Choice Cuts

It has been very frosty outside the past week, the ground is a solid, hard block that crunches when you walk over it. A friend of mine visited on Saturday to talk about a trip to India and in particular the Mumbai area and when  she arrived she said she had heard a lot of lambs. I told her just before Christmas in the run-up to Easter sheep are brought into most of the surrounding fields to lamb. like all the animals here they are beautiful to look at but only looked after in as much as they are useful. Many sheep here have  arthritic front legs and eat grass kneeling and all the lambs, so lovely to see, are there to die long before they reach adulthood.

It is a sight I have never been easy with, to know that the cattle I see are not the same as eighteen months ago, that their eyes which look at the world will be eaten just after their heads are cut off hanging upside down in a  long line to be industrially processed. I have always thought of this as a human sickness, eating away at any pretense we have of goodness or ethics.

We do not consider life to be worth anything if it is not ours.

The Castration of Knowledge

An admiral of the Ming Dynasty in China, Zheng he captained seven voyages to the Indian Ocean starting from 1405 at the request of Emperor Yongle.  Zheng He’s expeditions also aimed to expand the Ming Empire’s influence overseas and establish an alternative trade route in place of the Silk road, which fell under the control of Tamerlane. Commanding a fleetof some 300 ships, a size unrivalled until World War I, the admiral exacted tribute from local rulers along the Southern Pacific coast and the Indian Ocean. Zheng He brought exotic gifts like giraffes back to the imperial court, and erected monuments in places as far as Malaysia, Sri Lanka, East Timor, and Madagascar. There is hot debate about whether the flotilla reached the New World before Europeans. Sadly the cost of the expeditions was prohibitive and stopped when Yongle died.

The tragedy of human intellectual curiosity which is still promoted today, is that inquiry for its own sake is not encouraged because ideas must make money. It should be noted that science might be 1400 years further advanced today if China had followed its star and not been hampered by power politics, or even if the Ionian philosophers had been the beginnings of scientific inquiry preceding the Renaissance by over 2000 years. We would do well to remember that electricity was discovered as a power-source by a scientist doing blue-skies research because it interested him, and not because he was looking to turn a dollar.

Our futures reside in the hands of men and women’s imaginations, not in what banks are prepared to fund.

Angels And Devils

We cannot go as far back as the first intellectual discussions human beings had about the world, but as far back as we are able to go we find reflected in our beliefs the dichotomy between good things happening and bad things happening. Born from the experience of everyday living and from the observation that luck exists, that some people survive  and some do not with no discernible reason why one is chosen over another. This is an observation still relevant today.

The idea that the good things and the bad things are presided over by some agency with greater powers to guide events is a logical step and therefore the first gods like Moloch needed to be appeased. And so we see the beginnings of the whole idea that human beings have no power, a principle which science challenges by telling us that what we really lack is knowledge. We all know today that burning a baby in front of a stone statue will not help us one whit with anything, but we still know there are good things and bad things that can happen with seemingly no logic.

The reason it still persists is the idea of self – we all live inside our heads and have a very clear idea of self – but nature does not. Just as we can kill a cow and eat it and say ‘there’s another one over there’ so it makes no difference to nature and  so nature can kill one person and still know there are others ‘over there’.

Nature knows us only as a species, not as individuals.

High End Geophysics

Someone once told me that if you read anything or hear anything in the political sphere, before answering one should ask the question, ‘Who benefits?’ Who benefits from me knowing this, who benefits from this happening, who benefits if this becomes law etc. So when people criticize the Climate Change science I always ask this question and there is only one answer. Because if Climate Change is activated by our activity it is our economic activity that generates it so making money benefits from Climate Change not being due to human activity.

I have just watched the American Geophysics Lecture, http://www.agu.org/meetings/fm09/lectures/lecture_videos/A23A.shtml, and listened to the discussion on how far the science has progressed that links CO2 emissions with temperature, taking in the Ordovician glaciation and the Mioecene spike. For once I heard scientists talking science, talking sedimentary deposits and probabilities and how CO2 looks like the best answer to several known problems.

So jaundiced have people become that when people say scientists make most of this up, to protect their salaries, they are believed. This is to misunderstand the scientific mind and the love of knowledge displayed by so many. I have some of the original copies of the first Ecologist magazine dating from the early 1970s. One of the first articles was about Climate Change.

Temperature and CO2 fluctuations strongly support each other, as strongly as business people and politicians support each other. It isn’t 100% for sure but as close as makes no difference. And we pump CO2 into the atmosphere which helps release ancient CO2 locked in rocks and the total CO2 we could emit over the coming centuries  could see temperatures average 37°.

The Politics Of Nonsense

Even a cursory glance at the history of all countries shows us that there are links between the thinkers on all sides of the political spectrum, what we broadly term left, right and centre. It is interesting to note that despite the links shown by cross-country co-operation between political parties of similar persuasion, people do not seem to be able to imbibe other people’s points of view, despite the fact we all share similar stresses and needs in our lives. So the question arises, what are we actually all arguing about?

If the long march to human rights, and commencement of the march to animal rights, puts us all on a level playing field, the obvious first answer is it must be an argument about how to achieve our shared goals. Except unpicking that we see that actually many of the people who argue do not share goals at all. There are many laws that run counter to those some political thinkers actually want to see.

Do the arguments indeed run to the fundamental of our needs as human beings after all? Is politics actually about food, homes, security, health and nothing more? Or is it true that since Greek times, politics have been about the market place and the marshalling of society in order to serve economics?

Is politics little more than the arguments around the proper ways to make and distribute money?

This Mobile Living

There is a scene in the book ‘How Green Was My Valley’ (I believe) in which the protagonist walks with a  girl from another village and gets home late to find his male relatives sitting with their boots on waiting for trouble. The reason being that the girl comes from the next valley and they expect her menfolk to be after a fight to teach them a lesson for touching their women.

We live in a world where ‘globalisation’ may actually mean something, and yes it may generally be bad, but it is the first time in history we can look to visiting everywhere if we have the money. But there is that tension about the next valley still in our veins. There is that feeling that for all the harmonisation the county , State, province next to ours is different. We can go all over the world working but we may not stay in the countries other than ours without feeling we are alien to the culture.

And the reason for this is because we are educated into a narrow view of culture. In fact none of us should point fingers but all of us should know that we, being human, have been and are on a journey in which all cultures our our human heritage. My fellow humans sacrificed children to gods, built the pyramids, conquered empires, enslaved each other and created poverty. My fellow humans are today fighting to the death in unnecessary wars.

This planet is our inheritance and fighting over it as we do will only leave us poorer. To be truly intellectual we have to be wholly ethical because it is where we are the same, in the being human, that we are bonded together.

Wind In The Willows

My mother was asking for a copy of Wind in the Willows to read and of all the books written for children in the twentieth century (it was published around 1908) it is one of the few that speaks to adults as much if not more than young children. Not just because Kenneth Grahame used people he knew as the template for his characters, but because those people have become synonymous with the book. People have often said they know a Ratty or a Badger and my mother said her father was a Mr.Toad.

They are all there, the house loving Mole always trying to do what is right, the practical Ratty, the masterful Badger everyone goes to to get things done and the unquenchable spirit  of Toad fascinated with life in all its adventure. And who doesn’t know a dark forest or a weasel or two?

It is also beautifully written with an economy of style, yet an ever flowing narrative that doesn’t stop for a second. It passes that acid test for great works of literature in that people will re-read it throughout their lives and find new joy and revisit old joy in each page. I have no idea how my own work will be received or if it will be remembered but if I could write one book as good, or even half as good, I might be a happy writer.

Achieving One’s Goals

I am sure from sometime during school onwards we have all set ourselves goals to achieve. I also recall from my years fund raising how the first thing we used to write was the ‘aims and objectives’ of the project, goals not there for the individual, but for the group. And in a way individual goals are also there for society not for the individual. I know, no one wants someone whose objective may be to rule as a dictator though to be fair we do get enough of those.

Personal achievements are heavily defined by our technology and our customs so in the UK people want to own their own home whilst in France this is not the main objective of many people as renting is not seen as a defeat but a respected way to live. You can usually tell the objectives that are not particularly our own as when we achieve them, we feel we are equal in our strata of society. We can have the party and invite everyone who invited us to their retirement, or their new job, or their posting abroad. We can put our car in the driveway with the latest number plate.

Its the things we do we don’t show off that really are ours. Good or bad, they are the things we take more pride in, which make us feel most at home. Because eventually adults realise it isn’t much fun doing what  everyone else expects.

Chilled Spring

This past week Snowdrops (Galanthus) started to appear in the garden amidst the hard frosts and very cold days. They are the first flowers of spring and are often seen coming up through snow. The Dogwood (Cornus) and Honeysuckle (Lonicera) are giving the tiniest leaves. On my walks there is one long bank that every year grows a head of Snowdrops tucked around brambles, grass and under Blackthorn (Prunus) and Hawrthorn (Crataegus). The bank is an ancient hedge line, where fields have been bounded by stone walls and over the centuries the walls mellow, some parts will fall, whole trees will grow from the top or sides and flowers find their place. It is a beautiful sight and one of those are instances where Nature and humanity together build something that is actually lovely to the eyes.

The walls mostly end in a corner where a gate is hung between two massive pieces of granite taken from the moorland (here) and large pieces of wood in other places. It is of course sad to see land hemmed in in this way in one sense, and this land was cleared of ancient forests as attested when you dig two feet down and start taking out the stone which shows the fossil tree rings. I understand that these fossil tree rings and old trees have enabled dendrochronoligists to work out about four thousand years worth of Earth’s weather.

Another instance where the mind of humanity and Nature work together.

Cries In The Dark

Some days when my mother’s illness surprises even me and she screams and talks and calls out for twenty hours at a stretch I wonder about the fragility of the human mind, a collection of impulses and chemicals modern science is only just getting to grips with and about which it still lacks a good understanding. A foreign country filled with unimagined delights we find hard to interpret having no phrase book, but which rules us, defines who we are and in my mother’s case, who we were and to what extent we have trodden the off track roads too rough for anyone to willingly want to travel.

But I wonder also can people whose chemicals are not in imbalance claim any normality on a planet hurtling through new regions of space every second, wrapped in a bubble of atmosphere assaulted by radiation of many kinds every moment and now with bodies and minds saturated in our own chemical soups? Don’t we also mourn those we loved and lost, call for those who died when we were children in our own ways, wish some things had been different, wish with all our might some days were better than they had been, some decisions brighter than they turned out?

Isn’t my mother just shouting out what we all want to say, only like artists since the beginning of time, she has the guts to say it.

Once More With Passion

I remember reading all my Shakespeare at school and being taken to Stratford to see two plays and watching videos of various productions and being struck by the whole ‘ethos’ that has arisen around the plays. Every generation must realise them anew, and some new productions are startlingly good though most are drab and uninventive (the greatest problem today is the fact that actors are trained mostly to do TV and film work so less attention is being paid to the timbre of the voice). One of the strangest things I hear is the way in which the natural ageing process of famous actors is tuned into the plays so you get to play King Lear when you are seventy.

Surely the brilliance of the actor is the thirty year old who makes me believe he is eighty?

But this drive to be of the moment, to revisit the classics and make them ‘relevant’ misses one huge thing, most people are not taught what makes the plays brilliant in the first place. Because I had been reading Shakespeare since I was ten due to my mother, I rarely had problems with individual words or the simpler parts of Elizabethan vocabulary. It doesn’t take much to make people understand five hundred years ago, it does take a little time.

The lilt of the language, any language, can be put into a child by the enthusiasm of the parents even as they are learning their vernacular. That understanding is a gift that will be with them all their lives and be a key to open up so much of the tradition of literature as second nature.

Men’s Fashion

So today I bought online  pair of jeans for the princely sum of £120. probably the most expensive trousers I have ever bought but I plead the rip I didn’t know about in my old trousers, which I have been walking around in for a few days. Wearing the same clothes for three days in a  row isn’t something ladies know much about – much like the work clothes that don’t get  washed for a month but that’s how you know they are work clothes, they stand up by themselves.

I was thinking if I would rather live in togas but they are for warm countries; and the worsted thick clothes of Saxon peasants have a certain abrasive quality that doesn’t go with the feminised modern man who uses a loofah in the bathroom. I do like the top part of Elizabethan fashion but the whole tights issue makes me glad they don’t market them anymore. A bit like Georgian wigs and hair gels from the forties though I do like hats.

I guess jeans will do but they are so expensive to get a pair that just wear out and not tear in places you don’t want eyes to go without you knowing it. I guess I will just have to save up or stop wearing trousers, but men don’t have anywhere to go because we can’t wear dresses the days we feel we don’t want to wear trousers.

I may just have to wash the overalls more often.

Where Stories Come From

For generations there was a strongly held belief in the Music of the Spheres. In Hindu  beliefs there are states of mind when one can actually hear the music, but in the original Pythagorean concept there was an order to the planets that was mystical. There is an allied belief in Judaism about the states of the angels and the praise given to god by all creation (also very mystical). Kepler took up this idea in some ways by trying to fit all the geometric shapes into the known planetary orbits, though he gave up the idea after years of trying.

Where do ideas like this come from? It is of course taught that they have their origins in the mathematical system of Pythagoras which in part is true, but mathematics is itself a pattern making tool that helps us as arch pattern makers to understated what we do not understand. There are few things you can get to know from a distance and the fact that stars and the Cosmos have become in any way known to us is little short of startling, but it is the way in which we try to see balance, order and patterns that gives us most of our ideas.

Sometimes the patterns do not exist but since they represent order they instill us with some confidence and that is why people have believed  untrue things for generations. It is also why when the ideas are proven false so many people do not want to give them up. After all wouldn’t it be better to have singing planets than meteorites that can smash our existence to nothingness? That’s not a pretty, human-friendly pattern.

Too Much

I remember when I was around eleven years old I used to come in from school and put on the TV and watch the young children’s programmes, then mine, and not get up until the news came on. I was a year away from exams and I came home one day and the TV had been put away. My mother decided I was watching it too much and not working hard enough.

When I was at my main school a friend of mine who was highly intelligent kept getting into trouble with the headmaster and one day was caught sitting in the middle of a sports fields in a poncho smoking marijuana and they decided enough was enough and expelled him from the school. Something I told one of our teachers was ridiculous but the teacher said he had gone too far.

There are times when we are forming our minds that we are told we have overstepped the boundaries, and when we are adults in many places those people in charge above us do the same, and the legal system sets boundaries and penalties though not because of excess in its own kind (though it includes that) but simply to maintain a certain behaviour pattern.

But no one tells the species when it goes too far. No one comments because there is no one to comment. There comes a time when self-rule is all there is and that is what humanity lacks.

Queenie-Colleen

During my mother’s illness she was constantly asking for a puppy she could look after and hold whilst she was bed bound and she particularly wanted a rough collie, because one of the first dogs she ever knew had been a rough collie called Scottie.

The first one we found we lost because I couldn’t get to the lady in time and it was tri-colour which mum was not so fond of as a sable, and the second one we found was ready to go so I went up with some friends to collect her. Ned drove with Jackie and Emily helping and we collected a charming fur-ball which the Emily cradled all the way home and mum showed immediate pleasure though she didn’t look after her at all.

My American friends didn’t have any faith in the name Queenie and christened her Colleen (they thought it hilarious I should be shouting Queenie across the fields). Although she isn’t the brightest of dogs she is very loving and she takes delight in simple things and is one of the few dogs I have lived with who doesn’t care what the weather is like, she is going out. She loved the recent snow and bit it as she danced around. She swims and is very friendly to other dogs though she can growl back if growled at.

She is two this January – where does the time go – and finally mum has warmed to her and feeds her from her bed.

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