Monthly Archives: October 2006

An elephant and a giraffe were walking through the forest

And they were completely lost.

“I thought,” said the giraffe, “elephants were supposed to have good memories”.
“I know, I know,” said the elephant, “but then why do you think I’m hanging around with you none of the other elephants like me because of my poor memory.”

Just then the elephant saw a tortoise on a log, ran up to it and kicked it all the way across the river.

The giraffe said, “why on earth did you do that”?

“Well,” said the elephant, “26 years ago that tortoise bit me on the shin and I’ve never forgiven it”.
“Wait a minute,” said the giraffe, “I thought you were supposed to have a terrible memory but you can remember a single tortoise from 26 years ago”.
“Yeah I might have a rubbish memory usually, but I’ve got turtle recall”.

Smells like Nirvana

In an article (Kingdom of God) the other day I spoke about what I thought was the way that Christianity and Islam isn’t that different in what people are striving for and that the thing that people are striving for, for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways, was for a sense of satisfaction. An increase in a sense of peace and a reduction in a sense of guilt.

This I suggested sounded to me like Buddhism and it does. The idea of Nirvana is not a far off heaven it is a state of mind that one can enter here on earth only when you have understood how to make your actions not affect the world. And you can only reach true Nirvana at death on the last time you die when you won’t be reborn.

The problem with religions, especially for non-religious people like me, is that really the greatest bits of philosophical reality are often obscured by some hocus-pocus gobbledygook.

Buddhism has become popular in the west, but particularly a brand of Buddhism which is almost areligious. People simply take the concepts of nirvana and karma and detach them from the rest of the religion.

I’m always surprised that Hinduism wasn’t the religion that this happened to. In many ways Hinduism is the most open religion. It accepts scripture from other religions and is still continuing to learn about the world. It has some great world view concepts, like the idea that that truth is a conceptual reality just as gravity is. Gravity existed before people described it and truth existed before people tested it.

And of course the point of Hinduism is that over time you will enter the state of Jivan-mukta and will achieve “perfect mental peace and a freedom from worldly desires”.

There have always been three areas that religion dealt with in society. The questions relating to where do we come from which science have taken over for many. The questions relating to what we are allowed to do which government has taken over for many. The questions relating to how we feel inside ourselves which psychologists are trying to take over for many. However the problem is that this third area is only dealt with by psychologists when people realise they have a specific problem. And philosophers while dealing with general issues also tend to be some of the most self-reflective individuals around. They seem to care little with making their ideas practical. Perhaps this is the area that Religion can claim in the modern world.

The idea that all people want to fell better and less guilty, and that this is not achievable through hedonism. That we all want to overcome Jihad, enter the Kingdom of God, reach Nirvana or become Jivan-mukta. Or simply be.

In my kitchen

The salt skittered across the kitchen counter and mingled with the rosemary and pepper that were already lying there – spoils of cooking. The chicken looked pale next to the black roasting tin, but soon would be coloured by the oil and spices that were being prepared in a small mortar. The pestle is rammed in and the herbs give up their essential oils. The mess around the preparation area builds as more boards are used and things are chopped.

Jenny stops adding to it for a second and decides to clear down her station. Even though this is her own kitchen in her own house she still thinks of it as a station in a fancy restaurant that she wishes she ran. Michael is watching the football in the living room and the sound is way up. He won’t be able to hear her. She walks over to the kitchen door and closes it a bit more.

She takes a swig of her Sauvignon Blanc and starts to commentate, just audibly. “It is always important to keep your station clear. Although don’t worry too much if you make a mess as you’re going along. After all this is supposed to be fun. But do try and not to let it get too far away from you.” She finished wiping down the counter with a paper towel and threw it in the bin.

“Now what you need to do is make sure your hands are good and clean because we’re going to rub the suffusion we’ve made onto the chicken skin.”

Just as she’s saying this the door opens, Michael walks in and starts rummaging around in the fridge for another beer. “Who were you talking to”? He wants to know.

“Nobody,” says Jenny.

A neutron walks into a bar

And orders a drink, and leaves without paying.

One of the other customers says to the barman, “hey how come he didn’t have to pay?”

And the bartender says, “oh with him there’s no charge”.

Being Number 1

In Formula 1 (no wait this is a crossover story come back) there are two different competitions going on the Drivers championship and the Constructors championship. And both are supposed to be equal. But everyone knows that really it is the driver’s championship that is most important.

The way that you can see that codified is that the number 1 is given to the driver who wins the drivers championship above whether he’s driving for the team that won the constructor’s championship. So if Alonso who currently races for Renault but is moving to McLaren wins the drivers championship and Renault win the constructors championship then he will have the number 1 on his McLaren next year. And to keep things neat his team-mate will have the number 2 even though there’s a good chance he’ll have never driven in a grand prix before. In this case the two Renault drivers would be number 3 and 4 (because other than the world champion it always goes in constructors championship order).

But what happens if as could still happen Michael Schumacher wins the Drivers championship. He won’t be racing next year. Well in this case they do something rather bizarre. To preserve the importance of the Number 1 they don’t give it to anyone, but to keep the evenness they use a 0. So if Michael wins the world championship and retires then whichever team wins the constructors championship will have a 0 and a 2.

It seems such an odd thing, but it’s exactly the kind of random crazy rules that make following formula 1 such a joy. You can think of the most impossibly bizarre situation and somebody will have already thought of it and made a rule about it. For example what happens if Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso get the same number of points? Well in that case the person who won the most races wins. But what if they have won the same number of races? Well then it is the person who came second the most number of times. It’s all kind of logical but at the same time kind of crazy. And that’s why I love it.

For more formula one stuff, check out http://www.sofaf1.com

Stevie Wonder is playing his first gig in Tokyo

Stevie Wonder is playing his first gig in Tokyo and the place is
absolutely packed to the rafters. In a bid to break the ice with his new
audience he asks if anyone would like him to play a request.

A little old Japanese man jumps out of his seat in the first row and
shouts at the top of his voice “Play a Jazz chord ! Play a jazz chord.
Amazed that this guy knows about Stevie’s varied early jazz career, the
Blind impresario starts to play variations on an E minor scale and then
goes into a difficult jazz melody for about 10 minutes. When he finishes
the whole place goes wild.

The little old man jumps up again and shouts “No, no, play a Jazz chord,
play a Jazz chord”. Despite getting a bit cross with this guy, Stevie,
being the professional that he is, dives straight into a jazz
improvisation with his band around the tricky B-flat minor chord and
really tears the place apart. The crowd goes wild with this impromptu
show of his technical expertise.

The little old man jumps up again. “No, no. Play a Jazz chord, play A
jazz chord”. Well Stevie is really annoyed now that this little guy
doesn’t seem to appreciate his playing ability so he says to him from
the stage: “OK smartie pants – you get up here and do it!”
The little old man climbs up onto the stage, takes hold of the
microphone and starts to sing:

“A jazz chord … to say … I ruv you”

Kingdom of God

When I speak to smart Christians and ask them about Heaven I sometimes ask them if they believe that there really can be such a place. Some of them do believe in Heaven as a place, and then find themselves getting twisted around in all kinds of problems of semantics as they try and describe what it’s actually like.

Try asking them if they believe there can be such a concept as free will in heaven. They will suggest that you can do anything you want in heaven. Then ask them what would happen if you did something bad. Then they will nod wisely and say that if you were the kind of person who wanted to do something bad then you wouldn’t be allowed into heaven. Then ask them about things that don’t seem bad at the time but turn out to have been bad later – accidents and so on. And they will tell you that they don’t think that you can make mistakes in heaven. Then suggest that when you’re making a decision in heaven that you always somehow know what the right thing to do is. And they say “yes, that’s exactly it, you always know the right thing to do”. And then you ask them how that tallies with Free Will. They love you for this and always invite you back to their parties (for more fun ask them how many times they plan to play golf in heaven and what they like about golf – they’ll soon realise that challenge and doing something an infinite number of times is something that doesn’t quite square).

But a lot of smart Christians describe the “Kingdom of God” which is all the bible says about Heaven really as more of a state of mind. Something that you can achieve right here on earth. Yes that’s right they think that “Heaven is a place on earth”. But more seriously the idea is that through doing good things and living well you will achieve a sense of peace and wellbeing which is enables you to be one of God’s subjects. Basically brining together feeling good and feeling guilty as being the punishments and rewards for a good life. It might sound an awful lot like Buddhism to you (and me) but that’s the general idea.

I have another question that I ask to smart Muslim’s I know. I try and find out about the idea of Jihad. And while many will talk about the issues that most westerners will know about. The idea that Jihad is a struggle against the oppressors of Islam and the idea that Jihad is something that is specifically written into their religion that extols them to offer conversion to non-believers or death. Which is not really true, or its no more true than the way that the Jewish and Christian traditions demand the same. There is an element of interpretation to all of these things.

But the smart Muslim’s I know also talk about what they see as the more important part of Jihad, what to them Jihad is really about. It is the idea that the struggle for most Muslims is within themselves. The idea that their own passions and heart want them to do things that they know is wrong, and they must struggle against those impulses to be better Muslims. The idea that there is good and evil in each person and that by making the correct choices they will be happier or feel guilty is a large part of what Jihad means to them. And if that sounds a bit like Buddhism to you (and me) then, well I can’t really argue with that.

Grave thoughts

“Grave thoughts in the yard, while I think of you.
“My body disintegrates without you, soul fled already.
“I must put you from my mind.
“I try not to slip into a sleepy haze but without you I have nothing to focus on.
“No light reflected from your eyes to keep me awake.
“No repetitive heartbeat to keep my own heart trained in the art of beating.
“What will I do without you?
“Your kiss was you blowing breath into me. Without it I cannot exhale.”

Why did the Roman chicken cross the road?

She was afraid someone would Caesar.

Getting on with it

I’m currently working on a novel which I wish was taking up all of my time. But of course there are a million and one other things that I end up doing instead of writing a bit of it every day. One of the most difficult things to do while writing a novel is “get on with it”. The actual business of starting writing each time is the one that is the most tricky. Once started I tend to write a lot, but the main problem is throwing your cap over the wall.*

But one of the most complicated things for me is writing this blog. I want to use all of the writing time that I have for the novel. But then what about the good readers of the blog. And what about myself? I can’t use all of my writerly thoughts in the novel, some of the stories don’t fit, some of the ideas aren’t right. So what to do? I must keep up with the blog simply to let those ideas fall out.

Now all I have to do is reduce some of the other stuff that I get up to to try and increase my writing time!

* Frank O’Connor or JFK or both seem to have told the story of young Irish men who would be running through the forest and would come across a wall. When they came across such a wall they would through their caps over the wall so that they had no choice but to climb it.