Friday, November 14, 2014

Why the Scientist Has No Home Library: Heidegger Predicts the Structure of our Contemporary University

At the height of his apparent incredulity over the transformation of the traditional scholar into “the research man”, best exemplified by the modern scientist, Heidegger notes that this person “no longer needs a library at home.”

This is not merely because the frenetic life of the research man who is “constantly on the move”, attending conferences, negotiating book deals in collaboration with publishing houses and so forth.  It is also because of the very nature of the modern scientific enterprise whose essence is research, the essence of which in turn consist of a knowing that “establishes itself in as a procedure.” Science moves ahead in institutions singularly committed to the implementation of the procedural busyness of contemporary science.  Thus the home library is dispensed with because research can find no home in a private domicile.

The university, where the researcher can find a home increasingly, will become, Heidegger predicts in his  Contributions to Philosophy (Of the Event) 1936-1938, “sheer business establishments” in which “the last vestiges of cultural decoration” (the humanities and arts, for example) are retained for “only as long as the must.”

[Martin Heidegger. The Age of the World Picture. [1938] William Lovitt (trans. & editor). The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays]

Thursday, October 2, 2014

"Biodiversity Conservation on a Largely Urban Planet: Is Anything Working?"

"Please save the date for the Autumn Quarter CSH College meeting and Dr. Liam Heneghan’s research presentation. As the recipient of the 2014 CSH Excellence in Research Award, Liam will give a talk with highlights from his significant contributions to his field.

THIS COMING Wednesday October 8 from3:15-5:15PM in McGowan South 108
Reception to follow from 5:15-6:15 in the McGowan South Atrium"

Let me know if you care to come along....

My talk has the title: "Biodiversity Conservation on a Largely Urban Planet: Is Anything Working?"

Monday, September 29, 2014

And the Liffey It Stank Like Hell

It says something about a city, I suppose, when there is heated debate over who first labeled it a dirty place. The phrase “dear dirty Dublin”, used as a badge of defiant honor in Ireland’s capital to this day, is often erroneously attributed to James Joyce. Joyce used the term in Dubliners (1914) a series of linked short stories about that city and its denizens. But the phase goes back at least to early nineteenth century and the literary circle surrounding Irish novelist Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan) who remains best known for her novel The Wild Irish Girl (1806) which extols the virtues of wild Irish landscapes, and the wild, though naturally dignified, princess who lived there. Compared to the fresh wilderness of the Irish West, Dublin would have seemed dirty indeed.

The city into which I was born more than a century later was still a rough and tumble place. It was also heavily polluted. This was Dublin of the 1970s.

My earliest memories of the city center come from trips I took to my father’s office in Marlborough St, just north of the River Liffey which bisects the city. My father would take an eccentric route into the city, the “back ways” as he would call them, which though not getting us to the destination as promptly as he advertised, had the benefit of bringing us on a short tour of the city and its more unkempt quarters.

My father’s cars themselves were masterpieces of dereliction. Purchased when they were already in an advanced stage of decay, he would nurse them aggressively till their often fairly prompt demise. One car that he was especially proud of, a Volkswagen Type III fastback, which had its engine to the rear, developed transmission problems and its clutch failed. His repair consisted of a chord dangling over his shoulder and crossing the back seat into the engine. A tug at a precisely timed moment would shift the gears. A shoe, attached to the end of the chord and resting on my father’s shoulder, aided the convenient operation of this system. That car, like most the others in those less regulated times, was also a marvel of pollution generation, farting out clouds of blue-black exhaust which added to the billowy haze of leaded fumes issuing from the other disastrously maintained vehicles, all shuddering in and out of the city’s congested center at the beginning at end of each work day.

A route into the city that I especially liked took us west of the city center, and as we approached Christ Church Cathedral I would open the window to smell the roasting of the barley which emanated from the Guinness brewery in Liberties region of the city, down by the Liffey. Very promptly I would wind up the window again as we crossed over the bridge, since the reek of that river was legendarily bad.
The Irish playwright Brendan Behan wrote in his memoir Confessions of an Irish Rebel (1965), “Somebody once said that ‘Joyce has made of this river the Ganges of the literary world,’ but sometimes the smell of the Ganges of the literary world is not all that literary.”

Friday, August 15, 2014

Childish Things: the Impact of Children on the Environment: A note.


By Liam Heneghan

From where I write I can hear young kids goofing around in the playground beside our house. Glancing over I see one small boy heap wood-chips into the bed of a toy truck and rumble it across the lot.  A cluster of children surround a bucket and with small shovels fill it with sand. One of their pals removes some of the sand from the bucket and reinstalls it away to the side of the dig.  No one seems to care.  At the west fence of the lot a boy and girl, both about four or so, are deep in conversation. The boys arms are folded, the girl sits on a tricycle and instructs him on some matter or another; the boy looks incredulous as if he simply can’t believe what he is hearing.  Another girl runs over to their care-giver sitting on the periphery, leans over her legs and receives an encouraging pat on the back. The little girl skips away.

This small troop of children are gentling transforming the environment of the tot-lot. Small changes to be sure. Ones that will be corrected before they leave the playground for the day.  The sand will be returned to the small mound to the south of the lot, the wood chips will all be swept back into place.  The toys will be returned to their shelter. The lot restored, the kids leave for the day.

Kids have, seemingly, a perfectly manageable impact on their immediate environment. That which is disordered can be set to rights at the end of the day. But the total environmental impact of kids may be considerably larger than it appears at first glance. This is because a total reckoning of the ecological costs associated with childhood would take into account the environmental impact of providing for the food, shelter, clothing, transportation and other material needs of children and of disposing of their waste. Measured in this way the impacts can be surprisingly large.

To evaluate the full environmental impacts of children, researchers working with a kindergarten school located on the grounds of the University of Queensland calculated the ecological footprint associated with the seventy five kids attending that school. An ecological footprint is a measure of demand on the Earth and is calculated as the amount of land required to provide for human needs. It is reported in a unit called a “global hectare”. Global hectares are a unit of area that takes into account difference in biological productivity between area. For the students at the Queensland school, 40 global hectares was needed to support their physical needs. Thus, although the physical footprint of that school, like most schools, is fairly small, the land needed to sustain the kids and absorb their environmental waste is vastly greater: it is almost 80 times the size of the school.

An appreciation of the environmental impacts of children is emerging and, as we have seen, it is not inconsiderable. The extent of children’s impact is not, for the most part, something that kids have control over.  Parents, of course, make the most consequential decisions on their kid’s behalf: where they live, what stuff they can have, how they spend their time.  Eventually, though, those carefree kids playing in the tot-lot will make their own decisions, and, invariably their impact on their surrounding world will grow.  Those childhood games in the tot-lot of moving sand, digging and filling-in holes, and all those small rearrangements of the land will be games no longer, and will be on a grander scale. The kids will put away childish things, and taking up the implements of adulthood, they will greatly expand their footprints.

Ref: Heidi McNichol, Julie Margaret Davis & Katherine R. O’Brien An ecological footprint for an early learning centre: identifying opportunities for early childhood sustainability education through interdisciplinary research. Environmental Education Research Volume 17, Issue 5, 2011

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Moral algebra and the life of children

If your moral algebra has the death of children on one side of an equation and you can come up with any terms on the other side of that equation that ease your conscience then you need to think again. This was true in Northern Ireland, true for Hamas, true for Israel, true for all time, true for all places. Fuck this thinking.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

#1000 Urban Miles: An Invitation to walk in the Praeger spirit

Photo by Emily Walsh
It’s possible that you don’t know what walking is, what walking can accomplish, until you have walked a distance across a mountainy bog in Ireland. In the rain.

Earlier this summer, accompanied by a colleague and by 14 of our students from DePaul University in Chicago, I followed in the footsteps of the great Irish naturalist and walker Robert Lloyd Praeger (1885-1953). Praeger, an amateur naturalist and one-time Head Librarian of Ireland’s National Library, traversed Ireland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries mapping the vegetation of that moist and verdant island. More than 60 years after his death he remains Ireland’s most influential botanist; an influence that derives not only the prodigiousness of his output (over 800 scientific papers and articles and 24 books) but in his advocacy for the basic methodology of the naturalist’s trade: walking. He hiked on foot across the countryside looking for hidden marvels.

Our hiking this summer along Praeger’s routes culminated in a trailless hike in the western park of Killarney National Park, a 102.9-square-kilometre reserve of wooded and boggy mountainside. Accompanied by park educator Chris Barron we took boats across the famous Lakes of Killarney and commenced our walk by leaping from the vessels as far as we could across the ooze where the bogland met the water. Only one one of the students lost footwear, and as we retrieved the boots from the slime she hopped onto only slightly more secure ground.

The walk wound up along a valley adjacent to the peak of the Eagle’s Nest Mountain. No eagles existed there for over one hundred years until white-tailed eagles were re-introduced to the park in 2007. This day we were greeted by a peregrine falcon who bolted out from the peak and into a stone-gray sky. We walked on through the lovely, though rarely visited, Eamonn’s Woods. Here oaks hunker down like resting giants surveying lonely terrain. We broke for lunch in a small landscape called Glaisín na Marbh, a name that translates, somewhat terrifyingly, as "little stream of the dead." It is so called because the few families that lived at the base of the stream died off during the Great Famine (1845-49). There is an unmarked famine grave in the vicinity, which may now be covered in a pavement of scree that tumbled down when the stream was in winter riot the year before. It says something about the remoteness of the region that the ground was not consecrated until more recent times when a priest made the hike into this part of the National Park.

Read on here