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Monday 31 March 2014

Mystical Mondays: Idries Shah, Sufi philosopher

Idries Shah
A Brief Biography

Idries Shah was a teacher in the Sufi tradition and a prolific author with over three dozen books on various topics published. Shah was born in Simla, India, in 1924 the descendant of Afghan nobility. He spent most of his life in London, but traveled extensively and his parents exposed him to a wide variety of cultures during his childhood to show him a "multiplicity of impacts." Shah later described this unconventional childhood as the "Sufi approach" to education. In 1960 he started his own publishing house, Octagon press, and in 1965 started an educational charity, the Institute for Cultural research. As of 2013 the institute has suspended its activities following the formation of a new charity, the Idries Shah Foundation. Shah died, in London, in 1996.

His Works, My Discovery

I discovered the work of Shah last year while we were moving stock on the third floor in preparation for the refurbishment. Since then I've been reading his book 'Knowing How To Know' which is described as a practical philosophy in the Sufi tradition. I appreciate the honest practical writing of Shah and will share some of the more inspiring aphorisms from that book. However, I would recommend anyone interested in mysticism, practical philosophy, or especially Sufism to seek out his works. The book was published posthumously in 1998 (the edition I have) and in paperback in 2000. It represents the completion of a series of Shah's books that, the study of which, form a course he had developed during his life.

Some selections from Knowing How To Know (1998)

Are Men Machines?

People do not like being called machines. And yet most people are not even machines in lacking faculties for evaluating the qualitative nature of experience. Instead of being able to perceive the spectrum of influences in a single experience, they feel it transcendental if it moves them. Unlike a machine, too, the human being has no switching gear to turn experience on and off. And man has no means of engendering experience except by the most hazardous trial-and-error ones such as throwing himself into random situations or ingesting drugs.
One of the purposes of a real esoteric training is first to acquire lower control, control such as a machine might have, before higher controls can be attained.


You ask me why I criticise only one side, when I could be pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of both.
By doing so, you ignore the fact that nobody nowadays needs to write a book criticising, say, the plague virus.
Equally, when antibiotics are so well known, you merely record their efficacy or otherwise: You do not have to rhapsodise about them when this has already been done.
One must know the difference between constructive description and sheer wallowing in words.
In order to know this, one must have a basis of knowledge as to how words are used, and what is didactic and what is not.
Otherwise, you will merely be at the mercy of the conditioning power of words and personalities.

Cause and Effect

Every person must learn to ask himself:
'Am I attributing this or that thing, this appearance or that effect, to some cause or origin which may not be its cause?'
All cultures teach their people to do this in certain subjects and in a few areas. But the net result of this has been for people to do it in as few, not as many, instances as possible.

Selection from p. 81

"There is nobody more trivial than a person in authority who spends his time telling others what to do and who does not do things himself."


How sad that people dignify their activities too much.
They use fine words to describe processes which, if only looked at in the face, would enable them to acquire some humility.
People often have to 'burn off' surplus evaporating volatile substances.
But this is still regarded as significant, because self-esteem is so powerful that a man has to conceal his absurdity and even his normal needs by using bombast.
People do not like to be described as machines. It is true that only a man - not a machine or even an ape - could go so far as to describe the processes of physics and chemistry, even electronics, in lyrical, pejorative and hallowed terms.

Every Feeling is Qualitative

If you feel love, joy, excitement, interest, focused attention, confusion, disinterest, as the result of sitting down on a pin or hearing bird sing - these and other feelings all contain some negative functions, some self-indulgent ones, and some constructive ones.
This information is the result of higher knowledge, panoramic vision, call it what you will.
You will never reach a higher aim by means of increasing the volume of feelings without any training for perception of the spectrum within feelings.
Only by the last manner of working will you isolate 'worship', 'understanding', 'love', from dross.

More, HERE.

Haunted by Christmas Carols: The Holly and the Ivy

Why? WHY? It's almost April, why do I have a Christmas carol ear-worm? WHYYYYY?

Can't. Stop. Singing.

This carol has been running around my head non-stop for the last three hours.

Make it stop!

Terrible Films I Love: changing the rules

Originally, I'd planned to write all six of my Terrible Films I Love reviews one after the other and then perhaps move on to other things. However, obviously, that never happened, I wrote the first review (for The Room) nearly a year ago now and although I've seen all the films mentioned on that list, some were so long ago now that it seems daft to try and keep myself in that strict regime.

So, I'm going to break out of my set order and write about the best good-bad films that I see, when I see them. Here are a few films that deserve to be reviewed that I've either seen recently or plan to watch (again).

One of the worst
This is an incredible psychedelic Japanese horror

Not sure I could bare this again, but it is really bad

Ah Nicolas Cage, possibly his best/worst is The Vampire's Kiss...

But then this film is pretty awful too

A film so dumb you lose IQ points watching it, MONSTER TRUCKS!

Forget Christopher Nolan, THIS is the definitive Batman

Lazy AND pretentious, for a film so derivative it hurts
Lead actor/writer/director not credited. Good idea, he's terrible
You had me at Mechano-Whores

Is it a joke? Is it? Because NOTHING is Happening

Friday 28 March 2014

Library Tales: Dedications V

To Ronald and Jennifer,
my son and daughter,
cited in order of age,
not any discrimination of sex.

For Julie,
who makes the sun shine,
and for
Rhian and Patricia,
who do the same for my sons.
[despite being amused by son/suns, it's also an extraordinarily sapping dedication 
for a book about System Dynamic Modelling]

"If we investigate our ideas, we have
to be willing to give them up."
                                           Gordon Hewitt, PhD

In all the world, few indeed are those who have a clear 
insight into both mathematical analysis and how it does, 
and does not, fit physical phenomena.
[Wind Turbine Engineering Design by David M. Eggleston]

To the memory of Jubalani Nobleman Nxumalo 
('Comrade Mzala') who would have liked bits 
of this book but disapproved of others

[Not a dedication but worth a mention. Hand-written under the main title on the inside cover of The Rootes Brothers]
This book is full of mistakes

This book is dedicated to all the middle-class
workers who toil every day in manufacturing.
[But NOT the working-class. F*ck those guys]

This book is dedicated to my wife, without whom it could not have been
written. The dedication poem below is written in a mixture of Buchan
Claik (Buchan dialect) and Lallans (Lowland Scots), as befits a marriage
between a husband from Edinburgh, but of Glaswegian ubringing, and
a wife from Aberdeen. In Buchan Claik loons (m) and quines (f) are
marriageable young people.

My Bucksburn Quine

O Mary, it's lang syne we click'd,
While touching over teacups,
I tak't ye fae a jilted loon,
Sair sick doon in his stommick.

My Bucksburn quine had black dark hair,
That spark'd a'twixt the bed sheets,
Glintin' the way tae lovers rites,
That spritely gint the hert leap.

The potter's clay from high she thumps,
Upon the caring plaster,
Wi' micht an main, tae get it richt,
Tae form, and fire, and gloster.

My Buchan quine, ma ain guidwife,
In the game o'life, a winner,
O'er wrongs and rights, and deil made plights,
That yowt the heid's wee spinner.
A doughty fechter in the fight,
Wi' posture, and good balance,
An' shak', will she, the hand o' God,
When life's brief flash is darkened.

Our bairns, and bairns's bairns are fair,
A trace we'll leave behind us,
Meantime the bonds o'blood is there,
That joins and keeps and twines us.

A fortun'd, fair starred man am I,
Health's, wealth beyond conception,
And love thy neighbour as they self,
Preculdes the deil's pre-emption.
[Fuel Cells, Engines and Hydrogen by Frederick J. Barclay]

Saturday 22 March 2014

Terrible Films I Love, Volume III : Street Fighter

I've fallen WAY behind in my terrible film reviewing recently, but not long ago I saw two more from the list.

Before I continue however, here's a bit of a recap for those joining late or with fading memories (like me):

Introduction and definition of 'Terrible Films I Love'

Volume I: The Room

Volume II: Dungeons & Dragons

& Before the film review, what was Street Fighter anyway?

Street Fighter II : The Game

When I was growing up Street Fighter 2 was my favourite computer game, more so than Mario Brothers, Sonic, Zelda, Doom, or any other iconic 90s computer game franchise that I played.

Before I was gifted a SNES for my birthday from my loving parents, the sole reason for getting one was so that I could play Street Fighter 2, I'd travel to the arcades at least once a week to play. Now this anecdote might lend the false belief that I was an accomplished gameplayer, or perhaps even a grand master undefeated in over 1000 games, but actually due to the fact that I'd have to try an hold a 50p all week and that 50p only got you three games. I wasn't really that expert, but that's not the point. The point is, I was pretty obsessed about the game and by the time I got the SNES I was quite willing to devote far more hours than was healthy to playing the game. Anyway, enough of the misspent youth story...

The game is fairly simple with no real storyline and the basic premise is so (ironically) two-dimensional that you'd have thought it impossible to turn into a film with a coherent story (you'd be right) but then that was all before it made in $1.5 billion revenue in arcade cabinet sales worldwide (indeed, only Pacman and Space Invaders have made more money). Now, that's good enough reason to make a film!

The initial player select screen from Street Fighter 2
The gameplay is: you pick one of eight characters and fight eleven other street fighters (the seven other pickable characters and four computer controlled 'bosses')  in a 'best of three rounds' fighting competition to determine who is the 'World Warrior'. Each character has their own fighting style and special moves (except Ken and Ryu who are basically the same), which further individualises them, well, that and the sometimes outrageous cultural stereotyping. The format of special moves via certain controller movements and button presses was, as a computer game, revolutionary and set the stall for dozens of similar games (the most well-known of which is probably Mortal Kombat). The only changes really came about with improving technology, better 3D graphics, otherwise it was just more complex maneuvers and more characters.

Any personal storyline is only made clear once you've beaten the final boss and are rewarded with a short animated sequence. Some of which were hilarious, f.e. Zangief's involved Gorbachev being flown in via helicopter to congratulate him and then joining in with some Cossack dancing. Again, very basic stuff and although later games spun-out the storylines, there wasn't really anything very deep about any of the characters, but they were loved by players of the game. And most importantly it made a shed-load of money!

Street Fighter : The Movie

First point: I broke my own rule. No one should watch alone. This was a mistake.

I hadn't seen the film for quite a while and I'd thought I'd refresh my memory before writing this. Also, as it was short notice, no one was about and I wasn't in the mood to wait.

Watching the film I wondered had the writer (who is also the director, always a good sign for a terrible film) Steven E. de Souza even seen the game? However, that couldn't be the case as they include some fairly niche character points. So, why include some and blatantly ignore or rewrite other characters? It is because you know best, eh Steve? Well, quite frankly, you don't.

Rather than detail ALL the character problems and differences/outrageous changes from the game-world (always a difficulty itself with Terrible Films) I'll list a few of the major ones that change the entire basis of the game to film dynamic, such that one hardly resembles the other at all.

1. Main Character(s)
In the Street Fighter series the main character is always Ryu (and Ken). Now, this makes sense for a number of reasons the most obvious of which is that it's a Japanese game, he's Japanese, and fulfills the standard Japanese silent hero role. Also he has Ken as his friend/double/comic relief, the main reason for Ken was that there would now be two basic characters, as in the game's early development the same character couldn't be selected in a versus battle. As the game has gone through further sequels Ken as become totally different in style to Ryu. Anyway, they have always been a double-act, both disciples of Shotokan Karate, and it seems odd that they should have the most significant character re-write for the film.

The movie has Ryu and Ken as bumbling well-intentioned smugglers and Guile as the lead. This makes sense too, because I assume the thinking was; American movie = American Hero and it can't be Ken because he's always been lesser to Ryu. Well, it's a shame they picked Guile (although he was my favourite character to play) because now we get a military based story rather than a martial arts one. Also his back story is really crap, some pseudo-Vietnam vet story that somehow ties up with M.Bison (the game's Big Bad End Boss). So, who to cast as you archetypal American soldier-hero? Why it's Belgium's very own "Muscles from Brussels" JCVD of course! Curiously, this basis is kept for the children's cartoon of the series that was produced a year or two after the film. So, maybe de Souza was onto something...


2. It's only a game
If you're going to make a move adaptation, be it of a novel or a video game, the first question is always going to be, "how faithful will we remain to the original?" Now, obviously, lots of adaptations have been less than faithful to their originals but have gone on to be so much better ('The Shining' is an immediate and unfair example). However, faithfulness to the original aside there is most often (in good films) a level of respect to the source material that even if they are unfaithful there are still some things that will not be changed. Street Fighter: The Movie has no such respect or faithfulness to its source, the general opinion of which seems to be "f*** it, it's only a computer game, who cares what the geeks think!"

This attitude seems particular of the 1980s and outdated even in 1994, nowadays such an attitude would be box-office suicide especially with several films being made recently to appeal to the 'geek fanboy' market, 'The Avengers' and 'Pacific Rim' being two of the biggest box offices successes especially tailored for fan appeal.

Of course, this attitude probably wasn't helped by the release of the spectacularly bad 'Super Mario Bros.' film the previous year, which is probably over-the-line of good-bad and straight into agonising fail. Although the comments the cast later made about the film are hilarious in and of themself. (see here)

3. Missing the obvious
A martial arts fighting game that translates to... a military action film. Why? Isn't Jean-Claude most famous for martial arts type movies? I suppose, see above, for the answers to that stupid decision.

Also, a coherent plot would have been nice, if this were a good movie, or even an attempt at one if it were a good-bad movie, but then what is this?

So, by this point of watching on my own I'd got thoroughly bored. I quit.

Time passes...

& I find myself watching Street Fighter: The Movie with a group of friends in high spirits, watching the film via Netflix.

4. Any more fun with a group of friends?
Well, yes, but then only just. It helps that a number of us are old-skool-gaming-geeks whose rage at the liberties de Souza takes with (the very limited) characters, plot, dialogue, action & effects made for an amusing game of "call out the bullsh*t".

5. Saved by acting
What finally makes this a terrible film I love and not just schlock nonsense is some of the performances in this film. Jean-Claude gives a memorably awful motivation speech and is generally ham-fisted hammy ham ham (you get the idea). Kylie Minogue is just dreadful as Cammy. Poor old Raul Julia gets one final paycheck and overacts to near Irons level. Indeed, as terrible as everyone is in this film (only Raul Julia escapes this because he's obviously just really going for one last laugh, one great scene with Ming-Na as Chun-Li proves this) they are eclipsed by an actor so painfully terrible that even his wordless presence seems to destroy the film around him like a sort of industrial movie acid. I speak thereof Kenya Sawada. The story behind his involvement is quite special.

He really hasn't

Sawada plays a character called Captain Sawada, one can assume this is due to the actor's lack of English and any discernible acting talent. Indeed, his few lines are apparently dubbed, but if this is the case they only succeeded in making them appear even worse. The story I've read is that Capcom (the original game designers) themselves forced the inclusion of the character and actor, telling the studio and director that he was "the new face of Capcom." Is Kenya Sawada related to the owners of Capcom? I honestly can't think of another reason why he'd be in this film, albeit so very briefly, which as it turns out is a damn shame. His artless line delivery (not even his own), his gormless appearance (perhaps he was nervous?) and his wooden stilted actions make every moment solid gold s***. 
Such beautiful terribleness.

6. Final Reckoning

This film is possibly more painful to watch than Dungeons & Dragons (another piece of my childhood destroyed) and can only be recommended to hardcore good-bad film enthusiasts. That said, even myself needed a human shield of laughter to make my way through the film in it's entirety.

Requirements: Hardcore addiction to awfully funny good-bad movies, love of camp acting, desire to see how bad a thing can be, ability to endure mind-numbingly stupid plot holes and dialogue, a soft spot for the delightful Raul Julia, the largest group of friends possible.

Captain Sawada, second from the left. Why?

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Words on Wednesday: Mahmoud Darwish

1. Biographical Summary

Mahmoud Darwish (محمود درويش) was born in what was then Mandatory Palestine on March 13th, 1941. During his life he published over thirty volumes of poetry and eight books of prose, he was an editor of several literary periodicals. He was considered to be Palestine's national poet and a key figure in the "poetry of resistance." Darwish was arrested several times for his activism and was a long-time member of the PLO. He died after heart surgery in Houston, Texas, on August 9th, 2008. 

2. Disclaimer

I am not a supporter of either the Israeli state or the Palestinian cause, but instead I read Darwish as a poet who discusses concepts of freedom, exile, and loss. I find it interesting as an outsider to read his works in a universal sense, rather than in direct terms of their political focus, although it would be foolish to ignore this in his work. Thus, although I have some understanding of it, I make no claim to fully appreciate the depth and possible controversial nature (to some) of his work.

3. Some Poetical Works


I belong there. I have many memories. I was born as everyone is born. 

I have a mother, a house with many windows, brothers, friends, 
and a prison cell with a chilly window! 
I have a wave snatched by seagulls, a panorama of my own. 
I have a saturated meadow. In the deep horizon of my word, I have a moon, 
a bird's sustenance, and an immortal olive tree. 
I have lived on the land long before swords turned man into prey. 
I belong there. When heaven mourns for her mother, I return heaven to her mother. 
And I cry so that a returning cloud might carry my tears. 
To break the rules, I have learned all the words needed for a trial by blood. 
I have learned and dismantled all the words in order to draw from them a single word: Home.


The stars had one only task: they taught me how to read.
They taught me I had a language in heaven
and another language on earth.
Who am I? Who am I?
I don't want to answer yet.
May a star fall into itself,
and may a forest of chestnut trees rise in the night
toward the Milky Way with me, and may it say:
Remain Here!

The poem is "above" and can teach me whatever it wishes.
It can teach me to open a window
and to manage my household in between legends.
It can wed me to itself for a while

My father is "below," carrying a thousand-year olive tree
that is neither from the East nor the West.
Let him rest from the conquerors for a while,
and be tender with me, and gather iris and lily for me.

The poem leaves me and heads to a port where the sailors love wine
and never return twice to the same woman.
They have neither regrets nor longing for anything!

I haven't died of love yet, but a mother sees in her son's eyes
the fear carnations harbor for the vase.
She cries to ward off something before it happens.
She cries for me to return alive from destiny's road
and live here.

The poem is neither here nor there, and with a girl's breast
it can illuminate the nights.
With the glow of an apple it fills two bodies with light
and with a gardenia's breath it can revive a homeland!

The poem is in my hands, and can run stories through her hands.
But ever since I embraced the poem, I squandered my soul
and then asked: Who am I? Who am I?


Wait for her with an azure cup.
Wait for her in the evening at the spring, among perfumed roses.
Wait for her with the patience of a horse trained for mountains.
Wait for her with the distinctive, aesthetic taste of a prince.
Wait for her with the seven pillows of cloud.
Wait for her with strands of womanly incense wafting.
Wait for her with the manly scent of sandalwood on horseback.
Wait for her and do not rush.
If she arrives late, wait for her.
If she arrives early, wait for her.
Do not frighten the birds in her braided hair.
Take her to the balcony to watch the moon drowning in milk.
Wait for her and offer her water before wine.
Do not glance at the twin partridges sleeping on her chest.
Wait and gently touch her hand as she sets a cup on marble.
As if you are carrying the dew for her, wait.
Speak to her as a flute would to a frightened violin string,
As if you knew what tomorrow would bring.
Wait, and polish the night for her ring by ring.
Wait for her until the night speaks to you thus:
There is no one alive but the two of you.
So take her gently to the death you so desire,
and wait.