Month: March 2010

Dawn Chorus

Greetings. This is one of Skip Morrow‘s less morose characters – the Ether Bunny, whose anaesthetic properties I am keen to discover.

I have written at length on the myth of Eostre of the dawn, thus will not weary this year’s Easter readers with more of the same, except that the worship of Eostre was practised by ‘Anglo-Saxon heathens”, from which almost all will draw the wrong conclusions.

Neither shall I be rolling eggs down hills, painting them either red (for blood) or green (for spring), bowling them through long grass on the White House Lawn, nor eagerly hunting for them, cawing excitedly.

I shall, however be greeting the happy morn in the grounds of the British Embassy on Easter Sunday.  Why, exactly…let’s just not go there, shall we? The fact that it is still days away and I feel the need to blog about it is testament to my dislike – sometimes with extreme prejudice – of early morning activities; the notion of a five mile run before breakfast – indeed the idea of breakfast consisting of little more than a cigarette and a cough – makes me want to throw up, and chirruping lustily before sunrise about the great benefits of the Resurrection to mankind, sublimely meritorious as they all undoubtedly are, has yet to generate much spiritual, emotional or even physical momentum. Perhaps later on, when civilised men drink espressos over the morning paper, I might manage a yelp or two of triumph.

In the meantime, I wondered which of my many female friends might care to receive one of these as a small Easter gift, including manufacturing instructions. Colour coded for each disciple, inclusive of Judas, the whole package is obtainable for less than seven dollars. Truly, a bargain.

Came the hour, came the man. In shock at being called upon to sing lustily at 5:30am after a sleepless night, returning, blessedly, at 8:30 to the People’s Republic of Nod.


The Cost of Outrage

I love this image. It’s a view looking west from the ruins of Masada, perched 1300 feet  above the Judean wilderness. It’s a fortress. Inaccessible and almost impossible to conquer without large troop commitment.

Protest has always been a risky undertaking. The Judaean revolt, according to Josephus – a pro-Roman historian – began in 66CE, provoked by Greeks sacrificing birds in front of a synagogue. The Roman garrison did not intervene and violence spread. Subsequently, Nero appointed Vespasian to crush the rebellion, which culminated in the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70CE. Tacitus records that six hundred thousand men and women took up arms. Those who fled and were caught by the Romans were summarily crucified. A year later, the mopping-up operation culminated in a siege where 10,000 Roman soldiers stormed the fortress at Masada to find almost 1,000 defenders had committed suicide rather than face defeat. Today, new graduates of the IDF are sworn in at a ceremony at Masada, with a climb to the top and the oath ‘Masada shall not fall again’.

Outraged people take risks here, too, and their outrage is often well-founded, since human rights violations are so frequent here as to be almost commonplace. Brave souls publish editorials and articles in the national Press which expose events  and sometimes even individuals, stripping perpetrators of their cloaks of secrecy, woven around family ties and tribal favours. There may be a payoff. Those who engage in such risky activities may feel a little like the defenders at Masada, nervously waiting.

Nested Boxes

Just for those with a love of numbers, this one…I know you’re out there…

A toy is made from nested square boxes, as shown. The side of the outermost box is 10cm and the sides of the next one in touch the midpoints of the outer one.

Easy first. Find the sum of the perimeters of the first three boxes.
Harder. Find the sum of the perimeters of n boxes, n being a large number. It’s easy to see that this value will tend to one number, so your task is to find that number.

Fibonacci Again

In 1970, John Dixon showed that the number of steps in the Euclidean algorithm for two positive integers  is less than or equal to 2.078[log a+1] where a is the larger of the two positive integers. 
It would seem that, roughly once a year, I return to Fibonacci, perhaps because I love playing with numbers.

Plotting known Fibonacci number intervals at stable values of  phi against their corresponding difference values yielded an interesting and perhaps comparative result to Dixon’s. The equation, which isn’t very clear on the graph, reads y=2.078ln(x)+1, which seemed curious…
What fun. 

Especially as I was looking for a trivial solution for the Schwarzchild radius of a black hole under a nonlinear gravitational field, and Euclid only dealt with integers.

I have no idea what this means, if anything at all.

Shutter Island

Susan Sontag’s commentary on the centenary of the cinema declared it to be in “ignominious, irreversible decline”. “The hunt for more dramatic … images,” writes Sontag, “drives the photographic enterprise, and is part of the normality of a culture in which shock has become a leading stimulus of consumption and a source of value …. The image as shock and the image as cliche are two aspects of the same presence” She added that “the commercial cinema has settled for a policy of bloated, derivative film-making…every film that hopes to reach the highest possible audience is designed as some kind of remake”. This isn’t really altogether fair, in the context of Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island”. Part Gothic horror and part noir-thriller, we are taken on a spectacular, imaginative ride through the psychology of delusion. DiCaprio’s character, Teddy, regards everything around him with suspicion, as he attempts to penetrate the real purpose of the maximum security facility in the title. Slipping in and out of reality, the character’s increasingly disturbing paranoia seems grimly trying to hold on to normality in spite of monolithic apparent certainties which surround him. Acting talent is impressively abundant, superb design from Dante Ferretti, wonderfully original lighting by Robert Richardson, and Sandy Powell’s costumes are 1950s surreal. Movie buffs will have plenty to say about Scorsese’s allusions – the metaphor that America is slipping into a state of permanent delusion is not lost – but diCaprio’s performance is the best I have seen this year. The image is of the Lighthouse, Shutter Island’s Room 101, where hopeless cases undergo frontal lobotomies.

Suffer the Children

This is a bit of a rant, really, so if you’re looking for my usual soothingly banal, sardonic humour, try somewhere else today.

The recent papal apology for the behaviour of Irish priests ignored the central issue – the appalling failures of an institution that systematically closed ranks, ignored the law, avoided scandal and shielded child rapists for years. The evidence that the Catholic Church was more concerned over its own reputation rather than the damage being inflicted on children is clear, unambiguous and damning. Benedict used the words ‘misplaced concern’ – which sounds altogether too whoopsie for me and he did not apologise for the cover up, only for the abuse, suggesting little new vision in Rome. Indeed whatever investigations are performed are done so under a cloak of secrecy. The ecclesiastical penalty for violation of secrecy by members of a tribunal so convened is excommunication, which probably means millions of years in purgatory with no ice-cream or virgins.

The church worldwide in every denomination has become painfully aware that there are now multiple documented cases where paedophiles in the clergy were identified and instead of being reported to the police, they were quietly moved to another diocese where they continued to abuse. Personally, I think it’s obvious. Putting men with, let’s say, a ‘pastoral’ – read ‘controlling’ turn of mind in situations where they have absolute authority, repressed homosexual tendencies and a degree of licence is asking for trouble. Unbelievers tend to tar us all with the same brush and when the hose is turned on, everybody gets wet.

In any other organisation there would be pressure for measures to be put in place to prevent this sort of abuse from being propagated again, so, why is it that Rome considers herself to be above or at least, beyond the law? She does not, in public, of course, but one only has to go and listen to a Catholic priest in full flow when the might of apostolic tradition as personified in the priestly role of the man at the front – the Vicar – God’s personal representative, harangues the flock for imperfect adherence to rules and catechisms, to see that as an organisation, she believes herself answerable only to God.

Atheism looks tempting at this juncture. But, this is the view, not of an atheist but of an outraged believer, albeit a persistent kicker against the goad of tradition and political enslavement that churches condemn their adherents to with such resounding moral virtue. The reader will perhaps surmise that I hold the office of priesthood in Vaticanus in scant esteem.

As a cul-de-sac, years ago when I read JB Phillips’ ‘Your God is Too Small’, I sensed that the majority of atheists had never encountered a plausible concept of God and they systematically reject playground dogma as a viable alternative to disbelief. They were still rejecting the man with the white beard that they had outgrown in their youth. It’s strange how our mathematics and literature courses become gradually more interesting as we get older and more competent to appreciate them but catechetics and theology remain for too long in kindergarten and thus become of little value as we mature. I think that atheists are frequently people who are either still working out adolescent authority issues ( so why am I not one, then?) or are sincere people waiting to believe in a truly glorious, transcendent God who is not imprisoned by fuzzy descriptions and restricted vision that many Christians – even popular and persuasive televangelists peddling the opium that Marx derided us for – communicate.

Living here, the imams in full flow remind me a little of Catholic priests. One does not need to speak Arabic to catch the passion, fire and vitriol of the preacher as he discourses at full volume, indeed the neighbourhood for several blocks receives full benefit. It all sounds less about a loving, merciful Allah and more about ghastly penalties for sin. But, perhaps I am mistaken and interfaith dialogue begins elsewhere. On a cheering note, by way of conclusion , the Romish heretics might take a leaf from Reverend Timothy Lovejoy’s book who said in a memorable episode of the Simpsons, when Marge Simpson refused to divorce Homer on the grounds that it was ‘sinful’, replied “just about everything is a sin, technically we can’t even go to the bathroom”.

Granny Smiths

The story is told of the old farmer who went to Church one Sunday morning. He was a man of few words. On his return, his wife asked him what the sermon was about. “Sin.” he replied. The wife was a patient woman. “And…” she said. “Figgered the preacher was agin it.” the man responded, before going off to milk the ducks, or whatever farmers do before Sunday lunch.

I re-read the account of the Fall, perhaps as small penance for my own real, imagined or alleged misdemeanours, imagining my own response to the temptress.
An apple is a fruit with a core – itself a fertility symbol – and multiple symbolic meanings. Wild crab-apples were gathered in ancient times, and full-sized varieties were already found in Central Europe in the Neolithic era. In ancient myth, the god of intoxication Dionysius was the creator of the apple, (and cider, presumably) which he presented to Aphrodite, goddess of love. Plus ca change. More erotic associations are obvious. In this way the apple acquired a somewhat ambiguous symbolism. The goddess Eris called for “the judgment of Paris” when she threw down a golden apple marked “for the most beautiful” (the “apple of discord” that in other languages corresponds to the English “bone of contention”); Helen of Troy was Paris’ reward for choosing Aphrodite, but his abduction of Helen led to the Trojan War, a seriously discordant event, especially for Hector whose bloody corpse Achilles dragged behind his chariot around the city walls. Hercules had to brave great danger to retrieve the apples of the Hesperides from the far reaches of the west. On the other hand, the earth-goddess Gaea gave Hera an apple as a symbol of fertility upon her engagement to Zeus. In Athens, customarily, newlyweds divided and ate an apple when they entered the bridal chamber. Sending or tossing apples was a part of courtship. The Old Norse goddess Iduna guarded apples that brought eternal youth to whoever ate them. In the Celtic religion the apple was the symbol of knowledge handed down from ancestors.
It seems that in many mythologies apples and other multiseeded fruits have fertility overtones as well as resonances about knowledge and disobedience. The Genesis account may be a synthesis of many of them. I seem to be able to eat them without feeling particularly guilty, so the damage seems already to have been done.