Faking it with Belle
Belle de Jour talks in the Telegraph
. I commented on LinkMachineGo
and I repeat the comment here, because I'm too lazy to do a proper post about it.
"The usual classics: Bede, Ivanhoe"? Yeah, right.
There are quite a few dissonances, I think. I wouldn't lump together Greer and Davis, for instance. I'd hardly describe Euripides as a "bedside standard" either.
Neither did Huxley write much "psychedelic scifi disguised as literature". You'd never characterise him that way unless you had read nothing but Brave New World.
This article was not written by the blogger, I think. The scattergun literary boasting and a couple of idioms strike me as American. The blog is written by someone English.
LinkMachineGo also links to Sarah Champion's Belle page
, which is good fun. Ms Champion was never going to turn out to be Belle -- if she were, Belle would be more of a raver, less of an aesthete.
At first glance, it might not be clear that the discovery that we might owe our intelligence to our weak jaws
has dealt a death blow to intelligent design "theory", but the day is done for the Dembskistas. Of course they won't admit it.
This post in the The Loom
explains far more eloquently than I could why this is.
The whole monkey jaw thing started me thinking about science and belief. The Greeks used to reason their ethics and take huge leaps of faith in their science. Some believed stars were living beings; some that the universe was never changing; some that everything in it fell; some that the planets were perfect spheres... All of these beliefs they held fiercely, without any observational proof. In ethics, though, the Greeks were coldly logical. They stated reasonably simple axioms and then reasoned from them to whole bodies of principle. The axioms strike us as misguided more often than not but they worked to be consistent.
These days we are almost entirely the opposite. Whereas in science we do not tend to believe anything except what we can argue from relatively few axioms, our ethics are a mishmash of stuff, mostly taken on faith (oh how we laugh when we see people try to make their case for "natural rights" (there are none), "natural justice" (eat thy neighbour is nature's way, we seem to forget), "good and evil" (what we like and do not like by another name)).
Why do I say this? Well, it strikes me that the Greeks argued from the idea to the facts -- IOW, they conceived a universe and then found natural phenomena that seemed to show their conception was right. The scientific method works, in theory, the other way round -- we observe the facts and draw conclusions from them.
Intelligent design, of course, is a theory in the Greek fashion. The conception is that there is
a designer and various things are taken to prove that that's so. That isn't how science works but it appeals to Christians, partly because Christianity is so strongly seamed with Platonism.
We rarely examine what we actually do believe. In my case, I've always known it's not much. I believe there is a physical world (IOW, I'm not one of those mentalists who believes the world is purely a construction of the mind) because it could hardly be proved not to exist. I believe that most other things in physics are negotiable. The scientific method provides good terms for negotiation, but I'm not convinced that anything is proved, at the end of the day. So when I say I believe in evolution, I'm always wanting to add the caveat that belief is contingent, or even that I believe it more than I don't, but the possibility of not believing it does exist. Well, none of that is to say much. Most scientifically minded people would say something similar. I accept that the standard theory of particle physics describes the world, but I don't believe it's necessarily an accurate description. I'm not sure whether it matters practically speaking, although of course in metaphysics it does. Again, standard stuff, I'm sure. I make no claims whatsoever to originality.
In ethics, I am a vague, wishywashy liberal. I believe people are inherently "good" in particular senses of being good. I don't think they generally try to do the wrong thing, but one man's right thing can be the next's evil. Understanding that is important, I believe, because the inability to put oneself in the other's shoes is the greatest curse for our politicians when they deal with one another. I believe we have an urge to cooperate that tends to make us better rather than worse (no Hobbesian strife for me, thanks) but I think that circumstances and environment can stymie that urge.
At the same time, I believe the complete opposite of all of that.
"We asked people who love water what they thought" say Coke, when asked why on earth they called their doomed bottled tap water Dasani
I thought we all loved water. You sorta have to, don't you? Falling out of love with it is going to have desperate consequences for you.
So who did they mean? "The kind of idiot who will buy tap water at a quid a bottle if we put a flash label on it" is, I suspect, close to the mark.
You know who you are. You spent hundreds of pounds on your gym gear, but you somehow haven't found the time to do much working out (next year, next year). You think Sex and the City was a work of the highest genius and its perpetrators the new Shakespeares, nay, the new Homers too. You think Chaucer is what you put your cup on. You think you are cool but cannot understand why, if you're so hot, you couldn't get laid on a porn set.
You probably do actually believe you can't live without Dasani
. (Which, I suppose, is strictly true.)
Although the famous spunk page
has now gone, you'll note that if you click on downloads, a ghostly penis swirls around the woman's head. I'm not sure what message that's trying to convey (Drink tap water... you'll only be able to think about cock?) but someone in the Dasani
team seems to have a sense of humour.
They'll need it. Everyone involved here in the UK is out of a job since the product was pulled. At least the chemist who didn't realise that the calcination of this, ahem, pure water would create a carcinogen is. Enjoy!
Safety in numbers
Winning the war? I think we know we're not. The world seems to most of us more dangerous, and the figures show we're less safe
. Of course, America itself has not been attacked. And it has conquered Iraq and emplaced military bases in several central Asian nations. Maybe that's the kind of victory we were after all along.
We feel here in the UK, I think, that we're next. Of course, we never were really targets for Islamist terrorism before 9/11, because our government tacitly allowed the shelter of Islamists here in the UK. Some of the guys we now have locked up in Belmarsh, or suspect we ought to have, came here because they are relatively safe here from the security services of their home nations. The likes of Abu Qatada certainly aren't here for the cricket and warm beer.
After 9/11, we pretty much marked our own card. I'm not saying we shouldn't have done. I think the solidarity we show with the US is to some extent something our nation cannot avoid. Of course, I think we've gone way beyond solidarity and tumbled headlong into craven arsekissing, but even so, that doesn't mean we shouldn't express our fellow feeling for America. Even if we feel that America's imperialism creates discontent, and that it is in some measure understandable that there will be those who hate the US and will want to hurt it, that's a long way from saying that the citizens of New York deserved to be slaughtered.
But that fellow feeling has pretty much been milked dry because we are beginning to be overwhelmed by the feeling that we are going to be dying for someone else's crusade, like peasants caught up in a dynast's wars. We cannot help wondering whether the aggression we might have supported (against those who would harm us) has entirely been channelled in ways we certainly do not (against people who, no matter that they are unpleasant, do not interfere with us or our lives). Far from feeling safer, we have come to feel not safe at all.
We are not even terrified. We have become fatalistic. We simply hope it is not us. We are like townsfolk in a Western -- we know that we could be caught in the crossfire but aside from bolting our doors we don't know how we could avoid it. It's not frightening, it's rather banal.
Can drink extend your life?
In another article from Scientific American, we learn that Tutankhamen drank red wine
, or intended to in the afterlife. Me too! Perhaps he and I will share a glass. I intend to keep drinking it in the hope it works, anyway.
Wear the red basque
Is red red? That's to say, is it only red because we call it red? Or is it something nameless that everyone sees, and only we call red? It's an interesting and important distinction. If the former is true -- and perhaps the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is correct -- lack of understanding between speakers of different languages might extend beyond difficulties in translation into impossibility of sharing term, a serious problem for crosscultural understanding. If the latter is true -- so that we might describe the world differently but the world we're describing is not affected by our descriptions -- hey, we can still love each other. Linguists Berlin and Kay did seminal work on colour in the sixties, which seemed to go some way to disproving Sapir-Whorf, but as Kay points out
, his work can't be extended beyond colour. Still, he says languages are not too different (he means in this specific sense, not that Arabic is much like English) even if it might be true that they can shape thought (particularly interested by the Guugu Yimithirr thing -- they use north, south rather than left, right).
Googling "Guugu Yimithirr" I found a most curious thing. A page on Aboriginal languages in English and Basque
. You don't see written Basque too often.
Basque is peculiar among languages itself (and it's probably only a curious coincidence but this is common among Aboriginal languages, as well as in Samoan, Inuit languages and to some extent in the Caucasus -- I studied Abkhaz at university, but don't ask me to say anything in it, I only looked at its form and phonology) in that it is an ergative language. In a rough sense, ergative languages mark as the same case the subject of an intransitive verb and the object of a transitive verb -- because they are the thing the verb does its action on: so that the words for "I" and "me" would be the same in "I arrived" and "he hit me". "He" would be in a different case to "I". They would not be considered grammatically equivalent. If you can think of those two sentences as "I am the thing arrived" and "I am the thing hit by him", you're getting it.
There, right there, is Kay's point. Even though ergative languages and their way of casting the world are strange, we can still grasp the concept. I don't know whether Basque speakers actually conceive of actors and actions differently from us, though. I rather doubt it.
Fu Manchu and the Golden Phoenix
Some years ago, long before he became Fu Manchu, Fu learned the secret of extending life.
He stole it – although he claimed it was fair exchange – from a sect of monks whose commune he swept and cleaned for seven years. The monks, peculiarly for their sort, did not sweep and clean their own quarters. They had lost the discipline. Their order had once had a strong discipline, a rigid and some would say harsh regimen: gruel, manual labour and an obedience that would have appealed to the very soul of old Kong. But in those times of easy living, the scions of gentlemanly families, who as you would expect made up the most part of the monastery’s complement, would have no truck with anything that might dirty their hands – preferring to pass their days in meditating and playing cards – and it became necessary to hire a boy for the job. Fu was that boy.
He wanted to tell Harry Landers, as he fastened the handcuffs on to the steel bar above his head, that he only stole the secret because the monks, degenerates all, had replaced him with a woman, their order having fallen so far from its ideals as to permit the defilement of the monastery with a female. But he doubted not only that Landers could grasp the intricacies of Chinese society of that time, although Landers did claim to be Oxford’s foremost Sinologist (which Fu did not credit, Landers’ putonghua having shown itself more than once to be lacking, unless the importance of China as an area of study had very much declined since he had last visited), but also that Landers would welcome the distraction from the serious business of figuring out how to escape from the fiendish end Fu had prepared for him.
Sometimes, in a darker hour, Fu felt he might just as well shoot them, these blowhards who came to foil his cunning plots for world domination, but it was one of the few pleasures his dwindling years afforded him to spend long hours in imagining the most fiendish of end.
He left Landers strung up by the wrists, and walked out on to the verandah of the mountain hideaway. He had built it himself, twenty years before. He enjoyed the physical work of cutting the wood, shaping it. It kept him supple and focused the mind. He had learned the art of carpentry and joining from a man in Shanghai who had built houses for merchants who had made money in opium. The carpenter had struggled with his conscience. He knew the money he was paid was dirty, that it derived from others’ misery. He knew that the merchants sometimes had one another beaten, assassinated even. He knew they were not good men. He found it hard to bear.
Fu Manchu reflected that a man can always choose. The opium does not choose the smoker. Fu knew that well. For many years he had been a dope fiend, hanging around the slums of one of the numberless cities of the south, hoping to destroy himself, to eradicate himself in opiate oblivion. It didn’t work. Fu had a core, an inner light, which no matter how he tried he could not extinguish. He blamed his youth in the monastery.
On a dark night – unseasonally dark, you might say, for July in Shanghai, but the clouds covered the moon and made it a night for evildoing – Fu Manchu drowned the carpenter in a bucket. The carpenter had been washing his face. Fu knew a fork in life’s road when he saw one, and pushed down the carpenter’s head. With all his strength he pushed the carpenter down. When he was dead, he threw his body into the harbour from a shaded boardwalk. The carpenter barely made a splash.
Fu took the carpenter’s business and expanded it quickly and ruthlessly. His strategy was simple. Some of his competitors he killed. In those times a man could disappear and hardly be missed, if you had the will to make him gone and a dark night for the deed. Fu had the will and as the year drew on, the nights became dark enough for any desperate thing a man felt he had to do. Other competitors he frightened with sorcery, which is to say by using thinly veiled threats cloaked in the melange of smoke, mirrors, blood and thunder that impresses the less educated, or did back then, before schooling became more available to the lower classes. By the close of the year, Fu had a monopoly on traditional housebuilding on the waterfront. But clouds were gathering. Soon the Europeans – who had been only an occasional, pitiable presence, mostly in the form of crazed priests, whose own version of sorcery, with its own thinly veiled threats (which Fu somewhat admired for their ferocity but scorned for their lack of personality) gripped the peasant mind of many of Fu’s workers, to his great delight, because they ceased to agitate for better conditions, having come to believe that their reward was assured in another life – began to encroach into all areas of trade. The worst of them was that they despised the wooden houses that the merchants had always loved. They held to a peculiar belief that the solidity of stone was the right medium to express wealth rather than the organic beauty of wood.
Fu knew he had two choices. Kill every European who came or change track in his business. Fu did the research. It seemed clear that Europeans were tenacious where they were not subtle. Still, he felt it would be somehow noble to kill them on principle. The meddling fools seemed to believe they had a right to the wealth of the whole world, and would trample the locals underfoot, destroy their customs and traditions, to get their grasping hands on it. There were many unemployed coolies on the waterfront whom it proved easy to inspire to a grudge against Westerners. Soon Fu had a small army of thugs, who would assassinate the European businessmen who were becoming so prominent in Shanghai. The thugs grew ever more enthusiastic. They burned and looted godowns, churches and houses; they even swam through the choppy water of the harbour to climb like rats up the anchor chain of the Europeans’ boats, to rob them of the merchandise they brought as well as that they intended to take away. Chief among the imports was opium, and Fu quickly found he owned several hundred pounds of it. He did not wish to enter the drugs trade, having been ensnared by opium himself and recognising it for the evil it was, but neither did he wish to waste the goods that he had so the scruple proved surmountable.
Fu Manchu’s thugs were not often caught. When they were, they did not speak his name, because they feared him more than any torture the authorities offered them. Still his name came to be known, and the Europeans, who had been making great profits from the opium trade, began to think that he was the worst of things in their universe – bad for business.
So they began to send their agents, resourceful although not particularly intelligent men, to find and if possible eliminate Fu Manchu. Over many years they came and he amused himself with the game of setting them ingenious puzzles, watching them blunder through Shanghai and the surrounding countryside, bemused and lost children, his playthings. He had amassed a very large fortune and employed many thousands of men. It became obvious to him that he could, if he chose, become ruler of all China, which was becoming more and more complacent of its power and, in truth, was needing only the gentlest of pushes into instability. From there, how could he be stopped, were he to arm his nation with the latest weaponry, easily purchased from the Europeans, who would sell anything to anybody if the price was right, if he wished to conquer the entire world?
But something held Fu back. He began to doubt he could rule the world and remain the shadowy figure he liked to present. He did not seek the limelight. He had managed these many years not to be known, just to be a name – not even his real name. The people who could correctly identify him could be counted on the fingers of one hand, and each of them could be eliminated in an instant if he chose. Periodically he had them eliminated anyway, just to be sure. But if he had to inspire a nation of millions, he would need to be a figurehead. There would need to be rallies, conferences, meetings. Meetings! Fu did his business in smoky rooms, speaking from behind a curtain. He began to doubt you could conquer the world from a smoky room.
The view from the verandah was splendid. The low hills and wooded valleys around Fu’s hideout shone with late spring rain. The air, fresh, with hints of pine and jasmine, made a promise of new life that even Fu, bitter as he was, could not fail to respond to. He was glad that he had begun to make the puzzles that little easier, the traps slightly more escapable, so that the European agents would at least have a chance. Their ends could be, and often were, ghastly, usually involving sharp blades, for which Fu would confess a penchant. But they were not entirely doomed. Fu had come to feel he should share some of his own ability to escape fate, that they too should not necessarily have their lives curtailed. He did not know why. He had begun to have the idea that they were like children, and he was no more than their teacher, a guru of pain. Certainly they did not understand that wisdom must be earned, which explained why he found it so easy to entrap them in the first place – they never had the experience or plain dog sense to try to cover their tracks when they arrived in China. They blustered about Shanghai and Guangzhou, shouting the odds with the locals, many of whom owed something to Fu, and could repay their debt by sharing what they heard. The fools might just as well publish a circular, Fu thought, so brazen were they.
But it tired him. He bowed his head over the rail of the verandah. He could hear the cries of Landers, who had realised what was planned for him. Fu sighed. What use was life’s game of chess, if one’s opponents must each time be taught the rules, over and over? He walked down from the verandah, on to the path that led down from his hideaway, down through the forest, over the old bridge and into town. He would eat some rice and pass perhaps an hour in contemplation of the people passing by.
“The world shall hear from me again,” says Fu Manchu, wishing that this time he will not escape from the abyss and return to one of his hideaways to lick his wounds and once more work up a plan to make himself master of perhaps not the whole world but at least the corner of it he coveted. But he knows that Landers, who did not have the sense to look behind him when he entered a dark room, can inevitably only confront him by the cliffside.
Fu curses. He doesn’t even know whether he’s cursing himself, the Europeans or the world for existing for him to dream of owning. Or nothing at all.
He will turn end over end, his voice fading, until the watching agent can no longer hear it at all, and will not see, will not know that Fu Manchu has concealed a parachute, can fly, will live a thousand years and a thousand more, always striving, always thwarted, always alone.
The bang and the clatter. The rattle and the wheeze.
Bang, clatter. Rattle, wheeze.
Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang.
He is a man. He is a man who is smacking that cheap, plastic keyboard.
He is a man of thirty-seven, thirty-eight years – I’ve never asked, never cared to ask – who shows the keyboard who is boss.
Fuck it. Fucker. Fuck it. Fucker. The bang and the clatter. He stops. Sucks his teeth. The rattle and the wheeze. Fuck it. Fucker.
Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang.
He is getting the minutes in there by some sort of two-fingered Morse code, I swear. He is a man among men. You'd think he could have learned to touch type. Bang. Bang. He is fierce.
I am fierce. I stalk the corridors a mighty warrior. I hunt the prey. I jerk my hips like a savage when I get the picture of the pool secretary. Then I remember the cameras and stop it. Stop it, stop it. Is she begging or teasing? Wanting it really. I catch sight of myself in the glass panels.
No natural light touches me nine to one, two to five. I breathe the breathings of those who have breathed before me, and when I am done with it, the system takes my air for them to breathe once more. The building hums gently. The air tastes strange. Everyone but me has bad breath.
Fuck it. Fucker. Fuck it. Fuck it. Everyone is breathing the air I have breathed and their breath is worse every day. They are talking under their breath and under that oppressive weight what they say never rises above a mutter. A murmur. Fucker. Bang. Fucker. Bang. Fucker. Bang.
This is how we compete. Someone is talking about targets. I am looking at a spot on the table. If I look harder, ever harder, the voice becomes a drone, the drone a hum, the hum indistinguishable from the aircon, the aircon a whisper of nothingness. I am glaring at the spot on the table. Glaring.
Someone asks me something. I haven't a clue. Yes, I say. I nod. Yes, and a nod. Nod, nod.
The drone begins again. They’ll send the minutes. He’ll send the minutes. Action. I find out what I agreed to when I see the minutes. I don't care. This is how we compete. Say yes, nod, move on. I can vanish into the spot on the table. I can vanish and they won't know I've gone. They will keep on putting the money into my account at the end of every month and they will not know I've vanished. Bang. Clatter. This is what you agreed. I don't know. I just nod, yes, nod, and read the minutes.
Someone is talking about targets and I am wondering if time began or whether the world has always been. But I'm thinking, in here time begins at nine. There is the world out there, beyond these four walls, and the world in here. The same rules do not apply. We are sealed off from the rest of it. We are breathing the air we’ve breathed.
Someone is talking about targets and I am watching the pulse in his neck. I wonder whether anyone could stop me if I dived across the desk and bit through his neck.
I need sharper teeth.
I am looking at my teeth in the mirror. My shirt feels uncomfortable. I pull it, I tug it, I move it around, but it bunches. I have to pull it out from my trousers. I glance up. I wonder whether they have cameras in here. You’d think it would be wrong. Wrong. But what is wrong? They have cameras in every corridor. If they want to watch you shit, they can.
The door opens. A guy walks in. He knows me. I know him. We are nodding. Nod, yes, nod. Hey. Hey hey.
He doesn't ask why I have my shirt pulled out. He doesn't even look curious. I tuck it back in. I look at his prick as I walk out the door. Not a long look, just a sneaky peek. It is small and the foreskin hangs over the glans.
If there is a camera in the washroom, they've seen my looking at another man's cock. I don't know what they will make of that. I don't know what the rule is for that.
Bang. Bang. Bang. BANG.
The end of his typing hangs in the air. He is breathing heavily. He has chased it down, hunted it, killed it, skinned it and fucking roasted it. The minutes. They are done.
If I could see through the walls of this room – do you still call it a room when it is so big? – I would not see the forest, I would not see the hills. But if I could stand up, on the roof, I could see far enough, far enough to see beyond the grey, to another, whole world. I could breathe.
What the fuck am I thinking about? He passes me a copy of the minutes. He has been talking to me. I have been nodding. Yes, I say. It's amazing how often yes is the right thing to say.
If I could only climb up the sheer face of the glass outside, reach the roof and breathe. If I could get high enough, just for a moment, I could see the forest, I could see the hills. They must be there. Even if in here there is no forest, out there…
Yes, I’m saying. Yes, yes. I nod. But what the fuck am I thinking about?
I am thinking it over. The figures are not right. Someone has changed the figures. I am thinking over the figures. Who would I tell? If I wanted to tell, who would I tell about the figures? I am trying to think who would care.
Someone has stolen a large amount of money, I’m almost sure. I am trying to think who would care. The same amount of money passes into my account at the end of every month. I'm trying to think who would care that someone has changed the figures.
I can see my reflection in the monitor. I am looking at my teeth. They are flat and blunt, not the teeth of something that lives in the jungle. I need sharper teeth before I start to care.
These figures don't look right, I say. But I am not sure anyone has heard me. I am not sure I said it aloud at all.
When we are born, we are the whole world and everything in it. Then our lives, one long process of finding out that others have made the world, and the space they have left for us in it grows smaller, ever smaller, until it is a speck of nothing, blowing in the wind.
I am looking at my teeth, reflected in my monitor. It is close to five o'clock. I should file my teeth like a savage. It is five o'clock. I should leave.
All the randomnosity I could stand
Who says Canadians are boring? Lynn's life
is one dizzy whirl of office, CD buying and parties you're glad you weren't invited to. She refers to herself as a "happy/sad/bored Lynn" just once too often for me to feel sympathetic to her. I don't know why. It's an affectation that sets my teeth on edge. Makes me think of the Gollum -- it's a clever Smeagol I is. Anything that gets me thinking of LotR is definedly not a good thing.
Hop, skip and link
I'm in a giving mood, so I'm blogging a few of my favourites. I don't claim that I'm the first to find these or anything. They're just ones I have loved.
Simple but wonderful, this whole world clock
could be a godsend for anyone, like me, who has relatives in other timezones who resent being rung at three in the AM. I love the way you can watch not only your life ticking by, but those of people like you in exotic places.
Even more time can be had from the what time is it in Chickpea? list
. I have no idea why you'd want to know, but if you did, it's here. Curiously, it linked to an ebay search for Samoa
. I was a little disappointed to find that I could not bid on the Pacific island, but there are some nice stamps going for a song, if stamps ring your bell.
As a lover of things linguistic, I find these language miniatures
amusing if not profound. The author's take on quirks, myths and bits and pieces of language is always well written and, if this kind of thing interests you, interesting.
Those who have an interest in logic, and with Zero's recent intervention in my comments, I doubt many remain, might enjoy this rundown of logical failings and fallacies
. This will help you spot what method your correspondent is using to snow you. It might amuse regular readers of this blog, should such beasts exist, to try to find one Zero has not used this month.
is the arsekickingmost sceptic money can buy. He is fearsomely intellectual but remains readable. He kicks seven bells out of intelligent design and other creationist nonsense. His discussions of Islamicist claims of astronomical predictions in the Qu'ran are the apogee of his cogent rationalist style.
As I've said before, I'm not keen on the muscular scepticism that tries to make out that believing is a bad thing
, but I am nonetheless a disbeliever
. I wouldn't make much of a crusader. The sceptic bible, if I can call it that, would probably look like the Skeptic's Dictionary
, which has many interesting essays on pseudoscience and some of the quacks who feed off credulity.
Once you have rid yourself of infestations of the mind, you might want to clean your PC. I'm a bit slack with viruses, so Panda Activescan
is a godsend. You'll need to dl the control it uses, but it looks legit. It found a virus tonight, so I've got more than my money's worth out of it.
Dr Zen will, in spirit, be joining the demonstrations in Spain against the Madrid bombings.
It's my feeling that nothing, no cause, no belief can justify the indiscriminate slaughter of our fellow humans.
I have sympathy for some of the aims of ETA and some also of the Islamists. But none whatsoever for their means. What would your nation be worth if you built it on the blood of commuters, everyday people doing their everyday things? What is your religion if that is your utopia that you build from broken bodies? Is that a glory, a wonder, a place we can all look at with pride?
I will never understand the sheer arrogance of those who believe they have the right to end the lives of others as they choose. I will never understand those who believe this world can be fuelled by hatred, that we, any of us, can hope to survive, can hope for our descendants to have a world to live in, if we make no effort to cherish one another.
We have to say no. We have to say that especially if we are the people the bombers think support them. I say no.
Random thoughts on the Christ
For a simple enough message, Christianity seems open to a myriad interpretations. Here, some screeching nutter proves the New King James Bible is the work of Satanists
, if not of Old Nick himself.
We giggle at such silliness, but don't we all encounter hairsplitters who will ignore the messages in the NT as suits them, insisting that in the Greek
it said we should all eat goat on a Wednesday and hate our neighbour, because if you look at the list of definitions in the Oxford Dictionary of Ancient Greek, definition 21 of "love" has "eat goat" and definition 27 has "hate". Mind you, check this out -- no goateating going on in these guys' Bible
This fiendish nonsense is reminiscent of the ancient Greeks themselves, who would work themselves into a stupor over the most bonkers ideas in one another's philosophy. Heraclitus said everything changed, Parmenides said nothing changed, Plato said everything seemed to change but nothing really did (okay, okay, he didn't, but he nearly did). They didn't tend to kill one another over it (although Socrates' persecutors included some of the sophists whom he'd made look foolish). But what is interesting about them is that there is the understanding that they said this and that, when really they said something other. From Plato's fascist republic to Aristotle's muddled, gentlemanly ethics (which informed Catholic morality with its curiously bourgeois distaste for the venal), they are mostly interesting for how incredibly difficult they made their world -- without ever striking upon the real complexity that it holds.
As a philosopher, Jesus, who like Socrates left no writings but is faithfully or not so faithfully, depending whom you read, reported by his peers, does not concern himself with cosmology or metaphysics. After all, he was talking for an audience who shared ideas in those areas -- I think it's reasonable to assume he was aiming his teachings solely at Jews and not at others whose idea of the world might differ.
So Jesus set out his message. It was pretty plain. Love God, love the people round you, don't chase the dollar, be true, be honest, be good. In brief, do nothing to shame yourself.
And take the bus
Don't Buddha mind if I do
You won't find much in the way of enlightenment on yeah whatever, but you might find a path to it through Buddha Mind
. The left side is particularly fun, a spectacularly interlinking melange of tricks, games, riddles and the four noble truths.
Zen of css?
You think your cobbled-together blogscape is impressive? Think again. Have a look at the css Zen Garden
and weep as you realise you're a design second-rater and your pretensions are straw in the wind.
Leave your address, phone and credit card number before clicking this link
Fed up with newspapers that insist you register with them to read an article you've followed a link to? Use Bug me not
to save the hours of your life you spend on faking an existence as a peapicker in the Marshall Islands... you mean you put your real address and details? Ahem. Could you lend us a fiver? (via Linkmachinego
A passion for language
Handy Aramaic for Passionate filmgoers
. Link from the brilliant Butterflies and Wheels
Ayleyn enuun Oorqey?
From the same source, statistical proof that God exists, probably
. In a world that lacks faith, maths will prevail!
I shouldn't laugh (but yes, it did make me chuckle) because the guy will sell millions in the US (remember that Profit of Jabbers nonsense that promised the Yanks that they could have whatever they prayed for, including a new swimming pool -- those people will buy anything so long as it doesn't involve not eating burgers).
Opening the doors of heavenly delight
Ah, the pleasures of a huge vocabulary. Sheikh Nefzaoui's descriptions of vulvas
never fail to make me smile. My particular favourite is "El zerzour (the starling) - The vulva of a very young girl, or, as others pretend, of a brunette." I am determined to work that into a piece of fiction somehow.
The sheikh's advice on increasing penis size
is perhaps not to be trusted though. I'm very doubtful about the leech mixture in particular.
But this frank approach to sex education is surely to be encouraged. Kids are going to do it, whatever Bush and co wish
, so they might as well learn to do it properly.
The Passion of the Zen
The Passion as homoerotic fantasy
? The question that the Mere Catholic types need to answer is why would you choose St Matthew rather than a more balanced view, and why the particular interpretation of it?
Not in the Bible
? Well, films often depart from the book. And sometimes they are cobbled together from various sources. Gibson is part of a tradition, after all, of Catholic interpreters of the gospels who play up the badboyness of the Jews and the role of Mary, and play down the more broadbased love and kindness message of the gospels outside the Passion.
The debate in full at Beliefnet
, which also carries words of wisdom from the Dalai Lama
and prayers for those of us who do that kind of thing.
Jumping on to a link on the Dalai Lama page took me to this wonderful collection of mandalas
, which has a java-powered viewer, which allows close-ups. Om-nificient! As are these photos of bygone Tibet
. Small but evocative memorials to man's inhumanity to man.
I stumbled across the cute story about the hundredth monkey
Actually, I found it on a site promoting being nice to one another. I'm in favour of promoting positivity, if for no other reason than that the world can occasionally seem to be a shithouse. I could almost sign up to the UNESCO manifesto
, if it weren't for the part about not defaming people. I think that's too strict. Some people enjoy a good defaming and who am I to deny them? Even those who don't enjoy it much might be improved for the experience. That's part of the problem with "niceness". It isn't enough to build a world with. There does have to be a certain amount of "cruel to be kind"ness in the mix. Sometimes people have to be confronted with wrongness. Okay, you can do that with respect -- and the principle is worthy. We need not feel that just because we cannot always reach the standards we set ourselves, we need not try.
As for the monkey story, I would have been more impressed if the hundredth monkey had tapped a palm and fried the sweet potato in the oil, opening up a franchise, which although increasing the incidence in cardiac disease in Japanese monkeys, brought him unimaginable wealth, albeit in coconuts.
Alien ate me
Anyone who has ever suspected that the world might be crazier than it seems, or who has indulged in fantasies of UFOs, will love the Shaver mystery
. Shaver was a guy whose wacky alien theory took root in sf magazines of the 40s/50s. The careful reader will be thinking "Roswell" and yes, these were the glorious days of UFO hysteria. It looks like Shaverism hasn't died
. It's all great fun.
I'm a sceptic, I suppose. I tend towards the rationalist and humanist understandings of the world. But when I was a teen, I was a subscriber to the Unexplained magazine -- a huge partwork whose concerns were UFOs, spontaneous combustion, ghosts and other things going bump in the night, the whole wonderful realm of the paranormal.
What I suppose I like to remind myself is that you cannot know
. I like to take a quasi-Socratic approach to wisdom, although I don't share Socrates' belief that knowledge is attainable but lacking. I think it's mostly lacking because of what it is. Shaver knew
that we were all deros. Prove him wrong!
believes there is zen in sleaze. The opposite is certainly true, so who knows, maybe he is right. Sleazefan says "conventional perceptions of art and beauty, this path often leads to pretentiousness and arrogance". Yes, and as he admirably proves, so do unconventional perceptions of same.
I haven't the faintest idea what jaysuarez
is on about, but I found him strangely compelling. I loved the Superman pic! And his views on underarms cannot be faulted.
was, not too surprisingly, very taken with Mel Gibson's Passion. It's a little alarming to read their review because it seems they think it was real. I've come across this before -- evangelical types, whatever their denomination, seem unable to recognise that the film is Gibson's reading
of the Passion -- and by all accounts it's quite a peculiar reading. Still, it would be peculiar if they weren't fired up. The one-notedness of their blog reflects for me the way many of this kind of Christian approaches life. It's as if they view the whole world through Godly spectacles -- in other words, unreflectively, always sieving the word through a layer of Christian meanings. I'm not knocking them, don't get me wrong. It's a way of viewing the world (just as Heraclitus viewed his world through his belief that all was strife) but it just wouldn't satisfy me.
has put a lot of effort into the look of her blog, but not too much into her posts. Still, it's nice if you like teddy bears.
Brittany says Joe sucks
and I'm inclined to believe her. Oh, and Everett? You suck too.
Amanda misses Rob
. It's sweet. Her friends think they should date. Meanwhile, Dan, the filthy bastard, just wants to get into her pants. Well, she'll learn. Rob's just playing her. Dan's the man.
The soon to bes in view
Often it seems that even the brightest news must be slightly clouded over. Yesterday, we learned that Mrs Zen is carrying one of each sex.
Of course, I am very pleased that I will have another daughter, but I am in many ways a typical man, and the idea of having a son is thrilling. I suppose that the idea that you will improve on your father's life -- better him in your achievements in all spheres -- however stupid an idea that might be, however irrational you know it is, does drive men a little.
I don't know whether women ever feel that way.
But there is a very small but potentially very dark cloud. Both XX and XY, as they are known, have choroid plexus cysts, something I had never heard of before yesterday, and something I wish I had never had to find out about. In one case, the cyst is quite large.
These cysts are, in nearly every case, a simple developmental quirk. They occur in one in a hundred fetuses. They disappear after a few weeks, and have no ramifications. However, where there are no other markers, they mark for trisomy 18 in one in a hundred cases. The sonographer searched very hard for other markers, and found none -- no club foot, no clenched fist, no heart problem. So there really is nothing to worry about.
Except, if it's a one in a hundred chance, it is 10,000 to one that both babies just happen to have it (because they are dizygotic and are no more the same than two separate fetuses). That worries me. There are I think three possible answers:
1/ It is pure chance and the twins really are one in 10,000. I am too much the rationalist to believe that.
2/ It is caused by something genetic, and either I or Mrs Zen has this thing (it is found in normal people, who show absolutely no symptoms of having it). Zenella might have had it undetected. So both might have inherited the allele responsible. I haven't found anything to suggest a genetic cause though.
3/ A corollary of number 2, I suppose. The twins are actually what is called polar twins, and share half their genetic material (without going into it, twins can be from one egg but fertilised by two sperm). This would mean they are more closely related than fraternal twins normally are -- the two sperm can obviously be X and Y, so they can still be different sexes. This is what I fear.
The sonographer and the consultant obstetrician who looked through the sonographs felt it was nothing to worry about, but I wonder whether it simply didn't occur to them how rare it would be to find two babies together with the condition. The sonographer, if she scanned three sets of twins a day (which she might, because she is the twins specialist), would have to work for 15 years before seeing it again.
Of course, this is a very minor thing. It makes me feel immense sympathy for those parents who are presented with the news that there are
other markers -- that their child, whom they had already begun to love (even if like me, they do not believe that a foetus is alive, well, we love the potential, the idea, the dream), will be ruined. This is a very unlikely outcome for me -- the young Zens are whole, with fast-beating, strong hearts, and I wholeheartedly believe they will be beautiful children.