Tuesday, March 11, 2014

You Better You Bet

This one is due to Marcus de Sautoy but it came up last night again.

It's the ultimate insult to a mathematician, the one that makes you reach for your gun.
Don't say "it's not rigorous".

If you say "It's not elegant" then we can argue or we can admit "yeah it's not really, maybe we can find a neater way". (Or just "heigh-ho".)

If you say "It's not clear" then we reply "your problem, not mine". (When a mathematician says "clearly .." they mean "think about it a bit and you'll see". When it's clear they say "trivially".)

If you say "It's not useful", we say "so what, who cares?"

If you say "It's not true" then we say "That's life and the universe, deal with it".

If you say "It's not rigorous" then you better be able to back up that statement, you bet. Or we are gonna fall out.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014


I had a random thought the other day, from a context which is not important..

Do vegetarians eats insects?

It would be interesting to know their views on it.

Thursday, February 06, 2014


Once upon a time, there was a magical kingdom with a beautiful princess.

Princess Grace woke up to a brand new day. The sun was shining and the birds were singing. Her beautiful golden hair which never needed brushing cascaded over the wonderful soft bedlinen and all was right with the world. She looked forward to the adventure that today would bring. Every day brought a new exciting adventure which completely filled her day with a joy that was almost overwhelming and every night she went sleepily to her beautiful bedroom with its soft comfortable bed and she went instantly to sleep to dream of the next wonderful day.

Truly life was wonderful. What a lucky girl she was.

Some of her friends asked why she was so lucky, but she didn't know. But it didn't bother her. She just looked forward to the next exciting adventure. Would it be a meeting with a prince? A magic carpet ride? A royal ball? So long as it was lovely she didn't mind. Every day should be like this.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Fun, Fun, Fun (?)

I watched my recording of Anne Widdecombe’s documentary about Christianity and comedy, shown in the week leading up to Easter.

She warned us at the start that “some Christians may find this film difficult”. Well it does have Anne Widdecombe in it. Still I stuck with it, as she suggested. Her aim was “to find out what is happening, and why is it so funny to say Christians are stupid.” A laudable aim, slightly diminished by the fact that she didn’t actually show any clips in which people said that Christians are stupid. (There were some which pointed some out some absurdities and difficulties in the stories in the Old Testament, admittedly. Oh, and there was a clip of Frankie Boyle saying that it “was absurd to say that Jesus was married, when everyone knows he rose from the dead and flew up to heaven” but he didn’t say anything about the intelligence of believers. )  

Other questions asked at start “Is Christianity more subject to ridicule than other faiths?” “Is what I regard as most sacred now merely fodder for a cheap gag?” (Answers on a postcard?). I think we can see from the outset what direction the argument is likely to go.

Still, you don’t necessarily expect Anne Widdecombe to be able to look at an argument objectively and take on other people’s points of view. This is after all the woman who, when presenting a programme in the history of Christianity series about the writing of the Bible, said that she didn’t care what all the scholars said, she was going to stick to what she wanted to believe, and a few facts weren’t going to get in her way in that regard. We needed to take this into account continually in what followed.

Anyway, on to the content of this programme. “Jokes about Christianity are everywhere you look.” I think she is looking in different places to me. I always didn’t quite follow her leap of logic from Christianity being an allowable subject for comedy but taboo in politics, to the assertion that “it is OK to talk about Christianity so long as you don’t take it too seriously.” Still, maybe the steps between these assertions can be filled in. We’ll allow that as acceptable hyperbole.

But before we got on to jokes about Christianity, we had a clip of her in panto. I suppose jokes about ugly sisters are de rigeur and not strictly offensive, but I do think that her action of making gratuitous, offensive and hurtful (and unfunny) “jokes” about the Liberal Democrats might be more carefully considered if she’s going to claim she’s offended by other people’s jokes about something important to her. Maybe it’s a matter of perspective.

Marcus Brigstocke explained calmly why comedy made a point and how it gave him an outlet to express his views on a religion which he found “horrible”, when it condemned friends of his and prevented women from “achieving their position in society”. He also explained coherently why he might mock prayer, when Anne asked. He would also potentially mock Jesus; Marcus is a political writer, and Jesus was a political figure. Anne listened carefully to him and gave him no reply.  She explained in voice-over that Jesus was not a political figure, but was “special” – “too big to be mocked”.

Then there was a clip in which she watched, and we saw a bit of, an excerpt from “Goodness Gracious Me”, season 3, which, apparently due to protests from Christians, has earned a lifetime ban – she had to get special permission to watch it. She was “wounded” by this clip. The writer, Anil Gupta, explained carefully and patiently to her that the sequence was not a joke about Christianity, but about British Asians not understanding English ways and English religious practices, specifically communion. (The whole series was always about Asians trying to be more English and failing miserably, and covered a host of other topics. The Church of England, being quintessentially English, naturally was covered in this idea.) And the clip, if you watched it, did show exactly that. There was no comedy aimed at the sacred act, it was all about character. The satirist Marcus Brigstocke discussed it with her and he was gracious enough to consider her woundedness and reflect when she explained she was “bereaved”, although he did ask how long the bereavement lasted. (I thought Jesus was alive, but that’s just me, I suppose.)

If only Anne could show the same respect to Anil Gupta as Marcus did to her.

I am outraged. This programme which I didn’t see at the time had been forbidden to me – by whom? I may say that to me it was not offensive, was funny, and was in keeping with the series tone. In fact it was very clever.

I’ll skip quickly through the rest. Anne watched Life of Brian, which was considered by many to be outrageous at the time. She found it silly, childish and pointless. I agree with the first two, mostly. She wasn’t offended. She didn’t seem to consider that if something widely condemned and banned at the time can now be seen widely as being funny and making pertinent comments (George Carey said he found it very funny) and quite acceptable, then maybe Christians in the past have over-reacted – and that maybe some still do? There’s a reference about beams in eyes that comes to mind. Steve Punt made the incisive comment when he said that to understand eg the cheesemaker joke you needed to know the actual content of the Sermon on the Mount. Thus it is a joke for Christians, not about them.

Steve Punt also made the comment, on discussing the content of the Bible, that if Christianity and comedy are sometimes opposed, then in his opinion it was a fair fight due to the profile of “aggressive American creationists”. Some clips of Americans seemed to support his view. Punt also explained why he wrote comedy about Christianity and not Islam. His words were “I’m not entitled to, I don’t know enough about Islam”. This did seem to contradict Anne’s view that wider society has lost its Christian base knowledge.

Anne did find some religious comedy by Anil Gupta funny, notably the sequence about praying, from Citizen Khan. It seemed to me she was on very thin ice but I suppose it was being funny about Muslims so it was all right. I thought praying to Mecca was a sacred act, mind. Perhaps I’m wrong there. Maybe it was about character; some Muslims being stupid?

She was also amused by a 13th century beautifully illuminated copy of the Book of Psalms, which contained at the bottom of some of pages, cartoons added by the monks that were frankly filthy and disgusting. If there was any humour that offended me, it was this addition by Christians to copies of holy works. I guess you had to be there.

Anne found one or two Christians to agree with her position on comedy, and only George Carey to disagree. Many people had turned down her invitation to appear. Well it would mean meeting Anne, to be fair.

Interestingly she did not summarise the problem with any conclusions. It finished with Marcus sharing his favourite religious joke with her. She seemed to find it amusing.



Thursday, January 24, 2013

Silence is Golden

Except it isn't available.

Used to be that libraries were quiet places. A respite to ponder, read, browse in peace.

My local library is more like Piccadilly Circus. Two assistants were having a conversation while sorting out the shelves. So all right, it's good to be sociable with your workmates and it must be difficult sometimes to be completely quiet all day. But there are lunch-breaks .... it's not as if they were talking about what they were doing. I went and stood by them to embarrass them into keeping schtum but it didn't seem to work for long.

The customers are no better. Seems like the library is a place to meet your mates for a conversation. Why not go to the coffee shop?

And when the assistants are helping customers, it would be good if the customers went up to the desk, particularly if they're a bit deaf, so that the conversation could be quiet? Rather than standing a few yards away, as they were doing? Mind you even when the young mum went right up to the counter the librarian wasn't so quiet.

We don't have to librarians in glasses glaring and shh-ing at the slightest squeak. But a bit of an effort?

Buy a few signs, Tameside.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Deck Of Cards - New Version

A bunch of students were heading on a long hike and came to a town called Bala, where they decided to rest. That evening being Wednesday, some of the students went to therapy. Those who had manuals took them out and began to discuss their life-scripts, but one student had only a deck of cards and began to lay them out. The therapist saw this and, having issues with being perfect, was cross, and said “Put away those cards and come and see me in the morning” and threw the student out of the group.

When the student returned in the morning, the therapist and his supervisor were there. “Why have you brought this student here?” said the supervisor.

“For playing cards in therapy”, said the therapist.

“I hope you have a good explanation” said the supervisor.

“I do”, said the student. “It’s like this …” and he began:

‘I have been on a long trip and during that time I have had neither my training manual, my copy of TA Theory, nor my notes from Eric Berne’s lecture series. But I have had a deck of cards which has helped me to get through the difficult times.

When I see the Ace, I remember that I’m OK. I knew that anyway.

When I see the two, I remember that every transaction takes place between two people and that there are two roles in counselling, therapist and client, and I know which one I want to be.

When I see the three, I remember the three ego-states, Parent, Adult and Child. And all the sub-states which are quite a lot more. I like the Little Professor most.

When I see the four, I think of the four life-positions in the OK Corral.

When I see the five, I think of the five drivers “be strong”, “try hard”, “please me”, “hurry up”, and “be perfect”. and the five schools of TA. Except that there are now six drivers.

When I see the six, I think of the six patterns of personality adoption identified by Stewart and Joines and the six types of social behaviour – withdrawal, ritual, activity, pastime, games, and intimacy.

When I see the seven, I remember the seven elements that make up a script and the age up to which parents give us general injunctions.

When I see the eight, I think of the eight therapeutic techniques; four are interventions and four are interpositions.

When I see the nine, I think of the nine types of complementary transaction. And some have ulterior ones.

When I see the ten, I think of the ten modes in the OK Modes Model, four effective and six ineffective. (Nancy Porter)

When I see the Jack, or Knave, I remember that I am a prince but I have been turned into a frog.

When I see the Queen, I think of my mother who as controlling parent did this by teaching me the five restrictive rules of stroking.

When I see the King, I think of Eric Berne, who developed his own theory of therapy when his application to the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute was turned down, and I wonder what his drivers were.

There are 52 cards in a deck, the number of countries which had TA Associations in 1992, so it must be true.

There are 12 picture cards, the number of script injunctions.

There are 4 suits, the number of categories of goals.

There are 13 cards in a suit, the number of people in a group session, counting the therapist.

If I add up the spots on the cards, I get 365, the number of hours it would take to learn all the theory of TA, and nearly as many as the number of games.

So you see my deck of cards is as useful for therapy and counselling as all the TA Journals and text-books put together.’

And the therapist now had enough stamps for a racket so threw him out, so the student with his awareness of himself and of phoniness went on to be a successful gestalt therapist.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Travellin' Man

Well I have to say that's really good advice, I'd never have thought of that. In fact I kinda thought that it wouldn't matter if I was, ooh say a couple of hours late for an event, they'd wait for me to get there. Or at least re-run it. Doesn't everywhere else do that? Football matches wait until everyone arrives, plays don't start until everyone's ready. The Olympics will do the same. Apparently they won't though.

But now I have to plan my journey as well? Simply wandering around hoping to find it won't do?

I don't think I'll bother with the Olympics sounds like too much trouble.

Oh wait, I wasn't going to bother anyway. Maybe they'll think of a sign for the M60 that actually says something useful to me? No, I didn't think so.