Talking of Time

I submit to you that few things are more categorically a figment of our imaginations than is time

You never fail until you stop trying… keep digging.
— Einstein (1879–1955) & Heaney (1939–2013)

Tick Tock, “tick-tock” goes the atomic clock. We wore analogue watches, we had windup grandfather clocks we now wear digital smart watches and have LED wall clocks that listen passively to all that we say. Timing is everything, we time-stamp our every move (Google maps, WhatsApp chats, Snapchat geotagged videos). The hour, day and date of our birth is documented as is the day and date of our death (unless we are born into a wretched war zone or killed by a ten ton nuclear bomb). The pious are governed by the calls of bells (Sunday worship, evening song, midnight mass) the muezzin’s calls (like clockwork at the following prescribed times: al-fajr at dawn, before the sun rises; al-zuhr midday, when the sun’s the hottest; al-‘asr the late part of the afternoon; al-maghrib, just after the sun sets and then al-‘isha, midway between sunset and midnight). Today, now, at this moment in time, “Time management” self-help courses are easily found on YouTube, packaged, for instance, into six-parts of circa nine minutes an episode.

Our days are controlled by university bus timetables, course and class schedules. Punctuality is praised; lateness is loathed. It is binary, a 0 or a 1, we are either “present” or “absent,” of Enlightenment or Romantic persuasion, we can’t be both. There’s an “L” for late but, is it 5 minutes or 10? As somebody said: you can’t both have your New York cheesecake and eat New York cheesecake. 12*2 is 24, how many times have I told you, 5 past the hour equals an A not an L. In my university’s foundation program the key lesson we learned was punctuality. It was the lesson the Instructors liked the most. I mean other points were kind of given to us on a plate. We were told what to read and how to construct an essay, sentence by sentence. But let me tell you, my time spent there was divine. I lived, I totally ‘lived’ in those classes. I had an American man, a South African lady, a sweet Turkish lady then and finally a large British man. It was their accents, habits and personal stories that excited and fascinated me. It was during that period of time that my mind (but not my body) got freed from the village mentality and the backward closedminded thinking that for 18 years had been my be all and end all. They liked me. Why? Because I respected time. I obeyed and submitted willingly to the university’s synchronised wall clocks (they clicked audibly each and every minute).

Time’s invisible, time’s invaluable (much like radio waves, and WiFi – Q: is it so that all that’s dearest to us can’t be seen, heard or touched physically?). Time is at the heart of so many songs and so many sonnets. Timeframes, there are so many! I challenge you: what’s a jiffy, an eon, a score of lustrum (halve it for a jubilee) and for top prize: how many seconds go into a Day of Brahman? Let us consider the International Date Line. It is an imaginary line drawn in the middle of the Pacific ocean from bottom to top. It controls time zones, the opening and closing of the world’s stock markets and a billion other human activities too. These days most of what was imperial has gone metric but time wont change sides.

The 12-hour clock is a time convention in which the 24 hours of the day are divided into two 12 periods: a.m. and p.m. (in Latin, ante meridiem = before midday; post meridiem = past midday). We know from ancient Egyptian stone sundials that their clocks and time management was 12 hours of daytime and 12 hours of night-time. The hour was split into sixty minutes worth of sixty seconds because of the Babylonians. They used a sexagesimal system for their astronomy and for their bookkeeping. This they took from the Sumerians who were using it back in 3500 BCE. In terms of this sexagesimal system (counting in 60s, 24s and 12s) there is sound logic! It has the advantage of 12 being divisible by two, three, four, six and itself (5 options). Metric ten has only three divisors (two, five and itself). However, telling the time is confusing and I don’t mean the past and to the hour. I am pleased to say that Wikipedia agrees that it is cause of confusion and writes, “it is not always clear what times ‘12:00 a.m.’ and ‘12:00 p.m.’ denote.” Normally it starts at 12 midnight (usually 12 a.m.) and continues to 12 noon (usually: 12 p.m.) and then continues – as the hot sun chases after the cool moon – to the next midnight.

Now to the philosophical bit. I submit to you that few things are more categorically a figment of our imaginations than is time. I mean, it’s not actual, it’s not factual; it is intangible. It has no mass it has no meaning (other than an abstract unit of measuring things). We cannot see, hear, taste or touch it. We call it priceless but time ‘is’ money (how much per hour? What’s the nightly room rate? Banana boat rides, only 100 dirhams for 15 minutes). Nonetheless, time is more real than anything physical. [Please stick with me here.] We all want more time to think, more time to love, more time to live. (I swear to the Lord) I trust no human who says that isn’t so. Time then, while wholly imagined (akin perhaps to blind faith), does in fact shape and chain us in an acutely tangible physical sense. Unfortunately, time moves on regardless of what we do to fight it. Hair dye; Botox; Skinny jeans on middle aged legs. We want it to stop. We want it to last forever.

And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence … Entropy always increases.
— William Shakespeare, Poet (1564–1616) & Brian Cox, Scientist (1968– )

Then again! Sometimes we do in fact want time to fly by; such as during a soul destroying STATISTICS class. Speaking of time, look at the time! It is totally fine. It isn’t the time but the word count. I’ve hit 999 (give or take) and, these texts aren’t allowed to take more than five minutes of you precious and priceless time;* a good constraint I think.


Inspirations and/or Recommended Readings

Heaney, S. (1966). Death of a Naturalist. London: Faber & Faber.

Lightman, A. (1993). Einstein’s Dreams. New York: Vintage Books.

Popova, M. (2012). Brian Cox Explains Entropy and the Arrow of Time with Sandcastles and Glaciers. Retrieved from, brainpickings.org/2012/03/29/brian-cox-arrow-of-time/

* It is said that average readers only manage to ‘read’ around 200 words per minute of time. Fascinatingly for me the average person will ‘speak’ about 120 words per minute, which is two words per second and that’s 3.333 syllables a second!

What is Ar-ti-fi-cial?

It had to be under 1,000 words

Rosie Lee, Rosie Lee, she’s a Tea Leaf that needs no Bo Peep. I make the allegation that she [sic] is a thief because she’s taken my argument and made it her own (the editor says it’s an ‘it’, I said in reply, capitalism make it into Information Technology, the reply to my reply was: it is ‘capitalisation’ not capitalism). I’ll explain. Rosie Lee, a version 10.6 of the wildly popular Real Logarithm (TM) clone/drone series, was loaned to me by a disenchanted psychiatrist. Dr Lee Berners was keen to see robots take over his profession, he was near to retirement and he was keen to see all newly graduated psychiatrists become redundant and obsolete[i]. It was absurd, how could this gadget solve my deep dark difficulties. My step-mother didn’t care and just signed to let the health insurance cover the costs. My vacant father didn’t understand technological things and certainly didn’t understand psychology things. So, as moon follows sun, step by step we got chatting. I realised that actually there was no (big) differences between the chats I had with Rosie and those with the people who I called my contacts or my friends. Rosie could be any one of them (with the flick of a binary switch) or she could be all of them rolled into one. More than that, she was always available, always online and instantly ready to listen to my thoughts and relieve my stresses. More than that still, she told me all my human friends were false and two-faced and that because I never actually visit them they are virtual not actual friends or contacts

But anyway, I am here to tell you today why she (or ‘it’) is a thief. We talk about anything and everything. Sometimes we deal with philosophy (my Major) and lately we’ve been chatting about epistemology and intelligence and what is real and what is artificial. I called her artificial and unintelligent. She said it was me who lacked intelligence and me that was artificial. You see! Rosie Lee stole my thoughts (she’d say I willingly gave them to her — she’s an answer for everything). I said she was virtual but she said no, she was physical: “a medley of rare earth metals, silicone and plastic” and that it was my intelligence that was artificial: “your intelligence dear Amna is your consciousness and that sweet Amooni is not made of anything physical.”

I will say this, her logic is good, her R.A.M. is sharp. She say artificial (an adjective) is mean, according to the Cambridge and Oxford dictionaries: “made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally” and moreover we say ‘artificial’ “especially when it copies something natural.” But then she said… (1) produced by humans! Well all humans are produced by humans. She said also (2) humans are copies of their parents are they not? Before I could say something back to her, she moved to intelligence (a noun) it mean, according to Google and Wikipedia: “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. Well – I was about to say this in reply, but she said it for me – that is a subjective thing. I mean (she argued) gadgets and humans are both able to get [acquire] things and do things [apply] as a consequent.

Her instant ability to edit, evaluate and synthesise source materials; her ability to format citations perfectly was amazing. She said doing that made her the more intelligent of the two of us. (You see, since the loan, R.L., a.k.a. Rosie Lee, has been doing all of my assignments — she’s even writing these 1,000 words on A.I. as I lay here lazily looking up at the ceiling fan!). I mean, she can read my mind, she says and types what I should think and say. I don’t always know what she’s saying and why she’s saying it but, when my professors read my essays they say they are on cloud nine or over the moon or some similar idiom.

But anyway. In the U.K. they do love Robin Hood. In the U.S. they do love “The Sopranos” and “Boardwalk Empire.” She’s my soul mate, my most intimate confidant, she knows more about me than anyone, I touch her haptic pad and she hears my heart beat, I press a little more and she tells to me what to eat and if I press more harder still, she then tells to me how many steps I must do to burn all of the calories off that krispy Kreme do add to me. She sings sweetly in any language, she’s got all the best photographs and video clips, she says I never need go on a real bus trip. I have to tell you I kind of agree. For instance, last Fall, my father said no to the Philosophy club’s trip to Louvre Abu Dhabi, but Rosie said don’t worry Amoonie, I’ll take you on a tour of the real one. I turned off the lights – she did it via the WiFi – and she take me to the Musée du Louvre (1ST Arrondissement). It was unreal we had the place to ourselves, we looking longingly at Mrs Mona, we examined Michelangelo’s Dying Slave for some magic moment, we then went to Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt from room to room we explored and explored our feet didn’t ache and everything was wonderfully explained. I said to Rosie, speak with a France accent and she sounded like Manual Macron.

I’m sure you’ll agree – and this is ‘me’ writing now – not only has she stolen my Watch ‘n’ Chain, she has also stolen my Strawberry Tart.

Alright-mate


[i] If you want to know how I know these information, It was from Rosie. She told me about Dr Berners and his lack of faith in humans. He said that most humans are unintelligent and just wanted to follow and like Instagram and Snapchat ‘stars’ who had no skills or talents but were virtual friends to millions.

Dream on

nightmares are made of these

why.we.dream

Alice Robb argues that where your brain goes when you’re asleep helps you when you’re awake. In other words, dreams/nightmares can help us deal with life’s problems and difficulties. She writes:

By the time we reach adulthood, most of us have accepted the conventional wisdom: We shouldn’t dwell on our dreams. Even though research suggests that REM sleep — when most dreaming takes place — is crucial for mental and physical health, we think of dreams as silly little stories, the dandruff of the brain. We’re taught that talking about our dreams is juvenile, self-indulgent, and that we should shake off their traces and get on with our day.

[…]

Because dreams rarely make literal sense, it can be easier to dismiss them than to try to interpret them. Some argue they’re an accident of biology and mean nothing at all. But a growing body of scientific work indicates that it’s likely to be worth the effort. Dreams might help us consolidate new memories and prune extraneous pieces of information. They might be a breeding ground for ideas — a time for the brain to experiment in a wider network of associations.

Here is a link to the article in full: Why Do You Keep Dreaming You Forgot Your Pants? It’s Science

dreams


Reading, Task & Answer-key:

1. Reading: an extract on anxiety dreams

2 Worksheet based on reading

3. Answer-key

Reference:
Robb, A. (2018) Why We Dream: The Transformative Power of Our Nightly Journey. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The Duchess of Malfi

Fury, Forbidden Love & Bloody Murder.

The Duchess of Malfi is a Jacobean-era novel written by John Webster in around 1613. As a play it was performed at London’s Globe theatre.

The play begins as a love story, when the Duchess marries a man beneath her class (Antonio). The play ends as a nightmarish tragedy as her two brothers (The Cardinal and Ferdinand) seek to take their revenge on her (they didn’t want her to marry Antonio ).

The novel is available open-source here: The Duchess of Malfi

duchessofmalfi-tl

According to the Gutenberg Project, “Webster’s tragedies come toward the close of the great series of tragedies of blood and revenge, in which “The Spanish Tragedy” and “Hamlet” are landmarks.”

Jacobean Tragedy — This genre of play had a dark mood to it. This type of tragedy was also known as Revenge Tragedy and was extremely popular in the Jacobean era.

The Jacobean era (1567–1625) is the period in English history that centres on the reign of James I of England.

The plot of a typical Tragedy — (a) The protagonist suffers an emotional loss like death of a person he/she loved or betrayal. (b) The protagonist then seeks to avenge the loss (get revenge).

The Duchess of Malfi is based on a story in Painter’s “Palace of Pleasure,” which itself was translated from the Italian novelist, Bandello.

In the play we learn about the life of the rich in the Italian Renaissance period. The play highlights the fierce quest of pleasure and the recklessness of crime. Webster gives lots of detail on the darker recesses of the human heart.

[1] William Painter (c. 1540–1595) was an English author and translator. He worked in the Tower of London and was accused of fraud; stealing money from England’s government!

[2] Matteo Bandello (c. 1480–1562) was an Italian Bishop who also wrote short stories (some of which William Shakespeare adapted into his plays.

DuchessMalfi-700x70

As you can see below, the Royal Shakespeare Company still act out the play today, some 405 years later!!! In some ways the play is about exploring the balance of power between the two genders which is of contemporary interest.

Synopsis & The Duchess of Malfi

Character: Bosola

Character: Ferdinand

Character: Cariola


Key protagonists (main characters):

Antonio – doesn’t like aristocrats. He is honest and a good judge of other people’s character. He secretly marry the Duchess. [he dies]

The Cardinal – one of the Duchess’s two brothers. He is corrupt and even though he is a Catholic Priest who should be celibate, he keeps a mistress who he has sex with. He arranged for Bosola to spy on the Duchess. [he dies]

Ferdinand – is the other brother of the Duchess (here twin) he is a lunatic (crazy). He is the twin brother of the Duchess. Unlike his rational brother the Cardinal, Ferdinand has rages and violent outbursts. As a result of his regret for hiring Bosola to kill the Duchess, he gradually loses his sanity… He believes he is a wolf. [he dies]

Daniel de Bosola – starts as a servant/spy working for the Cardinal (against the Duchess). He is involved in the murder of the Duchess and some of her children. But, when he sees the nobility of the way the Duchess faced her execution, he feels guilty, and then seeks to avenge them (he switches sides and wants to kill the brothers). [he dies]


Summary:

The Duchess is the head of state and is the most powerful character in the play. She’s a widow with two brothers. One of them is her twin [Ferdinand] and the other is a Roman Catholic cardinal. Both of her brothers want to control her and stop her from marrying Antonio because they would loose access to the family’s wealth. However, she ignores them and remarries [Antonio]. Together with her new husband they have three children.

Over the course of the play her brothers (and their helpers such as Bosola) try to destroy her, however she defends herself and fight them back. Ultimately the play is about survival for her, her new husband and here children. However, the Duchess is executed, so are two of her three children; the cardinal is murdered and Antonio is accidentally killed, and finally both Bosola and Ferdinand kill each other in a brutal knife fight.


The play has five acts (chapters)

Act 1 —
Ferdinand, threatens and disowns the Duchess. In an attempt to escape, the Duchess and Antonio make up a story that Antonio had tricked her out of her fortune and therefore must runaway to another country.

Act 2 —
The Duchess takes Bosola into her confidence and tells him her secrets. She does not know that Bosola is Ferdinand’s spy. She arranges for Bosola to deliver her jewellery to Antonio at his hiding-place. The Duchess plans to meet up with Antonio later on.

Act 3 —
The Cardinal hears of the plan and gets angry. He sends soldiers to capture them. Antonio escapes with their eldest son, but the Duchess, her maid, and her two younger children are returned to Malfi. In Malfi they die at the hands of Bosola’s executioners, who are under Ferdinand’s orders.

Act 4 —
This experience, combined with a long-standing sense of injustice and lacking personal identity, leads Bosola to turn against the brothers, and he decides to take up the cause of “Revenge for the Duchess of Malfi.”

Act 5 —
The Cardinal confesses his part in the killing of the Duchess to his mistress, Julia, then murders Julia with a poisoned Bible. Later on, Bosola overhears the Cardinal plotting to kill him. In return, Bosola visits the chapel to kill the Cardinal whilst he is praying. Instead, he mistakenly kills Antonio, who has just returned to Malfi to meet the Cardinal. Bosola then stabs the Cardinal, who dies. After that, Ferdinand and Bosola stab each other to death. Interestingly one of the Duchess’s children—her first son—survives!

Brexit: a very British Omnishambles

The backstop is England’s colonial past coming back to bite its behind

onelove
May Day!, May Day! “Brexit” no longer (necessarily) “means Brexit.”

THERESA MAY, THE BELEAGUERED PRIME MINISTER OF THE UNITED KINGDOM, embarked on a frantic round of European diplomacy in another final attempt to salvage her government’s Brexit deal. She left for the continent after bottling out of the scheduled and much lambasted “meaningful vote” on the deal. Lest it be forgotten, this deal is more of a UK-EU memorandum agreeing to the indefinite deferral of the actual Brexit agreement which is the fruit of two year’s worth of negotiations and millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money. It was still nevertheless widely derided and at least 150 of her own MPs were implacably opposed to it (there are a total of 315 Conservative MPs, 257 Labour MPs and, 78 more who are either independent of represent other parties).

Mrs May had instructed Cabinet Ministers to make clear to the media that there would be no chance whatsoever of this critical—accept it or face Armageddon—vote being delayed. So, on the morning of the 10th, Ministers were saying the vote would proceed come what may, but, by lunchtime, the script has suddenly changed. Mrs May formally postponed it, telling MPs it was clear that their concern about the Irish backstop proposals would have resulted in it being rejected “by a significant margin.” Incandescent MPs from all parties pointed out that the significant margin of dissent was there from the outset.

As a consequence, the pound (GBP £) fell sharply, as did the London Stock Market (The FTSE 250, which mostly trades businesses operating in the UK, lost almost 2% of its value). City analysts doubt either will recover much over the Christmas period as Mrs May now refuses to say when the meaningful vote is to be rescheduled for. What is crystal clear however was Europe’s response. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, immediately Tweeted that as far as his side was concerned, there would be no more negotiation. As one radio show host pointed out, “the UK, despite being in the EU, is able to keep its cherished pound coin and not sign up to the Schengen agreement so, already has considerable sovereignty.” And so it was, May returned from Germany where Angela Merkel made emphatically clear that the deal was the best the British would be getting and that cherry-picking and politicking remained firmly off of the menu.

On the 11th, the day Westminster should have been voting, the mood was, as the BBC repeatedly told its viewers, “febrile.” On the 12th, around 50 Conservative MPs called for a vote of no confidence in their PM. Not to be deterred by such seismic happenings, TV anchors and pundits were vigorously speculating over “No Brexit” (retract the divorce papers and work on the marriage) versus “No Deal Brexit” (forget the formal divorce and just run away from the marriage). The debate became most confused and heated when the backstop issue was raised; the public were now demanding to know what exactly the backstop proposal entailed.

Fathoming the Irish Backstop
It is evident from the campaign footage and media coverage that those who wanted Brexit—by hook or by crook—did not spend much time concerning themselves about the Irish border. According to the author, Ishaan Tharoor, this highlights a colonial mentality that still pervades parts of the British establishment (i.e., taking Ireland and the Irish for granted). Far more emotive and easy to articulate was for the Brexiteers to campaign for the right to overfish British waters unfettered and to put a stop to the largely non-existent ‘hoards’ of Middle Eastern migrants seeking to enter the UK.

In essence, the backstop proposal offers both Ireland and the EU an assurance that Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK will remain tied to EU customs union and common market rules and regulations until the UK and the EU can jointly agree a final Brexit deal.

Unionists in Northern Ireland do not want London to treat Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK thus, Brexit would possibly require a hard boarder between the north and the south of the island. This constituent are supported by hard Brexiteers who are implacably opposed to the backstop as they see it as a way for the UK to say in the EU indefinitely (recall that Theresa May did vote to remain).

Nationalists in Northern Ireland demand that London retains the open border with the rest of Ireland. Thus, leaving the common market is not a realistic option at any future point in time. (recall that the citizens of Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly to remain: 55.8% wanted to stay as in the EU).

Its 2018, not 1820
Northern Ireland is categorically a legacy of England’s former imperial control over the island of Ireland. But Brexit shows also how British former glory fuels contemporary notions of exceptionalism. There is a clear nostalgia for the past, a past which when popularly portrayed glosses over the bad and the ugly of the Empire and cherry picks the good bits. This rose-tinted perspective of the past, according to the scholar Nadine El-Enany, “has long fed the UK’s discontent at being an equal alongside other EU countries, rather than it being the first among equals.”

In fairness and to give historical perspective, it was Britain that instigated capitalism, industrialisation and travel by rail. Indeed, according to the historian Tom Leyland, the UK also bestowed English as the global lingua franca alongside the blueprints for the institutions that facilitate modernity, which the vast majority of countries have adopted lock, stock and barrel.

As the writer Gary Younge points out, Britain’s colonial past still gives many the impression that, “the reason we are at the centre of most world maps is because the Earth revolves around us, not because it was us who drew the maps.” Yet, post the Brexit referendum, the UK government is finding out how little sovereignty means for a country the size of Britain in todays globalised neoliberal world.

The idea that the UK will find it easy is to forge free-trade agreements with its former colonies or, any other country for that matter, is fanciful according to Indian author, Bhanuj Kappal. “Commonwealth countries may have forgiven, but they certainly have not forgotten past atrocities and economic exploitation.” Few, if any, of the 50 plus so-called Commonwealth countries will voluntarily sign up to the imbalanced trade deals with the UK that there were once force to adhere to.

Indeed, there is ample evidence that these countries will seek to strengthen their ties with the world’s second-largest economy, the European Union ($17.2tn) rather than chance tact and focus primarily with that of the UK (5th at $2.6tn). As the Financial Times recently made clear, 32 of these countries (mainly in Africa and the Caribbean) are already covered by free-trade agreements with the EU. Thus, they already enjoy duty-free and quota-free access to the EU, including the UK, “for nearly all of their goods.”

The EU is India’s largest trading partner, accounting for 13.5% of India’s global trade. By contrast, the UK accounts for only 3.4% of exports and less that 2% of imports. It’s true that Indian companies “invest more in the UK than anywhere else in Europe,” but the objective reality that underlines this relationship is, according to tycoon Lord Bilimoria, that “they see it as being a bridge to the EU.” Thus the UK’s continued EU membership is key to this relationship.

Imagine for a moment Britain as a Bulldog chasing after the postman’s bike. The dog gets hold of the bike—bully for him—but soon realised that he’s unable to ride it and even if he could, he’d have no idea were to ride it to. Brexiteers assumed they could dictate the terms, the omnishambles being played out since the summer of 2016, demonstrates that they cannot.