Sunday, December 18, 2011

The way some people die

 The thing about Macdonald is that he writes elegantly and simply. Chandler will freak you out with his twists. Hammett will leave you in awe but Macdonald is the tops for noir.

This is from a Ross Macdonald novel. When this book was first published in 1951, I doubt if anyone realised the horrors of heroin. Here we have an addict describe to Archer the feeling of cold turkey and it sent a chill down my neck.

'How do you know, have you had it?'
'Then you don't know what you're talking about. It turns you inside out. I was down on the beach last night and every time a wave slapped the sand it hit me like an earthquake, the end of the world. I lay back and looked straight up and there wasn't any sky. Nothing but yellow specks in my eyes, and the black. It's funny, it felt as if I was falling into myself, I was hollow like a well and falling down me. She touched her stomach. 'It's funny I'm still alive. It was like dying.'

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Held within the love of God

This quote comes from an article discussing the essence of spirituality. Religion should not be seen as a 'tranquilizer' true religion offers a continual quest, a striving, a struggle:

"Yet it would be wrong to view the struggle as our struggle, our work, and wrong to view prayer in this way. All prayer is the work of the spirit, and the struggle is a sharing in his struggle. It is in fact the false tranquility which exhausts the spirit, for it involves a failure to accept the depths in us, and is a covering up of the cracks. True spirituality must begin by an acceptance of the self, but acceptance of the self as held within the love of God, within an active and powerful love which heals.
To be held is not to become passive and return to the womb, but to be torn apart and renewed. To be held is to remain within darkness and doubt, but no longer to see them as the enemies of faith, but as opportunities for faith to grow. The wilderness is the abode of snakes and demons, the place of faithlessness and fornication, the point at which doubt may become black despair. Yet it is in the wilderness that God reveals himself, and men begin to trun towards freedom."

From a letter to 'The Times' by Kenneth Leech, Chaplain of St Augustine's College, Canterbury. 3 August 1974

Read the entire letter here

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

André Malraux

"Art lives by reason of its function, which is to enable men to break free from their human condition, not by shirking it but by an act of possession. All art is a means to gain a hold on fate."

André Malraux

Joe's bad trip

Joe's bad trip

This is an article about the captain of the Exxon Valdez during its 1989 oil spill. Read this article carefully and at the end you will understand that decisions can't be made quickly.

Monday, November 14, 2011


In 'Catch 22' Yossarian is out to disrupt the educational sessions started by Clevinger. He doesn't have to work hard, after the first session (just imagine what the content was) when they ask if there are any questions they get the following:

Who is Spain?

Why is Hitler?

When is right?

Yossarian then asks 'Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear? referring to Snowden who had been killed recently. Headquarters come up with a cunning plan as follows, something that still has a familiar feel to it:

"Group Headquarters was alarmed, for there was no telling what people might find out once they felt free to ask whatever questions they wanted to. Colonel Cathcart sent Colonel Korn to stop it, and Colonel Korn's rule was a stroke of genius, Colonel Korn explained in his report to Colonel Cathcart. Under Colonel Korn's rule, the only people permitted to ask questions were those who never did. Soon the only people attending were those who never asked questions, and the sessions were discontinued altogether, since Clevinger, the corporal and Colonel Korn agreed that it was neither possible nor necessary to educate people who never questioned anything."

Friday, November 11, 2011


The last few weeks I have been reading about the history of the Spitfire. It was a rocky road to produce the legendary fighter and at times caused great difficulties. One thing I did not realise was that when Chamberlain negotiated with Hitler the stereotype view that I heard from school primarily and other areas was that this was a cowardly act and an act of disgrace. Whilst the book goes into great detail about the production difficulties of aircraft compared to Germany and how many viewed Chamberlain as achieving a master-stroke of diplomacy by giving us more time to get prepared before the war started.

There is an interesting episode in the Supermarine factory when they are trying to produce the first Spitfires there were incredible delays that nobody could understand. At one point there was 78 fuselages and only 3 wings. There were problems in that the fuselage that was produced at a different site did not match to the wings that were produced at Woolston. It was discovered as follows:

"It was traced to the state of the tide when the riveting and bolting up of the structure took place. The wing jigs had been erected on reclaimed ground on the side of the river and, in spite of the workshop having been built on massive piles, nevertheless there was minute movement of the floor between high and low tide."

Moon stops play!

See the following link for more information on spitfire's and follow the links on the page to the BBC history site for video's on Spitfires.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Friday, October 07, 2011


Download and read this story from '1001 nights'. It is brilliant!

The Barber

Monday, September 26, 2011

A thundering call to action

Tribute to Gaurav Gopalan

There is a worrying trend of an increase in attacks on the transgender community in Washington DC. This is an interesting case and I hope they do find the killer.


Believe it or not I am still making my way through 'Independence Day by Richard Ford. Frank Bascombe has a day to re-connect with his troubled son - Paul, and after a great deal of effort he finally starts to talk:

"You know the one thing you can do that's truly unique to you and that society can't effect in any way?" he says. "We learned this in camp."
"I guess not." People out here with us are starting to stray away.
"Sneeze. If you sneeze in some stupid-fuck way, or in a loud way that pisses people off in movies, they just have to go along with it. Nobody can say, 'Sneeze in a different way, asshole.'"
"Who told you that?"
"I don't remember."
"Does that seem unusual?"
"Yes." Gradually he lets his eyes come down from the ceiling but not to me. His finger quits excavating his ear. He is now uncomfortable for being unironic and a kid.
"Don't you think that's the way everything is when you get to be old? Everbody lets you do anything you want to. If they don't like it, they just don't show up anymore."
"Sounds great," Paul says, and actually smiles, as if such a world where people left you alone was an exhibit he'd like to see.

Anyway after thinking about primary substances for so long it seems amusing to me.

Aristotle - searching for Primary Substances

According to the 'Categories' by Aristotle the wonder of classification is found in analysing what makes us unique -and not what we have in common. Therefore describing man as an animal or vertebrate or DNA is fundamentally flawed because there are so many other 'men', vertebrates, things depending on DNA. 

So much study and knowledge today is concerned with reducing things to their smallest components when Aristotle saw that it is only as a whole that we can truly know something.

Anyway, still a little bit confused but the 'Categories' is well worth the effort to study.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

An Ode - Secundem Artem

There is a line in this poem by William Cowper:

"Clinking, like change of bells, in tingle tangle chime."

that has enchanted me, it reminds me of 'Mr Tambourine Man' and Beat poetry only it was written about 1760.

Read it here

Robert Crais

I have just finished reading 'Indigo Slam' and 'LA Requiem' by Robert Crais. Incredible writing,could not put the books down. There is an incredible experience in mystery writing where the narrator brings you to a point where all your expectations have been fulfilled and you look at the book and you are only about a third of the way through and you think to yourself - 'what else is there that can happen?' then he tips you up and you are on a rollercoaster of a ride. Chandler and Hammett could do it - so can Crais.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Heaven by George Herbert


O who will show me those delights on high?
                            Echo.         I.
Thou Echo, thou art mortall, all men know.
                            Echo.         No.
Wert thou not born among the trees and leaves?
                            Echo.         Leaves.
And are there any leaves, that still abide?
                            Echo.         Bide.
What leaves are they? impart the matter wholly.
                            Echo.         Holy.
Are holy leaves the Echo then of blisse?
                            Echo.         Yes.
Then tell me, what is that supreme delight?
                            Echo.         Light.
Light to the minde : what shall the will enjoy?
                            Echo.         Joy.
But are there cares and businesse with the pleasure?
                            Echo.         Leisure.
Light, joy, and leisure ; but shall they persever?
                            Echo.         Ever.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011


Normally I am quite keen on books about Vietnam, but this book is unfortunately a disappointment. I think it will make a better film than a book and without doubt a film will appear.

On the plus side the book shows that there are many issues that have not gone away, racial tensions, arrogant leaders, misunderstanding of the enemy. This book goes for the 'war is hell' angle, and it goes for it big style. It goes for it so hard, that I found the writer pompous and over-zealous. Part of me suspects that it could be a fake and that the author will reveal this at some point in the future with the aim of shocking the readers who are loving it. The writing style is incredibly bad, the irrational futility of war is over-played and then over-played even more. There must have been something good in it because I read all 600 pages of it but in parts it was dreadfully slow, with whole chapters of the characters preaching about the futility of war, religion, racial problems ...

I am willing to accept that it is possible that some vietnam vet who has got into religion has written this book as an act of 'confession is good for the soul' but I think I am being generous. 

I have no doubt the film version will be better but if anyone is contemplating reading it - don't believe the raving reviews, I think the reviews are fake, there is no way this could be better than Hemingway.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Moral Agency Quest 1

My dear friend Marmaduke is starting a series of lectures, you can find them at the above link. Worth a read!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Letters from Nabokov

In the June 13 New Yorker they have an article with some of the letters of Vladimir Nabokov, they are wonderful, a new book with previously unpublished letters is due to be published, translated by Olga Veronina and Brian Boyd with Dmitri Nabokov, look out for it!

On the next page there is an intriguing article by Salvatore Scibona about a college - St John's in Santa Fe, New Mexico where they read Aristotle and Copernicus, instead of textbooks, it sounds incredible and I wonder if he is being ironic.

Thursday, June 09, 2011



See this review and if you get the chance - watch the film.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Psalm 54

This is a translation by Joseph Gelineau 1953:

O God save me by your name;
by your power, uphold my cause,
O God, hear my prayer;
listen to the words of my mouth.

For proud men have risen against me,
ruthless men seek my life.
They have no regard for God.

But I have God for my help.
The Lord upholds my life.
Let the evil recoil upon my foes:
you who are faithful, destroy them.

I will sacrifice to you with willing heart
and praise your name for it is good:
for you have rescued me from all my distress
and my eyes have see the downfall of my foes.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Prague in winter

Prague in winter

You’re struggling with the wind the bells are silent the
city has built a snowman
On Petřin Hill where women aimlessly wander with
eyes of Snow White
The river flows as if someone were striking an anvil
Like a postal van with a mailbag burst open
The roofs like crows can’t move a wing
The whistle freezes like a bird like a stick of sugar-
The spires are haughty wearing their ballroom gloves
The night weeps while it decorates the Christmas tree
Instead of people all you see is puppets and rabbitskin
Instead of people all you see is hate frozen to foreheads
Lips from which bushes grow
Eyes with a purplish glare of arc-lights
Under lamps like ostrich eggs
Under lamps lined up like an army on ceremonial
An army of deaf-mutes
As if there were no point in speaking
As if there were nothing to say
As if Prague were lost in an alien universe

Vítězslav Nezval

Example: I’m not the best rapper or singer, but I convert people

Example I’m not the best rapper or singer, but I convert people

by Laura Davis

Friday, April 29, 2011

Las Vegas Noir, Eds Keene & Pierce, Akashic Books - A review

4**** out of 5

Sin city, underground writing, hard core no nonsense, this book hits the spot if you are a noir fan. Bringing things right up to date, all of the stories are good stuff, there is some fun stuff - like a story about the mob setting up a fake rabbi, some dark stuff, some 'even darker yet' stuff that scared me. All in all a good read.

I was disappointed in some of the stories - perhaps they are just not my taste but to me noir is hard-core crime, not a short story that features a gun. Overall there is a good variety of writers. As a man I like the old Chandler style stories but you will be pleased to hear that diversity has reached the crime fraternity and there are plenty of women writers.

I would like to mention Felicia Campbell, her story was unusual, cool and dark. That is one heck of a lady.

'Crip' by Preston L. Allen is one of the best short stories I have read. I have never been so impressed by a story. It has the most magnificent of themes - an ugly character redeemed.

Up until now I wouldn't have considered visiting Las Vegas - now I would consider it and I would like to travel through the desert. I have seen some weird things in the deserts of Peru, like a live pig strapped to the back of a motorcycle but I would love to go on a road trip to Las Vegas.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Creative Transformation

"Creation is not a periodic intrusion of the First Cause: it is an act co-extensive with the whole duration of the universe. God has been creating ever since the beginning of time, and, seen from within, his creation (even his initial creation?) takes the form of transformation. Participated being is not introduced in batches which are differentiated later as a result of a non-creative modification: God is continually breathing new life into us."

Teilhard, Paris, unpublished 1920.

If anyone is interested I can send them a copy of the essay associated with this quote - 4 pages in total.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Homicide Watch D.C.

I had no idea it was as bad as this in Washington D.C.

Homicide Watch

If you want to find out what it is really like then visit this website.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

An existentialist theology

Is it possible that Paul was more fundamentally existentialist - or Jesus even? Macquarrie has pointed out the similarities, they call for an end to tradition, a call to see the full potential of all men rather than the modern scientific view of seeing all human beings as intelligent but beastly. The modern world would be more sympathetic to the viewpoint that we should only aspire to be like animals - that we are 'nothing-more' than monkeys. It is inspiring to me that the existentialist thinkers of the 20th Century shared the viewpoint of Christian theology that we do not have to follow the world, we can have an authentic exististence. To follow the world and to simply accept that we should expect nothing better than what we have is something that the existentialists also dreaded. I find this refreshing because the media and the scientific establishment seem to be so keen to press on us that there is no meaning to life, that our existence is mechanistic and there are so few people willing to speak out against this.

Macquarrie points to the term of Heidegger - Jemeinigkeit - existence is always mine. To quote from p. 33:

"One cricket-ball is pretty much like another. They are all made to a standard pattern, and while there are no doubt minor differences, it is true to say that if we have seen one, we have seen them all. Things can be classified - indeed not only science but everyday life would be impossible were we unable to classify and expect that one object will behave in the same way as others in the same class. But man as existing is an individual and defies classification. This is a point on which existentialism does justice to the biblical understanding of men as individual creatures of the Father and sets itself in opposition to modern scientific humanism to regard the being of man as at bottom no different from the being of things, an therefore amenable to study by scientific methods."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Friday, March 25, 2011

Christos Tsiolkas

I have started to read 'The Slap' by Christos Tsoilkas and it is proving to be quite a good read. As an Australian, Tsiolkas seems determined to write in contrast to what he sees as 'dry / academic' european modern literature. Certainly, this book is a good read and I am sure it is well written. I have to admire Tsiolkas that he champions Updike's 'Couples' as an example of the best type of writing there could be.

The book has been described as 'soap-opera like' and it is certainly gripping, it reminds me at times of a film the it tries to bring in twists and turns. It also changes narrator each chaptor. Tsiolkas tries to say that writing needs to be more engaging - rather than escapist.

Isn't it ironic that on the back of my book, one of the reviews from the Daily Telegraph says 'The ideal summer read; escapist, funny and clever'!

I also heard this idea being proposed by Lionel Shriver, that we need books to engage rather than creating an escape. But by engaging, does that mean we are only allowed to read books about the current time, in our current location, if it does it is quite restrictive. What if I read a story about life in a Yugoslav army camp before the Serbian wars - is that escapist or engaging, what about a story about russia in the 1900s featuring a side story about time travel? Perhaps as long as the story is written recently.

I don't know but it there does seem to be a trend towards 'engaging' writing at the moment.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Appearance of truth

This is a short excerpt from 'Ring around the moon', a play by Jean Anouilh. I love this short conversation, it is relevant today even more:

ROMAINVILLE: For God's sake, she isn't my mistress! I assure you she isn't, not the least bit.
HUGO: Who's going to believe you?
ROMAINVILLE: Everybody - because it's true.
HUGO: That's no help. It doesn't seem likely.
ROMAINVILLE: So according to you the truth means nothing.
HUGO: Nothing, dear boy, if no one believes it.

It could be said today but even more, Philip Marlowe could have said it and it would have made perfect sense. The authorities in Japan know this (but probably regret not learning more about it) and I think a lot of people are still trying to learn what this really means.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Celebrate International Women's Day 2011 with three women poets

Sorry about the poor quality of these documents, contact me if you need a better copy:

Carole Satyamurti

Amanda Dalton

Polly Clark

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Anxiety of death

In 1952 Tillich wrote the following:

"It has been observed that anxiety of death increases with the increase of individualization and that people in collectivistic cultures are less open to this type of anxiety."

Makes me wonder the levels of fear in society at the moment.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Anders Bouvin

Anders Bouvin, Handelsbanken

 This profile found in the business section, is a fascinating look at the 'old-fashioned' way of banking that is making big moves and becoming more popular. Very interesting to read about a bank that goes against all the conventions of modern business and is doing very well. Part of the secret is identifying good people and training them well. I would suspect that if a UK bank tried to imitate them this would be the thing they would fail with.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Man was created in the image of God

I have been reading F.D. Maurice lately and he ismuch impressed by a sermon preached by Robert South in the Cathedral Church of St Paul, London, November 9, 1662. I must admit I am impressed by the 'rare eloquence' too.

Try this for a new perspective on Adam as the first philosopher:

"It was the privilege of Adam innocent to have these also firm and untainted; to carry his monitor in his bosom, his law in his heart, and to have such a conscience as might be its own casuist. And certainly those actions must needs be regular, where there is an identity between the Rule and the Faculty. His own mind taught him a due dependence on God, and chalked out to him the just proportion and measures of behaviour to his fellow-creatures. He had no Catechism but Creation, needed no study but Reflection; read no book but the volume of the world, and that, too, not for rules to work by, but for Objects to work upon. Reason was his Tutor, and first Principles his Magna Moralia."

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pearls are a nuisance

After reading a few Chandler novels I started to read Dashiell Hammett. I wasn't really convinced that Chandler was as good as Hammett. I discovered the above short story by Chandler and it is absolutely amazing. I can honestly say I have never read twists like this before.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Granta: Pakistan

I bought this with no idea what to expect. The first story by Nadeem Aslam was incredible. Pakistan is not somewhere I would have thought of as the location for the next literary fad. I would encourage everyone here to believe the hype.

New York (Gay) City Boy

Just finished reading 'City Boy' by Edmund White and it was a better read than I would have thought. White was part of the first generation to come out as gay in New York. Whilst I admire that, he does seem to be bitter about the prejudice that he faced in contrast to a previous generation of major literary characters (whom he names) who were gay but never revealed it.

I love reading about New York in the 70s, it was rough and cool, full of artists with wild times. I think he went overboard with the sexual detail. White mentions that Bob Dylan lived across the street from him but he never saw him and he didn't really like his music anyway. I don't think it is written as well as it could be, it is gossipy and reads as if he was discussing things over a glass of wine. It is full of famous characters from the New York literary scene and he obviously had a very exciting time. It is good to get a different view of the world every so often.

Whilst it does confirm my view that literary success depends on what friends you have, White did have a hard time getting his books published and I do have to admire that he stuck with it. It was quite lucky that Nabokov read his book and recommended him (even if he was never sure if Nabokov was joking or not!) He was even involved in writing 'The joy of gay sex', and openly admits that being published in whatever format, it helped him to get more published. 

I must admit I was surprised at how bitter he appears at his lack of success and the trouble he has had over the years. I would have thought that now that he seems to have a fairly good reputation he would have glossed over it. I'm not even sure if it does merit the position of a 'book of note' but for a while it was quite a good read.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

More by Mark Osborne

This passed me by in 1998 but it is wonderful and it fits in with my thinking on Marx and Engels (!)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Science and religion do not always disagree

Neuroscience and free will

This is a wonderful article, well thought-out and perhaps illustrating that there is more to the science-religion debate than the press would reveal to us. I have always suspected that as Clarke reveals there is more integrity and rigour within the religious side of the debate than the scientific and that the press are so biased towards the scientific that they will print anything as long as it is anti-religious.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Eric Hobsbawm, Michael Sandel, Nina Raine, Azzam Alwash 17 Jan 11

Start the Week 17 Jan 2011

I would recommend this programme on justice and fairness, discussing Marxism, Aristotle and ethical dilemmas.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Journey to the end of the night

I have started to read 'Journey to the end of the night' by Louis-Ferdinand Céline. A controversial classic, it starts in the carnage of World War I. The writer is disgusted with the waste of life and the futility of war. It is strongly written, gritty even. Although the writing is not perhaps as elegant or polished it is real and you are in turns disgraced and laughing, it is also humorous and I am enjoying reading it. At times you are left gasping at the harshness of the reality and then laughing on the next page.

On the battlefield he is sent out at night to search out how far the enemy has approached. He describes his heart as follows:
"My heart, a rabbit, warm in its little rib cage, fearful, cowering, bewildered."

Engels and Marx differ on morals

I have re-started 'The Frock-Coated Communist' by Tristram Hunt on the life of Engels and I have been emerged in the start of the communist league. A little bit before the start of communism we find Engels and Marx have a slight difference of opinion concerning Engels bringing his 'good time girls' to meetings with Marx in Brussels. 

Although it is hotly disputed, it is reported that marx and his wife would frown on Engels as he paraded a string of lovers. Hunt tries to make an issue of the fact that one of the world's greatest revolutionaries had moral issues with Engels. I think it is interesting but it was most probably the society they were involved in, Brussels was quite conservative compared to Paris.

Stephen Born was there in Brussels and reports:

"Among those present were Marx and his wife and Engels and his ... lady friend. The two couples were separated by a large room. When I approached Marx to greet him and his wife, he gave me a look and a meaningful smile that let me know that his wife strictly refused all contact with this ... lady friend. The noble woman was intransigent when it came to honouring mores. If anyone had the impertinence to demand of her that she make a concession in this regard, she would have refused indignantly."