Friday, December 14, 2007

Fat Geese

Yesterday, Eid was declared, also Arafat Day, thus everyone is girding their loins for battle at airports, in the stampede whereby two-thirds of the country decides they don't like it here any more and heads off to either find relatives or snow. Two more 'teaching' days to go and papers to mark, before the fairy lights and advertising penetrates my consciousness. Thereafter, I shall enjoy some peace and quiet - all hail the festive eve being celebrated without a fat goose this year. Applebee's has Far Eastern staff bedecked in Santa hats, just for the Americans, one supposes, but mercifully, the beery bonhomie so characteristic of the UK is conspicuous by its absence. I am delighted to report that I shall not be sending Xmas greetings this year, instead a SmileBox, perhaps. Watch this space. Or not, as you choose.

My beautiful car has suffered another black eye - this time at the hands of a dirty Mercedes-Benz which was damaged much worse than mine. Traffic in Shuwaikh resembles the retreat from Baghdad at the best of times, crossways being unpoliced and free of all inconvenient encumbrances to progress like traffic lights, thus the mentality is at best impatient - much cacophony with shouting and horns - and at worst, savage. Driving on the pavement is commonplace and, in some places, de rigueur. The body shop will replace my front bumper, unlike the Merc which will need a new wing and doors. That'll teach him to attempt to drive away...

Friday, December 07, 2007


Blogtrawling today I came up with small, bright nuggets which illuminated, sharpened perspective and made me realise that I had been skateboarding across the emotional surface for a while.

I have no idea who this man is, or the happy little guy with the new pair of socks, but I found it strangely heartwarming...

Edited from a blog by Bethany Gaddis, a young mother from Florida. "Wherever we are, our surroundings have an "understory." - references to the life unseen and often unacknowledged within the interstices of everyday events and images, like a tale of the riverbank, existing and thriving without our awareness but are crucial to the livelihood of our environment. " The phrase stuck with me, a metaphor for "The Wind in the Willows".

We all have an understory. There are things happening under the surface of our daily lives that go unseen, sometimes even by ourselves. Yet they are an integral part of who we are and how we interact with the "seen" parts of life. They surface, like underground streams, sometimes briefly, almost unnoticed. Yet, if we miss the light catching on the water, we impoverish ourselves.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

cogito ergo sum

I think there must be almost zero tolerance for "intellectual" discussion of any sort in the educational atmosphere here. It seems that such talk is perceived as toxic, unnecessary and, dare we say, downright dangerous to 'learning'. Consequently, there is a significant problem for anyone who seeks to move education away from its emphasis on classroom “techniques and tactics” and toward the “intellectual reasoning-through of important content.” What is more, “intellectuality” and its significance to learning and instruction cannot easily be understood, assessed or transmitted. There is a developmental process necessary here. To understand intellectual work, it is essential to understand reasoning as an intellectual process. To understand reasoning, in turn, it is essential to understand basic structures integral to it — for example, assumptions, inferences, and implications. Moreover, to understand these structures, it is essential to understand intellectual criteria crucial to the assessment of these structures in action. Finally, one understands all of this only by becoming intellectually disciplined oneself. This is not, of course, a matter of becoming an “intellectual” in some snobbish sense of the word. My students are only interested in 'passing'. The staging post is defined, theirs is not an interest in the process, or even the principle, merely the acquisition of the necessary piece of paper, thus for them the concept of "intellectuality" has no meaning. Except for the one or two, who are willing to peer through the gloom and catch a glimpse of something more exciting, abstract, beautiful, diffuse or unreal. Raise a glass - the smooth, the blushful Hippocrene, to them and listen with them for the song of the nightingale. It's been a particularly good year for Hippocrene.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Schnee Am Dubai

In the most pestilentially venomous, wretched and unpleasant environment I have ever been expected to endure, there are some compensations. Dubai is a short puddle jump away. Of course, there's not much wrong with Kuwait, apart from the appalling parenting, arrogant, ill-disciplined students, institutionalised racism and driving calculated to book passage across the Styx, with no time to pay the ferryman. This being said, the presence of a ski slope, boasting a black run (well, light grey, really) on a 400m hill, ambient internal temperature -2C, and real snow redressed the balance a little. Turning divinely as usual, I found myself singing on the lift, which was comforting. It stopped snowing long enough to take a picture, in fact there's a snowfall every two hours and the place is open all night. The last time I skied all night was in the UK after the dry slope suddenly got cut off by a foot of winter snowfall and all the instructors stayed. Here at least the local clods stay out of my way and like most Arabs disdain the need for proper instruction so they fall down the hill mostly, then whine about their equipment. Most of the instructors are Lebanese expats who are paid appallingly but are still happy to ski with a Brit.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Emotional Intelligence

Those who know me will universally agree behind my back that I might know a bit, but in terms of emotionally intelligent behaviour, I come a long way down the food chain. I am wondering therefore how such intelligence can be acquired. James Watson's unfortunate but widely publicised remarks about blackfellas being dumber than whitey, caused predictable outrage.

From the New York Times, October 19th.

"There is wide agreement among researchers on intelligence that genetic inheritance influences mental acuity, but there is also wide agreement that life experiences, even in the womb, exert a powerful influence on brain structure. Further, there is wide disagreement about what intelligence consists of and how — or even if — it can be measured in the abstract.

For example, in “The Mismeasure of Man,” Stephen Jay Gould, the evolutionary biologist, dismissed “the I.Q. industry” as little more than an effort by men of European descent to maintain their prominence in the world."

Oh. So that's all right then - a comforting thought, as long as you're white.

Does it matter, I wonder, that we get so bent out of shape if we discover somebody is cleverer than us? I have come across a number of my students over the years who, I have to admit, are just brighter than me. Perhaps we're hard-wired to compete in whatever arena we find ourselves, whether it be gladiatorial combat or speed in mental arithmetic. H'm. Doing well in pissing contests is an evolutionary imperative, I suppose.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Lunchtime Rediscovered

So, the austerities, goodwill, kindness of heart and suicidal driving so characteristic of Ramadan finished today. The Shawwal moon was sighted in Makkah, Saudi Arabia and most of the Arab Gulf states on Thursday and Eid-ul-Fitr will be celebrated on Friday.
Interestingly, scholars argue about first sightings elsewhere in the world, in Saudi they like to think that the cradle of Islam is the final arbiter on such weighty matters, unlike this:

some contend that.....we should follow Saudi Arabia. From the Shari’ah point of view, there is no evidence for this in the Qur’an and Sunnah. There is only the emotional argument put up by some that: Since Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam or it is where the Blessed Prophet image lived therefore it should be recognized as the prime decision maker in such important matters.Not a convert, then.
So, what to do if the sighting happens first somewhere else in the world? This was an image taken last year in North America, where ironically, cloud cover blurs the imams' judgements, and everyone is looking for the smudge seen at almost twelve o'clock in the picture. However, Oman did not report the sighting last night and Eid there will be celebrated on Saturday. Paradise postponed, it seems. They get an extra day of fasting thus let joy be unconfined. It's as if Christmas Day were put off for a bit and everybody watched the Queen on Boxing Day instead. Today, the malls were crowded, everyone smoking ostentatiously and eating muffins in Starbuck's. If caught during the Holy Month doing sinful stuff like eating an apple in public, arrest may follow, and sometimes does. One spends the rest of the fast behind bars, presumably following the rules and not eating anything, especially apples, until after sunset. Eid Mubarak!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Stones in the Road

Yerushalayim.....I learned today from a CNN RSS feed that stones quarried for the Herodian Temple have been discovered. The source of the huge stones used 2,000 years ago to reconstruct the compound in Jerusalem's Old City was discovered on the site of a proposed school in a Jerusalem suburb. Today, the compound Herod renovated using slave labour houses the most explosive religious site in the Land, known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims. I read once that there are more cameras per square metre there than anywhere else on the planet. The Wall, with the mighty stones, prayers jammed by the faithful in its interstices, is a quiet place some of the time where people can simply come and soak up the atmosphere. I did, often, living only five minutes away. The Al-Aqsa and Dome over the hill is forbidding, almost austere by comparison - like visiting a foreign country where one is not quite welcome, despite Palestinian boys playing football (how very irreverent of them) under its shadow. And, someone please tell me, why has the Al-Aqsa had scaffolding up since God's dog was a puppy and there seems no evidence at all of construction. How very strange.
It's quite ironic, really, since Ehud Olmert has been investigated concerning alleged irregularities related to building purchases. The investigation is to clarify suspicions of criminal action after a complaint was filed saying Olmert received a significant reduction in the price in return for expediting building permits. I really can't imagine Herod having the same problems. The image shows an Orthodox Jew walking the quarry where a tool used to split the ancient limestone was found. How very appropriate.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Beautiful. Forty years old and almost no design changes. I'm thinking of getting one, as a reward to myself.
Life tends to eddy backwards and forwards, sometimes Unlike tidal predictability, the shifts and harmonics act more as a resonator, facilitating increased momentum. Found myself breaking a silence or two recently, the kind with skeletal fingers that brush so lightly against the fabric of the soul that one forgets that they are there. Just a word in the right quarter unblocks the ship from the ice, allowing some forward movement.
Those who know me are well used to me stumbling around in the half-light most of the time. It's quite a triumph when two or three steps work together.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Good, the Bad and the Psychopathically Deranged

The British Press is always up for a good one. Especially when the TLO (tight-lipped one) is drawlin' Texan outta the corner of his mouth and threatening to commit billions more of the USA's defence budget into pushing president Ahmadinejad's nuclear cocktail cabinet - were he to possess one - a little further away from Jerusalem. This from the Telegraph: -

Senior officials believe Mr Bush's inner circle has decided he does not want to leave office without first ensuring that Iran is not capable of developing a nuclear weapon.

I do rather wonder how this might be achieved. He could of course rattle his sabre some more. If push came to shove, however, would the Rices and Rumsfeld's carry enough political clout to take Capitol Hill into a wildly unpredictable thunderstorm where an entire Islamic brotherhood from Saudi to Somalia might decide to pitch in? H'm.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Great Divorce

Blake wrote of the marriage of Heaven and Hell, C S Lewis wrote of its divorce. The brouhaha over the ordination of gays to the bishopric (no pun intended) is set to fragment what George Carey once called a 'big, happy family' - the Anglican communion. Seventeen million Nigerians and the view of their Archbishop is a force to be reckoned with, and they, together with their brethren in Uganda, conservatives all, are set to give poor old ++Rowan a rough ride in the next little while. His only response so far has been to affirm in 2005 that 'any lasting solution...will require people to admit that they were wrong'... Those of you who know me will recall that gentlemen - or indeed ladies - dressed in expensive flummery who are required to hold their hands in particular, sacramentally appropriate ways while dispensing bread and wine excite mild curiosity but little by way of transcendent joy. Similarly, despite my robustly nonconformist background, their evangelical counterparts hold little fascination, except for admiration for a faith which is transparently naive. Few would go quite as far as the gay Bishop of New Hampshire, upon whose saintly head much outrage has descended, when he suggested that Jesus might himself have been homosexual. Deconstructionist spin. Worked for Tony Blair.
A lady priest I know has no objection to gay priests - quite the reverse - reasons given, inter alia, is that they are often pastorally more adept and emotionally intelligent than their straight counterparts. At great depth, in the dungeon of my own soul, where the elevator descends no further, something murky rises against such thinking, although for the life of me I cannot reasonably fault it. The enlightened condescension of the mature thinker who has long since left all such superstition behind, where shadows blur comfortably, leaving few sharp edges, is both enviable and quietly disturbing. I think I must be showing my age. The image is Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin's interpretation, the Tom of Finland lookalikes give the game away nicely.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Ethics, Lies and Harry Potter

Came across this the other day....

"The persistent quest [to find] a non-violent Islamist lies at the origin of the invention of a 'moderate' Islamism. This attitude can be explained by the fearful refusal to confront Islamism, in its global and bellicose reality. The authorities always start out by fighting while in retreat, trying to disarm Islamism by promoting [its] purportedly 'moderate' spokesmen.

The notion that militancy is fuelled by the poor, indigent, hungry and downtrodden may not have exclusive basis in reality. Listening to the imam across the road from me giving it large in Friday prayers, even without a translation to worshippers so large in number that they congregate in the street outside seems indicative. Recent revelation that the educated, articulate and well-travelled have also put their hands to the plow should really come as no surprise. Al-Qaeda's #2 is medically trained, apparently.

From a spokesman in Algeria, earlier this month."…The Western countries are currently reaping [in these terrorists] what they sowed when they flung their doors open wide to every malevolent fundamentalist and failed in putting in place a mechanism for managing and controlling immigration in an appropriate manner…"
I'd dearly love to defend democracy, glasnost, Tony Benn or whomever. But, as Enoch Powell might have said, the Tiber, it seems, has indeed begun to foam with blood. Reading the final Harry Potter asks a similar question...why were the Death Eaters not properly contained before they were able to gain so much momentum? The parallel between Voldemort and OBL struck me as curious. But.. GWB as the Minister for Magic? Oh, no. Veritaserum. Let the truth be told.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

A Case of Identity

"My dear fellow," said Sherlock Holmes as we sat on either side of the fire in his lodgings at Baker Street, "life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent."
This being the opening sentence from Conan Doyle's third SH story about a father masquerading as a short-sighted suitor to deceive his daughter. Which led me to a few idle thoughts about identity and the wearing of badges which are, it seems, some kind of validation of it. I could bang on about hijabs or barcodes bearing 666 in binary at this point, but others have been there before, so, no.
I myself am contractually obliged to drape an unflattering, laminated photograph plus emblematic logo around my neck to proclaim my identity to anyone curious enough to peer at it. The children I teach do not, yet for security reasons they are the very ones whose identities should be known with more accuracy than mine.

The very act of donning such a tag is a signal of submission. Not of mutual commitment to public safety. To the sceptical, why does no one with actual power wear one? Which chief executive has one on over their suit. In a university, does the chancellor wear one? Hold your breath until the next time Obama appears at a press conference with one on. Of course, the reporters, lower in the food chain, will have them. ID badges, whatever their ostensible purpose, have the effect of segregating those whose dignity is deemed important from those whose is not.
There perhaps exist circumstances in which immediate identification of an unknown person's affiliation outweighs such concerns: in a nuclear weapons facility, perhaps. Or a school playground. Otherwise, do I really wish to know that my waiter's name is Omar? I hardly think we're gonna exchange Christmas greetings.

The image is of king penguins in the Falklands, recently making a comeback. Startlingly similar, there's not an identity tag in sight.

Friday, June 01, 2007

June the First and other incoherencies

No, it's not the Queen of the ancient Sahelian kingdom of Burkina Faso. I only know one person, fortunately, called June and only two called May. It surprised me to learn that there are over nine hundred and twenty-four million Internet possibilities for June the First, however. One wonders what can rivet people so consistently. It seems that a good deal happened in the past on this day, including the birth of Marilyn Monroe, Brigham Young and John Masefield. If any reader knows of any convergences between these three, do let me know....
I am also advised that it's also the first day of National Accordion Awareness Month. How can one not be aware of an accordion? It makes a cacophonous racket and is usually played by fat men with halitosis.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Islam Beheaded

Jerry Falwell, the presidential kingmaker, died recently, his legacy being to raise the profile of the Christian Right with the influence of its large voting bloc in US politics. Jerry put his foot in it more than once, inter alia referring unkindly to Muhammad as a 'terrorist'. It might be argued that he only did for Christianity what many radical imams do for Islam every Friday in London mosques.

Falwell's disastrous legacy does not lie only in American politics. He, like many of his evangelical brethren, took an aggressive and inhospitable view of religions other than Christianity. As a Muslim, I was well aware of his characterizations of Islam, and how they served to divide and set people at odds with one another, rather than to encourage peace and harmonious relationships. His belligerent stance against other religions only facilitates stereotyping and arrogance, both of which enable the kind of ongoing conflict and warfare we see today between America and various Muslim countries.

Clearly, this isn't mine. It is from here

Even a cursory reading of the Quran, which increasing numbers of Westerners have done since 9/11 suggests the concept of Ms Taylor's Muslims for Progressive Values is is a wee bit disingenuous, even oxymoronic. Muslims don't do progressive since doublethink is a prevailing mindset within Islam and its nominal proponents seek to reconcile its barbaric beginnings with appropriately 21st century human rights. There is a chink in the armour, however. Islam dragged its feet when mass printing became available; they continue to do so in the era of Internet communications. In the propaganda war, Islam will lose out ideologically since it is losing the race against time. That’s why Muslims work so hard to curb freedom of religious speech and any “mockery” or even rational criticism targeting Islam in infidel countries. Will Muslims bomb away freedom of speech in the West before we attempt to detonate this unexploded bomb underneath Islam’s feet? Every time there is a terrorist attack, we respond by increasing the volume of criticism of Islam in circulation on the Internet. Some would claim that this isn’t our fight. Yeah. Right. Ernest Renan, the influential French thinker and almost-priest, scourge of both Catholicism and Islam, has said that if there ever was something like a Reformation in the Islamic world, the West should gracefully stay out of it. However, he lived in the 19th century and could not have imagined that we would be naive enough to let millions of Muslims settle in major Western cities. We are implicated now, whether we want to be or not. We are no longer just 'fighting' against Islam but for our own freedom of speech, and thus democracy itself, which some might assert is worth fighting for. Maybe we can't slay the dragon, but we can almost certainly help the people who can.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Pellets and Aubergines

Dear, oh dear. The Holy Father is getting a bit precious about South America, it seems, and an 18th Century friar, Antonio Galvao, has become the first Brazilian-born saint. Slam dunk for the Catholics, but they're still well behind on points to the Evangelicals.At a monastery in Sao Paulo, followers of Friar Galvao still use a "miracle cure" on which his reputation rests.

Here's the deal. The cure comprises tiny paper pellets inscribed with Latin prayers that the faithful swallow whole in the belief that it can rid them of ailments. One wonders what exactly was written in the miraculous vulgate that precipitated an untwisted Fallopian tube, hence the birth of a boy, attributed to Fr Galvao's techniques. Also, does mastication invalidate the prescription? Two miracles minimum gets you into the sainthood club. Fascinating. A very superficial trawl reveals that the age of miracles is by no means dead, they sprout and flourish everywhere, in manifold guises and belief systems.

Now, a little interfaith dialogue. In 1996, the home of Salim and Ruksana Patel, in Bolton, was inundated with about fifty visitors a day, coming to see their miraculous aubergine. Mrs Patel foresaw the miracle in a dream after she'd bought the aubergine from their local shop. On slicing the vegetable in half, she saw that the seeds were formed in the Muslim symbol "Ya-Allah", meaning Allah exists. Mr Patel said: "I felt so excited I ran round to the priest and he confirmed that it was indeed a miracle." Abdulla Patel, priest of the local Masjide-Gosia mosque, said: "In all my years as a priest, I have never witnessed anything like this. It is wonderful for the community, and for Salim ..." When the aubergine had been displayed for several weeks in the mosque it was divided into small pieces and shared among the faithful.

Ah. Excellent. No surprises there, then......Fr Galvao died in 1822.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Soomer is icomen in

Is a traditional English round, dating from the mid 13th century and is possibly the oldest such example of six part polyphony. It is sometimes known as the Reading Rota because the manuscript comes from Reading Abbey. The spelling is transliterated from a Wessex dialect. Interesting. Thanks, Wiki.
My Gaelic blood stirs at this time of the year. The Feast of Bealtaine, when the herds were driven to the summer pastures and various festive Celtic practices observed, falls, it would seem, today.
In the past, particularly in central Ireland, great bonfires would mark a time of purification and transition, heralding in the season in the hope of a good harvest later in the year, and were accompanied with ritual acts to protect the people from harm.
Beltane was considered to be the beginning of summer. So, welcome to halfway house, between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice.
No, I am not slipping into my woad-clad polytheistic dotage. Summer here is just beginning, a sleeping giant is being slowly awoken and the fires are being stoked. Today was 42 degrees Celsius in the shade and we're hardly getting started yet. At full snarl, the malevolence gets to a punishing over 50, exposure to which dehydrates with astonishing speed. My new car has front and rear air conditioning, which provides essential refrigeration during the summer months . I thought you might like to see a picture of it.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Cultural flux

Fascinating. The Daily Mail tells us that 'reasonable force' is back in British schools. The Holocaust and the Crusades are out. We are again in a 'state of flux', shall we say.

Marvellous, innit. ''You can't confiscate me mobile cuz it infringes me civil rights to peaceful ownership" and "I don't get to learn about wholesale massacre on the grounds of religion 'cause the Muslims are told it didn't happen, innit." Don't get to learn about the Crusades either, 'cause the imams tell 'em all different stuff to what we learn about."

We might remember what the Daily Mail said about Jews fleeing from Nazi Germany “The way stateless Jews from Germany are pouring in from every port of this country is becoming an outrage..... the number of aliens entering the country through back doors is ­ a problem to which the Daily Mail has repeatedly pointed” Daily Mail, 20 August 1938.

Or, going back further “They fought, they jostled to the foremost places at the gangways.. ...When the Relief Committee passed by they hid their gold and fawned and whined in broken English asked for money for their train fare.” Daily Mail, February 3rd, writing about Jewish immigrants in 1900.

H'm....The image is of a medieval birch, used for chastisement.

Beetlejuice and God

I seem to have found myself enmired in apologetics recently. Does God exist and would he prefer Coke to Pepsi? Nothing wrong with that. A more esoteric chain of reasoning crossed my path recently. Betelgeuse, in Orion, whose name is derived from the Arabic for "Ibt al Jauzah" (the Armpit of the Central One) is one of the brightest M-type stars in Earth's night sky, yet having a density approaching that of a vacuum, hence being nothing more than a cloud of nebular dust. Why then does it glow so brightly? Some allege that 'it's God', perhaps not realising that the thing has a maximum radius the size of the orbit of Neptune. Thus, not much stuff per cubic metre but a shedload of cubic metres, making up to 17 solar masses' worth, hence lots of stuff and able to burn. Some apologetics is like that. Short on information, long on flawed reasoning. I was going to include an image, but the prettier ones were just concentric orbits of orange and yellow,rather like a streetlamp in thick fog, plus a scale, so I thought it better to leave a massive amount of not much to your imagination.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Towards Understanding

Pessah again. JP informs me that we celebrate, if that's the right word, two Pessah anniversaries from 64 years ago- the discovery of LSD's potency by Dr. Albert Hofmann, and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The true meaning of the Pessah Holy Day, Zman herutenu, is "the Season of {our} Liberation." The former is an archetype of the liberation of the psyche, the latter a real, hard struggle for liberation against flesh and blood oppressors.
A Jewish commentator writes:

The first accidental absorption of lysergic acid diethylamide-25, and then, three days later, the first conscious ingestion of a minute quantity (250 micrograms) of this chemically synthesized psychoactive substance, have had, through its subsequent manufacture and distribution, a transformative psychological, social and cultural influence on the world.

Not all users experience the same effect. For some, it has been a spell-binding journey of kaleidoscopic colours and spiritual exultation, while for others it has been a visit to an abyssal of despair and depression. The human psyche is a delicate mechanism, an arena where powerful internal forces strive for dominance and control, conceptually little different from the paradigm of dominance represented by Nazi Germany. The uprising, although unsuccessful, punctured the myth of Aryan invulnerability and changed the course of the war.

Aldous Huxley described one function of the brain as a filter, one which consistently screens input and prevents overload. Chemical imbalance causes a shifting, or, in kabbalistic terms, an excess of light for the strength of the vessel, a crisis which can cause a shvirat hakeilim, or shattering. Rather different to me getting smashed to see the colours all those years ago. The brain imports 100kbits per second of processable information, of which less than one twenty-thousandth is conscious or sentient in the form of concept, image or feeling. Chemical stimulation lifts the sensory barrier, resulting in a tsunami of new information, opening the doors of perception wider. William Blake wrote, "When the doors of perception are cleansed, everything will appear as it is, infinite." Struggle widens perception, it would seem.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Seamus and me

I share Heaney's inner tensions sometimes. At the heart of his poetry is the conflict between speech and silence. His father was exceptionally taciturn, his mother, well, rather voluble.

Both standpoints can be justified. A man's 'yea' being 'yea' is the archetype of silent strength, whereas women, proficient at multitasking, can effortlessly mend, clean, organise and set the nation to rights, additionally complaining about male monocular vision which of course is no longer necessary for food provision.

Thank God we can navigate better than they can.

From "Personal Helicon" by Seamus Heaney:

Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,

To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring

Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme

To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.

Marvellously wordless, after all....

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Days of Wine and Roses...not

"Footfalls echo in the memory, down the passage which we did not take, towards the door we never opened into the rose-garden."
T. S. Eliot

Shamelessly plagiarised this evening from another blog not a million miles from this one, my rose garden seems thornier than usual. After a fraught and difficult day, I almost had my (very early) dinner thrown away and... a new DVD has a virus. H'm.
Why are those around one allowed to insult and demean with impunity, but when their own tactic is returned to them, worlds implode?

As a later addition, implosion postponed, I think, but the detonator is touch-sensitive.

Whoever was kind enough to remind me of this

כִּי אָנֹכִי יָדַעְתִּי אֶתהַמַּחֲשָׁבֹת, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי חֹשֵׁב עֲלֵיכֶםנְאֻםיְהוָה מַחְשְׁבוֹת שָׁלוֹם וְלֹא
לְרָעָה, לָתֵת לָכֶם אַחֲרִית וְתִקְוָה

..has my thanks.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Secrets and Half-Truths

Having little to find to amuse this evening, I found myself doing a little aimless blogtrawling. Amazing what one comes up with. Sandwiched between a collection of stories from around the world on Islam and pan-Arabic affairs and a quite delicious morsel on hair care, I came across a beautifully wide-eyed, almost believable little entry about Rhonda Byrne's "The Secret". A little further investigation revealed a huge infrastructure of Web entries, much like discovering vast numbers of paramecia under a slide of apparently clear pondwater.

Rhonda defines The Secret as the law of attraction, which is the principle that "like attracts like." Rhonda calls it "the most powerful law in the universe," and says it is working all the time.

H'm. It might be stranger if it suspended activities for a while. What if gravity took a lunch break? And how come positive charges seem to dislike each other's proximity?
Or, the strong nuclear force's muscles got tired?

"What we do is we attract into our lives the things we want, and that is based on what we're thinking and feeling,"

When I was little, I was taught that "I want doesn't get." A homespun principle, teaching the quite novel life skill of unselfishness. Most unfashionable.

Rhonda says - "The principle explains that we create our own circumstances by the choices we make in life. And the choices we make are fuelled by our thoughts—which means our thoughts are the most powerful things we have here on earth." Die gedanken sind frei. Oh goody. I shall begin visualising beaches in Fiji immediately. The hype is spectacularly massive, as are the inventive methods people are choosing to exploit this hitherto unknown principle, invariably at the expense of others. The whole thing makes me tired.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Awe Exchange

Discovered a rare nugget - thanks Ben - in the form of a website devoted to the teachings of 'the Rebbe' a 19th century Jewish mystic, almost a Kabbalist.

Just to brighten everyone's day, a few morsels to ponder...

"Develop your awe of heaven and you will diminish your fear of everyone else's opinion."

The grandeur of the morning overshadows small nocturnal fears, something I get to see every day as I watch the sunrise over the Arabian Gulf. Small ambitions are thus easier to abandon.

"The human being is a composite of body and soul. Consequently, all our affairs and activities likewise contain elements of both body and soul-the material and the spiritual. One's mundane and routine activities are generally motivated by material and physical gain. Yet the "soul" within all these mundane affairs calls out for recognition-for the infusion of these ordinary affairs with an awareness of greater objectives and a higher purpose."

Quite easy to forget when a class is close to riot and the AC has stopped working.

"Each one of us is a microcosm of all Creation. The achievement of harmony between one's soul and one's material life, is the achievement of harmony between the heaven and earth."

Something of St John of the Cross here, I think. The idea that the soul must empty itself of self in order to be filled with God is the eternal human paradox, against which we kick and snarl.

I really must get out more..

Monday, March 12, 2007

Happy Purim - better late than never

"But when the plot came to the king's attention, he issued written orders that the evil scheme Haman had devised against the Jews should come back onto his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows." Esther 9:25

That’s what happens to bad Amalekites….
The Jews speak of a situation being described as A Purim Story It means a mad, disconnected series of events that do not seem to make sense, but in the end, all seems to work out just fine.
Purim is an ancient story of court intrigue, deception, miscommunication, drunken parties, assassination plots, a foolish king, a delinquent queen, villains, a strong hero and one beautiful heroine. A bit like a Middle Eastern Macbeth. Except for the happy ending.
For one little holiday, Purim’s 24 – hour carnival – like shenanigans certainly has it all. Given that the story involves the selection of a new queen after Vashti’s petulant non-appearance, we might suppose it to be the forerunner of the beauty contest. Purim is an occasion on which a bit of bad behaviour is permitted even within the walls of the synagogue itself. For example, during the public service in many congregations, when the reader of the Megillah mentions Haman , there is hissing, stamping, and rattling, a hangover from the 13th century. Purim is also a time for other unusual goings-on. For example, many congregations will read the prayers in ways that would be considered sacrilegious on any other occasion during the year - for example, singing some prayers to the tune of widely-known songs, like singing the Lord's Prayer to the tune of "Colonel Bogey". Outside the synagogue, Purim pranks dating from the Talmudic period seem commonplace. As early as the fifth century it was a custom to burn Haman in effigy on Purim, rather like on November 5th, when Guy Fawkes gets burned every year for having the temerity to attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

It seems it might even be a mitzvah to consume alcohol on Purim...Oh, dear......

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Apocalypse whenever....

It's really going to be interesting. The American Christians deciding who they want this time. GWB, for all his faults and, God knows, they are on sufficiently public display to be quite noticeable, has by and large, soothed the lions of the Christian Right, who have turned to tougher meat. Pat Robertson, whom I have been looking at recently, is on record as suggesting that assassination of that Amalekite President of Argentina might be quite an idea, and, much as George Fox denounced the citizenry of Lichfield, has suggested Divine retribution will surely fall on a small town called Dover for allowing the teaching of intelligent design in its schools. He and his '700 Club' TV show seem universally popular. H'm. But, what price next time? The Democrats must surely win the prayer battle. Hillary C is a Methodist, nice girl from Park Ridge, Illinois, sensibly flat-shod and balanced, so the idea of her leading the meeting isn't quite as remote a possibility as Rudy Giuliani inviting an altar call. Catholic guilt and freedom of worship are uneasy bedfellows. It remains to be seen whether the Bible belt will get behind the girl, or not. My guess is, they just might.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Celestial teapots

In The New Republic
last October, Thomas Nagel, a philosopher who calls himself “as much an outsider to religion” as Mr. Dawkins, extracts a quite cogent little nugget from the two-fingers-up-at-religion school of baloney, pointing out that what was meant by God was not, as Mr. Dawkins’s argument seemed to assume, “a complex physical inhabitant of the natural world.” instead, a la RD, “as some kind of chap, however supersized.”

Nor was belief in God analogous to belief in a Celestial Teapot, an example Mr. Dawkins borrowed from Bertrand Russell. If this insistence on theology beyond the level of Pat Robertson and biblical literalism was not enough, several reviewers banged on enthusiastically about double standards. One compared Mr. Dawkins’s volubility about religion’s vast wrongs with his silence “on the horrors that science and technology have wreaked on humanity” and the good that religion has produced. He writes:

“In a book of almost 400 pages, he can scarcely bring himself to concede that a single human benefit has flowed from religious faith, a view which is as a priori improbable as it is empirically false. The countless millions who have devoted their lives selflessly to the service of others in the name of Christ or Buddha or Allah are wiped from human history — and this by a self-appointed crusader against bigotry.” H'm. More good than harm, perhaps?

Another wrote: “No decent person can fail to be appalled by the sins committed in the name of religion,” but atheism has to be held to the same standard: “Dawkins has a difficult time facing up to the dual fact that (1) the 20th century was an experiment in secularism; and (2) the result was secular evil, an evil that, if anything, was more spectacularly virulent than that which came before.” Communism as a social disease, Nazi extermination camps, inter alia. Dawkins is not an amiable agnostic. It almost seems as if he is desperate to believe, perhaps standing, like Dostoyevsky, on the ladder just one rung below belief.

We might ask a more linear question: does 'rational' mean ' scientific'? “The fear of religion leads too many scientifically minded atheists to cling to a defensive, world-flattening reductionism." writes another. In other words, tediously grey thinking.

It's surely becoming clearer that emotional intelligence is as valuable if not more so in the survival struggle than academic attainments. We have more than one formula for understanding, a distinction made in Scripture by the separate use of both 'wisdom' and 'knowledge'. The great achievements of physical science do not make it capable of encompassing everything, from mathematics to ethics to the experiences of a living animal. We still don't know if a horse can sympathise with a rat, for example. Surely we have no reason to dismiss moral reasoning, introspection or conceptual analysis as ways of uncovering the truth just because they aren't 'physics'.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Arrows of Jihad

This is probably gonna turn out to be quite a gloomy entry. Why is the West targeted, as well as inoffensive honeymoon spots such as Sharm-el-Sheikh? Is it because of our perceived status - 'who we are' in other words? Or, is it 'what we do?'
Who we are is perceived as a decadent, morally flabby, burnt-out ember of postmodern Christian civilisation, having prostituted its values to globalisation, consumerism and intellectual bankruptcy. What we do is create oases of our own flavour of democracy, allegedly impregnable financial bastions, and offer support to those threatened with extinction because of the crusading zeal and phenomenally rapid growth of militant Islam. Who would have believed, for example, that it would take only six decades for a president of a member state of the United Nations to call for the destruction of Israel, label the Holocaust a myth, and host a revisionist conference of Holocaust deniers, without apparently, any consequences apart from small diplomatic finger waggings. This, from a nation prepared to cock a snook at the UN and blithely stampede ahead with uranium enrichment.
No. It's even less subtle. Jihadism promises extravagant, hedonistic reward in the next life, with scant regard as to how its proponents get there. Against such, there is no rational defence. In the short term, we may expect that internecine feuding between major protagonists (witness events in Gaza, Baghdad and elsewhere) might slow the process down, but it seems unlikely that all will be kissy-poo between the People of the Book for a very long time to come.
The image is of the sky over Yad Vashem, just in case we might be tempted to forget....

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Ah, the blessed Mary... Mary Black, of course, the queen of Ireland. Once saw her live and all my Celtic blood rose to the surface, since I was surrounded by English men who were unaware of her inner strength and wouldn't know how to spell Uileann much less appreciate their haunting beauty. I really mustn't listen to Liam O'Flynn or Christy Moore too much, I can almost smell the peat and the wild west coast's Atlantic spray....
This was, I think, taken during a tour in 2003. She seems to go down well in Holland, also Japan, which seems unusual. I think I must have first run across her when she did a superb cover of the incomparable MCC's 'Moon and St Christopher'
My night for listening to nostalgia, from Billy Ray Cyrus to William Ackerman. Must be getting old, I'll be spinning Bryan Adams next....

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Wiggle room. إن شاء الله

Someone sent me a 30 - second clip of the undermentioned in full and mellifluous flow, which I almost allowed to irritate me. This paragraph is from the book.

"The metaphorical or pantheistic God of the physicists is light years away from the interventionist, miraclewreaking, thought-reading, sin-punishing, prayer-answering God of the Bible, of priests, mullahs and rabbis, and of ordinary language. Deliberately to confuse the two is, in my opinion, an act of intellectual high treason."

Also sprach Zarathustra, aka Richard Dawkins, our very own modern-day Nietzche. I wonder what he might possibly mean? High treason is an act of gross disloyalty, presumably in this context, to one's own intellect, which seems to me to have some quite nastily schizophrenic undertones to it. His wrath overtakes his reason, sometimes, exampled with the delightful 'miraclewreaking'. I'd quite like to wreak a miracle, personally. All of the above has only tangential bearing on the title today. The great all-seeing, most gracious, most merciful God of Islam, might be perceived in either of the above ways, although I have some conceptual difficulty with God as a metaphor. Metaphor for what, one asks? A metaphor for his self, perhaps. Muslims use (up to twenty times a day) the invocation of the presence of Allah in human affairs. Insha'Allah, to be precise, is the beautiful cover-all phrase even Westerners use when they are asked when a particular something might happen. Or not. Or they'd rather it didn't and are too polite to say so. Water is leaking all over the bathroom floor and the plumber when asked when he is coming, replies, 'Tomorrow, inshallah', meaning, of course that tomorrow is very probably quite out of the question and were he to bestir himself to think any further into the future, a week Tuesday might just be on the cards. Or not.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Cutting the grass

For those aware, cutting the grass is a painful business. Especially for the hard-to-reach places on the western reaches of the garden. Our souls are easy to mow when the ground is flat, green-perfect, golf-course fresh. When the moles within burrow and turn the ground into a minefield of unexpectedness, one learns to think on one's feet and twirl pas de deux as gracefully as one might. Rencontres du temps perdus is a misnomer. Every twist of the green and every turn of the putter's handle brings remembrance as fresh as if yesterday had barely been. To sunsets over Topkapi and pearl earrings.... A little Yiddische humor to brighten a day or two.. Three brothers just off the boat at Ellis Island are questioned by an Immigration Officer, who asks the first, "What is your name?" "Berl" he replies. The Officer says, "Beryl? You can't have a name like that in America. From now on your name is 'Buck.'" He turns to the second brother and says, "What is your name?" "Cheyl" he replies."Cheyl? You can't have a name like that in America. From now on your name will be 'Chuck!'" He then asks the third brother, "And what's your name?" "Ferl," he replies, "And I'm going back to Poland..."