I’ve even been tempted to play football in the garden with them although I quickly make my excuses when my lack of match fitness makes its presence felt.

One of the great things about the World Cup is the sheer humanity of it all. Players and fans from all over the world coming together to remind us that we are not all that different from each other. If anything, the differences are getting less and less each time the competition takes place. As a celebration of our shared aspirations and vulnerabilities, this occasion has no competitors.

Now that we are reaching the late stages of the competition, it’s dawning on me that this event is coming quickly to an end. Normality is about to resume. I still fancy the Netherlands to do it, but given the quality of the remaining teams, it’s a crap-shoot at this stage. I’m looking forward to the final, but not to the long silence that will follow it.

“I don’t give a fuck”.

Interesting phrase, that.

Do we say it because we don’t have enough fucks to begin with? Can you first borrow a fuck in order to then give that fuck away? And if so, how should you pay the fuck back? With interest, or something? Presumably fucks aren’t that cheap, otherwise we’d all be giving fucks to everyone, but we’re not doing that, obviously. Wouldn’t you be highly embarrassed if you were too miserly to even give one fuck away in a market where trading in fucks was brisk?

Surely if you are not giving a fuck, then not taking the fuck in the best place might be in order? You never hear of anyone taking fucks, do you? Is it because we’re all too honest to take one, even if it was lying around in plain daylight? Do we then tell people we don’t give a fuck, only so we don’t look bad in front of others?

Maybe fucks are just conjured from thin air. But then why give the fuck to anyone, as presumably everyone could conjure up fucks any time they like themselves? Perhaps fuck-conjuring is only known to an elite with some sort of black market in play for fuck rip-offs. Not giving one essentially helps to preserve the mystique.

Perhaps we are all born with a set amount of fucks and we are implored by our parents to give those fucks away wisely. That makes the most sense. Then, when we are in a situation where fuck-giving would definitely be in order, it’s withheld, in the plain knowledge that life is long and you never know when a better opportunity to give away that precious fuck might come along.

Interesting that it’s never mentioned who the fuck is for. Doesn’t the word “give” go with an object? You never hear “I gave Tom a fuck last week and he used it to build a swimming pool”, or “I gave a fuck to Jane but it was faulty and it was returned the following day”, or “To Adam, I bequeath all my fucks”. No, it’s just given with no thought as to who is going to get it. In that case, there must be a lot of desperate, unwanted fucks about. I really hope they are neutered or it could become a big problem over time.

Or is it that you don’t give a fuck “about” something? Is that like a song or a verse “about” something – the Mourne Mountains, or the Lovely Rose of Clare? So, it’s some sort of avoidance strategy then, like when it’s your turn to sing, or buy a round? You’ll find the fuck-not-givers in the bathroom, lads.

Most probably it’s a statement of character, like “I don’t eat chocolates for Lent”, or “peanuts give me hives”. What you are saying about yourself is that wonderful and all though fuck giving might be, it’s not for you. Not even on Sundays. You can be followed around, your neighbours can be asked, but you’ll never be seen trying to give a sneaky fuck on the side when nobody is looking. In which case, well done you.

Some people are wont to say “I don’t give two fucks”, implying that they will give one fuck if the price is right. Clearly, these people can be bought. If they get a good deal on the first, they might well consider giving the second one as well. Therefore, the “two fucks” brigade are all liars. Avoid them where possible.

So if you are reading this and are appalled by my misuse of language, let me tell you now that I shouldn’t give a fuck, but actually, I do. Surely somebody has to, otherwise we would live in a world without any fucks at all. What a sad, sad place that would be.

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A panther. Taking its time. Stalking up on me silently. Then pouncing.

An whale. Pulling on me. Making the little tasks weigh that much more.

A boa constrictor. Tightening. Keeping me separated from everyone and everything going on.

An frightened deer. Preferring not to interact with you, if that’s ok.

A dead pet. Just numbness.

A wandering cat. Disappearing for a while, then coming back with renewed vigour.

An elephant. Remembering what I did, and what I didn’t do.

A black dog. Always here with me. Loyal to the end, whether I want him or not.

Normally, in the political sphere, the business meeting or on the Internet, there is nothing like a good debate to flush out the issues and get people thinking more deeply about their views. It helps us make up our mind on subjects we might not know a lot about.

Debate has its limitations, however. Some people are better than others at performing it. Irrespective of the merits or strengths of the arguments, good debaters will make themselves appear sympathetic to the audience. They will use pathos and evoke emotion. They will use humour and make use of clever soundbites where possible. There is an element of conjuring in the best debaters: little rhetorical tricks that we in the audience may not be aware of, but can do wonders to get people onside.

There is also a sense that the best ideas from each side can lead to a better position overall. Seeking a middle ground is a viable position for a disinterested viewer to take. The argument can be made that if both views are being represented, then they are somehow equal, and that there are important points to be gained from both sides.

When it comes to scientific issues, public debates don’t work quite so well. First of all, no matter how good a debater you are, it has no effect on the underlying science. A skilled creationist debater can argue until the cows come home that God created the Universe in 6 days. He can use every rhetorical device and trick in the book to persuade his audience, but it doesn’t make evolution and a 4.5 billion year old Earth any less true. So too with gravity,  or any number of well established scientific theories. These theories were not developed in the courtroom, or by TV debates, or by pressure groups, or forums on the Internet. There was no appeal to the public to decide their veracity. They came about in the lab, through field work, experimentation, data analysis and published papers. Sure, there would have been debates – many of them – but these debates are technical and professional ones, focused on the quality of the evidence and the methods used. Such arguments rarely play well in front of a TV audience.

Secondly, once scientific theories are established, there is no middle ground. Just as 1 plus 1 is always 2, that too is usually the case in science. Reality works in particular ways. Gravity, electromagnetism, nuclear physics and biochemistry all operate on strict physical laws that don’t change just because someone doesn’t like them. A good thing it is too, as our computers, the cars we travel on, and the boilers for our hot water would not work if it were not the case.

You can’t just come along and equate your opinion or belief, no matter how deeply held, with a well established scientific principle, unless you have serious evidence to back it up. There is no sense that creationism is partly true. No sense that the successive dilutions advocated by homeopathy are of any practical use. Why? Because their advocates have not brought any useful evidence to the table, properly supporting their beliefs, while at the same time accounting for everything else that the existing scientific theories tell us. To take the middle ground in such cases, you are comparing apples, not with other apples, but with a copy of a facsimile of what once used to be an orange but now could be a giraffe, or anything you are having yourself. A scientific theory can only be modified or upended by better scientific evidence, not by a change in public opinion.

Equating pseudo-scientific opinion with well established science is known as “false balance”. It’s widely practiced in the media, where the he-said / she-said debating format is in wide use. A frequent outcome is that a casual listener can come away believing in nonsense, merely because the rhetoric on the nonsensical side of the argument was more persuasive than the expert view.

False balance is everywhere. Creationists in America have tried every trick in the book to inject their particular brand of stupidity into the US education system. There have been incessant efforts to put alternative medicine on a par with actual medicine, despite a long-standing failure to establish scientific plausibility, or to prove their modalities work better than placebo. Climate change deniers are active in the public sphere, using techniques borrowed from creationists and tobacco companies to cast doubt on the research. In Ireland, anti-fluoridation groups are seeking to change public health policy, despite numerous research studies giving fluoridation a green light at low dosages. All of these groups use public debate and public pressure as proxies instead of proper scientific research – because the science does not support their position.

Many prominent scientists are reluctant to engage in debates of this nature because it gives the other side a recognition that they don’t deserve, and offers the possibility of losing a debate because their rhetorical skill might not be as good as the other person’s. These are genuine concerns, however it’s a problem because public pressure and public debate can, and does, move the needle. It is possible for laws to be changed despite the best efforts of scientists. Legislators are rarely scientifically educated themselves. Simply avoiding debate gives all kinds of pressure groups a carte blanche to force through the most wrong-headed legislation possible.

I am minded of Christopher Hitchens, who never shirked any debates, even when his opponent’s points were extreme, terrifyingly offensive and in no sense based on reality. He recognised that how we learn things is based on science, but how we move forward is by public debate. We need both the sense of discovery and the ability to persuade. We need good communicators who can counter the propagandists from the other side while making a forceful case for science in public policy.

The following video is an oldie but a goodie. Dara O’Briain outlines the problem of false balance better than I ever could.

For years, it has struck me as bizarre how people could look at our behaviour on this planet, and assume no consequences whatsoever.

Over the last 150 years, our factories, our steam engines, our cars, our planes, our electrical power stations, our lorries and our machines of war and peace have been burning fossilised carbon. Day after day, year after year, the burning has increased as the whole world industrialises. A dramatic, unprecedented innovation, way bigger in magnitude than any volcano or any solar cycle.

The signature is there, plain to see. 400 parts per million of CO2 in the very air we breath. A record level, way above anything the planet has experienced over hundreds of thousands of years. Not only that, but this concentration was achieved, not over centuries or millennia as would be expected, but mere decades. 400 parts per million of CO2 and rising rapidly.

In this time, global temperatures have increased, just as would have been expected. The properties of carbon dioxide are well known, not from computer models, but from the lab. CO2 stores heat, and as its concentration rises, so too do temperatures.

For decades, we have been seeing changes taking place. Glaciers melting, permafrost disappearing, sea ice vanishing, oceans acidifying, climate patterns changing. The only reason for this is a warming of the planet – a warming seen in our air and ocean temperatures. A warming that cannot be accounted for through natural causes alone.

And now, we learn that West Antarctica is shedding its ice caps. One great force of nature – chemistry – yields to another: gravity. These ice sheets will fall into the ocean – they are falling already – and this in turn will lead to massive sea level rise in the next 200 to 300 years.

This is enough to convince everyone but the dangerous fools. The dangerous fools who use every trick in the book to persuade others that either it’s not happening at all, or that, sure, ’tis only natural and we’ll be grand.

Despite a huge consensus of scientific opinion, we have let these dangerous fools take power, dictate our politics, protect vested interests, poison the discourse and impugn the scientific enterprise. We have let them block, bluster and even incentivise the polluters. The result is that nothing much is done while each year, the signs get more stark, the evidence more blatant.

Damned fools. Make no bones about it, they will continue to fiddle while Rome burns about them. Such is their investment in their cause and their desire to be right. We need to move on from them. Let them play in their sandboxes while the rest of us figure out what to do. Fuck them. The world has run out of time listening to their arrogance and their idiocy.

It’s not the incidents,
Or the anger,
Or the shock,
Or the scorn.
None of that.

It’s the colour that comes with it.

Staying awhile,
Painting itself over everything.
A filter for the senses,
Exploding like a demented rainbow
During nighttime rest.

A very quick time-lapse movie, taken over the last 3 days, as a rhododendron began to flower. Each frame is separated by 30 minutes.

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