Thursday, December 28, 2006

Falconer


The other day I started to read 'Falconer' by John Cheever. I hope I can finish it, I think I might have reached my limit with Patrick Hamilton, after a point stark loneliness becomes predictable and the sorrow becomes a bit too recognisable. Not to say I don't enjoy it because I do and I think it is wonderful.

I tried to get a picture that would summarise this passage, that might be able to cathc the innocent quality of the blue sky he refers to. I think that is quite difficult but this picture looked good anyway. 'Falconer' is about a guy called Farragut who ends up in prison for murder and this passage is about when he enters the prison and sees the blue sky and is amazed by its innocent quality:

"Then he saw the blue sky and nailed his identity to it and to the phrasing of four letters he would write to his wife, his lawyer, his governor and his bishop. A handful of people watched them quickstep across the yard. Then he distinctly heard a voice say ,’But they look so nice!’ That would have been some innocent, some stray, and Farragut heard a man in uniform say, ‘Turn your back and any one of them would put a shiv in it.’ But the stray was right. The blue in the space between the van and the prison was the first spread of blue some of them had seen in months. How extraordinary it was and how truly pure they seemed!They would never again look so well. The light of the sky, shining into their condemned faces, showed a great richness of purpose and innocence. ‘They murder,’ said the guard,’they rape, they stuff babies into furnaces, they’d strangle their own mother for a stick of chewing gum.’ Then he turned from the stray to the convicts and began to call: ‘You’re going to be good boys, you’re gonn be good boys, you’re gonna be good, good boys …’ He spread out his call like a train whistle, a hounds belling, some late-night lonely song or cry.”

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Saving souls

Everyone probably knows that here in Ipswich we currently have a serial killer on the loose. The media are going berserk and all of a sudden they are very concerned about the welfare of prostitutes.
In 'Twenty Thousand Streets under the sky' by Patrick Hamilton, I am reading a fascinating story about a young man who falls in love with a prostitute in Soho in the 1930s. Here in this extract, the character Prunella is describing an hilarious incident she had with an evangelist:
"What happened then?" asked Jenny.
"Well - so I gives it to him, and he says 'Thank you very much,' he says. An' I says 'Not at all. Pleased to have met you, dear. So he says 'Well I'll be going,' so I shakes his hand and says 'By all means, dear.' 'And' I says 'In future, dear,'I says,' don't hang around trying to save prostitutes' souls.' So he says 'No I won't.' So I says 'They ain't got none, dear. They're a rough lot. You run along.' An' he doesn't half do a bunk out of that place."

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Precious


This is one of the best definitions of poetry I have come across:

"The poet always wants to put feelings or ideas in concrete forms, in forms that may have become in themselves precious (the very term is revealing), like those gems that owe their density and sparkle to the almost unbearable pressures and temperatures they've been through."


Marguerite Yourcenar in Preface to 'Fires'.

She was born in Brussels and I can't help feeling that she was maybe inspired to write this after a visit to Antwerp to the world famous diamond district.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Lysistrata

I found this modern translation of Lysistrata by Aristophanes in the Oxfam bookshop a few months ago. I can't help feeling that this passage is not only funny but very true - especially for today!

Let me set the scene. Lysistrata has started a women's revolt. She has disagreed with the war that her men folk are involved with but up to now she hasn't said anything. She has just decided to come and take over the government and is having the following argument with a magistrate. Can't help feeling that this could happen today and they would be saying the same thing.


LYSISTRATA:
What a question! From now on we intend
to control the Treasury.

MAGISTRATE:
Control the Treasury!

LYSISTRATA:
Why not? Does that seem strange? After all,
we control our household budgets.

MAGISTRATE:
But that's different!

LYSISTRATA:
'Different'? What do you mean?

MAGISTRATE:
I mean simply this:
it's the Treasury that pays for National Defense.

LYSISTRATA:
Unnecessary. We propose to abolish war!

MAGISTRATE:
Good God. - And National Security?

LYSISTRATA:
Leave that to us.

MAGISTRATE:
You?

LYSISTRATA:
Us.

MAGISTRATE:
We're done for, then!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A short story written by me!

The Impossible Task

One person has to give something in a format they have no way of getting so they go to a middle-man to change their merchandise into the required format and pass on. That is the task and as soon as the middle-man is given the merchandise the giver is relieved and goes off reassured and satisfied. So satisfied that they forget about the task and the relatively small award they receive is forgotten – which is all very well because they never get it.

Now the middle-man knows what he has and soon finds out that he also has various problems especially because he was asked to do extra beyond the original deal and he doesn’t know what to do but he sits and thinks and finds something but this thing requires something else and he has to go to another ‘party’, a person who can help him but has always considered him inferior. This means he has to work out a strategy to make this person do the work – achieve his task and still leave him feeling superior. This is difficult but he sits and thinks for a while and comes up with an idea that could possibly work.

The problem is even if he does convince the other ‘party’ to do the work, he will not be able to convince him to do the extra work which he accepted because it was a nice thing to do and he liked the original giver enough to do the extra work.

As it turns out the other party is not impressed and susses out the trick well before he even asks for help. He even made a cup of coffee which he accepts and promptly lifts his left eyebrow in a way that suggests cunning is suspected. He then proposes he will do the extra work that is required if our hero will do something for him. Something that involves talking to another office, something that he suspects is a subtle condemnation, a warning shot across the bow to say ‘don’t come back’.

This unpleasant task is deeply repugnant and distasteful, a master blow. It makes him stop. He looks once more at the clock, it was fast approaching a quarter past seven. He realised this was an impossible task and he went home.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Passivities

The second part of 'Le Milieu Divin' by Teilhard is dedicated to 'The Divinisation of our Passivities' something that sounds incredibly complex and is in reality very simple. Teilhard says that a large part of ourselves is not decided or chosen by us it is 'imposed' and accepted by us with relatively little thought.

This is something that is quite common today. There are so many things that I accept and that I work with and I don't really consider them important they are just aspects of life that I have no control over.

At the very start of this chapter Teilhard describes how he started to meditate to try to find what was really 'him' and what was really just what society had imposed on him. As he tried to separate the 'surface' world and go down he found himself experiencing the following:

"At that moment, as anyone else will find who cares to make this same interior experiment, I felt the distress characteristic to a particle adrift in the universe, the distress which makes human wills founder daily under the crushing number of living things and of stars. And if something saved me, it was hearing the voice of the Gospel, guaranteed by divine successes, speaking to me from the depth of the night: ego sum, noli timere (It is I, be not afraid)."

This is possibly something that comes close to what might be known today as a 'mystical' experience and in this we can see Teilhard identifying with contemporary man.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Villanelle of Spring Bells


I hope you don't mind but I copied this definition of villanelle form from 'Wikipedia' because I found a brilliant thought provoking villanelle by Keith Douglas, that almost reminds me of the last posting and I found another picture of the Aberdeen skyline that fits quite well.


******************
The villanelle has no established meter, although most nineteenth-century villanelles had eight or six syllables per line and most twentieth-century villanelles have ten syllables per line. The essence of the form is its distinctive pattern of rhyme and repetition, with only two rhyme-sounds ("a" and "b") and two alternating refrains that resolve into a concluding couplet. The following is the schematic representation of a villanelle in its fixed modern form: Line one (A1) and Line three (A2) are rhymed refrains.

Refrain 1 (a)
Line 2 (b)
Refrain 2 (a)

Line 3 (a)
Line 4 (b)
Refrain 1 (a)

Line 5 (a)
Line 6 (b)
Refrain 2 (a)

Line 7 (a)
Line 8 (b)
Refrain 1 (a)

Line 9 (a)
Line 10 (b)
Refrain 2 (a)

Line 11 (a)
Line 12 (b)
Refrain 1 (a)
Refrain 2 (a)

Villanelle of Spring Bells

Bells in the town alight with spring

converse, with a concordance of new airs

make clear the fresh and ancient sound they sing.


People emerge from winter to hear them ring,

children glitter with mischief and the blind man hears

bells in the town alight with spring.


Even he on his eyes feels the caressing

finger of Persephone, and her voice escaped from tears

make clear the fresh and ancient sound they sing.


Bird feels the enchantment of his wing

and in ten fine notes dispels twenty cares.

Bells in the town alight with spring


warble the praise of Time, for he can bring

this season: chimes the merry heaven bears

make clear the fresh and ancient sound they sing.


All evil men intent on evil thing

falter, for in their cold unready ears

bells in the town alight with spring

make clear the fresh and ancient sound they sing.

1940

Keith Douglas


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Some old love song


Blue Evening by Ray Eberly

Blue evening comes at the close of day
Blue evening, spent in the same old way.
My future looks as dark as the sky above me
There must be someone here in this world who loves me.
A sweet love song, would be so grand to know
But my love songs are all from the radio
Another dawn is waiting for me, another day and then
Another blue evening again.


This is an old Glen Miller classic. I'm reading 'The Midnight Bell' by Patrick Hamilton at the moment
and I had this on the record player and it was perfect. If you can find it - listen to it.
I haven't had song lyrics on the blog, maybe this might even be the first
but then I am in a very sad romantic mood tonight.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Breaking the Spell of Dennett

I finished reading ‘Breaking the Spell’ by Daniel Dennett last February and I wasn’t really too keen on mentioning it here. The main reason is that his book makes me feel ashamed to be identified as a scientist. Dennett has tried to write this book against religion and I can’t help feeling that his attempt was crude, ignorant, even laughable in its bad arguments and bad writing.

The first half of the book he tries to make a very precarious argument to show that religion will soon be disproved by scientific studies in hypnotism. Interesting but so far fetched and ridiculous that it sickened me. The second half was a general attack on religion. I was reminded of this when reading ‘The image of God in Man’ by David Cairns. He describes Freud’s attack on religion as follows:

“But there are certain evils which society cannot hold at bay; it can never defend man wholly from death and the elements. Therefore men undertook the task of humanizing nature; they created the gods. The gods are personal, we can come to terms with them, we can try to exorcize them, bribe them, appease them.”

This is almost exactly the same argument that Dennett uses in the last 150 pages of his book. It is so exact that I think he might have well have said – ‘read Freud, he will prove to you there is no religion’.

However, it gets worse. At the same time as this Dennett then resorts to something that I have never experienced before in so-called science – ridicule! At one point he explains how he thinks that Roman Catholics should submit the wine from Mass for scientific analysis to see if they can find the DNA of Jesus. I was shocked reading this, Dennett claims he did extensive research for this book that he interviewed 500 people.

I suspect this book was written incredibly quickly, possibly an afterthought. The writing is very bad, it is sloppy and awkward and gives the impression that he didn’t even stop to review his writing and make basic corrections.

It is true that we have a terrible problem at the moment with fundamentalist Christians and Muslims. We need to find some way to make them think about what they believe and to make them reconsider the idea of using violence to achieve their aims. This is not the book to do this. I suspect this book may even be counter-productive and turn people more strongly against science. Something which Dennett will ultimately regret.

Finally I am sickened by the media that review this book saying how well written it is and how he makes such a strong argument. This is anything but the truth. This is lazy journalists writing out the opinion of some other reviewer and it is book review based on page length rather than substance. This is something I have ranted about before and it is not something that you will find here. I can assure you that I read the book before I comment on it.

Dennett makes the claim at the start of his book that perhaps for religious people his book is too dangerous and that they should stop reading! This is laughable, he should have said that if you are a scientist you should stop because it will insult your intelligence and it will make you think that you can write a bad book and get away with it.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Grapes of Wrath

When I was going to Peru one of the things I didn't mention in my previous post is the security agent saw 'Grapes of Wrath' in my bag and smiled and said 'I read that when I was 17, it had a profound effect on me - it changed my life.' I wondering about this because at that point I was struggling with it.

I finished Steinbeck's classic 'Grapes of Wrath' in Peru and I haven't written anything about it so far but it was a wonderful book and I didn't really want to write more about Steinbeck but it all came back to me last night. You can tell a good book when suddenly a month after you finish you start to think about the characters and what they would have done.

'Grapes of Wrath' is described by some as a horrifying, cold, cruel read. I must admit it did shock me and it took me a while to really get used to the style of writing but this achieved the idea of grabbing me and taking me back. I couldn't read this book like an ordinary book, I had to read it at night, in silence. The story is about a family in the Depression in the Mid-west who are forced out of their home and they travel to California. One of the most profound aspects of the book is that every character was equal in importance, everyone was different but you don't find yourself drawn to one particular person and even when bad things are done, you find it hard to be prejudiced. I was privileged to be reading 'Log from the Sea of Cortez' at the same time and this gave me an insight into the philosophy of Steinbeck and I think a better understanding of what he was trying to say.

Steinbeck was fascinated by his friend Ed Ricketts and his idea of non-teleological thinking. This is quite complex but to express it quickly, an illustration is to say that the Depression era was caused by factors beyond our understanding. It is not a matter of simply saying, 'anyone who is unemployed get a pickaxe and work', for one thing as described in 'Grapes of Wrath' there was only enough money for about 70% of the workforce to work. If anyone else wanted to work the money had to be shared among them and when the wages are reduced for more people to work it defies the purpose of work because a family can't live on a dollar or less a day. It is not a matter of finding a quick solution, it is a matter of gaining a deep understanding of what something is before you try to look for solutions and causes.

Last night I was helping my Mum and Dad to install a new dishwasher and fridgefreezer. We had a number of problems but we all worked together and I started to think about Ma and Da and Rosasharn, and that time when Ma exploded and threatened them all with an iron bar and how noble an environment it really was, how they tried and worked their hardest but even though things didn't really work out they kept going. This is a little like Steinbecks idea of consciousness as a 'tragic accident', that we just have to keep going and try to be good, even though the characteristics we hate of aggression, and selfishness, are the ways of succeeding in business and goodness and honesty will more than often fail you in business. His approach to consciousness is almost opposite to that of Teilhard but I am not sure if he would have entirely disagreed with him. I intend to study this relationship further in the future. Steinbeck was a mystic too but just what type is something I am not entirely sure about.

The characters are still quite close to me and I still feel affectionate for them. The true sign of a good book, perhaps it will change my life.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Things Present


What can I say tonight? Northern Ireland 3 - Spain 2 !!

I was reading this superb poem by Ted Hughes (from 'Lupercal') and I was trying to think about what it means, the hope, the honour of a tramp, the utter exhaltation of the moment and the dreams. I'm not sure if this poem can express all my feelings at the moment, but consider it a modest toast to our great country, ranked 72 in the world who have just beaten mighty Spain ranked 7 in the world -

Northern Ireland 3

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Obadiah

I must admit that last Saturday night I was watching 'Who wants to be a millionaire?' and one of the questions was 'What is the shortest book of the Old Testament?'. It surprised me that I wasn't entirely sure and that I knew nothing about Obadiah at all.

Obadiah has one chapter of 21 verses. I read it in 'The Message'. This short prophecy goes back to Jacob and Esau. When they split up the descendants of Esau went to live in Edom. Israel was where the descendants of Jacob went to live. When Israel was taken into exile Edom watched and did nothing. For this God decided to punish them.

Obadiah lived in Edom, he was an Edomite. According to the Talmud he was the man who rescued the prophets by hiding them in caves from Jezebel. He was chosen to deliver a harsh judgement against the Edomites. It is an incredible rant about their destruction, except for the last verse when he describes how the land will be cleared and that the Kingdom will become a shining light. This one small positive aspect reminded me how even in the darkest anger there is always a beacon of hope.

"The remnant of the saved in Mount Zion
will go into the mountains of Esau
and rule justly and fairly,
a rule that honors God's Kingdom."

Thus ends today's sermon.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Airport security

I am just back from Peru and I feel I must comment briefly on the airport security crisis of 10 August. I left for Peru on 24 July and I sat in the airport in Belfast, everything was fine until I went to check-in. The security man said to me 'Goodmorning sir where is your final destination today?' As soon as I told him Lima Peru he was shocked and went away. I could see three of them and they got into a circle and were obviously talking about about me. One by one they each came and asked me where I was going and why. After the third it got comical. They then proceeded to search my bags, they found plant food that I was bringing for Isabel's Mum and discarded it but apart from that they found nothing and while they were doing this they took away my passport.

The reason I am unhappy with this is that it ws quite obvious to me that they only did it because I was travelling to Lima. Continental airlines were very happy to take my money and they had known I was travelling to Lima for 5 months. There was no suggestion that I was behaving suspiciously or that they suspected something. If all security was as simple as this surely we could just say that all people travelling to Pakistan or Iraq are suicide bombers and all travellers to Peru are drug dealers. The security of myself and my family is extremely important but I cannot understand how someone could say 'at Continental we take security seriously'. I think this just reveals that security people don't have a clue and that the events of August 10 were inevitable.

At the very least security checks should be random. It should also be noted that no one tried to investigate my story. I will make it quite clear. My wife Isabel is from Peru. She travelled to Peru separately from me because she gets two months off work. I was travelling to Peru to meet her and spend time with her family. No one asked me 'how long have you been married?' 'how did you meet your wife?' 'why did you not travel with her?'. No one even asked me what was the name of my wife. Instead one guy tried to ask me if I knew the same people he knew in the area that I live. I thought it quite obvious he was trying to trick me and it is irrelevent if I know or don't know his friends anyway. It is far from professional and 'serious'.

The guys in London with the bombs were probably travelling to New York. If I had told the security guards I was travelling to New York I am quite sure I wouldn't have been searched. Regardless of whether security guards would have found the bombs or not, I think security needs to be strategic, guards need to think and they need to think beyond simply where people are travelling to. I think it is relatively simple to grasp the idea that people who want to smuggle something or plan a crime don't go direct and they don't all look like bombers, they pose as business men and they travel to ordinary places.

When I travelled to Newark I was not treated in this way, the fact that I was going to Lima was irrelevent. I think that this proves that I did not look suspicious, they did not think that I was a threat. I think it is more probable that the other passengers on the flight might have been a risk.

The one problem I did have at Newark reveals another problem that we are facing. The customs lady would not let me through because I had left the line on the immigration form blank were you write US address. I didn't have an address because I was a transit passenger and I was spending one hour in Newark before travelling on to Peru. It is ridiculous to think that all passenger must write down an address. This is what happens when employers treat employees like computers. When they are not taught to think. All she was doing was behaving like a web form with a mandatory field. 'If you don't fill that in, he won't let you through' she told me repeatedly. I eventually wrote down Newark airport as my address because I had no other option and I only had 50 minutes to get to my next flight which was difficult because Newark is full of queues. I am sure that hundreds of people fly through Newark to other places in the world apart from the US. They don't have US addresses to go to and yet that arrogant customs guard still insisted that everyone had to fill out that line

When employees like this are not allowed to think and become obsessed with power we will all face problems because all of us at some point or other have to deal with being an exception. We all know that sometimes we are not able to answer simple questions. Another problem I had when I checked in was that the address of Isabel's house in Peru does not have a postal code. In fact no house in Peru has a postal code but yet the air steward insisted that she would not let me on the flight if I did not give her a postal code. Other evidence that too many people are not thinking - and not being allowed to think. Which will inevitably bring us to a crisis, if not in security in our personal relations.

Rod

Sunday, July 23, 2006


This poem is a translation by Seamus Heaney of Pushkin's original poem. I find it quite interesting, I can see aspects of Pushkin and Heaney.

Appeal to authority and uncritical thinking

John Steinbeck owes a great deal to Ed Ricketts. Throughout his life Steinbeck campaigned and championed Ricketts to no avail and it was only when Ricketts appeared as a fiction character in ‘Cannery Row’ that Ricketts became famous.

It must be remembered that it was Ed Ricketts and the captain of the book who wrote the original journals on the voyage and that Steinbeck wrote his book based on both of these journals.

Ricketts was a pioneer in ecology. He had studied the ecosystem of sardines in Monterey Bay and he had foretold that the sardine industry was not sustainable. A few years after Ricketts death the sardine industry collapsed. Ricketts wrote during this time that if he was asked where the sardines had gone he could say ‘they are in cans’.

I cannot help but feel that in terms of the mystical view Steinbeck held he was strongly influenced by Ricketts into thinking that an atheistic solution was the only viable solution. I often wonder if the ‘appeal to authority’ is what damages the role of religion in science more than anything else. Rather than being able to analyse and think through a religious viewpoint it is too easy to accept the easy alternative of another ‘authoritative’ colleague to decide the philosophy that they hold.

We see this appeal to authority quite clearly present today in terms of scientific support for Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. Whilst we also see today that there are some people who when they re-investigate the claims of atheism they have to re-evaluate. Anthony Flew is a good example of this and in 2004 he announced to the philosophical world that he had become a deist.

When Steinbeck decides to devote one whole chapter from ‘Log from the Sea of Cortez’ on nonteleological thinking, a strong feature of the philosophy of Ricketts I have to ask myself if Steinbeck when he verges into mysticism but rejects theism has really decided this for himself of if he is overwhelmed by Ricketts philosophy to suggest that theism might be possible.

I recently found a book in the library by Harold Morowitz on abortion called ‘The facts of Life’. In this book Morowitz described how he uncovered that one of the arguments against abortion was based on an appeal to authority that had been misinterpreted by the anti-abortion lobby. One of their claims was that electrical signals had been identified in an unborn child of 12 weeks. This claim was often raised with no real substantiation and Morowitz tracked it down to a conference in 1969. The results had been announced of an experiment that took place in 1963 in Finland. Under unethical conditions experiments had been carried out on aborted foetus’. The electrical activity was not found in the cortex but only in the brain stem. In fact this evidence that had been used as a strong argument for anti-abortionists was based on an unethical experiment and the results had been misinterpreted. The scientific evidence had not been examined before and it was being used without critical analysis. How much of this sort of ‘appeal to authority’ goes on in science?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Easter Sunday 1940

The one thing about Sea of Cortes is that sometimes Steinbeck is quite self-indulgent and he writes and writes about philosophical discussions in great depth. There is a brilliant example of this on Easter Sunday. The crew land on a hot beach, they cook fish, drink beer and talk about teleological issues. It must have been an amazing day but I am not entirely sure if I have understood the ten pages on philosophy.

It is interesting to note that Steinbeck didn't actually write a diary when he was on the expedition, two logs were kept but he didn't write one. He had to go back afterwards and write all this from their thoughts.

I think the essence of what he is saying is that we need to take an unteleogical approach to life. Instead of looking for a cause and effect and looking for direct relations we should look at the whole environment, and try not to find answers that are too simplistic. I think this would be valuable in terms of politics, everyone is looking for a quick 'fact-based' fix and sometimes problems don't have one direct cause. Sometimes the obvious remedy is not the correct remedy and we need to think and investigate the problem deeper.

I heard of a possible modern answer a few weeks ago in a programme on inner city urban design. In Newcastle (England) they had a problem in the large decorative plazas with teenagers hanging about and skateboarding. The council looked at the issue and decided to build a skate park, outside the city. They thought this would remove the problem and the skate park was a success but they didn't realise that a lot of the teenagers didn't skate and they remained hanging around for social reasons to meet their friends.

Steinbeck uses the interesting example of the Norwegian Willow Grouse. This endangered species was on the decline and they immediately decided that the answer was to cull their main predator - a falcon. After they reduced the numbers of falcons the Willow Grouse numbers reduced even more rapidly. It was discovered after investigation that a parasite had infected the grouse and that the falcon killed the infected birds quickly. When the falcons were removed the infected birds lived longer and infected more willow grouse thus exacerbating the situation.

Best kind of hunting

In another episode from Steinbeck's Sea of Cortes, three Indian people arrive on the boat, introduce themselves and offer to take the crew on a hunting expedition to shoot long horned sheep called Borrego. The crew find this idea attractive and they go off with their hosts into the Mexican mountains. They have a wonderful time, they light a fire, drink beer and talk about Mexican women all night. Then the next morning the hosts send out three trackers to shoot the sheep - they never intended to actually shoot them! The three trackers are unsuccessful but they bring back a handful of sheep droppings. Steinbeck is offered a few of the droppings which he takes and concludes that this a better type of hunting, the best way to hunt is without a gun:

"For ourselves we have had mounted on a small hardwood plaque one perfect borrego dropping. And where another man can say, "there was an animal, but because I am greater than he, he is dead and I am alive, and there is his head to prove it," we can say, "there was an animal, and for all we know there still is and here is the proof of it. He was very healthy when I last heard of him."

Mysterious Island

I adore 'Log from the Sea of Cortes' it is brilliant. It really gets you into the mind of Steinbeck and makes you feel like you are there with him on that amazing expedition in 1940. Some people have criticised Steinbeck for having a 'half-baked' philosophy. I really admire him because he is obviously not a philosopher, he is just trying to think deeply about his life and about the meaning of life. A professional philosopher doesn't really take this approach, when they try to write about general things they become condescending or just write stuff that is incredibly difficult to understand.

Plus the expedition is quite exciting and as travel writing it is an incredible escape and very interesting. I was fascinated by his report about a rather mysterious island that they came across. I'm not really going to say too much about it but when I read this I couldn't help thinking - King Kong or pirates!



“March 23 1940

For although the day was bright this Islet called Cayo on the map, looked black and mysterious. We had a feeling that something strange and dark had happened there or that it was the ruined work of men’s hands. Its northern end is a spur and its southern end a flat plateau about forty feet high. Cayo is only a quarter of a mile long and a hundred yards wide. Even in the distance it had a quality we called ‘burned’. . .

It is nearly all questions, but perhaps someone reading this may know the answers and tell us. There is no landing place; all approaches are strewn with large sea-rounded boulders which even in fairly still water would beat the bottom out of a boat. On its easterly side, the one we approached, a cliff rises [at the] back of a rocky beach and there are a number of shallow caves in the Cliffside. Set in the great boulders in the intertidal zone there are large iron rings and lengths of big chain, but so rusted and disintegrated that they came off in our hands. Also, set in the cliff six to eight feet above the beach, are other iron rings with loops eight inches in diameter. They look very old, but the damp air of the gulf and the rapid oxidation caused by it make it impossible to say how old they are. In the shallow caves in the cliff there were evidences of many fires being built, and piled about the fireplaces, some old and some fresh, were not only thousands of clam-shells but turtle-shells also, as though these animals had been brought here to be smoked. A heap of fairly fresh diced turtle meat lay beside one of the fireplaces. The mysterious quality of all this lies here. There are no clams in the immediate vicinity and turtles do not greatly abound. There is no wood whatever on the island with which to build fires; it would have to be brought here. There is no water whatever. And once arrived, there is no anchorage. Why people would bring clams and turtles and wood to an islet where there is no protection we do not know. A mile and a half away they could have beached easily and have found both wood and water. It is a riddle we cannot answer, just as we think of no reason for the big iron rings … there is no safe water for a boat to lie in and no cove protection from wind and storm. We climbed the cliff by a trail that was well beaten in a crevice and on the flat top found a sparse growth of brown grass and some cactus. Nothing more.”



I searched the Internet for information on Cayo Islet but found nothing. The picture above is of Coronado Island, an Island that is described by Steinbeck as very similar to Cayo. The rock face looks to be similar to Cayo. There is probably some reasonable explanation but it is curious ...


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Log from the Sea of Cortez


When two crayfish meet, they usually fight. One would say that perhaps they might not at a future time, but without some mutation it is not likely that they will lose this trait. And perhaps our species is not likely to forgo war without some psychic mutation which at present, at least, does not seem imminent. And if one place the blame for killing and destroying on economic insecurity, or inequality, on injustice, he is simply stating the proposition in another way. We have what we are. Perhaps the crayfish feels the itch of jealousy, or perhaps he is sexually insecure. The effect is that he fights.
John Steinbeck p.15

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Russian place names

One of the books I bought for my birthday was the new edition of 'Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida', translated and edited by Robert Chandler. I was able to compare the translation of Gogol with an older translation and it is much more hip, trendy and easier to read. Altogether it seems to be quite a cool book.

I had never heard of Buida and Robert Chandler introduces each author quite well so I couldn't help laughing at one of the anecdotes. Buida is known as a surrealist writer. One story about him and about Russia is told about his mother:

"Buida has described how his mother, who had been brought up in Central Russia, first arrived in the region in 1947. Her train ticket bore the name of her destination: the town of Wehlau. She arrived, however to find workmen blanking out the name from signs in the station. That night she and two friends speculated as to how the town would be renamed. Her own suggestion, 'Somewhere', was dismissed as too definite, not Russian enough. Her friends suggested 'Sometime or other' or 'Any old how'. In the event, the town was called Znamensk, after the Russian for banner."

Monday, July 03, 2006

Happy Birthday!


Just a short note to say that today is my birthday!! Not that I am giving anyone a hint or not. I will write more later, it goes without saying that I managed to get some more books:)

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Surrealist poetry

"The embrace of poetry like that of the flesh
As long as it lasts
Shuts out any glimpse of the misery of the world"


From Andre Breton 'On the road to San Romano'. I managed to find a book of Surrealist love poems in a secondhand bookstore yesterday. I find surreal poetry to be the most exciting and if I am true to myself it is the style that I prefer to write. This is quite a wonderful book. The surrealists 'exploited' the abstract nature of their poems to write about erotic subjects, it is true the poems are quite powerful. This is the stereotype of all poets that they write about sex. I must admit it I don't completely agree but it does make me smile and that quote about the embrace of poetry is wonderful. In another part of the same poem he sames to be describing what poetry is, and he does a marvellous job:

"The eye of the kite
The dew on the horsetail
The memory of a bottle frosted over on a silver tray
And the road of the mental adventure
That climbs abruptly
One stop and bushes cover it instantly"

Friday, June 30, 2006

Fishers of Men






A while ago I bought 'The authentic Gospel of Jesus' by Geza Vermes. Vermes attempts in this book to state which statements of Jesus he thinks are true. At first I really wasn't convinced, I thought it might be some kind of 'Da Vinci' type book but Vermes makes interesting reading even though I have just started the first few pages.

One thing that struck me was the command of Jesus 'Come with me and I will make you fishers of men'. This has always made sense to me, I never questioned the metaphor or the idea behind it until Vermes with his objective analysis stated that this metaphor is totally barmy. How can you save a fish by catching it or removing it from the water? In the same way how can you save a man by removing him from where he is living. I have now been keeping tropical fish for about six months and it is very difficult keeping them happy, never mind trying to catch them - I want them to stay where they are!

Vermes concludes that this saying is not authentic and has been added through tradition in the early church. I think he makes a good point.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Future echoes in the dark - Review

Although it pains me to say it, I have to be critical of ‘Future echoes in the dark’. I haven’t been able to finish the book, the writing style is quite poor and I am spoilt by having such ease of reading for most books, useful, unuseful trash or treasure.

It’s unfair I know but most of the literary establishment is unfair. Reviews in mainstream papers are usually based on number of pages, other reviews and when the author last bought the reviewer a pint.

Rob I don’t want to be too harsh but I want to be as honest and hopefully try not to make this as painful as it already is for me. The story is good, inventive, creative but there are some basic errors. Too often the writer is telling us what is happening rather than showing us. This creates the effect that the author is boasting about how brilliant or how evil someone or thing is and I don’t want to be told. In the end I had to stop reading. To be honest most of the books I read I don’t finish them, I have a short attention span and I am a ruthless critic.

To be sure, I haven’t written or tried to write a book. To be sure, I am not a fantasy fan so I don’t really know how you can expect any other reaction from me. I don’t want to patronise you anymore. I appreciate that you sent me a free copy of your book, if there is anything I can do to make up for this dreadful review please tell me. I would be happy to send you a bottle of something. Perhaps you think I am just another reviewer with a lack of patience and a negative attitude, I can assure you I am trying to be fair, I try to write well but sometimes I don’t. I readily confess that I am a hypocrite, that I am lazy, depraved and lacking in taste. I wish you well with this book.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Combat Stress

I remember reading a long time ago a very interesting article about combat stress in The New Yorker. The problem we have is that the act of combat is inherently unnatural, no matter how hard a soldier is trained natural instinct reacts strongly against it and this is the cause of combat stress. It is so natural that anyone who doesn't experience it could almost be considered psychotic. One military pastor was advancing a very strong argument that if soldiers were prepared mentally and ethically as well as physically they could be prepared for combat and this could actually reduce the stress that they experience. In the Bible there is a clear distinction made between murder and between killing your enemy. If this distinction could be made it would help soldiers to do a better job and help to reduce combat stress.

No matter how you feel about combat and war, and I'm not sure that I completely agree with it, as a soldier you have to be involved in combat and there is no doubt that Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is a growing problem. Today reading another article in The New Yorker it seems that the military haven't taken much notice of the ethics of combat and that combat stress is still a very real problem. I'm not really surprised that the military isn't interested in teaching ethics but I am surprised that they haven't gone full out to try to stop this problem. I was quite moved by the following passage, a letter home from Iraq by a clinical psychologist based in Qatar:

"At home I ask people if they have ever experienced or witnessed a traumatic event or abuse. But out here I ask, 'Have you ever been in combat?'. Apparently this is a question with the power to unglue, because all four of these troops burst into tears at the mention of the word 'combat'.

And when I say burst, I mean splatter - tears running, snot flowing, and I literally have to mop the floor after on two-hour session. In other words, I mean sobbing for minutes on end, unable to speak, flat-out grief by an otherwise healthy, strong, manly guy who watches football on the weekends and never puts the seat down.

Each time I sit there with not a clue what to say ... offering tissues ... saying I'm sorry ... trying to normalise ... trying to say 'It was not your fault that so-and-so died' and 'if you could have done differently you would have' and 'you have a right to be scared' and even worse 'you had to shoot back' and 'yes you killed someone, and you still deserve to go back to your family and live your life."

Monday, June 12, 2006

You are living in a fool's paradise!

For all the craziness and zany behaviour of Thurber sometimes he really hits hard and all of a sudden I start to wonder 'who is the fool?' Has Thurber become a fool to show us how incredibly perverse and strange we really are? The following cartoon really sums up how we see things that we want to see and not what they really are(like in 'the emperors new clothes') and sometimes no matter how hard we want something to be true, it just isn't and it takes someone to scream out 'YOU'RE ALL CRAZY!!'

(You may need to click on this to read it properly - it is worth it.)

And another one because I can't help it and this one is just as ridiculous, perhaps not as insightful but very silly!




Saturday, June 10, 2006

Mr Durning

Turning through my drawers at work yesterday I found a collection of stories by James Thurber - 'Thurber Country' and I found a collection of letters which had me laughing almost hysterically. It is true that the funniest letters are often the real ones, especially concerning beaurocracy.

In 'Mr Durning' there is a series of letters concerning the fact that some friends in France have sent Thurber a bottle of Cointreau for Christmas. They did not realise that due to Prohibition this bottle was seized by the government prior to being destroyed. Thurber is made of stronger stuff and attempts to wade through the beaurocracy applying for a licquor license and writing about 10 letters over three months trying to get this bottle of alcohol.

In the end he triumphantly recieves the bottle and it was very very amusing.

Thurber likes to draw his own cartoons and whilst this dog isn't associated with the above story, I love this mild mannered simple dog, it seems to represent Thurber, mild mannered, bumbling simple but still pleasant and appealing.


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Who chases you?

Found this delightful little quote today in 'The Passionate Shepherd' by Virgil, part of his 'Eclogues'. The Shepherd has fallen in love with Alexis and everyone tells him she is beyond his reach:

"The wild-eyed lioness pursues the wolf; the wolf pursues the kid; the kid herself goes gambolling in search of flowering clover. And I chase you. Each is drawn on by what delights him most."

Monday, June 05, 2006

Future echoes in the dark


On Saturday I got a random email, it looked like spam and the text intrigued me because it was a recommendation to read 'Future echoes in the dark' by Robert Turner. I had a brief look and initially I wasn't impressed but I emailed Robert and he explained that he thought I might be interested in reading the book. I will admit that it is a fantasy book, one genre that I am not really too keen on but you have to give him credit - no publisher was interested in it, he is obviously passionate enough to self-publish.

At first glance I can see why the publishers are a little shy. The book is a mixture of modern life and a fantasy land, although the fantasy has been given a definite time in history when Christianity is referred to as the 'Catholic church' but there are still adherents to older religions. Add to this mix characters of different races such as the equivalent of elves and a girl who has heat vision and you create a hearty mix.

I would prefer a definite location, in a way when you start to mention historic events it places the book at a specific time and this mucks up the reader - but I could be proved wrong.

I am also intrigued by the parallel with greek literature. There you have mythical characters, gods and goddesses all playing their part.

Then you this made up 'religion of thieves'. Led by a goddess that like her adherents to steal. Interestingly I just bought a secondhand book on the thuggee cult of India. I think Rob would find this era of history fascinating especially a book written by a police detective investigating and getting a confession from a thuggee cult member (see 'The Temple of Doom'). I personally prefer my books to have that sort of basis in reality.

One aspect of the fantasy genre that does interest me is the idea of 'hidden or elite knowledge'. The idea that it is only computer hackers who are aware of the end of the world or one department of astronomers who see a comet coming. This is elaborated into entire hidden races such as vampires or individuals such as Spiderman or Superman.

Rob has generously offered to send me a free copy of the book in return for a review from me. Here are the details below if anyone wants to look it up on Amazon:

Future echoes in the dark by Robert Turner

Product Details:

  • Paperback 232 pages (June 30, 2006)
  • Publisher: Darksight Publishing
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 0955263107

  • http://www.futureechoesinthedark.faithweb.com/





    Tuesday, May 30, 2006

    C. S. Lewis

    I remember reading this quote and not being able to find it again almost ten years ago. I was very surprised to find it so easily, on the second page of 'A Grief Observed'. The image here is one I continually think about, especially on those 'rare' cold nights in belfast!
    "They say an unhappy man wants distractions - something to take him out of himself. Only as a dog-tired man wants an extra blanket on a cold night; he'd rather lie there shivering than get up and find one. It's easy to see why the lonely become untidy; finally dirty and disgusting."
    Another life changing quote from CS Lewis is that 'anyone can speak in jargon, it takes an expert to speak in the vernacular'. Everytime I start to write I remember that quote. This is a CS Lewis quote that I read once on the bus to Hatfield and I have never found again.

    Sunday, May 28, 2006

    Dentistry, doubt and an interesting B&B

    In a few spare moments I had the chance to read an incredible short story by Updike of a vicar going to the dentist in Oxford, UK. I must have reached the point in his short story collection that he has started to talk about his experience in England and the 'twittering English'. The story is so real that it must have happened. He visits a dentist and the dentist just out of the blue asks him if he can quote anything that Richard Hooker has written (because the character is doing a PhD on Hooker), to his shock, the whole experience of getting a filling and talking to this quite pleasant dentist makes him re-evaluate all that he is studying. The most intelligent thing that comes to his mind is 'More than ninety percent of the world's anthracite used to come from Pennsylvania'.

    It isn't until he is about to leave that he remembers a quote by Richard Hooker. The doubts aren't there explicitly but I think that in the last few lines he is trying to express the idea that when it came to theology, the dentist put his experience in perspective and he found it far more enjoyable to watch the birds outside the window:

    "'I just thought of a quotation from Hooker. It's very short.'
    'Yes?'
    'I grant we are apt, prone, and ready, to forsake God; but is God as ready to forsake us? Our minds are changeable; is His so likewise?'
    Dr Merritt smiled. The two men stood in the same position they had hesitated in when Burton entered the room. Burton smiled. Outside the window, the wrens and the starlings, mixed indistinguishably, engaged in maneuvers that seemed essentially playful."


    I then went on to the next story which is entitled 'The Madman' which is about a young couple who travel to Oxford, UK and have nowhere to stay. They end up at a B&B, and I just feel I have to quote all of this because it is one of the most enjoyable Updike paragraphs I have read in a very long time:

    "Early in the evening as it was, Mr Pott wore a muttering, fuddled air of having been roused. The BED AND BREAKFAST sign in his window seemed to commit him to no hospitality. Only after impressing us with the dark difficulty of it, with the unprecedenting strain we were imposing upon the arrangements he had made with a disobliging and obtusely technical world, did he lead us upstairs and into a room. The room was large, chill, and amptly stocked with whatever demigods it is that supervise sleep. I remember that the deliciously cool sheets and coarse blankets were topped by a purple puff smelling faintly of lavender, and that in the morning, dressing, my wife and I skipped in and out of the radiant influence of the electric heater like a nymph and satyr competing at a shrine. The heater's plug was a ponderous and dangerous-looking affair of three prongs; plugging it in was my first real work of acclimatization. We appeared for breakfast a bit late. Of all the other boarders, only Mr Robinson (I have forgotten his real name) had yet to come down. Our places were laid at the dining table, and my place - I couldn't believe my eyes - was set an insanity, a half of a cooked tomato on a slice of fried bread."


    You get a real sense of the outrage of the American about the English man who is so shocked to have to do work early in the evening and that he hadn't booked his room two weeks in advance which would have been 'proper'.

    Saturday, May 27, 2006

    The collective, the hyper-personal

    As I said last week I find it rather confusing that when we converge and unite it is what comes from without rather than from within that could make the difference between a totalitarian regime and Omega point.

    I think what Teilhard is trying to say is that our true selves are not wholly inside us and it is only when we harmonise from above that we converge and the negating influence of our own internal desires is diminished. When we converge there is a new emergent energy that is created and released.

    One aspect of this external self is love. In collectivisation love is lost and anonymity removes personification. It is this aspect that has led attempts of collectivisation to fail. Think about it, when you become a number you feel less than a whole person, you maybe think less and this is why large organisations and groups go bad.

    Teilhard describes this process on p.190 of ‘The human phenomenon’:

    “Insofar as it absorbs or seems to absorb the person, collectivity kills the love trying to be born. Collectivity as such is fundamentally unlovable. And this is where philanthropy fails. Common sense is right. It is impossible to give oneself an anonymous number. Let the universe take on ahead of us a face and a heart, become personified so to speak, and then in the atmosphere created by this focal point, the elementary particles will unfold …

    Under the forced pressure of an earth folding back on itself, the tremendous energies of attraction still dormant between human molecules will burst out.”

    What I see in work is that in a large organisation responsibility is something that is lost. In a hierarchical situation the blame is placed on another level or just ‘someone else’. Errors and faults easily become the fault of the next level up or down and this creates a situation where there is no one to blame and this situation can easily escalate into the sort of serious problems that we have seen over history with the abuse of power.

    In the same way when an organisation is restructured and it is not planned properly functions get left out or forgotten for reasons as trivial as the renaming of an office.

    Teilhard goes on to describe the uniting force of love as something that is only capable of succeeding when it is convergent. The uniting force of love dissipates if particles are distant. It is only possible to build a structure upwards when the lines of a force close together, like building a pyramid, the strength depends on the support from the layer below. This is why Teilhard describes union as being directed from above:

    “In its radial nucleus, the world finds its shape and natural consistency by gravitating against the probable, toward a divine focal point of spirit that draws it forward. . .

    Something in the cosmos, therefore, escapes entropy – and does so more and more.”

    And further:

    “With love, as with every kind of energy, the lines of force must close together at each moment in a given existence. No ideal or virtual centre can ever be enough. For the noosphere to be actual and real, the centre must be actual and real. To be supremely attractive, Omega must be already supremely present.”

    Sunday, May 21, 2006

    Puzzling evening

    The title for this is rather deliberate. I am puzzled but only in the sense that the three things have been reading have no immediate relation to each other but I feel obliged to identify and reveal some startling and amazing connection.

    I finished the 'Oxford Murders' by Guillermo Martinez, a rather clever whodunnit by an Argentine mathematician. The idea is that a serial killer reveals a code to two friends who are forced into a bizarre game to try to predict the next murder. The book plays with the idea of how can mathematics understand chance, coincidence and meaning in life. It may not be a spectacular read but I can't help feeling that there is an underlying message - a sort of 'Da Vinci Code' conspiracy. On the front cover there is quite clearly a geometrical symbol which has no absolute bearing in the book. I assume the cover is the first murder and I was reading the book thinking when was the symbol going to be mentioned but it never was - puzzling.

    I then picked up 'Human Phenomenon'. I am making my way through fairly slowly, making notes. He spends almost half the book giving a detailed history of life on earth which is a fairly slow introduction to what I feel is the real purpose of the book - the origin of man and the start of reflection ie human thought. With the human being the species has not needed to specialise, it is adapted to the whole world and the uniting force has been thought.

    I have just reached the stage where he describes thought as the unifying force that brings life together. I don't like the term 'superhuman' but that is the term chosen to describe the phase where in the future human beings are able to unite in thought and to advance towards unity and a spiritual renewal. In the notes the translator gives a different translation which I find fascinating - 'the fundamental law of convergence is not only within ourselves but above ourselves'. I don't completely understand the significance of this but I think Teilhard is suggesting that when we unite, it will appear not only within our consciousness but outside or above ourselves. I still find this - puzzling.

    As chance would have it, I bought a new Borges book today. I started to read the preface of the other Borges book I have - which I thought in my ignorance that I didn't need to read (!). Andre Maurois is talking about the ideas that fascinate Borges and spark his imagination. Pascal wrote 'Nature is an infinite sphere whose centre is everywhere, whose circumference is nowhere', this is also reflected upon by Alain de Lille a 12th centure theologian who wrote 'God is an intelligent sphere whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere'. It seems to me that in some way this is also hinted upon by Teilhard, that we have an omega point but the alpha point is difficult to identify, that God is all in all. I can't give an explanation just at the moment but it is puzzling.

    Of course, perhaps the most interesting thing about tonight is that it is almost the first chance I have had to use my new desk. I now have converted the attic into a fairly good study area - and thanks to Isabel, it has been tidied and looks excellent!




    Monday, May 15, 2006

    What is life?

    Last week I attended the British Teilhard Association conference in London Colney and I am pleased to say that I have been appointed to the Executive Committee of the British Teilhard Association!

    The last few weeks have been so busy that I never really got the chance to update my blog. I found the following quotation written in one of my Peru notebooks:

    "Life, in fact, is not a partial, limited property of matter, analogous to some vibratory or molecular effect: it is rather a sort of inverse of everything that habitually serves us as a definition of matter." Human Energy p. 21

    Reading this it comes as no surprise that Teilhard has been a great source of inspiration for me.

    Sunday, April 23, 2006

    Sunny day!

    The first sunny day in ages and I am nowed under with study. I have to finish an assignment on upgrading a computer and designing a network and it is not working out that easy! I realised I have not posted any pictures in a while. Here is what I should be reading:

    (If you click on it you can almost read what I am reading!) Meanwhile my friend the african blue lizard is having a wonderful time just lazing at the window in the strong sunshine:

    OK so you the lizard is made out of blue beads, but still enjoying the sun. I also have to show you the new favourite item that I have. Isabel bought me this yesterday. It is a hand turned Yew handled magnifying glass. I can be a true nature detective now (you can also see my bookshelf again - contrast it now with 5/10/05):

    Friday, April 14, 2006

    Evolutionary progress

    Yesterday I had a few minutes to spare and I was reading an essay on Teilhard by Bernard Towers. It is funny how today after- 46 years after this was written that we are still having to face up to scientism reductionists who want to make man no more than an advanced ape:

    "We can no longer think of ourselves, as did some of Huxley's audiences in the nineteenth century, as no more than advanced apes with no more responsibility than befits an ape. That is evolutionary regress, not progress. Teilhard, however, is absolutely consistent in his interpretation of the nature of evolution. Further progress can only be through the personal sanctification of the species, personal because, as always, the evolutionary process must work actually work through individual members of the species."


    For some reason, even though I have been crazily busy these past few day I cannot stop thinking about this.

    Thursday, April 13, 2006

    Peterson and Updike

    I must admit that when it comes to so-called 'Christian' books I am not really that keen. There is something about Eugene Peterson, the fact that he has just published his own translation of the Bible - 'The Message' which I am attracted to and the idea that he is an academic and evangelical. I have bought his two books in his Spiritual Theology series and yes his style is too chummy and nicey-nicey at times so I only read it in little bits. Sometimes it is quite uplifting and interesting. Like this quote from Updike who is commenting on his love of Karl Barth's book 'The Word of God and the Word of Man', it inspires me. He is saying that when he read Barth he learnt:

    "that truth is holy, and truth-telling a noble and useful profession; that the reality around us is created and worth celebrating; that men and women are radically imperfect and radically valuable."

    (p.8 'Eat this book' by Eugene Peterson)

    Sunday, April 09, 2006

    Teilhard and Newman

    I was reading the introductin to Teilhard on the British Teilhard Association Page and I noticed that Teilhard was influenced by Newman's Essay on the Development of Doctrine. This is particularly interesting because it seems that two characters in history that I am interested in were linked and Teilhard was interested in Newman too. It may also be interesting to note that Teilhard was a Jesuit and Newman was accused of being involved in a secret Jesuit plot after the Oxford Movement finished. I am fairly sure there was a book published but I can't find any trace of it at the moment.

    I am still reading 'Loss and Gain' by Newman occassionally. It is a very refreshing and relaxing read. Newman is widely considered to be one of the finest non-fiction writers. I can't understand why it cannot be acknowledged that some of his fiction was rather good. I quite enjoy escaping to the world of an Oxford undergraduate in the 1830s debating church issues with friends and having quite innocent and light-hearted interactions with girls. He also seems to capture in the following passage that moment when you first realise that no matter how hard you try not everyone is right and somehow or other the only person who can decide who is right or wrong is yourself:

    "So Charles went on, painfully perplexed, yet out of this perplexity two convictions came upon him, the first of them painful too; that he could not take for gospel everything that was said, even by authorities of the place and divines of the name; and next, that his former amiable feeling of taking every one for what he was, was a dangerous one, leading with little difficulty to a sufferance of every sort of belief"

    Sunday, April 02, 2006

    there is a dust which settles on the heart

    Sorry this new post is a bit delayed, I am a bit busy at the moment, I only have until the end of April to finish my assignments and it is a terribly busy time!

    Just started to read a chapter on Richard Jefferies and was struck by one particular passage which I am sure you are all familiar with:

    " for there is a dust which settles on the heart as well as that which falls on a ledge. It is injurious to the mind as well as to the body to be always in one place and always surrounded by the same circumstances. A species of thick clothing slowly grows about the mind, the pores are choked, little habits become a part of existence, and by degrees the mind is inclosed in a husk. . .

    a long breath of the pure air of thought - could alone give health to the heart."

    Sunday, March 19, 2006

    Finished Saul and Patsy moving on to Gogol

    With the past 45 minutes I finished 'Saul and Patsy' and I am still feeling a little bit uncertain. It is a brilliant read, had me hooked to the very end but I am not sure if I am convinced about the ending but that is the luxury of all readers, we all want a book to end in a way that we would have liked.

    You'll need to read it to see if you agree with me :)

    I started to read 'Diary of a madman' by Gogol tonight. The story is about a clerk in the Russian civil service, the lowest of the low (know how that is) who falls in love with the daughter of the director. As if that isn't crazy enough, the clerk forms a relation with the dog that belongs to the daughter. They write letters to each other and the clerk is fuming because the dog writes non-stop about the other dogs she sees out the window and doesn't want to tell him about the daughter. Keeps me smiling.

    Sunday, March 12, 2006

    Saul and Patsy

    I recently started to read the new Charles Baxter book and it is unbelievably brilliant. Baxter is back to his eloquent best. Feast of Love may not have been his best and unfortunately his publishers choose that book to introduce him to the UK. Every single page of this book I love, it makes me soar. You escape, you fly into the relationship of these two lovers and their awkward relationship in a small town in the american mid-west. If I could I would quote huge segments from each page but I can't.

    The character Saul is convinced that the world is losing the ability to think and he stops his high flying career to become a history teacher. He is not satisfied with the current atmosphere of fear and prejudice in the USA and notably criticises the current president. A lot of people make a big deal about this, it doesn't affect me. He is simply living his life, we experience his frustrations, his joys and it carries me away, I feel that I am living their lives in my dreams. The writing uplifts me, it gives me joy.

    This is a small passage describing how they met after a dance performance of Patsy and Saul is describing to her how he appreciated the performance:

    "He had the piercing brown eyes of a repentant gangster, though he was gaunt in other respects, except for his thick peasant's hands. He was excited by the text ("self-incriminated language," he called it,"oxidising in your ear") and the sounds("lyrical aural insults, with no bottom to them"), but most of all it seemed he was excited by Patsy. "You were moving but you weren't moving," he said, "the words were moving your body," demonstrating that he had got it, that it hadn't slipped past him. "It was psychokinetic," he said, "and phonemic-kinetic," which was going a bit far. They were talking in the hallyway, Patsy holding her knapsack, the hour was getting late and then Saul blurted out, "I kept imagining what it would be like to be partnered with you," and then he blushed under his beard, self-astonished. Patsy smiled. So it would be like this, from now on? The blurting of truth in the wee hours?"

    I still haven't finished the book, I am looking forward to the rest of it!


    Wednesday, March 08, 2006

    B. S. Johnson was a genius

    One of the books I have wanted to buy and bought recently was 'Like a fiery elephant' the story of B. S. Johnson by Johnathan Coe. If anything so that Johnson can be explained to me. I love to read his novels but they are bizarre, experimental. To be honest I am really enjoying this biography. One passage quoted is from the end of 'Christy Malry's own double entry', this passage reflects his active view on the relationship between reader and writer:

    "'Yes, Christie you go on to the end,' I assured him, and myself went on: 'Surely no reader will wish me to invent anything further, surely he or she can extrapolate only too easily from what has gone before?'
    'If there is a reader,' said Christie. 'Most people won't read it.'
    'Politicians, policemen, some educators and many others treat "most people" as idiots.'
    'So writers may too?'"

    Sunday, March 05, 2006

    Short poem

    Here is a short poem I wrote, must post a pic of Clulow park:



    Billy Clulow Park


    One sunny morning I was angry

    Listening to jazz, I went to buy milk

    As I said I was angry

    Anger is pain

    It stops things moving

    My mind was stopped

    And consumed with a raging fire


    I thought to myself

    What would be the 70s reaction?

    What would Steve McQueen do?

    And as the snow melted

    And I kicked the mud

    I started to dance.


    All in Billy Clulow Park

    An old lady sat smoking and her dog stared at me

    Even the cat, my hated enemy received a friendly smile

    And I wished it would go

    But like pain

    It doesn’t do what it is told . . .


    Perhaps Steve McQueen would sort it out!



    by Rod White

    Saturday, March 04, 2006

    Science and Religion

    A few of you will know that I have an interest in the whole debate about science and religion, you might also know that I have a degree in geology, you might also know that I have an interest in Teilhard de Chardin who to me proposes quite a unique approach to science and religion.

    I have a particular problem at the moment with Richard Dawkins. Yes he is brilliant at talking about science. I appreciate that he was one of the first scientists to really populise and promote science. However he seems to have the idea that science is the answer to everything and therefore religion is superstitious nonsense. I find it particularly hurtful when he goes on TV and alleges that to be a scientist you also have to be an atheist. I have no problem with scientists talking about nature and evolution but when they start to say that God cannot be proven scientifically therefore we all must become atheists I am disgusted. Basically Dawkins has become a scientific fundamentalist. He has no idea what religion really is and proof of this is his statement that all evil that exists today is down to religion.

    Science to me is not a religion, it does not dictate what we should believe or how we should behave. It is scientists who blame politicians for 'forcing' them to invent the nuclear bomb. It is scientists who invent biological and chemical weapons because 'that is what they are paid to do'. Science should not have the right to tell people what to believe. Science explains what happens, it doesn't explain 'why' things happen.

    The picture above is a photo of sunset over Blackpool beach on New Years day 2006 (click on the picture and see if you can spot Isabel). It is only a representation, a 2D view of something that was 3D or even 4D. So when God wrote the Bible he had to present things things to us in a simplified manner. (See C. S. Lewis 'Transposition'.)

    Dawkins and many other scientists have gone on to insult Teilhard de Chardin. I have a particular interest in Teilhard. I find his work profound and beautiful, he is also quite difficult to understand. However there is no point in trying to say that Christianity and science can never be reconciled because of Teilhard. It is a complete misrepresentation for one thing, sure Teilhard may have said some strange things but there are many other people who have argued that science and religion are not in conflict.

    Galileo Galilei has long been advanced by science as the one who finally and completely removed the credibility of religion. Anyone who thinks this is the truth needs to read what Galileo actually said in his Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina:

    "the intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes."

    Watch this space for more information about Teilhard de Chardin.

    Sunday, February 26, 2006

    Sea Adventures

    Yesterday I was intrigued by a book - 'Sea Adventures' written by Henry De Monfried set in 1913. It seems to be a fascinating look at an attempt to set up a pearling industry on what is now known as the Farasan Islands in the Red Sea. It is quite interesting that only 93 years ago you had a completely different world with slaves, eunuchs and pirates, quite like one of these little bubbles of ancient civilisations that still exist today.

    The Farasan Islands are now one of the gems of the Red Sea, their coral reefs are amazing and I managed to find this picture of one of the beaches on these islands and it makes you think what life must have been like 93 years ago:



    The book starts:

    "The liner was six days out from Djibouti. The Mediterranean was greenish under a rainy sky, the wind was cold and penetrably damp, and the sun died by inches as we got farther from the Equator.
    I had been parked among a horde of Malagasys, who huddled together in sheltered corners, getting every day more morose, like sick beasts. I wondered what the poor devils would think of the mud and snow of the trenches."

    Somehow the writer seemed to escape the war by getting injured and being 'allowed' to travel to the Red Sea to start a pearling business. I'm not sure entirely how he did this but the picture above does seem preferable to the trenches.

    I found the following article about de Monfreid.

    Sounds like he lived a pretty interesting life (and I have quite a rare book!)

    Saturday, February 11, 2006

    Strange dream

    I want to tell you all about a very strange dream that I had. I was going through some of my old books. There is a certain bookcase in my Mums house that has all the books I had as a child. I found a book about Japanese poetry. I thought to myself ‘why did I never read this?’ As it turned out, the book was an electronic learning device. I had to insert different kinds of batteries into the back, I had all except one.

    Then on each page there was a poem with a number of lights. One light was lit – the sun. You had to press the buttons on the poem that you thought had the most beautiful lines and when you did this three lights would shine out of the page!

    Very strange. It was a very real dream too, I woke up thinking where is this book, I have to get it and go into town to get that battery.

    Typical of me to dream about a book, if anybody knows about this book, it would be good if you could tell me!

    Wednesday, February 01, 2006

    Non-being



    Join the spokes together to make a wheel. A wheel is full of openness ... non-being. But it is necessary.

    Spin wet clay to shape a cooking pot. A cooking pot is empty ... Full of non-being. But it is necessary.

    Work a saw to cut out door and windows. Door and windows are holes ... non-being. But they are necessary.

    To have being is good. But also it is necessary to have non-being ... nothingness.

    [The Way of Virtue]

    Saturday, January 28, 2006

    Kafka on the shore cont.

    I am still reading Kafka on the Shore and unfortunately it has slowed down. I feel the author just wants to slow down and confuse the reader for a while. Also he seems to want to shock the reader with showers of leeches and mackerel in Japan and characters meeting Johnnie Walker and Colonel Sanders. It is almost as if he is challenging me 'do you really want to read on?'

    The plot is still there, somewhere and I am still enjoying it. I am determined to read on and finish, I am also determined to try to make a list of books I want to read and stick to it.

    Can anyone tell me why Oshima drives a Mazda Miata, when Miata's are only produced in North America and are known as MX-5's in Japan?

    Divine 'condescension'

    Picked up a book yesterday on 'The Gospels and the Jesus of History'. Finding the real Jesus in the gospels is one of the mysteries that I am very interested in. Xavier Leon-Dufour makes an interesting case to point out that modern criticism has a very narrow approach to the gospels.

    One of the theories that has been proposed is that God had to be condescending to us. There is no way we could understand what he is trying to tell us and he conveyed his message to us in the Bible in a way that we could understand. He adopted our way of thinking in order to help us to understand.

    Leon-Dufour also make the same point as George Tyrrell that modern theorists have no right to completely rationalise the Bible. Those that take all the supernatural out of the Bible and doubt everything are simply 'looking down a deep well and seeing a reflection of themselves'.

    "If a man claims to have a truly critical mind, then he must not uncritically accept rationalism as an unquestionable dogma; far too many people have done so in the past, and this has paralysed their thinking as soon as they encounter religious facts for which there is no neat rationalist explanation" P.20


    It is also quite humourous to think of some grey haired scholar going to heaven and God telling him that the Bible was childrens stories. Just imagine!

    Mystery solved!


    My apologies to all those who got scared, I was simply playing with my new toy - a flying UFO which has lights and rotates.

    Sunday, January 15, 2006

    Kafka on the Shore


    I've been reading 'Kafka on the Shore' the new Murakami book over the past few weeks. This is the first fiction work of his I have read and I am finding it highly enjoyable. Whilst some magical realism leaves me totally confused this story has me obsessed. The secret is I can just about understand it. He hasn't made it completely unaccessible, at least, to a beginner. The story is in two halves, one part about a 15 year old runaway in Japan and the other about an old man - Nagata who speaks to and searches for cats.

    Up to now I am about a quarter way through and I love it. Each chapter is delightful, strange, intriguing, charming. I was quite surprised to see mixed reviews of the book on Amazon, I think other people who have read all his books find this one rather poor. I don't understand that. I didn't think I would enjoy it, books with two stories don't normally appeal to me.

    In this section, Kafka the runaway is discussing with his friend Oshima the reason he likes to listen to Schubert when he is driving. What he is talking about is why people are attracted to imprefection:

    "If the composition's imperfect, why would so many pianists try to master it?
    'Good question' Oshima says, and pauses as music fills in the silence 'I have no great explanation for it, but one thing I can say: works that have a certain imperfection to them have an appeal for that very reason - or at least they appeal to certain types of people. Just like you are attracted to Soseki's The Miner. There's something in it that draws you in, more than fully realised novels like Kokoro or Sanshiro. You discover something about that work that tugs at your heart - or maybe we should say that the work discovers you. Schubert's Sonata in D Major is like that."