Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pets and Puppies

There's something of a frontier town feel about Linux. It asks you to do things in ways you had almost forgotten. Apart from being blindingly fast - the whole deal fits snugly into RAM like the bound foot of a 19th century Chinese courtesan, leaving vast acreages left over - what does Vista do with it all; it must have hectares of redundant code, like DNA.
I rather feel like the puppy in the photograph - thanks to Barry K for a system even I can use - not very knowledgeable but mighty curious.
I haven't figured out how to crop this image yet, but at least I managed to find it..

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Insulting Footwear

I bought some new shoes the other day. A pair of lizard skin Calvin Kleins, as it happens - a rare extravagance. Throwing them at someone, thus being unlikely to get them back, would not have crossed my mind. Throwing a shoe at a person's head isn't considered insulting in only the Islamic world, though it does carry a particularly degrading symbolism (showing the sole of your shoes is considered deeply offensive). The sensitivity is related to the fact shoes are considered ritually unclean in Islam. In addition to ritual ablutions before prayer, Muslims must take off their shoes to pray, and wearing shoes inside a mosque is forbidden. Shoes should either be left at the door of the mosque, or carried (preferably in the left hand with the soles pressed together). When the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in Baghdad in 2003, Iraqis beat it with their shoes.
Which led me to a few more choice international insults. The response of the English archers after Agincourt to their French adversaries of two upraised fingers, a testament to the fact that they still had them - the enemy disabled captured archers by hacking off their two pulling fingers - is well known - even Churchill got them the wrong way round sometimes.
I had not realised that the 'thumbs-up' sign, beloved of everyone from Bean to Rolling Stone was also gravely insulting to some, particularly in Turkey and the Middle East. "Sit on it and spin" seems to be the message.
Bush commented that the shoes were a 'size 10' - the same size as mine, coincidentally. Perhaps I should offer to donate my new CK's to the man who is now in need of a new pair. After all, it was a remarkably good shot.
The image is of a Calvin Klein Harlequin Bootie (sic) retailing at almost $900. Mine cost rather less and have lower heels. A friend of mine knows a lot more than me about shoes. But she's a woman, so it helps.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Rite and Responsibility

Apart from Eleanor Roosevelt's dreadful hairstyle, the sight of her reading the Declaration of Human Rights sixty years ago today, on Human Rights Day was inspiring. I found myself thinking how far we really do have to go as a species which seems incapable of rising above barbarism, when the spirit might be willing but the flesh is undoubtedly either recalcitrant or simply weak. Pope John Paul II was right when he called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “one of the highest expressions of the human conscience of our time,” but conscience alone is no restrainer of terror.
Setting aside the manipulative politics of the hapless residents of Gaza for a moment - God knows, enough has been written about Israeli 'apartheid', walls and sanctions, I wonder how the cause of human rights is furthered by an Anglican church in Piccadilly allowing offensive, anti-Semitic parodies of Nine Lessons and Carols, endorsed and encouraged by Bruce Kent and Pax Christi, inter alia? Perhaps a more suitable venue next time might be Sderot, within range of Katyushka rockets where, as Ban Ki Moon has suggested, the most vulnerable continue to be on the frontline of hardship and abuse.
The image is of a 60th anniversary commemoration ceremony in Manila. One of the declaration's 30 articles is the 'right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion'. Right.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Screaming of the Lambs

I'm reminded today of being awoken early some years ago in a pleasant suburb of Karachi by the sound of pain. Screaming, as if by tortured children, penetrated my consciousness. Looking out of my window into neighbouring courtyards, lambs were suspended, heads down and bleating pitifully, awaiting the merciful flash of the knife, honed according to the Prophet's instructions and concealed from the victim before the single strike. No such awakenings this morning - here the business is transacted in the privacy of the slaughterhouse. 

At the risk of doing irremediable violence to the greatest of all modern Arab poets, I came across this today, the first day of Eid ul Adha, or Greater Eid, the Festival of Sacrifice.

I was in the beginning, and in the beginning was Poverty.
I died that bread may be eaten in my name; that they plant me in season.
How many lives will I live! For in every furrow of earth
I have become a future, I have become a seed.
I have become a race of men, in every human heart
A drop of my blood, or a little drop.

After they nailed me and I cast my eyes towards the city
I hardly recognised the plain, the wall, the cemetery;
As far as the eye could see, it was something
Like a forest in bloom. Wherever the vision could reach,
there was a cross, a grieving mother
The Lord be sanctified! This is the city about to give birth.

Badr Shakir al-Sayyab of Iraq, Christ after the Crucifixion

One-third of the sacrificial food today is given to the poor. Outside the mosques, the poor are fed, in accordance with the law. By contrast, the traditional nativity play was cancelled at a primary school in Nottingham and rescheduled for the New Year after parents were told it would interfere with the Eid festival, when it seemed many of the participants would be unavailable for rehearsals.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Went to church yesterday - a rare occurrence. Before entry - it's at the American Embassy- a rigmarole designed to deter the most patient of evildoers has to be followed. Firstly, you get on a list, obtainable from the pastor, echoing grim memories of Ben Kingsley writing furiously in 'Schindler's List'. This involves submitting photocopies of civil ID and passport. On arrival, one is 'individually processed' through a one-way system of doors and I waited nervously for the snap of the rubber gloves. Short of giving a blood sample at the door, I think I'd rather wait in line at Ben Gurion airport. Church itself was comfortingly wide-eyed and Presbyterian in overtone with Pastor Jim (or was it Buck) as master of ceremonies, confiding to us that he'd once been a jet pilot with 'the military'. The highlight was, of course, Thanksgiving lunch, which had a wonderfully down-home feel to it. The President's (mercifully final) Thanksgiving address was read out and we all reflected on absent friends before the roast turkey and a rather good key lime pie.
I have to say, I quite enjoyed myself.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


I'm quite fortunate, I suppose. I have access to a large number of TV channels, courtesy of NileSat and HotBird, varying in mediocrity from the paralysingly boring to numbingly bad. We get David Letterman and Oprah here, which others seem to find entertaining.  Oh, joy. The former is so self-absorbed that he has probably stopped laughing at himself, the latter reports heartwrenchingly painful exposes which some find riveting but others like me find the resultant queasiness almost too much to bear and blame the retching on the macaroni cheese.
This post won't last long here. It's badly written, but I can't blame Letterman's scriptwriters for that. It's also far too self-absorbed, much like Oprah's guests. This being so, what hope is there for me. Apart from more macaroni cheese. Bleugh!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Tiddly Beer

I've been blogging elsewhere recently. 

Here in fact. 

If you enjoy physics and science for bright kids, you might find something amusing to look at.
Due to particular circumstances, I find myself looking at the past rather more than I think I should, but I can't really explain why this might be. Life seems to be in some degree suspended and in slow motion as if in slow-moving water - one day gently blurs into the next and the extremes of last year at this time are no more than a memory.
For those who might be interested, yesterday, I celebrated two alcohol-free years. It's difficult to examine oneself and come up with some kind of accurate picture of what one was like then and how things might have changed, indeed why should I? I'm still emotionally crippled - if a preference for a degree of solitude constitutes disablement. I'm not sure it does, but others disagree. I find that conscious interaction with the collective needs less conversation than most people, I suppose. Hannibal Lecter was supposed to have 'palaces of the mind' - great swathes of memory which he could allegedly visit, interacting with at will. I perhaps have semi-detached spaces instead, where colours and music and people come and go as they please, peeping around familiar corners and smiling reassuringly.
I know one or two of you visit here from time to time. Thank you for coming. In the future, I want to make this space more welcoming and inclusive.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Haven't been here in a while. We're not quite done with the battle for hearts and minds just yet across the water. With doom-laden prophecies about Obama the appeaser, McCain the war hero-not, and Sarah P who has the gift given at Pentecost, together with apocalyptic financial meltdown, one might be tempted to simply bury one's head in the sand and wait dispiritedly for the end. Wearisome, isn't it. What you see is almost invariably not what you get.

Image consultancy, also known as legalised political hypocrisy, is of course de rigeur. I wonder, did BO hire an image consultant to smack him in the face with a frying pan, thus giving him a pained, almost constipated look; as if being among people who are obviously inferior to him causes him actual physical discomfort? Being surrounded by intellectual also-rans must be tedious for the poor man. Perhaps Henry Kissinger might give him a quick tutorial.

It was cheering therefore to listen to Iris DeMent - a gift from Ben via YouTube and to be reminded that whatever winds of fortune blow, some things remain pretty much as they've always been. The folksy, down-home feel, rather like Patsy Cline reminded me of my youth.

I was further cheered to read that a Christian church has been discovered on the site of an Israeli prison, up north in Megiddo - the mosaics being in a remarkable state of preservation. Perhaps it was the site of a persecuted church, although advertising on this scale might well have contributed to its destruction. Self-discovery is continuous and during a time when the Church in general was finding out about itself it's comforting to know that the milestone placed in the fourth century has returned to light again, much as it once was. What you saw was once what you got, perhaps.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Cloud of Unknowing

People in every culture, it would seem, believe in an afterlife of some kind or, at the very least, are fuzzily, comfortably unsure. These are irrational beliefs, undeniably, and seem to result either from religion or or some other mechanism designed to protect us from the terror of inexistence, thus are, perhaps, an inevitable consequence of self-consciousness. We don't know what it's like to experience a lack of sentience or consciousness; we can't imagine what it might feel like to be dead - indeed the contemplation is itself terrifying. In fact, it might not feel like anything - and therein lies the problem.

The common view of death as a great mystery is an emotionally fuelled desire to believe that death isn’t the end of the road. We might cheer mentally with Thelma and Louise, but afterlife belief and subsequent behaviours and attitudes exist it seems to soothe what would otherwise be a psychologically crippling anxiety about the ego’s inexistence. I watched "I, Robot" for the umpteenth time this Eid and was struck by the fact that the only difference between the sentient robot and all the others is that it alone was aware of its own existence and presumably consequent mortality...

We need to know, and therein lies our undoing. From the anonymous 14th century Carthusian monk's mystic work "The Cloud of Unknowing" we find..

'Our intense need to understand will always be a powerful stumbling block to our attempts to reach God in simple love [...] and must always be overcome. For if you do not overcome this need to understand, it will undermine your quest. It will replace the darkness which you have pierced to reach God with clear images of something which, however good, however beautiful, however Godlike, is not God.'

The derision of the anti-intellectual over such mystic posturing is well known, but where is the intellect after oblivion comes?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


After a while, the world becomes tedious, repetitive and samey. (Did I really write that word?) Ramadan for all others apart from the Faithful is irritating and desperately inconvenient, yet working hours are shorter - in some cases almost non-existent - the kids in school are virtually marking time, politely allowing their teachers to waste a little of their valuable time before hometime to rest followed by Iftar, where the gorging begins and traffic becomes more murderous than usual, then playtime till the early hours. Eid is the feast of chocolate, where the morbidly obese are given greater opportunity to become more so, while the poor are fed on the leavings from the tables of the rich. Nothing new here, then. Eid is the reward for all that self-denial, and the blessing of Allah is sought on all the good works undertaken during Ramadan, like the charitable donations to Pakistani madrassas, training youth in the values of Islam. H'm. Eid Mubarak.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Leviathan Collapsed

It's strangely comforting when the plug is pulled on the great and the good, especially when they have (or had) a good deal more money than me. World Business News uses words like 'apocalyptic and 'once in a thousand years' to describe the inevitable consequence of mismanagement and greed as Lehman crumbles ignominiously into the dust, while AIG comes up smelling at least of daffodils. The era of the philosopher king on Wall Street might not quite end in bloody revolution, but a frisson of the power of the grim reaper of depression cannot help but have been felt in the wine bars.
Now, where is it going to end? GB i/c GB may not sleep as comfortably as he once did, presiding as he does over brittle economic conditions and personal unpopularity. He hasn't quite got the wasta to blag foreign trips with old mates like Silvio and Cliff, has he.....I wonder if a cold tendril of self-doubt whistles along his spine, as one might imagine the boys at CERN suffering from. They've built the most expensive gun in the universe and hope to see its beginning, if briefly. There is indeed no danger, it takes a good deal more energy than homo sapiens can muster, even with $16bn to create a black hole big enough to cause more than a ripple, Koestler's 'shrug of eternity'

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Ramadan blues

Public display of affection, such as touching, kissing or hugging, is illegal in Dubai and couples -- particularly if not married -- can be detained by police for indecency. Such, it seems was the fate of an intoxicated British couple, spotted on the beach by a doubtlessly jealous indigent, enraged that Ramadan and the law of the land prevented him from doing what comes naturally. Here, any misbehaviour during the Holy Month, which means no more crafty puffs behind the bike sheds, can lead to a 100KD fine, or spending the rest of the month in the slammer, where, no doubt the fast is strictly observed strictly and fornication frowned upon. I wonder whether this offends public decency also...

Monday, September 01, 2008

Emergent Church

I am, it seems, in a cul-de-sac. In the mid 1970's some of us were interested in 'doing church' in new, experimental ways, unafraid to question rigidity, structure, hermeneutics, soteriology and evangelism - in the days when it wasn't synonymous with intolerance; instead looking for valid expressions or paradigms of faith which resonated with us. We learned a bit about narrative theology, although didn't call it that, youthful activism, although misguided sometimes and ill-informed. Community - whatever we thought that this meant - featured in differing ways for us. The Cathedral was kind enough to give us room and we discovered a measure of transcendence. I now find that people have been doing similar stuff at the turn of the century and beyond and a broad undercurrent of expression has developed, inclusive, catholic, forgiving and active - a teenage brother to our own infant scrawlings. Teenagers are of course troublesome, ill-informed and dislike being challenged, so, we'll see. More of this later. Gimme some thinking time.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Catch - 22

Some people need to see a proctologist in order to find their heads. Robert Mugabe couldn't be described as everybody's favourite uncle on the sunniest day of his life, so it seems to lack foresight to heckle him at the state opening of Parliament, on the grounds that he does have something of a reputation for really being quite nasty to those who tick him off. Mugabe arrived at the meeting in an open-topped vintage Rolls escorted by mounted police wearing pith helmets and carrying lances. No colonial residue here, then.
We recall Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change yelling 'foul' in March an in the solo run-off Mugabe cheated under starters orders and unleashed all manner of nastiness with the help of police and party activists. I'd be quite inclined to vote Conservative if a man with a machete threatened to chop my hand off.
I find myself between a rock and a hard place at this time, so have some sympathy with others.


Ahmedinajad's  face reminds me of a quiz show host. You can almost hear him asking "Would you survive a holocaust?" And, for five bonus percentage points, tell me why these questions are absurd.

Take the test.

A note to myself...

Just a little note.........ScribeFire works very well when publishing to

Conventional fry-ups

I spent a refreshing sea voyage recently with a prospective Conservative MP. Lest you think I have sold my soul to Beelzebub, apart from feeling as if I had momentarily slipped into a congenial, if deranged alternative reality, I found myself spectating with enthusiasm and enjoying the fried fish and chips thereafter. The lady herself is eminently electable. Good breeding, articulate and appropriately managerial with underlings – indeed refraining from ribald commentary over an inferior Chardonnay. The constituency she represents is one of moderate, God-fearing dinosaurs and it might be interesting to see what happens if she ever had real power. Which brings me to America. The great, the good and the terminally garrulous are converging on Denver, and the TV is full of it. No doubt Barack and Michelle are smelling the floor polish along the corridors of the White House already. A new book, The Great Derangement, by Matt Taibbi, reports widespread lunacy in the national psyche just when America needs to understand the dangerous real world more than ever: "On both the left and the right, huge chunks of the population were effecting nearly identical retreats into conspiratorial weirdness and internet-fuelled mysticism.". The book has been described as ‘opinionated, profane, depressing and hilarious’.He visits churches that are prayerfully, proudly ignorant of the larger world and equate hatred of Nancy Pelosi who had the temerity to demand equal pay for equal work for men and women in her Californian constituency with love of God. He visits left-wing assemblies seething against President Bush: They're sure 9/11 was a White House plot. These are fantasies of a sheep-like populace that cocoons itself in Internet escapism and white-hot tribal resentments, with no clue about how real power operates.

"They voted in huge numbers, but they were voting out of loathing, against enemies and against the system in general, not really for anybody. The elections had basically become a forum for organizing the hatreds of the population."

These are prime-time values no longer. Demonization is big business, even if it ruins the country. Dispiriting, isn’t it. But incomplete, since it ignores an essential bloc of American (read Western) humanity: religious moderates. The backbone of communities, they do the unglamorous charitable work. They are faithful worshippers who discuss complex social issues at Sunday school. They embody an embattled set of values that evolved after World War II, when believers were weary of fascist bigotry and global atrocity — tolerance, patience, faithfulness, internationalism, in other words, decency. Much like many of my shipmates bobbing up and down around the harbour the other day.

Denver, it is noted, is also a 'no fry zone' in order to promote healthy eating at the convention. No fried chicken. No fried catfish. No fried green tomatoes. No fried okra. No fried anything. Unlike the Conservatives at sea the other day.

Let’s hope they keep it festive and truthful, digestively calm and confine the hate to two minutes.

Postscript...I found it instructive to crowd-watch during the almost wall-to wall coverage of BO and friends in Denver. The beatific adoration was almost more than flesh and blood could stand, especially as his running mate looks and sounds like a younger, fitter version of John McCain. It'll be fascinating to see what the Old Guard can pull out of the hat up in Minnesota in the wake of Gustav. Hopefully, a little statesmanship.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Pride and Prejudice

Marvellous. GBR wins lots of wonga at the Olympics and the superhuman Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps smash, annihilate or otherwise dismantle records. Fears of terrorist disruption seem to be fading with only five days to go until the IOC calls upon the youth of the world to assemble in London in 2012. I wonder, has the Chinese legendary mistrust of foreigners been softened by hosting the ballyhoo this time around? They have spent the most money, consequently have won more than anyone else, so national pride is satisfied. As Mao once said belatedly, 'China is on its feet again'. Paying homage to China's rich history and culture at the Olympics is a good starting point if rapprochement between the most rapidly emergent economic juggernaut in history seeks to assert itself on a cross-cultural stage. The flipside calls on China to get its international act together. Criticism must be aimed squarely at the CCP while keeping China's national pride intact, as GWB chose to administer in Bangkok on his way to the opening ceremony. Western governments might do well to seek enriched relations between the Chinese community and their own by means of cultural exchange and co-operative projects. The message needs to be unequivocal:

We respect China and celebrate its culture, but demand responsibility on China's part. Mismanagement of foreign policy, including decisions by Western leaders to pursue delegitimizing actions such as cultural boycotts, will create greater distrust bereft of constructive policy impact.

from the Jerusalem Post today.

It's ironic that the masters of rapprochement in Tel Aviv give such sound advice. Replace CCP with PA. Will it be heeded? Probably not.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Narrow Window on a Storm

Winston Churchill once wrote "It’s not the government that makes war in a democracy, but the people – and the people are asleep in the free democracies today, lulled into inaction by a ‘softening up’ process of our enemy."
Is Islam the 'enemy' of the West? Italy has thousands of polygamous, frequently unhappy marriages, the state appears to turn a blind eye in the name of 'cultural sensitivity'. In Britain and Spain, where large Muslim communities also have settled, some officials favour recognizing polygamous marriage as a way to ensure the wives' access to pensions, medical care and other state benefits. One problem seems intractable. The application of human rights, and what the West perceives as 'civilised' behaviour is in some cases directly at odds with the Shariat. For example, what are Norwegian Muslims to do, since homosexuality is punishable by death by beheading under Islamic law.
If they all take four wives, they might be able to breed themselves into power, using the very democracy they wish to overthrow. It seems that the clash of cultures is irreconcilable thus. much like fighting dogs, separation or defeat is inevitable. Alternatively, tolerant and judicious planning and a complete paradigm shift in everybody's thinking might just prevent holocaust. Islam is culturally accustomed to waiting. The West is not. H'm.

Mourning Glory

It's been an interesting week. The remains of an ancient Thracian chariot was unearthed in Bulgaria and the next episode of Chariots of Fire in Beijing has begun. The razzmatazz has, of course, to be bigger, better, brighter and a lot more expensive than last time, with, so far, an American dream team - again - convincingly routing the host nation (what, I wonder, is a 'tomahawk dunk'?) and a swimmer with an independence of muscular control so well-honed that he might as well not bother competing until the finals when he can haul off all eight golds in a handcart. Finally, here's someone who might be able to topple the legendary Mark Spitz, whose perfect dentition and seven golds I remember seeing in Munich in 1972. This was the same Olympics when members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage by Black September, and twelve lives were lost.
Coincidentally, this week saw the fast of Tisha Be'av when the Jews mourn in commemoration of the destruction of the Temples, presumably also with loss of life. The Ninth of Av was the day, according to the rabbis, on which both great structures were destroyed, the first by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, the second by the Romans in 70 CE. On the eve of the day of mourning and fasting, religious Jews read the Book of Lamentations (Eicha), ascribed to the prophet Jeremiah who witnessed the destruction by the Babylonians. Commemoration of Tisha Be'av takes place most publicly at the only portion remaining, the Wall. Given a choice of the Water Cube or the Wall, I think the latter, in spite of these incomparably perfect synchronised 3m springboard gold medallists, giving China the lead in the medals table.

Monday, August 04, 2008


My apocalyptic streak resurfaces sometimes. The fate of humanity, the Earth and the London Olympics is seriously in question as 2012 marks the termination of the 13th b'ak'tun cycle, and possibly the end of the world, according to Mayan prophecy, which, of course, everybody knows. H'm. Geomagnetic reversal might be the lever this time, which will no doubt bewilder a large number of migrating wildfowl who might find themselves temporarily homeless. I find myself taking the longer view, much like the Archbishop of Canterbury, so catastrophe might be a Black Swan inevitability at some unspecified, Mandelbrotian time, but in the short term, let's all try to keep the keel in the water and hopefully we all won't capsize.
The water chute is from the Mayan temple in Atlantis. Of course. Where else...

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Big Timba 1600ft long and an exhilarating ride, especially in the rain. Apart from a frisson of probabilistic, almost Gaussian uncertainty, the adrenalin rush was sufficiently modulated to permit enjoyment of the scenery. Especially upside down. There's even time to think. I found myself musing on retrospective distortion - an examining of past events without adjusting for the forward passage of time, leading to the illusion of posterior predictability. Fings ain't what they used to be because we not only remember imperfectly but do so in the context of a personal and limited historical worldview. I went to a dance festival recently - not a bestseller for me - and it was rather like attending as a participant, a children's tea party. Big fun when you're six.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Inconvenient Uncertainty

I was reminded again today of Al Gore's convincing epic "An Inconvenient Truth". Gigantic images of receding glaciers juxtaposed on massive exponential graphs only reachable with cranes send twitters of alarm, predictably. The prevailing attitude implicit in the film is the implication that scientific consensus is somehow equivalent to scientific fact (well, that and the causal relationship between correlated data sets.)
Which brought me to some thoughts about the inexactitude of prediction. Reading "Black Swans", it becomes apparent that we're quite simply unable to predict anything very much with measurable accuracy, from stock market crashes to the population of Romania in 2020.

Are there certainties of faith? Perhaps not, then. So, Conference or not, outcomes at Lambeth are unlikely to be as predicted. Perhaps.

The world is chaotic. That's the way it is. Live with it. Schrodinger's cat did. Probably.

Rowan and the Lion

I wouldn't fancy ++Rowan's job for all the coffee in Brazil. He's holding two pairs to a flush at the outside, so whichever way the cards fall, he's gonna bust. Or, is he? Knowing that one cannot predict the unpredictable, like the outcome of solemn conclave or oil prices, agreement might be a safer bet. Unlike Pater Benedict, however, ++R has no authority outside his own See, he is simply 'primus inter pares'. It's comforting to reflect, however, that this is one of the better models of the early church, the one before the Bishops of Rome declared themselves to hold Imperial Authority. And not all bishops agreed to run with it for at least six hundred years after Leo VI gave himself the top job. Poor Rowan frequently makes a lot of sense if you bother to read what he has actually said or written instead of the usual claptrap the Press trots out, most of whom are neither interested enough nor sufficiently knowledgeable to gather correct information.

Given the thorny theological issues under discussion, one might have expected rather more press coverage - but it might be a bit off-scale for the luvvies, or the infidel Joe Public doesn't really care.

At least the Conference is getting some important issues discussed. Whether the Church outside the UK, Europe and the Americas will agree on all of them is a matter for God. I have a feeling that they will not.

I remember seeing this beautiful mosaic. Over the Imperial Gate, Leo VI, the Wise (886-912), is shown prostrated at the feet of Christ with medallions of the Virgin and an Archangel above. The Archangel no doubt symbolizes the belief that Aya Sofia was built with divine aid while angels watched.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Barack. People have threatened to leave the US if McCain gets in. Others are beginning, perhaps dimly, to perceive that there's a lot of froth but not a lot of beer in the Obama glass - all hat and no cattle, as they say in Texas. Mindless jingoism undeniably gets votes which will project the senator into the gladiatorial world of realpolitik for which, it seems, he has plenty of taste but not much experience. There is an alternative. Reject the almost inevitable, lowest common denominator of mass-simplisticism and recognise that it might actually be possible to teach a far greater proportion of the population to appreciate the real complexity of social decision-making, thus making participatory democracy a goal that is realistically worth pursuing, rather than merely paying lip-service to it. Were this to become a reality, his life expectancy in the arena might be significantly reduced.
I thought this cartoon interesting. There's more than an echo of Teflon Tony here. Oh, deary me.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Lambeth (again)

The Archbishop seemed to have trouble finding the way out of his own cathedral today, after the preliminaries on the HS debate were concluded. Oh, deary me....Perhaps he wasn't invited to Gene Robinson's picnic...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

...from every shires ende Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende..

I'm not sure what the collective noun is for a gathering of Bishops... a cacophony, perhaps? As Lambeth approaches and the storm clouds gather, troops are assembled and weapons sharpened in Jerusalem, Putney and elsewhere.

Pascal spoke of a “divine Republic", which, following Philo, he describes simply as a group that “has God only as its master”. The Church as a Body, then, with members, he defines as an assemblage of “thinking” or “willing particulars" who have the “Body” as a whole as their goal for thought. There are two requirements to be a “member” of the Church, he writes: a will and conformity to the body as a whole. So, whether we individually agree that openly gay bishops are allowed to preside, or women bishops allowed to ordain isn't relevant.

Proverbs 15:3 tells us that 'the eyes of the Lord are everywhere, watching the evil and the good', which would seem to be just as well, since the moral authority contained within pronouncements made in Canterbury this week will have a lasting effect on the 'communion of saints'.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Random Caribbean thoughts

Cliff-jumping in Negril, Western Jamaica, being surreptitiously offered ganja on the 'hip-strip' and learning patois......some of us have a hard life here in Mo' Bay, which seems a long way from the cares of the world right now. Yet, the chill of harsher realities have a habit of making their presence felt. Jamaica has two faces. One, which the tourists see, is colourful, vibrant and over-confident. The other which few tourists get to see, is of a nation lacking in self esteem, young in many aspects of world-scene issues, and daily facing difficult moral choices. A friend had her car stolen by the simple expedient of the thief and accomplice waiting beside her car port and demanding the keys yesterday. The existence of resort hotels which cocoon visitors inside gated, secure environments, buttresses them against the harsher economic realities and consequent civil disobedience in a nation whose primary income is from tourism.

When away, I do like to keep abreast of other issues thus I'm in the middle of reading a history of al-Qaeda, if such exists any more. A friend in Jerusalem found herself uncomfortably close to the recent terror and a child known to her was killed. The authors of mayhem against the West have not gone away, neither are they sleeping. Reading between the lines recently - a subtle pastime when it comes to the McCain/Obama race - American Jewry seems to be getting behind the safer horse. Obama's sense of what is historically relevant translates into a delusion that radical Islamic terror can be pacified solely with financial and diplomatic pressure. You can't see the whites of their eyes, much less curtail their activities by ham-fisted 'westernised' methods. If he doesn't understand this then one fears he might have to learn the hard way.

Back to the present. Negril's cliffs are anything from 35 to 45 ft high, dependent on who one asks. A jump from the highest one is a brief but satisfying adrenalin rush.....When asking ' how deep is the water' the response 'deep enuff, mon' is strangely comforting.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Clarity and Mechanics

It has been said of me that my posts are too longwinded, linguistically labyrinthine ( I like that) and incomprehensible in consequence.
I thought that gentle readers might like to see an entry I posted elsewhere some time ago which flies in the face of such nonsense, 'cause I like teaching people stuff.
If you've found your way here, you're either curious or suicidal about not passing a midterm. Relax. Whatever you need to know, it's here. If it ain't it soon will be when you tell me what you need. I'll try to minimise the math and optimise concept grasp. I'll be putting together stuff about mechanics, waves, electricity, heat and radioactivity to start with. It's a work in progress, you tell me what you need to know and I'll put it together for you. OK?
Dear old Uncle Albert failed his exams to Zurich Polytechnic first time around, so, as the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy says....don't panic.
The clock's there because I know you don't feel comfortable in class unless you have one to watch.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ten Thousand Places

One's children fill one with surprise on so many levels. One of mine is a mathematician, outwardly cold, number-clad, inured to emotional depth, one might suppose. He sent me this which I found utterly and compellingly beautiful.

I haven't read it since I was at school.

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;

As tumbled over rim and roundy wells

Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's

Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;

Selves- goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,

Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;

Keeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;

Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is--Chríst.

For Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

To the Father through the features of men's faces.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Gruel for the Soul

I asked for a day off next week, for quite an important function - indeed one where my presence is mandatory.
The establishment which pays my salary - some call it a school - first asked me to fill out a form. Quite right. Entirely reasonable. No details of why I require time out is evident for completion.
The Principal - beige and uninspiring - coughed sheepishly behind me today and told me that I would have to write a letter requesting that in his magnanimity, the Personnel Manager might be kind enough to give me the day off, but, of course, could not pay me.
I have rescheduled my groups to another occasion when I am present, thus not a ripple disturbs the chaos of the day.
I remember in the sixties when my father was a personnel director and the unions were more than usually hairy-chested, how he bemoaned the 'work to rule' policies and 'working without enthusiasm' that resulted. It seems that people here are so accustomed to working to rule that the alternative of an environment where a well-motivated, productive and happy workforce goes above and beyond, simply because they want to, simply does not occur to them. Thomas Gradgrind, above, whose little vessels were arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim, would have been proud.

I'm reminded of a method of working out the sum total of pleasure and pain produced by an act, and thus the total value of its consequences; aka hedonic calculus. When determining what action is right in a given situation, we should consider the pleasures and pains resulting from it, in respect of their intensity, duration, certainty, propinquity, fecundity (the chance that a pleasure is followed by other ones, a pain by further pains), purity (the chance that pleasure is followed by pains and vice versa), and extent (the number of persons affected). We should next consider the alternative courses of action: ideally, this method will determine which act has the best tendency, and therefore is right. In 1789, Bentham envisaged the calculus could be used for criminal law reform: given a crime of a certain kind it would be possible to work out the minimum penalty necessary for its prevention. Spectacularly misleading, uninformed, grandiose in its stupidity. In other words, horseshit. But, it's the way this place operates. It's no wonder that this country, so rich in the things of the world, is emotionally and psychologically impoverished to the point of destitution.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Bumps in the Darkness

The Indian physicist Sidharth (I liked the syllabic connotation) suggests that space and time are granular like free flowing sugar, not continuous like golden syrup, at their smallest scales. He discusses how the quantisation of time - the existence of the chronon as time’s smallest quantum - leads to an explanation of the arrow of time. Perhaps the chronon is only able to face one way in the 'real' world.

This quantised spacetime is fuzzy, underlain with the order of fractal geometry - a new way of 'looking at the world' were it possible.

Such bumpy fractal spacetime’s road maps is not familiar Euclidean geometry. Quantized fractal spacetime is non-Archimedean, or ultrametric: lengths and distances cannot be measured with a ruler. How far is it between 3 and 5? I live in Kuwait and feel close to Esther, who lives in England. What do we mean when we say "close" or "far"? In mathematics, we're used to using "real" distances x-y, but there are others, which are called "p-adic" and measure the common 'factors' two numbers have. We don't measure p-adic distances in kilometres, they are more like the distance between people on a family tree, where brothers and sisters are close to each other and cousins are further away. So, this quantized fractal spacetime is also noncommutative: its geometry, its spacetime, is not flat or ordered according to our usual formulas of geometry and algebra. The image is of a 3-adic tetrad, showing crystal planes and their 'nearness'.
Funny old world, innit.............

Monday, March 31, 2008

Architectural Digest

I am discovering that I am not a visual learner. It's ironic that if the kids I teach are turned loose on a project of some kind, their first response is to make a movie or otherwise engage me visually, which elicits childlike clapping of the hands since it's all so fearfully clever and so easy to do. The old dinosaur still labours under the delusion that words and, heaven forfend, their actual meaning carries artistry, however quaint.
Some CGI's fascinate me, however. This room suggests Zen-like tranquillity, existing as it does in my pixellated imagination. I should like to sleep here.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Fire and Water

Well, the ageing pontiff is under fire again, this time for baptising the outspoken anti Islamic journalist, Magdi Allam at a rather public affair on Easter Sunday in St Peter's Basilica. Allam has never been one for secreting his fire under a hedgerow, which has, predictably, earned him apostate status and consequent death threats, in addition to those from Hamas in 2003. To Western eyes, this is of course mediaeval, barbaric and unnecessary, but to the radical Islamist, the application of Shari'a is as natural as breathing. Allam was a self-confessed Muslim Zionist, an oxymoron of sorts, but subtly identified a hatred of Israel as the root of many of the evils plaguing the Muslim world and describes Israel as 'the paradigm of the right to life.' I rather like that, since it is the antithesis of the trendy leftist chattering classes' view that if only Israel went away, everything would settle down in the Middle East. Ha! The demographics are disturbing. Christian presence in traditionally Biblical landscapes is declining, many finding safer and less hostile havens elsewhere in the world- a second hijra, if you will. Lebanon's Christian majority has dwindled, having almost 70% Muslims, and the population of Bethlehem, once 95% Christian is less than a quarter of that today. I hate to suggest it, but it does rather look as if battle lines are being drawn again.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

At holiday time, there is much to be said for being here. The weather has changed from virulent and remarkably persistent sandstorms to gentle sunshine. In the absence of other things to think about, my mind turned to echoes of the past, a somewhat disturbing tendency, one finds, perhaps being a function of advancing years. Alternatively a spin from Clannad on the iPod revived a shadow or two concerning Celtic spirituality. I have always had some strange, whispering connection with Celtic methods, not least in more recent times, when thanksgiving seems more in my mindset than it once did.

It has always seemed to me to have at its heart a sense of openness to possibilities, to connections and relationships, both abstract and physical. It is a willingness to risk both personal security and the ‘self’ in the search for the God-heart that lives within each individual and the spiritual energy that is ever present in the whole of creation. It is also about memory, the spiritual memory that we all carry within us, linking us to the memory of all that has been, since the beginning of time. It is a willingness to journey within and without time, and outside the structures of dogma that hold and restrict the imaginal world of possibilities, to find a deeper truth.

Let me be clear, I do not mean the traditions of Wicca or Druidry, but a Christian perspective, revived as often happens in times of uncertainty and conflict. The Celtic way is to bless everything in life (except evil), however earthy or everyday, frequently and often systematically. Animals, bicycles, computers, exams, food, gifts, jobs, love-making, meals, parties, travel - a comprehensive list. Practice invokes an internal commandment - "Peace. Be still". The traveller then has a clearer view of the horizon. I liked this image - a 'buckler' from the third century. St Patrick would have worn one with pride and remembered his God in consequence.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Folk here are often childlike at the best of times and during the silly season, kids gallop about in dishdasha and coloured headwear - the most popular being a curly wig in the national colours of green, white and red - waving Kuwaiti flags which one would dearly like to stick where the sun don't shine, youthful ebullience being a national pastime. Liberation Day and National day aren't for a few days yet, but the fever is building and spray can vendors licking their collective lips.
International observations are interesting. Time mgazine did a piece after the death of Benazir Bhutto on Pakistanis needing to develop collective maturity- grow up, in other words - if a coherent Government could be formed after the inevitable farrago of non-elections over the last few days. Musharraf may yet take his ball home, not having a reputation of playing nicely with others in the playground.
And so to Wisconsin. I'm not sure I could find the place on the best day I ever had, but Barak aka Teflon Man 2 evidently did and the population endorsed him roundly, much to the lady from Hope's evident chagrin. So far, it's all been fairly gentlemanly, but it remains to be seen if there'll be blood on the carpet later on.

As for me, I shall spend fruitful hours watching films and gazing stolidly into the middle distance, a placard saying 'feed me at 8 hourly intervals" around my neck. This too will pass.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


We are helpfully advised here that decadent un-Islamic practices such as Valentine's Day are to be discouraged, since it corrupts the young and fosters an unhealthy preoccupation with all things Western. People here are, as it happens, only too glad of the opportunity for a bit of a bash, one way and another - the behaviour of the locals after Egypt collared the African footie title was spectacular. It would have been bedlam had alcohol fueled the euphoria.

I rather think that the locals don't want V-Day to be too high - profile, since Liberation Day is upon us very shortly when everyone gets time off, kids go more than usually berserk and most discerning expats stay well outof the way and watch the telly. So, for those for whom St V has a special place, enjoy the logo. And, for Heaven's sake chaps, forget at your peril.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Snow in Saudi

I rather thought I had left the cold behind. It would seem not, however, since the BBC informed me on the radio today that there was snow in Saudi, causing fatalities, an event as rare as hen's teeth. Also, snow fell in Baghdad, which will be unlikely to deter the maniacs - look out for suicide bombers wearing fingerless gloves, the better to facilitate detonation. I have discovered that my car has a heater and if I reverse the switching on my apartment's AC it blows out hot air. Rather like me, really. Yeah. I shaved it off. Months ago.