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  • Friday Youtube: Lovett - "Eye Of The Storm".

    Today's video reminds me of a poem by A. E. Housman, the very last line of which was rattling around my head throughout.

    From far, from eve and morning
    And yon twelve-winded sky,
    The stuff of life to knit me
    Blew hither: here am I.

    Now—for a breath I tarry
    Nor yet disperse apart—
    Take my hand quick and tell me,
    What have you in your heart.

    Speak now, and I will answer;
    How shall I help you, say;
    Ere to the wind’s twelve quarters
    I take my endless way.

    - "From Far, From Eve And Morning".

  • Stygian Pool.

    I've been writing about queer issues for what seems like far too long. So today I thought I'd embark on another free-flowing-train-of-thought-oh-no-it's-getting-away-from-me sort of post. Not unlike this one from a few months back: http://arch-heretic.blog.co.uk/2012/03/15/pandemonium-13188740/

    Here goes:

    "I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose."
    - J.B.S. Haldane, geneticist and evolutionary biologist.

    Queerer than we can suppose?

    I don’t believe that he meant in principle that some knowledge, deep knowledge was inaccessible to us… only that we couldn’t do it within the constraints of our existential normalcy. But then, that is what science is for.

    Imagine all humans were affected by an ailment at birth which reduced eyesight to a fraction of what the norm is now. A far-sighted plague, if you will. I imagine it would, in cases where surgery was impossible, become common practice to proscribe glasses to everyone. In this scenario, let us imagine that humanity carried on pretty much as normal after this readjustment. After all, what had they done but raise their conception, their perspective of the world back to its former position of normality? Before long, there might be varied false philosophers rationalising that it benefitted people to be born with poor eyesight, and that this made people value glasses, and the ability to see well… that they might take it for granted to see with any clarity were they not so neutered.

    Bah!

    But what if we wanted to see more? If we wished to see radio waves as they reverberate through the air, gaze at the molecular Swiss cheese of a mountain, or better yet – a cave… and see complexity spiral ever inwards all the way down to the atoms, and the highest limits of the gamma ray… all the way down to the quantum foam of the universe where matter emerges like the bubbles from beneath the surface of a stygian pool of… of…
    Stygian Black

    …The primordial mystery. The primordial problem, to put it in more scientific terms… to see that we’d need special glasses, constructs sheathed in logic and methodology, the understanding that science is an instrument, like a wand… it penetrates, and you sacrifice more in its use than Mithras, or Baldur… or Christ did by their sacrifices.

    Union with truth requires not just reverence for truth; you must cast off all ideas which insist on themselves by false pretences, or appeals to the natural fallacies to which humans are prey. Some will tell you to dismiss the fear of being wrong – I say that is not always the way.
    I say that it might be better to be so afraid of being wrong that you must not risk the unworthy clarion of faith. You should instead trust. Trust can be verified, tested, broken. The scientific method of rationality would not consider you a false friend to ask hard questions, nor be impugned were you to constantly test its honour.
    The truth is not scared of falsehood, only the reverse is true.

    By this method and these principles humanity has held nebulae in its conceptual hands, and with that knowledge, hard won, learned how to twist the very fabric of reality. Laws. The world is built on them. Even if it were not so, and laws were flouted, by miracles, say, we would at least have the methodology to learn that truth, and reconcile ourselves to that reality… but that is not the reality we’re in, from our current vantage point on the ivory tower. And there is no excuse for recourse in myths of miracles or hear-say when we know damn well by now how blind people are when they remove the glasses of scepticism, of rationality. Some see this as an indication that there are some things you cannot grasp without taking off your glasses. As though to see clearly, you must first make yourself blind.

    These are the same people who then wonder at why, when you give two of them an elephant each, and tell them to remove their glasses and extend an arm to feel what is before them, they individually come up with such varying conceptions of the traits of this animal, and when they meet to discuss their deductions, they disagree vehemently with the other’s hypothesis. One thinks it a leathery winged creature, the other a form of serpent.

    They each call each other heretics and war with one another. At this point you return them their glasses, and they all but tear them off and curse you for trying to bring these phenomena of the elephant into the domain of your parochial ‘reality’. Screw you, science-freak.

    This is the bait-and-switch those who argue for god or 'the supernatural’ extend every time, when they are not also engaged with waging an unwinnable war with reality by trying to find any scrap of fact to suit their ideas, instead of ideas to suit a fact. Both ways are dodging the truth. And as I’ve said before, only falsehood dodges truth. Was it not Martin Luther who said:
    "What harm would it do, if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church ... a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, he would accept them."
    It is almost elegant in its circularity as it is total in the renouncement of our ultimate aim, if I can be so presumptive, dear reader to include you in this quest?
    Let me end by quoting a scientist (PZ Myers), instead of a priest:
    "Don't forget: the truth is our pole star, science is the vessel we use to progress, and a passion to explore and learn is the engine of our purpose. If we lose sight of that in our concern to be gentle with those who impede us, we'll lose our way."

  • Blurring Of Lines.

    A Catholic faith school in South London held an assembly in which the teacher leading/speaking encouraged pupils to sign a petition concerning the present marriage equality kerfuffles. She (allegedly) said during the speech that gay people were unnatural and apparently saw no conflict between the dogma of the Catholic Church and promulgating it for political ends in her capacity as a public educator working on behalf of the state.

    The obliviousness of these people.

    http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2012/06/21/michael-gove-catholic-education-service-blurred-line-between-faith-and-politics-with-anti-gay-marriage-petition-in-schools/

    Michael Gove managed to bitchslap the school rhetorically, though let them off by giving them the benefit of the doubt concerning their not being aware they were skirting the edges of unlawfulness by soliciting their underage (below age 16) pupils to sign this petition.

    Gove is a quisling in his way, what with all these token platitudes he's offered about the right of faith schools to educate their charges about sexuality within the context of the schools' own religion.

    Tell that to the LGBT pupils who had to sit through that assembly.

  • Iconoclastic...

    ...in the cultural vandals' sense of the word.

    Like the destruction of Christian and Islamic artifacts in Jerusalem during the crusades (as it changed hands across the centuries); the sacking of Alexandria's great library... or the senseless blowing up of old Afghan Buddhist temples by the Taliban - the soldiers of the One True Way (pick one, they're all very loud about it) have decided to take a piss on more heirlooms of the species.

    Even all the way in Timbuktu, to quote The Aristocats (or something).

    Ansar Dine, one of the armed Islamist groups which has seized control in northern Mali, has said no site would be safe in Timbuktu.

    “Ansar Dine will today destroy every mausoleum in the city. All of them, without exception,” spokesman Sanda Ould Boumama told AFP through an interpreter from the city.

    The Ansar Dine spokesman suggested Saturday’s action was in retaliation for the UNESCO decision on Thursday to put the World Heritage site, a cradle of Islamic learning founded in the fifth century, on its endangered list.

    “God is unique. All of this is haram. We are all Muslims. UNESCO is what?” he said, declaring that Ansar Dine — which wants to impose sharia law in the region — was acting “in the name of God.”

    - http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hyMKh_iDHO0r-4Y5dgwsuvKWr7SQ?docId=CNG.e7a0a11609405b44bfbf233051b9f2d3.3d1

    Nice. Note the usual philistinic sentiment and infuriating misology. Also, dickishness.

    I occasionally think it is almost the duty of the secular institutions such as UNESCO to preserve the religious' own history for them, since overwhelmingly the faiths contain prominent extremist elements who seem to think an orwellian strategy of cultural cleansing and historical bookkeeping is the best way to preserve haram.
    I admit a point of ambiguity in the blockquote above is in what sense he means 'haram'*. I've heard the term used in the sense of 'forbidden' often enough, so the spokesman for Ansar Dine could be an absolute twat expressing a sentiment against idolatry of something (a bit odd, given they were the mausoleums of muslim saints, but one can't expect these types to be internally consistent).
    The other possibility is that he means the word in a sense I hear less, which is a neutral meeting place of even a holy site. If you read the -ahem- gentleman's words again, they could be taken as his defense or justification given the entire area may be 'haram' in that sense. Without the context of the original arabic, the english translation is ambiguous.

    Either way, it's vandalism.

    UNESCO, the world's main watchdog for protecting some of history's greatest treasures and most threatened cultural exhibits, first designated Timbuktu a heritage site in 1988.

    Besides its monuments, the city houses nearly 100,000 ancient manuscripts, some dating back to the 12th century, preserved in family homes and private libraries under the care of religious scholars.

    There's actually plenty of imams crying foul at this stupidity, as the relics nominally in their care are destroyed.

    * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haram

  • Friday Youtube: Trey Parker & Matt Stone - "Hasa Diga Eebowai".

    Mormon missionaries arrive in an anonymous african village. Hijinks ensue.

    Would actually rather like to see this.

  • Oh, Will No One Save England?

    Nessie the Loch Ness Monster* will be making an appearance in the curriculum of around 50 British private schools. These schools are Christian in nature and seem to be unaware of the scorn that surely awaits them; not unlike that which awaits a politician who accidentally leaves their kid behind at the pub.

    Nessie is drafted in in order to 'repudiate' evolution (or Darwinism, as it is invariably called**):

    "Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence.

    Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland? ‘Nessie,’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.

    Could a fish have developed into a dinosaur? As astonishing as it may seem, many evolutionists theorize that fish evolved into amphibians and amphibians into reptiles. This gradual change from fish to reptiles has no scientific basis. No transitional fossils have been or ever will be discovered because God created each type of fish, amphibian, and reptile as separate, unique animals. Any similarities that exist among them are due to the fact that one Master Craftsmen fashioned them all.”

    - http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6019140

    nessie3

    Genius. It's amazing how the english language, irrational and cobbled together organically as it is, can formulate sentences where the speaker can simply assert what they really ought to have to prove. I mean, the naturalists get called on so-called presuppositional thinking, but that's just a snide attempt to level the playing field by trying to relativise all starting premises.
    It's hypocrisy.

    They (creationists) love science really. When it agrees with them, when it allows them to drive from a to b, or gives them a fancy gizmo - they love it. Trouble is, science doesn't give a toss about then turning round and saying that it just totally explained that thing your holy book used to have the market cornered on; and worse, your explanation doesn't fit the new model.

    Science is a bit of a douche like that. But it doesn't play favourites, and that is to be respected. It doesn't care if it contradicts what it said a few days ago. It shrugs and says: "that was then. I know better now".

    Creationism is the lowest form of willful blindness. I'd be tempted to put flat-earthism in there too because they say pretty much the same thing:
    They say that the evidence is the same, but the approaches are different. That if you interpret the data with god-glasses on, you see design, and if you see through no-god-glasses, you see chaos > order.
    Except only one side denies part of the evidence.
    One could say that the naturalists, in excluding god, holy books and revelation are doing the same, but there is a crucial distinction which marks that as disingenuous: Naturalists exclude the type of evidence mentioned above wholesale as bad/illegitimate evidence. Religionists/creationists are quite happy to cherrypick bits of science if it props them up.

    This sort of thinking should be discouraged at schools. It reminds me of the retrograde mire Texas has been sinking into. All for a hearkening backwards impulse which fears being replaced by one which... well, one which sees the type of religion exemplified by fundamentalists as irrelevant and backwards.

    And they're seriously wheeling out the Loch Ness Monster to make points.

    Should the other side wheel out Bigfoot as evidence of evolution, then?

    EDIT: Perhaps compounding the depressing fact that a government agency is endorsing a curriculum containing creationism and Nessie as fact is that this story is from 2009. Old news, man.

    => Read more!

  • Crusaders Much?

    This? This is concerning, but not new. Out of the 2,900 military chaplains in the US on active duty, the majority are overwhelmingly Christian (not unexpected, given the country), and of that group the largest denomination are evangelical protestants.

    Now, I'll try not get too embroiled in the constitutional validity of the US actually employing a chaplaincy, as opposed to, say, hiring out a separate body; subcontracting and the like to get out of that establishment clause malarky.
    Though on that subject Christopher Hitchens said:

    "I don't think that we should be paying for chaplains...I don't think that the U.S. government should be employing any. James Madison, co-author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and of the First Amendment was very adamant on the point, and very clear. There shouldn't be...it's flat-out unconstitutional to pay or to employ a chaplain ... to be in the Armed Forces."
    - Hitchens, 2007.

    I'm just going to goggle for a bit after that video and ask myself what I'd be thinking if I called the Christian faith my own. Would I be embarrassed? would I be convinced that they're doing it wrong? Would I think that as long as souls were saved that this, distasteful as I might find it, was worth it? I cannot be sure. I know too many who might think different things. There are no TrueChristians(tm) to ask.

    At 2:51 there's a particularly honest and candid description of an evangelising strategy which is obscenely exploitative. At several points in this video (especially at the beginning)it is almost like you can hear the undercurrent of glee in these... parasites' voices at the fact that the state is letting them do this; sanctioning this. The road to theocracy depends on the military identification of church authority, 'God's' authority being indivisible from/trumping the state's.

    God's army. Those two words in combination are a horror.

    Also, the parts about one's psychological defenses being down and vulnerability and so forth - I always get suspicious when I hear this sort of thing... and I do hear it. God targets you at your lowest, y'see? Coincidentally at the point when you could believe anything which might lift you out of where you are and promise something better. What... timing, this entity has. It's almost as though it had nothing to recommend itself by when you weren't desperate. Funny.

    Thankfully there's some pushback in the military: http://freethoughtblogs.com/rockbeyondbelief

    Besides all that though, I have to wonder how tolerant and understanding of local faiths some of these soldiers are when they're deployed outside of the US. Like, oh... the middle-east? Sometimes it feels like both east and west just want to ignite the world as a burnt offering to Allah, or Christ, like the god of Abraham of old. It's just a bit disappointing when each side assure one that 'it's okay, we've got the right god'.

    -facepalm-

  • The Church's Demesne Besieged.

    Today, the Church of England issued a response to the coalition government's period of consultation on the issue of marriage equality. Their response has been, in order, insulting, desperate, and arrogant.
    Lambeth-Conference-008
    Let me elucidate thus:

    The Church of England said by opening marriage to gay couples, an institution defined for centuries to be exclusively between a man and a woman would have its meaning "hollowed out" and reduced to the level of a "content free", "consumerist", agreement

    - BBC News website.

    This logic only really holds true if you don't think that two people of the same sex cannot have as deep and meaningful a romantic connection as heterosexuals. The dismissive insults of the church are, I suspect, given obliviously. These sneering fools probably think they man the bastilles of society against slavering permissive society's uruk-hai. Time to give in, Theoden. This time no one's coming with reinforcements...
    Ahem, anyway. This is CofE, not LotR. On some level I can understand their fear. It must be a scary thing when one realises one is holding views others will find irrelevant in a few generations, once the change has passed, and time moved on.
    The desperation is palpable. On some level, elements of them must see that they no longer command the institutional respect they once did. The fading and withering of the CofE has been observed amongst Christians of other denomenations for a while with eerily superior tut-tuts. They all seem to have their own idea where they went wrong.
    I think I know.
    They tried to have it both ways. They accepted secular powers at the cost of moving with the times: "Evolution? No problem, goddidit. Miracles? More of a metaphor, I think you'll find. All that Old Testament? Horrible stuff old bean. The resurrection? The greatest metaphor of them all..."
    You think I'm joking? I've spoken to vicars and heard higher-ups in the CofE speak like this. Not all at once, but the liberal, non-literalist demographic is widespread. Then you have the hard-liners. Y'know, the ones that occasionally turn up screetching in the media sounding like they've been cryogenically reanimated from 1948.
    Many Christians like to pretend that slavery was never a biblically approved institution. You'll see them trot out Wilberforce as an example of Christ-inspired emancipation and somehow expect you to forget the hundreds of years prior to this, when they would spew out Bible passages to do with the up-keep of slaves. Now they say it was because of the society the Bible was written in. A society which only changed once people stepped out of its shadow. Likewise on a dozen other things which have changed since then.*
    And now, in their arrogance, they believe there is enough bigotry (or ignorance) to whip up a bit of good old scaremongering about The Gay, and you know, you just know once they fail that in a few centuries they'll be lying about how they ended homophobia and championed equal rights. Heheh, if they survive another two centuries in any recognisible state.
    His bearded obsolescence, Rowan Williams, had this to say on the matter under discussion:

    If it is said, for example, that a failure to legalise assisted suicide - or indeed same-sex marriage - perpetuates stigma or marginalisation for some people, the reply must be, I believe, that issues like stigma and marginalisation have to be addressed at the level of culture rather than law, the gradual evolving of fresh attitudes in a spirit of what has been called 'strategic patience' by some legal thinkers."

    Allow my conceit, dear reader as I rebut him directly in a blog post he will never read:

    Here is the problem, sir. Civil rights such as those you've just described are not granted by popular appeal, or majority of opinion, or only because culture lobbies for them. They are granted because people are entitled to them regardless of what anyone thinks, by law. That is why the law legislates such things. That, you cretin, is what the law is for. If your argument had weight, black people would never have been allowed to marry whites until very recently, and abortion would not have been made legal. It is all very well to be told to wait. Sometimes lawmakers are made up of fools and bigots... but in this instance the wind is in our favour, and they are made up of opportunists and amoral power worshippers**, alongside a few principled MPs. Why on earth should we wait? We're about to bloody win.

    Now, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner (who must sleep only an hour a night, as he seems so busy protesting everything under the sun) said:

    "Senior churchmen are protesting against a law change that will not affect them,"

    Ah, but here he is wrong. The government have promised an exception for churches and religious bodies who do not wish to perform same-sex marriages. I commented on this in an earlier post: http://arch-heretic.blog.co.uk/2012/04/30/most-writers-are-oblivious-13601231/ At the time I scratched my head and wondered what self-respecting queer would want to get married by someone who believed you were living in sin, but then I remembered not everyone is an antitheistic rationalist git like me. Sentimental attachment to, say, the village church your parents were married in may make you and your partner decide that a church wedding there is what you want. You may even be a gay Christian. I am assured such creatures exist. I'm sorry, but like homocons***, I'm only mildly more serious in acknowledging their existence as I am a sasquatch.
    My (rather drawn out) point is this: the Church of England performs state marriages. It is one of their institutional roles, like the schools they patronise, and the bishops they elect for Lords.
    A canny few have worked out a problem with the exemption the coalition are offering, specifically human rights lawyer Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, the vice-president of the Law Society. Speaking on how the international and European courts would probably agree that religious exemption is a must (the cowards), she also said this:

    "But what it might say is that religious organisations should be allowed to if they want to,"
    "What we do know is there are many religious organisations that do want to be able to carry out same-sex marriages."

    Time and the love of church weddings may yet erode the unity of the CofE on this matter... either way, after this we will be able to view the unique case of a long-established state church utterly gutted of its values of yesteryear. And in less than a century. It is a fate their enemies could not have planned better, had they.

    The Church fears that marriage equality will undermine their role as state church by making a distinction between a 'church marriage' and a 'state marriage'. Ignoring the fact that people get married in secular ceremonies in registry offices already (- and they're lovely affairs, btw), they try to make the case that this distinction will somehow weaken the institution of marriage for everyone. Disingenuous bullshit, given the registry office scenario I've just described. What they should come out and say is "We don't want to acknowledge what we don't believe: that your relationships are the same as ours."
    I'd respect that. I'd scorn it and fight them on it until I was blue in the face and they were a public embarassment... but I'd respect it more than their patrician facade of acting out of the public good.

    I don't think I believe them, en masse. In any case, their concerns are baseless and those that aren't are things I encourage, not worry about.

    => Read more!

  • Stranger Than Metafiction Premieres.

    For the past few years on and off I've been writing furiously. I've several ideas all fighting for purchase on the point of which should debut first. Due to my wish to at least save a bunch of them for publication I seized upon the plan for putting one of them up as a free weekly webcomic in a vain attempt to solicit attention.

    The one which gives itself most readily to this format is Stranger Than Metafiction for several reasons:
    It's one of my oldest ideas and one which, simply put, couldn't earn me a buck in a month of Sundays, due to copyright. You see, on several levels it could almost be construed as fan fiction. Some of the characters aren't mine and belong to cyclopian broadcasting or other overlords who would exact a heavy penance on me if I ever attempted to bind and sell this piece.*
    It is also highly personal, and features self-insert caricatures of people who actually exist and are alive today. This leads me to think it could lend itself well to this blog, which is after all an exercise in soapbox-style self-insertion of myself into whatever I happen to have an opinion about.
    Finally, in a similar way to Stephen King's The Dark Tower**, this comic is a fulcrum on which many of my other stories are a part of, inevitably. Without giving too much away, the title should hint at the answer to this cryptic cant I'm indulging in.

    It's slow in building, and I may at least post a summary of the premise at the beginning a la those charming blurbs at the beginning of most long-running comics I grew up with. I hope if I do my job well enough this'll be non-essential.

    Without further ado, here is Page 1 - http://cell3.deviantart.com/#/d51c2nf

    * Indeed, I never intend to do so. This is yours, folks. I'll specify in the posts proper if something's mine or not.
    **Astarte forgive the unworthy comparison made here between my own meagre works and the Master of horror.

  • Sunday Youtube: 8 (Or: The Play With Everyone You Know Off The Telly In It, Innit).

    I missed last friday's youtube blog post, so here's a deviation from the music that's been the norm.

    If I'm not careful, this blog'll become a saccharine exercise in LGBT-rights cheerleading. How ever will I maintain my mercurial mandate under the blog banner?

    I suppose I'll have to blog about chicken farming, or something... that's probably involved in the new century in some way, right?

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