Area 51

It’s a curious thing writing a blog that practically nobody reads – a bit like a written karaoke performance with WordPress as the autocue machine and you making up the words to the piece as you go along – to an audience of well, nobody. That’s just as well though – I’ve had the misfortune of sitting in on a karaoke session on board a ship to Sweden and with the exception of a few well versed players with a good tune, the rest simply murdered their performances and, I might add, the audience’s ears too.

If you do happen to be listening to my latest rendition though, my inspiration is that today I turned 51 (hence the title) and have entered that ring fenced patch of desert between here and the hinterland of 60. I can recall my 40th as well thinking at the time that it was nothing – after all chronology tells nothing of the spirit of a person but a decade later, I can confess that old age is no longer an alien concept and the ‘shit’s getting real’. Pretty soon I will be able to shuffle up to it and kick the tires with a slipper clad foot.

At this age, you tend to be a combination of introspective and retrospective. You have enough collective experience to view new concepts and ideas against it and reflect and, without recourse to nostalgia (not what it used to be) you can also track back over the events of your life. Following the musical analogy and tuning into nostalgia, I could say that it has the substance of a vinyl pressing – all the tracks in their right order, recorded as was, an A side and a B side with good tracks and bad and maybe some tasty images to dwell upon. In that sense, I feel sorry for the digital generation who have nothing much to hold on to but nebulous clouds (not that I yearn for a return to vinyl by the way).

Over in Japan, the oldest living lady also celebrates her birthday today also – age 117 http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/05/life-short-worlds-oldest-person-misao-okawa-117 and her observation at that advanced age is that ‘life is short’. That’s a pretty concise description of life and its contents but I suppose, at that age, you’ve mostly said your piece and don’t want to waste words.

But if life is short, it is also long enough and here’s the point – without any assurance of an afterlife whether in another dimension or through reincarnation, we owe it to ourselves to revel in our days. At the same time, we should be fulfilling our duty to help others while we are here and hopefully leave this world a better place. I’m not planning on checking out any time soon and I think the key to that is staying curious and using that big brain evolution endowed us with.

Short of a complete global meltdown or the arrival of hostile extra terrestrials en masse, life on the planet goes on. May I wish you all many happy days ahead.

Love and memory

I’ve been trying to find a suitable theme for February’s blog, which is already rather overdue but given the lateness of the day, decided to continue to press on with big picture themes as per my last blog and focus this month, on love and memory.

As it goes, I have undertaken to organize thousands of digital images accrued over the last decade or more (effectively a personal compendium of my family’s life since the advent of digital photography) and while my efforts have been less than consistent (or indeed in my wife’s opinion commendable), just putting my toe in that visual hinterland of images lights up my neural switchboard and throws me back into a time I can only view through a lens.

That’s the thing about digital images – they can quickly be deleted if they fail to please, retouched and even fully manipulated to retell their truth but most of all, they can be stored away silently in computers and external hard drives, nevermore to be organized into rational entities, as is the case before digital imagery became the norm. Photo albums are by their nature organized into understandable time periods because they require active engagement by the picture editor to place them in time, physical space ( i.e. the album itself) and ultimately in our memories.

Digital images by comparison with theirs teadfast but fading paper country cousins float and accrue in a sea of bits and megabytes even now floating above our heads in a nebulous cloud. It takes real determination and consistent effort to make sense of them in the triangulation of memory, love and time (or at least a bloody good app).

Recently, I had the opportunity to tap into my mother and father’s random access memories which fade into the event horizon of a past earlier than my own existence. These memories are just as uncertain and fragile, if not more so than our present digital reality. And like a hard drive on the edge of a personal meltdown, the contents need to be downloaded before the hardware fails.

My father is 83 this year, my mother 76. His hard drive is already experiencing fragmentation. Housebound by his own choices and increasingly frail, there is little to tie him to the present and in the absence of a curious son, little to activate the past he has lived. My mother on the other hand, his vigilant co-pilot, serves to fill in details in his conversations and chide his failing memory and repetitions. In the present, my father is only vaguely aware that he is in his 80s and struggles to place the year he is living in (if there is one) either. These are merely matters of detail for him though because he already enjoys the privilege of being the last man standing in his own family.

Through discussions with my parents I was able to draw a bead on grandparents and great grandparents from England, Ireland and as far afield as Hong Kong and Beijing. Their stories fascinate and engage me, even when the trail leading back into the past frustratingly peters out.

During their telling, as if awakening from a dream of the present, my father admitted that he missed his mother and father gone now long before and wasn’t even sure whether his brothers were still alive. Such is the nature of memory in old age, it seems. My mother on the other hand, ever pragmatic, placed her own family history in the practical realities of her present existence, only ever expressing regret for the death of her younger sister to cancer some 36 years ago – a loss, which I know she still feels keenly but bears quietly to this day.

Both are touched by the past; both aware of days and loved ones gone by; both aware of their impending mortality. There it is though; love, memory, loss and the ever-present threat of falling over the event horizon leaving only a hinterland of photographs, stories and long repeated anecdotes. Oral history being the richest source though, has an important place in families for all who lack the biographer to tell their stories because it ensures a kind of immortality.

I wonder how we will be able to recount our own stories to our children – will the rich media content of our lives succeed in telling them better? Will they survive better than a photo album, a written diary or a well-told story? I suspect not but in the meantime I will press on with compartmentalizing more than a decade of my family’s visual existence on earth in a hard drive and in heaven in the cloud. What happens when they pull the plug on me, I wonder?

Values that make a difference

I’ve been cooking up a blog post on the backburner for over a month since I wrote the last one but today seems to be the day to bring it to the table – hopefully it doesn’t cause you indigestion. The theme to kick off 2015 is the one I signed up for today through avaaz.org and its timely arrival resonated with me and gave me a reason to write.

https://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Fsecure.avaaz.org%2Fen%2Fthree_principles_loc%2F%3Frc%3Dfbdm%26pv%3D591&h=yAQF9mDyJh

To cut a long URL short, I signed a pledge to:

show kindness and respect, strive for wisdom, and practice gratitude:

and I invited others to do so too. The responses in themselves were interesting since each invitation was a personal message address via FB messenger which kind of requires a personal response too. Some folks were genuinely enthusiastic and signed up immediately because I guess it resonated with them too. Others wondered why such values need a pledge in the first place while one, initially taking the message as spam until I confirmed its legitimate status,dismissed the whole notion of lazy clicktivism ( a point I have to agree on while still acknowledging the incredible power of networks to propagate ideas both good and bad). One other questioned the validity of the platform and wondered whether it would affect his online reputation but a quick discussion online settled it and he too was on board.

Now the reason I used this long pretext to introduce this blog post was because looking back on the past few years and in the light of the recent Paris incident, it seems that the world is suffering from what I can only describe as a compassion deficit. I’m not just talking about the Daesh wrecking crew in Syria and onwards whose vile inhumanity can only engender further inhumanity (which I can see is their clear aim), Boko Haram in Nigeria who continue to kidnap, rape, murder and enslave their fellow Nigerians and the Taliban whose commitment to keeping their country in the stone age and dragging Pakistan there too, is enforced with great prejudice – particularly against women. Leaders of the ‘free world’ also play starring roles in this continuing cycle of violence aside from the obvious villains – they just have better public representation.

Drop a pin anywhere in the world – even on the borders with Europe and you witness despicable inhumanity and total indifference to the natural world which supports us. And our response to this is? SoMe campaigns, outpourings, shrugs and sighs behind screens, sometimes vicarious gasps of horror when viewer discretion is advised. The recent mass march in Paris undoubtedly included people committed to peace and conciliation but it was also a grandstand for leaders seeking re-election or public favour or indeed a jutting platform for rightwing groups to turn public feeling against Moslems to eleven.

Ordinary people cannot comprehend the brutality they have witnessed on screen short of being on the blunt receiving end of it – surely enough we feel the misery of others but are either disempowered by our closed-in lives or simply experiencing a compassion deficit overload of our own.

Which brings me back to the simple pledge that I signed up to and to which I had already made a commitment earlier in my life – a commitment to compassion, which as the Buddhists themselves describe it is the ‘wish fulfilling jewel’. If you have never heard the description it might sound strange but if you take time to consider it, compassion, which I believe is not exclusive to humans alone,  is the building block for humanity, our humanity. Without it, there would be no society, nation states or communities. Great dreams become reality through the agency of compassion – without it, humans behave not like animals but capricious gods filled with righteous indignation armed with guns, bombs or knives or simply words of hate.

So, my pledge today is not something I will forget in the general tide of misinformation today, next month, next year or next life and I celebrate Avaaz’s attempt to connect us all with the values that make us better people. I welcome you all to consider your pledge daily to kindness, wisdom and gratitude, even in the smallest of acts for they are truly the three antidotes to the heady poisons that corrupt this earth: anger, ignorance and greed.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas..

Pallbearer skies, clouds pregnant with sleet threatening a bleached sun already low on the horizon, crowds in shops queuing for everything and anything – you get the picture – it’s getting to be that most wonderful time of the year again. But stop me before I completely shoot Santa out of the sky – it used to be a whole lot more fun back in Roman times as per Wikipedia’s description of the original glutfest, Saturnalia- ‘a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned social norms: gambling was permitted, and masters provided table service for their slaves’. Sounds familiar right (OK slavery ended a long time ago, didn’t it)?

Most would wish for a festival that reflected the best qualities of the latter day Christian version of events filled with giving, universal goodwill and kindness. Instead though we’ve got the usual tinsel covered call to arms to buy stuff aided and abetted by the Hollywood cheese cart of manufactured sentiment.

Christianity just doesn’t seem to be a comfortable bedfellow with rampant consumerism and the inevitable message from its sponsors. And who left the party in the charge of a creepy, overweight hipster-bearded master of ceremonies swigging a Coke anyway? So what else is there of value when so much seems so fake?

Well, I’m a father and it’s a source of amusement and joy to watch my two younger children’s as yet unbroken belief in the subterfuge of a man who brings them gifts at the appointed hour. And I like the pagan undertones of the festival here in Scandinavia and the scent of pine from a real tree brought into the home. And I like a well told Christmas ghost story that reflects the darker, more sinister aspect of a gloomy season illuminated by candle light.

And like a latter day Roman, I like a good drink – so Happy Saturnalia to one and all or should I say, Merry Christmas.

Too much information is power

The Grauniad today runs a story which tells us that George W Bush has decided to emerge from his seemingly self imposed exile as the Preston Hollow man to publish his memoirs and open a presidential library for all those who miss his unique style of BUllSHit – all this and a slot on Oprah too.

The experts from the National Archive are apparently wondering what to do with the  80 terabytes of misinformation pumped out like raw sewage during his eight years in office. Interestingly, Bill Clinton with his natural gift for the gab only managed four terabytes of digital doubleplus speak during his time, some of which probably made some sense to somebody.

When technology creates one problem, there’s always more technology to fix it. This time its his military complex chums, Lockheed Martin that have created a system that allows all this BUllSHit to be preserved in readable form long into the future. That’s the easy part, the real work, however, begins when 17 human archivists are chained to their desks to sift through the material selecting priority areas defining his administration – highlights like 9/11, weapons of mass deception and his old girlfriend Katrine will probably figure highly.

I truly feel sorry for those people – it could be a job for life or a one way ticket to the rubber room – seventeen doomed souls paid to sift through eight years of carefully scripted mass media misinformation. Will they find any pearls among the sea of turds? – highly unlikely, but it proves the point that in these desperate modern digital times, talk is cheap but words are cheaper still.

Show me the money

There’s been a major kerfuffle (or however you spell that word) in Finland these past few weeks concerning a televised debate about the right of gay people to get married inside the country’s Lutheran Church. If you didn’t know it, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland is the de facto religious institution for Finns (just like it says on the label) and one which is ‘married’ to the state. What this means in effect is that all those who belong to church and who pay taxes, also pay a small but significant portion of their taxes to the church, thus making it a rather wealthy institution.

The televised debate included one rather well-known Christian Democrat whose forthright and politically charged opinions about the parameters of a church wedding including Larry and Eve but not Larry and Steve stirred up a veritable pink hornet’s nest. In the space of a few days, something like 20 000 people, presumably gay or at least sympathetic to the rights of gay people to be legally wed in the church resigned their ‘subscription’ using a convenient web-based service.

Thus at the insistent and angry click of thousands of mouses (mice?), the Lutheran Church has haemorrhaged revenues in excess of half a million euros – not a small sum of money in anybody’s cheque book. The fact is that in these hard and secular times, many people in Finland have voluntarily resigned from the church irrespective of their feelings about gay rights. No doubt many simply resent the over-familiar hand in their pocket every month allied to a prevailing belief in technology over God and his paid up members on earth.

I’m sure there are many Lutheran priests sympathetic to the idea of gay marriage but even more sympathetic to a steady stream of revenue to upkeep their salaries and places of business. In the end, it’s more about the money than the rights of gays to use services they regularly pay into.  Question is, when will the debate open out larger to include the bigger issue of a divorce between the Church and the State? I’m sure that this would help matters along.

Anybody who wants to belong to the church after that, simply pays their index-linked yearly subscription and gets a chipped loyalty smart card which they swipe through a reader when they go to church gaining ‘air miles’ with that institution for their devoutness (free trip to Lourdes with every 100 000 points, for example or discounts at affiliated flower shops and funeral homes).

And for all those who have resigned or no longer wish to renew their subscription, be they gays, satanists or other misfits, there can be a security alarm similar to the ones they have in shops (only in reverse) which prevents them from getting in and worse still, getting married.

 

 

 

 

Who you gonna call?

It’s a momentous thing starting a blog I thought to start with a big issue like the existence of God, a subject which is close to my heart, or distant as you may or may not deduce. And since we are talking about deductions, let’s go straight to the fictional engine of the deductive mind, No-shit-Sherlock Holmes whose guiding analytical motto goes: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Right then, how about the existence of God or as George Carlin so succinctly put it: “The invisible man in the sky”.

Well, I can look out of my window at any given moment and see the sky but if God is invisible then I will have to deduce that a: he is there (no matter how improbable) and b: I probably also need a new prescription from Specsavers – something to help the scales fall from my eyes or at least remove the mote of dust or four-by-two currently causing me to squint.

I’ve always liked the rather pejorative term for religious folks (well one in particular) God botherers. It’s probably a term that describes Christians, most likely English ones because it implies that they are causing Jahweh some small inconvenience by their  petitioning, probably starting their prayer with the line: “Sorry to bother you once again God but…” This is no doubt inconvenient for the Creator who has no voicemail or call center to pick up the receiver. But at least, suspecting it’s another one of those wretched cold callers,  it gives him a chance not to reply or, better still for the petitioner, to actually answer the prayer in question (wouldn’t that be a miracle).

After all, it seems that no matter how improbable his existence, he is up there somewhere blissfully unaware of the sheer volume of wretched souls down on earth asking for this or that favour, drowning in tidal waves of toxic sludge, two months late in their mortgage payment or simply hoping for that sparkling 42″ 3D television they saw in the shop window the other day. Ignorance is truly bliss for him. Alternately, we could ask the question, would he care if he knew or is his complete lack of intervention  everything to do with the fact that he gave us free will to fuck things up our own way, which is a great get out of jail card for any would be Creator spirit in charge of this world.

Back here on earth, or more poetically put, the veil of tears, it’s business as usual. Poverty, ignorance, misery and world religions are all working hard to ensure that the majority continue to believe in a higher power to lift us all out of the shit we’re in. And for the rest of the world, the growing minority of wealthy, informed and happy Holy Ghostbusters, the answer is: ‘Who you gonna call?’ and the question is: ‘Why should you anyhow?’

 

 

 

 

 

Paint fumes

In the brief description of my blog, I listed it as musings on life’s general absurdities but perhaps I should have more accurately defined them as inanities because, let’s face it, there are more of them than there are real showstoppers – the ones that make you stop and think ‘wow, mundo bizarro’.

For example, at the moment I am in bed, my pooter propped on my knees breathing in an insistent waft of acrylic paint – testimony to my labours earlier this day. What was earlier a fresh, almost attractive odor now more closely resembles a waft from an extinct deep fat frier. No doubt I will fall into a dark sleep and dream of being a battered cod fillet or some such.

Painting by the way – not the artistic type – but the inane list of door, windowframe and other household fixture is a maddeningly time consuming mindf*ck. Without any other distraction than your own thoughts, you operate the brush taking care to avoid paint runs, splashes and overshoots while literally wishing the time away, hoping for a good result and the chance to break free from its servitude.

And yet, when the job is done (and that’s never soon enough) you are left with an extra 24 reminder of it, just to add a little insult to the injury.

One of my cats has now taken up residence beside me on the bed and is busily cleaning and preening herself. I’m sure that somewhere on the evolutionary path, they were presented with the option to develop hands but graciously declined foreseeing with great feline intelligence the futility of paint and brushes.

So there you have it, better to be a cat with fleas than a blogger with an itch.