Monday, January 26, 2015

Can you explain?

Do you feel as I do?  Do you feel as though you're watching a pageant that is being loudly celebrated and admired, but which, to your puzzled gaze, seems nothing more than confusion . . .  unbalanced confusion?

Let me explain . . . and please stop me if anything I say is completely inaccurate.

Am I right in thinking that, in today's society, we use money to represent the value of essential goods and services . . . that money is the ingredient that makes such an exchange possible?

For example, by means of money, milk from the farm can be transformed into a morning paper.  Similarly,  a teacher's daily work in the classroom can pay the weekly shopping bill.

We value the farmer's efforts, the teacher's skills . . . they are rewarded accordingly, and the money that their work represents is reinvested.

The important thing being that, of itself, money is worthless.  Its value resides entirely in what it represents and the exchanges it makes possible.

So far so good.
But this money we've invented, although worth nothing of itself, needs organising.  Over the years people have decided that it might be fun to look after the money . . . to organise it, play with it, and to give themselves money for doing so.

This is where things get confusing.
How is it, I wonder, that it's ended up that the people who organise the money (money that we've agreed is of itself worth nothing), are esteemed and valued at ten times the rate of the people who produce the goods and services represented by that money?

How is it that playing with money is considered so estimable that those who do this have become the most affluent and influential members of our society?

How is it that they can give themselves more and more money and that no-one dares to point out that this might be both unfair and ill-advised?
On the contrary, the more money they choose to give to themselves the more deference and respect they receive.

By what process has this money that we invented become so important?  So important that, when faced with economic problems, our governments increase production not of goods but of money?

Money can't create milk, for that you need a cow.   Money can't create a newspaper, for that you need journalists and printers.
Yet money and its handlers have managed to  become more valuable and powerful in our society than farm produce, the morning paper, or anything else you like to mention.

Added to which, as I'm sure you've noticed, more and more money seems to be ending up with fewer and fewer people.  In fact Oxfam claimed this week that, by 2016, the richest one per cent in the world could, between them, own as much as the bottom ninety-nine per cent.

Have we got ourselves into a real muddle . . . or am I being foolishly simplistic and naive?
No . . . you needn't answer that one!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Being Human

It's wonderful, isn't it, what an accumulation of fascinating facts we garner in a lifetime.
Do you know what I learned the other day?

Apparently there are more nouns in the English language than in any other known language throughout history.
It's a staggering concept.

Just think about it for a moment . . . what does it imply?

I can't believe it merely indicates our western world's propensity to produce and name more and more identifiable objects.

No, it would seem to be far more subtle than that.
Surely it's telling us that we've created a society where objects are all-important?
That English-speaking people are by nature acquisitive . . .  and you can't own a verb.

We value not what's growing, evolving and ephemeral, but things that are fixed and seemingly imperishable.  By choosing to fixate on nouns we show that what we prize is the gold itself . . . not transitory golden ideas.

Yet what's intriguing is the fact that we ourselves don't fall into this esteemed category.
Contrary to what the dictionary may say, members of our species are not nouns . . .  we're verbs.

We're humans being . .  . not nouns that can be pinned down and labelled, but evolving verbs that are totally unpredictable.

You think I'm being pedantic?
Please indulge me for a moment.
Just reflect on the reluctance felt in many parts of the world to name a divine source.
A reluctance not shared by those who use English and speak easily of 'God'.
Why do others feel differently?  Because names impose boundaries, names produce limits.  Names also imply knowledge . . . which may be a false assumption.

Let's choose a simple example.
Take a daisy.  We look at it and agree, yes, that's a daisy . . . we know what it is.
But, wait a moment, do we really know that daisy?
Before we knew its name we marvelled at it.  But once we'd given it a name somehow we ceased to marvel.

Let's look at it now . . . do we know its life-cycle . . . its structure . . . its daily evolution?
If the word 'daisy' were a verb, if that small scrap of creation was 'daisying' from its unfolding until its final disintegration, we'd never dismiss it so unthinkingly.

Whereas nouns restrict, the fluidity of the verb allows room for growth, for an increase in perception, for aspiration and hope.

So, let's agree that we're not human beings, we're humans being.
What's more, it's critical to choose the right verb.  I'm sure you've noticed our tendency to mistake ourselves for humans doing, or, in more competitive circles, humans achieving.

Life isn't demanding . . .  it doesn't ask us to do, or to achieve, just to be.

And what does that involve?
We'll leave the answer to Oscar Wilde:
"Be yourself," he wrote, "Everyone else is taken."

Monday, January 12, 2015

A 'thank you' letter

It's Chloe here . . . and I'm only writing this because my Mum has told me to.

I don't know what you think about such things, but my Mum says that every well-brought-up cat should say 'thank you' for her Christmas presents.
Between you and me, I think she's making a lot of fuss about nothing.

You KNOW I love my presents.  Why should I spend time, when I could be playing with what you sent me, writing to tell you what you know already?
It doesn't make sense.

But, there we are, life can be puzzling . . . and I must admit that it's good fun to get my paws on the computer!

Don't you like this picture of the mouse that was chosen for me by my very handsome Siamese friend, Stoker?
Stoker lives in Ohio, and my Mum says that the mouse came through the air all the way from America.

This was very exciting news . . .  I knew mice could do lots of clever things, but I never knew they could fly, did you?

And don't you love the little, pink cat?  It came from my very special friends who live in Piccadilly.

Now, there's a bit of a mystery about my favourite robin . . .  he's disappeared since this photo was taken and no-one seems to have any idea where he's gone.

My Mum says he flew off, but, between you and me, I strongly suspect she's encouraged him to perch somewhere  where I can't see him.

 All that fuss, just because I gave his head the very gentlest of chews . . .  as if a well-brought-up cat doesn't know how to treat a robin . . . and he was my present after all!

But why worry, I've plenty of other things to keep me happily occupied for weeks.

There are these gorgeous green toys, with very exciting smells  . . .

. . .and the special 'laser chaser' . . .

. . . and the picture of me looking at a picture of me, this time in a little, silver frame.

 Then there was the unexpected edible present . . .

 . . . this one had my paws dancing up and down with excitement.

It came from a kind friend in Sussex who'd put a carefully-wrapped bag of food into an envelope and addressed it specially to me.

The moment that package dropped through the letter-box my nose told me that this was something exciting.

And my nose was right, because my Mum said that the slices of white stuff inside the package were very special.
They were called turkey.

I'd never even sniffed such a treat before and . . .  oh!
Believe you me, it was absolutely  delicious!
After lunch my tum did feel a bit full, so I thought I'd stretch out on the sofa for a cat nap.

I must say that turkey gives you the most satisfying dreams!

So thank you, all of you . . . thank you for a positively purrfect Christmas.

I wonder . . . now I've written to thank you, and if I'm a very good girl right through 2015 . . . well, might it encourage you to do it again next Christmas . . . ?


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Exploring the All-There-Is

I've received a present that's far too good to keep to myself . . . may I share it with you?

It's 'The Edge of the Sky', the recently-published book by the  award-winning astrophysicist, Roberto Trotta.
'Reading it,' declared the BBC's 'Sky At Night' programme, 'makes you feel good'.
A sentiment with which I whole-heartedly agree.

Roberto Trotta takes the complex subject of cosmology and, by means of a vocabulary limited to the one thousand most commonly used English words, turns his chosen subject into poetry.

You think that's unlikely?  Then, let me give you a flavour . . . when the Milky Way becomes the White Road, a telescope is a Far-Seer, the Universe is known as the All-There-Is, and scientists are student-people, how do you start to describe our galaxy and all that lies beyond?

Roberto Trotta will explain:

"The White Road is made of many, many stars, most of which are too small to be seen with a Far-Seer.  It's hard to imagine how many stars are in the White Road.
If you tried to number them, and you could get a hundred done every second, it would still take you a hundred years to go through them all!
So the question that many student-people were asking was whether the White Road was all there is in the All-There-Is.  And if it wasn't, what was further out, where the White Road stopped?  Was it black, empty space going on without end, or was there something else?"

 And, page by engrossing page, with the use of arresting, basic language the reader travels out into space with the student-people.

Would I have tackled a treatise on the history of space had it been written in accepted, scientific language?
It's highly unlikely.
But, once aboard this deceptively simple spaceship, the beguiled reader is transported on an illuminating journey.

It would be foolish to claim that, by the end, I'd gained a scientific understanding of an enormously complex subject.  But, far more importantly, the book had imbued me with a sense of wonder and opened my mind to previously unconsidered questions.

Through the magic of 'The Edge Of The Sky', I, too, had become a student-person.

"Student-people," Trotta tells his readers, "are different from other people.  They spend their entire life asking questions, and as soon as they have found out the answers, they start all over again with new, harder questions  . . . The best questions for student-people are the ones that begin with Why?  These questions are also the hardest."

Questions and wonder . . . it's what our forebears had in abundance.
They marvelled at the discovery that the Earth was round . . . enthused over the steam-engine . . . listened in awe to the crackling whispers of the first radio . . . watched in incredulity when man took to the air . . . and gazed spellbound at their black-and-white television screens to witness the first moon landing.

But we, in the twenty-first century are not so easily seduced.  We're worldly and sophisticated.  We've seen it all.  We take it for granted.
Or do we?  Or should we?

In this wonderful, lyrical book the reader is given back a lost sense of wonder.  Could there be a more precious gift?

Not only that, for a self-obsessed generation, an age preoccupied with ourselves, our achievements,  and our capabilities, it's both humbling and liberating to travel out into the All-There-Is.  To reach out beyond our normal sight-line and acknowledge this far greater living space, a region in which our Home-World forms but an infinitesimal segment.

As student-people we are part of it . . . wonder at it . . . marvel at what we can scarcely comprehend . . .  and discover, to our surprise, that we're not all that matters in the All-There-Is.
What a relief!