conskeptical

do you see what I see?
Sunday August 31, 2014
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He announced it as a secret party and he locked all the doors of the place after doors opening. There must be attention given to the technical and vocational education of labor.
Argentines had done so far. The cogwheels are for the modern engineering industries.
It provides a range of workshops covering the Celts and Romans locally to the Victorian kitchen. Netherlands still remains fragile as the country is highly dependent on exports to maintain the recovery.
Cruise Missiles, Richard K. Fulton first used instrumented dummies as he prepared for a live pickup. February and returning with her squadron to Sasebo at the end of March for maintenance.
Spam crosses into the realms of postmodern prose-poetry? Amazing. Montoya Duque on September 2, 1811. - iaghqaui@airtelbroadband.in
Tuesday August 26, 2014
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Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Turns out this festival is good fun, even without bookings! (Do book accommodation, everything else can be wung easily!) Here are the 12 things I saw over an evening and the following 3 days:
Joke Thieves - 4 standups each do their routine. Then they each do one of the others’ routine, taking great care to ridicule their counterpart at every opportunity. Funny because the standups are sometimes funny, and funny because it highlights how fickle we are as people, equally able to laugh at someone because they’re funny, and at the other person who is making fun of the person we were just laughing at a minute ago.

Beyond the Body - amazing and varied dance performance with video effects. Click through for a video. Amazing sound track and variety of movement. Inspired by a variety of ancient movement forms, really nice introduction to the idea of sacred/devotional movement.
The Closure of Craig Solly: A Dark Monologue by Russell Kane - an unsettling reminder that morally broken minds can still be brilliant minds.
The Story of Medieval England From 1066 to 1485 at Roughly Nine Years and Two Jokes Per Minute Incorporating The Hundred Years War - he unexpectedly gave out Jaffa cakes at the beginning of the show.
Tomas Ford Stop Killing People - his thing is terrorising the audience while singing nonsense in an exaggerated but amazing voice.
Edinburgh Toilet Duck Award - Grand Final - embodies what I thought the Fringe was really about: terrible standup in gritty venues. Turns out the Fringe is only a bit about that though. The winner was a magician, comedy magic, but still I think it was the magic that got him the win.
Sam’s Office - was actually our dorm in the backpacker’s hostel. A very high, but luckily very funny, guy (Sam, apparently) stumbled in at 0930 and had a long, very loud, phone conversation to the entire room describing his antics the previous evening and how out of his tree he was. Then he fell into a deep slumber, and we never heard from him again.
Ride of the Wagnerian - an eloquent Italian regaled us with his love of Wagner. Basically a lecture. Observationally funny, and situationally funny. Inspired me to listen to Wagner.
Paul Currie: Release the Baboons - absurdist in the extreme. Awesome chill-out jazz music/muzak to an absolute madman calling on humanity to take itself less seriously. Right on! Even so, I wasn’t expecting the audience participation bread-fight.
Künt and the Gang go to Mecca - incredibly crude songs with comically awful backing tracks, performed in a bingo hall. Quite clever, often politically on the button, utterly dreadful in an entertaining sort of way. He seems like a nice guy, you wonder how he found this peculiar niche.
The Thinking Drinkers’ Guide to the Legends of Liquor - an endearingly pseudo-intellectual ramble through the history of booze and prominent boozers. With free drinks and visual gags.
Scott Capurro Islamohomophobia: Reloaded - romping all over the media’s broken idea of ‘offensive’, at about 300 words per minute. A lovely guy with a lovely voice and a strong sense of funny, right and wrong.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Turns out this festival is good fun, even without bookings! (Do book accommodation, everything else can be wung easily!) Here are the 12 things I saw over an evening and the following 3 days:

Joke Thieves - 4 standups each do their routine. Then they each do one of the others’ routine, taking great care to ridicule their counterpart at every opportunity. Funny because the standups are sometimes funny, and funny because it highlights how fickle we are as people, equally able to laugh at someone because they’re funny, and at the other person who is making fun of the person we were just laughing at a minute ago.

Beyond the Body - amazing and varied dance performance with video effects. Click through for a video. Amazing sound track and variety of movement. Inspired by a variety of ancient movement forms, really nice introduction to the idea of sacred/devotional movement.

The Closure of Craig Solly: A Dark Monologue by Russell Kane - an unsettling reminder that morally broken minds can still be brilliant minds.

The Story of Medieval England From 1066 to 1485 at Roughly Nine Years and Two Jokes Per Minute Incorporating The Hundred Years War - he unexpectedly gave out Jaffa cakes at the beginning of the show.

Tomas Ford Stop Killing People - his thing is terrorising the audience while singing nonsense in an exaggerated but amazing voice.

Edinburgh Toilet Duck Award - Grand Final - embodies what I thought the Fringe was really about: terrible standup in gritty venues. Turns out the Fringe is only a bit about that though. The winner was a magician, comedy magic, but still I think it was the magic that got him the win.

Sam’s Office - was actually our dorm in the backpacker’s hostel. A very high, but luckily very funny, guy (Sam, apparently) stumbled in at 0930 and had a long, very loud, phone conversation to the entire room describing his antics the previous evening and how out of his tree he was. Then he fell into a deep slumber, and we never heard from him again.

Ride of the Wagnerian - an eloquent Italian regaled us with his love of Wagner. Basically a lecture. Observationally funny, and situationally funny. Inspired me to listen to Wagner.

Paul Currie: Release the Baboons - absurdist in the extreme. Awesome chill-out jazz music/muzak to an absolute madman calling on humanity to take itself less seriously. Right on! Even so, I wasn’t expecting the audience participation bread-fight.

Künt and the Gang go to Mecca - incredibly crude songs with comically awful backing tracks, performed in a bingo hall. Quite clever, often politically on the button, utterly dreadful in an entertaining sort of way. He seems like a nice guy, you wonder how he found this peculiar niche.

The Thinking Drinkers’ Guide to the Legends of Liquor - an endearingly pseudo-intellectual ramble through the history of booze and prominent boozers. With free drinks and visual gags.

Scott Capurro Islamohomophobia: Reloaded - romping all over the media’s broken idea of ‘offensive’, at about 300 words per minute. A lovely guy with a lovely voice and a strong sense of funny, right and wrong.

Thursday July 10, 2014
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Graham Hancock on (mostly) Ayahuasca

There is a secretion from a frog, which you can actually smoke, and which is extremely powerful.
- Graham Hancock

That just about sums up the frame of reference of this near-monologue: Alice’s Wonderland… Fascinating insights and perspective on society and self from Graham Hancock, informed by his learnings from a variety of traditional plants and substances.

There is a bit of an undercurrent of ‘for spiritual growth you need to put crazy chemicals in your brain’ and a bit of machismo around that, but I think that is more a function of Hancock’s interviewers than of Hancock himself.

Recommended to me by a valued teacher, thank you!

Saturday January 18, 2014
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Sakuran

Film about the career of a courtesan in Japan. Sumptuous costumes and frequently poetic, intelligent, wise dialogue make this great fun to watch. Lovely observations on the question of being in control of one’s life.

Tuesday January 07, 2014
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Century of the Self, Adam Curtis

A remarkable documentary about the psychological history of the USA, and by extension the consumerist world, from the early 1900s to the modern day, covering the rise of consumerism (transition from a needs-based to a wants-based economy for large proportions of the population) and its evolution to its current (but still highly evolving) form. As the title suggests, the notion of an ever-increasingly individual self (ever more distinct from the other selves) has been a key trend in that psychological history.

Freud and psychoanalysis play a key role, as giving rise to the modern field of public relations. The human potential movement pops up later on too in a surprisingly consequential way.

Fascinating look at the history and theory behind the implicit and explicit advertising messages we’re constantly immersed in.

'The medium IS the message!'

Sunday January 05, 2014
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Insights From A Self-Confessed War Criminal Who Promoted Seat Belts

'The Fog Of War', a highly thought provoking documentary interview with Robert S McNamara, who was the US Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968, and held various other high ranking positions at Ford, the World Bank etc.

A really frank, interesting insight into what it’s like playing a key role in managing the destinies of tens, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. And showing, through his on screen performance, how it’s possible for one human being to participate in horrifying destruction (at one point, remarkably, he does refer to himself as ‘behaving like a war criminal’, ‘we would have been tried as war criminals had we been on the losing side’), as well as humanitarian causes, without there being unreconcilable personal contradiction.

His 11 lessons are really good too, see this wikipedia article. Although the ‘in order to do good, you may have to engage in evil’ is a little unpalatable, I suppose it’s true in the sense of minimising evil being a good thing. Choosing the lesser of the available evils can’t be fun, especially when you have no idea whether you actually are managing to choose the lesser of the available evils.

And in the midst of all that systemic evil being awkwardly managed by duty-bound ‘heroes’, you can’t help but think that there’s great opportunity for people who might actually want to do evil, or at least, have less scruples regarding trading some evils for various ‘goods’ at unfavourable exchange rates.

What a mad place the world is!

Totally worth a watch.

Friday January 03, 2014
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Monks, Chuggers and the Commercialisation Of Begging
The other day I was accosted in the street. “Did you know it’s international sideburns day?” “Oh really? Well it seems I’m doing better than you then!” At which the sharp-eyed passer-by-snatcher stroked his non-existent facial hair and I cottoned on to the fact that I’d just been hooked into whatever money-grubbing activity he was engaged in. “So what are you collecting for then?”
It transpired that the fellow was a monk, collecting money to feed the homeless as part of a small monastery-associated outfit. He wasn’t asking for a monthly donation (which I never give), so I gave him a bit of money. We also had quite an interesting chat about spirituality, and he offloaded a couple of those Hare Krishna books onto me.
The conversation was interesting: it became apparent that for most of the conversation we were just having a nice conversation between two human beings. So rare between a chugger and a passer by! So rare in fact that it wasn’t until we were a few minutes in to the conversation that I realised I could safely lower my anti-theft defences and just enjoy the conversation fully.
Mere minutes later, I was mugged again (charity mugger, chugger), this time by a proper pro, representing a big national charity. This lady was after one thing and one thing only, my salary. Text your donation, take my leaflets and please join our club. It was all spiel, no human interaction. She even told me that the company that was running the campaign was spending £400k in order to raise £1.2M. Not sure whether that’s an overhead of 25% or 33%, but I’d still much rather cut out that middle-man, although the absolute economics of those schemes is sadly undeniable…
And what of the original beggar, the individual beggar, begging probably mostly for him or herself? Normally their street-game is less polished than that of the pros, and I guess they do less well. The beggars have been pushed out of their own market by professionals, however well meaning they may be.
And as with the professionalisation of anything, it tends to reduce the scope for a human connection. Whenever anything is manufactured at scale, the humanity is diluted, usually in proportion to the scale.

New rule. Never, ever ignore non-corporate beggars. They represent meaningful humanity, even if booze and drug fuelled, in a world ever increasingly filled with carbon copies of designed and refined crap.

Monks, Chuggers and the Commercialisation Of Begging

The other day I was accosted in the street. “Did you know it’s international sideburns day?” “Oh really? Well it seems I’m doing better than you then!” At which the sharp-eyed passer-by-snatcher stroked his non-existent facial hair and I cottoned on to the fact that I’d just been hooked into whatever money-grubbing activity he was engaged in. “So what are you collecting for then?”

It transpired that the fellow was a monk, collecting money to feed the homeless as part of a small monastery-associated outfit. He wasn’t asking for a monthly donation (which I never give), so I gave him a bit of money. We also had quite an interesting chat about spirituality, and he offloaded a couple of those Hare Krishna books onto me.

The conversation was interesting: it became apparent that for most of the conversation we were just having a nice conversation between two human beings. So rare between a chugger and a passer by! So rare in fact that it wasn’t until we were a few minutes in to the conversation that I realised I could safely lower my anti-theft defences and just enjoy the conversation fully.

Mere minutes later, I was mugged again (charity mugger, chugger), this time by a proper pro, representing a big national charity. This lady was after one thing and one thing only, my salary. Text your donation, take my leaflets and please join our club. It was all spiel, no human interaction. She even told me that the company that was running the campaign was spending £400k in order to raise £1.2M. Not sure whether that’s an overhead of 25% or 33%, but I’d still much rather cut out that middle-man, although the absolute economics of those schemes is sadly undeniable…

And what of the original beggar, the individual beggar, begging probably mostly for him or herself? Normally their street-game is less polished than that of the pros, and I guess they do less well. The beggars have been pushed out of their own market by professionals, however well meaning they may be.

And as with the professionalisation of anything, it tends to reduce the scope for a human connection. Whenever anything is manufactured at scale, the humanity is diluted, usually in proportion to the scale.

New rule. Never, ever ignore non-corporate beggars. They represent meaningful humanity, even if booze and drug fuelled, in a world ever increasingly filled with carbon copies of designed and refined crap.

Wednesday January 01, 2014
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Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

The first film (released in 1984) from what was to become Studio Ghibli. Wonderful music, and imagining of post-apocalyptic wildlife. Basic message seems to be ‘nothing good comes of forcing a result, be in harmony.’ Worth a watch!

Wednesday December 11, 2013
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Project Wild Thing

Great fun documentary about one man’s mission to use the marketing tools of commerce to market nature itself in an attempt to get children back into nature, and wrest control of their attention from consumption marketing and hypnotising screens to more wholesome things like simply playing outside. Easy, thought provoking, feel-good film, with some alarming statistics. Key messages for me:

  • We all can benefit from spending time in ‘natural’ settings (OBVIOUS, but easy to overlook…). It’s especially crucial for children, because if they don’t, then they’re more likely to be more strongly estranged from ‘nature’ as adults.
  • Children, and adults, spend astonishing amounts of time on SCREENS, not directly interacting with the physical world.
  • Why is there apparently a competition between the real world and the screen world? Can’t they somehow reinforce each other? Do they? Under what circumstances?
  • where have these strange myths come from about how dangerous the outside is (that have adults discourage children from being outside), and why have they taken hold so strongly?
  • what is it about Britain that makes us particularly bad at having children disconnected from outside?

Towards the end of the film there are some really nice insights into why marketing nature is really difficult, that shed interesting light on why business success is usually predicated on having a SIMPLE business proposition. Business is all about creating profit/value whatever out of various kinds of uniformity. The defining thing about nature is its limitless variability.

Of course, in reality, business exists in nature, nothing is ever simple, so the ‘ideal’ business (unformity) and the ‘ideal’ nature (completely unpredictable) don’t exist except as conceptual points on a scale: and it’s nice to have that scale because then you can know where you are on it for any given situation. A nice balance of the predictable and the unpredictable is needed in life, and this film gives a nice heartwarming reminder of that.

One glaring point though is that the quality of nature available to different groups of people is rather variable… and if we all went into the nicest nature, it would soon not be the nicest… a slightly awkward and overlooked subject in the film. So there’s an interesting difficulty between ‘enjoying nature and trying not to destroy it in the process’ and ‘being indifferent to nature and removed from nature and having it destroyed on our behalf, largely in ways we are ignorant of, by the organisations that insulate us from it’. Hmmm.

Worth a watch in any case!

Monday November 25, 2013
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CHOCOLATE PARKOUR
An awesome weekend in Brussels with Chris and the Littlefairs. Click through for pictures. Key learnings:
Single line sketching. Focus on the subject. Don’t worry about the sketch. Voila. Better sketching. Funner sketching.
Vine. 6 seconds of trivial video silliness. Art. Communication. Fun.
Chocolate parkour. Urban philosophy. Chocolate philosophy. New names: Bingowing Batman, Parkour Pacman, Creperie Bretonne, Le P’tit Belge. Luxury poo.
Conceptual parkour, the conceptual nod, meta parkour, reverse parkour.
BINGO MINIMUM. NO RULES.

CHOCOLATE PARKOUR

An awesome weekend in Brussels with Chris and the Littlefairs. Click through for pictures. Key learnings:

  • Single line sketching. Focus on the subject. Don’t worry about the sketch. Voila. Better sketching. Funner sketching.
  • Vine. 6 seconds of trivial video silliness. Art. Communication. Fun.
  • Chocolate parkour. Urban philosophy. Chocolate philosophy. New names: Bingowing Batman, Parkour Pacman, Creperie Bretonne, Le P’tit Belge. Luxury poo.
  • Conceptual parkour, the conceptual nod, meta parkour, reverse parkour.
  • BINGO MINIMUM. NO RULES.
Sunday November 17, 2013
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Impulse book buying
I accidentally bought three books yesterday, all interesting looking:
The Bed Of of Procrustes - from the inventor of the term ‘anti-fragile’ (describing systems that thrive on disorder), comes a mysterious, quirky, funny book of modern aphorisms, centered apparently around the theme of the modern (implied broken) approach to the unknown. Eg: 'If you know, in the morning, what your day looks like with any precision, you are a little bit dead - the more precision the more dead you are.’
The Miracle of Trees - Wooden Books seem to be beautiful without exception, and this volume, translated from the original Finnish, supports that. 'The aim of this book is therefore to help you better understand the miracle of a tree, its parts, purposes and dynamic changes, and the way its life is interwoven into the very definition of what it means to be human.'
The Unwritten Laws of Finance & Investment - I was browsing in the business/accounting/finance section of the bookshop, and I found a book almost literally hiding from me, a little paperback hidden behind some hulking, dead textbook. Whenever a book is hiding, I am curious, so I lifted this one out. Lo and behold, it had a curious title and was decked out in a rather cheekily austere cover. Seems to be a long series of very mini essays, each outlining a useful piece of financial advice. 'Look past the gimmicks: freebies such as air miles, or spurious association with golfers or pop stars are a dangerous distraction. Focus all your attention on the stuff that really matters: the hard facts and the tough choices.'

Impulse book buying

I accidentally bought three books yesterday, all interesting looking:

  • The Bed Of of Procrustes - from the inventor of the term ‘anti-fragile’ (describing systems that thrive on disorder), comes a mysterious, quirky, funny book of modern aphorisms, centered apparently around the theme of the modern (implied broken) approach to the unknown. Eg: 'If you know, in the morning, what your day looks like with any precision, you are a little bit dead - the more precision the more dead you are.
  • The Miracle of Trees - Wooden Books seem to be beautiful without exception, and this volume, translated from the original Finnish, supports that. 'The aim of this book is therefore to help you better understand the miracle of a tree, its parts, purposes and dynamic changes, and the way its life is interwoven into the very definition of what it means to be human.'
  • The Unwritten Laws of Finance & Investment - I was browsing in the business/accounting/finance section of the bookshop, and I found a book almost literally hiding from me, a little paperback hidden behind some hulking, dead textbook. Whenever a book is hiding, I am curious, so I lifted this one out. Lo and behold, it had a curious title and was decked out in a rather cheekily austere cover. Seems to be a long series of very mini essays, each outlining a useful piece of financial advice. 'Look past the gimmicks: freebies such as air miles, or spurious association with golfers or pop stars are a dangerous distraction. Focus all your attention on the stuff that really matters: the hard facts and the tough choices.'
Saturday November 09, 2013
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Before Midnight

Mark Kermode reviews the third instalment (after 1995’s and 2004’s instalments) in Richard Linklater’s, Julie Delpy’s and Ethan Hawke’s wonderful trilogy. Romance films with none of the sickly sweet syrupy tedium; here there’s a genuine story, genuine characters that you can really empathise with and learn from, fabulous setting, insight, acting. Mark Kermode’s review perfectly chimes with my feelings about the film.

Unusual things about this trilogy:

  • Composed almost entirely of long takes of almost pure conversation, often walking conversations.
  • Huge gaps between film releases, which are mirrored in the actual time passed for the characters in the film.
  • The two lead actors were co-writers with the director.
  • The whole thing is almost completely realistic, but still completely compelling. The myth that drama has to be distorted or extreme to be interesting to watch is completely exploded here. This is simply a feasible selection of segments out of a (admittedly slightly unusual) couple’s day, composed into a film, that really leaves you feeling like you left with more than you arrived with.

Go watch the whole trilogy if you haven’t already!

Friday November 08, 2013
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Gravity

Engaging space film. Incredibly minimalist. Tiny cast. Really highlights the claustrophobia of space, which is entertainingly ironic.

Absolutely outrageously terrible realism, in that it is beautifully pixel-perfect in terms of visual appeal, but in terms of physical realism, everything is so FAST, far too fast, and the knocks and jolts way too hard. People wouldn’t watch a film that was as floaty and gentle as real space missions must be… and the exaggerated version here is definitely fun to watch.

And the disintegration effects throughout the whole film are fantastic. They make the Matrix lobby scene look positively amateur in comparison.

Overall a fun film about ‘life is hard’ and the survival instinct, set against a completely implausible, but fun, series of events in space.

Mark Kermode made a hilarious announcement about this film on his YouTube channel which is why I went to see Gravity (he finds 3D cinema drearily gimmicky, as do I). This is actually the second film I’ve seen that was definitely worth being done in 3D. The first was Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which I expect is still the best and least gratuitous 3D film ever made.

Wednesday November 06, 2013
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In Praise of Shadows - Junichiro Tanizaki
A really beautiful essay about the aesthetics of Japan from the point of view of a very influential Japanese writer (click through photo for more info on him).
It rambles about over various topics, the central theme being subtlety of taste, through the medium of light, and how the garish electric lights had destroyed the subtlety of light and shade, and shadow, that pervad(ed) Japanese aesthetics previously. Basically, Tanizaki is lamenting (in 1933) the Westernization of Japan.

In the mansion called literature, I would have the eaves deep and the walls dark, I would push back into the shadows the things that come forward too clearly, I would strip away the useless decoration. I do not ask that this be done everywhere, but perhaps we may be allowed at least one mansion where we can turn off the electric lights and see what it is like without them.

In Praise of Shadows - Junichiro Tanizaki

A really beautiful essay about the aesthetics of Japan from the point of view of a very influential Japanese writer (click through photo for more info on him).

It rambles about over various topics, the central theme being subtlety of taste, through the medium of light, and how the garish electric lights had destroyed the subtlety of light and shade, and shadow, that pervad(ed) Japanese aesthetics previously. Basically, Tanizaki is lamenting (in 1933) the Westernization of Japan.

In the mansion called literature, I would have the eaves deep and the walls dark, I would push back into the shadows the things that come forward too clearly, I would strip away the useless decoration. I do not ask that this be done everywhere, but perhaps we may be allowed at least one mansion where we can turn off the electric lights and see what it is like without them.

Sunday October 27, 2013
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Bubbles are awesome
Why do bubbles, especially big ones, capture our imagination? Because their form is so quintessentially ephemeral, they are some of the simplest, most fragile objects we come across day-to-day, yet there is something relaxingly mysterious about their floaty shapeshifting nature. Bubbles straddle the mundane and the fantastical, connecting one to the other, showing us the amazing in the mundane, and the mundane in the amazing. Bubbles are a great thing to have in our lives. They ground our spirit in the earth, and remind us of the sky. They remind us that impermanence and joy go hand in hand.

Bubbles are awesome

Why do bubbles, especially big ones, capture our imagination? Because their form is so quintessentially ephemeral, they are some of the simplest, most fragile objects we come across day-to-day, yet there is something relaxingly mysterious about their floaty shapeshifting nature. Bubbles straddle the mundane and the fantastical, connecting one to the other, showing us the amazing in the mundane, and the mundane in the amazing. Bubbles are a great thing to have in our lives. They ground our spirit in the earth, and remind us of the sky. They remind us that impermanence and joy go hand in hand.