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Dancing with dinosaurs: a 21st century spirituality

26 May, 2011

dinosaursDancing with Dinosaurs is a kind of extended metaphor or metaphysical conceit for our relationship with God. Through it the author exposes his readers to the extraordinary turns and surprises that await them if they sincerely and imaginatively pursue it. The logic of a conceit is that it invites to a more sophisticated understanding of the object of the comparison and for those who can make the leap this is what Hederman successfully achieves.

Mark Patrick Hederman is Abbot of Glenstal Benedictine Abbey since 2008. In the 1970s and 80s he edited a cultural magazine The Crane Bag with Richard Kearney. He studied the philosophy of education in Paris and lectured in philosophy for some years in a seminary in Nigeria. Since 1999, he has written several books in which he links aspects of contemporary culture and the arts with spirituality and the search for the transcendent.



PART ONE: Dinosaurs in general
PART TWO: Descent from the Dinosaur
PART THREE: The Church as Dinosaur
PART FOUR: God as Dinosaur
PART FIVE: Dancing with Dinosaurs

100 pp. The Columba Press. To purchase this book online, go to www.columba.ie


 My task is to clarify the landscape between this world and the next. Others have the job of explaining everything else that exists; mine is simple and straightforward: how do we relate to God? And in this I am helped, not just by the many people who surround me, but also by the Holy Spirit who continually prompts and guides. This is the tenth book I have written since we turned the corner into the new millennium. Each book seeks to clarify another aspect of this great relationship. Information comes from sources too many to be numbered but each one derives from direct intervention of the Spirit. Of the billion facts available at every moment, why should this particular one find itself on my radar screen? Because it has been put there by an ever-patient amanuensis anxious to have the Trinity translated into words. Sometimes I do not understand what is being suggested to me. I simply record it and, in time, the significance dawns. Waking up early one morning the mystery clicks into shape. Because I am a slow learner, I repeat myself from book to book. The reality I am pointing towards is always the same, even if it is now being approached from a different angle. Repetition clarifies in a new context. Progress is gradational and incremental.

In the beginning I get obsessed with a certain theme. Gregory Collins, with whom I share a theological passion, much more scholarly and articulate in him, suggests that this book is my way of dealing with the fact that, nearly three years ago now, I agreed to become officially part of the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church by being ordained to the priesthood on 8 December 2008.

Be that as it may, I knew the theme I was being pushed to develop when Justin Sammon invited me to address a Turas na urban Conference in Westport on Saturday 13 October 2007. The Examiner newspaper carried a coloured supplement on dinosaurs some days before which pressed a buzzer in my brain. What happens after this initial seed is sown is that I am invited to give various talks in different places which I use to develop my theme and these make up the chapters of the eventual book. So the book gets written by an agency other than myself, which I believe to be the Holy Spirit, who also arranges the different invitations and sometimes prompts the organisers of the talks to push me in a particular direction. The following, therefore, represents some of the itinerary which accompanied the writing of this book.

Saturday 7 October 2007, Prince Albert II of Monaco awarded the second Princess Grace Humanitarian prize to Sacha, Duchess of Abercorn, during the Ireland fund of Monaco Gala dinner at the Hotel Hermitage. Sacha invited me to Monaco for the occasion. Colum McCann was the chosen author addressing a lunch party in Roquebrune, the last dwelling place on earth of W. B. Yeats, the afternoon before the ceremony. He had received The Ireland Fund of Monaco Literary Award in Memory of Princess Grace five years before in 2002. This prize had been created to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the death of Princess Grace in September 1982. Two years after we met, Colum McCann’s novel Let the Great World Spin (2009) appeared and my sister Louise insisted that it be read. So, I was ready for it.

Chuck and Helga Feeney invited me to the second annual University of Limerick Chancellor’s Concert on 24 March 2010. I was sitting beside Roger Downer, former president of the university. He told me about research being done in Limerick concerning ourselves as undeveloped foetuses and the implications of this for our brains. Roger was working with Dr Stuart Shanker, whom I googled on the Internet, and this led me to the work of Dr Paul MacLean. Later as I was working on the chapter about our triune brain, Senan Furlong gave me the book he was reading, A General Theory of Love, by Thomas Lewis MD, Fari Amini MD, and Richard Lannon MD, which provided precisely the piece of the jig-saw I was missing.

Then the pace hotted up. Caroline Cunningham asked me to give a talk to the lawyers of GECAS in Dromoland Castle on 8 June 2010.

Saturday 31 July 2010, John Hill and I drove to Dublin after he had given our community retreat. I returned by train next day which was a Sunday. The shop in the Irish Film Centre was open, as I walked by towards the train, and the film Man on Wire fell off the shelf. We used it the following week for the summer course on ‘Icons, Chant, Cinema and Symbolism.’ It was a high risk dance with the dinosaurs.

A month later Pfizer’s in Ringaskiddy asked me to give an ‘inspirational’ talk to their assembled staff on what they called a ‘chill pill day’ of 10 August 2010.

I was invited by Michael Screene to Croí Nua Spirituality Centre in Galway on 10 November 2010, and to the Ursuline Convent in Blackrock, Cork on Sunday 6 January 2011, where I developed the chapters on The Church as Dinosaur and the Second Vatican Council. The Limerick/ Thomond Probus Society invited me to speak on the day after St Valentine’s Day, 15 February 2011, where I gave them an introduction to the dinosaur behind the rose bush.

Cleo Webster recommended the book by A. Jean Ayers, Sensory Integration and the Child, while I was staying with Elizabeth Shannon, as always, in 25 Lenox Street, Brookline, Massachusetts.

Fanny Howe read the first draft of my manuscript with helpful disbelief and then, with her usual intuitive aplomb, carved the dinosaur into edible parts (not chapters). Martin Browne proofread with characteristic indefectibility. Emmaus O’Herlihy designed the cover with nimble choreography and Sean O’Boyle put the pieces together. To these, and to the patient Glenstal community whose forbearance borders, at times, on insouciance, my grateful thanks.

I cannot end a book on dinosaurs without a last special mention of the oldest member of our community, Dom Placid Murray, who celebrates this year his 70th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. He will certainly take no responsibility for what I say here about John Henry Newman, to whose works he has devoted a lifetime of scholarship. May they both be blessed.



Genesis 3: The Fall

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.”‘ “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

This is an inspired mythical way of describing the combat which human nature will always wage between the horizontal and the vertical in its make up.

Dinosaurs have been described as the most successful animals that ever inhabited this planet. They were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates for over 160 million years, from the late Triassic period (about 230 million years ago) until the end of the Cretaceous period (about sixty-five million years ago). We had to learn how to live with them, and survive in spite of them. Not only that, in the evolution of life on the planet we have a common ancestry. Somewhere along the line a dinosaur leaped over the wall. We are descended from a smaller more compact version of these outsized monsters and this littleness must have helped us to live through the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event which obliterated the rest of them. However, there is an undeniably reptilian streak in our make-up. On the other hand, or claw if you prefer, if the dinosaurs had not been mysteriously wiped out in some catastrophic happening sixty-five million years ago, they might still be around today – and we might not.

No one can say exactly what happened to eliminate them, and there are many theories pieced together from remaining evidence on this side of the divide. All we have to go on are fragmented remains buried after the crash from which many ingenious and hardworking experts have pieced together a picture of what might have been before.

A meteorite strike seems to be the most likely explanation. Part of an asteroid some ten kilometres wide must have slammed into the earth where we now situate Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. Millions of creatures were killed by the impact of the strike which in seconds blasted out a crater 175 kilometres wide. The impact threw up tonnes of rock and dust into the atmosphere, triggering earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis on land and sea, blocking out the sun and making darkness spread over the earth. Temperatures sank and the few remaining dinosaurs to survive the initial impact must have died of starvation or exposure.

We, as a human species, are comparatively recent arrivals on earth in the form and shape we now enjoy. Since the disappearance of our giant brothers and sisters we belong to a biological species which is, for better or for worse, definitively in charge of the planet. However, in the strange history of life on our planet we are descended from the dinosaurs:

Early mammals evolved from small, lizardfish reptiles. The peculiar mammalian innovation – carrying developing young within a warm-blooded body rather than leaving them outside in eggs – had been established well before an errant asteroid rammed the planet and put the chill on the dinosaurs. The rapid demise of the reptilian giants left open opportunities for an upwardly mobile class. Mammals scurried into the gap and bred like the rabbits they were to become. Sixty-five million years later, the Age of Mammals is still in full swing (1).

Homo Sapiens, as we have been taught to label our particular blend of mammal, has been on earth perhaps 50,000 years. Those of us who have seen films such as Jurassic Park will be aware of what it was like to live in a world where other species were in charge and where we were like irrelevant insects crushed between claw and hoof. It took us, with a great deal of evolutionary effort, several thousand years to produce the first billion of our species; now, in this blessed twenty-first century, we are producing a billion every ten to fifteen years. We have subjugated the other species. We are not just in charge, but we’re here to stay. Unless, of course, we wipe ourselves out as happened to the dinosaurs.

Once the dinosaurs had disappeared, it took thousands of years before those of us remaining on the planet were able to piece together the evidence and work out what had happened and what they must have looked like. People have been finding dinosaur fossils for thousands of years, but it never occurred to any of us what their provenance might be. There are references to ‘dragon’ bones found in China, by an author called Chang Qu, over 2,000 years ago. The Greeks and the Romans identified ogres or griffins from oversize fossil remains which puzzled them. In 1676, a huge thigh bone was found in England and was thought to be the remains of a giant. In fact it was part of a large, meat-eating dinosaur that lived about 180 million years before. But no one on earth even imagined that such a creature could have existed until William Buckland, a British clergyman and amateur palaeontologist, described it scientifically in 1824 and called it Megalosaurus, which meant ‘great lizard’. Megalosaurus Bucklandii as it was named after himself, was the first dinosaur to be scientifically classified. Then the penny began to drop and our imaginations combined with our discoveries to allow the unthinkable to be thought.

The first nearly-complete dinosaur skeleton was discovered in 1838, and soon we began to imagine what a world populated by such creatures might have been like. The term ‘dinosaur’ was coined in 1842 by the English palaeontologist Richard Owen, from the Greek δεινος (deinos) meaning ‘terrible, powerful,’ and σαυρος (sauros) meaning ‘lizard’. It is only, therefore, within the last two hundred years that we have come to know anything about dinosaurs, and only in the last fifty that we have gone dinosaur mad. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, most scientists mistakenly believed that dinosaurs were sluggish, unintelligent cold-blooded animals. However, research since the 1970s has indicated that they were highly active and well adapted for social intercourse. So, we’re dealing with highly intelligent and manipulative monsters!

In case you haven’t noticed, we have bred our own species of dinosaur. And in this second decade of the twenty-first century, unless we become fully aware of this and learn how to dance with these dinosaurs, we too could be crushed between their extremities.

Where are they? Who are they? Dinosaurs as a species are diverse and varied, but, without putting a tooth in it, as they say, you are probably working for one; you may be investing your money in one; and, if you are a believer, you are likely to be worshipping in one. Churches, banks and multinationals are some of the modern breed of dinosaur.

Perhaps it might be true to say that unless a pioneering brainwave turns into a lumbering dinosaur it has little hope of surviving the vicissitudes of history. So many religions, political parties and businesses have thrived for a few inspiring and energetic years before collapsing into oblivion. Statistics supplied by sociologists (mostly in America) suggest that 75% of small businesses fail in their first five years and 50% of the remainder collapse by their tenth year. Small may be beautiful, but in the world in which we live it is not very durable.

The rapid rise of multinational corporations, the more recent breed of dinosaur, has been of concern to many who see them as a threat to human and civil rights. Naysayers point out that such multinationals create false needs in consumers and have a long history of interference in local politics. They often donate massive corporate campaign contributions to political parties, ensuring that their friends remain in power. Such negative arguments are illustrated and supported every day by global news stories about corporate corruption. However, all such complaints are futile if their intention is to try to rid us of the species. The dinosaurs are here to stay, and only the most robust will survive. There is no point in moaning about their existence or suggesting that you are not prepared to play the game of life until they are all removed from the playing pitch. They will be here long after your protest has ended. Those of us who plan to continue, have to learn how to dance with the dinosaurs rather than allow them to crush us.

European history attaches particular significance to the shift from the feudal institutions of the Middle Ages to the modern varieties of dinosaur which characterise contemporary life. During the period of the industrial revolution in Europe, as an example, many countries went through a period of ‘institutionalisation’, which saw governments themselves turning into dinosaurs, monolithic juggernauts driving into areas seen previously as essentially the private sphere. But what about those dinosaurs we have to contend with who have survived even beyond the Middle Ages and whose history stretches back over thousands of years?

The more recent phenomenon of ‘globalisation’ gives the dinosaur the whole planet as a playground. The MNC breed (multinational corporations) disport themselves in more than one country. ‘Corporate giants’ have been sighted as early as 1897, developing a distinctive dynamic of ‘expand or expire’.

Some have budgets exceeding the GDPs of small countries. These influence the way the world goes round. Regional economies are absorbed into the globalised economy in an ever-expanding network. Countries compete to court the MNC dinosaur, which brings increases in employment, economic activity, and tax revenue. Courting means offering incentives: tax breaks, government assistance, improved infrastructures; ethically, it means a race to the bottom, discarding whatever might alienate the beast in terms of environmental standards or labour requirements.

Most of us imagine that such institutions are part of the natural, unchanging landscape of human history. They are not. These dinosaurs are constructs of a particular time, culture and society. They are produced by us. But although they are made by us they are still unavoidable. Something in our nature, which comes from the dinosaur, impels us to construct mirror images of our terrifying ancestors as external correlatives of ourselves. It is as if, inside every tiny human being, there is a dinosaur trying to get out. Unless your business is big and boisterous, it is never going to endure.

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Less than five hundred years ago, we came across the first dinosaurs of the MNC variety. What coaxed them out of hiding was gluttonous attraction towards spices. Joseph, in the Hebrew Bible, was sold into slavery by his brothers to spice merchants. So also, rivalry between nations for control of the spice trade led to capture and betrayal on the grand scale. The Dutch East India Company can be identified as the first multinational mega corporation. It wielded quasi-governmental power, waging wars, negotiating treaties, coining money, and establishing colonies. Its British counterpart, founded by Royal Charter signed by Queen Elizabeth I, on 31 December 1600, became ‘The Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies.’ Setting off for the Banda Islands to trade woollen cloth and silver for the coveted spices, they found that the Dutch had got there before them. Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC), the Dutch East India Company, had been granted by their own government a monopoly on all trade in the East Indies. During its 200 year history the VOC became the largest dinosaur of its kind.

In 1623, on the clove island of Amboina, the battle of the dinosaurs took place. The Dutch were victorious. They tortured and executed English and Japanese traders. The English East India Company then concentrated on trade with India itself, establishing a base in Madras. By this time in England tea had become a national addiction. In the late 1700s it accounted for more than 60% of the East India Company’s total trade. ‘Here thou, great Anna, whom three realms obey / cloth sometimes council take, and sometimes tea,’ Alexander Pope in 1712 described Hampton Court, the royal palace where Queen Anne, last monarch of the House of Stuart, presided. Tea and spices were all the rage but what could they trade for such delights? The English became concerned that too much of the family silver was leaving their shores. They changed their barter for addictive opium, leaving in their wake a widespread drug problem especially in China.

In 1753, the wealthy Mughal Empire weakened, and wars broke out between different districts of India. Robert Clive, a member of the British East India Company, recaptured Calcutta at the Battle of Plassey. So it was that the English dinosaur became responsible for the whole of Bengal, India’s richest province. Land taxes tripled and many Indians were reduced to poverty. Millions died in famine, and over the next two decades, so many more were dispossessed of their land. By 1773 even the British government became concerned about the ravages of their own dinosaur in these Indian territories. They decided to curb its power. Exclusive trade with India was stopped even though trade with China continued. This dinosaur was finally destroyed in 1858 after a rebellion by its Bengali Army.

Every year the world provides images both for the dinosaur and how to dance with it. 2010 was the year when the whole world held its breath as we watched thirty-three Chilean miners being released from entrapment from the copper mines at San José.

Never before have so many been trapped underground for so long. Beginning at midnight on Tuesday, 12 October 2010, the rescue operation exceeded expectations at every step. Officials first said it might be four months before they could get the men out; it turned out to be sixty-nine days and eight hours. Such human ingenuity and the triumph of engineering, mirrors the way in which we can dance with the dinosaur and escape entrapment. However, even though we all enjoyed the understandable elation, first of all of finding the men alive and then watching their protracted rescue, we cannot lose sight of the dinosaur which caused the disaster in the first place.

Chile is the world’s leading producer of copper. The price of copper at a record high was driving companies to extract as much ore as possible while the boom lasted. Mining was getting more dangerous all over Chile. The owners of the San José mine had failed to install alternate exit routes, as required by law. When the miners first made contact with the outside world, eighteen days after the initial explosion, they had to be told that the legally mandated emergency ladder didn’t exist. The evacuation exit remained clear for forty-eight hours and they could have escaped during that two-day period, if the ladder had been there.

The government had, apparently, ordered the mine to be shut down for safety reasons in 2006 and 2007. When the owners heard of the disaster they were on the brink of bankruptcy and could not afford to pay the miners’ wages while they were trapped underground.

The San Esteban mining company therefore turned over the rescue operation to a state owned company since they had no money to pay for it. So, the real question is how a mining company so deep in debt and with so little income was able to maintain its operations for so long. And the answer must be: by cutting corners and risking the lives of their workforce. It is only when the global spotlight is focused on this troubled mine, these buried miners, that such basic problems become visible. One wonders what would happen if this spotlight were turned on the great underground dinosaur which is the total mining industry of Chile?

*            *            *

Even a rose by any other name can become a dinosaur plant. Every time 14 February comes around most of us buy at least one red rose for the person we love. This is because it is the feast of St Valentine. Who is St Valentine? And why would we give roses to each other on his feast day? What matter the reasons?

Surely this must be a most beautiful impulse in itself. But beware of the dinosaur lurking behind the rose bush.

The St Valentine’s Day tradition started in the time of the Roman Empire, where 14 February was a holiday to honour Juno, patroness of women and of marriage and queen of Roman Gods and Goddesses. It was also the eve of the festival of Lupercalia where, amidst a variety of other ceremonies, the names of young women were placed in a box, from which they were drawn by young men. Drawing a girl’s name would make you partners for the festival. Sometimes the pairing lasted an entire year, and would often lead to marriage. As with other pagan feast days, it was the strategy of the Christian church to adopt and baptise these already existing celebrations. The strictly pagan elements in these feasts were baptised by substituting the names of saints for those of the Roman Gods and Goddesses. And so, gradually, 14 February became the date for exchanging love messages and St Valentine became the patron saint of lovers in the Roman Church.

But why St Valentine? Emperor Claudius II (268-270) involved in many bloody and unpopular wars, found it difficult to recruit soldiers for his army. He decided that Roman men had become too soft and domesticated to leave their families. So he cancelled all marriages and betrothals. Valentine, a priest in Rome in those days, secretly married couples, for which he was apprehended, dragged before the Prefect and condemned to death. Legend has it that he left a farewell note for the jailer’s daughter, who had become his friend, and signed it ‘From Your Valentine’, unknowingly sending the first Valentine Card on 14 February 270. It was in 496 that Pope Gelasius made this his feastday.

However, the dinosaur here being described, owes more to a Miss Esther Howland in the United States of America about fifteen hundred years later, who is credited with sending the first commercial Valentine Card. She launched the avalanche of valentine cards which the stationary industry dinosaur introduced in the 1800s. Loveland, Colorado, holds the record for the largest post office business in the world around 14 February each year.

As for St Valentine himself, not too many people know that he, or at least parts of him, is buried in Ireland, where a church in Dublin, built in the 19th century, became his final resting place. In 1835 Pope Gregory XVI (1831-1846) gave these relics to an Irish Carmelite preaching in Rome. A reliquary containing the remains of St Valentine arrived in Dublin and was brought in solemn procession to Whitefriar Street Church, where an altar and shrine are visited by lovers ever since.

Finally, why roses? The rose appears in the earliest traditions of poetry and art as a favourite flower. Sacred to Aphrodite, it was used medically — Pliny lists thirty-two remedies from its petals and leaves — before becoming a universal symbol. It more recently became the emblem of England and the national flower of the United States. And here the dinosaur takes over: the estimated number of roses produced for St Valentine’s Day, as recorded in the first decade of this twenty-first century, is 187 million per year. California produces sixty per cent of American roses, but the vast number sold on Valentine’s Day are imported from South America. Sixty percent of these come from Columbia which is the second-largest exporter of cut flowers after the Netherlands — where our first MNA dinosaur came from.

This globalised dinosaur plant pits its interests against the cheap labour of poorer countries. Employment is seventy per cent of the product cost. If the workers refuse to co-operate with the level of production required, or if they demand higher wages, then our carnivorous bipedal develops wings and become a pterodactyl, flying to wherever the tax bait is richer and the labour hire cheaper. China looks like a good career move at present.

Many dinosaurs, as we have learned, build nests and lay eggs! And this can happen anywhere in the world where the workforce is pliable. The major difference between reptiles and mammals is in the way they reproduce themselves. Mammals carry their young inside their bodies until these develop sufficiently to be born into the world. Reptiles lay eggs and their young eventually hatch on their own. Mammals develop an attachment to their offspring and are inclined to look after and defend them. Not so the dinosaurs, who lay their eggs and walk away cold-bloodedly, leaving their young to fend for themselves. (The second part of our brain turns us into over-obsessive parents. Dinosaurs, who rely on the reptilian brain have no such hang-ups.)

In the dinosaur plant, more than 100,000 workers help grow, sort, and package $1 billion worth of flowers in Columbia every year. Such productivity requires painful, low-paid labour by a largely female workforce. Women work from 6.00 am to 10.00 pm every day. In the greenhouses where there are 700-800 flowers per bed, conditions are perfect for roses but lethal for humans. Temperatures are hot and the atmosphere is poisonous. Each worker is required to cut 300 flowers per hour. The repetitive task of cutting stems of flowers with a secateurs for such long hours causes painful trapped tendon injuries. Workers complain about lack of protective equipment and clothing. They are exposed to pesticides and fungicides. Such chemicals cause headaches, asthma, nausea, and impaired vision. But this work is the only kind available and their only source of income. Without these roses Columbiana are destitute. If they complain too forcibly the dinosaur will fly elsewhere.

‘Flowers for the Gringo’ (2) the workers call the roses. Unless these are a certain length and standard of perfection, as dictated by the starry-eyed lovers from the richer countries, they are rejected by the buyers. Grading of roses comes before and after the harvest. There are three categories: Grade 1, a tight rose bud; Grade 2, a semi-open bud; Grade 3, the full-blown rose. America, apparently, has a love affair with Grade 1, the ‘rose bud,’ even though this is the hardest to guarantee as a later full-blown rose. Ironically the ‘blown rose,’ rejected by every buyer, is, in fact, the flower as nature intended it. But try telling that to the bud-guzzling dinosaur!

The word ‘Gringo’ comes from a song, based on a poem of Robbie Burns, ‘Green Grow the Rushes Oh!’ British soldiers frequently sang it as they marched. The first two words (Green Grow, = Gringo) became the soldiers’ signature in South America and Mexico. The workers sing the dinosaur’s song without even understanding the words.

*            *            *

Why would any such dinosaurs come to Ireland? And why would they stay here? More recent variations of the song ‘Galway Bay’ may hold a clue:

Now the breezes blowing o’er the seas from Ireland
Are perfumed by the heather as they blow
Enticing strangers everywhere to Ireland
For more than leprechauns and mistletoe.

Ireland’s low corporate tax rate of 12.5% on trading profits has been a magnet for MNC dinosaurs who, in turn, represent 90% of Irish exports. Between 1998 and 2002, profits of US companies with Irish facilities doubled. Even in the present monetary crisis, figures released in September 2010 for exports from Ireland, exceeded €40 billion in the April-June period, a record figure for a single quarter, topping the previous high water mark reached in the final three months of 2008.

The first dinosaur sighted in Ireland in the last quarter of the twentieth century still lives in a cave, now world famous for its stalagmites and stalactites, at Ringaskiddy. Pfizer was the first MNC dinosaur to migrate to Ireland, raising its leg and pouring citric acid over County Cork from 1969. With headquarters in New York, Pfizer is the world’s largest biopharmaceutical company, and one of Ireland’s leading employers. It manufactures here some of its best-selling medicines including Lipitor and Viagra.

Viagra is known locally as the ‘Pfizer riser,’ while Lipitor is its great ‘down-sizer’. Viagra, the first of the Pfizer twin towers, is probably the most famous product of the twentieth century, as well as being the most wanted and least needed in pharmaceutical history. Lipitor comes hot on its heels. At least sixteen million people in America take drugs to reduce cholesterol. I myself am one of the adults who have taken it every evening for the last five years. This is to lower my bad cholesterol when I know full well that a low fat diet and other non-medical treatments, such as daily exercise and lifestyle changes, would do the job quite as effectively. But who am I to turn down that double whopper McDonald’s cheese burger with Ireland’s favourite Hellmann’s real mayonnaise on top, when I can now have heaven and all this as well by taking my daily dose of Lipitor?

Although there are other dinosaurs out there, ready and able to flood the market with LDL (so-called bad cholesterol-reducing commodities), the Pfizer dinosaur maintains its monopoly and mutilates or destroys all rivals. It recently gobbled up Wyeth in a $68 billion takeover deal.

The Lipitor battle has become a test of the pharmaceutical industry’s ability to defend name brands. Even as insurance companies, patients and doctors, seek to lessen the world’s billion dollar annual prescription drug bill, by using generic alternatives whenever possible, no generic version of Lipitor is in the offing because the US Patent and Trademark Office reissued to Pfizer a patent that expires in June 2011. As I write this book, Pfizer remains the only provider of this drug to an ever expanding number of the world’s population. It has succeeded in lowering the age-group to expand its catchment area further. On 7 July 2010, EC approval was issued for a new chewable type of Lipitor which can be used by ten-year-old children. Now if, as we are told, there are nearly seven billion people on the planet, then the goal presumably is to get as many of these as possible chewing Lipitor every day at several dollars a crunch.

The first home-grown dinosaur in Ireland was introduced by Tony Ryan (1936-2007), then an Aer Lingus executive. A co-founder of Ryanair, Tony built this country’s biggest business [GPA], a commercial aircraft sales and leasing company in 1975. At its peak, it was valued at $4 billion net income and reached $265 million in the year to 31st March 1992. Enter Ireland’s dinosaur number three.

The GPA group set its sights on a major stock market flotation. Here was a company expected to grow phenomenally. It was to be a super stock, with GPA expected to account for one-fifth of the entire market value of the Irish Exchange. There was to be a simultaneous mid-summer launch in London, New York, Tokyo and Dublin. Great pride and confidence in Irish investor and media circles were, unfortunately, not shared in bigger money markets, where the even larger dinosaurs roam. Concerns were growing about the cyclical nature of demand for aircraft. International stock markets were jittery in the early 1990s and then there was The Gulf War (August 2, 1990-February 28, 1991). Lack of investor enthusiasm, and disagreement over the appropriate launch price, led to the failure of the flotation. Within a year, Guinness Peat Aviation was in serious trouble.

The (GECAS) dinosaur was waiting in the wings. GE Capital Aviation Services is the largest owner/lessor of commercial aircraft in the world and is part of the US General Electric Company. It established a base in Shannon (its largest operational centre outside of the US) in 1993. It has over 1,800 owned and managed aircraft, twenty-four offices, and more than 270 customers in over seventy-five countries. Céad míle fáilte and ad multos annos to the GECAS Dinosaur, going forward, as we say!

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Every century seems to begin with a spectacular event which heralds the shape of the history to follow. The sinking of the Titanic, that largest of all dinosaurs afloat at that time, traumatised the century to follow and presaged the carnage of mechanised warfare which characterised the twentieth century. In the last years of that century, one of the largest audiences ever watched the film Titanic, which was launched in 1997 and made $1.8 billion at the box-office, with around 390-400 million tickets sold worldwide. DVD sales and rentals brought in another $1.2 billion, meaning that between sixty and a hundred million people bought the DVD or rented it, and numbers keep growing as viewers are still watching. All in all, one could estimate that around 500 million people saw this film. So for a hundred years since 14 April 1912, the sinking of the Titanic has been on our psychic radar screens. It became a theme of our collective nightmare.

Similarly, the fall of the Twin Towers on 9/11, 2001 has become a symbol of the dinosaur wars at the beginning of our twenty-first century. The battle between ‘The Skyscraper and the Airplane’,) could only have taken place in this twenty-first century. Monster skyscraper buildings could not have happened unless the century which produced them also invented cheap high-quality structural steel. This was the first revolutionary architectural invention since the Romans created the arch and the dome two millennia previously. Buildings now became vertebrates rather than awkward crustaceans: they could stand slender and tall without huge carapaces of supporting masonry. 176,000 tons of fabricated structural steel was a landmark in welding history. The combination of express and local elevator banks, called a skylobby system, was one of the ways in which the architect advanced the art of building through the potential of modern technology. The other previous, less flamboyant but equally important, inventions of the twentieth century were electric lighting, central heating, fire escapes, telephones and flush toilets. We had created the Meccano set with which to construct our idiosyncratic dinosaur.

Neither could the felling of the Twin Towers have occurred much before 9/11, 2001. A Boeing 707, the largest plane flying when the twin towers were planned, was catered for and would have been absorbable had it hit either tower. The excursion monitor on the roof of the towers did not even register in 1993 when a truck bomb was detonated beneath the North Tower. The explosion at that time was intended to knock the North Tower (Tower One) into the South Tower (Tower Two), bringing both towers down and killing thousands of people. It failed to do so, although it did kill six people and injured over a thousand. The world had to wait for the invention of the Boeing 767 to achieve this goal.

According to Stanford University Professor Steven Block, (4) the energy generated by a fuel-laden Boeing 757 or 767, colliding into a World Trade Centre tower, is roughly equivalent to one-twentieth of the energy of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Ignited fuel generated 90% of the energy in the explosion. A Boeing 767’s fuel capacity is roughly 23,980 gallons, and a Boeing 757 carries roughly 11,466 gallons. The terrorists intentionally took over planes scheduled to travel across the country because they’d be carrying more fuel and would therefore cause more devastation on impact.

The 767 twin-engined jumbo jet had been put into service nineteen years before 11 September 2001. Both these dinosaurs, therefore, the skyscraper and the aeroplane, had been brought to the pitch of refinement which allowed one of them to become the deadly weapon of destruction for the other. Neither could have achieved the kind of insertion and implosion, which wreaked such total havoc, before our twenty-first century. Science and technology take a bow.

One of the ironies of architecture is that Minoru Yamasaki, who designed the World Trade Centre, suffered from vertigo and was afraid of heights. He once wrote that in a world of perfect freedom he would have created nothing but one-storey buildings overlooking fields of flowers. However, the brief presented to him was quite explicit: 12 million square feet of floor area on a sixteen acre site and a budget of $500 million.

The next time the dinosaurs are wiped out, it may not be owing to a meteor from outside. It may be the result of internal combustion.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we in Ireland, for instance, are unhappy about having the Pfizer plant in Ringaskiddy. On the contrary, we are delighted, especially in view of the closure of several other such sites throughout the country. What I am saying is that you who work for such dinosaurs, on whatever floor of the skyscraper, would do well to study the species in depth and in detail so that you learn how to dance without doing serious damage to yourselves.

On 7 August 1974, Philip Pettit, French acrobat and tight-rope walker, threw a wire between the twin towers in Manhattan, which were over 1,360 feet high, and walked the sixty metres distance between them for forty minutes carrying a light aluminium pole to give himself balance. His dance with these two dinosaurs changed their profile as sombre geopolitical symbols into elegant footholds for one crazy acrobat. Like the fool in some medieval court, he put a smile on the frowning face of the sauropod. We have to take our cue from him and learn the secret of walking the tight-rope between the Brachiosaurid breed of dinosaur. These latter, like our skyscrapers, were the tallest on record. Their front legs were longer than their rear legs, giving them a giraffe-like stance. Their long necks, held vertically, allowed for grazing among the tallest trees. Brachiosaurus, the best known of the group, was thirteen metres tall. Sauroposeidon eventually grew to 18.5 metres, making it the tallest of all.

Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann suggests, in his novels about New York. We can’t help living in a spinning galaxy of potentially destructive monsters, but we mustn’t allow ourselves to get caught in the whirling. Let the great world spin, certainly, because there is nothing much we can do about it, but learn, like Philip Pettit, to do the tight-rope dance between the towers. Don’t let yourself be smashed to pieces as Pettit’s Doppelgänger in the novel, Fr Corrigan, was, looking for his equilibrium in more dangerous places. Between the feet of the dinosaur, McCann’s novel offers a portrait of the average citizen of New York. ‘Park Avenue socialites, Bronx junkies, Centre Street judges, downtown artists and their subway-tagging counterparts, street priests, weary cops, wearier hookers, grieving mothers of an Asian war, form the underbelly of the society which watches a pin-dot of a man walking on air 110 stories above their heads (Richard Price, reviewing this book).’ The watchers were essentially divided into two camps: those who secretly wanted to see the tightrope walker fall, prefiguring what the towers held in store – to ‘see someone arc downward all that distance, to disappear from the sight line, flail, smash to the ground and give the Wednesday an electricity, a meaning – and those who ‘wanted the man to save himself, step backward into the arms of the cops instead of the sky’. Corrigan, too, watches this display of human possibility and the next day he loses his nerve, brakes at the wrong moment on the freeway, is clipped by the car behind him and is parachuted towards destruction along with his passenger in the car. In the second before their death both Corrigan and his passenger, Jazzlyn, a young prostitute in a Day-Glo swimsuit, experience a kind of weightlessness akin to that of the tight-rope walker for the first and only time in their lives. Corrigan is based, according to the author, on Philip Francis Berrigan (1923-2002), an internationally
renowned American Christian Peace Activist, and former Roman Catholic priest. The novel is told by the older brother who comes to America from Ireland to find his sibling ‘like he was some bright hallelujah in the shitbox of what the world really was.’ Daniel Berrigan, Catholic Priest, Jesuit poet and peace activist, is Philip Berrigan’s older brother in real life. But, the novel suggests, the younger missioner to the Bronx, like Dostoevsky’s Idiot, never learned to dance with the dinosaurs and was eventually crushed at their feet.


1. A General Theory of Love, Thomas Lewis MD, Fari Arnim MD, Richard Lannon MD, Vintage Books, New York, 2000, p 24
2. cf Flowers for the Gringo, What in the World?, 2009, Kmf DVD, Series 4, www.knifproductions.net
3. Adam Goodheart, ‘The Skyscraper and the Airplane’, The American Scholar, published by the Phi Beta Kappa Society, vol 71, No 1, Winter 2002, p 17f
4. Block is a professor of applied physics and biological sciences and an expert on national security and terrorism. He spoke at a press conference on the afternoon of September 11th as reported by Jennifer Deitz Berry in Palo Alto Weekly Online Edition, 4.pm 11 /09/2001.
5. Colum McCann, Let The Great World Spin, New York, Random House, 2009.


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