Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Merry Yule.

Today we got up nice and early to see the sunrise from our loft window - the sky was beautiful, silver and rose and white, the clouds shifting and changing and becoming more sharply delineated as the sun came up behind them and shone through them. Eventually we were rewarded by the sight of the sun rising above the clouds, whereupon it was too bright to look at. We lit a candle and opened a present each.

Then we went for our traditional solstice walk, up to one of our favourite trees in the neighbourhood, which has a holy well underneath it, where the Romans left offerings.
Shall we liken Christmas to the web in a loom? There are many weavers, who work into the pattern the experience of their lives. When one generation goes, another comes to take up the weft where it has been dropped. The pattern changes as the mind changes, yet never begins quite anew. At first, we are not sure that we discern the pattern, but at last we see that, unknown to the weavers themselves, something has taken shape before our eyes, and that they have made something very beautiful, something which compels our understanding."

--Earl W. Count, 4,000 Years of Christmas (

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Just finished reading The Men Who Stare At Goats by Jon Ronson. Quite possibly the most disturbing book I have ever read. Not only because the American military took some fairly fluffy new-age ideas and turned them into horrible tortures and spying techniques; but also because these nutters have an awful lot of power. Which they used to try out their oddball, disturbing and cruel ideas on the unfortunate detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib and countless other undisclosed locations. And they managed to make it all seem innocuous by letting the information leak out that they were "only" playing them Barney the Purple Dinosaur - well, once might not have been too bad, but after the hundredth time anyone really would go insane. So next time an American military type wanders up to you and does something completely random, consider the possibility that they may in fact be trying out "PsyOps" on you. All in all, the book is proof positive that military intelligence really is an oxymoron.

Friday, December 16, 2005

leave him alone

BBC News: Politics: The Lib Dem leadership options There is no sight more unedifying than MPs baying for the blood of a slightly tarnished leader (not that Charles Kennedy has ceased to be shiny in my opinion). He is doing a great job for the Lib Dems - it makes a change to have someone who goes in for issues and not tit-for-tat confrontational policies. For goodness sake, leave him alone. It doesn't do the party or its cause any good.

best ever festive songs

The ones I like...

1. The Holly and the Ivy (Christian or Pagan versions)
2. The Sans Day Carol
3. Gaude Te (especially when performed by the Medieval Baebes)
4. O Little Town of Bethlehem (but not the last 2 verses)
5. Stille Nacht (the original version of Silent Night)

Nominations welcome. If you are reading this, consider yourself tagged - blog your own list.

worst ever festive songs

The songs I hate the most....

1. Mistletoe and Wine (Cliff Richard)
2. Last Christmas (Wham)
3. Have yourself a merry little Christmas
4. I'm dreaming of a White Christmas (Bing Crosby)
5. Merry Christmas (Slade)

Nominations welcome. If you are reading this, consider yourself tagged - blog your own list.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

sysadmin God

If God was a Computer Programmer

This explains everything. Really.

yesterday's gym

2km (200 calories) on the cross trainer at level 7. 5km (75 calories) on the exercise bike at level 8. 1km (50 calories) on the rowing machine at level 5.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

happy Monkey Day

Happy Monkey Day / Bueno día del mono / Fröhliches Affentag / Meilleurs voeux pour le Jour de Singe.

Monkey Day is an annual holiday celebrated on December 14th that offers people a reprieve from the traditional religious holidays permeating the month of December. Monkey Day is a fun way to celebrate all things simian, an excuse to hang out with friends and family dressed as monkeys and grunt at one another, and at the same time promoting knowledge and awareness of monkeys and their simian kin.

Speaking as a Monkey, I think it is good to raise awareness of our nearest kin. So here's some links to organisations that help primates (source: Also we should be celebrating the original Monkey King, Sun Wukong.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Iraq: Civil rights groups protest sex segregation in schools
Azzaman reports (December 4): Civil rights groups have protested new rulings that make segregation of sexes in Iraqi schools compulsory. Education ministry has issued regulations under which mixed teaching even at university level will be forbidden. In some universities and schools, girls are forced to wear the veil or scarf and forced to attend classes separately. Mixed education at the primary and tertiary levels was part of the country's secular system until the 2003 U.S. invasion of the country.

It's ironic that Americans' much-touted "freedom and democracy" also includes the freedom to turn Iraqi society towards the more extreme manifestations of Islam - despite the fact that much of the population does not agree with this sort of thing.

interfaith solstice

Last night we went to the Bristol Interfaith Group's midwinter gathering, which was lovely. A Buddhist sang a song by Billie Holiday. We heard a Baha'i story and joined in with a Baha'i song. Then there was a Unitarian carol (It came upon the midnight clear), some Methodist kids did a poem, and a Buddhist did a chant. The Jewish community got us chanting Psalm 133 in Hebrew. I read my poem, Winter has come round again and explained the significance of the solstice to Pagans, and got everyone to sing the first two verses of The Holly and the Ivy. Then the Muslim kids told us all about Ramadan and Eid. It was a lot of fun, and I had some interesting conversations with people from other traditions.

death toll in Iraq

George Monbiot » Bringing Out the Dead - the number of casualties resulting from the invasion of Iraq could be as high as 194,000 (with the most probable death toll being 98,000 - if you exclude the Fallujah casualties).

another freedom gone

BBC News: England: London: Activist convicted under demo law

This is the death of freedom of speech (or at least a very serious illness), as John Humphries correctly said on the Today Programme this morning. Maya Evans stood near the Houses of Parliament and read out a list of names of soldiers killed in Iraq whilst tolling a bell. She was arrested, convicted, and given a conditional discharge - but this means she now has a criminal record.

Friday, December 09, 2005

even more gym

Went to the gym again today.
2.48 km on the cross-trainer (that's 246 calories) in 15 minutes at level 5.
3.53 km on the bike (that's 64 calories) in 10 minutes at level 8.
1km on the rowing machine at level 5 (I can never remomber the calories for that one).

two petitions

Defend Asylum for Survivors of Trafficking
A woman is being deported from the US because her asylum case was refused, as she applied for asylum one month too late and the fact that she was suffering from post-traumatic depression after being trafficked to the US was not taken into account.

Urge Jewellery Retailers to Help Clean Up Dirty Gold
Gold mines are destructive of communities and the environment. If jewellery retailers put pressure on the gold mining companies, they could get them to clean up their act, and treat their workers and the environment better. Anyone who has seen Powaqattsi will know how much environmental degradation goldmining can cause.

hostages in Iraq

Guardian: Kidnappers extend deadline for British hostage in Iraq

I think it is awful that these kidnappers are holding and planning to kill a peace protester - someone who went to Iraq to try and promote the cause of freedom for Iraqis. Nothing justifies hostage-taking, it is completely abhorrent. Even if the hostages are not peace protesters.

I think the government is right to say that they will not accede to any hostage-takers' demands, otherwise it would open the door to even more people trying this tactic. But it is awful for the hostages and their families. I really hope the kidnappers listen to the appeals this time.

Another thing, this will seriously undermine the goodwill of many of the people who opposed the war on Iraq. Though of course I realise that the majority of Iraqis are against this sort of thing.

no torture

Guardian: No torture, please, we're British

I think it's excellent that the Law Lords have ruled that evidence procured by using torture will not be admissible in court (whether it's an immigration tribunal or a general court of law). Torture is utterly abhorrent and wrong. Full stop. And it doesn't produce reliable information anyway. Take any historical or recent use of torture, and this can be shown to be the case.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


HERALD-PALLADIUM, South-west Michigan: Bias at the doctor’s office? Wiccan says she got lecture, not birth control prescription she wanted - and he had the bare-faced cheek to charge her $68 for the "consultation"!

(courtesy of mevennen and alfreda89)

don't click here

Why "Click here" is bad linking practice - it's a sure sign of an amateur website when it's littered with "click here" links (or even links that just say "here"). Usability guidelines have been saying for ages that content creators should make links meaningful and predictive of the destination.


Blogpoly - amusing blog-oriented version of Monopoly. Clearly the national game of the People's Republic of the Blogosphere.

it's a hoax...

The wonderful Museum of Hoaxes now has a blog. Looks like it's been there for a while, I just hadn't noticed. It may on the other hand/tentacle/fin/tendril (delete as appropriate) be entirely illusory.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

WB Yeats - Poetry Archive

William Butler Yeats on the Poetry Archive

I heard about the Poetry Archive on Radio 4, and meant to visit it, but hadn't got around to it yet when I saw Joe's link to it. So I went to the site, and found this fascinating recording of WB Yeats talking about and then reading The Lake Isle of Innisfree. It was a bit crackly, but intensely moving to hear him speaking and reading his own poem. He reads it in a sing-song dreamy way which is appropriate to the poem. Yeats is one of my favourite poets, so this was a real find.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Went to the gym at lunchtime and did 2km on the cross-trainer (200 calories); 4km (75 calories) on the exercise bike; and 1km on the rowing machine. Then ate loads of unhealthy food as I was hungry. Ah well.

Monday, December 05, 2005

gay weddings

BBC News: 'Gay weddings' become law in UK - Civil partnership: the wedding that dare not speak its name. I think civil partnerships are great news, but why couldn't they have just called them marriages? That's what they are, and gay people should have the right to get married the same as the rest of us. At least they now have all the legal protection that goes with marriage. And most people will probably refer to it as a wedding and a marriage anyway.

Friday, December 02, 2005

grass roots resistance Bristol Council opposes ID cards. Excellent. Well spotted, Phil. This is good - if local councils oppose ID cards, it will be much more difficult to implement them. Nice to know there's people in politics with a conscience.

guilty secrets

  1. I like Thomas Hardy (except for Jude the Obscure) and can't stand Jane Austen or Charles Dickens
  2. I enjoy listening to Simon and Garfunkel
  3. Eating the darkest of dark chocolate
  4. I have a large collection of teddy bears
  5. I do believe in fairies (I do! I do!)
  6. I like making miniature stone circles and burial mounds on the beach instead of sandcastles
  7. I still don't understand inner joins in SQL or know what the words epistemology and ontology mean, and I don't want to
  8. I don't believe in ley lines
  9. I thought This Life was cool
  10. I've never bought an item of clothing because it was in fashion
A game of tag invented by thecubiclereverend. If you are reading this consider yourself tagged. What on earth is a Hoagie?

interpretive drift

Currently reading Tania Luhrmann's Persuasions of the Witch's Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England.

So far I have not actually read the whole book. I am up to the chapter entitled "The Child Within" where she talks about the psychology of magical practitioners. I found this somewhat simplistic and also a sweeping generalisation. Also there is no control group to compare us against, so how does she know that these qualities are unique to magical practitioners (even if what she says is true)?

I think what happened (as suggested by Ronald Hutton in Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft) is that she "went native" for a while, then realised that it would adversely affect her academic career, and a reaction against magic set in.

Also, a lot of people were offended by the concept of interpretive drift (the idea that people start out rational but then drift into the magical worldview by degrees, becoming less rational in the process) and the way we are presented in the book as living in a world of childhood dreams. And I think there's always a problem with setting down what people say in a book - for example the description of some of the people I found to be rather clinical and cold. (It's weird reading about someone you know well in a book - feels like some kind of voyeurism.) When Alexander Carmichael was collecting the material for Carmina Gadelica, one man gave him a poem and then walked 25 miles to ask him not to put it in the book, because he didn't want cold eyes to read it in a book. I know what he meant.

It seems from the book that ultimately she rejected magic & paganism - which is fair enough, except for the way she dismisses them as irrational. And nobody likes seeing their inmost thoughts and emotions analysed and dissected.

The early chapters of the book seem quite sympathetic, but then she gradually becomes more rationalistic as the book progresses.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

the mystic rose

The Great Minimum

In a time of sceptic moths and cynic rusts,
And fattened lives that of their sweetness tire
In a world of flying loves and fading lusts,
It is something to be sure of a desire.

Lo, blessed are our ears for they have heard;
Yea, blessed are our eyes for they have seen:
Let the thunder break on man and beast and bird
And the lightning. It is something to have been.

It is something to have wept as we have wept,
It is something to have done as we have done,
It is something to have watched when all men slept,
And seen the stars which never see the sun.

It is something to have smelt the mystic rose,
Although it break and leave the thorny rods,
It is something to have hungered once as those
Must hunger who have ate the bread of gods.

To have seen you and your unforgotten face,
Brave as a blast of trumpets for the fray,
Pure as white lilies in a watery space,
It were something, though you went from me today.

To have known the things that from the weak are furled,
Perilous ancient passions, strange and high;
It is something to be wiser than the world,
It is something to be older than the sky.

G K Chesterton

What a beautiful poem.