Tuesday, 20 October 2009

DOUBLE CHRIS-CROSSED

Once in a while, this blog is about the Camino. This one is, so be warned.
While Reb was away, two German pilgrims showed up. One was called Christian, and was healthy, one was called Christopher and was unwell. Very unwell, in fact. Both aged twenty, long-haired, bearded, like the European visual versions of Jesus.
Christopher was diagnosed with probable multiple sclerosis seven years ago, which may - or may not - have something to do with what happened.
These two kids, along with four others originally, who had quit one by one, set out from Cologne to walk the Camino with no money apart from a small sum set aside for emergencies. They started out August 1st and had clearly used some wheeled transport to get themselves as far as Moratinos by October 17th.
Their original plan was to be self-sufficient - that is to live off wild fruits, weeds, vegetables, nuts and berries and any wild animals they might happen to get, I suppose. The latter was not likely, as they were not armed or carrying traps and road kill is frugal round here. So, fruits, berries and nuts it was. As they had so little money they slept out most of the time so as not to pay for albergues - usually about 5 euros a night.
'Self sufficiency' became to mean - as far as one could follow - scrounging, begging stale bread from bakeries, dumpster diving behind supermarkets and a bit of light stealing from orchards and vegetable gardens.
The nights grew colder. Christopher developed such a swelling in his throat and tongue that he could not eat anything solid at all and had trouble even swallowing water.
And he was running a feverish temperature 38c, 104f.
Finally, at our house, Christopher went to bed and stayed there for 24 hours or so until Reb got home. We tried to feed him in the meantime, but it was no use.
So, Rebekah's first task on getting home was to drive him to the medical center in Sahagun, some six miles away. He was given a shot of something and we were told he should go immediately to the big hospital in Leon, 45 miles away. This we duly did, on Sunday afternoon. Reb had already driven some 100 miles from the other side of Burgos in the morning. My driving days are done. Minces muy malo.
The hospital services are so good around here (this is not irony) that the emergency staff there admitted him, examined him, took several blood samples for analysis, and came up with instructions for further treatment all in the space of two hours.
Christopher was told to report the following morning (today, Sunday 20th) to have an abscess in his mouth drained. (As of now, Sunday evening, we have heard nothing, and I will be mildly surtprized if we ever do. We took him to the albergue in Leon, explained the circumstances, said Hasta luego, Buen Camino, breathed a sigh of relief and went for a bite at our favorite pizza joint, La Competen├žia. Thin crust. Tip top.
At first, when it was all over, I felt that I ought to be all bent out of shape by the amazing presumption of these kids. Their 'self sufficiency' probably cost us about 50 euros in hard cash.
But, then, I think that - if I had heard of the Camino at age 20 - maybe 17 in my case - I might have done exactly the same dopey thing. Too old to be dopey in that fashion now, at 68. Dopey in different ways.
A pilgrim from Cuba has just shown up, so I will continue mana├▒a.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

EVIDENCE OF INSANITY

Leather from unique cows.

'This world is so insane that to be sane is simply another kind of madness,' said Pascal two or three hundred years ago. He was right then and here is clear evidence that he is still right.

Flipping through The New Yorker of October 5th, 2009. On page 21 a full-page ad for Range Rovers. The headline reads: ONE OF THE MOST CIVILIZED PLACES ON EARTH. The picture showed the driving seat of the car. In 1998 - the only year for which I could find the statistics I needed - 1,170,694 people on Earth were killed in traffic-related accidents. 38,848,625 were injured. Things are almost certainly a heck of a lot worse by now.
I did find some figures full of optimistic cheer from the U.S. for 2008. It seems that only 31,600 Americans got whacked. (About 10 times more than 9-11, you will note.) This, proclaimed the article, is a great improvement on 1972, when 54,000 bit the asphalt. Our roads are getting safer, exulted some suited buffoon. No, they are just getting less awful.
What the ad ought to say is, ONE OF THE MOST DANGEROUS PLACES ON EARTH.
And that's not all. The smaller text of the ad reads thus:
The Range Rover Autobiography (the name of the beast, it seems) is all that is luxurious. Redesigned for you, by you. From the interior employing unique leather hides, trim and premium woods, these uniquely personalized Range Rovers take you wherever, whenever with a heightened ride quality and unprecedented performance. Finding the time to get far away just got a little easier.

To dissect such imbecile fatuity is, I agree, a waste of whatever brains we still possess. But.. unique leather hides? You mean each one only comes off one cow?

'Uniquely personalized' speaks for itself.

God knows what 'heightened ride quality' is. Sounds nice, though. Maybe we get killed in luxurious comfort.

To be sure, car advertising is often highly dubious. Pontiac used to promise 'DRIVING EXCITEMENT' when "driving excitement" is surely the last thing any sane person would want.
Which brings us back to Pascal. Time to unbuckle the safety belt and clamber out of the 'Autobiography' faintly relieved to still be in one piece.

NOTE: The Range Rover 'Autobiography' costs from $145,000 amd does 15 miles to the gallon.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

RE. REB'S BLOG



A quick update on Big Fun before Rebekah can file the real thing.

1: The rains have come. Good thing for farmers, bad thing for putting chimneys on bodegas.

2: Blodwyn is well again. Pecker back up. Olive oil, administered by eye dropper did the trick again, I think.

3: Reb exaggerates about me. And the racing is over until The Breeders Cup in November, now Sea The Stars has won the Arc. But the masajista in Sahagun could do nothing for me, but suggest some cream which cost 20 euros. So, we will maybe try a curandero - a magic man, or woman. Magic. So low am I sunk.
If that fails there is nothing left but Lourdes. Superstition.

On a more melancholy note, Irving Penn is dead. Age 92, though. One of his pix above. Nice.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

ONLY CONNECTING

This shot of Amedeo Modigliani has nothing to do with the following, but I like to put a picture on the blog. There should be something interesting to look at, at least.

Of late, I have been involved in a friendly discussion with an old friend, Jeff, supposedly about the Middle East. It is really about Israel.
Jeff is - or was - I think, paid to put that troubled country in as good a light as possible. Or perhaps he really does see it as the promised land. Both, I expect. Fair enough. It takes all sorts, etc.
As our chat has been to-ing and fro-ing, I have also been reading a book called 'The Rest Is Noise,' by Alex Ross. I cannot recommend the book highly enough. It is more or less a history of 'serious' music during the previous century. Don't be put off by this. The book is a compendium of gossip and scandal replete with jealousy and hate, as the song goes.

On the face of it, there is no real link between the two subjects, but, as Forster put it somewhere, 'Only connect.'
Two quotes from 'Noise' struck me as relevant. One is from a French poet, Charles Peguy in 1910 (of whom I am afraid I know nothing).

'Everything begins in mystique and ends in politics.'

The second is from Leonard Bernstein:

'It is only after fifty, sixty, seventy years of world holocausts, of the simultaneous advance of democracy with our increasing inability to stop making war, with the simultaneous magnification of national pieties with the intensification of our active resistance to social equality - only after we have experienced all this through the smoking ovens of Auschwitz, the frantically bombed jungles of Vietnam, through Hungary, Suez, the Bay of Pigs, the farce-trial of Sinavsky and Daniel, the refueling of the Nazi machine, the murder in Dallas, the arrogance of South Africa, the Hiss-Chambers travesty, the Trotskyite purges, Black Power, Red Guards, the Arab encirclement of Israel, the plague of McCarthyism, the Tweedledum armaments race, - only, after all this can we finally listen to Mahler's music and understand that it foretold all. And that in the foretelling it showered a rain of beauty on this world that has not been equalled since.'

A truly splendid rant, no question, and no more than Mahler deserves. If Bernstein were to write it today, he might omit maybe South Africa, but add several later horrors - 9-11, Bosnia, Chechnya, Ethopia, Iraq, Guantanamo, Gaza, Abu Grahib, Afghanistan. It would seem things are not improving much.

Peguy's quote struck me as particularly apt for Israel. Of course, it could just as well apply to almost everything.

Of Bernstein, as a liberal myself, I am in agreement with him on virtually all - Mahler especially.

To talk of 'the Arab encirclement of Israel,' though, strikes me as odd. Surely when the first Israelis arrived, they must have known that they were surrounded by Arab states? How could they fail to be encircled? Maybe they thought the Arabs would not mind their arrival. The Arabs minded very much from day one.
It seems as if Bernstein was trying to shoehorn Israel's predicament into a list where it did not comfortably fit.

Still on the ceaseless hunt for knowledge - in Moratinos, we never sleep - I looked up what countries constitute the Middle East. Here is the list I found:

Bahrain
Gaza Strip
Iran
Iraq
Israel
Jordan
Kuwait
Lebanon
Oman
Qatar
Saudi Arabia
Syria
United Arab Emirates
West Bank
Yemen

No Egypt? Surely an oversight. Even so, a pretty shabby bunch, I reckon. Even shabbier including Egypt. Afghanistan would fit right in as well.
It's a bit late to start asking what Israel is doing rubbing shoulders with such company - but I do. In Spain (or is it Russia?) we have a saying: Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas. Can anyone have thought that any good could come of all this? Or is it that people feel they have no choice? Gotta do what they gotta do? The result may well be the end of civilisation as we know it. If global warming does't get us, racial hatred and aggressive nationalism can pick up the slack.
Might not be so bad a thing, though. After all, Mahler is nice, but not necessary.
Maybe the cockroaches will can a better job of it.

Friday, 18 September 2009

A LYNCHING, 2009 STYLE

The following is a cut-down version of an AP story today. Clark has not been charged with anything yet. He might just be innocent. Imagine. But he is being lynched as surely as many innocent blacks were in the last century..



NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Staffers in white coats reported to work Friday at the end of an extraordinary week at Yale as police considered whether a graduate student's grisly death might have stemmed from a dispute with an animal research technician described as an overbearing "control freak."
A law enforcement official said police are looking into the possibility that Raymond Clark III's attitude led to a deadly workplace confrontation with 24-year-old Annie Le. She vanished Sept. 8, and her body was found in a utility compartment in a Yale medical school building five days later, on what was to be her wedding day.
Police charged Clark, 24, with murder on Thursday, arresting him at a motel a day after taking hair, fingernail and saliva samples to compare with evidence from the crime scene.
Bond was set at $3 million for Clark, who kept his head down and said "Yes, your honor," when asked whether he understood his rights. He did not enter a plea.
The official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing and many details remain sealed, said Yale workers told police that Clark was a "control freak" who clashed with scientists and their proteges in the lab where they both worked at the Ivy League school.
Investigators haven't decided whether the theory will ultimately lead to a motive but don't believe they'll need to establish one when Clark goes to trial because they have an abundance of strong forensic evidence, the official said.
Authorities are offering few details about the crime. They would not discuss a motive, largely because Clark will not talk to police, and would not disclose the DNA test results or how they connected Clark to the slaying.
Yale students are relieved that a suspect is in custody, yet shaken that the crime happened there.
"It's important to the community to know that something's been done and that somebody's actually being brought to justice," Juliana Biondo said Thursday.
But that doesn't comfort Doug Lindsay.
"Despite the fact that they found somebody ... it was still, to me, kind of scary," he said.
Two friends of Clark's since childhood, appearing on CNN's "Larry King Live" on Thursday night, said they were stunned by the murder allegations and could not reconcile them with the young man they've known for years.
"That's not the Raymond Clark I've talked to my whole entire life," Bobby Heslin said.
"I just can't picture him doing something like this," Maurice Perry said.
The New York Times reported that Clark at times grew angry if lab workers did not wear shoe covers. "He would make a big deal of it, instead of just requesting that they wear them," said a researcher who asked not to be identified.

If your newspaper is running this kind of story, I advise canceling, right now.


P.S.
I put the fifth paragraph in bold for obvious reasons. The fact that 'the investigation is ongoing and many details remain sealed,' will be of small consolation to Clark. His name was not one of the sealed details.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

FUN FACEBOOK QUIZ

WHICH DISNEY DWARF - no, let's no do that one again - how about..

Which of these countries will decide to get its nuclear retaliation in first?

A: India, B: Pakistan, C: Israel, D: Iran
Answers on a flameproof postcard please. Happy Facebooking!

Thursday, 10 September 2009

More Oh, God

MEXICO CITY – A Bolivian religious fanatic briefly hijacked a jetliner from the beach resort of Cancun as it landed in Mexico City on Wednesday, police said. All passengers and the crew were released unharmed.
The Bible-carrying hijacker used a juice can he said was a bomb to hold the 103 passengers and crew on the tarmac for more than an hour.
Masked police stormed the aircraft with guns drawn and escorted several handcuffed men away without firing a shot. Police later said there was only one hijacker, and the other men aboard were detained because the suspect had told a flight attendant he had three accomplices. The others were quickly released.
Jose Flores, 44, later told police his three companions were "the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost."
Flores hijacked Aeromexico Flight 576 after a divine revelation, according to Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna. Flores said Wednesday's date — 9-9-09 — is the satanic number 666 turned upside down.


Well, that's all right then. Until I read the last sentence, I thought Senor Flores must be some kind of nut.
But has God nothing better to do than go around hijacking planes?

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Oh, God

There is a very interesting and thought-provoking article in The New Yorker of 31 August, called God In The Quad. It is based partly on a review of a book by Terry Eagleton who is apparently a Marxist Catholic. The book is a repudiation of the 'new atheism' of Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins among others. I have not read either the Eagleton book or the Dawkins book, The God Delusion, and will not - Eagleton because I won't agree with it, thanks to the New Yorker article, and Dawkins because I already agree with it.
So, no need.
I shall read 'Notes from the Underground,' which has just arrived, instead.
In fact there is no point in writing any any more about this topic. I would have to go on for thousands of words and nothing would be solved and people would either get bored or angry.
But, do try to read the article. I agree with most of it.

ALSO
This, says the site, is my 150th blog. An intoxicating - or sobering - thought. One or the other.

Monday, 31 August 2009

THE BRIGHT SIDE

Having just read Reb's latest, rather downbeat, blog, I feel I must reverse roles and be cheerful for once.
Yesterday we took the dogs for a ride in the car to some nearby woods.
Tim was Tim, as ever, but Una was so like her old self when we were back in Pennsylvania - racing around, so full of the joys of Summer it was a treat to watch. Whether or not the surgery will save her, we still can't know. But even if it doesn't, it was worth it for yesterday morning alone.
She is a lesson to all of us, but me in particular.
Reb found a Mark Twain quote - something to the effect that, 'We humans get to Heaven by favor. It it went by merit, dogs would go there and we would not.'
While I am on half-remembered remarks, Montaigne said something like, 'If stupid people really are happier than the rest of us, the sooner the rest of us start taking stupid lessons the better.'

And, on an (almost) entirely different topic, the lauding of Ted Kennedy is getting stupid. Sure, he was a cheerful old pol and a good liberal, but he was also a buffoon with very little credibility after Chappaquiddick. 'Nobody can take his place,' the pundits solemnly intone. No, and thank God for that. John Kerry, for example, is already twice the man Ted ever was.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Maxims Man

Francois De La Rochefoucauld

There are some who never would have loved if they never had heard
it spoken of.

However deceitful hope may be, yet she carries us on pleasantly to
the end of life.

The desire to appear clever often prevents our being so.

When our vices leave us we flatter ourselves with the idea we have
left them.

Just four of the many maxims of La Rochefoucauld. The French have long seemed to have a more sensible - if cynical - view of life than anyone else. It runs from Montaigne up to - and past - Camus.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Caminology

I have been getting into debates about the Camino on a website called Santiagobis (no, I don't know why, either) devoted to that topic recently, so the business of pilgrimage is on my mind.
So far, 2009 has been the year of Italians and cyclists. Last year it was Germans, because a comedian there wrote a best-seller about his journey.
In his book, called in English, 'I'm Off Now' he suggested that people who could afford to stay in hotels should do so and not take up bed spaces in albergues. I'm inclined to agree, and more or less said so.
This sparked a firestorm of response, mostly missing the point and saying how nice albergues were, and what lovely people one meets in them, etc.
The debate is still raging on, but I will cut the Kerkeling (for that is the author's name) now.
Why there are so many Italians this year is mysterious. I have asked several, but none had any real answer. I did think they might be doing penance on behalf of Berlusconi, but it was laughingly denied.
The rise in the number of cyclists is another thing. In general, it is unwelcome to me, because I think they are often bloody pests.
They wear outfits that insult the eye, seldom let walkers know of their approach, and zoom past with nary a warning, let alone a greeting. They seem to take little interest in the countryside they hurtle through and often are wearing headphones, so don't hear anything either. Yesterday I saw one bombing along, oblivious to everything - and shouting into his mobile phone. They are mostly Spanish and young and I also suspect them of doing most of the littering on the trail, though I have no direct evidence for this.
A curious thing is that of the many discarded cigarette packets we pick up, all, without exception, are Lucky Strike or Marlboro. Either nobody now smokes anything else, or smokers of other brands (whatever happened to Ducados and Gaulois?) are less environment-insensitive.

TODAY'S THOUGHT

Bachelors know more about women than married men; if they didn't they'd be married too.
H. L. Mencken

Thursday, 13 August 2009

In Praise of Common Sense

This picture has nothing to do with common sense. I think.



Common sense. Great stuff. There's nothing like it, is there? Common sense tells us the world is flat -course it is - particularly if you have ever lived in Toledo, Ohio. Flat as a pancake.
And common sense tells us that the sun travels round the earth. Course it does, it's obvious - especially here in Spain - where you can usually actually SEE the big yellow felow coming up and going down.
I think I have told this story before, but it fits in here. One of Wittgenstein's students once said to him,
'You can see why people used to think that the sun went round the earth.'
'Why?' said Wittgenstein.
'Because it looks that way.' said the student.
'Well, how would it look if the earth went round the sun?' said the great man.
And common sense tells us that life must have had a designer. Course it must. Someone, or something, must have dreamed up giraffes - they can't have just evolved, can they? Poor old Darwin - no common sense.

Friday, 7 August 2009

A Pilgrim's Problems

Whoops, sorry Ali. Trigger seems to have stepped on your head.

It has been a while between entries. Sorry to the fan, but I have been involved in several adventures, none of them all that nice. Also, somehow, I seem have blundered into a website called Santiagobis (no, neither do I). But it seems to feature a lot of rather solemn questions about the Camino - what sort of gourd do you recommend - stuff like that. I tried to help in one case, but only succeeded in ruffling a feather or two.
Anyway,I was going to post the following on Santiagobis, but what the hey? I'd only make it worse.
So it'll make a blog.

ADVICE NEEDED

Feeling in need of a blinding headache - and to purge my soul of the Grave Sin of Irony - I am thinking of lugging my tired old frame along the Camino Frances to Santiago.

However...

I DON'T WANT to get blisters.
I DON'T WANT it to be too hot.
I DON'T WANT it to be too cold.
I DON'T WANT it to be too wet.
I DON'T WANT to be unsure where I am sleeping tonight.
I DON'T WANT to be unsure where I will be the following night.
I DON'T WANT to be blown up by ETA.
I DON'T WANT to be kidnapped and beheaded by fanatical moslems.
I DON'T WANT representatives of The Quivering Brethren to try to convert me as I walk.
I DON'T WANT someone snoring in the next bed in the albergue.
I DON'T WANT someone farting in the next bed in the albergue.
I DON'T WANT someone sniveling softly to themselves all night in the next bed.
I DON'T WANT someone snoring and farting in the next bed, then getting up at 5.30 a.m. and rustling a lot of plastic bags and chatting to his chums as they leave noisily.
I DON'T WANT to be barked at by fierce dogs.
I DON'T WANT to get into arguments about evolution with creationist crackpots.
I DON'T WANT to get stuck in the middle of a herd of sheep.
I DON'T WANT little midgey things dancing in front of my face and flying into my mouth.
I DON'T WANT hideously Spandex-clad bikey-boys hurtling past me at 40 kilometers an hour without a word of warning and making me jump.
I DON'T WANT to see any more Mel Gibson Movies starring Jesus (What's that got to do with it- Rebekah) (Nothing, I just don't want to.)
I DON'T WANT to hear any more pilgs saying, 'Is this albergue a donativo, or do we have to pay?'
I DON'T WANT any pilgrim meals that include french fries.
I DON'T WANT any hospitaleros who don't understand English.
I DON'T WANT to say 'Buenos dias,' to French pilgs, only be answered with, 'Bonjour.'
I DON'T WANT to have to see elderly, grossly fat Germans swaggering around the refugio wearing only tiny underpants.

In view of all this, I am thinking of fashioning a stout, wooden, soundproof box and having myself Fed-xed to Santiago in it.
What do fellow-pilgrims out there suggest?

Really?
If you're going to be that snitty about it, I think I'll just stay home.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Alone in the Peaceable, except for 16 beasts

Here is a real blog, for a change. Reb is in Paris, France, as opposed to Texas, so I am in charge. Naturally, things have got out of hand and dog Una and cat Murphy both shared my bed last night. Hope Reb doesn't read this.
Yesterday, Esteban brought round a handsome young rooster, or cockerel as a gift. His name may be Max. Time will tell. He seems to have settled down with his harem of 11 chicken girls. I will put his picture on the blog as soon as I find the camera.

On an entirely unrelated topic, I don't understand Facebook - how it works, and what it is supposed to be for - and probably never will. But I have just signed off from an entertaining chat with a lady on it. How many other people have read our exchanges, I have no idea.
The lady in question is, as she says, a proudly patriotic American. She is also clearly a thoroughly decent person. Reading between the lines, and from comments her husband made, I get the idea that they belong to a class of Americans that are regularly handed the shitty end of the stick. I encountered many such in Toledo, Ohio, and Jeannette Pa. Her husband was a soldier, including in Iraq, and is now a cop. Lucky to be still alive, no doubt. So it falls to him and his like to enforce the laws that are specifically designed to keep him and his family firmly in the state of what Thoreau described as 'quiet desperation.' For instance, to protect all the bankers and swindlers and con men that are not actually in jail from being hanged from lamp posts, as they deserve.
All well and good, but what is ironic is that the couple in question (her,at least) are patriotic in the best sense of the word. They truly believe America can do no wrong, despite what they experience daily. They cheerfully feed the hand that bites them.
The Bernie Maddoff´s and Kenneth Lays of that country no doubt laugh at the idea of pride in their country. Remember Leona Helmsley? 'Only the little people pay taxes.'
It is the task of the Army and the Police to keep the oppressors safe from the oppressed.
I am not saying that other countries, like Spain and England for two, don't also cynically exploit the goodwill of many of their citizens. But I strongly suspect that the citizens involved know very well that they are being fed on garbage and don't choke it down cheerfully.
As one of my friends once remarked, 'It´s not that the government wants us to eat dog turds that bothers me. We have come to expect that. No, what´s off-pissing is that the bastards want us to call it chocolate.'

What the heck is this O'Gara guy on about? He sounds like a Commie to me.


None of this probably makes sense to anybody else. But that's what blogs are for.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Clueless

Breaking News Alert
The New York Times
Friday, July 17, 2009 -- 8:19 AM ET

Citigroup Reports $4.3 Billion Earned in Second Quarter


Citigroup posted a second-quarter profit of $4.3 billion on
Friday, beating analysts' forecasts.

I now get breaking news alerts from the NYT on my email. It strikes me that now I am so baffled by financial stuff I don´t know whether I should be apoplectic with rage at this particular bit of information, or delighted.

I doubt that I am alone in this.

Monday, 13 July 2009

¡Joder!

This just in, from the web.

Swearing Makes Pain More Tolerable

That muttered curse word that reflexively comes out when you stub your toe could actually make it easier to bear the throbbing pain, a new study suggests.
Swearing is a common response to pain, but no previous research has connected the uttering of an expletive to the actual physical experience of pain.
"Swearing has been around for centuries and is an almost universal human linguistic phenomenon," said Richard Stephens of Keele University in England and one of the authors of the new study.
Stephens and his fellow Keele researchers John Atkins and Andrew Kingston sought to test how swearing would affect an individual's tolerance to pain. Because swearing often has an exaggerating effect that can overstate the severity of pain, the team thought that swearing would lessen a person's tolerance.
As it turned out, the opposite seems to be true.
The researchers enlisted 64 undergraduate volunteers and had them submerge their hand in a tub of ice water for as long as possible while repeating a swear word of their choice. The experiment was then repeated with the volunteer repeating a more common word that they would use to describe a table.
Contrary to what the researcher expected, the volunteers kept their hands submerged longer while repeating the swear word.
The researchers think that the increase in pain tolerance occurs because swearing triggers the body's natural "fight-or-flight" response. Stephens and his colleagues suggest that swearing may increase aggression (seen in accelerated heart rates), which downplays weakness to appear stronger or more macho.

Well, blow me down, if you will excuse the language.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Sperm Count

Whoops.


Human sperm created from stem cells in world first, claims British university
British scientists have created human sperm using stem cells in a medical first that could revolutionise fertility treatment, they claim.

Headlines from Wednesday's Daily Telegraph.
I would have thought that there was enough of the stuff around already.

Nailin' Palin

My blogging colega, Lura, asks me what I think about Sara Palin. To paraphrase The Incomparable Max, (Beerbohm, that is, not T J) to give an honest and accurate account of the woman would require a far lesser pen than mine.
However, I note that a friend on Facebook suggests that she is giving up politics to make a more lucrative living as a Tina Fey impersonator.
I also note that her name is an anagram of NAILS A RAP, but don't know what to make of this.
Is is all very odd.


TODAY'S THOUGHT
Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness.
Blaise Pascal

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Jam session

LOS ANGELES – A motorcade from the home of Michael Jackson's parents has reached a cemetery in the Hollywood Hills for a private service in advance of a star-studded memorial in downtown Los Angeles.
Numerous vehicles under California Highway Patrol escort headed out from the parents' home shortly before 8 a.m. Tuesday and reached Forest Lawn Memorial Park Hollywood Hills about 15 minutes later.
A California Highway Patrol escort shut down sections of freeways during the height of Los Angeles' morning rush hour to allow the motorcade to pass.

Which, no doubt, leaves many thousands of Los Angeles motorists wishing that The Peter Pan of Pop had never grown up, let alone died.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Local Treasure and Personal Idol


This beautiful figure is from a local church, sadly not Moratinos. Still, to realise that such things are within a stone´s throw is pleasing.
It was made in the twelfth century, said the nice lady who showed us around. The expression on the face of Mary is wonderfully enigmatic. Jesus has the the look of somebody who has already seen it all.
Rebekah´s current blog about Jewel Boxes will make it all clear.


During the last couple of weeks, I have been too busy visiting friends and then winning and losing vast sums of money on Royal Ascot to do my blog. Sorry to my fan, Laura.
As a result, she - and no doubt several million others - have been asking themselves why Patrick ignored the centenary of the birth of Isiah Berlin on June 6th. One of the great minds of the last century of course, and a hero to those of independent mind.

To redeem myself belatedly, here are a few of his observations. They repay careful consideration.


All forms of tampering with human beings, getting at them, shaping them against their will to your own pattern, all thought control and conditioning is, therefore, a denial of that in men which makes them men and their values ultimate.


Few new truths have ever won their way against the resistance of established ideas save by being overstated.


Injustice, poverty, slavery, ignorance - these may be cured by reform or revolution. But men do not live only by fighting evils. They live by positive goals, individual and collective, a vast variety of them, seldom predictable, at times incompatible.


Liberty for wolves is death to the lambs.


Only barbarians are not curious about where they come from, how they came to be where they are, where they appear to be going, whether they wish to go there, and if so, why, and if not, why not.


Philosophers are adults who persist in asking childish questions.


The first people totalitarians destroy or silence are men of ideas and free minds.


The fundamental sense of freedom is freedom from chains, from imprisonment, from enslavement by others. The rest is extension of this sense, or else metaphor.


The very desire for guarantees that our values are eternal and secure in some objective heaven is perhaps only a craving for the certainties of childhood or the absolute values of our primitive past.


To understand is to perceive patterns.




Tuesday, 2 June 2009

BE MY BFF, OR EFF OFF


LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Celebrity heiress Paris Hilton is bringing her reality show search for a new best friend to Dubai, where her hard-partying style will be reined in a notch to accommodate Middle East sensibilities, the production company behind the series said on Tuesday.
Production on the latest version of "Paris Hilton's My New BFF" will begin later this month in Dubai and take 17 days, Ish Entertainment said.
As in the U.S. and British versions of the program, the show will revolve around a group of contestants trying to win Hilton's affection and the title of her "best friend forever," or "BFF" to use text-messaging lingo.
"We're very aware we are not making the same show we would make in Los Angeles," said Ish co-founder Michael Hirschorn.
Despite the high alcohol content often found in similar reality shows, Hirschorn said that to respect the local mores of Dubai, alcohol may be nixed from the program.
He added that the idea for the show intrigued him.
"I was excited about the sheer, 'Oh my God, what's going to happen' factor," Hirschorn said.


And who, among us, can put his or her hand on his or her heart and reproach the honest Hirschorn? I myself reproduced the above article because I was excited about the sheer, 'Oh my God, what's the world coming to?' factor.

Chortling, doctoring, slaughtering, adventuring


It´s been a while since the last blog. Thank God for that, I hear you mutter.
Still, here is a mixed bag of stuff.

First my old chum Ted Simon arrived, stayed a day or so and has now gone. See pic above. He was looking for something to read while loafing, so I introduced him to "South Wind" by Norman Douglas. Hard to describe this book, first published in 1917, but it certainly should never be out of print, which it currently is.
As he read it, Ted chortled.
It is good to see a grown man chortle.

Second, Blodwyn, our favourite hen, has been unwell for some days now. We believe she has "Impacted Crop." However, we have been waterboarding her with olive oil as instructed by the CIA (Chicken Information Advisory) and see hopeful signs of recovery.

Third, after mass on Sunday, I reminded Esteban that he promised me he would take me to the local slaughterhouse to buy a lamb. Within hours, yesterday in fact, we got news that he had a lamb for us at his house in Sahagun.
What he did not say was that it was a live lamb. Obvious to some, I suppose. Any, it is now a dead lamb and headed for our big freezer. For the gory details, see Reb´s blog on the right here.

Fourth, we are off on Thursday in an adventure to the South of France to see other, even longer-time friends, mainly Mike and Sandy Molloy. Mike is extraordinarily talented - a successful writer of novels and an equally skillful painter. When he was a journalist he was at the top of that tree, too.
We go to see an exhibition of his paintings. Why France should be the beneficiary, rather than England, I do not know. I wil find out.

Watch this space.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Hang the bastard. Whoops, too late, we already have. In print.

LONDON (AFP) – Investigators probing the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in Portugal have identified a paedophile as a possible suspect, press reports and a spokesman for the girl's parents have said.
Raymond Hewlett, a 64-year-old Briton, was reportedly living near the resort of Praia da Luz when three-year-old Madeleine went missing in May 2007, The Daily Mail said.
A spokesman for Kate and Gerry McCann, who launched a global media search for their daughter, confirmed in a statement that Hewlett was "of interest" to investigators working for the couple.
"We are aware of Raymond Hewlett and the claims that have been made about him in some newspapers," spokesman Clarence Mitchell said.
"The investigators searching for Madeleine are currently looking into the circumstances surrounding these claims.
"Mr Hewlett is an individual of interest to the Madeleine investigation but I would stress it is just one line of inquiry. Beyond that I can't really go into any further operational detail."

Yes, but just suppose this man - incredibly - is innocent? Well, he´s a paedophile anyway, it says so here on Yahoo and in The Daily Mail, so it must be true. I´ll hold him down while we all kick him to death.
And I have had the nerve to moan about the way Americans treat "suspected" people.


For new readers, this blog contains traces of irony that might be difficult to detect. Check with a qualified skeptic before ingesting if you have concerns.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

LOONY THUNE


Cast your eye over the next three paragraphs.

WASHINGTON – In a major rebuke to President Barack Obama, the Senate voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to block the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the United States and denied the administration the millions it sought to close the prison.

In recent weeks, Republicans have called for keeping Guantanamo open, saying abuses at the facility are a thing of the past and describing it as a state-of-the-art prison that's nicer than some U.S. prisons. And they warn that terrorists who can't be convicted might be set free in the United States.

"The American people don't want these men walking the streets of America's neighborhoods," Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said Wednesday. "The American people don't want these detainees held at a military base or federal prison in their backyard, either."

You might think that this hits rock bottom when it comes to brainless imbecility. If so, don´t hold your breath. This is America, and tomorrow is another day.

There is really no point in elaborating on The Thoughts of Loony Thune, but I will do so anyway.

Just what sort of murderer or terrorist does this dolt think the American People does want "walking their streets," or being "held in a prison in their backyard."?

Apparently patriotic American terrorists and murderers are perfectly fine with Thune. Can´t have enough of them. Splendid chaps (or women, of course). Let them wander the streets at will, murderising and terrorising when their time is up. But Arabs are a different matter. They should be "walking the streets" of Cuba, presumably.

And, while we are on the subject and come to that, does Thune actually have a military base or federal prison in HIS backyard?

I think we should be told. For myself, I suspect he doesn´t. Not a lot of us do.

But, if he does possess such an undesirable piece of real estate, he may have a point.

As with the previous blog, here is a snap of The Twit Thune for reference. And the previous suggestions as to greeting him apply. Double.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Stupid Kit


Nancy Pelosi is complaining because, she says, the CIA lied to her about torturing prisoners in Guantanamo and other places. It is probably true, but that is another story.

Below is the measured response from a "senior" Republican, an elected official, a presumably responsible member of the American Government.

"I think her accusations against our terror-fighters are irresponsible," said Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, the senior Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. "It's outrageous that a member of Congress would call our terror-fighters liars."

The CIA torturers have magically transformed into "our terror fighters." Even George Orwell would have been a little taken aback, I suspect.

Remember, enough people actually went and voted for this prick in sufficient numbers to get him elected.

That it was in Missouri may be the reason, but is not an excuse.

I have put on a picture of "Kit", in case you happen to cross his path and get a chance to throw your shoes at him. If you do so, don´t bother taking them off first.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

AN EXAMPLE TO, WELL, SOME OF US

Portrait of a Man Who Has Gone Too Far. Several times. And lived.

For no discernible reason, apart from the obvious, Keith Richards reminds me of a couple of people I have known who are now in a Better Place - that is to say Oblivion. One is Jeff Bernard, the other is Keith Moon. Both served an invaluable function in my life: They set the parameters for behavior. Only for bad behavior, of course. Who needs anyone to indicate how close to the limit one can go in the direction of virtue?
I remember one of my wives (it could have been almost any of them) giving me the old, "You make me sick. This time you have gone too far," routine - and all I could come up with was, "Well, you must admit I´m not as bad as Jeff."

At which point a cock crowed thrice.

TODAY´S THOUGHT
Never try to impress a woman, because if you do she'll expect you to keep up the standard for the rest of your life.
W. C. Fields

Monday, 4 May 2009

An Honesty Lesson From Homer



The John Edwards saga has resurfaced.
Now he is facing a Federal inquiry over money he gave to his girlfriend.
It is not that anyone, apart from his wife, cares two fucks (or however many) what the oily little rascal gets up to in his leisure hours. No, it is the hypocrisy that amuses us. For this we must thank him. He made our lives lighter, cheerier, less care-worn with his absurd sniveling excuses.
Edwards´ only plausible defence was the Homer Simpson Gambit.
When Marge confronts Homer saying, "How could you do such a dreadful thing?" Homer replies, hand on heart, "I swear to God, Marge, I never thought you´d find out!"
If Edwards had had the honesty to declare that from the get-go, he would be heading a Senate Committee on Ethical Decency and Morality this very day.

TODAY´S THOUGHT
A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.
Friedrich Nietzsche

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Lucky Old Iraq

From Today´s Guardian:

(British Prime Minister) Brown, who supported predecessor Tony Blair's decision to join the invasion, defended Britain's military mission, saying it had helped to bring new opportunities for Iraq's people.
"Today Iraq is a success story. We owe much of that to the efforts of British troops. Our mission has not always been an easy one, many have said that we would fail," he told reporters.

Many were right, of course. By what possible yardstick can Iraq be considered a success? Yes, it has brought new opportunities for Iraq´s people - opportunities to kill one another by the thousand, to flee the country in vast numbers, to live without water and electricity in holes in the ground.
Oh yes, and the opportunity to be tortured and killed by the Americans and British - also by the thousand.
Lucky old Iraqis!

Monday, 27 April 2009

STRAIGHT FROM THE HORSES´MOUTHS

A couple of ponies I met in Oviedo last week. They say to get on Pioneer of the Nile in the Kentucky Derby this Saturday. But what do they know?


TODAY´S THOUGHT
An artist is never ahead of his time but most people are far behind theirs.
Edgard Varese

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Doublethink, Newspeak, both alive and well


No doubt I am preaching to the converted here, but the stuff that is emerging about torture under the Bush regime needs some comment.
First, the categorical statement by George Bush himself, while still in the job: "The United States does not torture."
So, what is happening cannot be torture. It may look like torture, it may smell like torture, and I am bloody sure it feels like torture.
But it cannot be torture, because the United States does not torture.
It must, therefore, be something else, like "Aggressive interrogation." So that´s all right, then.
Another, very different, George - Orwell - would not have been at all surprised. It is a perfect example of totalitarian reasoning. Make the word forbidden, but go on doing the thing. Open a Ministry of Fear and call it the Ministry of Love. Stuff like that.
Now the unspeakable Cheney is whining that we should all tolerate whatever it is we choose to call it - I suggest torture, myself - because, he says, it works.
Apparently it doesn´t even do that. It emerges that the CIA were ordered to extract confessions from Guantanamo prisoners that Al Queda was directly linked to Sadam Hussein. Even waterboarding people dozens of times failed to provide the "evidence" demanded by Head Office.
I could go on, but what´s the bleeding point.
The sun is shining and I will be better off taking the dogs out.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

TERROR DOG


I normally extract a few paragraphs from news stories to make a point or two. The story below is entire. As an example of the utter, fucking fatuity of Republicans it stands alone.
It clearly needs no comment from me. It will get some none the less.


WASHINGTON – Republicans on Wednesday said a Homeland Security Department intelligence assessment unfairly characterizes military veterans as right-wing extremists. House Republican leader John Boehner described the report as offensive and called on the agency to apologize to veterans.
The agency's intelligence assessment, sent to law enforcement officials last week, warns that right-wing extremists could use the bad state of the U.S. economy and the election of the country's first black president to recruit members.
The assessment also said that returning military veterans who have difficulties assimilating back into their home communities could be susceptible to extremist recruiters or might engage in lone acts of violence.
"To characterize men and women returning home after defending our country as potential terrorists is offensive and unacceptable," said Boehner, R-Ohio.
The commander of the veterans group the American Legion, David Rehbein, wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano expressing concern with the assessment, which made its way into the mainstream press after conservative bloggers got wind of the analysis.
Rehbein called the assessment incomplete and said it lacked statistical evidence. He said the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing by military veteran Timothy McVeigh was one instance of a veteran becoming a domestic terrorist.
"To continue to use McVeigh as an example of the stereotypical 'disgruntled military veteran' is as unfair as using Osama bin Laden as the sole example of Islam," Rehbein said in the April 13 letter.
Napolitano defended the assessment and others issued by the agency.
"Let me be very clear — we monitor the risks of violent extremism taking root here in the United States," Napolitano said in a statement. "We don't have the luxury of focusing our efforts on one group; we must protect the country from terrorism whether foreign or homegrown, and regardless of the ideology that motivates its violence."
Napolitano said the department respects and honors veterans and that she intends to meet with Rehbein next week after she returns from a tour of the U.S.-Mexico border and meetings in Mexico City.
The agency describes these assessments as part of a series published "to facilitate a greater understanding of the phenomenon of violent radicalization in the United States."
In February, the department issued a report to law enforcement that said left-wing extremist groups were likely to use cyber attacks more often in the next 10 years to further their cause.
In September, the agency highlighted how right-wing extremists over the past five years have used the immigration debate as a recruiting tool.
Between September 2008 and Feb. 5, the agency issued at least four reports, obtained by The Associated Press, on individual extremist groups such as the Moors, Vinlanders Social Club, Volksfront and Hammerskin Nation.
But the references to military veterans in the recent report angered conservatives.
"The department is engaging in political and ideological profiling of people who fought to keep our country safe from terrorism, uphold our nation's immigration laws, and protect our constitutional right to keep and bear arms," said Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla.,
Texas Rep. Lamar Smith accused the department of painting "law-abiding Americans, including war veterans, as 'extremists.'"
Indiana Rep. Steve Buyer, the ranking Republican on the House Veterans' Affairs committee, said it was "inconceivable" that the administration would consider military veterans a potential terrorist threat.

On second thoughts, if readers can´t see the mindless vicious idiocy of the remarks by this bunch of pricks for themselves, I might as well turn it in.

So on to Obama´s latest slap in the face for Decent White America. He has deliberately bought a dog, more black than white, and a FOREIGN dog at that. Portugese, no less. What do we know of this dog´s past? How did he get through Immigration? Is it "inconceivable" that Bo might not be a suicide dog? Trained to kill by his foreign taskmasters? The Portugese are not generally recognised as fanatical Muslims, but many are undoubtedly swarthy.
Reach for your AK-47´s, patriotic Americans!
___

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Fear and Loathing in Pittsburgh

Re my previous day´s blog, "Paradox".

PITTSBURGH - Internet rantings found on a white supremacist Web site indicate Poplawski was preoccupied with the idea that President Barack Obama was going to overturn the Second Amendment and that Jews were secretly running the country.
He posted a shirtless picture of himself showing off a large tattoo of a spread-winged eagle below his collarbone.
Postings made by others on the extremist Web site after the Pittsburgh shooting encourage people to buy assault rifles because they suspect the arms will be banned after a string of mass shootings in the past month, including one in Oakland, Calif., where four officers were killed and another in Binghamton, N.Y., on Friday when a gunman killed 13 people before killing himself.


I didn´t know any of this for sure when I wrote yesterday´s entry. It is little comfort to be proved right.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Paradox

PITTSBURGH – A 911 call that brought two police officers to a home where they were ambushed, and where a third was also later killed during a four-hour siege, was precipitated by a fight between the gunman and his mother over a dog urinating in the house.
When officers Paul Sciullo II and Stephen Mayhle arrived, Margaret Poplawski opened the door and told them to come in and take her 23-year-old son, apparently unaware he was standing behind her with a rifle, the affidavit said. Hearing gunshots, she spun around to see her son with the gun and ran to the basement.
"What the hell have you done?" she shouted.
The mother told police her son had been stockpiling guns and ammunition "because he believed that as a result of economic collapse, the police were no longer able to protect society."


This story seems to me to be a perfect allegory of the American Nightmare.
Not the shootings themselves - they are two a penny - but the reasoning (if that is the mot juste) of the perp.
I believe the killer´s fears were that Obama and his fellow Commies were going to grab his beloved stockpile of guns, and that the police, so enervated by arresting Bernie Madoff, would no longer have the energy to keep gangs of black crack dealers from murdering decent white Pittsburghers in their beds.
The deed of Poplawski (it would be crass to make jokes about his name) is an example of that scary bogeyman beloved of religious fundamentalists - the self-fulfilling prophecy. You predict something - like the End Of The World - then set about making sure it Comes To Pass.
And Poplawski was proved right. The police, would not have been able to protect society from a determined maniac - in this case himself - and could not even protect themselves.
One of the oddest justifications for mass murder ever purported. Try as I might, I cannot get my head around the paradox.
It would be nice to think the other part of Poplawski´s prophecy will also come true - that Obama will seize the citizenry´s guns.
Dream on.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Guns and Horses

The following couple of paragraphs from the story of the Pittsburgh police shootings caught my eye.
The idea of killing other people because you are worried that the government might take your guns away is curious, to say the least - even in America.
And, why should one expect such happenings in California and not Pittsburgh? Sunnier weather?

Police Chief Nate Harper said the motive for the shooting isn't clear, but friends said the gunman recently had been upset about losing his job and feared the Obama administration was poised to ban guns.
......
The shooting occurred just two weeks after four police officers were fatally shot in Oakland, Calif., in the deadliest day for U.S. law enforcement since Sept. 11, 2001. The officers were the first Pittsburgh city officers to die in the line of duty in 18 years.
"This is a solemn day and it's a very sad day in the city of Pittsburgh," Harper said. "We've seen this kind of violence happen in California. We never would think this kind of violence would happen in the city of Pittsburgh."



The Grand National. I would have lost money betting on it as a 100-1 shot won. But the online betting site was so clogged up with mugs trying to get on that I saved my money. For another day.
Good picture from The Guardian.

P.S. Kathy, I read your note. Many thanks. I am thinking about it now.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

HEADING SOUTH



I am re-reading "South from Granada." It is partly as a result of my first enjoying it, about 50 years ago, that we live in an out-of-the-way part of Spain now.
The big pic is Gerald Brenan, about 1920, I would say.
The queer-looking bod on the far left is Lytton Strachey. More of him later.
Having lived in a Spanish village for two years now, my perspective is changed. The book is the same but has a quite different meaning for me.
Remarkable, both the similarities and the differences in Brenan´s life and times and ours.
He has a chapter called The Village Calendar telling how the saint´s days and religious festivals regulate, not only the social life, but the working schedule. Still happens here. You don´t plant alfalfa until after Saint Eulalia´s day, or whatever.
Existence in Andalucia back then was literally Medieval - no electricity, no plumbing, no roads. Now we live in unimaginable luxury - with central heating and computers and a car to take us to Sahagun, six miles away. Brenan, who was an heroic walker, who have done that on foot, there and back, twice a day without giving it a thought. He tells how he once walked 57 miles from Yegen to Almeria in two days. Over mountains.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the book is the account of Strachey´s visit in 1920. As there were no roads to Yegen, mules were needed. Strachey, was effete, delicate, neurotic. Brenan says of him, "He seemed almost indecently lacking in ordinaryness."
That seems to me as great a compliment as one might wish to be paid.
The visit was a bit like trying to Climb Everest with Truman Capote or Yves Saint Laurent. A disaster of course, but funny.
Two friends of mine are coming over from England in a day or so.
Neither resembles Strachey, though they are not all that ordinary, either.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

WITCHES 2: CATHOLICS 0

LUANDA, Angola – Tens of thousands of Angola's Catholics lined the streets of the capital Saturday for a blessing from Pope Benedict XVI, who urged the country's faithful to reach out and convert people who believe in witchcraft.
But a stampede at a stadium before one of the pope's speeches left two people dead and others injured.
"The pope is very upset," a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said late Saturday.

Naughty old witches.


TODAY´S THOUGHT
I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition (Christianity) one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology.
Thomas Jefferson

P.S. Readers may be surprised to learn that I am superstitious myself. For one thing, I firmly believe that backing losers is unlucky.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Bacon and Epicurus

Self-portrait by Francis Bacon. I have a theory about his work which I have never heard or read anywhere else, and this picture illustrates it more clearly than any other I have ever seen. I believe he got the idea for many of his paintings - self-portraits in particular - from travelling on the London Underground, which he did a lot. I myself often sat going home at night looking at my distorted reflection in the double-glazed window opposite, with the darkness of the tunnel behind it, and being fascinated by the effect.
But I am not Bacon, and did nothing about it but look and muse.
I talked with him several times in pubs and bars in the seventies and eighties, but only after I had gone to America, and after he died, did this idea occur to me.
So I have never discussed it with him.



Yesterday, I ranted on about Voltaire - what a great man he was and all. He is not the only one of course. Here are a few observations from Epicurus.
Epicureanism is generally utterly misunderstood. It does not mean living a gourmet, self-indulgent life, but virtually the opposite.

Here is a brief biog:

Epicurus : (Samos, 341 BC– Athens, 270 BC ) was a Greek philosopher and the founder of the school of philosophy called Epicureanism. Only a few fragments and letters remain of Epicurus's 300 written works. Much of what is known about Epicurean philosophy derives from later followers and commentators.
For Epicurus, the aim was to attain tranquillity, characterized by aponia, the absence of pain and fear, and by living a self-sufficient life. Pleasure and pain are the measures of what is good and bad. Death is the end of the body and the soul and should therefore not be feared.
The gods do not reward or punish humans.
The universe is infinite and eternal, and that events in the world are ultimately based on the motions and interactions of atoms moving in empty space.


THOUGHTS FROM EPICURUS

The first and the last in the list are my favourites, for what that is worth.

If you wish to make a man rich, do not give him more money, but show him what he can live without.

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.

I have never wished to cater to the mob; for what I know they do not approve, and what they approve I do not know.

If God listened to the prayers of men, all men would quickly have perished: for they are forever praying for evil against one another.

It is better for you to be free of fear lying upon a plank, than to have a golden couch and a rich table and be full of trouble.

It is folly for a man to pray to the gods for that which he has the power to obtain by himself.

It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly. And it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life.

It is not so much our friends' help that helps us, as the confidence of their help.

It is possible to provide security against other ills, but as far as death is concerned, we men live in a city without walls.

Justice... is a kind of compact not to harm or be harmed.

Misfortune seldom intrudes upon the wise man; his greatest and highest interests are directed by reason throughout the course of life.

Not what we have But what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.

Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.

Of all the things which wisdom provides to make us entirely happy, much the greatest is the possession of friendship.

Of all things which wisdom provides to make life entirely happy, much the greatest is the possession of friendship.

Riches do not exhilarate us so much with their possession as they torment us with their loss.

Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempest.

The art of living well and the art of dying well are one.

The misfortune of the wise is better than the prosperity of the fool.

The time when most of you should withdraw into yourself is when you are forced to be in a crowd.

I would rather be first in a little Iberian village than second in Athens.

A WORD FROM THE WISE


Manchester United 1, Liverpool 4
"I thought we were the better team, but the score doesn't reflect that."
Sir Alex Ferguson



This is the most intelligent entry I have blogged so far. Because hardly a word is written by me.

Sharp-eyed readers will notice that the picture is not the great Sir Alex. It is of a thinker, equally profound, possibly (in my opinion, at least) even more so.
You be the judge.
It is a portrait of Voltaire, one of the wisest men and greatest men who ever lived. You don´t have to take my word for that, as we will see.
Below is a tiny handful of his thoughts.
I doubt if there is this much wisdom in the Bible and Koran combined. They reveal him to be a man of reason, tolerance, decency and humor remarkable even today. And do not forget he lived in a time when to hold mildly contrary views to those of the current church and government could get a body hanged drawn and quartered - and in public too.

Sir Alex should consider himself lucky.

It is also a pity George W. Bush was not familiar with several of the observations below.


VOLTAIRE´S THOUGHTS FOR TODAY (and every day)

All murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.

An ideal form of government is democracy tempered with assassination.

Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit atrocities.

Behind every successful man stands a surprised mother-in-law.

Clever tyrants are never punished.

Common sense is not so common.

Divorce is probably of nearly the same date as marriage. I believe, however, that marriage is some weeks the more ancient.

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.

Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.

Every one goes astray, but the least imprudent are they who repent the soonest.

Everything's fine today, that is our illusion.

Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.

Fear follows crime and is its punishment.

God is a comedian, playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.

He is a hard man who is only just, and a sad one who is only wise.

He must be very ignorant for he answers every question he is asked.

He was a great patriot, a humanitarian, a loyal friend; provided, of course, he really is dead.

History is only the register of crimes and misfortunes.

I am very fond of truth, but not at all of martyrdom.

I hate women because they always know where things are.

I have lived eighty years of life and know nothing for it, but to be resigned and tell myself that flies are born to be eaten by spiders and man to be devoured by sorrow.

I know many books which have bored their readers, but I know of none which has done real evil.

Ice-cream is exquisite - what a pity it isn't illegal.

If God created us in his own image, we have more than reciprocated.

Illusion is the first of all pleasures.

Is there anyone so wise as to learn by the experience of others?

It is an infantile superstition of the human spirit that virginity would be thought a virtue and not the barrier that separates ignorance from knowledge.

It is better to risk saving a guilty man than to condemn an innocent one.

It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.

Let us read and let us dance - two amusements that will never do any harm to the world.

Let us work without theorizing, it is the only way to make life endurable.

Life is thickly sown with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to pass quickly through them. The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.

Man is free at the moment he wishes to be. (The first existentialist? P.)

Men use thought only as authority for their injustice, and employ speech only to conceal their thoughts.

Never argue at the dinner table, for the one who is not hungry always gets the best of the argument.

No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.

Nothing can be more contrary to religion and the clergy than reason and common sense.

Of all religions, the Christian should of course inspire the most tolerance, but until now Christians have been the most intolerant of all men. (Pre 9-11, of course. P.)

One great use of words is to hide our thoughts.

One merit of poetry few persons will deny: it says more and in fewer words than prose.

Opinion has caused more trouble on this little earth than plagues or earthquakes.

Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable.

Originality is nothing but judicious imitation. The most original writers borrowed one from another.

Prejudices are what fools use for reason.

Stand upright, speak thy thoughts, declare The truth thou hast, that all may share;
Be bold, proclaim it everywhere: They only live who dare.

Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy the mad daughter of a wise mother. These daughters have too long dominated the earth.

The ancient Romans built their greatest masterpieces of architecture, their amphitheaters, for wild beasts to fight in.

The art of government is to make two-thirds of a nation pay all it possibly can pay for the benefit of the other third.

The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.

The best way to be boring is to leave nothing out.

The Holy Roman Empire is neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.

The husband who decides to surprise his wife is often very much surprised himself.

The infinitely little have a pride infinitely great.

The multitude of books is making us ignorant.

The opportunity for doing mischief is found a hundred times a day, and of doing good once in a year.

The public is a ferocious beast; one must either chain it or flee from it.

The safest course is to do nothing against one's conscience. With this secret, we can enjoy life and have no fear from death.

The superfluous, a very necessary thing.

The true triumph of reason is that it enables us to get along with those who do not possess it.

The truths of religion are never so well understood as by those who have lost the power of reason.

There are truths which are not for all men, nor for all times.

Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too.

Time, which alone makes the reputation of men, ends by making their defects respectable.

To hold a pen is to be at war.

To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.

Tyrants have always some slight shade of virtue; they support the laws before destroying them.

Very often, say what you will, a knave is only a fool.

We are all full of weakness and errors; let us mutually pardon each other our follies - it is the first law of nature.

We must cultivate our own garden.

We never live; we are always in the expectation of living.

What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly - that is the first law of nature.

What most persons consider as virtue, after the age of 40 is simply a loss of energy.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

BACK TO THE BLOG, OPTIMISTICALLY

Kauto Star leaves them all for dead in the Gold Cup

One week off from the blog. Mostly due to Cheltenham races, but also a stretch of fine weather, which continues. Daffodils and things are flowering in the yard. We - Reb, that is - are installing a watering system out back in what is currently a desert . The chickens watch us with amazed clucks. We have also hung a spectacularly ugly fly screen made of plastic strips in the front doorway.

Well, the fences are jumped, the races are run and done, and a bit of my cash along with it. Not too satisfactory, due partly to technical difficulties.
The problem is, what with being in another country and with slow band width, whatever that is, and having a Mac instead of a PC, I had to listen to the races rather than watch them on the computer, and even that was be a bit unpredictable at times.
It took me back half a century to standing in smoke-filled betting shops (no sitting down allowed, then) full of undesirable gamblers like myself , listening (no TV allowed) to a deadpan commentary and cursing horribly as our dreams went up along with the Woodbine fumes and our pounds, shillings and pence went down the drain.
Many an afternoon was wasted with Jeff Bernard in some Soho hovel shoulder to shoulder with Cypriot waiters screaming "Fuckeeng Piggot - ´ee gone an´ done it again!" in my ear.
Still, it is amazing that I can do anything at all out here on the Meseta. We have come a long way all right.
And there is still the Kentucky Derby to come, and Dunkirk to bet.
There´s optimism, for you.

TODAY´S THOUGHTS
If you pretend to be good, the world takes you very seriously. If you pretend to be bad, it doesn't. Such is the astounding stupidity of optimism.
Oscar Wilde

Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable.
Voltaire

Friday, 6 March 2009

Miracle time



I have been neglecting the blog recently, for which - to my loyal reader - I am sorry. Mainly due to getting very enthused over Cheltenham Races next week. More of that later on. But down to more mundane stuff. On Thursday there were two stories on Yahoo news with the word "miracle" in the headline - on a guy who had survived two days on his upturned boat and a Turk whose "miracle" has to be seen (below in the link).

The survival of Nick Schuyler, who endured almost two days at sea after a boating accident that probably cost two National Football League players and another person their lives, was nothing short of a miracle, his doctor said.
“To stay in the water for 46 hours and be alive afterwards is a miracle,” Dr. Mark Rumbak, who is treating Schuyler at Tampa General Hospital in Tampa, Florida, said at a televised news conference.

Then there was this:



The tiny Turkish man shown in the videos escaped with only scratches and bruises... another miracle!

In my time I have covered several "miracles." Just getting out the paper most nights almost fell into that bracket.

But I especially remember the Quecreek Mine Miracle. Nine coal miners were trapped by rising water deep under Western Pennsylvania during the summer of 2002. They were down in a hole for 77 hours and dozens of very determined, smart and dedicated people managed to get them all out alive. It was a marvel of hope and engineering. But who got the credit? God, of course. It was, as practically everyone cried, "A miracle!"

It is very rare that mining accidents turn out well. The next one in Pennsylvania ended as usual, with all the poor buggers dead. Pennsylvania mine safety officials say that 20,000 bituminous coal miners have died in accidents since the commonwealth began keeping records in 1877. Did we hear, "All dead! It´s a miracle!"

We did not.

If there is a god who gives a damn - which I personally doubt - when he´s not getting away with miracles, he´s getting away with murder.

TODAY´S THOUGHT
The Christian religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one.
-- David Hume


And if I come away from Cheltenham Races showing a profit, it will be a miracle.




Monday, 2 March 2009

TOLERABLY PEACEABLE


Portraits of Assorted Beasts.

The relationship between Murphy, Una and Tim is complex and subtle. Una seems to regard Murphy as the child she never had, and plays with him often - terrible rough games involving pulling the cat around by his scruff. But Murph seems to delight in it and when Una tires of it, will come back shouting for more.
Tim doesn´t care much for Murphy. Jealousy. He resents it that Murph can come and climb on my lap any time he wants - diverting vital affection that should go to him.
Tim also resents it that Murph can stroll about the house bellowing arrogantly for attention, food, company, the best spot in the dog basket - and get it.

CAT THOUGHT
I have studied many philosophers and many cats. The wisdom of cats is infinitely superior.

Hippolyte Taine

DOG THOUGHT

The dog has seldom been successful in pulling man up to its level of sagacity, but man has frequently dragged the dog down to his.
James Thurber

MAN THOUGHT

My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened.
Michel de Montaigne

POEM
I tried to find Stevie Smith saying it, but no good. It´s not the same written down, but there we are.

The Galloping Cat

by Stevie Smith

Oh I am a cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good
So
One day when I was
Galloping about doing good, I saw
A figure in the path; I said
Get off! (Be-
cause
I am a cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good)
But he did not move, instead
He raised his hand as if
To land me a cuff
So I made to dodge so as to
Prevent him bringing it orf,
Un-for-tune-ately I slid
On a banana skin
Some Ass had left instead
Of putting in the bin. So
His hand caught me on the cheek
I tried
To lay his arm open from wrist to elbow
With my sharp teeth

Because I am
A cat that likes to gallop about doing good.
Would you believe it?
He wasn’t there
My teeth met nothing but air,
But a Voice said: Poor Cat,
(Meaning me) and a soft stroke
Came on me head
Since when
I have been bald.
I regard myself as
A martyr to doing good
Also I heard a swoosh
As of wings, and saw
A halo shining at the height of
Mrs Gubbins’s backyard fence,
So I thought: What’s the good
Of galloping about doing good
When angels stand in the path
And do not do as they should
Such as having an arm to be bitten off
All the same I
Intend to go on being
A cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good
So
Now with my bald head I go,
Chopping the untidy flowers down, to
and fro,
An’ scooping up the grass to show
Underneath
The cinder path of wrath
Ha ha ha ha, ho,
Angels aren’t the only ones who do
not know
What’s what and that
Galloping about doing good
Is a full time job
That needs
An experienced eye of earthly
Sharpness, worth I dare say
(if you’ll forgive a personal note)
A good deal more
Than all that skyey stuff
Of angels that make so bold as
To pity a cat like me that
Gallops about doing good.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

SNOW ON THE TRACKS?

Bob, the singing fool, named capriciously for Dylan, grabs a few rays in the yard Friday. He will not be outside today as it is grey and cold - nor tomorrow - when snow is due to make a comeback.

I urge you to read Reb´s blog (see on right) about yesterday´s action in the village.

And so I will turn instead to today. Reb was running a temperature and decided to skip Mass, so I went alone. Odd thing for an unbeliever to do, but there you are.
Very small turnout: just twelve of us. Normally there are about twenty. And this despite a bonus offering of Ash. Santiago the priest was unable to get here on Wednesday, the trad Ash day, so today was substituted. I went and got my forehead marked with the other eleven sinners.
Santiago said a few words about the symbolism of it - mortality, penitence, humility etc., although, looking around the tiny church, one might think that few of us needed much reminding of the frailty of life at our collective ages.
Afterward, walking home, it struck me that one of the things I find so pleasing about our town is the total lack of class structure. Maybe it simply is not populous enough, but there is no "Lord of the Manor," no "leaders." My friend Estebanito is the Mayor, but he didn´t want to be, he was more or less forced into the job because nobody else would do it, and that was that.
I don´t know if anyone here is rich. Certainly, nobody is poor. Nobody is cold or hungry. And if any of them are rich, they don´t spend a cent on smart cars or elegant clothes or impressive houses. (They do lash out on some enormous tractors, though.)
We might be the most prosperous people in town or we may be the least. I have no idea.
And I like that.

Friday, 27 February 2009

WAITING FOR PILGRIMS


The pilgrims are beginning to return, like the Swallows, but sooner. We saw ten in an hour yesterday morning. The villagers and us agree that, what with the financial woes and unemployment, there may well be an explosion in numbers along the Camino this year. There was anyway last year, before all this started.
Hard to know what it will mean to us. We suspect that a great many pilgrims will not have any money. Reb heard one last year, a Canadian, clad in top of the range walking gear, say, "Is this place donativo, or do we have to pay?"
(Donativo, of course, means making a donation.)
We shall see.

TODAY´S THOUGHT
Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.
H. L. Mencken


Bear the above thought in mind after reading the story below, from today´s Guardian:


An embarrassing public row broke out last night between City minister Lord Myners and Sir Fred Goodwin over the former Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive's refusal to give up his £693,000 a year pension.
Just hours later Myners issued a letter telling Goodwin his refusal to reconsider was "unfortunate and unacceptable". He hoped "on reflection you will now share my clear view that the losses reported by the bank which you ran until October cannot justify such a huge reward".
RBS had earlier admitted it had made a record-breaking £24bn loss in 2008 and that the taxpayers' stake could rise to 95% after a further injection of up to £25.5bn of government funds.