Herman Studios Home

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Four ducks

A painter's style

Thinking with Google

The Vulture's Throat

Tortures of the Damned

Memory and self

Hinduism and me

The Barber

Glasgow Smile


False advertising


Govandhan pooja

Mean Streets


Back in New Delhi


Science and Philosophy

Happiness and Theory of the Mind

Boat races in Sarasota

Would you kill yourself to go on living?

More Happiness

Theo Jansen's kinetic sculpture

ebooks and writers

Arthur Ganson

Thai politics



Googling our minds

Knowledge transfer



A study in ideal form


The Ant and the Grasshopper

Conceptual Art

The importance of punctuation

California, first impressions


Conspiracy theories

I love you; thanks’; you’re welcome



Egon and the other animals

A note about price:size ratio in paintings

Strange tales

P'sMW- page 2
Christ’s devil


Life's funnel


Moon Myth

How chaos was subdued in the Japanese genesis myth

Noah Lukeman and the murky world of today’s book publishing

Morality and religion

Music and Love

Temeris Mortis

The Dream


God's Tick

Old Man (short story)


Curious Fact

P'sMW- page 3
Photos of the spring fair in Sevilla in a new window

Why Humans prefer other Humans to be like themselves

A letter to painters

Why do people talk?

The Painter's Eye

I'bn al Alhí's treasure (short story)

Associative Personality Disorder

Love poems, death poems

The Golem

Elitism in Art

Theory of the Mind

Shorter of breath, one day closer to death

Politics II

Rock and Roll

Words II- more words


P'sMW- page 4


How to steal from gullible artists

Priests behaving badly

How to make a painting

Oats and history

A note about signatures on paintings

Bob Dylan

Number of atheists among scientists

Theoretical physics and me

Faust and Mephistopheles

Children's reading habits

How to get good photos of fireworks

The 20th century

Further Dialogue on the 20th Century article (here) with comments by Bobby Porter

Love is


Martial Art as sport

Blind Boy Fuller

Becoming an artist

Insomniac notes



José Tomás

Black Adder

This is not a Blog

P'sMW- page 5
Chivalric ethics


Shibumi: Comments by Bobby Porter

The artist’s relationship to his work

Bobby's response
to The artist's relationship to his work



Memories of my father II

P'sMW- page 6
Men and Women

Girls: come closer and I'll tell you a secret about men

Catholic Spain

Art is

Bad luck

Dogs are the Best People

Tough Love

Dense, intense and condensed: a short love story.

Cubans, Norwegians and me

From the Guggenheim to Santiago's tomb

Memories of my Father

Ecco il uomo

Divorce and maturity

Arcos de la Frontera

Inspiration and process

Bulls and men

P'sMW- page 7
Why do artists paint?

A Monk's Funeral

Pet theory

The Bicycle Thieves

Stories from here and there

Truth and beauty

Bugs as food

What is art? part II- Is modern art, art?

A painter’s thoughts about self-portraits

The Piraha of the Amazon jungle

Thailand: stories

P'sMW- page 8
We'd be better off without Religion

East Meets West

Thoughts on Memory


Frank Zappa

Art and Dreams by Ilene Skeen


Rush to change names in Isaan

The Artist and Emotion

The art critic

What is Art? Part I

Note of introduction added to the Masculine-
feminine article

Rebuttal to Raymond S Kraft

P'sMW- page 9
I'm back!

Masculine versus feminine, Muslim versus Buddhist.

Driving with Muslims or Buddhists

Peter Feldstein and Stephen G Bloom's Oxford project

How to argue

On 'happiness', in answer to Ivan's comments.

Thoughts on Happiness

The birth of Chiang Mai

War Story

Happiness Versus Suffering

Cogitations upon observing the life of an ant, from its birth to its death by old age, while I lay in a bathtub.

Scopes II pg 1 of 11

At the beginning of what the media began calling the ‘Scopes II’ trial I thought it would become more polemical than it turned out. I began collecting media reports, commentary, cartoons, defences and attacks published here and there by some of our leading scientists—I started at the very beginning and continued for about four months.

*  I collected everything from science and Church to morality, philosophy, etymology, politics, poetry and parody, like the clever and funny web-site called the Spaghetti Monster. Also a bit of history, historical quotes on the subject and transcriptions of interviews and debates with Richard Dawkins and the like.

* Unfortunately the trials weren’t as amusing as they might have been if the Intelligent Design camp had better arguments and more credible support but in the end I think I have compiled a fascinating and entertaining document.

* It covers both sides thoroughly and, I hope, with a minimum of repetition (and includes links to further reference).

* I have added my two cents here and there in red. It is chronological with dates noted.  I originally saved it to a very large (260 page) Word.doc which I have converted to 11 pages of web site weighing between 30 and 130 or so kbs each.

Scopes II pg 1 of 11

Self portrait Sept 09. oils on panel 10 x 8 inches (25 x 20 cm)

Self portrait May 09. Oils on panel 10 x 8 inches (25 x 20 cm)

Self-portrait Jan 31, 09. Oils on panel 10 x 8 inches

Self-portrait May 2008

Self-portrait 1994. Oils on canvas on board 100 x 50 cm

Self portrait 2

Self portrait 4

Self-portrait 2004. Oils on gold ground on panel. 45 x 45 cm

Self portrait 5

Self portrait 6

Self portrait 7

Self-portrait 2007

Oil sketch. Oils on panel

myspace visitors

Herman Studios Home Contact Paul
Paul's Mental Workshop, pg 2 of 9

Search Search Herman Studios
Last updated- 3rd of September, 2009

Self-portrait January 2009. Oils on panel 25 x 20 cm (10 x 8 inches)

We forgive he who bores us more readily than he who is bored by us. 

Nothing can possibly be conceived in the world, or even out of it, which can be called good, without qualification, except a good will.

Beauty is God; and art: as close to the divine as we may aspire.

If the rich could pay the poor to die for them, the poor could, at last, earn a good living.

For me, painting is a way to forget life.  It is a cry in the night, a strangled laugh. 

Life is short, art is long, opportunity fleeting, experience treacherous, judgement difficult. HIPPOCRATES

Click here to try Paul's fun and challenging: Art-Q Quiz! pg1 - pg2 - pg3

Mental Workshop- pg 1 | pg 2 | pg 3 | pg 4 | pg 5 | pg 6 | pg 7 | pg 8 | pg 9 |

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Wednesday August 19th, 2009

Christ’s devil (2080 words)

In the original Christian universe, the one where the starry skies whirled around the world, Paradise was above the clouds just out of man’s reach, and Hell in the unspeakable depths beneath his feet; there was but one God and his only interest and affection was fixated on a flat piece of earth filled with innately important humans surrounded by all the plants and animals placed at their disposal—to serve as fuel for the divine purpose of human imperialistic expansionism.

In Islamic tradition Lucifer (Iblis- إبليس) is a fallen angel (jinn) the same as in the Christian texts but he is exiled from heaven for disobeying Allah by refusing to bow before Adam though he would before his creator.

  • "What hindered thee that thou didst not fall prostrate [before Adam] when I bade thee?" and Iblis answered: "I am better than him. Thou createdst me of smokeless fire while him Thou didst create of clay"

In the Christian tradition Lucifer is one of more fallen angels whose unforgivable sin (unforgivable because an angel doesn’t need faith: he has knowledge instead) of arrogating to a power equal to his creator’s, the creator: God his father’s, without whom nothing but, presumably, He, would exist.

  • How art thou fallen from heaven
    O day-star, son of the morning!
    How art thou cast down to the ground,
    That didst cast lots over the nations!

  • “…you have come to a dreadful end and shall be no more forever”

And unlike the Muslim belief, it happened in the morally pristine spheres that were the world before the introduction of the apple of God’s eye: humanity.

Since the Gnostics, the beginnings of Christianity and the Catholic Church, there have been theologians as wise as philosophers* who have added complex moral symbolism, interpretation or apologia for, or to, the stories.

Lucifer is symbolised by Venus his name meaning: ‘the light of the morning’ or ‘the light bearer’, like Apollo before him, he who was brought low by the capital sin of superbia or conceit. He began his career after the fall not as God’s nemesis, his moral inverse or competitor for the souls of men, but rather as his agent, he who looked for evil and reported it to an omnipotent and omniscient but apparently, distracted, God.

But Lucifer’s legend grew and evolved, and artists who found him more interesting or priests who converted from convincing man to follow the Christian creed through a desire for God’s love to the more effective gambit of scaring the piss out of them with the devil’s wrath, aided his fleshing-out and filling-in until he became the alternate king reigning over the other side of the axis of power.

Popes, monks, folkloric tradition, painters and poets worked over centuries to bring Lucifer’s character to life, during the low Renaissance Dante adds lovely poetic flourishes with the image of a devil that reigns over the nine circles of Hell, himself stuck in the lowest, trapped by ice waist high. He flaps his great black wings in an eternal attempt to rise while the cold wind generated by those same wings freeze the waters that hold him.

Or Milton a few centuries later who continues moulding Lucifer’s image in his books really intended to address the question of why an omnipotent God would allow evil within his creation. The conflict between His divine and eternal foresight and man’s free will. A benevolent and omnipotent God could simply disallow evil in his universe if he cared to, if he does not, does that not make him evil also? And if he cannot, then is he worthy of adoration?

The Christian God therefore becomes an infinitely informed chess player who stands for moral righteousness and rewards it with eternal bliss and understanding, while his opponent (with the black pieces) tempts man’s faith in goodness by offering immediate, if short-term, delights. From the Qur’an:

  • He said: Then go down hence! It is not for thee to show pride here, so go forth! Lo! Thou art of those degraded.

    Lucifer said: Now, because Thou hast sent me astray, verily I shall lurk in ambush for them on Thy Right Path.

    Then I shall come upon them from before them and from behind them and from their right hands and from their left hands, and Thou wilt not find them beholden unto Thee.

    He said: Go forth from hence, degraded, banished. As for such of them as follow thee, surely I will fill hell with all of you

‘I’, says the creator in the last line, “-will fill Hell with all of you”. Satan can convince God to punish man for taking his (Lucifer’s) counsel but hasn’t the power to harm man himself in any way but through moral influence. It is the loving and forgiving father who decides to renounce his chess pieces according to their fealty to his tenets—the rules for deserving his love. He might also sacrifice a pawn to a side-bet with Satan as he did in the sad case of Job, and sometimes, in his ire at losing the contest, he might simply wipe the board of all its pieces until his temper calms.

Lucifer yearns for the heavens and God’s, his father’s, love, but is relegated to darkness and immoral suggestion not because he is himself immoral but as an expression of his resentment toward a father who doesn’t recognize his son’s value, who doesn’t hold him in a regard equivalent in degree to his own self-esteem. He tries to prove his worth by showing he has an equal power over men. Lucifer says to God that he will distract man from “…Thy right path” because “…Thou hast sent me astray”, he doesn’t disagree with God, he is merely at war with Him because they both want the same thing: the power of decision.

One of Dore's engravings of Lucifer for 'Paradise Lost'He must have been the most dashing, charming and impetuous of all God’s sons whether they be Christian angels or Muslim jinni.

Lucifer wreaks evil, contention, conflict, cruelty, jealousy and covetousness, using as entry his own sin as reflected in man: a weakened will due to conceit. He cannot just walk up to men and ask: “Would you like fifty years of unobstructed earthly pleasures in exchange of an eternity of cruel torture in the fires of Hell?” but he can whisper to man’s vanity that he deserves more beautiful women or more power over other men and if his innuendo is so tantalising that the man succumbs to their allure to the point he suspends his ability to calculate risk; and as consequence he persuades himself of the rightness of a wrong and commits a moral crime, he tacitly relinquishes his faith in God in order to do so—thus earning His chastisement. It is neither man’s soul nor a pleasure in its punishment that attracts the devil but rather his need to prove himself to his father.

If Freud was right about anything he couldn’t have been more right than in his concept of the Oedipal complex: we all know God, we know he will never accept his son’s view of things, will never let him sit to his right, will always expect him to bow before him.

Among men the need to better one’s father, the challenge of graduating to his strength, is either reached or not- it seems to me that unless Lucifer repents with sincere contrition and asks His pardon, God and he are locked in a battle that must end in victory for one only, and perhaps even in the death of the other.

Tempting men with sweets that make them forget their teeth will fall out if they eat them, must be easy enough, but still, there must also be many who hold out through the vale of tears for the big dessert at the end…

If I were Lucifer, filled by a sense of righteous antagonism toward the injustice my father showed me, I would probably learn to disguise the real import of my tempting suggestions to try to fool those rational, or perhaps just dispassionate enough, to resist being lured by the short money. I would imitate my enemy in appearance; I would not entice to evil but represent evil as good. It is clearly easy to make a good man kill by telling him it is good to kill bad men, after that it is only a question of defining 'bad men'. In fact it takes little more effort than a children’s textbook like Der Giftpilz, to turn fellow men into creatures foreign and odious to the species that reads it:

‘The boy goes on. "One can also recognize a Jew by his lips. His lips are usually puffy. The lower lip often protrudes. The eyes are different too. The eyelids are mostly thicker and more fleshy than ours. The Jewish look is wary and piercing. One can tell from his eyes that he is a deceitful person."

"Jews are usually small to mid-sized. They have short legs. Their arms are often very short too. Many Jews are bow-legged and flat-footed. They often have a low, slanting forehead, a receding forehead. Many criminals have such a receding forehead. The Jews are criminals too. Their hair is usually dark and often curly like a Negro's. Their ears are very large, and they look like the handles of a coffee cup."’

"From a Jew's face
The wicked Devil speaks to us,
The Devil who, in every country,
Is known as an evil plague.

Would we from the Jew be free,
Again be cheerful and happy,
Then must youth fight with us
To get rid of the Jewish Devil."’

Few among us today would fault the man who kills to save his own life in self-defence, nor the life of another for that matter. But up until recently certain European countries as well as the United States, routinely pardoned such murders as the crime passionnél, it being understood that when a good, God-fearing, Christian man’s honour had been so far trespassed as his wife taking a lover it was only natural he kill him and/or her.

In the cannibal tribes of the south Pacific eating people was not exercised as a form of nutrition but rather as a ritual of their religion. The boy couldn't become a man until he had ingested his enemy's spirit through his flesh. What, you ask, of the one eaten? He is added to the family altar to be remembered as an honourable and valiant warrior who died fighting. According to Judeo-Christian beliefs this behaviour is unmitigatedly reprehensible but one can see, without needing to agree, that in the cannibal's paradigm it is anything but evil.

It only took a blink of an eye after the second world war to change a nation’s grateful camaraderie with their Russian allies to fear, loathing and a finger on the big red button. Normal, law-abiding, ordinary, family men have been caught up in their country’s racial, economic or political genocides (i.e. mass murders) all over the world and throughout history. We little chess pieces really have no way of judging who sits on which side of the great board and are most likely to believe the one winning the game is the good one.

What if Lucifer won long ago? What if it is he who rules the heavens and God who is shackled in a dank basement? The ruse maintained, for fear of our rebellion. If he used this tactic it could mean that the ten commandments with its amendments and addenda (allowing, for instance, the militant Holy Roman Empire, the robbing of weaker cultures for the greater glory of God, or even the saving of souls under the threat of death) are precisely what win us an age suffering the tortures of the damned… maybe turning the other cheek is in fact evil and ‘an eye for an eye’ (especially if you take yours first) is actually good, it is only one man's word, or strength, against the next which decides.

* What is a theologian, after all, if not a philosopher with restricted access down certain avenues? A theologian must rationalise forgone conclusion, a priori premises, while a philosopher is at liberty to follow reason unfettered to truth. Return

disclaimer: none of the above reflects my own opinions, I don't base my beliefs on theological questions, I just find them and their conundrums or paradoxes, interesting to consider.

Saturday August 15th, 2009

Timelines (100 words)

I read something I think was interesting in a commentary about a life-long correspondence between two authors who hardly ever met in person.

It talked of how an artist has two timelines, two histories, one led and marked by his experience while the other, by his artistic evolution. And it remarked how the histories may or may not coincide; a high point of the creative evolution might cross a low personal point and vice-a-versa or, indeed, any other combination of possibilities.

Although it seems a little obvious now that I’ve read it, the truth is I had never thought about it quite that way.

Monday August 10th, 2009

Life's funnel (540 words)

I was talking to my old friend Joe about life and death. We talked of those who belong to our group: those of the age for hindsight. I mentioned how many I knew who regretted their choices, even some who I knew when they embarked, enthusiastically, on the road that has disappointed. Of others who seem lost, who gave their lives to their families and at fifty wonder who they are aside from fathers, husbands or workers. And even those who are disenchanted without realising they are disappointed, those who live unexamined lives.

When I asked him how he felt about the shortening funnel of life he thought I meant it as a metaphor for time (which is more like a snowball rolling down a snowy mountainside!) but the image of a funnel comes to me in terms of experience.

Nearing fifty I think of the large amount and wide range of sometimes indiscriminate experience that lies behind, and how in forming me it also made a better judge of me; hence the funnelling which, with a narrowing of options also provides greater distillation—the decreasing breadth of choice, becomes augmented focus. And with age comes a cumulative power drawn from understanding one’s self, one’s abilities, one’s failings.

Joe, who is a successful scientist, summed up his feelings about his life thus:

"Good luck kept me legal and alive. Good fortune led to my present career. The sweet angels brought me my wife. My contribution has been a sufficiently creative intellect to be valued as a contributor among more staid thinkers. I never wanted to "work hard" and I've succeeded. I've never "tolerated authority" and I have none over me. I always cherished the feeling of getting away with something - whether skipping school, church or work. That liberating sensation of being free, unaccountable, and somehow special has endured from a young age."

Joe and I have known each other most of our adult lives and have often commented on how different our roads are just as we have each observed in the other, where the road not taken leads. For myself, despite the big errors, the bad decisions, the harm I’ve caused, the events and consequences that show themselves poor in retrospect, the ones I might pluck from my past given the power to do so, I am satisfied by who I am and confident all tomorrows will be stupendous just as I cherish the memories of my past good and bad together. I know it takes mistakes to ‘become’.

A man cannot be truly honest until he has stolen and regretted it. And I realize I wouldn’t really change a thing about my past, about the person who committed those mistakes, nor would I exchange my future for another’s. The better judge I have become, the one who might change certain moments of the past if he could, wouldn't exist if he did.

I've been reading thoughts about death by minds remembered for thinking about such things and after life Joe and I talked of death, and I thought his comment was really rather good in comparison: "I know I am mortal and my life will end, but not today, and not tomorrow either..."

Friday August 7th, 2009

Souvenirs (630 words)

I love to walk. And so, where many like beaches, I like mountains. On a beach everything is always the same, every sunset or sunrise (depending which side you’re on) is routinely beautiful; while in the mountains every hundred paces, up, down or across, is new, and every sunset or sunrise (or both if you climb to the top) is a surprise.

I walked in my mountains today, as I do every day, with my dog: Egon, just as we did at five o’clock this morning under the full moon when every shadow is an uncompromised ink spill and the silent owls appear suddenly, great flying darknesses swooping too close to one’s head.

They are not the most beautiful mountains I have known or lived amid, but they are admirable in their own distinctive way the way mountains always are, whether they be the breathtaking Rockies or Alps or Himalayas or the rich, romance-laden Khyber range; salt and sand shorn of all living things but goats, hawks and bandits. The mountains I live among now are as much African as European, being as they are, closer across the water to Morocco’s Riff mountains than to Sevilla, the nearest city. If the mediterenean didn't have to empty through this funnel, the channel would be no more than a pass between mountains.

I often find souvenirs on my walks, a small animal skull, washed and bleached; a fossilized seashell, 300 meters altitude, sixty kilometers distance and fifty-five million years out of its depth. Sometimes I find an idea for a painting or something I want to write—I think best when I walk—and sometimes, I find no more than a new memory I might recall sometime in the future.

Once it was a chameleon, that most charming of lizards, as big as my extended hand without his tail. He thought he could fool me by moving forward and back at every step, imitating the random movement of grass blown by the wind instead of the linear movement of escaping prey; unfortunately he was on clear, sandy ground and despite his subtle subterfuge and sand-coloured camouflage, I could see his shadow as sharp as cut paper.

As I moved toward him he gave up the drunken stagger and broke into a full run whose speed turned out somewhat underwhelming compared to my own. I snatched him up and looked at him and he at me, his ice-cream-cone eyes moving in all directions at once as he tried to take in the creature that now not only held him high above the ground but also surrounded him. He opened his mouth wide showing me past his small, sharp, serrated jawbone and deep into his body as he tried desperately to bite me and I wondered: if I were abruptly scooped up by the trunk of an elephant, would I have the courage to punch him?

But we made it to the other side of the barren earth despite his threats, where I let him go among the bushes lest he be picked up as falcon-food before he could make it across alone with his ridiculous Egret swaying walk.

Today it was six black vultures who caught my eye, sitting heavily in the upper branches of an old, dead Walnut, one more circling above: an animal was dying nearby. Beneath them an Egret followed a brave bull who grazed unconcernedly but would, one day, die on the sword of a brave Matador.

The Egret showed no impatience for the food he finds in the earth overturned by the bull, but walked beside him more than following him, quietly considering his last remark—his hands behind his back as if courtesy demanded no less than joining the bull in his lazy perambulations.

Thursday August 6th, 2009

Moon & Venus over Arcos de la Frontera's valleyMoon Myths (580 words)

"Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones"
Bertrand Russell

We humans want so badly to know, to understand, to have definitive truths, that we are ready to ignore absence of reasonable criteria or lack of method, to jump to conclusions based on intuition, sub-conscious impulses, hearsay and unexamined argument rather than having to say: "I don't know." or: "It is merely coincidence."

It is thus, I think, that one hears so much superstitious belief attributed to our moon’s influence by otherwise discriminatingly intelligent people, like: More strange behaviour manifests during a full moon than a waxing or waning one. If the moon controls tides why shouldn't it be true that it has an effect on us too? We, like our planet, are made mostly of water, after all.

One of the reasons people think there is more unusual behaviour during a full moon is because they don't distinguish clearly between a full moon and as many as three days to its either side, making the chances of their believing something occurred during a full moon, not one in thirty but one in five.

When one sees strange behaviour and thinks to look to the moon but finds it is not full, he forgets the illogical connection while every time it is, he remembers it, making it common that each one of us might remember something bizarre we witnessed during full moon.

During a full moon there is more light. Up until the recent invention of well-lit urban centres the nights around full moon were the most attractive to venture out in. Nights that are more populated also offer proportionately more possibilities of aberrant behaviour being witnessed by others.

The moon's mass is one eightieth that of the earth's and it spins around us at a mean distance of 38,000 kilometres in a circular (not eliptical) orbit. The tides are caused by the moon pulling the oceans from one side of the planet to the other through the effect its gravity has on the world's own as the moon circles in its orbit. But the effect the moon's gravity has on the world belongs to the physical relationship between earth and moon, while the amount of light the moon reflects, or conversely: the amount of shadow the earth throws on the moon, is a function of the angle between the moon and sun relative to the position of the earth—which has no import whatever on its gravitational pull; i.e. just because we can't see the side of the moon in shadow doesn't mean it is not there.

Besides, the fact we are mostly made up of water means that among the great variety of cells that make up our bodies, on average, each is a little sac containing 60% water with elements like the cell's nucleus, organelles and mitochondria that swim about in the fluid carrying chemical information to and from the cell's limits and it's nucleus. They can only move around or remain suspended because in a sub-cellular landscape gravity holds no sway. If it weren't so, all the mobile parts of a cell would simply lie at the bottoms of their little sacs of water making life impossible (literally).

In other words: as we stand on the earth's crust with ten kilometres of atmosphere held above us, the planet's entire cumulative gravitational force cannot reach inside one of our cells, nor could it bring an ant to crash under its own body weight if it tried to commit suicide by jumping from the tallest skyscraper, do you suppose the moon's could?

Wednesday July 29th, 2009

神道 Shin tao (The Way of the Gods) has roots that go back to 500BC though it wasn’t formalised as Shinto, both a path to wisdom and quasi-religion, until the 6th century AD as an amalgam of incorporated harvest and clan traditions.

A typical Japanese might register or celebrate a birth at a Shinto shrine, while making funeral arrangements according to the Buddhist tradition. Unlike many religions, Shinto and Buddhism do not require professing faith to practice, being centered more in ritual and respect for the living spirit of each thing.

How chaos was subdued in the Japanese genesis myth (680 words)

In the eighth generation the primitive gods brought forth Izanagi, the inviting male and Izanami, the inviting female (Izanagi-no-mikoto and Izanami-no-mikoto).
Izanagi & Izanami by Koyobashi
They lived in a great nothingness without height nor breadth nor depth; without light or darkness, without colour or its lack.

Together they thrust their jewel-encrusted lance into the chaos which was like a fertilized egg; as they stirred, its viscousness thickened, and when they pulled the spear out, the last drops that fell from its tip formed the islands of Japan onto which Izanagi, the inviting male and Izanami, the inviting female, descended to erect the august celestial pillar.

And Izanagi asked Izanami: How was thy body made? “It grew everywhere except in one spot, and thine?” to which Izanagi, the inviting male, answered: Mine, like thine, grew everywhere, but more especially at one spot. “Were it not good to place that part of my body which is in excess into that part of your body in deficit?”

They decided to go ‘round the celestial pillar in opposite directions. The female went left while the male went right and when they met, she said: “What a beautiful and charming young man!” to which he answered: “What a lovely and loveable young woman!”

The woman showed willingness but it was the movement of a Wagtail that impelled him forward. Izanami thus bore many divinities; light, rocks and mountains, the breeze and stillness, the oceans and their waves, plants, animals and subterranean grottoes. Each, the rock or breeze as much as any animal or plant, with its Kami: its spirit and its self-ness.

When Izanami gave birth to fire, however, she did not survive it. Izanagi, the inviting male of Wagtailexalted and fruitful love, in a torment of despair and stricken by grief, lay prostrate at the foot of her bed and wept for his beautiful young sister.

Thus he came to know his sorrow and his ire and he vowed to rescue his wife from the underworld and bring her back to him, but not before he killed he who had killed his love. But the fire God not only would not be defeated but raged at every blow throwing off new divinities right and left.

Izanagi gave up his struggle and went to find Izanami while behind him one of the gods created during the battle, the impetuous male, wreaked confusion and returned the celestial world to chaos. In his impetuosity he broke the dykes of the rice fields, attacked the palace and threw the stinking carcass of a dead horse onto its rooftop. He left Amaterasu’s spinning and weaving girls hurting in their most intimate parts and even chased the Goddess who makes the sky resplendent, that is, the sun, into seclusion thus turning the world dark and leaving it in a desolation filled by terror.

Izanagi finds Izanami in the underworld as a rotting corpse and she chases him away ashamed to have lost her beauty.

The gods come together to think up a stratagem to control the impetuous male and his anarchistic influence, finally tricking him into a cave and closing its opening once he was inside. He could not escape back into the celestial world but could drop down onto the earthly paradise of the eight Japanese islands where he was both brutal and heroic. He killed a terrible dragon that ate virgins and he bore a son who fought the jealous gods and is remembered as a lover of undaunted passion.

Friday July 24th, 2009

Noah Lukeman and the murky world of today’s book publishing
(760 words)

Noah Lukeman is president and founder of Lukeman Literary agency in New York city; an agency that get books into print and on bookstore shelves by offering them successfully to publishers who, in turn, no longer deal with contract-less authors directly.

Making his agent’s fees, which easily account for greater earnings than any single writer on his list, however, was not enough for Mr Lukeman. Five or six years ago he broke into authorship himself with a book titled How to Write a Great Query letter with which he began making money from desperate writers who he would not represent and whose writing he would not read, apart from, and in addition to, the ones he does.

The downloadable pdf document with few words on few pages reached best-seller status, so desperately optimistic are authors in this shrinking printed book market. But despite recognising the exquisite irony of a literary agent with no literary pretensions in his literature, becoming a successful author by selling an instruction book to would-be writers which teaches them how to talk to him, I bought it.

Although the pages my 25 bucks got me permission to print held no secrets I could not find for free from multiple sources on the Internet (like his less money-hungry competition or long lists of successfully published writers who offer advice because they all remember their own decade of rejections) it was at least concise and all in one place- I did not regret buying it and it probably did indeed improve my query letters.

I just received an e-mail from the Lukeman agency advising us writers that in an impulse to give back to the writing community he has decided to now (since May 2007) offer the same book for free but has in the meantime, written another bestseller for the same market slice: writers who want to find agents; and he also offers the wisdom of his advice (i.e. telling writers which are the rules dictated by him and his peers) on his Web-site whose link I clicked on.

It turns out it is no more than an offer to allow you to read his comments in his own Site’s forum for a fee of twenty dollars a month. Not a big investment which might even offer a pay-off for some writers and yet, the leeching quality of his breaking into an income stream generated from the very people he is meant to represent is disheartening on principle, just as paintings galleries that rent wall-space per square metre are: both are meant to glean their earnings as middle-men from a sale transaction they themselves arrange for a buying public, not directly from the creators of the product in exchange of slim help in reaching a middle-man he, the middle-man, offers.

His agency has a slush pile of so many manuscripts that they are not accepting query letters and I wonder where, in a world that has abandoned the arts—that teaches the young that books are no more than repositories of information instead of worlds of literature (faster to find from Internet sources than the dismal task of actually having to read books), where will the next generation find the motivations to become artists of any kind? And where will the world end up when it finishes forgetting how important the arts are to every culture?

One might conjecture that in a world with exploding population there would be a proportionate increase in that always small percentage whose taste is more exigent, who want superior quality, who want luxuries like art with their information. In-fact the growing number of spending public means it is a bad business decision to pander to the discriminating when the larger percentage of the market, the clueless, is also growing exponentially- as always, with volume comes loss of excellence.


Today I read an article about a certain Baroque painter from the lowlands whose work the New York Times, whose proofreading is routinely flawless, described as Caravagist; and I found myself wondering what was wrong with the term traditional to sometime after Caravaggio's death of Caravaggiesque? Must a Rubenesque nude also now become Rubinist?

This same modern efficacy where shortening a word presumably to save either the writer the physical task of having to hit four or five extra keys, or the reader the mental task of having to orient his mind around so very many symbols, that works as metaphor for the loss of poetry in modern prose.

Monday July 20th, 2009

Morality and religion (490 words)

I suppose there are still people who believe religion fortifies moral infrastructure; here in Spain it wasn’t long ago that children were allowed to opt-out of Catholic training though they still pray in public schools daily.

At first they changed the class from religion, i.e. Catholicism; to the comparative study of religions, although the only relativism taught was how correct Christ’s teachings were when compared to all the other, silly, religions. When Franco’s pall was finally lifted after nearly 30 years of slow change and children really had a choice about being indoctrinated with their ancestor’s religious beliefs, they were then offered the choice between religious study and ethics, as if without the former they had no way to learn the latter.

As if without a fear of God, a fear for one’s own immortal soul or the threat of some kind of retributive punishment after death, we would just throw our hands up and say: “Well, since it doesn’t matter anyway I might as well drink blood squeezed from live babies!” In fact, in my experience, there are as many good people and villains among the demographics of theists as that of atheists.

Indeed, if we looked more closely at some widely agreed moral infraction like say: paedophilia, I bet we would find that men forced to celibacy for their religious practice are the more frequent offenders.

So why don’t we, the unafraid of divine wrath, go on rampaging binges of wildly sinful behaviour? In part, I think, it is no more than the fact our basic biological motives: the altruism that serves both society and the altruist, empathy that impels us to feel the pain we inflict on others, or the sympathy to turn the tables on ourselves when considering the personal advantage taking from another would attain—seeing ourselves reflected in our potential victim’s eye, is largely due to an innate socialising instinct that stems not only from our need to live in collaborative fashion with others of our species but even more, just like dogs, we become confused in our own identities when out of contact with our taxonomical peers.

There is also self-image which is attached implacably to the self-esteem which suffers when our judgement, skewed by self-interest, allows us to cross our own moral boundaries. To a Christian this poses a lighter threat to his psychic well-being since once the pleasure is lived and real contrition arrives, his loving God will forgive him—it is a far more difficult thing to acquire one’s own forgiveness and nothing, after all, is harder to live with than remorse.

So apart from it simply not being true, if religious beliefs are also neither consolation nor moral pillar, I think the main reason left for clinging to an imaginary friend is the value and verification of a caring witness to our existence, just as a parent is for a child.

Saturday July 18th, 2009

Music and Love (280 words)

Some friends and I went to see Omar Faruk play in the old Moorish gardens of Jerez under a crescent moon last night. We, the audience, had the added luck to have Arto Tunçboyaciyan join Faruk and his five-man band, adding his talents and humour to the proceedings.

At one point Arto, the Turk, looked across the stage at I’m not sure which, either the Greek keyboardist or the Israeli Jew on guitar—perhaps both, and said: if we can make music together all men should be able to get along; and Faruk added: “What Sufism has taught me is that we needn’t all love one another as long as we just respect each other.”

And it made me think. Even I who was not grown in religious soil of any kind and, I think, also most occidentals, know the Old testament’s teaching about loving one another (Leviticus 19:18): “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” is impossible to accomplish among mere humans and yet I had never questioned that, as an ideal, if we all loved each other as we do ourselves the world would be much improved.

When I thought about it more deliberately however, I realized that not only is our own capacity for real love limited to a small number of subjects but that it would be anything but nice to be loved by everyone else.

If we reached for less than love and just respected each other as we do ourselves instead, it would not only be enough but preferable.

Click here to hear something by Faruk

Friday July 12th, 2009

Temeris Mortis (1090 words)

B. Kliban

'Men, commonplace and ordinary, do not seem to me fit for the tremendous fact of eternal life. With their little passions, their little vices and virtues, they are well enough suited in the workaday world; but immortality is much too vast for beings cast on so small a scale'

As this collection of thoughts and stories, which I call my Mental Workshop, grows older—four years old a month ago—I see trends reveal themselves that reflect my mood, or the reflections consequent to my reading and conversations of the time. Periods of months together about art, theology, science, or the eternal mysteries of relations between the opposing genders of our species, (i.e. love). It is sometimes light-hearted sometimes gloomy, sometimes proud, at others insecure: and the collection of written reflections becomes in itself a reflection for their author.

I have been reading Julian Barnes’ Nothing to be Frightened of, yet another book by an old man writing about death: “…fear of death irrational?” Barnes asks, and answers himself: “Why, it is the most rational thing in the world—how can reason not reasonably detest the end of reason?”

Soothing reading I guess, as Montaigne believed: Since we cannot defeat death, the best form of counter-attack is to have it constantly in mind in order to make its abyss appear less formidable.

I am long familiar with Barnes’ shorter work which I have always read with admiration for his dominion as word-smith but upon reading my first book-length composition by him I realize he is so much more, he is a master of the word and, ultimately, that is where literature resides, in the word.

He describes being described by a literary critic with a coined word: polyphiloprogenitor, because the critic said of him: “Barnes is father to forty books and four children”.  An intriguing mind, don’t you agree?

The book gives him room to speak in what seems a breezy, spontaneous, conversational tone while, in fact, he weaves a medley of ideas and narrative in a complex web of self-reference.

Although I have yet to finish the book he has already provided me with a rare insight into each’s own mortality, an original thought added to the basket of old wisdoms and observations. He says all of us non-old people imagine, naturally enough, our extinction as a goodbye to life when in fact (for those lucky enough to reach senescence) it is not a leave-taking from life but rather a goodbye to old age.

It is heartening to realize that in a world newly turned away from the wisdom of age, a world where the young know more relevant information than the old who haven’t had time to assimilate or re-learn an unusual century’s changes, there are still some things a young man can’t know unless he is told by an old one.

Today I sat at a sidewalk café on a street of the ancient, history-soaked, horse-trading town of Jerez de la Frontera while waiting for a friend. As I idly people-watched I saw an encounter which is common enough but with the difference that today I noticed it: two young men who met accidentally in the street a few metres from my table; close enough to watch but whose voices were drowned in city noise. They fell into earnest conversation as if they really had something to talk about instead of just exchanging polite noises: dialogue instead of small talk. I was about to look away to see if my eye fell on something more interesting when a woman walked past.

She was not a beautiful woman: middle-aged, thick-ankled and generally unfit compared to the good-looking young men who talked to each other. But she wore enough sexual symbols in her tight white dress and pumps—in a place and climate where most women wear flat, open sandals and light, loose clothing—that like a baboon’s red and blue ass it drew the two men’s sub-conscious through their eyes to watch her jiggling gluteus maximus’, until they eventually disappeared from view; the whole while maintaining their engagement in their conversation with the conscious part of their minds.

And once again I had pause to consider how we primates are separated by so very little from mere monkeys.

The conscious mind’s evolution has been so much faster than the biology it stems from that it lies to each of us about a duality which is a fiction in an attempt at social contract between the fundamentally dissociative elements.

If my example of the men’s eyes being drawn to a woman they would not be consciously interested in, is an example of biology’s rule, and their conversation a manifestation of the higher, conscious mind (the one we like to think of with free will), then it follows that if I weren’t convinced just as you are that we are each indeed two: me and my mind, the witness and the subject, my mind and the brain it watches dispassionately, I would be able to fuse the two into a simple ‘me’ thereby getting rid of the only one who finds death abhorrent, the one who imagines himself its witness.


When Mr Barnes indulges in a prophetic look at his own worst-case demise he sees it as being: "...preceded by severe pain, fear, and exasperation at the imprecise or euphemistic use of language [by those] around me."

The last time I was in L.A. someone asked me that quintessentially Californian question (from within my European kinesphere): "But are you happy?" I thought a moment in an attempt to answer such a complex but direct query with a direct answer but could only think to say: "When I am alone I tend to simply serious..."

And so, in this New Age world where I seem surrounded by those who dedicate themselves to achieving a state of emotional complacency; devotedly escaping what they consider negative emotions, if asked about the pseudo-debate between the relative values of intellectualism and emotionionalism, I would have to answer as I imagine Barnes might: In my beliefs I strive for rationalism while in my behaviour I am slave to emotion. My puny mind (or should I say: brain?) sees paradox where all around me see unity.

If it weren't for the doubt I harbour about my own sanity pointing to the probability I am actually not insane, then there really would be very little room for doubt at all; but finding books like this one provide the grace that if I am, I am at least in interesting company.

Friday June 26th, 2009

The Dream (110 words)

Last night I dreamt of a beautiful house I once lived in for a time. In the dream I remembered its every detail, its every room and shelf, and how it stood on a hillock hidden by carefully tended gardens.

I asked myself who had loaned it to me, because I remembered it hadn't been mine, but couldn’t recall; I then ran a number of countries through my mind trying to place its location but without success. Still without waking and frustrated by the lacunas in my recollection, I realised the memory was real but the house was not, what I remembered so vividly in my dream was another dream.

Ball-point pen drawing by the artist

Saturday June 14th, 2009

Peace (1440 words)

I have a dear old friend who is Christian, his name is Bob. We usually live in different countries though we met when we both lived in London and later, we shared NYC. Since then our long friendship has been kept alive by sporadic correspondence of great volubility spotted by occasional meetings, one of which I enjoyed in the form of a recent visit.

As always we discussed philosophy and theology while: I took him out sightseeing, between mouthfuls of food and when we weren’t occupied otherwise in general.

He once again brought up de Caussade, the early-eighteenth century Jesuit priest, theologian and mystic who has been a particular inspiration to Bob’s faith and moulder of his attitudes toward life.

Bob’s description of de Caussade’s central thesis, Abandonment to Divine Providence, goes something like this: Evil must be part of a plan too complex for us to understand since a perfect God could only create a perfect world. This reminded me immediately of Candide and since Voltaire published Candide in 1759 I wondered if his sarcasm wasn’t directed at de Caussade. When I looked it up I found Voltaire was lambasting Leibnitz instead, the brilliant Rationalist who nevertheless is remembered better by history in his alter ego as Voltaire's Dr Pangloss. After each of the terrible calamities that happen to Candide or which he witnesses, his tutor, Dr Pangloss, reminds him: “All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds"

Besides, it turns out de Caussade was so fearful of the Church fathers’ possible charges of quietism that his writings weren’t published until 110 years after his death and even then in a version censored by a fellow Jesuit because of the impossibility of escaping punishment under the totalitarian Catholic regime otherwise. Meaning effectively, that he wasn’t published unabridged until 1966, nearly a quarter of a millennium after he wrote.

De Caussade’s less simplistic credo actually went more like this: The present moment is a sacrament from God and self-abandonment to it and its needs is a holy state. Which, in turn, sounded to me more like a Buddhist derivate such as Bodhidharma’s Zen.

Although when I thought about it, I realised the similarity in conclusion obfuscates the very different reasons for reaching similar truths: De Caussade’s abandonment is, in fact, leagues from Buddha’s detachment.

My thoughts then took me outside the set of theology and into philosophy where I found memories of Epictetus, the Greek slave-philosopher.

I have always had a soft spot for that great thinker trapped in a life as muddy as Job’s. As a slave to a cruel master, anecdotes abound, like the one where his master, Epaphroditus, amused himself by twisting Epictetus’ leg. Because of his philosophy (it is said) he was able to look on dispassionately, even warning his master that if he continued thus he would soon break the leg and be master of an incapacitated slave; and didn’t shout-out when his master went on to break it.

Epictetus centred on his belief that suffering arises from trying to control what is uncontrollable. The Buddhist-like detachment that results from the discipline to accept the immutable, diverges from the Buddha’s in that it strives ultimately for happiness.

When Epictetus advises: "Do not seek to bring things to pass in accordance with your wishes, but wish for them as they are, and you will find them" I think it is an interesting philosophical considerations but self-defeating in terms of getting what one can from the experience that is life.

I think a successful life, within the context of ultimate purposelessness, is one that is noticed by the one who lives it—one that has events important enough to the one living them to make perduring and cherished memories; peace, balance, equanimity, denial of passions all lead to the opposite: negligence and lack of engagement. 

Epictetus himself may well have found all the reach of life’s possibilities within the small range available to him—one that includes living the full 1 to 10 scale where 5 is acceptance, 10 is joy and 1 is desperate melancholy. But in-fact his life was a pathetic example of what it might have been given the full gamut of possibilities you and I, as our own masters, can hope for.

To me it is clearly a slave philosophy formulated as a reaction to Epictetus’ circumstances when compared to say: Socrates, who refused to live any way but that which he considered correct even when faced with execution by the state. Epictetus' acceptance, like Buddha’s detachment or de Caussade’s abandonment, seem to me, more resignation than peace.

Rather than being a sophisticated attitude that aids the experience of life, the resignation is one for which one must exchange the highs and lows that make memories. Predictability is a poison that dries the sap of experience and what could be more predictable than knowing everything is okay simply because everything is always okay? 

Although Bob and I both realize our ongoing debate is futile in the sense that we argue from different platforms which overlap but do not coincide: theology and philosophy. But it is only futile if our objective is to convince the other or change his point of view because Bob’s lively mind inspires new considerations and thoughts in mine regardless, and I hope the same is true for him because it in itself, is a rare enough pleasure…

To my arguments that life is in an essential way, the accumulation of its memories, Bob answered recently: “Memories may be important to you, but to me they're not. At my age {65} I can't remember a damn thing! Barbara {his 17 year old daughter} sometimes says, 'do you remember when we did this?'  But I never have any memory of it.” I answered: “And thus you prove my point: If you don't live for the production of memories you will end in the sad condition of having none and wondering what you did with your unique and singular life.”

When I spent time in a Buddhist temple (as novice in Thailand) I watched the monks in their daily life and found them (to differing degrees) at peace if not spiritually, which is difficult to decide through observation, at least in the quiet acceptance of a perfectly predictable life—just as many feel in prison—but as examples of 'life' I'd say that at their ends they will have only made one memory of the entire experience instead of the variety and depth of those who strive instead of accepting.

We toss words like ‘joy’ around easily, we all know how it is defined in the dictionary and don’t feel a need to describe our individual sense of it when talking with someone else but in fact there is only a personal definition of joy; it is equivalent to the highest experienced happiness, not to a scale of the possible, i.e. if one has only ever reached a 7 out of a possible 10 on the happiness scale it becomes subjectively, the definition of joy. The 7 that thinks it is a 10 will not have any way to know it has missed something until the day it reaches 8.

When Bob, who has led an unorthodox life largely dedicated to reading, writing and the search for truth, talks of his self-doubt in his observations of the differences between his life and those around him (he still lives in NYC) he uses the metaphor of the piglet who built the house of bricks and says: “…those who planned for their retirements—even early retirements—seem to have some nice and recurrent highs, as they have virtually no financial worries, travel all around the world, and spend most of their time following their bliss in doing various projects” I answered: “I think the pig who builds the brick house (sacrificing present for future) isn't the sort who can really: ‘...spend most of his time following his bliss.’ Of history's great men in any field- few lived as sensibly you describe- it is a bourgeois construct and ideal.”

Again, in a context of a pointless, existentialist universe: what difference does it make? But in terms of personal experience: I think it is a waste of a lot of potential, a disregard for the possible and the unknowable fruits of the unknown future. I'd say the proof is in the fact that difficult experiences can become as cherished as memories as joyful ones, as long as one lives them with a congruent personality.

Personally I don't believe happiness, much less joy or bliss, are within the reach of those who suffer peace.

Tick feeding Sunday May 17th, 2009

God's Tick (30 words)

I think the existence of ticks is enough reason to cast doubt on the existence of God. Unless, of course, God’s real purpose were the ticks and we other animals merely their food source.

Saturday May 16th, 2009 (removed)


Friday May 15th, 2009

Intuition (1000 words)

If the great Socrates was right when he warned that an unexamined life is not worth living, I would like to discuss my own humble footnote: An unexamined thought isn’t worth thinking.

B. Kliban

I keep hearing people offering the concept that intuition is an alternative form of intelligence; a type of intelligence that offers rewards logic does not, which, to be perfectly frank, I find irritating.

Intuition is in fact an important part of regular old intelligence. Indeed, it is important even to the most linear thought-task like mathematics or computer programming. So how does it differ from logic? Well, if I offer the logical stream: 'All men die. Aristotle is a man. Aristotle will die.' You might disagree with the initial premise, i.e. all men do not die. But the reasoning that takes you from the premise to the conclusion is still irrefutably correct.

So if I offer as argument the fact I don’t believe in the initial premise, that instead I believe that: "The body is a cage and its soul a bird" or: "Just as the forest dies in winter and is reborn in spring so will man be reborn after death." The former is a metaphor that, through image building rather than reason, implies contravention, when in fact each of the words in the sentence which are not prepositions would need definition before the statement could be admitted as argument to the premise.

If you used Socratic dialectics to define the words used in the declaration (even without translating it out of metaphor and into literal speech), you would find it qualifies at best as a tangential remark, and at worst: as entirely irrelevant. Mere sophistry parading as reasoned argument; metaphor used as a tool of rhetoric which imitates reason.

In the latter example, it is the reason that fails: though it may look like the forest is reborn we now know that actually each maple leaf and blade of grass that has ever existed has been unique rather than a rebirth.

First things are born, then they want to procreate or replicate and finally they die, nothing in nature is reborn.

If Aristotle's syllogism about the inevitability of his own death is an example of logic while we take the refutation as example of intuitive thought, then how do we define the difference? If we examine the parts of the syllogism and how one leads to another we find we cannot refute them with logic while we can refute the intuitive knowledge with reason. Intuition is associative thought whose steps to a conclusion are not available to us for examination, while the steps that lead us to the answer ‘4’ when we multiply 2 x 2, are.

So in what way am I willing to admit intuition is a valuable tool in the box of cognitive utensils? I say it is in its manifestation as inspired thought. It is conceivable that someone like Einstein study Newtonian physics and finds exceptions to its rules that throw those rules into doubt. He then uses his ability to concentrate his powerful mind on the problem but finds no answer even after years of attempting it. Then, one night at 4 in the morning he wakes with the wild thought: “Though time be impalpable to our limited senses, it actually forms a fourth dimension in the space-time continuum” or: “Though space have no fabric it is curved by the gravitational effect of massive objects”

Just as Pythagoras is said to have run down the street wet and naked shouting “Eureka” at the inspired realisation that when the water sloshed over his bathtub’s edges upon sliding in, it was because his body displaced the liquid by the equivalent amount as the cubic measure immersed in it- the first time someone thought of a way to measure the volume of an amorphous object.

But if someone without Michelangelo’s experience were capable of the sudden inspired visualisation of the entire Sistine Chapel fresco designs* without the talents Michelangelo gathered by his experience, it would be as good as having had no inspiration at all because it would be impossible to execute or even explain.

Though Pythagoras’ intuitive realisation may have been faster than Einstein’s (Einstein worked for years and had to learn new mathematical systems in order to test, propose and prove his thoughts) but Pythagoras was also immersed in the very question of measuring the volume of amorphous objects when he got into his bath.

Intuition is only valuable if it is consequently submitted to examination and analysis, just as inspiration only has merit if the work necessary to realize it is undertaken.


* Pope Julius II by Rafaello Sanzio (whose frescos also decorate Vatican city)Much more than Michelangelo himself was able to do. The evolution is clear when one looks at the ceiling, the design becomes more laboured toward the centre as the, undoubtedly scary and apparently infinite, unpainted expanse before him diminished. He evidently became more drawn to the work for its own sake instead of the pay Pope Julius II offered.

The Apocalypse he came back to do behind the altar has a much more cohesive conception, though in terms of individual figures rather than general design he still decided as he went along and was perfectly capable of painting figures three times life size in under 8 hours (the drying time of the Intonaco, the layer of damp plaster he painted on with egg tempera) without any preliminary drawing (cartoon) at all.

Toward the end of the second commission when Cardinal Bianchi complained to the Pope that the nude designs would be more appropriate to a brothel than Chistiandom's most holy chapel, Michelangelo added a careful portrait of him directly above the door all the Church's highest dignitaries file through when they leave the hall; with his own genitals covered modestly by Hell's serpent who devours them.

When Bianchi again complained, but this time of his own representation, Julius told him: "Artistic license!" And surely, must have shrugged with an ironic smile. Return

Wednesday May 13th, 2009

I just added a visit counter exclusive to this Blog, separate from the rest of the Site, that surprised by making me realize just how many people read it! I have been working on longer fiction and haven't taken the writing time for anything new in these pages for more than a month but I am encouraged to make more effort for those of you who come back (I only wish more of you would write to me with your thoughts!)

I'll start this new, 8th page, of the 'Mental Workshop' with a fact I thought curious and I will add a new short story soon...

A Curious Fact (1150 words)

I was researching world demographics for something I am writing and found that any demographic you can think of has been studied, right down to the number of people by geographical location who comb their hair on the left or right! Although it wasn't what I was looking for I was naturally attracted, and distracted from my purpose, to spending some time looking at comparative religious densities and their histories.

I have never converted to a religion nor, for that matter, have I ever had a religion to convert away from. Despite having spent a great deal of time buoyed among the faithful in churches and temples of all kinds, I am often downright anti-religious. So I sometimes ask myself: why the fascination for theology? And I suppose the answer must have something to do with its being a history of Man's intuitive thought just as philosophy is of his logical, they are each respectively, metaphors for the emotional and intellectual sides of human nature.

I remember what that most charming of historians, Will Durant, said of religion's place in history though he himself was an atheist: (paraphrased from memory) "Religion rocks the cradle of civilization while philosophy carries its coffin to the grave"

I don't want to open a debate about moral relativism it is just that I have been feeling like the world atmosphere has been more open to atheism than at other times. I am referring here to theology, not the minority extremists of any faith or the wars in religion's name that are really about power, property, prosperity or, even more: penury.

B. Kliban

Although well over a fifth of the world's population believe in religions that differ little from early polytheistic animism, it seems to us of European descent, that religion shows a trend from being an answer to many questions with gods for any phenomenon that impressed, as well as the power of things, from mountains and trees to tornados, torments and torrents; from which one could defend himself with amulets, talismans and totems- evolved along a steady path to monotheism and the answers to only three important questions: Why am I here? How can I find a way to believe in my irrational and innate sense of immortality while ignoring the evidence, which surrounds me wherever I look, that death is permanent? And finally: How did all of it, and I, come to be here?

As shockingly recent as the 17th century Salem witch trials seem to Americans, it was a tiny, isolated and short-lived mass hysteria that took very few actual victims* compared to say, the Spanish Inquisition that was in many ways more powerful than any European kingdom well into the 19th century and their revel in the power to be cruel for the ambition to power, also exceeded most political states. Just as the Holy Roman Empire's did.

Yet there have been moments like the late 18th century where it was an open secret among the educated from Voltaire, to Tolstoy and Kant in the following century, who felt a moral obligation not to tell the lower classes there was no God because they would take away the consolation their irrational faith provided them, without being able to offer anything to replace it (like the education, fine houses and discretionary time they themselves had at their disposal to consider God's death in). In a sense they took on the rôle of martyrs to intellectualism, suffering the angst of existentialism alone, while acting on the same moral imperatives as the religions they discredited.

Within an atmosphere of media-fed religious hysteria, even in a clearly secular state such as the United States**, questions are raised by its highest leaders of constitutional representation for religion on the basis of majority beliefs. The President himself is prompted at his inauguration to repeat the words: "So help me God" after swearing diligent service in his post. There can be no question whatever that Obama considered whether or not to repeat Washington's improvised line before deciding not to volunteer it, but must have recognised in the moment and in front of billions of viewers, doing anything but allowing himself to be cowed into sheepishly repeating the words, would have caused world-wide scandal. But what if he had answered instead?: (regardless of his personal dogma) "I have given my word, it will have to do, with or without God's help"

The New Age phenomenon makes it easier to find people who will answer the question: "Do you believe in God?" with a 'no', but if you ask a few pointed questions you'll find nine out of ten of them have simply made the terminology more vague. In fact they believe in everything their parents did, but by erasing the rigid definitions they can allow themselves opinions without needing arguments to support them, a 'light' version of the same paradigm.

However: such phenomena as the best-sellers Hitchens, Dawkins and A.C. Grayling have written advancing atheism against all faith is unprecedented, just as is the extraordinary popularity of the book The Da Vinci Code based on its criticism of historical Christian thought. Or even the sensationalising into television entertainment of the gospels according to the Nag Hammadi papyri, contemporary to the evangels of the New Testament but of a different testimony; rather than fomenting outrage, scandal, distressing introspection or profound crises of faith it becomes an alternative to 'reality TV'.

The curious fact that engendered these thoughts was that of the fifty or so religious affiliations whose number of members were compared on a chart, I noticed that the percentage of atheists in the U.S. population increased by .09%, from .07% between 1990, to 1.6% in 2008 (1,186,000 to 3,606,000). About the same as the number of Episcopalians, more than the number of homosexuals or Jews***. Combine this with the biggest change in percentages over the same 18 years—a 5.8% decrease in mainline Christians accompanied by a 3.4% rise of non-denominational Christians—and I must ask myself: is the conversion rate a trend? A fad? A reaction to the difficulties of the times? Realism? Loss of hope? Science forcing us to face the facts?


* Including both the executed and those who died in prison, about thirty people. Return

* Even in a country as rich, modern and famed for clear-thinking philosophers as Austria, they tax 10% of all wages for the Catholic Church. One is allowed exemption only with a paper signed by a church representative saying you are excommunicated- and before he does he will warn you that you will spend eternity suffering the tortures of the damned for the decision. Return

** I cross-referenced these statistics and found that claims varied but were close enough to each other to be credible. Return

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