A Brief Rant on Existentialism 

Human existence is a dilemma. A sort of existential crisis built around mental gymnastics aimed at running away from reality or the uncompromising nihilism of the world. If the universe has no purpose, man shall offer one. If a universe has no consciousness running the show, we shall create one (or many) in our minds who are in our image. If you won’t create your ultimate purpose, other assertive personalities will do it for you. This is the dilemma, the confusion, the fear that we do not understand, the awkwardness of being a conscious being in this universe with a lot of unanswered (and unanswerable) questions. 

It’s only a couple millions years ago that the first human fossils appear in the fossil record. Even later that, just a couple hundred thousand years ago that modern humans first appear on the scene. We have been around about 200,000 years. A few ten thousand years ago, we woke, as a chick shutters an egg shell in search of life, from our eons of slumber; having evolved into homo sapiens, we took the first steps from primitivity, from small-mindedness, from pointless Savannah dominance, to civilization and culture, to dreaming of taking over the planet, to imperial dominance over all conscious beings. Man began to travel from the cradle of humanity in a subconscious bid of conquering all that exists. But the more we discovered in our endeavours, the more we realised we were a sorry lot trying to find our way. Our lives and genes and nature having compelled us with powers beyond what we could fathom initially or finally.

Ours was a search for ultimate meaning, purpose, order, direction or flow of all that is. But all we got back was indifference and solitude. The universe wasn’t ready to tell us anything. Not especially in the event we have the ability to find out for ourselves. In the course of these human events, we started to learn. We didn’t take long to know we are living on a pale blue dot with a yellow sphere illuminating our sky in the day and a full or crescent or half moon in the night. We probed more questions still. And the universe answered them. We were not just on a planet. We were in a solar system composed of a yellowish star burning millions of joules of hydrogen fuel and a few other planets which we occasionally worshipped as gods. Yet that wasn’t it. We were not just in a solar system. But just another star system in a seemingly infinite number of others orbiting a super massive blackhole in the middle of a galaxy we call Milky Way. We now know that this galaxy is one of thousands in a group we call a cluster. Add to this the surrounding clusters  to make up thousands of clusters in a larger group we call a galaxy supercluster. Yet our supercluster is one of thousands that, rounded together, make the observable universe as we know it with our current understanding. It could be much bigger than we shall ever know because it is expanding at a rate faster than light. 

As one grows, one puts away childish things. This childhood unveiling showed us things we didn’t want to see. We realised the sun was not made in cosmic gas clouds for us to feel heat or grow crops. We realised the moon wasn’t dismembered from earth to provide light at night. We realised we were solipsistic beings and that the world didn’t revolve around us. We realised that we knew but little to understand our place in the scheme of things. We realised that it was possible someone wasn’t looking out for us. We realised we had to make our way. We realised in some sense we are the conscious part of the universe, the subjective side of it that doesn’t tow the line of natural laws but simply obeys them.We realised we are the channel by which the universe responds to its rigid frequencies, the mouthpiece through which it communicates to itself. We realised what a privilege, an honour, an improbability it is to live in this beautiful expansive, mysterious universe. And what a gamble it is to live. A few of us who knew the dilemma realised how tragic and miserable and ignorant one would be to have had the chance to live this life if only for a brief few years and died having not known what a beautiful marvellous intriguing world we live in. 

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Random Stuff #026: The improbability of existence.

It is very easy to look at existence as a trivial issue when it could be, highly likely, that it is more improbable than the universe itself. Think about it for a second. If we exist in this universe and it’s vastness, and all have a common consensus on which came first, whether we are believers or nonbelievers, it follows that the later advent of living beings (in the form we know them at least) is more improbable than the universe or even the empirically unproven multiverse. In the scientific and evolutionary sense, a universe could exist with galaxies and galaxy clusters and clusters of those clusters and yet there is a small chance that not one of those infinite planets will have the ingredients of life at least as we know it. 

Deoxyribonucleic acid commonly referred to as DNA is the fundamental building block of life, the source of living infrastructure, the instruction manual for life on earth that was, in hindsight, anticipated by Charles Darwin as soon as he published On the Origin of Species in 1859 and brought with it a new paradigm shift to our understanding of nature and the universe. It took up to the 1900s for someone to rediscover the work that Gregor Mendel had done, in an Austrian research monastery in 1860s, and had this conclusively proved the existence of genes, to finally vindicate the early DNA theorists. Still work had to be done to sew together two fields in biology–evolution and genetics. And so was birthed the modern synthesis which explains evolution in relation to genetics. But that was the 1930s and an evolutionary worldview was incompatible with religious doctrine. Some had the guts to declare it ungodly or satanic, and some still do. Others are less obscurantist and more willing to bend religious doctrine to fit scientific fact. So they say it was God’s way of creating flora and fauna. Which in turn either makes God to be a slow creator that had to go through several failed experiments to come up with a solipsistic human or this God allowed evolution to happen naturally without divine interference and thus we are not as special as religion claims we are or we are just a lone step in the evolutionary process. 

Incorruptible or downright fraud

Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible prepositions.       – Thomas Jefferson 

Where questions of religion are concerned, people are guilty of every possible sort of dishonesty or intellectual misdemeanour.    – Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion

How much vanity must be concealed – not too effectively at that – in order to pretend that one is the personal object of a divine plan? How much self-respect must be sacrificed in order that one may squirm continually in an awareness of one’s own sin? How many needless assumptions must be made, and how much contortion is required, to receive every new insight of science and then manipulate it so as to ‘fit’ with the revealed words of ancient man-made deities? How many saints and miracles and councils and conclaves are required first in order to be able to establish a dogma and then – after infinite pain and loss and absurdity and cruelty – to be forced to rescind one of those dogmas? God did not create man in his own image. Evidently, it was the other way around…..                            – Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great 

Having started out with three captivating quotes from three great men, it seems extravagant to quote another one. But it is necessary before I delve into the subject matter of this article. Michail Bakunin once said if God did not exist, it would be necessary to create him. To some extent, I agree with him. Not necessarily that we needed a god as that we had no choice but to create him. The natural world had so many disturbing questions that could only be explained by a prime mover. I acknowledge that it will be near impossible to persuade a staunch Catholic that no pope or saint is infallible, and also to convince a Muslim that Muhammad was a flawed imperfect fallible human, if their belief is based on faith alone, and not on rationalism and critical thinking. 

My aim here is not to kill God, because I recognize some people have a deep psychological need for him, but to show people how marvelous and miraculous the natural (or materialistic) world is. Yes, the natural world performs miracles more wonderful, more awe-inspiring, more honest,more aesthetically pleasing than any fraudulent slight of hand that priests and mullahs and rabbis and modern evangelicals are capable of. One wonders, as one studies religious revelations and miracles and in general violation of natural laws, why they took place in highly superstitious, ancient, premodern, primitive societies or in isolated places and witnessed by isolated people and why the modern world with cameras and computers and high resolution telescopes and microscopes for the unaided eye is devoid of these alleged proofs of divinity. 

Back to the article. Incorruptibility, is best defined simply as the belief that one’s body doesn’t decompose after death, if one was a righteous Catholic. So easy, isn’t it? Incorruptibility vindicates Catholicism and exposes other religions with no comparable miracles as false. Another definition is it’s a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox belief that divine intervention allows certain bodies to avoid decomposition after death as a sign of holiness (Source: Wikipedia). A fairly well thought definition, I think. But then there’s an instant twist. The article goes on to assert claims outside this specific definition. It says bodies that undergo little or no decomposition or delayed decomposition are sometimes regarded as incorruptible. To what extent do we judge decomposition? How do we know if it’s little or a bit much? If the body decomposes slowly and in 200000 years, it’s turned to dust, does it count as incorruptible still? So many questions follow, so few answered. 

The Catholics generally regard incorruptibility to be a miracle. We shall call a miracle any event in which the laws of the natural world appear to have been suspended or tweaked and we can’t find a scientific explanation for it. Many believers sincerely believe saints can have incorruptible corpses, popes are infallible, Jesus was their saviour, and that prayer works. I read somewhere a few days back about a Catholic who appeared to claim that the embalmed incorruptibles were so due to divine intervention in embalming them. Embalming is a process of preserving dead bodies from decomposition or rotting. Now his claim can’t be proved or disproved for it’s paradoxical nature. He makes more assumptions than are necessary to get to the truth. The less assumptions means the nearer we stay to factual premises.  

Bernadette Soubirous, commonly known as St. Bernadette of Lourdes, grew up in Lourdes, France in an impoverished family of which she was the eldest daughter of a miller. At about age 14, she began to have visions and apparitions of a lady she claimed was demanding for a church to be built in the area where these apparitions took place and also directed her to spring waters with healing effects. The stories spread about her Marian apparitions and the church was skeptical in the beginning. After a swift investigation, Bernadette’s apparitions were declared authentic by the church. Bernadette Soubirous soon relocated to a convent in Nevers where she lived until she died of tuberculosis. When the canonisation process began, there were several miracles happening or had happened in Lourdes which were investigated and many were found to be temporary fixes or false. Many others were found to be true. In 1909, her body was exhumed for the first time and found to be incorruptible. In 1919 and 1925, the process was repeated and then moved into a crystalline casket. The church declared her dead corpse to be officially incorruptible. Was it really? In the 1919 exhuming, the present doctor wrote in a report, “The body is practically mummified, covered with patches of mildew and quite a notable layer of salts, which appear to be calcium salts… The skin has disappeared in some places, but it is still present on most parts of the body.”. Later, when she was to be displayed in public at the Sisters of Charity (her order in Nevers), her face had a blackish colour about it that would have been unsettling to pilgrims. So a certain Pierre Imans, a Parisian mannequin designer for God’s sake, was brought in to solve the imperfections of the rotting corpse. A “light wax” mask and new hands were devised and put in place by the talented designer. Even up to this day, people still claim that St. Bernadette performs wonders for them. 

This is not an isolated incident. There are several cases just like these as I’m about to show. But first, I want to clarify that I don’t think the Catholic Church is colluding as a whole, to deceive the world. The sainthood has a lot of allusions to make anyone suspect a sinister campaign of lies and conscious deceit. I think there has been a bit of craft here and there, now and then. But it is not enough to make it look credible. A lot of honest sincere propagandists had to be sold the idea to make it work. And so it evolved with the church and the church embraced it. In a time of ignorance, it was as good an explanation as any mammal was expected to come up with, pending modern chemistry and physics. 

A less recognised saint is St. Silvan, who allegedly died in 350 CE in Rome, and is in a Church tomb in Dubrovnik, Croatia. The body looks perfect and smooth from afar. But upon close examination, the skin is covered with wax. A common method of hiding decaying flesh. It is claimed Silvan’s body arrived from Rome in 1847, but there’s no mention of where it had been before that, or who had been in contact with it. Another one is St. Victoria whose corpse appears to be a wax effigy as well. Her severed fingers and palm shows bones underneath the wax. 

In the church of San Crisogono, the dead body of Blessed Anna Maria Taigi rests in a glass casket. It appears incorruptible at first but closer scrutiny shows the body is too good to be true. The wrinkles on her face are made of wax and there are black hair strands on her scalp of blond hair. This is an obvious skeleton coated with wax. 

An intriguing case is St. Cecilia, who is considered the first saint and said to have been martyred in 177 CE. Having buried the remains of two beheaded brothers, she was punished by bestowing the same fate on her. The executor, having tried to decapitate her three times unsuccessfully, fled leaving her with a severe injury and heavy loss of blood that she crawled about for three days before she was found dead; albeit allegedly with 3 fingers protruding on her right hand and one on the left to signify the Holy Trinity. She is the patron saint of musicians. Old accounts allude to her body having been washed and embalmed and the viscera removed. A sweet floral odour emanating from the coffin could indicate the usage of burial spices like resin and myrrh which aided in preservation and was Jewish practice at the time, and was coincidentally used in Egyptian mummification. She was locked in a cypress casket, a type of wood that was standard for, you guessed it, mummification. John Delaney, the author of Dictionary of Saints, claims the whole story has been “constructed from legends, many of which are trustworthy” and John Coulson goes further when he says it’s a “fabrication devoid of any historical truth”.

It’s actually surprising how people are so oblivious to such fraudulent desecration of dead humans. If you’re a saint, do you really rest in peace after death? People go to these churches without any knowledge of these bodies being wax effigies or preserved bodies in perfect environments. I think if one is a devout believer, one has to choose between this whole fiasco being a legitimate doctrine or it being a conspiracy, an evil one even. If one chooses to call it an honest endeavour, one must explain why the need for all these wax effigies. The burden of proof weighs a ton for the pious here. 

Thus when the sincere believer, who has been misled to believe these rotting corpses are the same as they were on the day they were buried, is forced to face the facts, he/she looks for an explanation to fit the narrative. One of these is a redefining of incorruptibility as slowly or partially decayed corpses. This is based on the gullible notion that delayed decomposition happens as a sign from God. An assertion that can only be made by the uninformed Catholic. Nevertheless, I’ve heard it as an argument for wax effigies and embalmed bodies. As I did research for this article, I came across another secular blogger who was told that the wax and preservation is added intentionally so that people may notice it and so that a genuine impression of the corpse may be preserved as it was at the exhumation. It is stunningly shocking when I discovered that incorruptibility isn’t taken as a requirement of sainthood anymore officially by the church. This raises some disturbing questions. Like should we still consider saints who were canonised on the basis of their incorruptible bodies as saints anymore, or we await further inquiry? What about the credulous faithful who, the overwhelming majority, hardly know this new Catholic doctrine and consider incorruptibility to be a sign from God? What was the motive behind this change? Does this change show the man-made nature of Catholic doctrine and law, and thus the Catholic Church as well? 

The obscurantist nature of the church has stood in the way of scientific progress and research for several decades. From Aristotle, to Galileo, to Copernicus, to Giordano Bruno, to Charles Darwin, there’s a long trail and pattern of inhumane behaviour and conscious obscurantism  towards revolutionary scientific ideas stretching even up to now in the 21st century and showing no signs of halting. The incorruptible bodies haven’t been subjected to any modern research tools to authenticate since the turn of the century. The church, for once, outsourced a group of pathologists and chemists to investigate the incorruptibles. It was discovered and there was substantial evidence that “many (if not all) incorruptibles had human assistance”. Disconcertingly, the team also “encountered many cases in which saints had clearly been mummified, often by their followers, in an attempt to preserve (or help preserve) their bodies.”. Most notably Saint Margaret of Cortona. The small voice of reason had penetrated the walls of the Vatican and the irrationality of faith was being put to the test. 

The naivety of believers is the main reason why they believe ridiculous nonsense. Let me demonstrate this with a simple insinuation from the doctrine of incorruptibility. It follows that if God delays or suspends decay of human flesh, that such a phenomenon only happens in the church and to holistic pious individuals. I did a quick survey of ten Catholics I knew, three of whom are connoisseurs of church doctrine, and I got 90% saying incorruptibility only and only happens in the church. The odd man out suspended I was setting a trap for him, hence his skepticism, but couldn’t tell me where else it happens. However, he was sharp enough to tell me that God sometimes performs miracles in other religions. When I asked him why God does it, he replied with the age-old proverb “God works in mysterious ways.”. That cannot be proved or disproved. Karl Popper’s common sense reformation of the scientific method should be enough to dispose of such obscurantism. 

The evil fascist Bishop Alfredo Schuster, who was the Archbishop of Milan from 1929-1954 and a Benedictine monk and supported Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime, was found to be incorruptible after 31 years. Another article mentions Catherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII, and how her body was found in a perfect state of preservation 1782 after 250 years in a sealed coffin. She was reburied shortly after and later exhumed in 1817 only to find a skeleton. St. Joseph Calasanctius, who was part of a clerical campaign of the Piarist order and knowingly covered up Child Abuse cases against small boys to protect the reputation of the order, and even had the guts to document all these evil crimes by fellow priests while callously doing nothing to protect the boys, was canonised after his body was found to be incorruptible. The evil power hungry monster, Benedetto Caetani, known as Pope Boniface XVII, who sought to mobilise all European powers under him, and hence create a theocratic Catholic-fascist Jew-hating continent, and was also depicted in the Eighth Circle of Hell in Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, was exhumed after 300 years and his body looked perfectly preserved.  He was lodged back in the grave and re-exhumed to find only bones remaining in his coffin in the 1830s. In every case I’ve mentioned in this paragraph, we see a flawed human being bestowed with the miracle of incorruptibility. One would wonder what kind of God makes evil people incorruptible. 

Probably the best preserved corpse is that of Xin Zhui, discovered in China in 1971. The article narrates, “Her death is dated to 178–145 BC. She seems to have been about 50. An autopsy found that she seemed to be only a short time dead. They found her organs were intact. Her blood was still red in her veins. Nobody knows for sure what was responsible for such a remarkable preservation. Her airtight coffin is thought to have contributed to it. A liquid in the coffin in a shade of red may explain the mystery but nobody knows what it is. The bodies of her neighbours Sui Xiaoyuan and Ling Huiping are similarly well preserved. Xin’s body is kept in the Hunan Provincial Museum. She proves that bodies can be inexplicably preserved without accounting for it with the supernatural.“. 

In the Tarim Basin desert of China, mummified corpses, dating to 4000 years ago (way before Christianity came along), were found to be so well preserved that centuries-old incorruptible Catholic saints couldn’t compare. In August 1952, Time magazine ran a story of a Hindu guru Paramahansa Yogananda, whose body was found to be incorruptible years after his death. Harry T. Rowe, Los Angeles Mortuary Director of the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California where Yogananda’s body is interred, stated in a notarized letter: 

“The absence of any visual signs of decay in the dead body of Paramahansa Yogananda offers the most extraordinary case in our experience…. No physical disintegration was visible in his body even twenty days after death…. No indication of mold was visible on his skin, and no visible drying up took place in the bodily tissues. This state of perfect preservation of a body is, so far as we know from mortuary annals, an unparalleled one…. No odor of decay emanated from his body at any time….”

There are several other cases of Tibetan and Buddhist monks who are incorruptible and in some cases, no one can explain what exactly caused it. But that’s no reason to conclude it’s God who intervened to starve microbes to death by the billions in the guise of pleasing impressionable humans. Hambo Lama Itigelov, a Buddhist monk who died in 1927 and was exhumed in 2002, was found to have been preserved by bromide salts. 

King Tut, the Egyptian pharaoh of the 18th dynasty who ruled between c. 1332-1323 BC,  has been so well preserved for over 3300 years against all odds that his body is in a perfect state far from decay. Note that he existed before the Catholic Church and probably believed in Egyptian gods. 

What is religion better at than hoodwinking the gullible people? What is religion if it doesn’t claim or revere ignorance? What sane person would consciously believe such a preposterous idea as incorruptibility? Prosper Lambertini who became Pope Benedict XIV categorically deny that any corpse that has been treated in any way to keep it fresh should be thought of as miraculously incorrupt. Yet the church continues to display embalmed popes and saints and priests. What kind of corrupted institution is this? The short answer is it’s a man-made institution made in the image of those who created it. That’s why it has so many flaws. Let’s sit back, await future examinations of saints corpses to expose the sinister fraud going on in the background. Watch Christians who struggle to believe fantasies, who seem to think a miracle vindicates their religion and is a necessary precept for them to believe. In other words, it’s too ridiculous they need a miracle to validate their beliefs. But this world, this universe, is amazing and miraculous, in that it creates these miracles for the faithful to believe, and cares not if they are misled. It allows other protagonists to recreate the same miracles over and over again. The universe works like that. It only offers you a strict range of natural laws to work in. It is always, and it has always, and will always, be up to you or to the prevailing discourse to decide which side of the argument is honest, is fraudulent, is truely worthy of your spirit. I hope critical thinking and freethinking will always reign supreme. 

The Dawn of a New Era: #WelcomeUnai 

Finally after endless bouts of speculation, we have our new boss. Welcome to the Arsenal, Unai Emery. It’s a new dawn, it’s a new era, one of excitement and fundamental change. And we are glad, as Arsenal fans, for all this good work being done by CEO Ivan Gazidis, Raul Sanhelli, Josh Kroenke, Sven Mslintat and others in revolutionarizing the club. 

For a while, we have been craving for change, which change was de facto a euphemism for Arsene Wenger to step down. After what seems like an eternity in football time, we managed to get rid (I don’t mean to sound crude) of the paleolithic doyen Wenger. He had overstayed his welcome, like one club legend once said in recent times. 

With the arrival of Unai Emery, we have an experienced and proven and passionate and progressive serial winner. He started out in his native Spain at Lorca Deportivo in 2005 before moving to Almeria where he led them to promotion into La Liga. Due to his impressive spell at Almeria, he was appointed by Valencia as head coach in 2009 where he replaced the sacked Ronald Koeman and found a destabilised underperforming club that he systematically put back together to finish sixth in his first season and third in the subsequent 3 seasons. This is as much as any sensible or realistic club, chasing after a Pep-inspired Barcelona and a star-studded Real Madrid, could hope for – being the third wheel. After a brisk 6 months at Russian side Spartak Moscow where he was sacked after woeful form, it didn’t take long to get his next job and within a few months, he was back in Spain at Sevilla, where he regained his reputation by leading the club to three successive Europa league titles, amid annual player sales and a limited budget. He was a rising star waiting for a big opportunity and Paris Saint Germain, who were looking for a coach with great European experience, quickly scooped him away from Sevilla to Paris. His first season in Paris was marred by domestic and European disappointment as a mentally fragile PSG side failed to take advantage of a 4-0 lead at home to knock out Barcelona and instead conspired to destruct under pressure at the Camp Nou to surrender the tie to Barça. The league was also difficult to win as a free scoring Monaco side dominated on their way to lifting the trophy. Nevertheless, Emery managed to get his hands on two domestic cups. The following season came with the costly arrival of Brazilian superstar Neymar and the youngster Mbappé and suddenly he had a serious issue controlling the dressing room especially with players who thought they were bigger than him and had inflated egos to go with their solipsism. Notwithstanding, he managed to make a clean sweep of all domestic trophies but encountered inevitable failure (if you ask me) in Europe when they were again drawn with a Spanish side in the form of an unbeatable Real Madrid who were surprisingly underdogs but used their experience to bully PSG into losing the both legs of a tie. In total, Emery has won 8 trophies in the past 8 years, as much as Pep Guardiola has won and more than any other current coach in Europe’s top 5 leagues. It’s an impressive record but the unrealistic fans will attempt to downplay it. The ambitious realistic fans will appreciate the appointment and will also understand that he is more likely not to win the league with a broken, defensively poor squad which requires major surgery on its spine to challenge for anything credible. 

These are exciting times for Arsenal and football fans generally. We can’t wait for the new premier league season. There’s the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia kicking off in mid-June. Let’s all celebrate this beautiful game for these are exciting times to be alive. 

Merçi Arsene Wenger, Thanks for the memories 

Football is an art                                                 – Arsene Wenger

It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted.                                                            – Christopher Hitchens

It was 5pm East African time as I sauntered to the viewing centre. I was having mixed emotions about this final game of the season. Firstly, our away form had been dismal since the season started and even worse since the turn of the year. Secondly, it was Arsene Wenger’s final appearance as an Arsenal manager on the touchline. We were all a bit ecstatic and emotional. After all, Wenger is the only manager we (the 90’s millenials) have ever known. It was also surreal in a weird nostalgic way. It was the end of an era but the dawn of a new one. The end we had been crying out for. Not because we hated Wenger but because we thought he was in the disappearing past of modern football. Wenger was spot-on when he said the fans don’t hate him but they detest poor performances and results. 

When Peter Hill-Wood and David Dein, who was a personal friend and lobbyist for Wenger, decided to appoint Wenger as new manager, a lot of people thought it was a bad executive decision. Not least the intolerant British media of which one of the papers had the headline ‘Arsene Who?’ sarcastically trying to show he was an unknown entity and a serious risk. If only they had foreseen the future, maybe the headlines would have been more humble. One newspaper mentioned how Arsenal fans were planning a riot to oust Wenger before he had been announced as coach. But even the past had a lot to say about Arsene Wenger. He had retired from football at age 29 and then gone on to become a coach at Strasbourg, Nancy and Monaco. His first big job was Monaco based in a town of the same name on the French riviera. In 7 years as manager of Monaco, he managed to win the league title and a Coupe de France and a European trophy while playing scintillating attacking football and bringing through young players and helping several other players like George Weah to turn into world class talent. After Monaco, he went to Japan where, he says, he learnt how to control his emotions and keep calm in difficult situations. So his record wasn’t so terrible after all. The journalist who wrote that paper probably didn’t know or appreciate what he had done in France. 

The plan to appoint Wenger had been months in the making. There was hesitation in the Arsenal camp to appoint foreign managers because they never really succeeded in English football. The reverse is true these days partly due to Wenger. Bruce Rioch had been unable to make the team perform a few weeks into the 1996/1997 season and was inevitably sacked. There was a lot speculation on who would replace him even before he got sacked. One of the leading candidates was a high profile player turned manager known as Johan Cruyff who had had much domestic and European success in the 70’s and 80’s with Ajax and Barcelona, playing an attractive entertaining brand of football known as tikitaka, and then later went on to create the formidable Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’ at Barcelona in the early 90’s as a manager, winning numerous domestic and European trophies on the way. You can understand the disappointment of fans when some guy from a Japanese team is chosen over a European football god. 

Nevertheless, Arsene Wenger did his job with several doubters holding swords of Democles over his head, waiting to slice him at any trivial mistake. Right away, Wenger was a hit. He led a club that had been languishing in midtable to a second place finish. In the next season, he went on to win the league and FA cup double. Suddenly he had proved everyone wrong. He was making the right signings paying shrewd transfer fees. His attacking philosophy was entertaining football fans everywhere. Arsenal, a formerly defensive team, was now the most feared in attack. The first ten years were an almost perfect fairytale. He won 3 league titles including a golden league trophy for going a whole season unbeaten, the first such fit since Preston North End did it in the old division at the turn of the 20th century. He won 4 FA cups, 2 of which were part of a league double. He also led Arsenal to a Champions League final beating Madrid and Juventus on the way and breaking the record for most games without conceding on the European stage. But regrettably reaching the final and failing to win it. 

The downfall of Wenger is said to have started after that final loss to Barcelona in Paris 2006. Maybe it was the motivating factor for failure. Whenever I’m asked when his decline started, my mind always goes back to October 2004. Arsenal had gone 49 games unbeaten stretching over the course of 3 seasons. Just one more to reach 50 unbeaten. The only thing standing in their way was Manchester United at Old Trafford. Unfortunately, it was a heated grudge match that ended disastrously in defeat. Tempers boiled over in the tunnel postmatch and it is said, with the admittance of the perpetrator himself, that Cesc Fabregas threw pizza at Sir Alex Ferguson amid the altercations. It is not difficult to see the psychological mess this match created at Arsenal. These players hadn’t lost since March 2003 and now they had lost under controversial circumstances. It was a big blow to them psychologically and for the next decade of Wenger’s reign, this was the source of all psychological and title challenging problems. To prove to you how I think it still affected us even 10 years, the best case would be how terrible our form is at Old Trafford, and in recent memory how the team capitulated to self-destruct at Old Trafford, hence handing Leicester City a chance and motivation to run away with the league title. For the last decade of his reign, Wenger had to work with a tightly resteicted budget for financial reasons stemming from the bank loans used to construct the new Emirates stadium. Notwithstanding, this was coupled with player sales and an increasingly youthful but mentally fragile team lacking the nous and experience to mount a serious title challenge. Another reason was the escalating frustration of the fans at the failings of the team and Wenger as well. All this culminated into his eventual resignation. 

Whether he resigned or was sacked is still a matter of debate in some circles. I stand with those who say we should respect the departing Professeur enough to overlook such matters. But just out of sheer curiosity , I will explore the idea. The day he announced his departure, Wenger held a press conference ahead of the game against West Ham where he dismissed allusions pertaining his future and gave no indication or subtle hint of what was to come the following morning. It was a bit unreal and surprising when the news spread the next morning. I had to visit the Arsenal website to be sure 100% I wasn’t dreaming and even then I allowed a little skepticism into the whole surreal situation, what if some mean hacker had placed the article on the website. One thing I know about Wenger is that he never announces big things by mouth but by paper but for this one, I thought Wenger would have been virtuous enough to tell the fanbase, and the football world, on camera. After that weekend’s game, in light of all the tributes from allover the world of football, Wenger echoed our skeptical suspicions when he said vaguely that the club was right to put up the resignation notice at that time, a slip which served to confirm the suspicion that he was de facto sacked when Gazidis and company realised he couldn’t man up and do it himself. 

Nevertheless, even with 3 FA cups in the last decade (7 in total which makes him the all time record winner) and a failure to convincingly challenge for major honours, he will still be considered among the greatest ever Arsenal coaches. I don’t think anyone will match his 22 year longevity, and above all, consistency. There have been flattering comparisons with the great Herbert Chapman, a legendary Arsenal coach, who gained cult hero status for decades when he led the club to an unprecedented 2 consecutive league titles in the early 1930’s making it the dominant English club in a time when the Northern clubs were dominating the southern English teams. Arsenal declined soon after partly due to the unavoidable shutdown of all football activities during the second World War, by which time Chapman had long died in January 1934. He did not live long enough to see the success that followed in the short term. He lasted about 7 years at Arsenal. Still with his relatively short tenure compared to Wenger, comparisons persist even after Wenger dismissed them by claiming Chapman is the greatest ever manager. How modest of the Frenchman! That just goes to show his class and integrity and respect and humility which have been characteristic of his reign. There’s so much that happened behind the scenes that we shall probably never know. Wenger has said in the past there are things he couldn’t tell the media but would come out with them one day. Most likely in the form of an autobiography. I’m diligently waiting for this final tale of Wenger’s reign and I trust he won’t sieve all the interesting secrets out. 

It has been an absolute privilege indeed to watch Wenger in the dugout and as a figure that epitomises all the values that Arsenal embodies and has become and will continue to be. He was never unfazed by opposition to change his attacking philosophy. He believed in his ability and philosophy to the very end inspite of backlash from all directions. He was always unnervingly calm when the world was boiling around him. He created a dynasty, a legacy unmatched by anyone in the past. He resisted advances from Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSG, Manchester United, Manchester City and others so as to stay at Arsenal when he knew there were financial restrictions. What a classy man! What a great man! What a humble human being! What a football legend!  He will be remembered for generations to come, echoing the era of globalisation of European and English football, and for making all of us (again the 90’s millenials) fall in love with the beautiful game. In Wenger we trusted. There is only one Arsene Wenger. 

 

Random Stuff #025: The mystery of the unknowable. 

When the intellectual universe alters, in other words, I don’t feel arrogant enough to exempt myself from self-criticism. And I am content to think that some contradictions will remain contradictory, some problems will never be resolved by the mammalian equipment of the human cerebral cortex, and some things are indefinitely unknowable. If the universe was found to be finite or infinite, either discovery would be equally stupefying and impenetrable to me.  – Christopher Hitchens 

The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land.     – Thomas Henry Huxley, 1887.

The first thing you learn about the world is that it is big. As a child, I knew so little about the cosmos. So little that I didn’t know the earth is round. So little that I didn’t know the scale and size of cosmic objects. So little that I couldn’t see the beauty of the cosmos, or even if I could see it, I wouldn’t have appreciated it. The stars were luminous agents for the dark night and as pointless to me as the moon. 

As I grew older, I began to understand the world slowly. But even then, I didn’t care. I was stuck in my community cave. Then I started to travel the world. I went to Paris, London, Venice, Rome, Sicily, New York, Bali, Washington, Cairo, Alexandria, Athens, Jerusalem all before age 14. And in a fairly short period of 3 or 4 years. Does that sound realistic? It depends on how much resources an ordinary kid would have. Which is enough for bus fare. My travelling was in form of books and literature and art and movies. These mediums dragged me out of the community cave into the real world. Suddenly, I could understand how a New Yorker was so alike to me and how he thought. I could see people struggling the same way I was but they were 50000km away. 

I realised I was living in the cradle of humanity, the birthplace of humankind. A place, Kampala, Uganda, just a few hundred kilometres and a country away from where the earliest human remains were first discovered, in East Africa. Each and every one of us exists because our speicies of man homo sapiens survived extinction and we also know our ancestors could have gone to great lengths to annihilate off the face of the earth other early human speicies. It is these original humans who spread allover the world and conquered (or deluded themselves to think they had) the world and invented culture and civilisation. Nature is not to be conquered but ruled by a democracy of itself, for itself and by itself. And so civilisation continued to fool us into believing we could control it. 
The more I explored the universe, the more disturbing questions were raised. The more I understood that some things are beyond understanding, that not every knowledge is authentic knowledge and what we hold as self-evident truths could be rubbished by future generations, that I have an all-too-human desire to know everything, that speculation is rife for that which we do not understand. After all, we all fear what we do not understand, says Robert Langdon in The Lost Symbol. And we definitely do not understand the cosmos. Throughout history, we have tried to find explanations for our human condition and for the world around us. In this way, we created God, not so much because we wanted answers, but because uncertainty and question marks is what the cognitive step in our human evolution had left us with. 

As one matures and has the opportunity to know what we know, as the human race, about the cosmos, one begins to feel an emotion akin to humility, one is shaken out of oblivion, out of a state of ignorance. One is then immersed in the grandness of the cosmos at large; the galaxies with billions of stars just like our sun with planets like our earth, the clusters with billions of galaxies like our own Milky Way or our neighbor Andromeda. In total, we know of about 350 billion galaxies and some 7000 billion small ones in our observable universe. Observable to mean as far as our most advanced telescopes can theoretically see. Just like some things are unknowable due to the limit of our current capabilities, we can not visualise or imagine the cosmos in our heads. We are stuck in a place too large that we shall never imagine how large it is. In the same manner, we cannot visualise how small an atom is, or a bacterium or a nucleus. Richard Dawkins says our brains evolved in middle world without ever encountering the very large on the cosmic scale or the very small on the microscopic scale. The perspective alters with scale and the scale alters with perspective. 
In conclusion, some things are unknown and will remain so. Some things we shall know in our lifetime and other things are left by nature and it’s limitations to future generations. But as long as we still have the innate desire to explore and conquer the universe, there are secrets about the cosmos which will amaze and perplex mankind for generations, maybe eons. Seneca The Young once said the universe is a sorry little affair unless it has in it something for every age. But please don’t feel disheartened that you’ll never know everything that is to be known. Maybe you know as much as the human brain will ever know with its pattern recognition software, maybe we as living beings in the cosmos await future cognitive evolution of our cerebral cortex to fully understand the universe, maybe the universe can never let us know, maybe as thinking beings we don’t have the capability to unlock certain mysteries. Inspite of all that, the wise words of Lawrence Krauss resonate in my mind, “we have a brief moment in the sun” which is meanwhile waiting to explode in the near future of cosmic time. 

Reviews #002: Interstellar

Interstellar is a spiritual emotional experience about humanity’s battle to defeat the vastness and limitations of space and time so as to survive.

Mankind was born on earth. It was never meant to die there.                                             Cooper in Interstellar 

Do not go gentle into that good night,             Old age should burn and rave at close of day,                                                                         Rage, rage against the dying of the light,       The wise men at their end know dark is right,                                                                      For their words have found no light in day,    Do not go gentle into that good night,             Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

For a while (by that I mean years), I have felt a sort of spiritual obligation to write a review for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Not because it’s arguably the best director in the movie industry who has made it but because this movie epitomises something close to the definition of directorial perfection. It’s not a perfectly perfect movie to the critical eye. But somewhere close. It’s hard enough to get a positive review from a few critics. Visit metacritic.com for a citation. 

I must admit first that I loved the movie when I first watched it back in 2014. What a masterpiece, I thought! I wasn’t a blogger then so I was not quick enough to scribble this review. This is a belated one if there was any. You will see more reviews here of legendary or old movies. 

Back to Interstellar. I found it strange the more times I watched the movie that Matthew McConaughey was the first choice Nolan wanted to play the main character Cooper. Partly because he conveys an image of a farmer and doesn’t come across as world beating astronaut. When I saw Matt Damon in the movie, I wondered how it would all have turned out had he been given the lead role. We shall never know. 

Two things get to you in the beginning; firstly, the near future version of earth where the earth can’t sustain life anymore and humanity has to look for other ways out. Secondly, the music score. I don’t think it’s possible to overestimate the talent of Hans Zimmer, the brains behind the orchestral music score. The music is so beautiful, so passionate, so spiritual, so personal that it draws you in seductively into the movie. There are few movies I have watched and wanted to know the music composers. Permission to make a bold claim. Hans Zimmer is an extraordinary composer, right up there with Mozart and Beethoven. It’s hard to watch Interstellar without noticing the ambitious vivid music. After a little research, I realised he was the same composer in the prior films of Nolan. Boy was I surprised. 

Another thing that strikes you as you watch is the visual beauty of the film. This film is visually stunning and gorgeous. All thanks to Nolan and his cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema who collaborated to produce a visual effects masterpiece. 

The movie begins at Cooper’s farm where he lives with his daughter Murphy and elder son, Tom. It is clear from the outset that Cooper likes his daughter the most. At the core of this movie, the bond of love between father and daughter is the premise. When a sandstorm forces Cooper and family to rush from a baseball game into their dusty house, they find certain strange dust patterns on the floor of Murph’s bedroom. Cooper interpretes them to be binary code which he translates into coordinates, unbeknownst to them, for a secret NASA base. Upon driving there, he and his daughter are apprehended and discover that the earth is dying. Humanity’s last hope lies in leaving the planet. Apparently, in this dystopian earth, “public opinion doesn’t allow spending on space exploration” so they devised ways to continue with the space agency but in secret. Mainly because the planet was failing and they needed a solution from space. But also because there were unexplained gravitational anomalies that had been happening in recent years everywhere on earth. The same gravitational anomalies that handed Cooper the NASA coordinates. 

At NASA, we meet two impressive characters. Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Doctor Brand (Annie Hathaway). For some reason, we never get to know their first names. Both are astrophysics geniuses whose intellect we never get to appreciate properly. Professor Brand comes across as a seasoned wise informed humble intellectual. Someone who can keep their cool in times of crisis. His daughter is a utilitarian scientist who, against all scientific logic, believes love is quantifiable. Even when Cooper gets to the Tesseract at the end, he also believed his “quantifiable love” for his daughter is what saved humanity. One would think human solidarity and the survival instinct mentioned by the astronaut Mann is the driving force behind surviving Armageddon of any kind. 

Somewhere near Satan is a wormhole to another galaxy where NASA sent initial probes. Who put the wormhole there? Nobody knows. I’m surprised no character in the movie jumped to the most human conclusion ever; God put it there. With the nebulous beliefs of Nolan and the scientific nature of the film, we can never know what conclusions he would have jumped to. Maybe the scientific consultant for the movie, Kip Thorne, warned against making certain conclusions in a scientific endeavour. Kip Thorne, who won the Nobel Prize in physics for his work on gravitational waves and astrophysics in 2017, was the reliable handyman behind all the science. When Cooper first arrives at NASA and is asked how he found the place, he demonstrated the utmost respect for scientific inquiry by beginning his reply as follows: “I hesitate to use the term supernatural…”. In times of uncertainty, that’s all the certainty we need. 

The movie is filled with real life depictions of wormholes, spacetravel, and spacetime effects of relativity. For instance, a planet is near a black hole. The gravitational field of the black hole slows down time on the planet to a modest 7 years per hour spent on the planet. This time dilation effect is complex Einsteinian relativity but thank goodness they had Kip Thorne who happens to be one of the leading experts on the implications of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. One of the mind blowing ideas I got is that gravity can move between dimensions. An average person could know that gravity bends space and time. But having the ability to move across time at any point is revolutionary. Not sure how scientifically accurate it is though. 

When Cooper finally reaches the other side of the wormhole and they start exploring the life supporting planets, a series of events lead him into the Tesseract where he learns how to manipulate gravity to his advantage. The Tesseract is a three dimensional depiction of five dimension space where he could see every physical moment of his daughter’s bedroom. The Tesseract is a technology created by a higher civilisation with the ability to manipulate space across five dimensions, which we can, for now, call science fiction. Not scientific impossibility. Cooper’s solipsistic human nature forces him to think this advanced civilisation is of people, in other words, is of humans, which I have reason to doubt since I would expect such an advanced civilisation to be too far along the evolutionary line as to barely resemble humans in anyway. But that’s my opinion. 

In the end, Cooper and his daughter save the human race. Cooper sends Morse code to his daughter about his observations while falling through a black hole which somehow advance our understanding of the universe enough for us to escape from a failing planet to live on space stations orbiting Saturn. But this relaying of information across interdimensional 5D spacetime creates a paradox. Cooper harnesses gravity to send the dust patterns revealing the NASA coordinates to himself in the first place. 

By the end of this wonderful movie, if you have been paying attention, you will have appreciated the vastness of space and time, you’ll have seen the subtle spirituality that the cosmos inspires among academics. You’ll hail the emotional journey that the movie has put you through. You’ll also hail the genius of Christopher Nolan for making such a great movie.