Wednesday, March 29, 2006

not dead yet

The RAE is dead, long live the RAE
It appears that reports of the death of the Research Assessment Exercise may be exaggerated - it will actually be replaced by something similar. Now I may be old-fashioned, but what about the quality of teaching in universities? There's the TQA (Teaching Quality Assessment) but it has nowhere near the impact of the RAE. Many universities are obsessed with research to the detriment of teaching - it's a thoroughly refreshing change to find one that puts teaching first.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Some cartoons really are sacrilegious: found_objects: david bowie... COMICS?!

I laughed until I cried.

[Link purloined from Cavalorn.]

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

but is it science?

Interestingly, I was having a conversation today about what science consists of, and whether it can encompass anything beyond the material realm that it claims as its purview. It started as a discussion about the distinction between fantasy and science fiction; the usually accepted idea is that SF is based on science, and fantasy upon magic; but when you consider Arthur C Clarke's dictum that "Any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic", the boundaries start to seem a little blurred.

Meanwhile, Ted Lumley has put together a list of axioms upon which western science is predicated, which are actually assumptions, not facts.

If we are to construct a new science which can encompass all possibilities, not merely one which is based upon materialistic assumptions about how the world works, this sort of thing is essential groundwork.

The original meaning of "science" was "knowledge," so that "a scientific explanation" was as Arnold Lunn says in The Revolt Against Reason, "an explanation which is in accord with all the known facts". However, "science" has been redefined to mean "knowledge of the material world as explained by reference to the material world" thus, by definition, eliminating knowledge of non-material entities and truths and prohibiting supernatural explanations." Robert Harris

Friday, March 10, 2006

hypocrite lecteur

Interesting post about the relationship between readers and writers over at Synesis' Livejournal.

'You! hypocrite lecteur! — mon semblable, — mon frère!'
(TS Eliot, The Waste Land, busily misquoting Baudelaire's Au Lecteur)

The thing about readers is, that once the author or artist has published, the readers continue to form the work of art. It becomes a collaboration between the artist and the reader/viewer. The reader/viewer interprets it in a new way, reading symbols into it that weren't necessarily intended. It's like an alethiometer. Whether or not this is a good thing depends on the ability of the readers to transmute it in their own athanor into some glorious new thing, or to drag it down into the mire.

A wonderful book which explores the relationship between the author and the reader (in this case, a mutual relationship) is Hallucinating Foucault by Patricia Duncker. It's the only book I've ever read where I got to the end and wanted to read it again.

And there's an interesting spin-off post from Ulysses Chang about the creation of virtual worlds.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

cool photo blog

The gr8ful grind - just discovered this really nice photo blog from Oregon. Some very evocative landscape photos. Also I like the name, Grateful Ted.

chakra shopping

While we were at the Chalice Well, I got chatting to one of the other guests, who introduced me to the wonderful concept of "chakra shopping". At last, an excuse for spiritual types to go shopping. The idea is that when one of your chakras is feeling out of whack with the others, you go and buy things that correspond to the colour of that chakra in order to cheer it up. If you're not sure which of your chakras needs nourishing, visit the Chakras - colour symbolism and meditation techniques site (run the mouse over the figure on the left to view the chakra colours).

Also while I was there, I was chatting with someone about pillows being too soft, and she introduced me to the concept of millet pillows; I've just ordered one from the Natural Collection Ethical Shopping site.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

girl geeks

Japanese girl geeks: apparently a girl geek in Japan is an onna otaku. I love it. I don't quite qualify according to the criteria for identifying one, but several of the characteristics ring a bell.

Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day
In case anyone thinks we don't need an international day for women, there are still many countries where it isn't safe to be a woman - because of domestic violence, rape, dowry-related murders, "honour" killings, and so on. Also many women are still paid less than men for the same jobs.

Celebrate International Women's Day by visiting the V-Day website or signing the women's charter.

Come to that, why can't they make International Women's Day a public holiday? (For men as well as women.)


We were on strike yesterday, and I picketed for two hours. It was very very cold and wet. Hmm, why can't we go on strike in warmer weather?

Three nice things happened while we were picketing: the head of security brought us fluorescent coats for the people who were standing in the middle of the road and flagging down traffic. Not only did these amke us more visible, but also they were really nice and warm. The second thing was that a bus-driver stopped and let me get on to leaflet the entire bus. It was so nice and warm on that bus, I could have stayed there all day. The third thing was that a nice chap from Bath Spa brought us chocolate (Green & Blacks, my favourite) which was splendid.

The reason we were on strike (and are now doing action short of a strike) is that when the vice-chancellors were trying to persuade the government to remove the cap on top-up fees, they said they would spend a third of the proceeds on salaries - and it was on that condition that the government removed the cap. Now the UCEA (the VCs' negotiating body) is denying all knowledge of that promise! Certainly many MPs were under the impression that the extra money from top-up fees was going to be spent on salaries.

According to the Guardian columnist John Sutherland, however, no-one even noticed that we were on strike. It's depressing.

Monday, March 06, 2006

St George's Day

There is a campaign to make St George's Day a national holiday in England. I think it's a good idea, as long as it's not an excuse for gung-ho patriotism or even racism. I certainly don't believe in "my country right or wrong". But I do think there is a specifically English identity (fair play, politeness, democracy, equality and so on) that is worth celebrating. I realise other peoples also cultivate these qualities, but the combination of values that we cherish is part of our identity - even if we don't always succeed in living up to them. Having St George's Day as a public holiday might even bring the celebration of Englishness into the mainstream and prevent racists from hijacking it. It will also be an excuse for lots of morris-dancing and mumming and other traditional English pastimes. (Oh no, not more cricket....) Though let's hope that the definition of Englishness will not be exclusive, but include everyone who lives here.

It's ironic that our patron saint is from Cappadocia, but as he is a Christianised version of an ancient Pagan god of light and fertility, he's alright by me! And as St George's Day is Shakespeare's birthday, we could make it a festival of literature as well.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

news from nowhere

I have finally finished my epic article, News from Nowhere: the connections between SF and Pagan thought.
There are many spiritual and religious ideas in science fiction, but there are several connections between science and speculative fiction and Pagan thought; it is also noticeable that many Pagans read science fiction and fantasy, and are influenced by its ideas. From the earliest stirrings of science fiction and fantasy in the Romantic movement, when writers looked to ancient myths and despaired of the Industrial Revolution, we see reflected the ecological and social concerns of Pagan thinking. Writers became more optimistic about technology with the arrival of science fiction as a genre, but it was then that visions of alternative societies came to the fore. Paganisms offer an alternative way of looking at the world, a different set of ideals to strive for, and a critique of our own society; so does speculative and science fiction. >> more
Topics include Utopias, Back to the land, Gothic and Romantic stirrings, Technofear and dystopia, Ecological concerns, Visions of alternative societies, Feminist fables, Slipstream, fantasy and magic realism, Pagan SF, and other religions and SF. There are also some interesting connections between Paganisms, magic and science, but that is a whole different article. The subject of science and religion and magic is extremely complex, as different religious movements at different times and places had different attitudes to science and magic.


Just discovered this from nemo49:
As I continue my practice of Incubation and Awareness Meditation, I am beginning to understand the old teachings that spawned the practices on a more subtle level; to understand that Reality is calling to us to be aware. The wind in the trees, the taste of sweet fruit, the pain of illness, or the scent of a flower...each is Reality asking you to pay attention. The expression of Fate is incomplete unless we become aware of that expression. We, as aware intelligent beings, are a necessary link in the creation and fruition of this Cosmos.

As long as we follow our impulses this way and that, and as long as we move about missing the stillness and oneness underlying the illusion of 'things', the circle of creation is incomplete. We must pay attention. With this knowledge, I see why it is an act of compassion to become aware. Mere mindfulness, though a positive thing, is based on selfishness. "I" meditate to become enlightened. The perennial teachings, like those Empedocles taught 2500 years ago, are based in selflessness. You become aware for the sake of Reality, not for yourself. To put it another way, you become aware so that Hadit may know his beloved Nuit.

What Fate wants you to do is to perceive creation and fulfill your role in it; to surrender to it and thus make it complete. So instead of letting the chain of creation push you forward - "I am tired of sitting, so now I am going to stretch and take a walk" - you turn around, and you see it. You see the unfolding weft and weave of the unfolding now, and you understand your strand, your "True Will", and complete it. You consciously join its momentum. Thus, you become an active agent of Fate, and you become this Agent by awareness. You complete the circuit as you were meant to.

At the PN Convention, Nick bought The art of conversation with the genius loci by Barry Patterson, which I started reading on the train on the way back. It is excellent - and similar in its viewpoint to the above. I recommend it highly.

PN convention

Went to the Pagan Network Convention yesterday, it was excellent.

Went to a talk by Steve Wilson on Archaic Witchcraft (a reconstruction of what witchcraft might have been if it was chiefly concerned with the Fair Folk). Very interesting and atmospheric, and steeped in folklore (excellent), but I'm not entirely sure that I am ready to have a lot of contact with Them. I have explored the subject to a certain extent, but it's quite risky. There were some interesting similarities with the Cochrane Tradition as well (in terms of both atmosphere and content), which was interesting.

After that I went to a talk entitled "Granny takes a trip" by Jeremy Harte (formerly involved with 3rd Stone magazine), about the concept of flying ointment in historical accounts of witchcraft. It appears that this substance was largely fictitious, derived from the ointment employed by the witch in The Golden Ass to turn herself into a bird. Medieval scholars got into some very convoluted discussion about the whole subject. Because Christian doctrine holds that the soul and body are inseparable, that ruled out out-of-body-experiences, so they decided that the experience of flying to the Sabbat must have been a delusion produced by devils. Then they thought that perhaps the flying ointment was a hallucinogen, but still thought the hallucinations were the the work of devils. He also pointed out that modern rationalists like the idea that all shamanic experiences are attributable to drugs, because it keeps the boundaries of reality nice and sharply delineated. Some neo-shamans also like this idea, because it means that they can “do” shamanism at weekends and live a normal life the rest of the week.

After that I went to the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram workshop with James Butler. It was excellent. First of all he demonstrated it (powerful stuff) and then had all the workshop participants doing it by the end. It was a bit like learning T'ai Chi – building up the form gradually. He built up the various components (visualisation, physical movement, and words) gradually, so people could remember them. Also it was really great to meet him at last, as not only is he very clever, erudite and gorgeous, but also a really nice chap.

We also got chatting to some really interesting people: Andromeda, the people from Hedingham Fair, the Libra Aries bookshop from Cambridge (caught up on lots of gossip about old friends in Cambridge, which was nice), Anna Franklin, and a working class Pagan (you don't get many of them to the pound – there are more working-class Pagans these days, but on the other hand there's a decline in the numbers of working-class people), and also bumped into old friends and acquaintances, and various choral people.

Nick went to Steve Wilson's talk on Archaic Witchcraft, Anna Franklin's talk, "What is ritual?" and Andy Worthington's talk about Stonehenge and Avebury.

Friday, March 03, 2006

my D&D character

I am a Chaotic Good Elf Ranger Druid
Follower Of Solonor Thelandria

Chaotic Good characters are independent types with a strong belief in the value of goodness. They have little use for governments and other forces of order, and will generally do their own things, without heed to such groups.

Elves are the eldest of all races, although they are generally a bit smaller than humans. They are generally well-cultured, artistic, easy-going, and because of their long lives, unconcerned with day-to-day activities that other races frequently concern themselves with. Elves are, effectively, immortal, although they can be killed. After a thousand years or so, they simply pass on to the next plane of existance.

Primary Class:
Rangers are the defenders of nature and the elements. They are in tune with the Earth, and work to keep it safe and healthy.

Secondary Class:
Druids are a special variety of Cleric who serves the Earth, and can call upon the power in the earth to accomplish their goals. They tend to be somewhat fanatical about defending natural settings.

Solonor Thelandria is the Chaotic Good elven god of archery and the hunt. He is also known as the Keen Eye, the Great Archer, and the Forest Hunter. His followers respect nature, and only hunt when needed, but are quick to defend the forest from intruders. Their favorite weapon is the bow, and they tend to be extremely talented with it. Solonor Thelandria's symbol is an arrow with green fletchings.
What D & D character are you?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

chilled out

We have just spent a very relaxing few days at the Chalice Well, chilling out in Little Saint Michael's retreat house. The best bits were seeing a goldcrest bathing in the water by the healing pool, and meditating in the Upper Room. Normally I'm useless at meditation, but the quality of the silence in that room is wonderful, so I could really meditate properly. The room has held a meditative hush for 40 years, so it's very special. Also the light is all golden.

We saw the goldcrest twice, once on the first day and once on the last. She was drinking and bathing in the stream by the cascade in King Arthur's Courtyard. She was so tiny, and so close to us. She was splashing about and sticking her head under the flowing water. The birds in the Chalice Well gardens don't seem to mind humans, presumably because they move quietly in the gardens.

The flowers at the Chalice Well were lovely too: crocuses and snowdrops and dwarf irises. On the second day we walked round the bottom of the island, almost down to the Levels, and heard woodpeckers and curlews. We had views of Glastonbury Tor from lots of different directions.


The other day, Liz Williams came to give a talk at the University of Bristol Pagan and Earth Religions Society on the nature and legacy of the gothic imagination, and how we continue to sanitise the dark side - making vampires sexy (Lestat) or cute (The Little Vampire). It was a romp through the literary and artistic antecedents of goth culture, with a sideways look at SF and horror. Fascinating.

Talking of which, Cat showed us the silent movie of The Call of Cthulhu the other day - it was ace. I'm not a Lovecraft fan, but it was a very good silent movie, replete with expressionist motifs, meaningful looks, period angst, and authentically 1920s special effects. If you can't be bothered to read the Cthulhu stuff, this is an ideal way to understand what everyone's going on about.

the sound of snow

The other day when it was snowing, we were speculating about whether it would hang around on the ground or just melt away. The weird thing is, every region has a different word for what it does when it doesn't melt.
  • In Hampshire (where I come from) it lays.
  • In Bristol, it pitches (apparently this comes from the sticky qualities of pitch).
  • In Surrey, it sticks.
  • In New Zealand, it settles.
What does it do where you come from?