Friday, 26 May 2017

I believe in the religion of love


(This Ibn Arabi quotation was found here.)

How can anyone believe in a God of hate? But as Hannah Arendt pointed out, evil is banal. It is a failure to think and to understand. It is the mindless acceptance of whatever rubbish someone else has said, or the mindless misinterpretation of scripture. Think, question, and don't trust your own conclusions.


Thursday, 18 May 2017

The missing mermaids


Phew! The mermaids are back! Was this censorship?

Martin's mermaid images disappeared from Etsy recently, and his Etsy page (visible at that time only to him) had a red banner saying that the mermaids were under review to see if they violated any of Etsy's policies.

Some people seem rather sensitive about nakedness, not being able readily to distinguish between art and pornography. A similar thing happened on Wattpad, when the management became aware of A Mermaid in the Bath. They liked the story so much that they wanted to feature it (it is still featured on Wattpad in the humour category) but they asked that the mermaid's breasts be covered up. He duly put cockle shells on them, although this is explicitly excluded in the book and for excellent reasons. (If cockle shell bras were a good idea you'd see whole sections of Marks and Spencer devoted to them. I dare you to go and ask.)

Michaelangelo had exactly the same problem with his painting of the Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel, having to put up with some other artist painting trousers on his nudes. The trousers are still there.

Having read Etsy's policies carefully, Martin discovered that Etsy permits breasts within the bounds of decency, as long as it's art or proper photography. It turns out that he just hadn't paid, and as soon as that minor matter was sorted, the mermaids reappeared in all their glory.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Innocent faith

Clever atheists sometimes mock the faith of the faithful. I used to do the same. But there is an obtuseness about the mocking.


If I may plead in my own defence, it was because I was looking for the door and no-one seemed able to show me the door. The myths by which religions live were opaque to me. The myths are the door, but without the key the door is a wall.

Some denied there was a door at all let alone a key. Specifically, in my youth I would ask, 'what is the meaning of life?' and I was told that the question was naive. Probably I'd grow out of it. At the same time I didn't see how the Virgin Birth or even Hanuman and his army of monkeys could help me. Are these not stories for children?

Again, some of the faithful claim that their version of the truth is the only correct one, the only path to Paradise. How should one choose? Choosing on the basis of ones parents' belief seemed to me rather arbitrary. Surely one should choose what is right, not necessarily what is habitual? Given that my revered primary school teacher was a Spiritualist (who believed her dog was the reincarnation of her previous dog, but had the clarity of mind to explain to us children that not everyone believes as she does, and that there are other points of view), my father flit between the Quakers, the Roman Catholic Church and some kind of misunderstanding of Buddhism, and my mother became a born-again atheist, I did not have a clear route to follow.

I cannot resist putting in a little anecdote told to me by a Bahá'í: someone was travelling through some part of the USA and passed a sign saying The Church of God. A little further down the road was another sign, reading The One True Church of God. Later they passed a third sign reading The One and Only True Church of God. Now clearly they cannot all be the only true church, and the philosopher Bertrand Russell would have pointed out that asserting that something is true does not add one iota to its truth value ('P is true' means exactly the same as 'P', where P is a proposition).

There is a problem with belief and it is this: a clever atheist can always come along and point out that parthenogenesis is recorded among some animals but not among humans, or that a reporter from the Daily Mail was not present at the Annunciation (not that that would have made the events any more plausible), or that no-one has ever been seen with blue skin (and I certainly mean no disrespect - dancing with all the cow-girls is one of the most delightful stories in all religion). How do we address this?

It seems to me likely that there is a door and there is a key. I cannot prove this, but without this assumption there is no point in even starting. This assumption has been made by the best minds since the dawn of history and probably before. The world is full of it and civilisations have been built on it. Correctly understood, the similarities between the faiths and the wise are there to see, although clothed in different styles and with different myths. A myth is simply a story, in this context a story that contains a truth. A truth that cannot be expressed better any other way.

Everyone needs a story to live by. Carlos Castaneda refers to 'a path with heart.' As we live and learn, perhaps the way we describe our path becomes less naive, we put away childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11). Meanwhile, a childish faith is a path with heart.

He who mocks the infant's faith
Shall be mock'd in age and death.
He who shall teach the child to doubt
The rotting grave shall ne'er get out.

He who respects the infant's faith
Triumphs over hell and death.
The child's toys and the old man's reasons
Are the fruits of the two seasons.

- William Blake, from Auguries of Innocence


Thursday, 4 May 2017

Let your body do the driving

Zen in the art of driving. Become one with the car.



My car is an ageing Mazda MX5 (Miata). The principal virtue of this car is that it is fun to drive. But listening to the radio, mostly depressing news about things over which I have absolutely no influence, I am not feeling the car or deriving the pleasure that is to be had from one of the best driver's cars on the planet. One day I decided not to turn on the radio.

Then I applied one of the lessons I learned long ago from a wise person. Put your attention on the place where the working surfaces meet. I experimented with trying to be aware of where the front wheels made contact with the road. After a while of making this effort I observed several things. I was aware of my body in the driver's seat, my hands on the wheel. I was also more aware of other road users and what was happening up ahead. I was driving with more attention and almost certainly more safely. In addition I started to enjoy the car and the sensation of driving with precision.

Very quickly my mind started to wander, thinking about these things and other quite unrelated things, even about writing this blog post. I refreshed the effort of sensing where the front wheels made contact with the road. Gradually a sense of peace started to settle on me, as the continued gentle effort to be present pushed other thoughts out of the way.

One might imagine that thought is essential for driving, but if it is then it is a very bodily form of thought. The thoughts that kept intruding had nothing to do with what was happening on the road.



Thursday, 27 April 2017

Footnotes and end-notes in the Kindle and other e-readers

About footnotes*

[* and a man with three testicles]

When I am reading a printed book I actually read the footnotes (and I shall explain why you might also want to). If there are end-notes I keep an extra bookmark in the end-notes section (ok, I'm a geek). But doing this in a Kindle is not easy. This is one reason why e-reader formatting needs to be re-thought.

You may be one of those people who never read footnotes or end-notes, so you will not see a problem here. In a moment I shall try to persuade you otherwise (I shall explain about the man with three testicles and what the Pope did about it). But the main point of this article is to question some of the assumptions about book layout in e-readers. Simply transporting a book text unmodified into an e-reader such as the Kindle does not always translate into a good reader experience. This is particularly the case with footnotes and end-notes.

Footnotes, properly used, are there to enhance the reader experience while not interrupting the flow of text. Uses include explaining an obscure reference or phrase with which the reader might not be familiar, or adding an illuminating anecdote that is not a proper part of the text. In Bailey and Love's Physical Signs in Clinical Surgery there is a section describing the harmless swelling called a spermatocele that can arise in a man's scrotum. This can resemble a third testicle. That's all you really need to know. But a footnote adds, "The story goes that, in the 14th century, on petition from a patient with a spermatocele, the Pope granted a gentleman to marry two wives because he had three testicles."*

[*Also in Bailey and Love's Short Practice of Surgery p.1383.]

 The anecdote is not strictly necessary, but it is memorable. I would point out that Bailey and Love do not reference the source of the anecdote, so they may have made it up or copied it from someone else who made it up. If they had referenced it properly they could have put the reference in with the footnote. Perhaps Dan Brown can go and look for it in the Vatican archives, or perhaps it's just a rumour in Piers Plowman.*

[*I've no idea.]

While I am not aware of any strict rules, it seems to me that end-notes are more appropriate where it is less likely that the reader will want to look them up straight away. For example, there may be repeated quotations from a particular source, and you might want to look up the original for context ("A wonderful evening" - Groucho Marx; original quotation: "I've had a wonderful evening, and this wasn't it"), or because you feel inspired by what has been quoted and you want to go right out and buy the book.

With Kindle books, footnotes are more-or-less impossible. This is because the text flows across the screen according to the precise model of Kindle that you have and the size of type you have set as default, and so there is no guarantee that a footnote will appear at the bottom of the screen or even on the same page. In future this ought to be fixable, because if you highlight a word the definition will come up automatically at the bottom of the screen in what is in effect a pop-up footnote. But I know of no way that an author can exploit this. In any event, footnotes are generally translated into end-notes, which are fiddly.

I can move the cursor down to the end-note number (the little superscript number that denotes that there is an end-note) and click on the end-note link and sometimes it will take me to the end-note, and then I can click again and sometimes it will take me back. Not only is this tedious, it is also not reliable. Some writers and publishers do not bother to make their end-notes work, so you click and nothing happens.

In A Mermaid in the Bath* there are a number of footnotes and they are there for humorous effect. Therefore they need to be close to the text to which they refer. The solution that I have come up with is to put the footnotes in square brackets and in a slightly smaller font size immediately below the text which refers to them, and denoted with an asterisk as shown here.

[* A Mermaid in the Bath, a humorous philosophical novel and love story by Milton Marmalade, available from Amazon worldwide.]

Additionally, footnotes could be indented, although I have not done this. (The Kindle version of A Mermaid in the Bath will be available soon.)

I should be interested in any comments on this or any other topic related to Kindle and e-reader formatting.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Every thing that is possible to be believed


If the believer understood the meaning of the saying 'the colour of the water is the colour of the receptacle', he would admit the validity of all beliefs and he would recognise God in every form and every object of faith. - Ibn 'Arabi (from The Meccan Revelations)


Every thing that is possible to be believed is an image of the truth. - William Blake

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Bargain! 'A Mermaid in the Bath' for £2!



Hello Saline Sympathisers and Mermaid Lovers everywhere,

The lovely paperback version of A Mermaid in the Bath by Milton Marmalade, with its mermaid illustrations and print margins calculated according to arcane medieval principles, has been discounted to close to the printing price by Amazon uk! This is for brand new copies! I don't know why, they don't tell me. The usual cover price is £7.99. This cannot last - order your copy now! (It's still $10.99 with offers from $7.76 on Amazon.com.)

Go to my links page for all Amazon links.

Your chum,

Mellifluous Mollusc