Sunday, April 26, 2009

Searching for Meaning

Over the last week or so, it seems as if a lot of material has come my way that really challenges and examines the way things are. Like asking and answering the big questions in life.

There was a family celebration on Saturday and of course when there's a few of us together the conversation inevitably turns to politics and the state of the world address...aka D'Souza Parliament. We covered economics, politics, the developing world and all that.

Of course, everyone has an opinion, and we're all good at expressing it. The way the conversation twists and turns with cheekiness and wind-ups; listening and not listening; altering viewpoints and standing one's ground - the whole thing - makes for an interesting hour or two.

One of the questions that I've thought about since I started studying Economics (what a wonderful subject!) is about how stuff gets shared around. That's basically what Economics is about. At the core of it all is the principle of scarcity: the idea that there's not enough of anything so we have to make choices about how we allocate our time/ money etc.

So as I've got older, I've come across so many ideas, philosophies, political standpoints and religions that it just seems overwhelming. Everyone seems to be in a big fight to prove the 'truth'.

But I'm still left with a question. My question. Well I think it's my question. It doesn't have an easy answer...and when I posed it during D'Souza parliament, everyone's version of the truth made itself heard (including mine).

So my question is this. There are enough resources to ensure everyone on the planet is taken care of. There exists the technology to get all these resources to everyone who needs them. So how come people are dying unnecessarily all over the world?

To put it more simply: there's enough food for everyone, but how come there are people dying of starvation?

Now I know there's no easy answer to that question, and that everyone's particular viewpoint is going to have something to say about it, but it's something that makes me think about humanity.

I don't think I'm the only one who thinks about these things, but I get the distinct feeling that people who do are in the minority. I mean I don't think about these things purely for the sake of a philosophical exercise (i.e. pointless navel-gazing) but much more from how it affects me in my life. Especially given current circumstances.

First bit of material: I watched an internet film called Zeitgeist last week. It's a very interesting, informative film that challenges our current paradigm. It actually challenges the fundamental economic idea of scarcity. (See Economics is wonderful!)

And was slow off the mark on this one. I just can't believe only one person I know told me about it! There's four-hours worth of stuff on there!

Second bit of material: I also watched a dvd (again at the encouragement of someone) of Michael Moore's film SiCKO - all about the US health service. Interesting - the NHS comes out well. At one point in the film, Michael Moore has a very insightful conversation with Tony Benn. I found it interesting learning about how the NHS was created in the aftermath of World War 2 - to benefit everyone at all levels in society.

It's even more interesting that someone I know who's a strong advocate of the capitalist system works for a socialist-based institution like the NHS. From each according to his ability to each according to his need is a tenet of the NHS. Now where have I heard that before? Oh yeah it was popularised by someone called Karl Marx.

Third bit of material: Evil Empire/ Nightwatchman. Now people that know me, know that I love my heavy music. What some of those people don't know is my love of old-school hip-hop. In fact, before I picked up a guitar it was hip-hop that I was listening to along with the pop music of the day. I think I've always had a fascination with the beat.

So when I first heard Rage Against the Machine, I was an immature 16-year-old who had barely picked up a guitar. Their sound and ideas completely passed me by. It was only later that I understood their genius, their politics, their anger.

Anger is a gift right?

The Nightwatchman is the wildly inventive guitarist from RATM doing his own thing - including singing. His material most closely matches the kind of songs I'd like to write: me, a philosophical/ political idea, and an acoustic guitar. A bit like folk music really.

I'm also really slow off the mark on this one too.

What the fuck have I been doing?

Anyway, on the inside cover of the RATM album Evil Empire, there's a picture of a load of books - it is in effect a reading list presented in an artistic way. The books outline the band's ideals, but also like their music - provides an call to arms: musically and intellectually. I guess RATM and SOAD just took what Bob started and shoved a rocket up its arse...

Fourth bit of material: a Louise Hay book. So I'm sure I've mentioned her books before...they frequently get written off as new age nonsense by most people, but I happened to flick through it and look at some stuff that proved to be illuminating. It flat out states that scarcity is a myth...and that the universe provides everything we need in abundance.

Riiight. Not too much of a shift to my paradigm...

So these media: the internet, film, music, and books have presented me with material that supports my quest(ioning). It supports my way of thinking. It supports my attempt to make sense of what's going on around me, at a time when the circumstances are challenging.

Some people say when the student is ready the teacher appears.

Other people say there's no such thing as coincidence.

Yet more people say God is always talking, but no-one's listening.

Perhaps the Force is telling me something...

Friday, April 17, 2009

One Hundred Push Ups-Update 4

Hah - it's only been nearly four months since my last update...

I still haven't broken the elusive 100 press-ups mark yet. I was repeating week 4...I'm now repeating week 5. I've got close to completing the last day, but not quite. Something seems to get in the way of my progress: I get ill; a ski trip; I don't eat well...some excuse for not maintaining a regular regime.

I'm not going to give up though!

Also - a friend of mine mentioned that I should think about doing crunches as well as sit-ups to maintain and improve my core. I might have toned legs, more toned arms and shoulders, but my love handles (albeit much smaller than they were) aren't going anywhere.

The Force is clearly with me, because a complementary workout appeared on the One-Hundred Push-Ups website...called Two-Hundred Sit-Ups!

Sigh...perhaps I've become an obsessive as someone close to me has said. Or perhaps after my weight-loss I just want to become 'hench' as one of my colleagues has said.

I don't think it is...maybe part of me is a little worried about going back to what I was...but I think it's more that I'd like to be able to keep doing everyday things things like: be fit enough to play a football match against the school leavers; touch my toes; dance for hours and not feel like shit the next day or be able to run up the escalators at Waterloo and not die of exhaustion at the top...

I've kept a list of the little stupid things I want to be able to do. It did all start with wanting to be able to touch my toes...and it's progressed from there to being able to do the one-legged squat on both sides (I proudly demonstrated this on the school ski-trip in front of all the boys).

My current little things are:
- being able to do 100 consecutive press-ups
- doing 200 consecutive crunches
- doing the dance move where I hold my left foot in my right hand, and jump through with my right leg...how cool would that be? Especially as I have ridiculously short legs...
- standing on my head (remember my dad doing this when I was younger - I reckon he still can)

Maybe all of these things will come together in being able to breakdance properly...but I'm not sure.

So as I said - with the press-ups I'm still languishing with week 5 of 6 as I have been for months now.

But - there is a silver lining. I made quick progress on the two-hundred crunches...and managed my first two-hundred yesterday morning. The creator of the site is going to add my name to the list...

It's the journey not the arrival right?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

25 Things About Me

So this is from a ubiquitous social networking site...25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about me. I was originally 'tagged' in someone's 'note'...which means I'm supposed to respond with my 25 things.

Yay Group Hug Everyone!

Here are mine.

1. I have been truly in love only once in my life.

2. I had a gay childhood. No seriously, I was actually always really happy.

3. I love Star Trek. Captain James T. Kirk is my biggest idol (apart from God of course). Gene Roddenberry is a genius (apart from God of course).

4. I listen to all types of music (except Country).

5. One of my dreams is to make a million before I'm 50. Like Gordon Gekko said "Greed, for lack of a better word is good".

6. I think global warming and climate change are lies. The Earth has been experiencing temperature changes and correcting itself for years.

7. My favourite drink is a Skinny Starbucks Hot Chocolate with Extra Whipped Cream and Chocolate Sprinkles.

8. I have the same birth date as Sean William Scott (you know - Stifler!)

8. My first childhood crush was Tiffany "I think we're alone now" Darwish

9. I used to love playing Warhammer. For hours. Now it's graduated to World of Warcraft.

10. I hate being thought of as a geek. I think it first happened when I was at primary school. I don't think I've got over it...but I will.

11. I say my prayers every night before bed.

12. I absolutely can't stand the taste and texture of cooked liver. Yuck.

13. I eat jelly babies by tearing them limb from limb and eating their heads last.

14. I think all anarchists should be shot. Don't they have anything better to do than cause trouble? We're living in an unstable enough world as it is without them going around wasting tax-payers money. It's because of the taxes I pay that they even have a life. They should be grateful.

15. I'm in favour of capital punishment.

16. Actually while we're at it, I'm in favour of corporal punishment too. Part of the problem in British schools is that we're too soft on the kids. All the social problems we have with children and teenagers would stop if corporal punishment was allowed in school. Kids have no respect - they need to be taught it.

17. If you asked me to tell you one of my favorite films, I would have a hard time not saying Titanic.

18. I have a really hairy lower-back that needs regular waxing/ shaving.

19. I had an operation to correct my flat-feet when I was about six-years old. It's meant my posture's improved, but I've ended up with occasional nagging knee pains.

20. I absolutely hate public speaking (being a teacher's easy because they're younger and I'm in charge). I always get really nervous and feel like I'm about to piss myself. At my wedding whilst giving my speech, a little bit came out...

21. I became a teacher because I was bored in my previous career.

22. When I was young I used to eat Lypsyl...I'm ashamed to say I still occasionally lick the end of my strawberry flavoured one (it's always handy!)

23. I own way too many pairs of shoes! I have one for every situation. Currently I have around 30 pairs of assorted trainers, smart shoes, DMs, running shoes etc.

25. I have a raw fear of snakes. I think it's a phobia.

If you made it down to here, thanks for reading. Hopefully there were a few, but not too many surprises on my 25 Things About Me.

Drop me a comment.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Flash-Back, Flash-Forward: 2009

Some things just take ages. Other times circumstances interfere because I let them.

"I don't want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me." - Frank Costello

Interesting character that guy. He's echoing the sentiment of George Bernard Shaw...one Irishman quoting another I guess.

I've let my circumstances interfere with my thought process long enough. Perhaps I like it that way. I'm living in a world where I'm always playing catch up: school work; marking; writing; guitar; contacting friends (or not); doing things I'm supposed to do for family; not doing things I'm supposed to do for family...blah blah blah.

Doing the right thing I suppose encapsulates what I'm talking about.

Choosing the right thing can be difficult enough - and that's the real skill. Knowing what the right thing is, and sifting through all the shit that generally passes for everyday life and contact.

Tough one.

Flash-Back - January 2008. I wrote a bunch of stuff on my blog reflecting on 2007, and what I wanted to get up to in 2008. It's here ---------> x - makes some interesting reading. I suppose I have to say 2008 was a good year. I wrote about that too.

It's taken me until April to get clear about 2009. That's because there's been some shit going down. Actually, I figured it out earlier, but just never got round to writing a blog post. Life got in the way...someone else said "Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans."

Aha - so that's what happening to me! I'm busy making other plans and life is what's fucking happening. Am I in the stand or on the pitch playing the game? I suppose if I'm in the game I at least have the opportunity to fuck things up. There's a pupil I teach who doesn't really want to attempt doing anything, so he never has to deal with failure.

He's got a fucking point.

Perhaps.

Flash-Forward: 2009. The year the Credit-Crunch Bit. The year my interest in macroeconomics moves from theory to reality. The year I take another step closer to my mid-thirties (crisis).

Against this background of gloom, doom, cynicism and hate. I've got three themes for 2009. (One of them is being severely challenged...but hey as it says on my CV- so it must be true - I welcome a challenge).

1) Comfortable in the kitchen
After learning that what I put into my body has a great effect on me...and my wife getting a copy of a Jamie Oliver book (and me taking a look at it)...I chose to think a bit more about my abilities in the kitchen.

I mean I can follow a recipe, but I'm not quite comfortable in the kitchen. There's a chance for me to actually cook some stuff and perhaps create my own ideas...something at this moment in time which would be unthinkable.

To be fair - some progress has been made. We've had people over and cooked for them. There's something quite nice about working together in the kitchen - perhaps it brings us together - the process of putting together a meal and entertaining. The feedback has been more than polite - it's actually been positive - which has been really encouraging. (She's definitely become more confident and made progress in 2009...I'm yet to match her).

It's also a great reason to actually have some people over to our flat...after practically ignoring everyone in 2008.

Something to look forward to through 2009.

2) The Year of the House
So yeah - perhaps we're moving into an economic depression. (There's a formal definition for it floating around the economic-blog-news-world - I just can't remember what it is. I know that a recession is three consecutive quarters of negative economic growth. Negative economic growth? What the fuck is that phrase? Some half-arsed way of saying things are getting shitty? You gotta love economists...complicating things up and disagreeing for the sake of it...there's some theoretical grounding for it...unravelling it is almost impossible...but I digress). That could mean house prices falling, money getting harder to borrow (despite interest rates being at 0.5%) and getting harder to sell property etc.

Or it could mean the perfect time to buy. (When the fuck is the 'right' time for anything anyway? Oops separate conversation for another time).

Either way - laying the foundations for a family would be appropriate - so having a house with three bedrooms is the way forward.

Not sure how it's going to happen in 2009, but we'll see...as we move to number three...

3) Trusting the Process of Life
Now this idea is the biggie. It pretty much brings together everything I've been writing so far. It's going to take something. Now funnily enough, I thought of these three ideas (including number three) a while ago. I wrote them in green pen on a clear writing board we have in our bedroom.

Life being the wonderful thing that it is, has immediately presented me with an opportunity to demonstrate number three in action.

In other words a huge fucking pain in the arse nightmare.

Am I product of my environment or is my environment a product of me?

Those of you who are close to me will know what I'm talking about. It's affected everything. (And before you even start thinking it - no I'm not going to be a dad just yet). It's coloured everything I think about a darker shade of black.

It's seriously challenging my assumptions about how life works.

Which is fucking horrible, and at the same time wonderful. All that philosophical stuff I've read; all the things I've done to develop myself; all the spiritual bullshit I've chatted - it's all being called upon everyday at the moment.

I can't always see the reason for why things happen to me, or why I make the choices I make. I'm not living in an episode of Lost with convenient flash-backs and flash-forwards...life is messy, complicated, and at times fucking horrible.

Sometimes I'm up to it. Sometimes I'm not.

But trusting the process of life is akin to using the Force (yes alright I had to get Star Wars into it somewhere for fuck's sake). Trusting God. Listening to Buddha. Walking through Dharma. Following the Tao. Whatever you call it.

I'm right in the middle of it figuring it out, failing, succeeding whatever. And it takes a lot to trust in the process of life.

Now I don't mean just sitting here waiting for things to happen. I'm talking about Obi-Wan expressing contempt for Han Solo's idea when he says "in my experience there's no such thing as luck".

It's also a bit more than when people say "oh, I believe everything happens for a reason"...that's almost like abdicating responsibility for my life if I'm not careful (of course the context of that all depends).

This starts to get all spiritual and esoteric, but basically what I'm talking about is being responsible for what I say, do, and as a result have. (Go and read Conversations with God for a fuller understanding...but Star Wars is the best way I can use to explain it)

Am I perfect? No. Do I struggle? Yes. Am I on the pitch playing the game? I like to think so.

Life is here for the creation and at some level I created my environment and my circumstances.

I'm left with Frank Costello's sentiment everyday: do I want to be a product of my environment? Or do I want my environment to be a product of me?