Sunday, January 30, 2005

Day Twenty One. "Twenty-six thousand, nine hundred references.".

Day Twenty One.

I was lying to you in my last blog, when I said that the word “antidisestablishmentarianism” originated in the Seventeenth Century. It is actually a Nineteenth Century word. I only said that so that I could talk about the Seventeenth Century sects, for whom I have great affection.

However, this debate, about the relationship between the church and the state did indeed begin in the Seventeenth Century, so although I was wrong in the fact, I was right in the spirit.

There are twenty-six thousand, nine hundred references to “antidisestablishmentarianism” on the web.

That’s a hell of a lot of interest in what is otherwise a fairly useless word.

Most of them are variations on the old joke “antidisestablishmentarianism is a very long word, can you spell it?”

It was one of the first jokes I heard as a child, except that when I heard it the word was “Constantinople” not “antidisestablishmentarianism”..

Also, I’m not the first person to have tried to use the word in a piece of writing. Duke Ellington managed it much more elegantly than I back in the forties, with a song called “You’re Just An Old Antidisestablishmentarianismist.”.

These are the words:

“You never want to be coddled, You never want to be kissed, You're just an old ANTIDISESTABLISHMENTARIANISMIST! When I come close when we're dancing, I get a slap on the wrist, Don't be an old ANTIDISESTABLISHMENTARIANISMIST! You've got no use for moonlight, You'd turn your back on a star! Your heart is bent and you're against The state of things as they are! When you're a hundred years older, maybe you'll want what you've missed, Don't be an old ANTIDISESTABLISHMENTARIANISMIST.”

You’ll notice that he has added three more letters, both for the sake of the rhyme, but also so it scans better.

That’s nine uses of “antidisestablishmentarianism” in only three hundred and fourteen words.

Is this a record?


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Day Twenty: "Thee and thou, thine and mine."

Day Twenty.

I’ve always wanted to use the word “Antidisestablishmentarianism” in a text. Here it is.

It’s the longest word in the English Language. Or at least it was while I was growing up. It has twenty-five letters. They’ve probably invented a few more even longer words since then.

“Supercalerfragerlisticexpialidocious” doesn’t count because it doesn’t mean anything, whereas “Antidisestablishmentarianism” does.

Anyway, never trust anything that comes out of the Disney Corporation. It is bound to be tainted.

So far I have been cheating. Saying you want to use a word, and then spelling it out, is not actually using the word in context.

So let’s give it a try.

The word comes out of the English Civil War and the debate between the different sects: between those who believed that the Church should remain established as a part of the British State - the gentry and the followers of Cromwell - and some of the more radical sects, who believed in freedom of conscience, and the disestablishment of the Church from the State. The Quakers, the Ranters, the Levellers and the Diggers were all Disestablishmentarians, and their opponents on the other side were the Antidisestablishmentarians, whose philosophy could summed up as Antidisestablishmentarianism.

Is that good enough? It’s still a bit of a cheat, I must admit, since all it really amounts to is an explanation of the word.

It will have to do for the time being.

Actually, this isn’t as irrelevant as it sounds. Some of these debates still have resonance to this day.

We were talking about Jesus.

That description of him I gave you earlier, as the Son of Man, not the Son of God, who came to take away our sins, and who stood in opposition to the law and to the Ten Commandments, was actually developed during the English Civil War.

The Quakers and the Ranters and the Levellers and the Diggers were all antinomian dissenters, that is, they stood against the Established Church and the State.

“Antinomianism” means “against the law”.

They believed that Jesus had died to save us from our sins. Sometimes, therefore, according to some opinions, it was no longer possible to sin.

The Ranters took this line of reasoning so far that they felt free to drink and smoke and spend time with whores. They met in pubs, and, after a few pints and a few pipes they would, literally, be ranting.

Such was their reasoning, in fact, that after a while some of them even felt confident enough, finally, to dispense with the notion of God altogether.

Thus did atheism arise out of a form of Christian thinking.

The Quakers, who were also very radical, took a highly politicised view of things. They refused to bow or to call any man “Lord”. They refused to doff their caps. Men and women were all created in the image of God, they said. No man was superior to any other man. Sometimes they would enter the established churches during a sermon, and argue with the Priest. They wanted to abolish the Priesthood. They believed that men and women were created equal and that the words of a woman preacher had as much relevance as those of a man.

This was very far-out thinking indeed in the Sixteen-Forties.

In fact, I believe we can blame the Quakers for one of the seismic shifts in the English language.

At that time the “thee” and the “thou” were still in use.

“Thee” and “thou” were the familiar and singular; “you” was the polite and plural form.

You used “you” when addressing more than one person, when you didn’t know the person, or when the person was a social superior.

You used “thou” when addressing one person you were close to - like a member of your family, for instance - when speaking to animals or small children, or when the person was a social inferior.

It was conventional for a Lord to use the “thou” and for a peasant or a tradesman, or anyone of a lower status, to answer with the “you”.

The Quakers refused to accept the social implications of this and referred to everyone as “thou”: meaning that everyone was considered equal.

They called themselves “the Society of Friends”, and called everyone “friend”, much as, in later days, Communists and Socialists referred to each other as “comrade”.

This refusal to go along with the conventional forms of polite address caused much annoyance – not to say, outrage - amongst the gentry.

“Unless they are suppressed,” said one disgruntled supporter of antidisestablishmentarianism, “such as now introduce ‘thou’ and ‘thee’, will (if they can) expel ‘mine’ and ‘thine’, dissolving all property into confusion.”

Yes. That’s exactly what they meant.

Thus the words “thou”, “thee” and “thine” took on a radical, political, egalitarian edge, and the language was forced to shift to compensate. The people who used these words were seen as subversive and revolutionary. We stopped using them altogether.

Mighty, indeed, is the power of the word.

Unless, that is, it is twenty-five letters long, in which case it becomes almost impossible to use.


Saturday, January 22, 2005

Day Nineteen: "An atheist's prayer."

Day Nineteen.

"Do you love me?"

"Yes, I love you."

"Are you sure?"

"Of course I'm sure."

"But how do I know that? How do I know you love me?"


There's not much you can say to that, is there?


Trailing off into silence like a string of dots.

"Because... I do."

"But how do I know it? I mean, really, you have to say you love me so that I know that you love me."

"Oh alright then. I don't know if I love you. I admit it, since you ask, I don't know if I love you or not. Does that satisfy you?"

"So you don't love me then."

"I didn't say that. I said I didn't know. Anyway, I do love you, I told you I love you."

"But how do I know that?"

And on and on and on, chipping away at the edifice until it really falls down, until love really crumbles.

Me, I've had a few relationships in my time. Sometimes it's me as the wheedling dependent - always insecure, always testing - sometimes it's her. Whichever way it was it's always ended the same way, in failure.

When I first met my son's Mother she was seventeen and I was twenty-five. I was the worldly wise older man. She was a lovely, thoughtful girl. I was fascinated by her from the first. We both broke up relationships to get to each other.

The first few months were bliss. I wanted nothing more from life than to be making love with her. I would've given anything up for her. I almost lost my friends because of her. I was utterly obsessed. I remember walking in the park one Summer's day and seeing all the tender young leaves on the trees, so fresh, so new, so alive. That's how I felt. "This is my time," I thought. Later, when the autumn set in, and then the winter, a sort of gloom descended. I seemed to suck in the seasons. The winter's gloom had settled in my heart.

She became pregnant. I think I made her pregnant on purpose. I wanted to trap her, to have her caged like a wild bird. I never wanted to lose her. I was so scared of losing her.

The following year, when she was already huge with the impending mystery, we went on a holiday to the Orkneys. It took us six days to hitch-hike up there, and then we couldn't afford the ferry. I bought a half bottle of Orkney Whiskey instead. We walked along the beach at Scrabster looking into the strange black waters and across to the Old Man of Mull. We talked to a lighthouse keeper, and I dreamed strange, lonely dreams. Then we set off for home. I had to be in work by the Monday. Six days journey for one day on the beach. We got a lift with a man in a fast car who managed to get us most of the way home in less than a day. He played Cliff Richards tracks all the way down. When we arrived at her Sister's house everyone was drunk, and they finished off my half bottle of Orkney whiskey in a few short minutes.

I had a dream. We were trying to get to Orkney, but we didn't have any money. A tall, bald man in a dinner suit with a ruffled shirtfront and cuffs gave us a gold coin. He was covered in slime like a new born child. He pointed and we looked up and saw a towering cliff of green and russet moss glistening in the sunlight. He said that it was Orkney. I was transported by the beauty of it.

The dependency of love is the worst dependency of all. Love means revealing your vulnerability. Every woman falls in love with a strong man and then sets out to find out what lies underneath. More often than not she's disappointed. Love is the test we're obliged to fail at least once.
After the child came we settled into a routine. We were always squabbling about time. "This is your time and this is mine." Whose turn is it to get him up, to change his nappies, or to try to get him off to sleep? The boy - much as I loved him - seemed to command most of her attention. Then she became paranoid about getting pregnant again. We never made love again as often or as happily as we had in that first blissful year. It became a furtive, infrequent longing. By trying too hard to hold on to her I had begun to lose her. The more I needed her the more dependent I became, and the more dependent I became, the more independent she insisted on being. It was as if she was feeding off me. In the end we were no longer sure if we were together for the sake of each other or for the sake of the child.

She grew away from me. She longed to have her young life back. Eventually she went to college and met someone else. We'd been going through a bad patch and hadn't spoken for months. Then she walked in one day and I suddenly realised how much I wanted this woman. I tried to take her hand and she pushed it away. I knew something was up, but she wouldn't say what it was. "Can't you guess," she kept saying. I finally got her to tell me the truth - six years to the day after we had first got together - and then I cried for days. I had been an uncompromising Atheist for years by then. But now I found I needed to pray. There is no sadder thing in the whole of Creation than an Atheist's prayer. To replace a dependency on a woman you have loved with a dependency on a God you can't believe in. How humiliating.


Friday, January 21, 2005

Day Eighteen: "The only God is No God."

Day Eighteen.

I have a left eye and a right eye, and between them I can see in 3D.

I have a left ear and a right ear, and between them I can hear in stereo.

I have a left hand and a right hand, and between them I can do all sorts of things. I can juggle. I can cook. I can play the guitar.

I have a left mind and a right mind, and between them I can think in contradictions.

Or, as William Blake put it: “All of life is but a fiction, and is made of contradiction.”

When I was talking to my friend upstairs the other night I told him that I believed in God. This was because he was telling me that he didn’t.

When I was talking to him again the other day, I told him that I didn’t believe in God. This is because he presumed that I did.

“Hang on there a minute,” he said, “you’ve just contradicted yourself. You told me you did believe in God.”

“That’s because I have on my bifocals,” I told him. “It’s so I can think in 3D.”

What I like most are sentences that contain apparent contradictions and still make sense.

Like this one, for instance:

“Sometimes the most positive word you can say is no.”

And here is another one:

“The only God is no God.”

The Buddhists, of course, have no God, but only a dynamic place of being they call Nirvana, which means, the Roaring Silence.

The Taoists have no God, but only a dynamic process of being, which they call the Tao, which means, the Way.

The Confucians have no God, but only a dynamic interplay of complimentary forces, which they call the I, which means the Changes.

“The only thing that never changes,” they say, “is Change itself.”

The Hindus have so many Gods as to render the term almost meaningless.

Everyone has a God. Everyone has several Gods.

Infinite numbers of Gods to represent the infinite aspects of being.

Christians and Muslims and Jews, however, have only one God, who lays down the law for us to obey. We call this God “the Lord”, or some such variation on the term, and understand that we are to serve him, and that he is to judge us and punish us, and in the name of this God we feel free to force people into service, and to judge and punish others as we see fit.

The Judeo-Christian God is the God of the vengeful ego. Why else would he punish us?

The Jews even claim to be the Chosen People.

Why would God choose?

The early Christians, however, did not believe in this God.

They said that God is Love, and love is not a being but a relationship.

They personified this relationship as like that of a Father to his son.

Some early Christians called God the Father-Mother.

Others: the Great Life.

Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God, but only the Son of Man.

Read the Gospels. It was Paul who called Jesus the Son of God, and he is distinguished in the story of Jesus by the fact that they never met.

In fact, Jesus made it clear that we are all Sons and Daughters of God.

He said, “Our Father who art in heaven.”

He did not say, “my Father.”

Jesus’ God was the God of forgiveness, not of punishment.

Jesus’ God was the God of freedom, not of the law.

He came to overthrow the Ten Commandments. He came to take away our sins.


Day Seventeen "God is not a noun."

Day Seventeen.

God is not a noun, he is a verb.

"He" is not a he, nor a she, nor an it.

He is not an object in Space.

He cannot be measured, or weighed, or observed, or accounted for by the scientific method.

God is love, they say, but love is not something that can exist by itself.

Love is in the relationship between beings.

Love is something that we do. Love, too, is a verb, not a noun.

Nouns are convenient tools of language. They help us to describe the world. But they do not exist outside of language.

A tree is not a "tree", but a dynamic process of becoming, a life-force, an existence, a presence, a being in a relationship to beings.

A human being is not a body but the act of being human.

There are two fundamental forms of relationship in our world: the relationship of love, and the relationship of ownership.

The two are diametrically opposed.

You cannot own the sky, nor the air, nor the waters of the earth. You cannot own the earth, but only share it. We cannot own each other, even for a wage.

That is why the concept of private property has to be abolished before we can know God.

God is relationship, not ownership. He exists only where human beings make no claims to property. Therefore he exists most dynamically amongst the poor.

He does not punish. He does not serve.

He did not create the tsunami.

He was there with those victims of the tsunami as each individual relationship to love, as every act of unaccountable bravery, as every attempt to save a life, as every life saved, as every act of sacrifice for another human being. And he was there, again, as every grief, as every tear, as every lost mother's lost hope, as every act of mourning. And he is here, again, in every act of sympathy, in every act of generosity, in every act of concern. And he is here, again, in the work of the rescue forces, in the healing of the sick, in the provision of sustenance, in the clearing of debris, in the burial of the dead, in the building of homes, in the building of lives, in the rebuilding of hope.

You cannot pray to love, but only act upon it.

Who will embrace the living? Who will offer kindness to the dispossessed? Who will hold them close in our hearts as the unyielding grief sobs through their bodies as it sobs through their lives? The mothers without sons? The fathers without daughters? The husbands without wives? The wives without husbands? The orphans without a future? Who will help them to find their future?

Tell me: to whom will you cry when the great tsunami wave comes to wash away your life?

You will cry to your mother who gave you birth, who sacrificed her body that you may live.

Because God is relationship not ownership. Like the relationship of a mother to her child.


Thursday, January 20, 2005

Day Sixteen. "Infinity is an infinity of infinities."

Day Sixteen.

I mentioned infinity.

Infinity is an imaginary number in common use by mathematicians and physicists. Don't ask me what they do with it once they have it, but I do know they use it.

In fact, infinity is an infinity of infinities.

Think about it.

There are an infinite number of prime numbers, and yet each prime number is the start of an infinite sequence of multiples. One is the start of all the multiples of one. Two is the start of all the multiples of two. Three is the start of all the multiples of three. Five is the start of all the multiples of five. Seven is the start of all the multiples of seven. Eleven is the start of all the multiples of eleven. And so on, and so on, ad infinitum, to infinity.

My prime number is one hundred and thirty-seven. One hundred and thirty-seven, too, is the start of an infinite sequence on multiples, on and on, ad infinitum, to infinity..

The reason my prime number is one hundred and thirty-seven is because I woke up one morning from a dream with the words "there are one hundred and thirty-seven ways of interpreting the oracle" resounding in my head.

Don't ask me why I should have dreamed this particular number, nor what the sentence means. I have no idea. Nevertheless I have adopted the number as my own. This is the one hundred and thirty-seventh time I have thought about it today.

I guessed straightaway that it was a prime number, and this was confirmed to me one day when I struck up a conversation with a teenager on a train.

He was one of those speccy, nerdy types, doing sums in his exercise book as a way of passing the time. He wasn't doing his homework. He was doing sums for fun.

I asked him what he was up to. He said, "I'm looking at prime numbers."

I said, "is one hundred and thirty-seven a prime number?"

And he paused briefly, while he worked it out in his head.

"Yes," he said, after only a moment of time, "it is."

After which he went back to doing his sums.

You may ask what this has to do with God?

Only this.

Infinity is an imaginary number which is useful to mathematicians and physicists as a way of understanding the Universe. And God is an imaginary friend who is useful for secular priests and philosophical ramblers such as I, as a way of understanding our purpose.

The problem with the Judeo-Christian concept of God is this:

Why did he only make himself known only to one people, once, at one time in history?

Why only to Hebrews?

Doesn't he care about Chinese people, or African people, or North American Indian people, or Aboriginal Australian people, or Polynesian people, or Asian people?

I asked one of my Christian friends about this. I said, "so, are you telling me that God is a Christian, and that if a Muslim or a Hindu or a Sikh says a prayer to him in all sincerity, that he won't listen? You have to be a Christian before he'll be bothered to listen?"

And my friend said, "it's because they've got his name wrong. If I call out to you on the street, and I call you Paul, you won't respond will you?"

Which is tantamount to saying that God only speaks English (or Hebrew, at least). In other words, this Universal God, this juggler of time and space, who gave birth to the constellations, and to every animate and inanimate thing in the Universe, who roars in the furnace of the stars and who numbers every hair on your head, somehow never got round to learning Chinese.

So when a Chinese person, or a Polynesian, or an Australian, or an African, or a Native American person tells us about his God, we are free to ignore what they say.

They speak a different language.


Monday, January 17, 2005

Day Fifteen: "We were talking about God."

Day Fifteen.

We were talking about God.

John Lennon once sang: "God is a concept by which we measure our pain."

I'm not sure if that is true.

My version of it would be: "God is a concept by which we measure our purpose."

Some people would prefer to do without God in their calculations. I'm not one of them.

My friend who lives upstairs from me, and who happens to be gay - in much the same way that I happen to be white (or a muddy kind of greyish pink) - describes God, disparagingly, as "the Vicar's imaginary friend," which is a wonderfully comic turn of phrase. He says he can do without God. But I think that God is a useful concept. As useful, in fact, as those imaginary numbers you find in physics, like the square root of minus numbers, upon which the whole of electronics is based. They may not exist as an actual numbers, and yet they work.

You can say the same about infinity.

So, yes, maybe God is the imaginary friend who defines our purpose. Without a concept of God we have to do without the notion that we have a purpose in this life, beyond the silent calling of our selfish genes and the vast, eclectic configurations of the accidental cosmos.

Are we just empty flecks of matter tossed about in a blind, indifferent Universe, or is there meaning in our lives?

And isn't meaning too, just like God, an invisible presence which pervades our very existence, unaccountable by scientific method, immeasurable, with no length or breadth or height or weight or mass or acceleration or momentum or force, and yet definable by our understanding?

Where does the meaning of these words lie?

Is it in the electronic image on the screen before you now? In the silicone chip that generates this image? In the computer code that defines how the image will be seen? Is it made of plastic and glass and silicone and gold and copper wiring and all the other elements that go to make your computer? Is it even in the English language?

Or is it in an understanding between you and me?

How do we measure God?

We can't, of course. Any more than we can measure love, or happiness, or grief. But we can measure ourselves beside the notion of an infinite goodness, say, or of a divine purpose, by asking ourselves how well we live up to these things.

Personally, when I think about God, I have a taste for the more abstract, less representative ideas that have come out of history. Like the Taoist version, which is called The Way, and is conceived of as a dynamic interaction between the two complimentary forces of Yin and Yang. Or the Kabbalist version, which is called the Ain Soph, which means The Illimitable, and which can only be described by pairs of negative opposites. It is neither up not down. It is neither black nor white. It is neither male nor female, It is neither North nor South, etcetera, etcetera.

However, the notion of a personal, human-type God has its attractions too, even if it is a little too anthropomorphic.

It's not easy trying to talk to a concept.

When I talk to myself I like to imagine another human-being in front of me.

And anyway, anyone who has ever taken a dose of psychedelic mushrooms will know just how anthropomorphic the world can seem at times: all this rustling, shivering, shimmering life, apparently imbued with purpose and personality.

I once saw the face of the suffering Christ in a dead tree stump swathed in ivy, in the back of a prefabricated building, behind a dead industrial fence where no one ever went.

I was out of my box.

The face was like the face in the Turin Shroud, etched out white against the blackness of the wood, complete with a crown of thorns, and with a look of infinite suffering on his face.

He seemed to be the spirit of this forgotten place, the home of rats and nettles and rusting tin cans, caught between a dirty old fence and the wall of a prefabricated building.

I was probably the only person to have gone there since the building was first erected.

I kept blinking my eyes, turning my head this way and that, to see if this was real or not.

It was real. No matter how I looked, the image would not go away.

Later I went back without the benefit of the psychedelics, just to check it out.

The image was no longer there.

Was it a part of the world, or just my imagination?

Isn't my imagination a part of the world too? Doesn't my imagination inhabit the world, along with me?

The problem with the Judeo-Christian concept of God, however, is that it is inherently absurd.

I'll explain why in the next part.


Sunday, January 16, 2005

Day Fourteen: "You name an enemy."

Day Fourteen.

US defence spending in the year two thousand and two was three hundred and forty-three billion dollars. That is, three hundred and forty-three thousand, thousand, thousand. Three hundred and forty-three and nine noughts, or three hundred and forty-three times ten to the power of nine (I think).

Correct me if I'm wrong.

This is as much as the whole of the rest of the world put together. Every army of every country, from Russia, to China, to North Korea, to Vietnam, to Cuba, to Iran, to Syria. In fact, you name an "enemy", and we'll take a measure to find out where the real threat lies.

There are currently one point four million battle-ready, active American troops in this world. That's not to speak of the backup crew, or of the civillian administrators, nor of their extravagent equipment: fighter planes, tanks, cruise-missiles, daisy-cutters, battleships, aircraft carriers, personnel carriers, rocket-propelled grenades, machine-guns, night-sights, helmets with earphones, computer moniters, body-armour, helmet-mounted digital-cameras, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

To call this degree of battle-readiness "defence spending" is a euphemism, like describing the act of unleashing one's bowels as "spending a penny". How many pennies do you have to spend in order to let go of your waste by-products?

"Offence spending" would be a more appropriate term. It certainly offends me.

That three hundred and forty-three billion dollars, by the way, is also the average spending of the United States on strategic offence in all the years since nineteen forty-six.

Between nineteen forty-six and nineteen ninety-four, the United States spent a total of fourteen point five trillion dollars on offence.

At an average of three-hundred and forty-three billion dollars a year, that works out at eighteen trillion, two hundred and seventy-three billion dollars, total, until today.

Give or take a little here and there.

How else can I say it?

That's nine trillion, seven hundred and seventy-four billion, two hundred and sixty-four million, two hundred and forty-six thousand pounds sterling.

I just went over the road and asked the Sri Lankan manager of my local Premium Mini-Market to weigh ten pound coins for me.

They weigh ninety-five grams.

In other words, the entire United States offence budget between the year nineteen forty-six and the year two thousand and five, if weighed in pound coins, would amount to ninety-two trillion, eight hundred and fifty-five billion, five hundred and ten million, three hundred and thirty-seven thousand grams, or ninety-two billion, eight hundred and fifty-five million, five hundred and ten thousand, three hundred and thirty-seven kilos, or, to put it more graphically, forty-six billion, four hundred and twenty-seven million, seven hundred and fifty-five thousand, one hundred and sixty eight point five bags of sugar.

We'll let them off with the half bag of sugar. It will only spill all over our nice clean surfaces, making a horrible, sticky mess.

Or, to put it another way: to count up to this figure would take three hundred and nine thousand, nine hundred and forty years.

I still don't think we are getting anywhere near an understanding of the meaning of these numbers, however.

Big numbers like this just tend to run into each other till they stop making any sense whatsoever.

So try this.

How many days is it since the supposed birth of that eponymous culture hero after whom our current era is named?

Two thousand and five years is seven hundred and thirty-two thousand, three hundred and seventy-five days.

That's not such a long time, is it?

Thus the US offence budget between the years nineteen forty-six and two thousand and five can be reckoned at thirteen million, three hundred and forty-five thousand, nine hundred and eighty-three pounds sterling every day - every day - since the birth of Christ.

Say the number again to yourself, and then think about it.


Day Thirteen: "The Law of Thirteen."

Day Thirteen.

How do we measure time?

We measure it in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years. In decades, centuries, millennia.

One second is one sixtieth of one minute. One minute is one sixtieth of one hour. One hour is one twenty-fourth of one day. One day is one seventh of one week.

So far so good.


One year is one tenth of one decade. One decade is one tenth of one century. One century is one tenth of one millenium.

The odd one out is the month, which, as you know, can contain anything between twenty-eight and thirty-one days.

Which is even more odd, considering that the word "month" is derived from the word "moon", and that the phases of the moon are perfectly regular, and have been one of the measures of time since we first started gazing into the heavens in awe and wonder, all those hundreds of thousands of years ago.

The time that it takes for a full moon to return to being full again is called the "synodic cycle" and is twenty-nine point five days long. The time it takes for the moon to reach the same place in the sky is called the "sidereal cycle" and is twenty-seven point three days long. The average of these two cycles is exactly twenty-eight days, or four weeks long, which is also, interestingly enough, the average length of the female menstrual cycle. There are thirteen of these four-week months in any year, with one day left over. So one lunar month is one thirteenth of one year, with one day left over. The one day left over is our day out of time. Thus there is an exact, proportional measure of a month available to us, which resolves the lunar cycle with the solar cycle in a truly satisfying way, but which, for some reason, we don't use. Instead we divide the year into twelve irregular non-months of twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty and thirty-one days.

No wonder everyone is so confused.

No wonder no one knows where we are any more.

Imagine if we measured distance in the same way. Twelve inches is one foot. Three feet is one yard. One thousand, seven hundred and sixty yards is one mile.

Only it's not. Because some miles are longer than others. Some miles have one thousand, seven hundred and fifty-nine yards in them, while others have one thousand, seven hundred and sixty-one, sixty-two and sixty-three.

Well it makes as much sense as our present calendar system.

By the way, did you know that the word calendar derives from the Latin "kalends", which means account book? It was the Romans who were responsible for the original version of our current calendar system. The kalends was the first day of the month when interest on loans was due.

In other words, Time is Money.

And money is eminently accountable.

We can thank the Lord for that.


Saturday, January 15, 2005

Day Twelve: "To whom are they abominable?"

Day Twelve.

It's Saturday the fifteenth of January two thousand and five. That is, it is twenty-four days since I started writing this, or twenty-five days since the Winter Solstice, the day of the longest night, in the two thousand and fifth year since a certain historical and mythological personage was deemed to have been born, in what is usually designated the first month of the New Year.

Who knows what day it is if we measure the count from the beginning of the Universe, say, or from the creation of life on this planet, or even from the birth of consciousness, which is generally identified with the evolution of the human race?

Personally I think that the human race is pretty fucked right now, and just about ready to wipe itself off the planet. If this is consciousness, I say, then it's about time we went back to sleep.

This morning I read an analysis of the Asian tsunami by the Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi. This is what he said:

"People must ask themselves why this earthquake occurred in this area and not in others. Whoever examines these areas discovers that they are tourism areas... where forbidden acts are widespread, as well as alcohol consumption, drug use and acts of abomination."

In other words: these people deserved it.

Which still begs the question - if we insist on ascribing meaning to the disaster - why not all the other places on the planet where alcohol consumption, drug use and these so-called "forbidden" acts of "abomination" are also rife?

Pretty much the whole of the world, I would have thought.

Why did the tsunami not wipe us all out?

And what about those people in that part of the world who were not engaged in any of these acts, who were simply getting on with the business of being alive? Why did God wipe the poor fishermen of Sri Lanka, and the honest farmers of India, and the workers of Indonesia off the planet at the same time? Just ordinary men and women trying to feed their families. Or perhaps God doesn't care.

It is left up to our imagination to work out exactly what these forbidden and abominable acts might be. The mind boggles.

Who forbade them? To whom are they abominable?

Personally I can't imagine anything a few tourists get up to on holiday warranting such a term. Farting in public? Drinking and falling over? Standing on tables dancing to ambient techno handbag funk-rap disco-music, while waving one's tee-shirt over one's head? Swimming? Sunbathing? Slapping on the coconut oil as sun-tan lotion? Using crummy chat-up lines and then being surprised when they actually work? Visiting sites of historical and cultural interest? Dining out in cheap restaurants with a view of the sea? What? What? Tourism may be crass, it may be stupid, it may be tacky and thoughtless at times, but is it in any way an abomination?

Or perhaps he is referring that expression of love and excitement between two human beings of the same sex, who both happen to enjoy the mutual pleasure of each other's bodies.

Yes, that's what he means. Homosexuality.

It's not something I want to do It’s not to my taste. Then again, I don’t like mashed potato either, or custard. Maybe I should declare a fatwa on all those obviously immoral and degenerate people who like the things I don’t. Kill all custard-heads and mashed potato-eaters, that’s what I say. They don’t deserve to live.

I hate mashed potato, and therefore, by the Judeo-Christian measure of things, God must hate mashed potato too.

Here’s something I have noticed in my long years upon this planet: that attraction and repulsion are actually two sides of the same process. Like magnetism. You don’t blame a magnetic coil because it attracts some objects while repulsing others. Why blame human beings?

Sometimes, indeed, the being that is attractive to you can become repulsive overnight. This is another one of those laws of nature. It has to do with reversing polarities, something that seems to be happening in our world right now, as the polarities of North and South are in the process of shifting. Sometimes the most repulsive can become the most attractive. And who are we to ascribe moral reasoning to the fundamental processes of nature?

In fact it would be a glorious irony, wouldn't it, if that Muslim cleric, and all the other Judeo-Christian thinkers who proclaim knowledge about the mind of God, were to wake up some morning, and, as a consequence of the reversing of polarities, were to find that they had become homosexual overnight?

Wouldn't that be funny?

So some people travelling in some parts of Asia have a liking for the genitals of people of the same sex, and God wipes out one hundred and sixty thousand or more, mostly innocent people, as punishment.

If that is God, then I'd rather worship my own arse-hole. It makes a lot more sense.

There are abominations on this planet, of course: vile, vicious acts of torture, of murder, of cruelty on a grand scale, but most of these are not conceived by holiday makers on the beaches of South East Asia, but in the boardrooms of multinational companies, and by their stooges in governments across the world.

The war in Iraq is an abomination. Poverty and hunger are abominations. Factory farming is an abomination. Obscene wealth is an abomination. Torture is an abomination. Imprisonment without trial is an abomination. Child-labour is an abomination. Child-starvation is an abomination. Slavery is an abomination. Wage-slavery is an abomination. Racism is an abomination. Exploitation is an abomination. And the economic imperative that drives all of these things is the biggest abomination of all.

But love? Love can never be an abomination, not matter how or by whom it is expressed.

The argument is entirely spurious, of course. This Muslim cleric believes that he knows what God thinks, and that therefore he has a right to tell the rest of us what to do. He read it in a book. He even believes he has the right to legislate against us and our bodies in the pursuit of this claim.

He's not the only one. Such thinking is in general usage amongst people of religious persuasion across the world. I'm sure there will be fundamentalist Christians in the United States and other places saying very similar things, ascribing their own meaning to the blind processes of the Universe, as if the Universe had purpose and consciousness.

Well maybe the Universe does have purpose and consciousness. I don't know.

I just don't think that any one of us on this planet is qualified enough yet to say what that is.


Monday, January 10, 2005

Day Eleven: "I am older than my father and younger than my son."

Day Eleven.

My son came to see me today. He's seven thousand seven hundred and ninety-eight days old. Or thereabouts. Give or take a little here and there. Hopefully he will correct me if I'm wrong.

He's younger than me.

Only he is not.

Because he is also one generation down the evolutionary chain. Evolutionary speaking he is older than me.

I used to say that I am older than my father and younger than my son. That is, because I am one generation further down the evolutionary scale than my father, but one generation further back than my son.

The future lies with the children. Therefore we should learn from them. It is their future, not ours.

Shall I tell you what seems the most immoral thing to me? It is younger people dying at the behest of older people. It is young Americans, young Brits, young Australians, young Iraqis, young Palestinians, young Jews - young people - who have not yet lived their lives, dying because an older generation tells them to.

There is the only measure of death.

People die.

When they die they should be mourned and then they should be honoured.

Then they should be let go of.

Usually a child should see his parents off.

Sometimes (as in the case of the Asian Tsunami) the death is arbitrary, and there is no meaning in the event.

There is no answer to the question "why".

We live, we die, we move through the surge of history for no particular reason.

The only time this changes is when the death is man-made, when, that is, there is something we can do about it.

In the case of the Tsunami, we can help the living.

In the case of Iraq, we can stop the killing.

In the case of ourselves we can wake up to the real nature of our current world and realise that profit and death are conterminous and that individual wealth and individual privilidge are eating the soul from this world.

That is: rule by the few for the few, against the many, is the enemy of the human race.

Them against us.


The rich versus the poor.

In the end, who's side do you take?

Poor? Rich?

Or do we forgive them all?


Sunday, January 09, 2005

Day Ten: "Plenty of bodies."

Day Ten.

Actually, that invisible realm of feeling we talked about earlier used to have a name. It used to be called "The Soul". But then some very wise men, our cultural and economic leaders, decided that things that cannot be counted don't exist. Thus we abolished the soul and replaced it with money.

Money can be counted.

Feelings cannot.

If you remove the soul, all you have left is a body. And there are plenty of bodies around in our world right now: not just the one hundred and fifty thousand or more created by the Asian Tsunami, but possibly up to one hundred thousand in Iraq. Too many to be counted, too many to be understood since the beginning of hostilities in that poor, sad, beleaguered nation.

We can't say, exactly, how many bodies there are in Iraq, as, unfortunately, the Coalition Forces seem to have forgotten how to count, at least when it comes to Iraqi bodies. We know how to count British and American bodies, of course, but for some reason, Iraqi bodies cannot be counted.

Perhaps they never counted before, even when they were alive.

So, here are some more figures.

Try this. One hundred and forty-three billion dollars. That's one hundred and forty-three thousand million, or one hundred and forty-three thousand thousand thousand.

That's how much the first year of the war in Iraq cost the American people, according to a BBC report on the sixth of April 2004.

I just ran it through my calculator.

That's three hundred and ninety one million, seven hundred and eighty thousand, eight hundred and twenty-two dollars a day, or sixteen million, three hundred and twenty four thousand, two hundred and one dollars an hour.

So far the US government has pledged five hundred and fifty million dollars to the Tsunami relief fund.

In other words, the US government's pledge to the victims of the Tsunami in Asia amounts to about thirty three hours (give or take) of the value of their time spent in Iraq.

Killing people is obviously much, much more important.


Saturday, January 08, 2005

Day Nine: "Ouantity is measurable. Quality is not."

Day Nine.

We seem to be living in two distinct parallel Universes: the Universe that can be measured, and the Universe that cannot. The Universe of effect, and the Universe of affect. The Universe of Time and Matter, infinite in its complexity - measurably immeasurable - and the Universe of Life and Feeling, known only in the solitude of the individual heart, and yet potentially all-embracing, all-feeling, all-knowing and all-loving.

How do you measure love? How do you measure sickness? How do you measure grief?

We read grief in the faces of the bereaved, and understand it in ourselves. We read sickness in the faces of those that are ill, and understand it in ourselves. We read love in the faces of those that we love, and understand it in ourselves.

Love is immeasurable, yet everyone knows it.

Quantity is measurable. Quality is not.

The British people have already given one hundred million pounds to the relief effort in Asia. People all over the world have felt this tragedy in their hearts and responded to it with real generosity.

World governments have pledged two point two billion pounds so far.

Now here are some more figures.

Hurricane, Central America, 1998: four point eight billion pledged, one point six billion delivered. Floods, Mozambique, 2000: two hundred and fourteen million pledged, one hundred and seven million delivered. Earthquake, Bam, Iran, 2003: seventeen point one million pledged, nine point five million delivered.

Currently there is a bidding war on who can pledge the most on camera.

Let's make sure we hold them to it this time.

By the way, the Earthquake in Bam happened on Boxing Day too.

Josef Stalin once said that twice is a coincidence, three times is a conspiracy.

I will wait till next year before I conclude that the Earth may be trying to tell us something.


Friday, January 07, 2005

Day Eight: "Some real numbers to consider."

Day Eight.

It is two forty-five on the seventh of January 2005.

You will have noticed by now that a Day here is not necessarily a day in real time.

Maybe I am trying to cheat fate, by pretending that these are real days, thus expanding my allotted time on this planet proportionally.

I started writing this on the twenty-second of December, which is sixteen days ago now. It has taken sixteen days to write eight of these Days, which means that one Day here is actually two days in real time.

Somehow I suspect that fate will see through my little tricks.

Actually, the reason I have not been writing this is that the real world has intruded into my plans somewhat.

I'm talking about the Asian Tsunami.

I intended this to be a free-standing rap-meditation on time and measure.

Now we have some real numbers to consider.

I first heard about the disaster on Boxing Day morning at about six am. I told you I often listen to the World Service at night. I woke very early to hear the first reports coming through. The first figure they gave was that ten thousand people had been killed. By eight o'clock the figure had risen to sixteen thousand. By lunchtime the figure was forty-five thousand. We now know, of course, that it has already exceeded one hundred and fifty thousand, and is likely to rise even further as disease and starvation take their toll.

So here are some more numbers.

Indonesia: eighty thousand, two hundred and forty six dead as of Monday the fourth of January. More than one hundred thousand living in temporary shelters. Malaysia: seventy two dead, two hundred and eighteen missing. Thailand: four thousand, nine hundred and ninety-three dead, three thousand, eight hundred and ten missing. Maldives: eighty dead. Somalia: two hundred dead. Sri Lanka: twenty nine thousand, seven hundred and forty-four dead, five thousand five hundred and forty missing. India: forteen thousand four hundred and eighty eight dead. Burma: ninety dead.

These figures are well known, of course, though they hide another, greater truth.

Some things are beyond measure.

How do you measure despair, for instance? How do you measure loss?

The Earthquake that caused the Tsunami was measured as nine on the Richter Scale. That's the largest Earthquake in over forty years.

What is the Richter Scale for human tragedy?


Sunday, January 02, 2005

Day Seven: "Ten thousand cups of hot morning tea."

Day Seven.

Ten thousand days. Ten thousand dreamings. Ten thousand awakenings. Ten thousand opening of the eyes. Ten thousand opportunities to be born again.

Ten thousand cups of hot morning tea.

How many things do we see in a single day?

How many leaves? How many birds? How many clouds? How many flowers? How many trees? How many plants? How many people? How many clocks? How many cars? How many bicycles? How many roads? How many houses? How many doorways? How many bricks? How many windows? How many streetlamps?

How many flecks of dust in the sun-lit air? How many shimmers of light on the ocean? How many things out of the corner of your eye? How many objects vying for your attention?

The answer to the first question may be provided by a second.

How long is the coast line of Britain?

It depends on your ruler.

Think about it.

If you use a one yard ruler the result will be less than if you use a one foot ruler. If you use a one inch ruler the result will be less than if you use a half-inch ruler. If you use a microscopic ruler the result would be less than if you used an atomic ruler. And so on, down the scale. The smaller the ruler, the longer the length. And where, exactly, would you place the line? Would you count every inlet and every cove? Every furrow and every groove? Every spit and every crinkle? Every crack and every twiddle? Every river? Every brook? Every stream? Every lump? Every pebble? Every crease? Every speck of dust? Every microscopic indentation? Every molecule? Every atom?

An ape can step over any detail a snail cannot avoid. A snail can slide over any detail an ant cannot avoid. An ant can step over any detail an amoeba cannot avoid. And so on, down the scale.

If you use an infinitely fine rule, the coastline would be infinitely long.

With infinite awareness you would see infinite form.

Fortunately we do not have infinite awareness, any more than we have an infinitely small rule. So let's just say, for the sake of argument, that we see ten thousand things in any one day.

It's as good a rule as any.

It is Sunday the second of January 2005, about 4.35 pm. The sun has just set. The sky is a deep magenta, fading to peachy cream on the horizon. From my window I can see the silhouettes of trees and roofscapes, sketched out black against the sky-line, creating an infinite horizon of fractal complexity. The shadows of the night scurry through the evening streets like lost thoughts, hunched up against the cold.

Once the light has gone I will close up my curtains.

Today I delivered five hundred leaflets for a fitness studio. That's five hundred gates, five hundred paths, five hundred doors, five hundred letter boxes. I looked into five hundred people's front rooms.

I wasn't counting the steps.

It's nice to feel useful.

Tonight, no doubt, I will drink some beer and watch some TV, from which I will absorb countless manufactured images. Not unlike those doors, bricks, houses, windows, bicycles, cars, roads, streetlamps etc. I mentioned earlier.

It is really a manufactured world we live in.

I had a friend who was a builder. Any town he lived in he would take me round and point things out to me. A door. A roof. A cornice. An arch. A gable. A window. A chimney.

"I made that," he would say.

He was making a contribution to the world.

I wonder what my contribution to the world will be?

After that I will post this up on the internet. Later still I may read some words from a book. If I read any words from any book, it will be from Chaos by James Gleik, which I have been reading since I first started writing this. That's where I got the stuff about the length of the coastline of Britain from. It was a problem first considered by Benoit Mandlebrot, the inventor of fractals, and is itself a fractal question, about self-similarity across scale. The closer you look at the coastline of Britain the more it repeats itself across smaller and smaller scales, until it becomes infinitely long.

Then I will clean my teeth and get undressed. I will climb into bed. I will think some thoughts and make some plans, and then I will go to sleep.

Often I sleep with the radio on. I listen to the BBC World Service. Sometimes I like to think about the world when I go to sleep.

I will dream: how many dreams? Some of them will have the BBC in them.

One more day will have passed.