Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Considering the universe in which we have our being

The photograph below shows my small collection of cacti. They have now emerged from their over-wintering place and are enjoying the sunshine. They will flower grandly during one night, and then only 2 or 3 times in the year. They will quickly go to sleep again. With their simultaneous night-time burst of heavily scented perfume they will attempt to attract a rare moth from thousands of miles away in the desert. It is unlikely that the creature will arrive. But this doesn't stop the cacti from trying.

That the universe is a big place may appear to be stating the obvious. But, beware, for in the universe the obvious is not always what it appears to be. What we see in the physical realm is merely a manifestation of something whose qualities are unknown to us. Many sages, poets and holy men have spent their lives delving into the matter and have often come away at the end as confused as they were when they started. One has only to look at the high suicide and mental illness rates to get some idea of the difficulties encountered in going down a path that leads into a labyrinth through which it is impossible to navigate one's way to the tower in the centre. The poet and holy man R S Thomas, summed up an important aspect of life in the labyrinth when he said: God waves the white flag of surrender and at the same time retreats from you at the speed of light.

The images featured on the Astronomy Picture of the Day give us ample food for thought. They serve to nourish our curiosity and our ambition. The images are often composite images made with x-rays and radio-waves and other 'tricks of the trade' to give us the wonderful images that a God would see if his huge magnifying 'eyes' could visit many different frequencies and wavelengths at the same time. On the other hand, closer to home, we can imagine the colours of the flowers as seen by insects, small white and yellow daisies may appear as a large yellow and red flowers to passing insects.

We say flowers are beautiful, and so they are, but when we look at them we are not seeing the real flower. The real flower is what the bee sees. To feed the bee and by this means to multiply is the flower's raison d'etre. The fact that flowers carrying out their vital and important tasks, appear as beautiful creations in our eyes is one of the miracles of creation.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

The fresh wind of change for sport

Sport doping began as a means to an end during the communist era in Eastern Europe. We remember those great East German and Russian women built like battleships and tanks throwing their spears and hammers half way across the world's Olympic stadia. We gazed in wonderment from the innocent English shores where sport had always been more or less a hobby.

Chariots of Fire meant cutting down on cigarettes and jogging on a beach or up and down some sand dunes coupled with a few press-ups and so on. Gold medal marathon runner Ron Hill's idea of a supplement was a mixture of orange juice, water and a pinch of salt.

We could run like the comic hero Tough of the Track on a diet of fish and chips and steak puddings; and through all weathers and in unsuitable footwear. It was all sport. We spoke innocently of someone being a good sport, meaning that he or she was a fair minded person. The idea of doping was almost unheard of.

But then we saw Arnold Schwarzenegger become Mr Universe, and those battle cruiser East European women scooping all the gold medals and the glory. Not only we, but all of Europe and then all of the world. We decided to become stronger and faster whatever it took to do it.

The Tour de France rider with his baguette and bottle of water, or in one famous case a bottle of wine which caused him to fall asleep at the roadside, became almost overnight a drug experiment on wheels. And in other sports like athletics we saw men built like weightlifters pumped up with steroids winning races that once went to the slim and lithe. It was crazy. It was nonsense. It was big money. And, here in Austria, it is now crashing down.

In the last few days there have been raids and arrests. For the first time those behind the scenes are being rounded up; or at least two or three of them are. More, we can only hope, will quickly follow. Austria, once known as a doping oasis, is getting at long last to grips with the problem. I applaud the Austrian authorities for this overdue action.

Let no stone be unturned in the fight, for it is a fight and it will be a long struggle, against those corrupt and evil drug and blood-doping dealers who would not hesitate to injure the health of young men and women, boys and girls, who strive to make the grade in their chosen sport.

Managers and trainers of young talent have a responsibility to make sure that all their athletes; swimmers, skiers, cyclists, weight lifters, wrestlers, boxers, marathon runners and so on are clean and doping free. When they abuse their position of responsibility and the confidence that parents, friends, relatives and supporters of the young up-and-coming talent have entrusted them with they deserve no mercy. Throw the book at them!