Monday, October 30, 2006

we're all Basques

Apparently Celts, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings only represent about 5% of the British population anywhere in the British Isles; the highest concentration of Anglo-Saxons is in Norfolk, where it's about 15%. The rest of us are in fact related to the Basques; both Britons and Basques are largely descended from the first hunter-gatherers to settle in the area after the ice retreated, who would have spoken a language rather like Basque. And, even weirder, we may have been speaking a Germanic dialect before the arrival of the Romans, and they reckon modern English is directly descended from this language. That is weird. The only thing I don't understand is, when did we change from a Basque-type language to the Germanic fore-runner of English? Presumably as a result of cultural interchange with the Belgae. Well, in response to people who are fiercely "Celtic" and accuse the English of being Saxon interlopers, I've always said that I am a pre-Celtic indigene, and that the Celts were invaders too. But, as always, the picture is far more complex than was previously thought, and there were not waves of invasions and massacres. The new understanding of all this is supported by genetic analysis of mitochondrial DNA and the male Y chromosome, and by the classical writers (Tacitus, Herodotus etc).

Eup lagunak. Kaixo aspaldiko! Zer Moduz?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

surreal art

I just got a phonecall from Philip Bouchard, whose Surreal Spaces exhibition I went to last year in the Victoria Art Gallery, to inform me that his new website is up and running - he says it's not quite finished but I like the design anyway, and besides the paintings are the most important bit - and that he will have some prints on sale at the Atrium Gallery in the Podium Centre in Bath in November.

Do take a look at his pictures, they are really wonderful. This one looks a bit like a baroque Tardis; I also love the way he puts real buildings in surreal landscapes. The tone and colour of some of the works puts me in mind of Claude Lorrain, especially this one of St Pancras Station in a classical landscape - ah, apparently it is inspired by Lorrain, though I spotted that without reading the caption. I really like the way he plays with space, and the hyperreality of his style, which he uses to create illusory worlds.

democracy under threat

From the SaveParliament campaign:
Remember the Abolition of Parliament Bill? The one back in the spring, which could have been used to end democracy as we know it?

It is still at large, and making its way through Parliament. Thanks to you, it is much less dangerous than it was. But it is still quite dangerous.

Yesterday the House of Lords voted to make the Bill safer. And lost. By just 13 votes. At first we growled and shouted in frustration! But then we realised that there's another chance. There'll be a final vote this Thursday.

And you can help.

We'd like you to write to a Member of the House of Lords. Here's how to do it. It'll only take you a moment, and this time we know it really can make a difference.

1. Go to

2. Click "Random Lord" near the bottom of the page.

3. If you get a Labour peer, then click the back button and press "Random Lord" again. No point writing to Government peers on this one. Liberal Democrat, Crossbench, Bishops etc. are all fine.

4. Write a letter making the following points in your own words:

The Third Reading (that's the last one in the House of Lords) of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill is this coming Thursday, 2nd November.

Explain to the Lord how important Parliament is to hold the Government's power in balance, and how you would not like to see this Bill passed in a form which would weaken Parliament.

In the first clause of the Bill, there is a section which says that the purpose of the Bill is to "reduce burdens". Unfortunately, all it says that the Minister must consider whether the change in law he wants to make reduces burdens. This is better than the original Bill at the start of the year, but it is still not good enough.

Say that you would like the phrase "he considers" to be removed from the Bill, so that any law changed under it must be considered burden-reducing by any reasonable person. Rather than by a possibly unreasonable Minister.

(you can skip the last two points if it seems too complicated to explain; the next one is the key one)

Ask the Lord to attend Parliament on Thursday, and vote for any opposition amendments which remove the phrase "he considers", or otherwise make the Bill safer.

Ask your Lord to vote against passing the Third Reading of the Bill if the phrase "he considers" is not removed.

And thank them!

5. Send the letter. You're done.
There were just 13 votes in it yesterday. We really can win this one. Thanks to your help!

Please write to your Lord now.

Francis Irving
Campaigns Director
Save Parliament

I kind of like the idea of writing to your Lord - it sounds vaguely feudal....

Thursday, October 26, 2006

wish me luck

DATE: Tuesday, 31st October 2006
TIME: 1.15 - 3.05pm (NB actual talk is 1 hour)
VENUE: 8W 2.5, University of Bath

SPEAKER: Yvonne Aburrow

TITLE: 'Gender, Sexuality and Contemporary Paganisms'
SUMMARY: The paper looks at how issues around gender and sexuality are viewed in contemporary Paganisms. The feminist and gay liberation movements have had significant interaction with contemporary Paganisms, and the image of the witch has been reclaimed by both feminists and Pagans who want to explore the aspects of gender identity that were previously marginalised and suppressed.

Friday, October 20, 2006

green sky and stories

Just finished watching the video of Neverwhere (still brilliant after all these years) and then watched the interview with Neil Gaiman. One of the things he said was that he was taking a journalist on a tour of one of the sets and the journalist was very weirded out by the whole thing and said it was like an acid trip he had had once, whereupon Neil Gaiman pointed out that it was like that in his head all the time. I have always thought that the inside of Mr Gaiman's head must be a very strange place to live; whilst I like to visit Gaiman-world on a regular basis, I'm not sure I'd like to live there permanently. (Though if it was a choice between the inside of Mr Gaiman's head and the inside of Mr Vandermeer's head, I'd choose Mr Gaiman every time. Ambergris is not nice.) Don't get me wrong, I love Neil Gaiman's writing, I think it's genius-level.

The second thing that struck me was that Neil Gaiman said that as a child, people repeatedly told him to stop making things up. Apart from the fact that it is deeply deeply wrong to tell any child not to make things up (a friend of mine stopped writing stories because a teacher told her that you couldn't ascribe emotions to the sky; and I was quite traumatised by being told that the sky is never green, when I had noticed it being green), it is certainly even more deeply wrong to tell people like Neil Gaiman not to make things up. The world would be a much poorer and duller place if it was not enriched by his stories. I would have gone on believing that Snow White was nice if it wasn't for Snow, Glass, Apples. And his view of how deities work (as in American Gods) is very inspiring and interesting for many polytheists. (Ditto some of Mr Pratchett's theories.) What if Neil Gaiman had thought, 'oh yeah, they're right, I'll stop making things up', and just became an accountant? It would have been a tragedy, for both him and the world. His head would have exploded with all that pent-up creativity. He made light of the whole thing, but it could have been a disaster.
Alice and the caterpillar
The sky is green at sunset, as there is a spectrum from red to violet as the sun descends over the horizon... into the underworld. I have also seen the sky a deep olive green immediately before a massive freak hailstorm with hailstones the size of eyeballs. And you can have skies with emotion - if it was good enough for Balzac, Flaubert et al, it was good enough for my friend. But even if the sky was never green and never looked emotional, that shouldn't stop people writing about it. There's an excellent story by AS Byatt where the sky turns green, and the eldest princess is sent off to find out why, and she gets distracted in her quest, because, well, she knows she is the eldest and therefore doomed to fail (because it's always the youngest sibling that finally completes the quest), so she wanders off to live with a nice wise woman, and decides that she actually quite likes the new colour of the sky, so everyone will just have to learn to live with it.

So please don't ever stop making things up, Mr Gaiman, or anyone else with a rich and strange imagination. Pass the cheese and bring on the nightmares...


I've just been alerted to this nonsense by Synesis: new legislation is supposed to extend gay rights to not being discriminated against in the areas of hospitality, healthcare and adoption, among other things. However, the Cabinet is now split over what to do about homophobic religious organisations who do not want to offer their services to gay and lesbian people.

There is no excuse for homophobia in any context - if you take the fact that being gay is completely natural and the fact that according to monotheist theology, their god created everything including gays, then clearly he must have made them gay, so it's completely illogical (not to mention immoral) to say that gayness is wrong.

And people wonder why I say that Christianity is dangerous. Not necessarily Christians - some of them have transcended this nonsense and embraced an inclusive ethic - but Christianity as it is taught in the Bible.

You can't enact a piece of legislation and then allow a huge swathe of the population to ignore it. Although, as Synesis points out, gay people probably wouldn't want to spend their money with homophobic organisations anyway. But, as happened to a gay couple last year who booked a room in a guesthouse and then when they turned up, the owner turned them away, you might not know it was homophobic till you got there. And then you'd be left standing in the rain with nowhere to go.

If, after reading this, you still don't understand why I think Christianity is dangerous, read this as well.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

gay animals

Sparky the Gay Dog
The Oslo Natural History Museum has put on an exhibition of photos of lesbian, gay and bisexual animals. I saw a programme on Channel 4 about this a few years ago - apparently there are thousands of hours of footage of gay animals which never make it into the natural history documentaries in case it upsets the poor little viewers' delicate sensibilities.

So what if the motivation behind the exhibition is political? People need to be made aware that it's natural to be gay. Some evil bastard in the southern states of the USA beat his dog to death for being gay, so it's a matter of preventing homophobic cruelty to animals as much as preventing homophobia against people.

I know a couple who have a lesbian cat. I also remember the documentary on the BBC where David Attenborough claimed that a female dolphin was "buzzing" another female dolphin to see if she was pregnant, when it was obviously done to give pleasure.

Online exhibition of gay animal photos

groovy cats

Record store cats - very cute

This is quite possibly the maddest cat thing there has been since Viking Kittens.

I also like Wildlife Wilf. But the little black kitty in the paper bag is the cutest. Aww.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

a day in the life

Today, I got up at 7.00, had a shower, ate Quaker Oats Granola with goats' milk for breakfast, had a cup of black tea with goats' milk (I have candidiasis, so have to avoid cow's milk, among other things) and had a discussion with my husband about interfaith and Pagan spirituality compared with Buddhism (we went to a talk on Buddhism last night). Our two cats came in and had their Science Plan. Harry wanted to be sat with while he ate as usual; he is a rescue cat and very emotional; it took him three years to learn how to purr. Bean went straight to the bed to lie on her favourite blanket.

I drove to work via Beach and Lansdown to avoid the traffic (the scenery is lovely that way, especially now the trees are turning gold). Got into work about quarter to nine. Spent the day working through some of the tasks my boss gave me yesterday; coming up with a unified design for our web applications; emailed the marketing department to see if they'd like to produce a design for our site; looked at ways of producing rounded corners using CSS; and investigated the possibility of creating an XSLT to render RSS feeds nicely. Had a big lunch (veggie burger and chips - burger was some sort of horrid soya protein, won't be eating that again) because I won't be home till nine tonight, as I am attending my MA course at Bath Spa University, on Contemporary Religions and Spiritualities (currently doing a Research Methods module).

I am working on a Pagan theologies wiki, and received permission to put up three more questionnaire responses today. I collected the data two years ago, but it was for a book, so I want to be sure that people are happy with me using it on a website instead.

Left work at 3.30 so as to drive to Bath Spa to register for an Athens account, as I was told (by a security person) that I needed to speak to a librarian; it turned out I just needed a green sheet of instructions, then I coulddo it myself in the computer room. Not best pleased. Still, I am in the computer room now (PCs are quite slow and I couldn't get Firefox) and had a play on Athens, and then checked my Bath Spa webmail and found a link about this History Matters mass blog thing, which is why I am writing this post.

When I get home I will have a chicken korma ready meal that I left in the fridge to defrost.

desert thoughts

Rantings of an Arabian Woman by Mystique
My Prayer by Mystique

Really heartfelt poetry from Mystique, whose blog was featured on the BBC.

The "rantings" seem very reasonable to me, but then I am fortunate enough to live in a society where my every move is not controlled by men.

I love the prayer poem, it's very pagan.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

jihad in space

My MA tutor sent me an interesting article on Beliefnet about Battlestar Galactica and religion. I haven't been watching the new series, but it sounds as if it could be interesting, as I love SF and am fascinated by religion. I might have to wait till it comes out on DVD now, though, as I'd never catch up with the plot if I started watching it now.

Interesting that the author of the original show was a Mormon, and drew heavily on his beliefs for the storylines. What is it with SF and religion? The current writer/director is not a Mormon, but religion is still a prominent theme on the show, and humans are polytheists (hurrah!) One of the benefits of examining religious conflict in the context of SF is that you can give your fictional religions different names from religions that exist now, which reduces the likelihood of offending people - although quite a few people have identified the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica with both fundamentalist Muslims and fundamentalist Christians. To which I have to say, if you're ugly, don't look in the mirror.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

green light

Cheap and efficient solar power has now become much more available thanks to the Grätzel cell, according to Technology Review. Manufacture of the cells (which are much more efficient and cheaper to produce than the traditional silicon cells) has begun. Also it is possible to integrate the cells into buildimng materials and windows, obviating the need for special additional structures.

Monday, October 09, 2006


1. A book I have read more than once

Always Coming Home by Ursula Le Guin (and lots of other books, but I keep coming back to this one for the way it portrays a whole world and culture).

2. A book I would want on a desert island

Aarrgghh, only allowed one? Tricky. If I can only have one, it would probably be a large blank book with an inexhaustible supply of paper and pens, so I could finally write that novel. But I'd also like the Tao Te Ching. One would need something profound to get one through the experience.

3. A book that made me laugh

Watching the English by Kate Fox. Hilarious - and an incisive observation of what makes the English tick. Recommended reading for all non-English people, especially Scots (though it will of course justify your feelings of superiority).

4. A book that made me cry

Crikey, I'm always crying at books. Recently, though, I read the sequels to When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr, and those made me cry a lot - mainly at the utter drabness of 1940s Britain, and the difficulties experienced by the main character's beloved Papa and the other refugees, but also because of the way she evokes the little details of oppression, of lives wasted, whole communities destroyed.

5. A book I wish I had written

Hallucinating Foucault by Patricia Duncker - I got to the end and almost started reading it again from the beginning, I loved it so much. It also made me cry.

6. A book I wish had never been written

The Story of O. It's all wrong - tone, atmosphere, politics, everything. Though whether one should wish that a book had never been written, I am not sure. But I certainly wish I hadn't read it.

7. A book I am currently reading

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (alongside a couple of other things for my course) - I've only just started it, though. I was interested because a colleague recommended it to me, and it is about first contact and cultural misunderstandings - two fascinating topics. Oddly, it's not in classic SF style, it reads more like a thriller so far.

8. A book I have been meaning to read

Never let me go by Kazuo Ishiguro. It's about clones and ethics, and what constitutes humanity.

9. A book that changed my life

Indirectly, the works of Foucault - I went to a lecture about Foucault and that changed my life. All the doubts and niggles I had been feeling about psychology suddenly fell into place, or came into focus - Foucault had explained it all.

I don't normally do these memes, but this is a good one, and something I can respond to. Found it on foucaultonacid.

Friday, October 06, 2006

limbo bimbos

Theological doctrine of limbo is... in limbo
The current review of limbo began in 2004, when Pope John Paul II asked the commission to come up with "a more coherent and enlightened way" of describing the fate of such innocent babes.
Why don't they just admit that babies who die get reincarnated? (OK, so that creates an even bigger theological difficulty, because of the Catholic doctrine of the unity of body and soul, but if they really want to make people happy....)

Apparently the review of the doctrine of limbo is part of a "wider re-examination of the notion of salvation that has been taking place within the Church" - crikey, now that would be interesting, if the Catholics suddenly became Universalists. Unlikely, though.


reading late at night,
tears crystallise into grit -
pearls will form later.

(haiku by Yvonne Aburrow)

Monday, October 02, 2006


If I Was Born in 2893...
My Name Would Be: Umoro Iara
And I Would Be: A Demi-God

If You Were Born in 2893