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Saturday, December 31, 2016

David Quinn: what a web he weaves

David Quinn, former scribe for the Irish Catholic, believes Irelands education in our schools should have more local autonomy in deciding policy and less central control from the government. If that was a problem then it is solely his and the Catholic Church, and one that, so far, has allowed over 90% of schools, which happens to be Catholic, discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, religion, and school ethos. Taxpayers are also complicit in this without consent. David is a victim, as always, of his own yarns that is indeed a tangled web that he weaves when he practises to deceive. 

Exclusive schools for those with special needs is self explanatory, but there should be one, as David tells us, for sporting excellence as well and that is akin in trying to train singers for the Xfactor, or actors only for Academy awards. Academic excellence is subjective in itself and hard to indentify for Einstein and Churchill were both classed as a bit thick in school yet George Bush jnr passed his exams with flying colours or the colour of his money passed them for him. The nub of the Government policy in real terms here is to stop schools, which are state donated and funded to and for the religious, from historical religious persecution against those that they deem are not like them.

The reality is there is almost no choice in this country from parish to parish outside of a Catholic ethos school, and the average citizen or resident here have to accept the one colour that Ford talked about when selling cars and allowing the customers to have any colour they wanted as long as it was black. As a parent I have always feel sidelined in that I have no choice in the religious instruction or not that is given without choice to my 10 year old girl. As a grumpy humanitarian I can put up with Santa Claus and little else. The reality is that without full non-denominational schools everywhere on this Island there is discrimination somewhere on it too.  

The social democratic morality than David talks about is not about equality alone but to keep religion in and reasoning out. That reasoning dictates that higher education is the reward for those that excel in most subjects from primary, and post-primary education that is geared for all; and a promise for those that are left will not be left behind completely. This is the model for Americas public education system while Russia, China, England and Australia and ‘are’ all heading for full centralising as well.

The main private schools here which are the deemed to be public by perception only, are Catholic. The middleclass in any case is dying and the few still standing should not feel guilty but privileged that they have a choice at all outside of ‘public schools.’  Good Teachers is all we need now, Catholic or not.

Barry Clifford

Friday, December 30, 2016

As populists won ballots, world’s richest made $237bn

Jeff Bezos
Some predicted a win for Trump would spook the markets but Tom Metcalf and Jack Witzig found the prospect of a businessman in the White House just helped the rich grow richer.

In a year when populist voters reshaped power and politics across Europe and the US, the world’s wealthiest people are ending 2016 with $237bn more than they had at the start.
Triggered by disappointing economic data from China at the beginning, the UK’s vote to leave the European Union in the middle and the election of billionaire Donald Trump at the end, the biggest fortunes on the planet whipsawed through $4.8 trillion of daily net worth gains and losses during the year, rising 5.7% to $4.4 trillion by the close of trading on Tuesday, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
“In general, clients rode through the volatility,” said Simon Smiles, chief investment officer for ultra-high-net-worth clients at UBS Wealth Management.

“2016 ended up being a spectacular year for risk assets. Pretty remarkable given the start of the year.” The gains were led by Warren Buffett, who added $11.8bn during the year as his investment firm Berkshire Hathaway Inc saw its airline and banking holdings soar after Trump’s surprise victory on November 8. Buffett, who’s pledged to give away most of his fortune to charity, donated Berkshire Hathaway stock valued at $2.6bn in July.

Berkshire Bonanza
The US investor reclaimed his spot as the world’s second-richest person two days after Trump’s victory ignited a year-end rally that pushed Buffett’s wealth up 19% for the year to $74.1bn.
“2016’s been event-driven with global news driving prices rather than fundamentals,” said Michael Cole, president of Ascent Private Capital Management, which has about $10bn of assets under administration.
“The belief that Trump is going to come in and deregulate big parts of the economy is driving the markets right now.” The individual gains for the year were dominated by Americans, who had four of the five biggest increases on the index, including Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates, the world’s richest person with $91.5bn, and oilman Harold Hamm.
The country’s richest were largely opposed to a Trump presidency during the election, including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who told the media in May that stocks could fall as much as 20% if Trump were to win the election.
Ewan Spiegal

Wealth Administration
US billionaires — including Buffett — favoured Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton. Still, they profited from his victory when they added $77bn to their fortunes in the post-election rally fuelled by expectations that regulations would ease and American industry would benefit.
The New York real estate mogul is building a cabinet heavy on wealth and corporate connections, and light on government experience, a mix that hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio said last week would unleash the “animal spirits” of capitalism and drive markets even higher. Dalio is the world’s 63rd-richest person with $14.1bn.

Investors and executives welcomed Trump’s picks, including billionaire Wilbur Ross to lead the Department of Commerce and former Goldman Sachs executive Steven Mnuchin as his Treasury secretary, who have a combined net worth of at least $5.6 bn, according to the index.
“You know, I was not opposing Trump as much as most people,” Saudi Arabian billionaire Mohamed Bin Issa Al Jaber said in a December 11 interview.
“He’s capable and — as a businessman — he’s shrewd about the bottom line. The people he’s surrounding himself with have baggage but they’re also successful and shrewd.”
France’s Bernard Arnault was the sole non-American representative among the five best performers, adding $7.1bn to take his fortune to $38.9bn.

His LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE said the Chinese luxury-goods market is improving.
Gates remained the world’s richest person throughout the year. Amancio Ortega, Europe’s richest person and founder of the Zara clothing chain, was in second place on the index for most of the year until he ceded it to Buffett in November. Ortega, who dropped $1.7bn in 2016, is the world’s third-richest person with $71.2bn.
Prince Alwaleed
Wildcatter Hamm’s fortune was propelled by a strengthening oil price and expectations a Trump administration will slash fossil-fuel regulations. Hamm added $8.4bn to more than double his fortune to $15.3bn. He led the 49 energy, metals and mining billionaires, who were the best-performing category on the ranking, adding $80bn and reversing the $32bn fall they had in 2015.

Billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch each dropped $2bn after Koch Industries reported on its website that annual revenue is estimated to be “as high as $100bn,” compared with the estimate of “as much as $115bn” that the conglomerate published on the site previously.
Company spokesman Rob Carlton said in a November 17 e-mail that Koch revenue fluctuates with the price of commodities.

Technology fortunes were the second-best performing on the ranking, with 55 billionaires adding $50bn to their fortunes over the year, despite worries that a Trump presidency might introduce policies that could hurt their companies.
“I think we’ll have to see what the policies of the administration are,” Google co-founder Sergey Brin told the media gathered on the red carpet of the annual Breakthrough Prize gala in Silicon Valley in December.

“I certainly hope they will be pro-science, pro-technology and all the things this world has really benefited from.” founder Jeff Bezos, who doubled his fortune to $60bn in 2015, led gains among technology executives again this year, rising $7.5bn in 2016 on robust sales growth at the online retailer.
He was followed by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, who added $5.4bn.

Hidden Wealth
Some of the industry’s biggest relative gains went to the founders of the world’s leading startups, such as Uber Technologies’ Travis Kalanick and Snap’s Evan Spiegel.

The so-called “unicorn” billionaires, which include Spotify co-founder Martin Lorentzon, who was identified as a billionaire for the first time in 2016, secured a series of mammoth funding rounds while moving closer to testing their fortunes on the public markets.
Other billionaires uncovered by the Bloomberg index in 2016 included the father and son behind Jose Cuervo tequila, New York real estate developer Axel Stawski and Kosovo construction tycoon Behgjet Pacolli.
The index also unveiled 11 surviving family members of reclusive Thai entrepreneur Chaleo Yoovidhya, the inventor of Red Bull, whose heirs share a combined $22bn net worth, the world’s largest energy-drink fortune.
Three billionaires emerged in Argentina, including the country’s first technology billionaire Marcos Galperin, as markets rose on enthusiasm for President Mauricio Macri’s finance-friendly economic policies.
Most fortunes outside of the US didn’t get the same boost from Trump’s victory, and were hurt by fluctuating commodities prices and the rise of the dollar, the currency used for the Bloomberg ranking. Nine of the 10 biggest decliners in 2016 were from outside the US, led by China’s second-richest person, Wang Jianlin, who lost $5.8bn.
Wang ended the year as the world’s 21st-richest person with $30.6bn.
Nigeria’s Aliko Dangote, the richest person in Africa, lost $4.9bn or one-third of his wealth as the combined effect of falling oil prices and the June devaluation of the naira pushed him to No 112 with $10.4bn. Dangote was the world’s 46th-richest person in June.

Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Al Saud fell $4.9bn, a 20% drop. Alwaleed said in November that all of his stakes in public companies including Citigroup are potentially for sale, reversing a longstanding policy that some of his most prized shareholdings were “forever.”

Chinese Downturn
Wealth creation in China turned negative for the first time since the inception of the Bloomberg index five years ago, with the country’s richest losing $11bn in 2016 amid a slump in the Shanghai Shenzhen CSI 300 index and a 7% decline for the yuan against the dollar.
Alibaba Group Holding Ltd founder Jack Ma closed the year with $33.3bn, adding $3.6bn in 2016. He dropped in and out of his place as Asia’s richest person for the first four months of the year before claiming it for good in May after Alibaba’s finance affiliate, which is laying the groundwork for an initial public offering expected as soon as next year, completed a record $4.5bon equity fundraising round.
China has 31 billionaires on the index with $262bn, trailing the US which has 179 billionaires who control $1.9 trillion, and Germany, whose 39 individuals have $281bn.
Russian billionaires also began to put the negative effects of US and European sanctions behind them, reversing the combined $63bn declines for 2014 and 2015 and adding $49bn in 2016.

Looking Ahead
Wealth managers for the world’s richest are girding themselves for similarly frenetic start to 2017 as the seismic changes voters demanded this year start to take shape.
“Expect the unexpected,” said Sabine Kaiser, founder of SKadvisory, which advises family offices on venture capital and private equity.

“I don’t think family offices are overly concerned or getting too nervous but after Brexit and Trump they’ve resigned themselves to market volatility.”

By Tom Metcalf and Jack Witzig

When Boston banned Christmas

Public notice banning Christmas in Boston

Can you imagine receiving a stiff fine for wishing someone Merry Christmas?

Sounds like something from a dystopian future imagined by those who annually complain about the “ war on Christmas” 
This scenario is actually from 17th century Boston, where Christmas was banned for over two decades in the 1600's. That's right – from 1659 until 1681, it was officially illegal to observe Christmas in Boston by taking the day off from work, feasting or celebrating in any other way.

Those in violation were fined five shillings – the exact contemporary value of which is debated by economic historians – but suffice it to say, was an incredibly steep fine back then!
So what gives, 16th century Bostonians? Have historians since discovered that the hearts of these colonial grinches were two sizes too small?

Or is there a more nuanced, fascinating historical explanation? Of course there is!
"Christmas is so 200 B.C."

Understanding the social and political climate in England and her colonies in the 1600's is key to figuring out why the heck Christmas got banned in the first place. At that time in history, the majority of the population of Boston was Puritan. The Puritans spurned the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, and constantly rallied against the Church of England for adopting any remotely Catholic practices.
The extremely conservative tenets of Puritanism yielded more than a few reasons for Bostonians to despise Christmas:

It wasn't really the birthday of Jesus: December 25 was only declared the birth of Jesus by Pope Julius I in the 4th century A.D. Since then, many have debated the date of the actual birth of Jesus, with very little consensus. But either way, the Puritans were all about scripture. According to them, there was nowhere in the scripture that said to celebrate December 25 as the birth of Jesus, so they saw no need to.

Christmas was too pagan: Not only was the observation of Christmas left out of biblical texts, the date of December 25 was a decidedly blasphemous one: Julius I likely picked December 25 to hasten the adoption of the Christian holiday. It now coincided with an already widely-celebrated Roman holiday, Saturnalia – a celebration filled with raucous parties and drunken misbehavior. Puritans were always quick (and usually correct) to highlight the Pagan underpinnings of Catholicism.

Partying was un-Puritan: Puritans had particular problems with wild behavior induced by alcohol and gluttony. Conservatives in England and the Colonies campaigned against the Christmas tradition of "wassailing," in which the lower classes would go door-to-door requesting food and drink from their wealthier counterparts in exchange for toasting their good health. If refused, the hosts would suffer a great deal of mischief or even violence. Interestingly, this debate gave rise to Father Christmas in England. Proponents of Christmas merriment often invoked this personification, who was a mild-mannered cheery old man who had a "good but not too good" time on the holidays.

Rebellion against England: Yes, the Colonists were already clashing with the English government over 100 years before the American Revolution. New Englanders believed the Crown meddled in their affairs all too often, and Christmas was yet another example. Colonists saw the celebration of Christmas as an extension of English interference in colonial affairs and an affront to their freedom and independence. In fact, Bostonians eventually revolted and attempted to overthrow an English governor who forced shops and schools to close on Christmas in 1686.
Christmas restored, sort of

You would think that such a ban would be met with outcries from the general population, but that wasn't the case initially. Most Bostonians wholeheartedly agreed with the ban, and in fact relished working on Christmas Day as an act of defiance against meddling foreign governments and rival Christian sects.
As the English government struggled to control Puritan New England, the Crown installed English-friendly governors who re-instituted laws supporting English customs. The ban on Christmas was finally lifted in 1681, but the Puritans continued to rally against the holiday – many sources recount Puritans marching through the streets on Christmas Even shouting "No Christmas! No Christmas!" well after the ban was lifted.

This social ban on Christmas didn't really wane even as non-Puritans immigrated to Boston. Schools were officially open on Christmas Day as late as 1870, with harsh punishments for children who skipped out.
Elsewhere, outside of the Puritan-dominated Northeast, Christmas was more widely celebrated. Colonists in Jamestown noted a successful celebration early in their arrival in Virginia, and other states in the U.S. recognized Christmas as an official holiday in the early 1800's

In 1870, Ulysses S. Grant was the first president to declare Christmas a national holiday, and, thanks to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, the holiday experienced a renaissance, the fruits of which we enjoy to this day.

Frederick Wertz

Photo Minute: Russian Empire (1900 and 1916) in original colour

 Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky was a chemist who pioneered the use of colour photography in Tsarist Russia
 Between 1905 and 1915 Tsar Nicholas II paid him to travel the Russian Empire taking these stunning images
 The images show prisoners of war, Jews, iron miners, Cossacks, loggers, convicts and Muslim minorities 
 Prokudin-Gorsky fled after the Russian Revolution in 1917, moved to Paris and died in exile there in 1944 

A remarkable series of colour photographs, taken more than 100 years ago, have been unearthed and they paint a fascinating picture of the dying days of the Russian Empire.
Between 1905 and 1915 Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, a pioneer of colour photography, travelled the empire by railway, chronicling the lives of the many different people who lived under the rule of the doomed Tsar Nicholas II.

Prokudin-Gorsky, whose amazing journey was sponsored by the tsar himself, took a series of images which have become a time capsule, capturing the traditions and cultures which were to disappear after the Russian Revolution of 1917.

He moved to Paris after the tsar was overthrown and later executed and when he died, aged 81, in 1944 his entire collection was bought from his son by the US library of Congress and all 2,607 can be viewed online on their archive.

We’re seeing the emergence of a post-fact world thanks to fake news

Francis Fukuyama looks at how the leaking of bad information is being used by those who would like to have authoritarian power at their fingertips.

 One of the more striking developments of 2016 and its highly unusual politics was the emergence of a “post-fact” world, in which virtually all authoritative information sources were called into question and challenged by contrary facts of dubious quality and provenance.
The emergence of the internet and the world wide web in the 1990s was greeted as a moment of liberation and a great boon for democracy worldwide.
Information constitutes a form of power, and to the extent that information was becoming cheaper and more accessible, democratic publics would be able to participate in domains from which they had been hitherto excluded.

The development of social media in the early 2000s appeared to accelerate this trend, permitting the mass mobilisation that fueled various democratic “colour revolutions” around the world, from Ukraine to Burma (Myanmar) to Egypt.
In a world of peer-to-peer communication, the old gatekeepers of information, largely seen to be oppressive authoritarian states, could now be bypassed.
While there was some truth to this positive narrative, another, darker one was also taking shape.
Those old authoritarian forces were responding in dialectical fashion, learning to control the internet, as in China with its tens of thousands of censors, or through the recruitment of legions of trolls and unleashing of bots that could flood social media with bad information, as in the case of Russia.

These trends all came together in a hugely visible way during 2016, in ways that bridged foreign and domestic politics.
The premier manipulator of social media turned out to be Russia. The Russian government has put out blatant falsehoods like the “fact” that Ukrainian nationalists were crucifying small children, or that Ukrainian government forces shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014.
These same sources contributed to the debates on Scottish independence, Brexit, and the Dutch referendum on Ukraine’s EU membership, amplifying any dubious fact that would weaken pro-EU forces.

Use of bad information as a weapon by authoritarian powers would be bad enough, but the practice took root big time during the US election campaign. All politicians lie or, more charitably, spin the truth for their own benefit; but Donald Trump took the practice to new and unprecedented heights.
This began several years ago with his promotion of “birtherism”, the accusation that President Barack Obama was not born in the US, which Trump continued to propagate even after Obama produced a birth certificate showing that he was.

In the recent US presidential debates, Trump insisted he had never supported the Iraq War and never called climate change a hoax. After the election, he asserted that he had won even the popular vote (which he lost by more than 2m), because of fraudulent voting.
These were not simply shadings of facts, but outright lies whose falsehood could be easily demonstrated. That he asserted them was bad enough; what was worse was that he appeared to suffer no penalty from Republican voters for his repeated and egregious mendacity.
The traditional remedy for bad information, according to freedom-of-information advocates, is simply to put out good information, which in a marketplace of ideas will rise to the top.
This solution, unfortunately, works much less well in a social-media world of trolls and bots. There are estimates that as many as one third to a quarter of Twitter users fall into this category. There is no reason to think that good information will win out over bad information.
There is a more serious problem than these individual falsehoods and their effect on the election outcome. Why do we believe in the authority of any fact, given that few of us are in a position to verify most of them?

The reason is that there are impartial institutions tasked with producing factual information that we trust. Americans get crime statistics from the US Department of Justice, and unemployment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Mainstream media outlets like the New York Times were indeed biased against Trump, yet they have systems in place to prevent egregious factual errors from appearing in their copy.
I seriously doubt that Matt Drudge or Breitbart News have legions of fact-checkers verifying the accuracy of material posted on their websites.

In Trump’s world, by contrast, everything is politicised. In the course of the campaign, he suggested that Janet Yellen’s Federal Reserve was working for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, that the election would be rigged, that official sources were underreporting crime, and that the FBI’s refusal to indict Clinton reflected her campaign’s corruption of FBI director James Comey.
He also refused to accept the authority of the intelligence agencies blaming Russia for hacking the Democratic National Committee. And, of course, Trump and his supporters have eagerly denigrated all reporting by the “mainstream media” as hopelessly biased.
The inability to agree on the most basic of facts is the direct product of an across-the-board assault on democratic institutions — in the US, in Britain, and throughout the world.
And this is where the democracies are headed for real trouble. In the US, there has in fact been real institutional decay, whereby powerful interest groups have been able to protect themselves through a system of unlimited campaign finance.

The primary locus of this decay is Congress, and the bad behaviour is for the most part as legal as it is widespread. So ordinary people are right to be upset.
And yet, the election campaign has shifted the ground to a general belief that everything has been rigged or politicised, and that outright bribery is rampant.
If the election authorities certify that your favoured candidate is not the victor, or if the other candidate seemed to do better in the debate, it must be the result of an elaborate conspiracy by the other side to corrupt the outcome.
American democracy, all democracy, will not survive a lack of belief in the possibility of impartial institutions; instead, partisan political combat will come to pervade every aspect of life.

Francis Fukuyama is a senior fellow and Mosbacher Director of Stanford University’s Center on Democracy.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

When Charles Dickens visited Ireland

Celebrating the author of the Christmas Carol Charles Dickens birthday and his own love of the Irish audiences and beautiful surroundings.

Today (February 7) in 1812 the great British novelist Charles Dickens was born, at Landport in Portsea Island, off the south coast of England. A literary genius is he said to be the the greatest novelist of the Victorian period. He created some of the most well-known fictional characters and his novels and short stories continue to be widely popular.

The "A Christmas Carol" author Charles Dickens visited Ireland in August 1858 as part of a book tour that also included England and Scotland. Even in his own time, Dickens was a celebrity. Much in the same way that any reading by J. K. Rowling would have fans pressed against the door, Dickens’ fans packed theatres wherever he read in Ireland. 

Dickens traveled by ferry and landed in Dublin’s fair city on August 21, 1858. He stayed at what was called then the Morrison’s Hotel, on Nassau Street. The old building with an iconic green dome is now a cute coffee shop. 

He “wandered about it for 6 to 8 hours in all directions” and then took a carriage ride around Phoenix Park.
Dickens walked to the top of O’Connell Street to what is now called the Ambassador Theatre where he had to push through a crowd of fans to get inside. In front of a crowd of 3,000 more fans inside, Dickens read and acted out parts from “The Story of Little Dombey” and other selected readings. He said about his audience, “of their quickness as to the humor there can be no doubt.” 

Following his success in Dublin, he took the train up to Belfast, commenting on the ride, “Everything looks prosperous; the railway ride from Dublin [is] quite amazing; every cottage looking as if it had been white-washed the day before; and many with charming gardens, pretty kept with bright flowers.”

In Belfast he read from 'A Christmas Carol'. His fans packed into the house, “there was a very great uproar at the opening of the doors, which, the police in attendance being quite insufficient . . . it was impossible to check.” Dickens was particularly popular with the ladies. In a letter he wrote home, “Yesterday morning, as I showered the leaves from my geranium in reading Little Dombey, they mounted the platform after I was gone and picked them all up, as keepsakes.”

Before his reading in Belfast, Dickens visited Victoria Hall, Giant’s Cradle, and the coastal town of Carrickfergus, all of which still draw tourists today. Dickens was further impressed by his Irish audiences. He said about his Belfast fans, “The success at Belfast has been of equal success here. Enormous! I think them a better audience on the whole than Dublin; and the personal affection [here], was something overwhelming.”

From Belfast he traveled to Cork via Dublin. He dropped his bags off at the Imperial Hotel, still present today on August 30. Dickens then read at the Athenaeum, now called the Cork Opera House. Before leaving Cork he kissed the Blarney Stone, which is a must for any tourist in Ireland today. Dickens said about Cork, “Cork was an immense success. We found upward of a thousand stalls let, for the three readings. A great many people were turned away too, on the last night.”

Having completed his tour of Ireland, Dickens continued on to the next city, but he came back to Ireland for another book tour in 1867 and again in 1869.

Michelle K Smith

85-year-old marathoner is so fast even scientists marvel

Oldest person to run a marathon in under four hours has led scientists to reassess aging and performance

It was a day for talking, not running. Snow was piled along the streets. The driveway was icy. Ed Whitlock’s shoulder hurt. His face had been puffy. He did not feel well enough for the cemetery.
At a visitor’s urging, Whitlock showed his display of novelty trophies. A beer can for winning a series of races as a 60-year-old. (“There’s still beer inside!”) A coffee mug for becoming the first (and still only) person older than 70 to run a marathon in under three hours. A baseball for throwing out the first pitch at a minor league game.
“It bounced three times to the catcher,” Whitlock said a few days before Christmas. “My arm is terrible.”

It is not his arm, but his legs and lungs that have made him a scientific marvel and octogenarian phenom. In October, at 85, he set his latest distance-running record, completing the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in three hours 56 minutes 34 seconds and becoming the oldest person to run 26.2 miles in less than four hours.
Having set dozens of age-group records from the metric mile to the marathon, Whitlock remains at the forefront among older athletes who have led scientists to reassess the possibilities of aging and performance.

“He’s about as close as you can get to minimal aging in a human individual,” said Dr Michael Joyner, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic who has studied performance and aging.
Whitlock’s career has been as unorthodox as it is remarkable. For starters, he trains alone in the Milton Evergreen Cemetery near his home outside Toronto. He runs laps for three or three and a half hours at a time, unbothered by traffic or the eternal inhabitants or the modern theories and gadgets of training.

At the Toronto Marathon, he raced in 15-year-old shoes and a singlet that was 20 or 30 years old. He has no coach. He follows no special diet. He does not chart his mileage. He wears no heart-rate monitor. He takes no ice baths, gets no massages. He shovels snow in the winter and gardens in the summer but lifts no weights, does no sit-ups or push-ups. He avoids stretching, except the day of a race. He takes no medication, only a supplement that may or may not help his knees.

What he does possess is a slight build: He is five feet seven inches and weighs eight stone. He also has an enormous oxygen-carrying capacity; an uncommon retention of muscle mass for someone his age; a floating gait; and an unwavering dedication to pit himself against the clock, both the internal one and the one at the finish line.
“I believe people can do far more than they think they can,” said Whitlock, a retired mining engineer who was born in greater London and speaks with British self-deprecation. “You have to be idiot enough to try it.”

Maximum amount
Four years ago, at 81, Whitlock underwent a battery of physiological and cognitive tests at McGill University in Montreal. One of the tests measured his VO2 max, the maximum amount of oxygen that can be consumed and used by the muscles during exercise. It is measured in millilitres of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute. The higher the number, the greater a person’s aerobic fitness.
A top Olympic-level cross-country skier might have a VO2 max of 90, compared to 20 for those living independently in their 80s. Whitlock’s score was an exceptional 54. That is roughly equivalent to someone of college age who is a recreational athlete, said Russell Hepple, an exercise physiologist who performed the tests on Whitlock at McGill with his colleague and wife, Tanja Taivassalo.

A VO2 max reading of 54 appears to be unsurpassed for people tested in their 80s, said Scott Trappe, the director of the human-performance laboratory at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, who has studied Swedish cross-country skiers who continued to perform at high levels into their 80s and early 90s, including 1948 Olympic champion Martin Lundstrom.
“There’s nothing higher than that in the literature,” Trappe said of Whitlock. “It’s phenomenal physiology.”
At McGill, Whitlock also underwent imaging and biopsy testing of his muscles. The smallest functional entity of muscle is called a motor unit, which consists of a neuron and the muscle fibres it activates. The number of functioning motor units declines with age.
For example, a healthy young adult has about 160 motor units in the shin muscle, called the tibialis anterior, which helps lift the toes. In an octogenarian, that number could have declined to about 60 motor units, Hepple said, but Whitlock retained “closer to 100”.
This preservation might largely be explained, he said, by a chronically elevated level of circulating chemicals, called neurotrophins, which protect and nurture neurons, helping them survive.

“That’s a big advantage,” said Hepple, who has recently moved to the University of Florida and is continuing to analyse his study of Whitlock and other aging athletes. “If you have more motor units, in the context of age, that would be reflected in better maintenance of muscle mass, which in turn would translate into better strength.”
Beyond genetics, there are other factors that surely have contributed to Whitlock’s stunning endurance, said Joyner of the Mayo Clinic.
He compared Whitlock to Joan Benoit Samuelson, the 1984 Olympic marathon champion who has continued to run sub three-hour marathons into her late 50s and has said she will attempt the extraordinary feat into her 60s.

Neither Whitlock nor Benoit Samuelson could be considered extroverts. Yet athletes like them who remain highly active as they age “haven’t killed off their inner 13-year-old,” Joyner said. He described them, in general, as curious, relatively unconstrained and full of “physical and emotional vigour,” not so different from the older aunt or uncle who insists on shooting squirt guns at family reunions.

‘Biological factors’
“There are biological factors, I’m not naive about that,” Joyner said. “But the message with these people is not that they’re freaks. It is that a whole lot of aging, with a bit of luck, is under some volitional control.”

Inevitably, though, even Whitlock has made some concessions to growing older. His weight before the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October dropped to seven and a half stone, and he wonders whether he is experiencing some muscle wasting.
His marathon time at age 85, 3:56:34, is more than an hour slower than the 2:54:48 he ran in Toronto at age 73 in what is widely considered his greatest masters race.
Adjusted for age, that race was the equivalent of a runner in his prime completing a marathon in 2:04:48, which is less than two minutes off the current world record of 2:02:57. Writing in The New York Times, the running journalist Marc Bloom said that Whitlock’s performance in 2004 may have made him “the world’s best athlete for his age”.

In 2016, he set another flurry of age-group records, including a half-marathon run in 1:50.47. But there were also more frequent interruptions in training – aches in his shoulder, knee, hip and groin. He was limited to 16 training runs of three hours for the most recent Toronto Marathon. His race pace of 9:01 per mile, while impressive, was nearly 2½ minutes slower than the 6:40 pace he ran at 73.

“When you get to my age, the rate of deterioration is accelerating,” Whitlock said. “I’m sure every year, every six months, make a difference. I don’t seem to be able to consistently train. Whether that’s a permanent situation, I’m hoping not.”
The next looming marathon record is for age 90 and beyond. Fauja Singh of England ran 5:40:04 at the purported age of 92 in 2003, but his mark has not been ratified because he has been unable to produce a birth certificate. Otherwise, statisticians list the age-group record variously as 6:35:47 or 6:46:34.

“We’ll see if I’m running when I’m 90,” Whitlock said. “You never really know if you’ve run your last race or not. I think I do have longevity in my genes” – an uncle lived to 107, he said – “but you never know, you might get hit by a bus.”
Asked why he kept running, Whitlock candidly said he enjoyed setting records and receiving attention. His approach remains pragmatic. He does not experience a runner’s high, he said, and does not run for his health. He finds training to be drudgery and even racing brings as much apprehension as joy.

“The real feeling of enjoyment,” he said, “is getting across the finish line and finding out that you’ve done okay.”

Jere Longman

Abraham Lincoln donated to Ireland during the Great Famine

Former president of the United States Abraham Lincoln donated money to struggling Ireland during the Great Famine

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, was one of 15,000 people worldwide to donate money to Ireland during the Great Irish Famine. This is according to evidence unearthed by respected Irish historian Christine Kinealy, who has studied and written extensively on the Famine for 20 years. Kinealy, a Professor at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, was rustling through the list of donations and was taken aback when she saw the name of the legendary president who donated $10 or $500 in today’s financial climate.

‘This was back in 1847 when Lincoln was only a newly elected politician to the House of Representatives. It was an insubstantial sum from an unimportant figure at the time but it is retrospectively very interesting,’ the Trinity College graduate stated.

The 2009 winner of the Will Herberg Award for Excellence in Teaching asserts that this donation was not out of character for Lincoln, who had a lifelong rapport with the Irish.

‘I suppose Lincoln always had a great affinity for the Irish and their plight. He knew and recited Robert Emmet’s speech from the dock and his favorite ballad was Lady Dufferin’s poem ‘The Lament of the Irish Emigrant’ set to music.’ 

The celebrated politician’s generosity was not unrivaled, however, and many other political figures gave money also. The famine was widely reported at the time and Kinealy’s ceaseless research also uncovered donations from then American President James L. Polk, who donated $50, and from controversial British monarch Queen Victoria.

‘There were so many donations across the world and it really shows how much sympathy people had for what the Irish were going through. There are donations from China, India, Australia and Russia to name but a few.’

Kinealy’s latest book is only one of a number of publications the academic has released on the famine and she is widely regarded as one of the foremost experts on the subject.

‘The Irish Famine is an essential part of the story and has been my interest and passion for the past 20 years.’  

Her book, titled ‘International Donations, Private Charity for Ireland during the Great Hunger: The Kindness of Strangers’, will be published by Bloomsbury Press and is set to be released by the end of the year.
Sean Brosnan

Figures who know nobody - the banished unfortunates

You would see them the year round. Single men of a certain age, looking as though they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves, always on their way somewhere and always on their own.

Every Irish town had them. They were men who knew nobody and who nobody seemed to know. Women could easily find themselves among their number too.

Sometimes they’d own an old bicycle; sometimes a lost looking dog would follow them a few paces behind. More often they were on foot and passing through town without stopping or speaking to anyone.
Alone, and dying of it, they looked to me like people who had stopped expecting anything from life. They often wore heavy woolen overcoats, seemingly part of the uniform of the Irish forgotten, year round.

When you saw one you immediately knew more about them than it was comfortable to admit, and your discomfort was part of what kept you silent, kept your gaze lowered.

There were people in my town who were neither seen nor heard, and there seemed to be unspoken community guidelines about how to handle them. Elderly single women who worked for the nuns, widows with no family left to look in on them, middle aged single men who lived in remote cottages and kept to themselves and spoke to nobody, a cast of lonesome old characters who had somehow seen their roads run out.
When I was a teenager I would occasionally see other young people give them a hard word as they passed.  It’s because we all understood or had intuited that when you don’t have a good part in the great Irish play that you’re expendable, and that implies you’re of less value, unworthy of respect.

No one directed these mouthy kids to give insults to these solitary misfits, but no one spent a great deal of time instructing us to esteem people who didn’t fit into our narrow understanding of worthwhile citizenship either. So the abuse they received was often an expression of a wider unspoken unease as much as contempt.
I think many of these lonely men knew that. I think they could feel the cold threat they represented.
What happened to me could happen to you, their presence said. I once stood where you stand. Watch yourself.

The Irish countryside can offer the great gift of solitude, but that gift can just as easily become a curse.  If the delicate threads that connect you to the living are cut by circumstance or tragedy or an unspoken heartbreak you can find yourself marooned, suddenly abandoned in the midst of many.
When my community decided that someone had crossed the invisible line that took them from citizen from outcast I never once saw us reconsider. Ireland has a reputation for friendliness but it should have one for ruthlessness too, I think. For every hand rose in welcome, I saw a portcullis drop.

That’s because in Ireland your story matters like few places on Earth. If you have a role in our society you better pray it's a good one, because if you find yourself written out there won’t be a thing you can do to change your casting.
The thing I remember most is that it was clear these lonesome men all knew.  It was obvious they knew.
I’m utterly abandoned, their faces spelled out. They knew that simple fact was what made them so frightening.
Here I am passing through on my way to buy some turf or spuds. Here I am on my way for a quick jar. Please don’t hassle me, please don’t hurt me, their faces pleaded.

There’s an Irish way of banishing the unfortunate to our peripheral vision. It’s the way we remain conscious of them and conscious of our wish to overlook them.
It’s as if we fear that whatever has claimed them could be contagious.  It’s a coping reflex we have that we rarely think about.
Later on we know we will read about these lost men in the local paper. Sometimes they will walk into the tide. Sometimes they will be discovered stretched out in their remote cottage. Their old bicycle would be found tied to a railing.

Every Irish town knew them, knows them, and knows what’s waiting for them. And every Irish town shrugs and looks away.
Chair O' Doherty