Thursday, January 31, 2008

Imbolc haikus

a mist of ewes' breath
warm, steamy, smelling of hay
— her hands on the teat

small delicate hands
grasping the slippery teat
— milk froths in the pail

she sings so softly —
in tune with the squirting milk
that rings on the pail.

new-born lambs bleating
staggering on new limbs
— afterbirth in the grass.

life, so fragile
nuzzling into udders
— warmed by the spring sun.

on the cold hillsides,
every year the miracle —
frisky and tender.

lady of healing
of poetry and smithcraft
— white swan on the lake

the foster-mother
of many births — of story,
renewal and art.

fire in the belly,
life after abundant life —
the surge of the sap.

fire on the hearth-stone,
quiet, solemn ritual —
making Bride's bed.

first stirrings of Spring
it's so good to be alive —
year's awakening.

soft almond blossom
pale stars on the bare branches —
the dance unfolding.

— Yvonne Aburrow

Part of the third annual poetry reading in honour of Brighid

My offering last year

help stop id cards

This seems like a good way to let people know about what a bad idea ID cards are. I've had a poster in the window for ages that says "ID card free zone" but I think a lot of people are still mystified as to why this is an issue. It's very simple - the ID data would be stored on a central database. After the recent fiasco, do we really trust the government to keep all our data in one place, making it easier to hack into, and easier for our identities to be stolen by fraudsters?
Labour's plans to introduce ID cards would be both a massive intrusion into our civil liberties and also a hugely wasteful way of spending government funds.

The pressure from campaigners against ID cards is starting to tell. Labour has already put back by two years its plans to introduce mandatory ID cards for UK citizens.

You can help build up even more pressure by using this simple flyer: just print off a few copies and deliver them through the letterboxes of your neighbours.

It's a single-sided A4 black and white leaflet - so should be easy to print on any printer.

This really simple step will only take a few minutes of your time, but would help spread our message further and get more people signed up to our campaign against ID cards.

It would be great to hear back from everyone taking part in this action - just email with the number you delivered and the postcode.
If you don't want to use the Lib Dems' leaflet, the No2ID campaign also has a selection of campaign resources.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

the final push

The government has retreated again over ID cards: the information was leaked today that they have put back by two years the plans for mandatory ID cards for UK citizens. This latest twist in the sorry saga of ID cards just shows what an ill-conceived idea they are.

It is, in my opinion, wrong that I should have to carry a card to identify myself in the country where I live. However, philosophical objections aside, the scheme is going to be extremely expensive, and will undoubtedly fail to fulfill its stated aim of protecting us from terrorists (as the problem with terrorists is that they have access to bombs and guns, not that they don't carry ID). Add to that the fact that they are incapable of safeguarding the data they already hold about us (the lost child benefit data being a case in point), and the system will increase the possibility of identity fraud, as criminals will be more easily able to steal someone's identity - they only have to hack into one central database instead of several.

I note that the government's proposed incremental roll-out of the cards targets the vulnerable and marginalised (such as refugees) first - this looks suspiciously to me like some sort of "divide and conquer" strategy. First they came for the refugees, and I did nothing, because I was not a refugee... You know the rest.

The campaigning pressure is paying off - but we need to do more to turn delay into cancellation.

There are two simple things you can do today to help win this battle:

1. Sign the LibDems' petition or sign up for No2ID.

2. Write to one of these newspapers expressing your opposition to I.D. cards:

Your own local newspaper

Remember to include your postal address (for verification), the title, date and URL of the article you are referring to, and a daytime contact telephone number.

Letters pages are one of the best-read sections of newspapers, so this is a very powerful way of publicising your views. The letters can be brief: simply pointing out, for example, the huge costs of ID cards, the poor record of keeping within budget on previous IT projects, and what a terrible record the government has on safeguarding personal data (the recent CD disaster, for example).

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

mashups for the faint-hearted

Creating mashups used to be a terrifying prospect, strictly for hard-core geeks.

Now those who are only moderately geeky can create mashups using widgets and other cool Web 2.0 tools.

Example 1: blog aggregator

I edit and develop a blog aggregator, MetaPagan. Anyone can contribute to this using, a social bookmarking site.

  • Contributors tag the content they want to contribute on, using a preset list of tags, such as metapagan.activism,, metapagan.politics and so on (where metapagan is the name of the blog aggregator).
  • Then I use Yahoo! Pipes to pull all of the feeds together (including the posts that are manually posted to the blog) into a single aggregated feed.
  • This aggregated feed is then passed into another blidget (MetaPagan contributions) which people can install on the sidebar of their blogs if they wish. I have also turned this blidget into a Facebook application, using the instructions at Widgetbox.

Example 2: Multiple blogs imported into Facebook Notes

As I have about five personal blogs, each on a separate topic, I thought it would be easier for Facebook friends who were interested in all the topics if I aggregated all my blogs into one feed and imported it into Facebook Notes.

I used Yahoo! Pipes to pull all my blog feeds into a single aggregated feed, and then imported that feed into Facebook Notes.

cool tools

For people who want to bring together different services to create a unique blend (also known as a mashup), there are some really useful and easy to use tools out there.

Widgetbox allows you to develop small applications for embedding in webpages. The easiest widget to set up is the blidget, which fetches an RSS feed (from a blog, news service such as the BBC or the University's News pages, tags, Yahoo! Pipe or Flickr) and creates a shiny widget for embedding in a web-page, or for turning into a Facebook application or Google gadget.

Yahoo! Pipes allow you to bring together (aggregate) several different RSS feeds, filter out duplicate items, add author information, and so on.

Flickr is an online photo storage site, where you can display your photos (either publicly or so that only friends and family can see them), and you can use advanced search to obtain photos for use in presentations and on websites under the Creative Commons licence. is a social bookmarking site, which means it is like bookmarking a favourite page in your web browser, but the bookmarks are saved on the website, and tagged with labels to make them easier for you and others to find. Each page on (whether it's popular tags, all tags, your bookmarks, or one of your tags) has an RSS feed associated with it, which can then be imported to a blidget or an RSS reader.

Zotero is a free, easy-to-use Firefox extension to help you collect, manage, and cite your research sources. It lives right where you do your work — in the web browser itself.

Jotform is the first web based WYSIWYG form builder. Its intuitive drag and drop user interface makes form building a breeze. Using JotForm, you can create forms, integrate them to your site and collect submissions from your visitors.

Google Scholar provides a search of scholarly literature across many disciplines and sources, including theses, books, abstracts and articles. You still need your Athens account to log in to many of the resources you can find via Google Scholar, but it searches across all of JSTOR, Ebscohost, Blackwell Synergy, the DNB, Google Books, etc.

Google Books - Google have digitised many books libraries around the world. If the book is out of copyright, you can download the entire book, and search all of its content. Books that are still in copyright only allow a limited search. » More information

These are just two of the many tools offered by Google.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

disestablishment and pluralism

Rethinking religion in an open society
Though the role of religion in society has come back onto the agenda with a vengeance in recent years, the political, spiritual and intellectual resources at our disposal for handling the issues involved seem perilously thin on all sides in public life. This paper aims to reconstruct some key terms in the debate and to offer a positive case for a 'disestablished' form for religion within a plural social and political order. In particular it suggests that the alternative to hegemonic religion or attempts to exclude religion from public life lies in the rediscovery of an alternative form of politics rooted in practical 'goods' and 'virtues' derived from different communities and traditions, accompanied by the development of a 'civil state' framework.
I would recommend reading this, regardless of whether you are an atheist or a person with a religion or a spiritual path.

In this article, Simon Barrow takes a long hard look at the current debate on who gets to keep control over public life, and tries to move beyond the over-simplified "atheists versus religionists" picture peddled by the media.

I think he is right that we are now in 'post-Christendom' and I think this is a good thing. I think Christianity lost its claim to credibility when it got into bed with the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire, and ceased to be a radical critique of the status quo at that point.

Likewise, ancient paganism lost its credibility (in modern eyes, anyway) when it became a state religion where you had to sacrifice to the numen of the Emperor. All the excitement was located in the mystery religions.

Theocracy is a bad idea anywhere - established religion is always a conservative force, because it is run by the rich and powerful, who have a vested interest in preserving the status quo. It's the small radical groups like Quakers, Unitarians, the Metropolitan Community Church, Soulforce, Wiccans, eco-Pagans, Sufis, Hasidim that challenge inequality and promote justice (for LGBT people, peace, the environment, etc.)

Recently some Pagans have started to liaise with the government over various issues, which is great, but the problem is that the government wants Pagans to "speak with one voice" and I don't see how we can do this, when there are many different Pagans with many different agendas and ideas. I guess we can try to reach a consensus among ourselves and then relay that to the government, but owing to the distributed nature of Pagan networks and communities, it is difficult to canvass everyone's opinion.

What Simon Barrow suggests instead of the established church is a polity based on values and virtues instead of beliefs - an eminently sensible idea, and something that is compatible with many religions, including Paganism, Unitarianism, and Buddhism, to name a few - all of which are based on values and not on beliefs. There is disagreement about beliefs both within and between traditions, but most people can agree on a set of values and civic virtues - inclusivity, tolerance, social welfare, justice, equity, charity (all good Heathen and Roman virtues), and so on.

He does not mention Paganism (though he does mention small new religions and non-aligned spirituality), and so I wonder what his proposed model might be like for Pagans - I think it would be a good thing, because it would be based on values which we can all subscribe to, and there might be less of the governmental mindset that insists on consulting one specific religious organisation and assuming that it represents the views of everyone in that group. It could also mean that Christianity might no longer be seen as a model that other religions must be like, or conform to, in order to be regarded as religions.

"witch children" petition

In response to the recent Observer article on the plight of the children
that Stepping Stones work with in Nigeria a petition has been set up to pressure the
Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio, to act to stop the gross
violations of child rights that are taking place due to the belief in
child "witches". As many of you will know, countless children are being
abandoned, tortured and killed in this region due to this traditional
harmful belief. We need to act as quickly as possible if we are protect
more children from harm and challenge this deeply held belief.

I would be grateful if you could sign it and circulate this request to your
contacts. Once there are as many signatories as possible Stepping Stones will then
personally present the petition to the Governor. This is just the first
step in what is going to be a long, concerted effort by Stepping Stones
Nigeria and their partner NGO - the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network
- to put an end to this needless suffering. They will also be looking to
significantly expand the scope of their Prevent Abandonment of Children
Today (PACT) campaign in 2008.

The petition can be found at:
Care2 petition for the children who are targets of the Nigerian witch-hunt

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

in small things forgotten

The Portable Antiquities Scheme is a voluntary scheme to record archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales. Every year many thousands of objects are discovered, many of these by metal-detector users, but also by people whilst out walking, gardening or going about their daily work. Such discoveries offer an important source for understanding our past.
Save the Portable Antiquities Scheme
At a meeting of the Portable Antiquities Scheme's Advisory Group the Chief Executive of the Museums Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) announced that funding for next year would be frozen at the 2007 level, even though at the press conference for the Annual Report he and the Minister announced that the funding for current levels of activity would be preserved.

The PAS as an organisation of 50 staff needs £1.49 million to keep going at the same level of activity in 2008 and freezing the PAS budget will mean losing 5 posts out of 50.

The MLA also wants to review PAS's funding for 2009-11 and integrate them into the programme called Renaissance in the Regions which it is funding 42 hub museums. If that happens the work of the Finds Liaison Officers will be diluted and the national side of PAS will be weakened. This will result in 9 separate PAS groups, all with their own priorities.

The DCMS (Department of Culture, Media and Sport) should reassign the PAS from MLA to the British Museum that is fully committed to the long term work of PAS.

At a time where Heritage and recognition of the public interest in our shared heritage, to act in such a manner is contrary to the principal of providing support to the public and providing a secure and sustainable future for the PAS.
What this means in layperson's terms is that what is currently a unified service to receive small archaeological finds from the public will be split up and have its funding cut. I suspect also that this is yet another instance of heritage and the arts being squeezed to pay for the Olympics. Grr.

A Finds Liaison Officer is the one who actually is the point of contact for the Portable Antiquities Scheme in each local authority.

This is not just about the current funding issue (frozen for this next year at present) meaning 5 lost jobs, but about the ultimate safekeeping of the PAS as it is. What the MLA propose to do is effectively break the PAS up and move all the Finds Liaison Officers out to Renaissance Hub Museums. This will mean the demise of the PAS in all but name. This potential move will bring differing standards that will result in losing the scheme's cohesion; also the fact that many FLOs would just leave and get a different job. Then factor in that the end-users of the scheme will now be forced to have to travel to record their finds, because Dorset and Somerset for example don't have a Hub Museum.

Sign the petition
to show your support for the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Ministers are planning to implant "machine-readable" microchips under the skin of thousands of offenders as part of an expansion of the electronic tagging scheme that would create more space in British jails.

This is outrageous. One suspects that it's the thin end of the wedge and the general public will be next.

What about when the prisoners are freed? Will the chip be surgically removed? Do they get to choose between this and the ankle bracelet thing?

Will the final application of this be like that thing in Minority Report where all the adverts are customised just for you? If so, we need V!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

no more chat

Chat is very useful as a work-related tool, for discussing things with colleagues in another room without disturbing other colleagues in the same room.

However, as I am only online at work and very occasionally in the evenings to do specific tasks, I do not want to use it to spend time chatting to people at any great length. By all means send me an email or a facebook message, which I can respond to if I have time, and at whatever length I choose, but chat is invasive, and this is why I only use it for work-related purposes.

There so many blogs and websites I ought to be reading, friends to keep up with, emails and all that - it's difficult to keep up. Of the blogs I visit, I probably only read 10% of their output - and there are so many more that I would like to read, but don't have time. And at the moment I am doing research for my essay, which is overdue, and needs drastically restructuring.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Flowers not guns

Kathz (at Beeston Quakers) has posted about the new "Before you sign up" website, which I was looking for to put in yesterday's peace post. Thanks Kathz. It explains the pros and cons of joining the army, and was funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. It's a good idea.

The bottom line for me would be that I don't think I could actually kill anyone. Also, violence just propagates more violence. The best tools of resistance are non-cooperation. And if the other side has more resources than you, it's the only option (I'm thinking of Gandhi's satyagraha here, and the Portuguese Carnation Revolution, where the Salazar regime was peacefully overturned with the deaths of only four protestors).

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

peace one day...

Happy New Year, and here is a message of peace from Lolcats:

U not no wot iz a lolcat? Check ur wikipedia.

On a more serious note, there's a comprehensive list of peace websites over at the Guardian.

Peace goes hand-in-hand with sustainability and social justice. The three issues are intertwined and if one fails, the other two don't stand much of a chance.

i can has Al Gore?