License Plates and the Entropy of the Universe

So today I’m leaving my house (good riddance, believe me) for the truly final stage in my Dublin stay. Moving, as anyone who has ever moved ever knows, is generally not loads of fun. I have too much stuff and it’s kind of awful. But I’ve managed to pack it all up and the move itself shouldn’t be too crazy. Ugh, anyway. It’s absolutely insane to think that I only have two months left in Ireland. I’ve so, so  loved my time here. All good things, I guess.


Freddy helped me pack

I have a couple more days with the parentals, back in Dublin after gallivanting about Ireland. Then it’s hardcore dissertation time (I don’t want to talk about it). My father and brother are, I’m pretty sure, coming to visit in July, and then it’s… you know, whatever ends up being next. I don’t really want to talk about that either.

I’m going to have a TV interlude before I go into the whole entropy thing, because it’s just a depressing mess. And the preceding mess is bad enough.

Past: Dollhouse (2009-2010)

This super crazy quasi-dystopian show revels in showing us the depths of human nature and how easily we can slide into self-annihilation (how scarily apropos). But it also shows the perseverance of humanity in mind, body, and soul. Maybe there’s hope for us after all, even if it takes almost complete destruction for us to find it.

Present: Sherlock (2010- )

If you’re unfamiliar with this show, I must presume that you live under a rock. Not only is it immensely popular, but it is abundantly worthy of its fame. Absolutely fabulous retellings of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries with a great cast and stellar everything. Watch it now please.

Golly. I know it’s already the end of June, but I kind of just want 2016 to start from the top and give it another go. I mean, my life has been chugging along just fine, but the world at large seems to be having a tough time. Granted, it pretty much always is. But. The election race in the US, Brexit, Syria, Zika, Orlando, Istanbul ect ect ect. I feel like the world missed most of the rehearsals for this year and so all the actors are improvising and everything feels a little chaotic.

To be sure, the status quo can be dangerous–very much so. Obviously, just because it’s the way things are doesn’t mean it’s the way things should be. But by the same token, just because it’s new doesn’t mean that it’s better. It takes wisdom and thought, research and reflection, dialogue and exchange to see things clearly. And, as this article discusses, we’re helplessly blind about things we don’t know we don’t know. The misdirected, if justified, anger against things that are difficult to understand continually confounds me even though the pessimist in me ensures that it never surprises me. The world will go on, whether or not the US passes gun legislation and however Brexit plays out. But it’s a tremendous leap in the dark–not because it’s unknown but because it’s shrouded in the darkness of xenophobia, fear, and selfishness.

And so I turn to license plates for solace. This is going to be absolutely absurd to the vast majority of you, but I promise I actually do care this much about it. In Washington, I was a little bit outraged when we started to transition our plates from the standard XXX-XXX format to XXXXXXX, eliminating the dash for no good reason. Not even bothering to do something like XXX-XXXX. Ugh, it was horrible. You may know this about me: I don’t handle change…well. In Ireland, though, license plates are blissfully ordered and a source of much comfort in a world all too often careening haphazardly into chaos.

In Ireland the format is ##(#)-X(X)-#. The first set is the year. So if the car was licensed in 2008, the plate would begin with 08. A couple of years ago, they added a third digit to indicate which half of the year. So a car licensed in September of 2015 would begin with 152. The next letter or letters indicates the county. It’s either the first letter or, in the case of multiple counties with the same initial, first and last (with a couple exceptions due to overlap). So Kerry is KY while Kilkenny is KK, Waterford is WD (or just W) while Wexford is WX ect. The final number is the number of car that was licensed in that area at that time. So the 5,468th car licensed in Westmeath in the spring of 2016 would have this on their plate: 161-WH-5468 with the Irish for the county (An Iarmhí, in this case) written above it.

Like I said, most of you readers probably could not care less about license plates. But I genuinely find these here in Ireland so oddly comforting. A small bastion of reason in an otherwise bizarre and unpredictable world. Truly stranger than fiction. Say what you will about my mild license plate obsession, but you’d better find your own source of order or you’ll go even madder than you are now (as I’ve said previously, we’re all maniacs already). Of course, there’s also recourse to a much better fortress of certainty and constancy, and he’s made it pretty clear that everyone’s welcome, madness notwithstanding. And so I do not despair.

Here’s to fighting entropy and rebelling against the universe because, as Queen Latifah tells us, just to sit still would be a sin.

Don’t Grumble, Give a Whistle

I’m going to start off with the TV this week, because variety is the spice of life.

Past: Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-2008)

This well-known show is absolutely delightful. It’s a story about the trials of childhood–and adolescence and middle age and old age–where danger comes from within as well as without. By turns silly, serious, joyous, and mournful this show is much, much more than children’s fare (as is so often the case). We live in tricky times, it’s true, but I believe Aang can save the world.

Present: Bates Motel (2013- )

Set in a quasi-period/quasi-current time, this show imagines a life for Norman Bates (of Psycho fame) in high school. It’s dark and scary, as you’d expect, but also connects with me not because I’m also an insane murderer, but because it just is great. If you’re into mysteries that loom frighteningly and slither insidiously, this is the show for you.

Anyway, on to the substance for this week. Some news: two of my parental units are visiting from that distant locale–home!

They’re visiting for about two weeks, traveling around the country with a few days in Dublin on either end. It’s a fitting visit, as this coming week marks the longest I’ve been away from home, just shy of six months. It’s not an overly long time, but it’s still nice to see them. I’ve been helping them see the main sights of Dublin. We’ve managed to cover quite a lot of ground, I think. They’ve just left this morning to drive around the country a bit and will be back for a few more days in Dublin before heading home. I finally made it out to Howth (Hoh-th) with them, something I’ve been meaning to do since September. It’s a lovely place, 10/10 would recommend. The lovely Rachel was kind enough to show us around and act as general tour guide/conversationalist, which was much appreciated.

It’s been wonderful for them to visit (I hope they’ve enjoyed it too). We’ve been able to chat and see sights and just hang out and it’s been lovely.

Anyway, I wanted to say a little something about the EU referendum today, because it’s kind of a big deal in a lot of ways. No, I’m not British, or even European, but I reject the idea that that prevents me from having an informed opinion. While I would refrain from weighing in on, say, Taiwanese elections that’s more to do with how uninformed I am than the fact that I’m not Taiwanese. I feel like I have a pretty good background to say something on this issue and that something is that remain is the best choice. To backtrack a bit, if you aren’t aware, there is a referendum today in the UK on whether or not to remain in the EU or to leave. It’s a massive deal–not just for the UK or the EU but really for all of us. One way or another, if you’re British, please please please do your research and vote if you haven’t already. I’ve done a lot of reading and thinking about this and I can’t even vote. So if you can, you should. Democracy is, like, the point of it all, yeah?

If I, as a non-European non-Brit can’t weigh in on this issue, I will at least leave you with one thing. Because a Patrick Stewart homage to Monty Python is about as British as you can get. So I’ll leave you this week by encouraging you to watch this video and by reminding the rest of us that, whatever we may be told, it is selflessness–not selfishness–that makes the world go round. Or, at least, makes it worth the ride.

Fjell, Skog, By, Sjø

Kongeriket Noreg er eit fritt, sjølvstendig, udeleleg og uavhendeleg rike. Regjeringsforma er avgrensa og arveleg monarkisk. Verdigrunnlaget skal framleis vere den kristne og humanistiske arven vår. Denne grunnlova skal tryggje demokratiet, rettsstaten og menneskerettane.

The first two paragraphs of the Norwegian Constitution (second oldest in continuous operation globally) in Nynorsk. The title this week (don’t ask me for pronounciation) is in Bokmål. I just wanted people to be confused when they read the first little blurb for this post. Surprise, I spent a few days this week in Oslo, Norway and this entry will basically be an overview of my time there (with a bonus book review at the end).

First, a quick word about this week’s shooting. I will only quote a mentor of mine who gave this definition: “Compassion is to care enough to do something to help.”

I flew into Oslo on Thursday afternoon and spent my time orienting myself a bit to the cityscape and finding my hostel. I also tried to work out what I was going to do for the two days I had. I chose Oslo because my dissertation is on Norway and I’d never been, but the purpose of the trip was expressly leisure, only to become academic if I happened upon something that could be helpful (I didn’t really). But, other than the prompting of a friend here in Dublin to visit the Fram Museum, I had no idea of what I wanted to do.

Straight off, I loved the scenery. It reminded me of home: the mountains, the forests, the sea winding its way with narrow turns and scattered with islets and sailboats. It felt good to be back among green. Now Ireland is a very green country, it’s true (though Dublin… is less so). But it’s a green of pastureland and rolling hills. There’s plenty of geographical diversity, but it’s a bit limited. Norway, at least the bit I saw, was the green I grew up with–the kind of green where forest is the default and not-forest is the exception. I don’t know how to explain it if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Anyway.

I started off my exploration with the European capital basics: cathedral, parliament, palace. The Norwegian Parliament (Storting) is an interesting-looking building of yellow brick and I found that they give free tours on Saturday mornings so I bookmarked that for the following day. On that tour, I learned loads about the Storting as a building and a body. I also saw the place where they do the press stuff after awarding the Nobel Prize.

The rest of Friday included a trip up the hill to the Royal Palace, through the National Gallery (where I saw The Scream by Munch), and up another hill to the fortress/castle (yes, Oslo is very hilly). The fortress was awesome, lots of cool stuff including an interesting juxtaposition in the crypt–the two previous kings of modern Norway and, across the hall, two medieval burials as well. It also just had a marvelous view of the harbor down across City Hall and everything.

On Saturday, after the tour of the Storting, I took my friend’s advice and headed toward the Fram Museum, about an hour walk from the city center. On the way, I stumbled across Oslo’s equivalent to D.C.’s Embassy Row which was cool. Then I traversed a royal estate that the king had opened to the public, mostly forest and farmland. Very pretty. I made a pitstop at the Norsk Folkmuseet (Norwegian Folk Museum, if you hadn’t gotten that) to see some cool Norwegian architecture. Possibly the first outdoor museum, it houses a variety of…houses and other buildings from rural communities across Norway and across history. The most famous attraction, though, is the Gol Stave Church, a magnificent wooden structure from 1212 and moved to the museum in 1880. So wandered about there for a while and then pushed on to the Fram. I went in with basically no idea what the Fram was. And I was pleasantly surprised. The museum, dedicated mostly but not exclusively to the Fram, documents polar exploration which, surprise, is something Norwegians have tended to be real good at. So I learned about loads of different explorers, their vessels, their voyages, and who got where when. Then I walked back into town via a coastal path that provided a wonderful conclusion to my time in Norway.

The flight back from Oslo involved some spectacular aerial scenery and the shedding of more than a few tears. Unsurprisingly, the latter were because of a book.


Here’s the aerial scenery, since I didn’t take a picture of me crying.

It’s sort of like the first ten minutes of Up (or the whole movie, really) but for 337 pages. I don’t know if any book has made me cry this much. I started–not watery eyes but real, big, hot tears–on page 111 and was at it again approximately every ten pages thereafter. That is not even a little bit of an exaggeration. If anything, it’s an underestimate. It was a book about how to know people and how to love them once you do and how a cat can save a life. By the end, I was a blubbering fool. It was not a depressing book, though it was incredibly sad. It was beautiful. With a sprinkling of good humor and choice insults.

A smattering of the themes it touched on: death, sickness, disability, parenthood, childhood, pets, technology, bureaucracy, principles, integrity, friendship, love, being remembered, forgetting, order, homeowners’ association policy, and the comparative advantages of Saab over Volvo.

Anyway, it was just an incredible book. I don’t know if any of you would like it, or even if you did if you would react in a similar fashion. But there you go, my little review of A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman.

Lastly, television.

Past: Pushing Daisies (2007-2009)

Here’s a well-loved show cut too short. The resulting quick finish is less than ideal, but the rest of the quasi-fantasy crime solving show is absolutely precious. The fanciful storytelling (not least the quirky narration), refreshingly exotic (and frankly bizarre) crimes, and seriously strange characters made for a a show that felt as good watching as pie is eating. It lives in my Coeur d’Coeur.

Present: MI-5 (2002-2011)

This British spy drama (aka Spooks) is heavy and dramatic so obviously I’m real into it. They move a bit fast through characters for my taste, but we’ll see. I’m only three seasons in. It’s tough spies making tough spy decisions. It’s usually pretty tough. But thoroughly enjoyable.

Plant Trees

I’ll start this week with the cat update because this picture just makes me want to cuddle.


The precious kitties getting along (kind of)

There’s a great proverb I once read, supposedly from ancient Greece, that says, ‘A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.’ And that, I think, is the philosophical thought of the week. There’s a lot to be gained from that little proverb. Don’t be discouraged when you don’t see your plans come to fruition–they may have a larger, unseen impact. Don’t be selfish. Caring for others is caring for yourself. The measure of a society is partly what it is but also partly what it hopes to be.

Neither planting a tree nor riding a bike will save the world. But if we all did them, I think we’d be a lot farther along than we are right now. In the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,/ Is our destined end or way;/ But to act, that each to-morrow/ Find us farther than to-day.” I’ve said before that doing good is often difficult, but sometimes it’s easy. And I think the common sense of kindness is an easy way to do good. It doesn’t take a lot of forethought or prep work. It doesn’t take millions of dollars and an international legally binding agreement. Being kind won’t solve the frankly enormous problems facing the world today. But if we create a society where being kind and being good is the standard, then the big deals will be easier to solve because the people solving them will be good and kind, backed by the expectation of goodness and kindness of their countries.

It seems both futile and naïve to just ask people to be good and kind. ‘Realists’ would say, if they deigned to respond at all, that we simply must live in the world as we find it. And I know. I’ve occasionally referred to myself as a pessimistic idealist or something along those lines. I’m infinitely skeptical but I cling fiercely to optimism. The news from the US this week, generally, had very little kindness or goodness in it. Racists are racists and rapists are rapists. Then I think of Théoden’s line (because life is just an excuse to quote Lord of the Rings) when he says, “What can men do against such reckless hate?” So I call on you, like Aragorn, to ride out with me. We live in the world. But we can also change it.

Enough of that. I promise no philosophizing in next week’s post. Here’s this week’s review of television.

Past: Monk (2002-2009)

This is one of the few shows that I watched in its entirety as it aired. And, though I’m far from comfortable with TV favorites, it is certainly one of my most beloved. It’s funny (I see it sort of as the father of quirky crime dramas) but also deeply touching. It is, overall, a story of someone who interacts with the world with great difficulty but for whom love changes everything. Suffice to say, it is an excellent show and I definitely miss it now it’s gone.

Present: 3rd Rock from the Sun (1996-2001)

This is a silly sitcom from the 90s featuring some well-known actors and some other randos. It never fails to make me laugh out loud. As a story about literal aliens, I appreciate its outsider’s evaluation of the myriad nonsensical puzzle pieces of living in human society–particularly the same one in which I live (albeit a bit removed in time). It’s lighthearted, quick, and all-around ridiculous. What’s not to love.

Merely Mortal Minds

Tuesday featured a church community group barbecue that was excellent. We had loads of delicious food, lots of conversation (both serious and lighthearted), a brief Move Your Boogie Body session, and a great deal of laughter. It was a lovely evening. I also have been spending a good chunk of my afternoons in Phoenix Park with my book because the weather has been absolutely stunning. Other people think it’s still a bit chilly (and the wind, as I’ve said before, certainly isn’t helping) but I’ve definitely been hot. I have a pretty low threshold for hot. Anyway.

If you didn’t know, Washington’s State Flower is the coastal rhododendron. Ireland doesn’t have a state flower per se, but the horticultural symbol of the island is, unsurprisingly, the shamrock (rose for England, thistle for Scotland, leek for Wales). This has nothing to do with anything, I just wanted you to know.

A thing that I like to say when answering a question in the firm negative is “in no universe.” Examples might be something like, “In no universe do I like tomatoes” or ” In no universe is Hugh Jackman not amazing.” Relatedly, a game I occasionally played in my dorm freshman year was In an Alternate Universe where we would just say outrageous things. Here, examples would look something like this: in an alternate universe, the moon is literally made of cheese; in an alternate universe, I am the Queen of England; in an alternate universe, doughnuts are free on the first Thursday of every month. You know, the usual.

But how exciting is it to think of alternate universes? If there truly are infinite realities, then there is a reality in which every possible option is true. So I am actually a wizard who attended Hogwarts (because that’s real too). Simultaneously, I am the wealthy Victorian gentleman that I’ve always wanted to be. And the successful author. And I live in a seaside cottage in Croatia keeping bees, raising fruit trees, and selling books. Additionally, I’m a ventriloquist, master lockpick, martial artist, professional oboe player, and mayor of Gillette, Wyoming. In at least one universe, I’m all of those things at once. I also love imagining counterfactual histories. What if the Spanish had lost to the Aztecs? What if Ireland had never been conquered by the English? What if the American Revolution simply created an American Monarchy?


I just thought this was a cool painting. Foundation of Mexico by Roberto Cueva del Rio

So such lines of imagining aren’t productive in the least, but they’re so much fun. When I see things that are like, Mozart wrote ten thousand masterpieces before he was eight, I’m just like, in an alternate universe, I am Mozart. And Picasso. Simultaneously. There’s a great Picasso quote, speaking of, where he says, “When I was a child, my mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.’ Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.” I may or may not have given a biographical speech on Picasso in seventh grade. Anyway. In this universe, I may not have attended Hogwarts. I may not be High King of Gondor. I may not be Prince Kheldar of Drasnia (perhaps my favorite book character of all time). But I’m me. For good or for ill, I’m me. And I’m the best (and only) one this universe has. So let’s make do, yeah?

There are so many things in this world that are utterly beyond our merely mortal minds. How can the finite contemplate the infinite? How can the minuscule understand the immense? For some, there is great frustration in these questions. But for me, I find great comfort in the not-knowing. I love not knowing how big the universe is. I love not knowing how gravity works. I love not knowing how light travels. This is not a call to ignorance or abandoning curiosity. Rather, it is a call to wonder. A call to awe. If knowledge is acquired through the pursuit of facts, wisdom comes from the pursuit of truth. The two are not mutually exclusive, or even opposed, but just a different approach to the world. Do we seek to know in order to master or do we seek to understand in order to be humbled?

Well, that strayed once more into the realm of amateurish philosophy, but I’ll not apologize for it, these are things that I think about sometimes.

Anyway. Click here for a pleasant surprise.

I’ve really been enjoying these lists and sharings and things, so for the month of June, I’m going to highlight one TV show that I have watched in the past and one that I’m currently watching. Because, as I think I’ve made pretty clear, I’m definitely a Netflix addict. And just TV generally. And this time, I’ll give a little commentary.

Past: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)

Such a good show. I watched this across the first three semesters of college and I love it so much. I was just contemplating a couple weeks ago how sad it is that I’ll never watch it for the first time again. Brief plot summary: it’s about a high school girl who, with the help of her own Scooby gang, saves the world over and over again from demons, vampires, and assorted baddies.

Present: Daniel Deronda (2002)

Okay, so technically this is a mini-series because it’s just an adaptation of George Eliot’s novel of the same name. But it’s really interesting so far. I really like Daniel and pretty much hate the other characters. The only other Eliot I’m familiar with is Mill on the Floss (1860) which I loved. Basically, I’m getting that Eliot does pretty well at illuminating kind of awful people without making them caricatures–and does the same for generally good people. Because no one’s perfect. Also, a great deal of social commentary.