Zen + Zen = Zen

I’ve been reading a book of Japanese Death Poems lent to me by my son.  I was quite ignorant of the Japanese tradition of writing a poem at the point of death: it seems very strange to us that someone can not only know when they are about to die but stop to write a poem before they go; but I found these poems to be a great source of peace: all of us in the West need to learn to confront our own mortality instead of running away from it and trying to prolong our lives as much as possible.

https://bit.ly/2EcHWiG

I’ve also been watching a film about the Tamil mathematician Ramanujan.  Played by Dev Patel, Ramanujan is an untutored genius with a brilliant intuitive mind who regards mathematics as a sort of worship and does his calculations in the sand of the temple floor.  He has a mind as beautiful as Nash’s but without any opportunity to share his insights; however a friend takes his papers to show the local British bigwig and he gets an opportunity to go to Cambridge and study under Hardy:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G._H._Hardy

Jeremy Irons (how I love that man) is perfect as the atheist Hardy, a man fighting on more fronts than the War which forms the backdrop to this narrative.  Prejudice is ingrained and Trinity College refuses to acknowledge that ‘an Indian’ could be brainier than they are.  But Hardy is also fighting Ramanujan himself, who cannot understand his insistence on ‘proving’ the arguments which he intuitively ‘sees’.  Intuition, in the West, is not enough: there must be proof, especially if Ramanujan is to be elected as a Fellow.  An opportunity to explore these cultural differences is missed; in fact missed opportunities are a feature of this film.  Stephen Fry has a cameo as British bigwig Sir Francis Spring who abruptly changes his mind about supporting Ramanujan (another opportunity for drama missed) and other supporting roles are underexploited, such as Toby Jones as Hardy’s friend and co-conspirator and Jeremy Northam as Bertrand Russell; a man sympathetic to racial equality but realistic about Ramanujan’s chances of Fellow-ship.

A sad sub-plot involves Ramanujan’s young wife, separated from him by his relocation to England.  Their separation is cruelly compounded by his jealous mother who hides their letters, so that each thinks the other has forgotten them.  But once again the opportunity for drama is missed; the wife finds the letters and we fast-forward to a reconciliation, though sadly they have only two more years together before he dies of TB.

I’m very interested in the subject of multicultural maths.  Arabic cultures were fluent in maths and much of their art is based on patterns of numbers: I wonder if we are still as arrogant today as those Trinity scholars who thought the way of the West was the only way?

The film’s on Netflix now if you want to watch it:

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0787524/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_7

And I have a sneaking suspicion that in Zen mathematics 1+1=1…

Kirk out

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Peterloo

It has been called the greatest historical event never taught (in the UK at least).  The Peterloo massacre, coming hard on the heels of the Battle of Waterloo to which the name ironically refers, was one of the most infamous events in British history, and yet it’s hardly taught at schools at all.  I studied history to A-level and it wasn’t even mentioned.  Mike Leigh’s film attempts to remedy this situation.

The film is a bit of a history lesson and at times feels like one, with references to the Corn Laws and Manchester’s lack of political representation thrown in.  The Corn Laws kept the price of corn artificially high by forbidding foreign imports, thus protecting the farmers but causing great hardship to working people.  This, coupled with the prevalence of so-called ‘rotten boroughs’, areas with no political representation, led to increasing discontent and eventually to a march and rally in St Peter’s Field in Manchester.

‘War and Peace’ never felt very far away: the film begins on a battlefield where a young bugler is staggering around, disorientated and confused among the smoke and dead bodies.  Peterloo happened in 1819, just four years after the end of the Napoleonic wars, and many of the scenes were reminiscent of dramatisations of Tolstoy’s great work.

Like ‘War and Peace,’ the film is an utterly breathtaking panorama.  The action does not centre on one character or group but moves like a diorama from scene to scene, group to group, character to character, in so doing building up a giddying picture of the Dickensian conditions (fifty years before Dickens) in Lancashire at that time.  

It seems ungracious to criticise aspects of the film and in any case all doubts were entirely blown away by the final scenes; but I think it’s fair to say that dialogue has never been Mike Leigh’s strong point: much of it felt clunky and unnatural and some of the rich and powerful characters were totally overdone, again calling to mind the worst excesses of an outraged Dickens.  But all this melted away as the scenes built to a crescendo.  Henry Hunt, the main speaker and a supporter of worker’s representation and women’s suffrage, works his way towards the rally at the same time as families are marching from all corners of Lancashire; men, women and children in their Sunday best clothes in joyful mood and not so much a stick or stone among them that could serve as a weapon.  Their demands are simple: repeal the Corn Laws and give them political representation.  The response of the authorities is (inaudibly) to read the Riot Act and then to send soldiers in to disperse the crowd; to charge, injure and kill.  Fifteen people died and hundreds were injured on that day.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peterloo_Massacre

Though far less deadly it reminded me of Amritsar as portrayed in ‘Gandhi’:

 

The Guardian gives it full marks:

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/nov/03/peterloo-review-mike-leigh-epic-history-lesson

although it doesn’t actually mention that Peterloo led indirectly to the establishment of the Manchester Guardian, the Grauniad’s forerunner;

https://www.theguardian.com/gnm-archive/2002/jun/06/1

And Mark Kermode seems to agree with me:

 

 

And here’s the trailer:

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4614612/videoplayer/vi3720788761?ref_=tt_ov_vi

I urge you to go and see it.  Don’t wait for the DVD – go see it at the cinema.  You’ll thank me.

Kirk out

Hawking the Infinitely Prolonged

People are dropping like flies at the moment, and the latest to go is Stephen Hawking.  He was given two years to live after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease, and yet survived until the age of 76.  I’m trying to think of something clever to say about him, but zerothly has done it much better than I can, so all I’m going to do is put together a series of Hawking-related clips as a sort of half-arsed tribute:

https://zerothly.wordpress.com/2018/03/14/a-prolonged-history-of-stephen-hawking/#like-9043

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2980516/?ref_=nm_knf_i2

 

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09th4hf

These are, in order, zerothly’s blog post, the biopic The Theory of Everything, Hawking appearing in The Simpson’s and his voice in the latest Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Basically Hawking was up for anything and in spite of the monotone of his voice, had a great sense of humour: when asked when he’d made a mistake in A Brief History of Time, he replied, ‘I predict that I was wrong.’

Sorry I haven’t done this with my whole arse but I’m feeling a little cold-y and woolly-headed right now.

Kirk out

We Have Normality. Anything Else is Therefore Your Own Problem

I’m nearly better, though measuring your own progress is far from an exact science.  I was re-reading my old diary (from 2006) and trying to figure out if I was happier then or if I’m happier now – and I think the answer is, both.  I was happier then in the sense that I had work and money; we were involved with the children and had frequent holidays.  On the other hand the diary is full of my frustrations: people I disliked and didn’t know how to deal with; continual demands on me from work and children – and above all a total lack of time to write, which resulted in mental chaos.  My mind felt completely cluttered; and whilst I don’t have any of the external trappings I had then, what I do have is a large measure of mental clarity and plenty of time to write.  If I don’t write I get mental constipation: thoughts build up and up and are never released, like one of those progress bars which never quite gets to the end – or if it does, just starts all over again.  They ought to call them Sisyphus bars because they never get to the end…

Getting better is like returning to normal from Douglas Adams’ Total Perspective Vortex: ‘we have normality.  I repeat, we have normality.  Anything else is therefore your own problem.’

http://hitchhikers.wikia.com/wiki/Total_Perspective_Vortex

I have to figure out which symptoms were due to the TVP – aka chest infection – (eg tiredness, depression) and which are now my own problem.  Of course in a wider sense everything is my own problem, but it’s good to know which are caused by a bug and which aren’t.  Though I suspect it may not be that simple.  After all, why do we get bugs in the first place?

Now there’s a question with a never-ending answer.

Kirk out

…slurry…

I’m trying to think of unusual words for what is coming out of my lungs at the moment, and ‘slurry’ seems like a good one.  Yes, I know from my ‘Archers’ listening that it means muck, but it sounds right and it looks like something slurred.  OH has also suggested ‘slurt’ but I’m not so keen on that as it sounds like a collapsed yurt.

Or maybe it’s a liturgy?  You know, a lurgy with a great big IT in the middle.  Anyway, somehow I feel that coming up with funny names for it helps me to feel better – like when people name their tumours.  In the latest Rebus book, the detective has a shadow on his lung which he nicknames ‘Hank Marvin’ and which eventually turns out to be benign.  I’m fairly certain I have a chest infection and not a shadow on the lung but we’ll know more when I see the doc tomorrow – always assuming I can get an appointment…

In the meantime I’ve not been up to doing much except watching TV.  I’ve checked out some videos of ‘Rex the Runt’ (a wobbly bobbly dribbly squiggly dog)

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2012/02/21/bad-bob-random-pavarotti-and-buster-gonad/

followed by the film ‘Eddie the Eagle.’  This is a great thing to watch if you’re ill: the uplifting, soaring, swooping, yearning, stretching tale of a no-hoper who went on to be an Olympic ski-jumper and the British record holder is highly inspiring and altogether in the traditional British spirit of cobbling things together on a shoestring and coming last.  It’s the perfect antidote to the relentlessly pervasive culture of competition which confronts us at every turn.

See you on the other side folks.

Kirk out

Monster Hits and Monster Directors

There’s a big debate going on at the moment about whether we should support the work of artists who turn out to be monsters.  Where do you draw the line?  I would never knowingly go and see a film made by a Nazi or white supremacist, on the principle that I want nothing to do with such people.  But what about Woody Allen?  I used to love his work but now I don’t know if I ever want to see a film of his again.

There’s a similar question around Harvey Weinstein.  He’s done some terrific work but can I still watch it, now that I know what he’s like alone in a hotel room?  And what about Roman Polanski?  Can we – should we – divorce the person from the work?

I still can’t make up my mind about this.  It seems to me that there ought to be some sort of coherence here; that if a man is a monster it will come through somehow in his work.  But although Woody Allen’s later films are a pile of self-indulgent mush, his earlier work still dazzles.  I still love Annie Hall; and he was a monster when he made it.  So what to do?

It seems clear that there are men against whom the welter of evidence is conclusive.  I firmly believe that Woody Allen and Harvey Weinstein are guilty of the acts of which they are accused (if not all, then most.)  But there are other cases where the accused ought, as in any other case, to be given the benefit of the doubt while investigations take place – and they’re not.  I have no idea whether Kevin Spacey was guilty as claimed, but he’s been made a pariah all the same, along with many others.  Did he deserve this?

I don’t know.

The problem with the #metoo campaign is the problem with public discourse in general.  On one side we have the accusers, supported by feminists and others; in the opposite corner we have the accused, supported by their friends and those who think sexual harassment is either a joke or something women are making way too much fuss about.  This is not simply a case of men vs women: many men have supported the victims and some women have spoken against, notably Catherine Deneuve.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/14/french-feminists-catherine-deneuve-metoo-letter-sexual-harassment

As the Guardian article above points out, Deneuve and others make some reasonable points but have been accused of ‘supporting rape culture’, such is the gladiatorial nature of public discourse.

But there’s another problem with these offences.  It’s not like dealing with murder or GBH.  It’s not even like dealing with a straightforward theft (and good luck getting the police to take any notice of that nowadays).  These offences take place in private, in a situation where it is often impossible to prove or disprove consent.  Rape is of course an offence and can be reported; but what do you do, say, when a man like Michael Fallon (a government minister at the time) keeps putting his hand on your knee despite repeated requests to stop?  What do you do when a man leans in a little too close and looks down the front of your dress, or touches you on the back and lets his hand wander down to your arse or (as Jimmy Savile repeatedly did) sticks his tongue down your mouth?  You’d have better luck reporting the theft of a stapler than going to the police with that.  So what do you do?  The newsreader pestered by Michael Fallon threatened to punch him, but I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with that.

We need to stick up for ourselves and for each other – but more than that, we need to change the environment to make this kind of harassment completely unacceptable.  So, does that involve not going to see Annie Hall any more?

I don’t know.  Here’s an article that might shed some light on the question:

https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2017/11/20/art-monstrous-men/

Kirk out

Hamlet is not Quite as Funny…

Image result for withnail and I open source images

I take as my text today the script of Withnail and I: yes, all of it – for as I have so consistently pointed out the entire film is basically a collection of quotes linked by a somewhat haphazard plot.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094336/?ref_=nv_sr_1

But my subject this morning is not the film per se, but the Facebook group.  It is my contention that The Withnail and I Appreciation Society is one of the healthiest groups on social media.  Why?  Because it allows people to hurl the most terrible insults at each other with impunity.  When someone calls me a terrible c**t, I chuckle; when a man declares that he means to have me even if it must be burglary, I laugh uproariously and when people ‘feel unusual’ I’m not a bit spooked.   Because the film licences this rudeness, which is not about the person you’re talking to but about your shared enjoyment of the film.  And this is very healthy I think.

This is what happens: people post pictures, memes and links to news stories on which to hang their references to the film.  And because the film has a thousand and one quotable bits, it just keeps on going.  As a youth I used to weep in butcher’s shops.  I’ve only just begun to grow last year.  The joint I am about to roll can utilise up to twelve skins.  It is called the Camberwell Carrot.  This will tend to make you very high.  Bollocks, I’ll swallow it and run a mile.  That wouldn’t wash with Geoff.  Imagine getting into a fight with the f***er.

It’s not all insults: you can offer sherry, fulminate about cats or eulogise root vegetables.  You can talk about garlic, rosemary and salt or good quality rubber boots; you can tell Miss Blennerhasset to call the police or demand the finest wines known to humanity.  You can even go on holiday by mistake.

The film ends with a soliloquy from hamlet, another play that’s full of quotable bits.  Though Hamlet isn’t quite as funny…

Marwood out.