Liberals have a nostalgia for John F Kennedy, many of whom believe he was assassinated by the CIA for defying their pressure to invade Cuba.
Even if this entirely plausible scenario were true (the question is academic since the CIA has committed many, many crimes, which the obsession with Kennedy’s assassination only serves to distract from), that Kennedy’s spat with the CIA was due to its warmongering is purely illusory. As Youssef El-Gingihy explains:
“The Kennedys may have fallen out with the CIA over Cuba, but this was more a question of methodology than ideology. For both parties, the ultimate prize remained the overthrow of the Castro regime…JFK authorized multiple CIA ops against Cuba in 1963. True, Operation Mongoose had been disbanded and they ordered the FBI to clamp down on the more extreme groups such as Alpha 66. However, the Kennedys were merely transferring the Cuban project under their…
We knew about gays but we didn’t call them that. That was in our primary school days. Our mammies or das or others had warned us boys about them. We were never to accept sweets from strangers. They were men, older, probably shabby, hanging around in public toilets (when we had public toilets in streets). They would try to see your mickey, try to touch it (they were only interested in boys, which went to show how totally deviant they were). They’d give you sweets or even money. Just for that? It was enough! We thought no further but when we had to use those public urinals, kept as far away as we could from any men (a habit we continued into adulthood) and tried to cover our mickies with our hands and sometimes got some of the urine on them as a result.
We didn’t call them “gays” then but there were other names in our vernacular dictionaries: brownies, dirty men, homos ….. They were always predators and always male. Girls didn’t have to worry, apparently – those dirty men would not be tempted at all. It was the normal men girls had to worry about.
Was there such a thing as female homos? But if they wanted to play with your mickies that would be normal wouldn’t it? And nice even if sinful. Ah, chance would be a fine thing! But girls or women doing it with one another? How? And sure, what for?
Did we know any homos? Well, we were kind of getting to hear about poor Oscar Wilde. He would have been our fifth national Nobel prizewinner for literature and the fourth from our capital city. If not for …. well …. Poor man, he was misguided. And duped. But a lovely writer.
Our elders, well a great many of them, knew that many famous men had been homosexual – but they didn’t tell us. We knew quite a bit about the military exploits of Alexander, the Macedonian but nobody told us he was homosexual. If we’d known, we’d have asked ourselves whether he went to conquer the world in order to hang around public toilets in foreign lands, waiting to touch boy’s mickies. William of Orange was a homo too but then we had enough reason to hate him already. Wait – William …. Willy …. willies ….. nah, coincidence!
There was another William they might have known about,King William Rufus (1087 – 1110), son of William the Conqueror, openly homosexual. And probably assassinated by order of his brother, King Henry II, not for being gay but to get the kingdom. Well, what would you expect of the English! OK, Norman-English. Whatever.
They surely knew, educated adults and anyone around the theatre, that Mícheál Mac Liamóir was “a practicing homosexual”. An Englishman who became Irish, including a fluent speaker and writer in the Irish language, he lived with his lover Hilton Edwards in Harcourt Terrace. Edwards was another Englishman converted to Ireland. But sure they were English, so our elders only sniffed and turned a blind eye, grateful for the culture of the Abbey and Gate theatres, the formation of An Taidhbhearc and fame on English language stage and screen.
We knew Roger Casement could not be homosexual (even though he was a Protestant) because he was an Irish patriot. The English would do anything to tarnish his reputation and they had forged “the black diaries” to say disgusting things about him1, before they hanged him, not for homosexuality but for “treason” to the Crown. That’s the English Crown, of course. The one on top of the Arms of the Union, with the Lion and the Unicorn below, and below them the shield bearing the Thistle of Scotland, the Rose of England and the Harp of Ireland. You can see the design on the front page of the London Times, or on the roofs of the Bank of Ireland and Customs House buildings in Dublin.
But did we know any homosexuals personally? Perhaps some did. There was a lad at school who liked to knit and listen to opera and whose manner was quite feminine. Probably he was/ is, we thought years later but at the time he was just a boy who was like a girl. There was another one, son of a famous actor, a bit of a bully with a gang around him. He turned out to be gay but I at least never suspected. Then there was a certain barber who seemed quite effeminate but would do his best to cut your hair to any fashionable style which you required.
As we came into our teens, our vision broadened a little and we came upon more sinister knowledge. There were now rumours of homosexual Christian Brothers and priests. Seeing as these two groups, along with the Jesuits, directly controlled most of secondary education in the Irish state, nearly all of us Catholics were going to pass into their hands at some point. Hopefully their educational hands only. They didn’t have to hang around public toilets. They’d have us for six or seven hours a day, five days a week. Not to speak of the residential schools (too many people didn’t).
We knew in general and we knew of specific instances, by rumour or by experience. We resolved not to be victims ourselves and the strong succeeded. The weak? Well ….. Sauve qu’il peut, as they say (or I think they do) in France.
And we didn’t talk of it to our elders. Why? Well ….. hard to say. Would they have believed us? Did we have proof? Would it only have showed how dirty our minds were?
In my teens, a youth selling newspapers in Dún Laoghaire told me of a brawny sailor who one evening wanted to entice him into an alley away from company in order “not to embarrass the girls”. So, homosexuality was not confined to the creepy men hanging around toilets, or to the effeminate and arty, or to the clergy and Catholic brotherhoods. Burly sailors? Dear God!
And now a disturbing but exciting knowledge also came to us. We learned that there were indeed homosexual women – they were called ‘Lesbians’. And almost unbelievably, if you managed to get hold of a copy of the Kinsey Reports (or reviews of them), lesbianism appeared to be even more common than male homosexuality! Disturbing in a number of ways …. women preferring to have sex with women than with men? For some of us, it was difficult enough already to get physically intimate with a girl without some of them preferring other women! Then, a second thought, disturbing in a different way: imagine seeing them together … doing it! Double female nakedness!
As we grew older, we came to know gay men personally. Of course we did. Some of us, the better ones, acknowledged them our equals, did not avoid the subject nor deny them our company. Some of us, while accepting their company, avoided any mention of their preferences; we treated them as heterosexuals, knowing they were not. And some of us avoided them or worse, inflicted violence on them. We found out that some indeed did hang out around toilets but not to feel the mickies of little boys but to make assignations with adult males. Where else could they meet? It was illegal and religiously prohibited too.
Then came gay liberation agitation in the 1970s. Decriminalisation in 1993. And finally, equal rights to wed in 2015. Incredibly almost, that same Ireland of our childhood voted by majority in every county but one in the Irish State of the Twenty-Six Counties, that gays should have the right to marry people of their own gender. In May 2015, Ireland became the first state to legalise on a national level same-sex marriage by popular vote. The New York Times hailed the victory as putting Ireland at “the vanguard of social change”.
We have come a long way, in that respect at least. But oh, the victims of intolerance strewn along each side of the route of our progress!
Generations in Ireland will grow now, hopefully, without the spectre of the Brownie.
1 Roger Casement (1864-1916) was an Irish patriot and Protestant, also a poet and an enthusiast for Irish culture. In 1916, in preparation for the Easter Rising in Ireland, he came in a German submarine to assist in the unloading of German armament, including 20,000 rifles. The German boat, disguised as a Norwegian, was discovered and its captain scuttled it outside of Cork. The IRA Volunteers who went to meet the boat and Casement at its rearranged landing place, of which they had just learned, drowned as their car went off the road into the sea.
Casement was apprehended after landing. He was tried for treason in wartime and a substantial campaign arose to save his life. He had earned fame and a knighthood (CMG) a decade earlier through exposing ill-treatment of indigenous people in the African Congo under Belgian Royal control and in Putamayo in Perú by rubber-exploitation commercial interests.
Extracts from the “Black Diaries” were circulated by the British espionage service to undermine popular support for clemency for Casement. Those Diaries (as opposed to his other diaries of his travels abroad)gave details of his allegedlysexual interludes with men abroad and the extracts circulated substantially undermined the campaign for clemency. Casement was hanged in Pentonville Prison on 3rd August 1916, the last of the 1916 executions, the only one not by firing squad or to take place in Ireland.
The authenticity of the “Black Diaries” continues to be the subject of controversy. Although Wikipedia notes that a handwriting expert concluded by comparison with his other diaries that the entries were genuinely Casement’s, he is the only handwriting expert to have been permitted to examine the original, nor have samples been subjected to modern forensic testing. And the British espionage service did have a reputation for forging documents.
Estuve recientemente leyendo sobre el apoyo en Cataluña a la lucha para la independencia de Irlanda en el 1920, inspirado especialmente por la huelga de hambre del Traolach Mac Suibhne (Terence McSwiney), Gran Alcade de Cork y oficial del grupo armado republicano el IRA. Sabemos también que las huelgas de hambre de parte de presos republicanos irlandeses en el Long Kesh en el 1981, simbolizadas en el personaje del Bobby Sands, también habían impresionados a gente por todo el mundo.
Me encanta leer de las conexiones de la lucha del independismo irlandés con las luchas de resistencia de otros pueblos. El Alzamiento de 1916 en Dublín y la Guerra de la Independencia por todo Irlanda dio inspiración a nacionalistas, republicanos y socialistas revolucionarios por grandes partes del Mundo, influyendo al vietnames Ho Chi Minh, a Nehru (y a Indios mas revolucionarios que el) y a gente en todas las colonias de los estados coloniales como la Gran Bretaña, Francia, España, Portugal, Bélgica, Holanda, Alemania ….. Llegó a tener impacto en cada continente del mundo menos en el de Antartica. Y que lástima que terminó en tan vergüenza sórdida!
Me gustaría comentar sobre la frase del McSwiney “no es él quien puede infligir más, sino quién puede soportar más que vencerá”. Y al mismo tiempo referir a la de otro huelguista de hambre hasta la muerte, 61 años después de la muerte del McSwiney: “Nuestra venganza será la risa de nuestros niños.”
Esas frases de los mártires McSwiney y Sands son interesantes pero hay que leer los en el contexto de sus vidas y de la lucha para la independencia de Irlanda. Demasiadas veces son esas palabras apropiadas por pacifistas o peor, para los que quieren rendir o diluir o desviar la resistencia.
Las historias de ambos hombres lo dejan claro que se habían comprometido a lucha armada contra el imperio británico, McSwiney en el IRA y Sands en el Provisional IRA. Los dos se consideraban soldados de la resistencia nacionalista o republicana. Si no hubieron muertos en la cárcel, estarían por ahí pegando tiros a la policía colonial y al Ejercitó Británico, tratando de matar les y tratando de evitar que les maten a ellos.
La lucha para la independencia de Irlanda1916-1921 quedó en gran parte derrumbada, tras el Trato de 1921 y la Guerra Civil del 1922-1923. El nuevo Estado Irlandés fusiló a 81 republicanos durante esos últimos años y mató al rededor de 120 ejecutados tras haber les hecho preso en lucha, o secuestrados y asesinados. Muchos tuvieron que huir del país.
Se volvió a lucha en seria en el 1971, pero esta vez casi totalmente confinada a la quinta parte del país, la colonia británica de Los Seis Condados. Y claro, quedó sin éxito, a pesar de enorme bravura y sacrificio por el pueblo a través de casi tres décadas.
A los que les dan miedo o les disgusta la resistencia armada, les gustan muchísimo esas frases de Sands y de McSwiney, sacadas de sus contextos.
Guste o no guste, la historia nos repite a enseñar que la resistencia a las fuerzas del imperialismo (y aún, del capitalismo), si va a tener éxito, tiene que pasar a la fase armada en algún momento. Y no es por que les guste la violencia a los de la resistencia si no por que el enemigo no le dará ningún otro remedio. Vendrá con armas, juicios, cárcel para aplastar la resistencia. Así que la única cuestión no es a ver si la resistencia exitosa aquí o ahí le hace falta pasar a la fase armada, si no cual es el momento en que se necesita hacer. Eso es lo que nos dice la historia, creemos lo que nos guste.
Catalan Esteladas flew next to Irish Tricolours at the GPO in Dublin on Saturday afternoon (25 November 2017). The occasion was a picket organised by the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee to protest the internment without trial of Irish Republicans and also of Catalan political activists for independence. Placards raised the issue of internment of Irish Republicans and their treatment once in jail, as well as criticising the lack of action of Amnesty International on this question. Some placards also declared that the “Spanish State jails Catalan political activists”.
Despite the seriousness of the issue and the bitter cold, the mood was upbeat, assisted by a music player broadcasting a range of songs, from Sifre’s “Something Inside So Strong”, through Warshaw’s “The Cry of the Morning” (sung by Christy Moore) to “Els Segadors”. Some protesters sang along to the songs and passers-by could be heard joining in too.
Many leaflets were distributed. A number of Catalan young women passers-by were excited to see the Estelada flags and were ecstatic when “Els Segadors” (“The Reapers”), the Catalan national anthem, was played.
Some people passing occasionally shouted “Viva Espaňa!” in hostility which gave rise to the response of “Viva la democracía! Viva la libertad!” On the other hand, other visitors passing by were very supportive, for example a young woman from Asturias (northern Spanish state) and an older man from Andalusia (southern Spanish state).
A spokesperson for the Committee briefly addressed the attendance at the end of the event, thanking them for attending to support Irish and Catalan political activists being jailed without trial. Referring to the few passers-by who shouted “Viva Espaňa!”, the spokesperson said that there is nothing wrong with pride in one’s country but queried why the sight of a Catalan flag brought that response and why the definition of Spanish nationhood for these people is bound up with the denial of the rights of another nation to determine its own future. The spokesperson declared that every nation has a right to determine its own future and to do so without threats and repression, pointing out that the Spanish State is attempting to jail the whole Catalan Government for carrying out their election promises and has jailed the leaders of two independence organisations without trial.
The spokesperson thanking the attendance once more, the event came to a close, flags were furled, banners rolled and placards put away for another occasion.
The Dublin Anti-Internment Committee was launched in 2013 and is independent of all political parties and organisations, holds regular pickets and people who support the civil and human rights of Irish Republican prisoners are welcome to attend.
They are all around us; they live but they are not animals. Nor are they micro-organisms – we see them clearly all in many places. They can grow on organic and none-organic surfaces. We might think they are plants – algae, moss or fungus but they are none of those — they are lichens. There are about 20,000 known species1 and they cover an estimated 6% of the Earth’s surface, able to exist in environments as different as beneath Artic snow, on salt spray-showered seashores and windswept mountain rocks and in tropical rainforest. An estimated 6% of the Earth’s land surface is covered by lichen species.2 Some are long-lived and include the longest-living things on Earth. There are species that require nothing to cling to while others can live inside rock, in the spaces between grains.3In Ireland, 1,134 separate species of lichen have been recognised, according to the National Biodiversity Data Centre – i.e over 5% of Earth’s estimated total species right here on this little island.4
When we look at some growing on tree bark or rock, we are tempted to think of them as fungus, algae or even moss. Mosses are ancient enough life-forms and are plants, which algae are too and almost certainly much older. Fungi used to be considered plants but are so no longer and in their structure and digestion and also genes, are more akin and more closely related to animals. This will not be good news to vegetarians or vegans but the evidence is difficult to deny.5 Indeed there are some feoilséantóirí (word in Irish for a vegetarian and more apt in the context of this sentence) who already dislike eating many fungi because the texture reminds them of meat.
But lichens are neitherfungi nor plants.
So if lichens are not plant or fungus, what are they? Another kind of life-form? Well yes … and no. They are a combination of both, fungus and plant. At some point in the evolution of life on earth, logically after plants and after fungi had evolved, somehow some species of fungi combined with some species of alga and/or cyanobacteria6 and produced a symbiont or biont: lichen. Scientists maintain that the 20,000 estimated species did not evolve from one common ancestor but that different species appeared separately at different times during the history of the Earth.
Plants draw their nutrients from sun and elements in the soil (or in some cases, in the water). Fungi, like animals, cannot get their nutrients straight from sun or soil and need to break down their alimentation materials, whether flesh or plant, in order to feed on them. In doing so, fungi are important decomposing agents – in fact, the principal ones.
Vascular plants need roots not just to cling to soil but even more importantly, to draw up water and nutrients but algae don’t; when they have any kind of roots, it is to cling to a surface and that is exactly what the lichen needs too. Fungi extend and feed through root-like growths usually under the surface of what they are feeding upon, extending from the tips; they are not roots, however and break off easily.What we see of fungi is usually the spore-bearing parts above the surface, often much the smaller part of the organism.
Plants seem to grow above ground also by elongating their tips but in fact are extending from further back, adding cells to cells to lengthen the body. All plants need a constant supply of water (cacti and succulents store water but still need to draw on the supply to live). Fungi need damp conditions. But when combined into lichens, the new species can live without water for a considerable time. So, a marriage, as they say, “made in Heaven” … or perhaps in a Hell, an environment of very dry and hot conditions alternating with the very wet and cold , where the newly-wedded ancient algae and fungi set out to build their homes.
Some lichens contain not only algae combined with a fungus but also a cyanobacterium; this partner is capable of fixing nitrogen extracted from the air and is a valuable addition to the menage-a-trois.
It has been remarked by some that the marriage of plant and fungus is not an equal one, is not true symbiosis, since the fungal partner or symbiote benefits more than does the algal. The algal symbiote produces sugar through photosynthesis and the fungus only chitin, or ‘hard‘ structure, it is argued. However, if both partners (or three) are content with the arrangement, is that not a happy marriage? More seriously, the fungal partner may contribute other factors to the symbiosis of which scientists are only just becoming aware – for example, chemicals to repel organisms attempting to graze on them and protection from the sun.
And scientists do not treat them equally either, since the species of lichen is always determined and named by them according to the species of fungus, not of the alga or bacterium.
COLOURS IN THE RAIN
So, if the claim is that we see them all around us, where are they? They may be seen on slate roof-tops, in patches of roughly circular white (not to be confused with pigeon or seagull excrement, which may also be in evidence). Yellow or orange patches are typically seen on stone, as is a black or dark brown one by the seaside. A bright yellow-green one may be seen on fallen twigs or on tree-bark, as may also a tufted-form green one growing on rock or tree.
The colours tend to be particularly vivid during or soon after rain when the cortex becomes translucent and, if there were no other reason to be grateful for the precipitation levels usual in Ireland, that would be reason enough, perhaps, should we take the time to admire the little things of beauty. Of course there are other reasons and as a Basque once said to me about the green of his native country and could perhaps even more accurately said about colour associated with the “Emerald Isle” — “It’s not green because we paint it.”
Some of the bright colours in lichens, produced by the fungus, are thought to be of use in protection from the rays of the sun and become more vivid after rain due to rapid absorption of water by the chlorophyl-holding part of the symbiont (or biont).
PIONEERS AND SURVIVORS
Lichens are considered “pioneer organisms” by botanists and geologists, i.e organisms that set out to colonise new territories. These maybe new territories in the sense that a geological change has exposed them to air, e.g from the seabed or from under ice, or from inside the earth by volcanic action or by tectonic plate collision.
Pioneer organisms need to be tough and adaptable and they often create footholds for other species, not quite so tough or adaptable, to follow after. However, given that logic dictates that algae and fungi existed before some of them combined to form lichens, the latter could not have been among the earliest colonisers of the Earth’s crust. On Earth then, they are later pioneers of newly-created inhospitable terrain.
May they be used to help create habitable environments elsewhere? It’s perhaps worth quoting these two paragraphs from Wikipedia in their entirety:
In tests, lichen survived and showed remarkable results on the adaptation capacity of photosynthetic activity with the simulation time of 34 days under Martian conditions in the Mars Simulation Laboratory (MSL) maintained by the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
The European Space Agency has discovered that lichens can survive unprotected in space. In an experiment led by Leopoldo Sancho from the Complutense University of Madrid, two species of lichen — Rhizocarpon geographicum7 and Xanthoria elegans — were sealed in a capsule and launched on a Russian Soyuz rocket 31 May 2005. Once in orbit, the capsules were opened and the lichens were directly exposed to the vacuum of space with its widely fluctuating temperatures and cosmic radiation. After 15 days, the lichens were brought back to earth and were found to be in full health with no discernible damage from their time in orbit.
In some areas, soil lichens help to bind the sand-crust or soil-crust together but lichens have also been shown to chemically attack stone, thereby helping to create soil. Lichens can also help create little environments where soil may be retained and seeds of plants germinate. However, like all species, lichens are out to help themselves and some produce chemicals to restrict the march of mosses (another pioneer species but more water-reliant), with which lichens would have to compete in many areas).
When growing on tree bark, lichens do not parasitise on the tree nor harm it in any way, merely using it as a secure base. Older trees are often covered with lichen and dead trees or branches more so, associating in some people’s minds the ill-health in a tree with the growth of lichen upon it. Circumstantial evidence may suggest the guilt of the lichen but it is completely a case of coincidence: lichen is slow-growing and the older the tree, the more time lichen has had to grow and extend upon it; the tree dies because it grows old.
The lichen will survive the dead tree for a period but it is not the killer. Now come decomposers: insects, snails, slugs and especially, distant relatives of the lichens: fungi. Without concern for their relatives, the fungi, along with the other decomposers, will reduce the tree to soil ingredients and thereby deprive the lichens of their base but, in time, providing more soil for more trees to grow and for new generation of lichens to attach themselves to the bark.
The fungus is not too discriminating and a particular species may combine with different algae species; the resultant lichens may appear to be different species but (since 2014) will be classified as the same lichen species, i.e containing the samespecies of fungus.8
The alga can also exist independently in nature but the fungi cannot. Two species in two genera of green algae are found in over 35% of all lichens, but can only rarely be found living on their own outside of a lichen.9
Sex and Reproduction
It is only the fungal part of the symbiote that reproduces sexually. When doing so, it produces spores (as do ferns and mosses) which must find a compatible alga in order to produce a new lichen, a symbiote of the fungus of the parent fungus and a new alga.
Some lichens reproduce or extend asexually, advancing across a surface and merging with another of the same species.
Uses of lichens:
When we discuss “the use” of some thing we generally mean its use for humans; lichens no doubt have many uses for other organisms, whether as food for reindeer during non-growing seasons or as micro-environments for tiny creatures. But for humans, the uses are mostly in the areas of
geological age indicators
Dyes and Pigments:
Dyes were made from the orange Xanthoria Parietina and the grey-green branched Parmelia Saxitillis to dye wools used in traditional tweed (Harris) weaving in the Scottish Highlands10and I myself have had the second of the two pointed out to me by an Aran Islander woman as the source for the rarely-used green wool knitted into a geansaí (pullover or jumper). Material for other natural dyes exist for example in Ireland but the issues are how easily they are obtained, how true they dye and how long they remain the desired colour and shade.
“There are reports dating almost 2000 years old of lichens being used to make purple and red dyes. Of great historical and commercial significance are lichens belonging to the family Roccellaceae, commonly called “orchella weed” or “orchil”. Orcein and other lichen dyes have largely been replaced by synthetic versions.”11
We know that red and purple dyes were much sought after and in some medieval civilisations the wearing of those colours was restricted to certain social classes and even to one individual (e.g the purple for the Emperor). Once Europeans had gained familiarity with indigenous civilisations of Central and South America, the red dye obtained from the parasitic cochineal insect Dactylopius coccusbecame an important export product to Europe until the late 19th Century, when synthetic pigments and dyes were invented. Despite this development, traditional hand-made textile producers, for example in regions of Mexico, continued to use cochineal dyeing. However, health concerns associated with some or all of those synthetic colourings in food have once again created a demand for cochineal and cultivation of the insect is once again economically viable, with Peru being currently the main exporter.12
Drugs and Medicine:
There is reason to believe that metabolites produced by lichens may have antibiotic effects and usnic acid, the most commonly-studied metabolite produced by lichens, is being investigated as a possible bactericide, in particular against Staphylococcus and E.coli.13
Lichens were also used in European traditional medicine, in particular based on the theory that plants that resembled human organs would be efficacious in treatment of illness of those organs. Some American Indigenous people also used them in traditional medicine treatment.
Lichens as Indicators of Geological Age and of Pollution Levels:
The science of lichenometry is a relatively new one in which measuring the type and size of lichen is used to indicate the age of exposed rock. It takes the known slow growth-rate of different lichens to arrive at an estimate of how long the rock in question has been exposed. This can be used on rock formations, landslides, stone buildings and statuary.
The tolerance (or lack of tolerance) of different species of lichen to certain types of air and rain pollutant can be used as bio-indicators. In general the “frond” or “bushy” types are less resistant to some air pollutants and the flat or “crusty” types more so. Lichens take their water from the surfaces to which they are attached and from the air and are therefore quickly affected by the water quality in rain and air.
Readers may find it worthwhile to take some time to examine the lichens growing around us, to think about their unusual ‘domestic arrangements’ and their pioneering habits. Or to inventory them as indicators of the level and content of pollution in a specific area.
And in particular, to put on rainproof or resistant clothing and to view lichens during rainfall or at least very soon afterwards.
I knew there was a parallel universe long before I heard about the theory.
No, I don’t mean the parallel universe where lots of people live, particularly middle-class, where justice and democracy and the rule of an objective and impartial law governs. In that universe, oppressive powers who have plundered the earth and committed so many crimes to enrich themselves will meekly give all that up once you show them how many people disapprove of what they’re doing. They won’t repress you instead, with baton, plastic bullet and gas, jail, guns, helicopters, drones …. Sometimes, in my more idle moments, I wish I lived in that same universe instead of this one.
But it’s not the one I mean here. The parallel universe I mean is another one where there is oxygen and what is necessary for carbon-based life forms to breathe and live — but it is not this one. And I didn’t find out about it through carrying out complicated mathematical computations – me, maths? Are you joking? All the same, I did use a scientific method: observation. And I have to thank flies for the discovery.
Have you ever tried to catch a fly, or to swat it with your hand? There’s the fly, lazily buzzing, wheeling around in the air. You prepare yourself. Fast, so fast, you grab and you know you got it, open your hand– and it’s empty!
Where did the fly go? Into a parallel universe. It’ll come back soon, when the danger is past for the moment. Conditions must not be that great in that parallel universe (unlike the one where those liberal middle-class people live) so the flies never stay there long. Maybe there’s a giant frog or toad there, its tongue flicking out right and left, catching flies that stay there too long.
OK, a different scenario. You see a fly on the table and move your hand evvverrrr so-o-o-o slowwwllly towards it. You must get close enough so it doesn’t have time to avoid your swat.
The fly does that strange thing, kind of like stiffening, apparently getting ready to jump and fly. It has seen you, you think. But you don’t give up. You slow down, almost stop. Maybe it will forget or won’t think your hand is dangerous.
The fly is now cleaning its face with its front legs.
“Good,” you think, “It’s not alarmed any more.” It doesn’t occur to you that the fly was not cleaning its face before and is only doing so now. You don’t suspect that the fly is thinking: “Oho! Fancy your chances? Come on then Big Thing. See, I’m just relaxed here, cleaning my face.”
Swat! Your hand has streaked out. The plate rattled and the mug jumped, spilling some coffee on the table-top. But nothing flew out from under your hand. You got him for sure!
You remove your hand and …. no dead fly! No bloody smear. Incredible! How did it do that? In that instant before your hand, ever so fast, came down to crush it, the fly simply shifted to another universe. It will be back soon, circling nonchalantly and may even return to the table, walking innocently on it and waiting for you to try again.
And not only is there a parallel universe but parallel universes! And I have reached this conclusion too, without even a pass in mathematics in the Irish State’s former Intermediate Examination (abandoned in 1991) or much study of physics. Again, achieved through observation. Sometimes, particularly when I am tired, I have observed a rapid movement of some small object across my line of vision. It is there for a moment only, originating ‘out of nowhere’ and disappearing again a few feet away. I propose that this is a fly, originating in another universe, flying across this one and, presumably, heading for yet another. No doubt fleeing from a swatting hand or other pursuer in another universe. Sometimes I can even hear what sounds like it might be fly laughter.
Why observable mostly when the eye is tired? Because the brain at this time is less receptive to the normal distractions and so therefore is the eye, making observation of other less normal phenomena more likely. Of course, this theory has not been proven, despite my efforts to catch this fly. It has not proved possible to predict the day or time when this “fly-through” might occur and also, being often tired at the time, my reactions tend to be slow. But one day ….
Of course, theoretical science has now caught up with my observations and a number of reputable scientists have been discussing related theories for decades (though also dismissed by other reputable scientists). Those supporting the theoretical concept even speak of a “multiverse”, i.e of a universe consisting of many – and some propose infinite — variables of the universe currently observable to us. Interestingly to a Dubliner such as myself, the term “multiverse” was first recorded in scientific discourse in a 1953 Trinity College Dublin lecture by Erwin Shrodinger (1887-1961), an Austrian Nobel Prize-winner in physics (and achiever of an even greater distinction, managing to live successfully with not one but two unslaved members of the opposite gender). According to Wikipedia ‘he said that, when his Nobel prize-winning equations seemed to describe several different histories, these were “not alternatives, but all really happen simultaneously”. That is the earliest known reference to the multiverse.’
In one of those parallel universes there might be a version or iteration of myself who did not fuck up so many times, who is more disciplined and productive in the use of his free time and ….. well, that’s enough to think about. This other iteration might even like heavy metal music, be good at maths, like eating flatfish and not get into trouble with authorities.
The arguments in favour and against the existence of a multiverse have been equally convincing or unconvincing logically.
Against: We live in the universe that we do because that one provides the conditions for the existence of life. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t be here. Therefore it is the only universe capable of sustaining life and the only one in existence.
For: There is no logical reason why other universes capable of giving rise to life and therefore populated, could not exist, but with some different conditions to ours. All possible permutations. Or indeed that some would not consist of completely different life-forms, not even carbon-based. Life keeps turning up in situations previously thought impossible even here on Earth and we have long known about anaerobic bacteria.
Against: Such speculation is fruitless. We have not observed any effect or trace of these other universes.
For: However, there are some factors in quantum theory which do not explain what we can observe of this universe. And lack of proof does not rule out the possibility of the existence of something.
Against: That is true so far about quantum theory. But unless it can be proven or disproven, it is not worthy of scientific theory. We might as well fund investigation into the existence of God.
For: Aha, funding! That’s why you don’t want it studied – it might reduce the funding available foryour work.
Against: How dare you!
And so on and on. And on.
And now, if you‘ll excuse me ….. There’s a fly nearby on the table …..
“Why do you think that is? Are you thinking about exciting things, things you’re going to do tomorrow, perhaps?”
He gently ruffled her blond curls on the pillow. She gets those from her grandmother, on her mother’s side, he thought. He and Julia were both dark-haired.
“No, Papa, it’s not that.”
“Are you sure? You know that niňas need their sleep.”
“And niňos too, Papa.”
“Yes, hija, and boys too.” A painful pride filled his chest. Already standing up for equality!
“So why can’t you go to sleep?”
“I get frightened. I know I shouldn’t …. but I do.”
“Frightened? Of what?”
“Of ….. of monsters.” Her voice dropped on the last word so that he could barely hear her.
“Monsters? Here? What kind of monsters?”
“River monsters. Joaquin says they come out of the river at night, creep around the houses and take children ….. back to the river ….. and …. and drown them. And then eat them.”
“Joaquin shouldn’t be frightening you with stories like that.” A different kind of pain in his chest.
“It’s not true?”
“No. Sometimes the caimánes do come up from the river, looking for rubbish to eat. That’s why we shouldn’t leave the basura out, remember?”
“But they are not looking for people. And they can’t climb up houses, can they?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. You’ve seen them in the river and on the river bank. You ever see one climb a tree?”
“Yes, and very well. But they eat plants. You haven’t got any vegetables in here, have you?”
“No,” she giggled.
“Are you sure?” he reached into her armpit.
She wriggled, squealing.
“Or here, perhaps?” reaching under the bedcovers, he tickled her ribs.
More wriggling, squealing.
“Ok, so no hidden vegetables, no iguanas. And alligators can’t climb. And you know what else?”
“What?” twinkle of laughter still in her eyes.
“Rapido. He barks when people or animals come around at night, doesn’t he?”
“Yes, Papa. Always.”
“And if I were asleep, he’d wake me, wouldn’t he?”
“And I have a big machete, don’t I?”
“Yes, Papa. It’s very sharp and I’m not allowed to touch it until I’m big.”
“Yes. You’ve seen how it cuts the cane, haven’t you?”
“Well then, how is a caimán to get here, even if it wanted to, past Rapido, past me and my machete? It’s not going to happen, is it?”
“So now you will sleep, won’t you?”
“Yes, Papa. Hug!” Her arms reached up.
He hugged her, breathing in her little child smell, his chest filled with a sweet kind of pain. He had to be careful not too hug too hard.
She turned over and he walked softly out. He had reached the door when her sleepy voice reached him.
“There aren’t any other kinds of monsters, are there?”
“No, hija, of course not. Now, to sleep. Duerme con los angeles.”
She murmured something he couldn’t catch, already slipping into a delayed slumber.
Walking softly to the kitchen, he took a battered coffee jug off the stove and poured himself a cup. It felt bad, lying to his daughter. But how to tell her about the real monsters that ruled the world, when she was already frightened? Replace imaginary monsters with real ones?
And the real monsters could climb houses. Could find you in the dark with heat-imaging cameras and scopes. Could trace you from satellites. Still, they were not all-powerful. They act as though they were, especially the soldiers and police they send, strutting around, searching houses, slapping men, grabbing women and fondling them …. and sometimes worse, though not here. Not yet. But Paco Perez had been arrested, taken to the barracks a week ago and had not come back. Each day his wife and some vecinos went down to enquire and to hand in food, returning without having seen him. Would he ever come back? There was always hope.
But at night …. ah, at night, it was a different story. At night the soldiers stayed in their barracks or near it. The night belongs to the guerrilleros.
Rapido, lying by the screen door, got up, stiffened and growled.
“Quieto, Rapido! Quieto!”
The dog turned to look at him. Someone comes, he seemed to say. You tell me to be quiet and so I must. But I warn you, someone comes. And I am ready to fight!”
“Good dog”, he said, putting the cup down and getting up. His heart beating fast, he lowered the wick in the lamp and took down the machete from the wall.
Rapido was tense, facing out the doorway.
He went to the dog, touched him on the nose in the signal for “quiet” when hunting. Then tapping his own side, another signal, he opened the screen door and stepped out on to the small veranda, Rapido by his side.
The night was filled with the usual sounds – insects and frogs, aware of them now, what had been an unconscious background earlier. A faint splash from the river two hundred metres away. A caiman’s tail, a fish jumping, a canoe paddle? No, not a paddle — someone coming quietly on the river wouldn’t splash.
Then a screech — an owl that was not an owl.
He moved away from the doorway, to the side, heart thumping. Rapido was quivering with intensity.
“Tranquilo, vecino!” came the whisper from the darkness. A woman’s voice.
She came soundlessly into view along the track below, the dim moonlight shining on her gun, carried in the left hand. Wearing what looked like a loose camouflage-pattern shirt. Beyond her, a man by size and shape, hardly seen. There would be others, he knew.
“Who goes by?” he whispered back.
“Justicia, compa. Justice,” replied the woman, walking past, wearing a bandana across her face.
Did he know her? Maybe. He didn’t want to, though.
Probably heading for the barracks,he thought.
“Vayan con Dios,” he called softly after them as they vanished again. Let them come back safely.
There would be retribution in the morning, he knew. Or the day after. More searching, lots of questions, maybe more arrests. But what was the alternative? To lie down and let them walk over us? Even those who obey are not safe.
And the sugar boss pays barely enough to live on for eleven sweating hours and bleeding hands. Upriver they had struck work in protest, until the soldiers went in and arrested the union leaders.
“Buen perro, amigo.” He stroked Rapido on the head, the dog now relaxing, both turning to go back inside. Work in the morning and six days every week while the season lasted.
But how to keep his niňa safe? From the real monsters of this world?