Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sodom rising

Yes! Yes! Yes!

We are Apollo and Dionysus walking in fields of hyacinths and narcissi. We are Gilgamesh building civilisation. We are more man than you will ever be, cocksucker. We fuck men and are fucked by them. We have no fear of being thought unmanly. We, the Elders of Sodom, know that you fear us, and that makes you our bitch, cocksucker.
There is one objective moral truth, we say, if there is any that can truly be considered objective. It is that your prime duty as an adult human being is to use all of the facts and faculties you possess, all of your wisdom, all of your reason and passion, to question your own beliefs with utmost rigour, to exercise your ethical judgement independent of the mores shaped and instilled in you by social forces, to ignore the mob outside and the disquiet within, to trust no authority but your own empathy, and ask yourself: what do I say is ethical?
Sodom is rising, as a bright and morning star. Raise up your eyes to see the glory before you, the eternal city of flames and salt, the city of our naked flesh.

from Hal Duncan, The Protocols of the Elders of Sodom

Hal's blog post was written in response to some bigot posting a homophobic comment on his blog. It's an utterly brilliant demolition of the so-called "moral" and "Christian" response to gay rights. I want to sign the Protocols. The post is very long, but it's well worth reading the whole thing (though I skipped the quotes from the homophobe unless I needed to know the context of Hal's comments).

Monday, January 29, 2007


When is multiculturalism simply segregation and no longer a celebration of diversity? When there are two or more cultures living side-by-side that hardly ever come into contact with each other, their values are polarising and diverging in opposite directions, and the common ground between them is shrinking like the polar ice-caps. It was reported today that younger Muslims are more in favour of Sharia and wearing the veil than the elder generation. In an earlier post about this, I said that as long as there were shared values, we could celebrate diversity and regard it as a strength, because homogeneity is boring and excluding. I still believe this, but I think we need to decide what values are the core values of Britain, such as inclusiveness, tolerance, fairness, equality, democracy (the last is a bit of a dirty word these days, but as Dennis Potter once said, "The trouble with words is that they've been in other people's mouths"). If people do not share these values, then they are in some way less than members of society (and I would put idiots like the BNP in that category). This is ironic, given that if one stands for inclusiveness and equality and tolerance, one should not want to exclude anyone, but unfortunately dangerous extremists exist, and we need to be on our guard against them. A government spokesman said:
"From a period of near-uniform consensus on multiculturalism, we now face questions about how different groups can live side-by-side, respecting differences, whilst working together to develop a shared sense of belonging and purpose."
Obviously we need to break down Islamophobia as well as trying to discourage Muslim youth from adopting extremist views, because the polarisation is hardening on both sides of the divide, and it's a vicious downward spiral - mutual mistrust breeds further mutual mistrust.

Friday, January 26, 2007

conscience, what conscience?

I find it hard to believe that anyone could be so tender of their conscience that they're prepared to deny children the opportunity to be adopted because their religion disapproves of the potential adopters' sexuality. People that bigoted don't have a right to claim that they have a conscience.

I'm delighted to see that John Davies has declared himself against the Church of England's and Catholic church's position on the issue of same-sex couples adopting children, and so has Joe Gordon.

You can't impose your religion on others. Over at the Cynical-C blog, Chris reports on Muslim cab drivers trying to ban alcohol in their cabs, a similar attempt to impose religion on others. The Board of Deputies of British Jews has distanced itself from Christian protests on the issue, and was advocating a more moderate position on the gay adoption issue:
"It must be possible for people to live their lives in the manner in which they choose as long as it does not impinge upon the rights of others," a spokesman for the Board of Deputies said Thursday.

"We hope that to this effect the regulations will be framed in such a way that allows for both the effective combating of discrimination in the provision of goods and services whilst respecting freedom of conscience and conviction." -- European Jewish Press
But I don't see how, in this case, such a compromise can be achieved - either none of the adoption services discriminate against same-sex couples, or there's hardly any point in adopting the law. Otherwise this leaves a loophole for religious groups to say that their conscience told them they had to harass gay people, burn down churches that aren't Christian enough, attack Pagan shops, or otherwise enact their bigoted opinions.

Wowbagger's message

Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged's last ever message to Earth.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

right to choose

Yesterday was apparently Blog for Choice Day, being the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a landmark judicial opinion regarding privacy and abortion in the United States.

I am broadly in support of women's reproductive choice, with the proviso that all other forms of contraception are preferable, and that abortion should be a last resort. Most women who have an abortion do so because they cannot see any other choice, not because they are feckless and irresponsible. I know a few people who have had an abortion, and none of them took the decision lightly. People should be able to make their own moral choices in this, not have them imposed. I also feel that (since I believe in reincarnation), this isn't the only chance for that soul to be incarnated. So yes, I am pro-choice.

There should also be education for men to encourage them to be more responsible about using contraception, and not just expecting the woman to take the pill or shove a coil of barbed wire up her bits. And it would be very bad to go back to back-street abortions.

There's an excellent post about this over at the Broomstick Chronicles.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

significant SF

A meme snagged from The Silvereel

The Key:
Bold the ones you've read.
Strike-out the ones you hated.
Italicize those you started but never finished.
Put an asterisk beside the ones you loved.

1. The Lord of the Rings *, J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
3. Dune, Frank Herbert
4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
5. A Wizard of Earthsea *, Ursula K. Le Guin
6. Neuromancer, William Gibson
7. Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
12. A Canticle for Leibowitz *, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
22. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl
26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling
27. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy *, Douglas Adams
28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
30. The Left Hand of Darkness *, Ursula K. Le Guin
31. Little, Big *, John Crowley
32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
39. Ringworld, Larry Niven
40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
41. The Silmarillion *, J.R.R. Tolkien
42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
45. The Stars My Destination *, Alfred Bester
46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

I would question some of the choices on this list (are they SF? are they significant?) but agree that most are significant SF works. Interesting meme.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Visionary

His windows were the ventricles of the heart
and the pages of books.
His doors were the exercise of compassion
and the mystery of love.
He spent freely of himself
to store up treasures of the mind.
The walls of his monastery
were transparent
and he saw beyond the boundaries of faith
to that central region
where all mystics know
the moment of falling in love with the numinous.
In silent contemplation
he discovered the luminous
beneath the surface of everything
and breathed
"Thou art that".

I wrote this at 6am this morning - I woke up and composed the first four lines in my head, and then had to write it down. Then I spent the next hour turning it into a sonnet, but I don't know which version I prefer, so I kept both. It's about Thomas Merton, translator of the Tao Te Ching, among other things. It's sort of an antidote to The Withy King and the Stone King. Here's the sonnet version.

His windows were the ventricles of the heart
And the pages of books. Though set apart,
His doors - the exercise of compassion
And the mystery of love - were open
To the world. He spent freely of himself
To store up treasures of the mind, and he would delve
In forgotten depths to rediscover
The Beloved within the lover.
His monastery walls were transparent.
To him, the place where mystics meet and know,
The region of the spirit, was apparent,
For there are no words for the light below
The surface of things. Only the moment
Of falling in love with the numinous,
A single heartbeat, an endless moment
When the whole landscape becomes luminous.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

the withy king and the stone king

The withy king sits
in a house of plaited rushes.
His heart is a hollow reed.
The house has no windows
only slivers of light between the withies.
The door opens onto a secret pool
where he talks to the abyss.
The wind whispers
through the gaps in the walls.
His voice is the cracking
of a lightning-struck willow
with a rotten heart.

The stone king sits
in a pale house of stone.
His porphyry heart
is silent. He does not bleed.
There are no windows
and no doors in this sepulchre -
he only looks inward,
his own fear echoing
in the closed space.
His voice is the grinding
of stones on a dry riverbed.

There are two solicitors' firms in Bath, Withy King and Stone King, and I have often thought there was a mythical quality to the names. Then this morning it came to me exactly who the names embodied. I'm sure you can guess.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

favourite books

What's amazing about this, is not so much how many books Art Garfunkel has read (967 in 28 years) but the fact that he has kept a list of the books he has read since 1968. I wish I had kept a list of all the books I have read and when I read them. I have thought this several times over the last few years, and still not done anything about it. I hate writing reviews, so blogging about the books I have read would be difficult. I sometimes blog about books I have read, but not consistently. I can probably produce a list of favourite books though - but the top ten would be different depending on when you asked me. Still, I'll try... here goes, in no particular order (though I think Hallucinating Foucault is one of the few books where I got to the end and wanted to read it all over again).
I suppose what I look for in a book is an element of the magical and mystical side of life, but embedded in the everyday - kind of magical realism, but not in a formal sense. And I want there to be a hint in the book that life has meaning. It doesn't have to have a happy ending, but I don't want to read stuff that is nihilistic. And it must be beautifully written.

Pip has kindly directed me to LibraryThing, a social networking site for book-lovers.

planning disaster

The government wants to reduce public consultation in the planning process. This can only be bad news, considering some of the dreadful planning decisions that get made, and it will mean further destruction of greenbelt and wildlife habitats, because they want to reduce restrictions on building out-of-town supermarkets. Act now.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


I was introduced to the King William quiz by a friend the other day. I don't know how I managed to miss finding out about it, as I used to read The Guardian, and it has been published in it since 1951 apparently. So I had a look at some of the previous years' quizzes. It helps (but not that much) if you know that each section has a theme.

Without googling or looking in books:
2005 quiz - I got 10 correct
2004 quiz - I got 8 correct
2003 quiz - I got 21 correct

I could have got a few (a very few) more if I had looked things up in books, for the ones where I knew what he was referring to, like poems, or food, or novels. For example, I knew that one question was three of the four subtitles of TS Eliot's Four Quartets, but couldn't remember for the life of me what the other one was.


I am Mint Green

Balanced and calm, you have mastered the philosophy of living well.
Your friends seek you out for support, and you are able to bring stability to chaotic situations. You're very open and cheerful - and you feel like you have a lot of freedom in life. Your future may hold any number of exciting things, and you're ready for all of them!

What Color Green Are You?

(darn - a pastel colour!!! but it goes very tastefully with this blog)

found via Jumblie, who is the same colour green as me!


Today we walked around the village of Pensford in Somerset (see map for location). We explored the village, where there is an old lockup (17th/18th century) like the one on the bridge in Bradford-on-Avon, a church dedicated to St Thomas à Becket (sadly disused but about to be restored) on an island in the river, a viaduct across the valley, remains of coal-mining, a medieval bridge, a pack-horse bridge, and various converted mills. The village shop was open so we were able to buy some nibbles (and the shop-owner was very friendly). We walked up Wick Lane to the top of the hill, and could see across to the Mendips and Stanton Drew stone circle in one direction, and the southern Cotswolds and Kelston Round Hill in the other direction. One of the mine buildings had been converted into a rather unusual house, though at the back of it, there was a large expanse of black where the slag-heap had been levelled.

We quite often do small village walks in the winter, as it saves getting your feet muddy, and there's something to look at besides leafless trees and muddy fields.

Pensford is named after the 7th-century King Penda of Mercia, after whom the humble penny is said to be named. Penda's father was called Pybba, and the neighbouring village, Publow, is named after Pybba. Penda was also the last pagan king in England.