Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Games of the Gods

Why gambling is good for you by Prudence Jones in the Guardian (Face to Faith column)
It's nice to see a Pagan author in the Face to Faith column, especially when it's Prudence Jones. The article sets out why gambling was originally a sacred activity, and why it's psychologically beneficial, by teaching us how to handle risk in everyday life. I suppose that's why extreme Protestants were so vehemently against it - they were such determinists (believing in predestination and Providence) that they couldn't handle the idea of chance.

I suppose we have lost the sacred aspect of gambling in the same way that we have lost the sacredness of other activities. For instance, smoking was originally a sacrament shared among the indigenous peoples of America, and none of them got addicted. Addiction to smoking only happened when it lost its sacredness and became an everyday activity; and it was the same with gambling. If gambling was just an annual sacrifice to the goddess Fortuna (also known as Lady Luck), it would be kept within the precincts of the temple, and not practised to excess.

Friday, May 27, 2005

hitch-hiker's guide to... Earth

Duncan Campbell on why we should revive hitching
  • it's environmentally friendly
  • there's an element of randomness
  • you meet different people
I agree, hitching is brilliant. Before I had a car, I didn't generally hitch on my own (not safe) but I pick up hitchers if they are couples or if they look non-threatening. When I was at the University of Lancaster, they used to have hitching posts - a bus-stop on campus and a lamp-post in town where the hitchers would queue up and the drivers would pick them up. It was brilliant, I hardly ever had to catch the bus onto campus. Last year I picked up a student hitcher on the way into work, and I often pick up colleagues on my way up the hill, but you don't see many people hitching now. I think it's the fear of being assaulted. Shame really, it certainly was a cheap and eco-friendly wayof getting around. Also, you meet some really interesting people. I picked up an actor travelling down the M5 into London once, and he learnt about Wicca, and I learnt about acting in soaps. Last year on the way down to Cornwall we picked up a woman going to visit her mum who was living on a caravan on a farm. They were into the festival scene and stuff.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

the Coeur and the Pleroma

Today I bought three DVDs and two books. There was a DVD stall on campus, and I bought Anita and me, The Importance of Being Earnest, and Finding Neverland. Then I went into Waterstone's and picked up Virtual Light by William Gibson, which is the next book on the list of the SF Reading Group I have set up. Then I saw they had a compilation volume of three Ursula Le Guin novels, Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile and City of Illusions, so I had to get that as well. Had a good blether with Steve about SF.

Last week I bought The Fatal Eggs by Mikhail Bulgakov. I've started reading it but it's a bit depressing. I really like his The Master and Margarita (a classic).

I also bought Anima by M John Harrison, which has 2 of his non-SF novels in one volume. I've read the first one, The Course of the Heart. His writing style is wonderful, very precise and lots of original imagery, but some of it is very dark and depressing. There's a very good bit in it where one of the characters is writing a fictitious travel memoir called Beautiful Swimmers. The style of the excerpts from this fictional memoir is somewhat reminiscent of Patrick Leigh Fermor, whose stuff I really like, so I enjoyed these bits very much. The concept of the Coeur and its relationship with the Pleroma and the world is very good. I wonder how many readers of the book will be familiar with the concept of the Pleroma, or with Jung's Seven Sermons to the Dead / Die sieben Belehrungen der Toten, which is the only other place I've ever seen it mentioned?


This week I have been mainly reading children's fiction. I was ill over the weekend and wanted something that wasn't intellectually taxing. But now I've started reading Comet in Moominland in German (Komet im Mumintal).

Sniff / SchnüferlIt's not too difficult, but for some reason Sniff is called Schnüferl, which is rather similar to the English name of another character, Snufkin (Nuiska Muikoonen in the original Finnish). This confused me until I saw a picture of Sniff and realised it was him we were talking about.

Snufkin / Nuiska MuikoonenSnufkin is a very different character, being altogether more self-contained and prone to philosophical speculation.

Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster

The original recipe from http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A799419:
  • Take the juice from one bottle of that Ol' Janx Spirit.
  • Pour into it one measure of water from the seas of Santraginus V.
  • Allow three cubes of Arcturan Mega-gin to melt into the mixture (it must be properly iced or the benzine is lost).
  • Allow four litres of Fallian marsh gas to bubble through it (in memory of all those happy Hikers who have died of pleasure in the Marshes of Fallia).
  • Over the back of a silver spoon float a measure of Qualactin Hypermint extract, redolent of all the heady odours of the dark Qualactin Zones; subtle sweet and mystic.
  • Drop in the tooth of an Algolian Suntiger. Watch it dissolve, spreading the fires of the Algolian Suns deep into the heart of the drink.
  • Sprinkle Zamphour.
  • Add an olive.
  • Drink... but... very carefully.
OK, here's my PGGB recipe:
  • Take one measure of vodka (Ol' Janx Spirit)
  • pour into it one measure of Blue Curaçao (Santraginus V water)
  • Add three measures of gin (Arcturan mega-Gin)
  • and four of ginger beer (Fallian marsh gas).
  • Add a silver teaspoonful of creme de menthe, (Qualactin hypermint extract)
  • then a drop of Grenadine or Angostura bitters (tooth of Algolian sun-tiger).
  • Sprinkle cinnamon (Zamphour)
  • add an olive.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Farhat Khan update

It looks as though Farhat Khan is still in the UK, but there is hardly any news on the web and many of the sites supporting her have not been updated. The only recent page I could find was about a rally in Manchester - www.labournet.net/antiracism/0504/ncadc2.html - which she attended.

I first heard about it on Radio 4 news - I wish they would follow stories through to completion, it's so frustrating hearing about something and then not knowing the outcome. I suppose journalists think that people don't care about the outcome of a story, and it was only newsworthy because of the irony that the Queen was inviting her to Buckingham Palace at the same time that the Home Office were trying to deport her.

And that's another thing, it annoys me when they refer to events on the news as a "story" - it makes it sound not real somehow, as if it was just something being staged for the entertainment of the public.


I just put Firefox back on my work PC yesterday (when I installed the pre-release version 1.0, I put loads of extensions on it, and one of them killed it, so it just wouldn't load). I finally got around to deleting all the Firefox bits (in Profile etc.) and reinstalling. It's so nice! I was using ordinary Mozilla, which was OK, but just not as good as Firefox. I like the look and feel, the extensibility, the Web Developer toolbar, the Tabbed Browsing extensions, everything. IE 7 is going to have to be really cool to compete with Firefox, and so many people have switched that they probably won't want to switch back. Most users that I have introduced to Firefox really like it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


As a wearer of a hoodie, I find it a bit worrying that I am now tarred with the brush of yob culture.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/talking_point/4537459.stm - Should Bluewater ban baseball caps?
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4539405.stm - Prescott backing hooded tops ban
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/kent/4545657.stm - Call to boycott 'hoodie' ban mall

I wear it because it is a practical garment. And if hats and hoods are a problem, then what about all those scary old people with hats? We all know how menacing an OAP in a trilby can be... I think the hidden agenda here is that the churches of consumerism (aka shopping malls) want people to show proper respect in the temple of Mammon...

EDIT (25-7-05): Just found this witty comment about this on the Woolamaloo Gazette.

Much more worrying, however, are the government's plans to introduce ID cards, and the deafening silence of public debate on the subject.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4554827.stm - Government unveils ID card scheme

The reason I am against ID cards is that I shouldn't have to carry ID unless either (a) I need access to resources; or (b) I need to prove who I am for the safety of other people (applies to teachers, police officers etc etc).

Also I just don't trust the government to hold that much data about me in one place (it's all very well to say that they already have the data - sure they do, but it's all in different databases at the moment). If they decide that certain categories of people are personae non grata (e.g. Lib Dem voters, Pagans, Muslims, bikers, hoodie-wearers or whatever) then a centralised database would make it even easier for them to round up the people they don't like - and with the new terrorism legislation also introduced in the Queen's Speech, lock them up for as long as they please.

Friday, May 13, 2005

currently reading...

Speculations on Speculation: Theories of Science Fiction - an excellent theoretical overview of what SF is, how it has developed, and where it's going. Some of the essays are somewhat elderly now, as it's a collection of essays from previous anthologies, but it's very useful to find a book that actually links SF with other literary traditions and explains the similarities and dissimilarities between them. I was very interested in Darko Suvin's essay on the device of cognitive estrangement (basically the same as a Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt). I'm not sure if I think it is a pre-requisite for SF, but it probably is. Personally I think the question "What if...?" is usually the starting point for SF. It should also include some kind of science I suppose, though so-called soft sciences are just as valid a basis for SF as the hard sciences, in my opinion.

Also reading Catherine de Medici: A Biography by Leonie Frieda. Fascinating stuff and reasonably well-written; having seen the film La Reine Margot, it's a period I'm quite interested in. Also there's usually more than meets the eye to people who have a really bad reputation - it's often a distorted picture of what they were actually like (take Machiavelli for example). I don't normally read biographies, but I like history stuff. The only drawback with Catherine de Medici: A Biography is the almost Byzantine complexity of the politics of the time and the interrelationships of the protagonists, plus the number of times she uses the word 'superb'. I wish authors would not do this (Melvyn Bragg had a nasty attack of it in The Adventure of English, where he kept repeating the image of the English language drilling deep holes into the bedrock of something or other; though apart from that it was an interesting book).

Thursday, May 12, 2005

"Kingdom of Heaven"

Went to see Kingdom of Heaven last night, and enjoyed it rather a lot. Orlando Bloom was nice to look at, which always helps, and the premise of the film is that all war is stupid, especially if you're fighting about stuff you should obviously be sharing. The critics panned it for being overly didactic, but they've obviously never heard of a Verfremdungseffekt. It also seemed reasonably historically accurate, though I was a bit surprised that they did not have a label saying "Horns of Hattin" for the battle where the crusaders got comprehensively stuffed, as from what I can remember from the Terry Jones TV series, that was the battle of the Horns of Hattin - the landscape looked right. And all the other locations were labelled.

The plot was a bit too obviously based on Joseph Campbell's hero journey, even down to the initial refusal of the call to adventure - but then most films use this structure so I guess it's fair enough. There were a few loose ends of plot at the end though - like where are they going?

The scenery and sets were fantastic, and I also thought it was good that the battle bits were really close up and made you realise how horrible it would be to be in the middle of a battle. It could be interpreted as a mere splatterfest if you weren't thinking about the issues, but you'd have to be pretty insensitive not to pick up that Ridley Scott just wants people to be nice to each other for a change.

The guy who played Salahuddin was really good, apparently he is the world expert scholar on Salahuddin. And the Muslim guy who made friends with Balian was really good too. And the leper king of Jerusalem - nice mask. Pretty good acting to be able to act with just your voice and your eyes, too. Jeremy Irons was excellent as usual, and David Thewlis was cool, ditto Liam Neeson. The female lead, Eva Green, was excellent too.

I think the topic of the film could not be more timely, as it reminds us that the Muslims held Israel in peace before the crusaders turned up, and that actually they were advanced, civilised and cultivated before getting savagely attacked by barbarian crusaders. Check out <www.muslimheritage.com> if you don't believe me, especially Jerusalem before the Crusades.

The following historical summary pretty much describes the historical background plot of the film, which shows that Ridley Scott et al did their homework:

There was a truce between the Sultan and the Franks in Palestine but, according to the French historian Michaud, 'the Mussulmans respected their pledged faith, whilst the Christians gave the signal of a new war'. Contrary to the terms of the truce, the Christian ruler Renaud or Reginald of Chatillon attacked a Muslim caravan passing by his castle, massacred a large number of people and looted their property. The Sultan was now free to act. By a skilful manoeuvre, Salahuddin entrapped the powerful enemy forces near the hill of Hattin in 1187 and routed them with heavy loses. The Sultan did allow the Christians to recover and rapidly followed up his victory of Hattin. In a remarkably short time, he reoccupied a large number of cities which were in possession of the Christians including Nablus, Jericko, Ramlah, Caesarea, Arsuf, Jaffa and Beirut. Ascalon, too, submitted after a short siege and was granted generous terms by the kind-hearted Sultan.
The Sultan now turned his attention to Jerusalem which contained more than sixty thousand Crusaders. The Christians, could not withstand the onslaught of the Sultan's forces and capitulated in 1187. The humanity of the Sultan towards the defeated Christians of Jerusalem procures an unpleasant contrast to the massacre of the Muslims in Jerusalem when conquered by the Christians about ninety years before.
(from www.crusades.org/salahuddin.htm)