Saturday, 23 June 2018

We Are The Universe, We Are Everything



“You know, if we understand one question rightly, all questions are answered. But we don’t know how to ask the right question. To ask the right question demands a great deal of intelligence and sensitivity. Here is a question, a fundamental question: is life a torture? It is, as it is; and man has lived in this torture centuries upon centuries, from ancient history to the present day, in agony, in despair, in sorrow; and he doesn’t find a way out of it. Therefore he invents gods, churches, all the rituals, and all that nonsense, or he escapes in different ways. What we are trying to do, during all these discussions and talks here, is to see if we cannot radically bring about a transformation of the mind, not accept things as they are, nor revolt against them. Revolt doesn’t answer a thing. You must understand it, go into it, examine it, give your heart and your mind, with everything that you have, to find out a way of living differently. That depends on you, and not on someone else, because in this there is no teacher, no pupil; there is no leader; there is no guru; there is no Master, no Saviour. You yourself are the teacher and the pupil; you are the Master; you are the guru; you are the leader; you are everything. And to understand is to transform what is.” 
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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

"Perdido Street Station" - China Mieville


Image result for Perdido Street StationThis novel, first published in 2000, was awarded The Arthur C Clarke Award.  It is an award given to "The best science fiction novel published in the United Kingdom in the prior calendar year."  So it is science fiction then, is it? It was also awarded The Hugo World Fantasy Award. An award given to "artists of works related to fantasy released in the preceding calendar year."  Hmm. It received another award too, the BSFA award in 2010. Now, the "The BSFA Awards are literary awards presented annually since 1970 by the British Science Fiction Association to honour works in the genre of science fiction. Nominees and winners are chosen based on a vote of BSFA members." Ah, so it IS science fiction then? 

In his introduction to "The Illustrated Gormenghast Trilogy," hardback first published in 2011, China Mieville says "It is a cliché, of course, to insist that this or that work 'evades classification,' is 'sui generis, or so on. Caution is indicated. But the sheer strangeness of 'Gormenghast' is very real." I have to say I agree with his assessment of Gormenghast which is one I steal to make of 'Perdido Street Station.' Yes, you can classify if you must, after all, there is an element of science fiction to it along with Steampunk and fantasy.  Not the Iain M Banks kind of Sci-Fi nor The George R Martin sort of fantasy it's true but ingredients of both as it were. However, in no small way this novel rises, not so much above, which sounds a little too pretentious and far too grand, but away from, aside to, those genres. This is a fiction of the oldest kind made new and shiny.

Personally, I find it to be an exemplar of fine fiction. It can be read as of being one of many classifications but I find that such a view merely absurd. Is the 'Odyssey' or 'The Iliad' perfect examples of fiction? I think the resounding response to that is in the positive. Yes, there are sections where it could be argued the stories shapeshift into fantasy by their inclusion of having gods and demi-gods within the narrative. This hardly makes them realistic and yet they are, incredibly so. This is in no small amount due to the frailty and flaws of the characters within the tale, the heroism, the sense of loss, the feeling of striving for something that matters, for seeking out challenges that put in jeopardy relationships which shows us by reflection what it is to be human. So it is with 'Perdido Street Station.'

Okay, okay. Don't take on so I am not comparing the works of Homer to Mister Mieville. I am merely saying that a story that contains bits and pieces of other genres, sub-genres and so on and so forth, doesn't mean they should be applied whenever a hint, whiff or rumour of them are touched upon each and every time.  Even so, accepting the classifications as I do, this work is nothing like that of Issac Asimov nor his good friend, J.R.R. Tolkien. Oops, I shouldn't mention him within earshot of China Mieville as he as a low opinion of 'The Lord of the Rings' and presumably its author. No, this work falls under a newer, or so it would appear, banner, one known as New Weird. This includes authors like Charles Stross, Jeff Vandermeer, Justina Robson and Hal Duncan. But, isn't 'New Wierd' a bit like the old Weird Fiction, a sub-genre that included the likes of H.P.Lovecraft, Arthur Machen and M.R. James just made over a bit? This from Damien G Walter's Guardian article of 22 January 2008.

"If the New Weird writers represent a turning point it is because they are the first generation of writers to grow up completely immersed in the culture of sci-fi. For such writers, the language of speculative fiction is the first and preferred means of expression, because it is the only way to describe a real world permeated on every level with unreality, fantasy and fiction. Whatever the Next Weird may bring, it seems certain that the real experimental energy of literature will remain in genre fiction."

Really? What about Max Porter or Paul Kingsnorth? Magnus Mills (perhaps not) or Eimear McBride? or what about Cormac McCarthy? Hardly experimental but, like Mills, hugely wilful and beautifully grotesque. Perhaps Damien is right. I hope not, I think not but, well, perhaps he is.

So then, 'Perdido Street Station.' Grim in its depiction of the world and the metropolis it is set in, that of Bas-Lag and, more pertinently, New Crobuzon, a city surely based on Victorian London? It is a grotty place filled with sooty streets and filth everywhere. It is a disease-ridden city teeming with life but not life as we'd know it, not all life in Crobuzon is human.

Issac is a man who works in science. His full name is Issac Dan der Grimnebulin. He is a fat man, flawed and armed with a mouth that fires curse words with alarming regularity. Issac is a man in love. It is a love frowned on by other humans, for Issac is assuredly that, as being somehow wrong.  The female he loves is called Lin. She means everything to him but Lin is not human, Lin has compound eyes, headlegs, mandibles, inner mouthparts. Lin is Khepri, that is she is an iridescent scarab, a humanoid beetle. Nonetheless, Issac loves her beyond life itself. Then there are the others that inhabit this world of Bas Lag, the companions that add colour to the picture Mieville paints. 

Yagharek, the bird-like Garuda, feathered body, taloned feet, hooked beak, a hunter whose wings have been clipped for a crime committed. The lovely named Derkhan Blueday, a female journalist who fearlessly reports the truth of Crobuzon's political elite via an underground magazine that operates on the wrong side of the law.  Lemuel Pigeon, Issac's friend and conduit to the dark, criminal underworld that is active deep in the murky underbelly of the sprawling conurbation.

This is a story of people. How they interconnect, how their feelings for each depend largely on the situation they find themselves in and how they react to that situation. It is a massive tale filled with intrigue, fear, resentment, anger and twisted throughtout with a marvellous tension. Yes, this may be science or speculative fiction, it may be fantasy but above all else, it is a fantastic read.




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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Monday, 18 June 2018

"We Don't Need No Education"


“Unfortunately, education at present is aimed at making you conform, fit into and adjust yourself to this acquisitive society. That is all your parents, your teachers and your books are concerned with. As long as you conform, as long as you are ambitious, acquisitive, corrupting and destroying others in the pursuit of position and power, you are considered a respectable citizen. You are educated to fit into society; but that is not education, it is merely a process which conditions you to conform to a pattern. The real function of education is not to turn you out to be a clerk, or a judge, or a prime minister, but to help you understand the whole structure of this rotten society and allow you to grow in freedom, so that you will break away and create a different society, a new world. There must be those who are in revolt, not partially but totally in revolt against the old, for it is only such people who can create a new world — a world not based on acquisitiveness, on power and prestige." — J. Krishnamurti
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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Marlon Brando



"This school of acting served the American theater and motion pictures well, but it was restricting. The American theater has never been able to present Shakespeare or classical drama of any kind satisfactorily. We simply do not have the style, the regard for the language or the cultural disposition ... You cannot mumble in Shakespeare. You cannot improvise, and you are required to adhere strictly to the text. The English theater has a sense of language that we do not recognize ... In the United States the English language has developed almost into a patois."
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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

What Is Life? - Being a Vegetarian


I first became a vegetarian in 1972. I was aged eighteen. I stopped eating meat, stopped wearing leather and became enamoured of Anita Roddick. I was hugely influenced in my decision by The Beatles, more specifically George Harrison, but also the TV show, Kung Fu. It struck me then that the taking of life was wrong. I took to my vegetarian principles like a new convert always does, with a zeal matched only by an evangelist. I had the horrible habit of berating anyone I came across eating meat, which was virtually everyone I knew, chastising them for their cruelty. I asked them how they'd like it if someone ate them, took their skin for shoe leather, abused cattle and pigs and chickens and fish and on and on. I was an insufferable little shit. I shoved my views so far down their collective throats I am surprised one of them didn't slaughter me before turning me into a pie.

I am still a vegetarian forty-six years later. I no longer thrust my principles down anyone's throat. I remain true to my self and at the same time practise fully my philosophy on life, all life not just one part of it. I try my level best not to preach, in fact, I never do. Siddartha Gautama did not preach, nor Laozu and certainly not Jiddu Krishnamurti. They set an example for those who wanted to follow. I do. I am no longer an evangelist in anti-taking of life, of eating meat. Evangelism never works. We have a chap in a major town near where I live. Each week he aggressively informs us if we don't turn to God, if we don't accept Jesus as our saviour, we will all be going to hell in a handbasket. He has no audience for those passing by just keep walking.  As I said, I revere life in all its myriad ways and even though not Jain I have a huge respect for that religion.

"Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being." - Mahavira, the Jain patriarch


However correct and noble that statement is, no matter how I and many others try to adhere to it life sets us its own problems for we all, including the vegan and even the Jain, are subject to life's immutable law. Veganism is a step I am now certain I, for it is only a short step from where I already am, could take. Jainism is a Star Trekian leap by comparison and one I know I couldn't take. At least I don't think I could.

"Jains do not eat any vegetables that are obtained by killing a plant. These mainly include onions, potatoes, turnip, carrot, radish, garlic etc. They also avoid eating any fruit or vegetable that has a lot of seeds. They consider seeds to be a form of life too!"

The following is from www.jainworld.com

"Some people say that the milk of a cow or goat is also part of the body. However, there is a vast difference between milk and eggs. This understanding is incorrect because an egg is the progeny of a hen, similarly, milk is not the progeny of the cow. By taking milk out of the body of a cow or goat, no harm is done to their lives; whereas, by use of the egg, the creature inside the egg is killed. If the milk producing cow or goat is not milked at the proper time, agony is caused to it. Having said this, there are still issues about the way dairy cows are treated and their culling as soon as they are past their prime milking days."

With so many non-meat eaters among us, there are still a number of differences that niggle. Primarily eggs and milk. I find I can no longer confront meat eaters suggesting they are wrong. We are animals as much as the tiger, crocodile, bear and fox. We are part of the same creation, we cannot elevate ourselves above them. However, killing meat for humans is, in my view, slowly being eradicated as our species not so much evolve but realises and accepts we have always been herbivores. I often use the word evolve as it presents a kinder argument. We started off as plant eaters a fact substantiated by our intestine which is far longer than that of a carnivore. We have been (excuse the pun) fed the lie that we are omnivores and have accepted that untruth. Trouble is we have been eating meat for so long it is now a horrid habit. We actually believe we are the very thing we have been told we are but we are not. 

This from Huffington Post...
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"Dr T. Colin Campbell, professor emeritus at Cornell University and author of The China Study, explains that in fact, we only recently (historically speaking) began eating meat and that the inclusion of meat in our diet came well after we became who we are today. He explains that “the birth of agriculture only started about 10,000 years ago at a time when it became considerably more convenient to herd animals. This is not nearly as long as the time [that] fashioned our basic biochemical functionality (at least tens of millions of years) and which functionality depends on the nutrient composition of plant-based foods."

And this from Dr Neal Barnard President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine ...

"early humans had diets very much like other great apes, which is to say a largely plant-based diet, drawing on foods we can pick with our hands. Research suggests that meat-eating probably began by scavenging—eating the leftovers that carnivores had left behind. However, our bodies have never adapted to it. To this day, meat-eaters have a higher incidence of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other problems.

All this does is present evidence, data if you like, for the case that we never were meat eaters in the first place. It doesn't deal with the current situation. One way to get others to see your point of view is to browbeat them, which experience tells me has them running away super fast as though being chased by a pack of wolves, the other is to do what so many eastern philosophies suggest and first change yourself if you want to change the world. 

Since becoming a vegetarian I have noticed how shops that never catered for such way out ideas now all carry a vegetarian alternative. Quorn is a perfect example along with a rich array of vegetables both traditional and exotic. Things are moving the way we want them but oh so slowly. But what of the true understanding of life, of living things? Do vegans, for example, consider this question in the way Jains do? After all Demodex folliculorum or Demodex Brevis are organisms. each time you rub your eye you possibly kill them. What about Cestoda, the common all garden tapeworm? That is a life isn't it? How about Pthirus pubis, that's crabs to you and me, irritant little buggers that come from sexually transmitted disease. Itchy as they may be they too are life. For a Jain root vegetables (tuber-roots) are totally forbidden as uneatable for 2 reasons. The first being that vegetables grown underground are the depository of countless small creatures. The second reason being the uprooting of such vegetables definitely results in the destruction of plants and trees. Where do we stop. or maybe I should ask where do we start? If I had a tapeworm I would want it gone. My body, my eyelashes for sure, play host to life forms. When I rub my eye I am not guilty of murder am I? No, the real pertinent question here is a manmade word, a manmade concept - cruelty. A panther isn't cruel nor a python, both merely do what life, what nature, what Tao has given it a purpose for, a way for the animal to survive.  There is no question of right and wrong for they too are man-made concepts as is cruelty No, we invented the word but the word also invented us, some of us anyway. It is this I dislike more than the silly arguments over whose way is right, over whether we should or shouldn't eat meat. first let us defeat cruelty.  I shall remain a vegetarian, I may go vegan, not eating meat is important to me, it is my choice. It is not my right to tell others to do the same, make them feel ashamed for eating the meat I don't. I know many meat eaters who deplore cruelty to other animals and who actively support pressure groups. They may be stuck in rut although I tend to think the life they, we all lead is maia. They are not bad people any more than any carnivore. It is unnecessary cruelty that I deplore above all things. Tying dogs up then collectively dropping them alive into boiling oil as they 'taste' better that way is disgusting. The way many animals are killed in legal slaughterhouses disturbs and distresses me. The methods used seem shockingly primitive. Surely there are better ways to kill these creatures?

When Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hichens published their books, "The God Delusion," The End of Faith" and "God is Not Great" they each criticized not just the Abrahamic faith but all religion. In my view, they missed the point on one or two issues. Just because a person says they are of this or that religion or philosophy doesn't mean they really are. A terrorist is a terrorist. He or she is not Muslim, Christain, Buddhist or Jew. They may say they are but they cannot be for the action they take goes against their religious teachings. Secondly, no matter how right those authors were in their assessments their works will not prevent people from following whatever path they chose to take. They will not stop believing in their faith. Religion will not disappear overnight neither will meat eating.

No matter how people like me protest the taking of life, of violence toward fellow creatures, the eating of meat, the fact remains there are millions who still enjoy eating meat. This being so we can only ever do our level best to ensure when animals are killed it is done to such a high humane standard that no animal suffers.

  






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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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