pallas_athena: (tarot)
Over the past few weeks, I have seen several online acquaintances-- witty, intelligent, talented, funny people-- voice opinions on the current Gaza conflict which, coming from them, have startled me. Among these, the biggest fallacy is the one which characterises any criticism of the Israeli military action as anti-Semitism.

To speak clearly, I condemn anti-Semitism; I believe all reasonable people should condemn examples of religious and ethnic hatred wherever they find it. I believe that among these forms of hatred, anti-Semitism deserves special consideration due to the atrocities of the Holocaust, committed within living memory. I believe the State of Israel has a right to exist and to keep its own peace. However, I disagree with many of the policies of the current coalition government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, and I don't believe that it is anti-Semitic to voice this disagreement.

Here is why: )
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US-siders already know about this, but I thought it might prove interesting to the UK contingent. Here's the background:

After a years-long fight, same-sex marriage was finally legalised in Maryland this year. However, opponents of the new law managed to get enough signatures to put it to a referendum on this November's election ballot: a final chance for them to strike down the law before it is due to take effect on 1 January 2013. The campaign is heating up on both sides.

Brendon Ayanbadejo, a football player for the Baltimore Ravens, has been vocal in his support for marriage equality, even offering a pair of game tickets as a fundraising incentive. This has provoked the ire of one Emmett C. Burns Jr., a local politician and church leader who called on the team "to inhibit such expressions from your employee." (Single-page pdf of letter here.)

The team, of course, is rallying behind Ayanbadejo. But the real cherry on the sundae is an open letter written to Burns by another NFL player, Chris Kluwe. With Olympian eloquence, Kluwe writes:

I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won't come into your house and steal your children. They won't magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster. They won't even overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population [...] You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails.


That's just one abridged paragraph from a truly glorious panegyric, the full text of which is available here. I heartily advise clicking, though the text does contain language that may offend any prudes reading over your shoulder at the workplace.

I take away from this incident a certain optimism: it seems NFL football culture has come a long way since I was a kid. Polls show that a narrow majority of Marylanders support same-sex marriage in principle, which makes this primarily a fight for turnout. I very much hope that the state on my doorstep will show itself an enlightened place come November.
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A meteor was seen falling across the UK last night. It put me in mind of this sonnet by Hilaire Belloc. The religious utterances don't reflect my own views, but I think the last sestet is stunning.

What are the names for Beauty? Who shall praise
God's pledge he can fulfil His creatures' eyes?
Or what strong words of what creative phrase
Determine Beauty's title in the skies?
But I will call you Beauty Personate,
Ambassadorial Beauty, and again
Beauty triumphant, Beauty in the Gate,
Beauty salvation of the souls of men.

For Beauty was not Beauty till you came
And now shall Beauty mean the sign you are;
A Beacon burnt above the Dawn, a flame
Like holy Lucifer the Morning Star,
Who latest hangs in Heaven and is the gem
On all the widowed Night's expectant Diadem.
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So by this point, we've all read about the spread of invasive Burmese pythons in southern Florida leading to the decline of native mammals, particularly those of appropriate size for pythonic convenience food. Fans of Pogo will be particularly dismayed that the scaled invaders have all but wiped out the opossum from the swamps there. Thankfully, it looked as though the creatures were too cold-sensitive to spread as far north as the Okefenokee, but then this happened:

Burmese pythons: Could the snakes move north?

During two cold snaps that hit Florida in winters that started in 2009 and 2010, many pythons survived by burrowing into the earth and by finding deeper, warmer water to ride out the low temperatures. Dozens of snakes perished and were disposed of by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but what didn’t kill those that survived might have made them stronger, Dorcas said.

“We just had a major selection event for cold-tolerant pythons,” Dorcas said. Fish and Wildlife predicted that a new generation of Burmese pythons on the edge of their non-native range can adapt and “expand to colder climates.”


Two excellent things about this story:

1. The reporter's surname is "Fears."

2. It talks about natural selection. And evolution. In Florida. Silly, everyone knows they don't have evolution there. (They don't have climate change either, which is a relief, given the potential consequences in a state whose highest point is 345 feet above sea level.)

So if natural selection isn't affecting the snakes, what is? The obvious answer lies with God, Whose intention moves all things. Having created the Burmese python milennia ago, He has recently provided them with an exodus from the land of Burma. It is written that this involved one of the pythons throwing down its staff which immediately turned into a bearded Jewish guy. The Lord then brought about its importation to the US as a pet, dividing the Atlantic ocean en route. When the pythons had completed their time in servitude, God divinely inspired the owners to abandon them in the wilderness. After some years of wandering and subsisting on manna in various furry forms, their Creator has hearkened unto their prayers and armoured them in righteous resistance to the elements.

The theological implications of this development are, frankly, staggering. Apart from anything else, it is now evident just who God's chosen species are. If this seems far-fetched, ask yourself this: who was the only person in Eden who didn't eat the forbidden fruit? Sure, the Serpent invited the gullible humans to chow down, but in no source does it say that the reptile itself ingested any. A fruit-eating snake would be kind of weird in any case, right? God's subsequent curse upon the Serpent is strangely harmless [King James version, here we go]:

--Upon thy belly shalt thou go: Snakes do this anyway

--and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: This happens when you're crawling around on your belly. Note that God does not prohibit the Serpent from eating any others of His creations it happens to find tasty in addition to dust.

--and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. Well, given what just happened they were hardly going to be future BFF, were they?

Less of a curse, more of a pat on the scaly back for a job well done. In any case, it would seem that the Creator Of The Universe has now amended this last clause to "He shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt crush him into an easily-ingestible lump within thy coils thus to swallow him, and then thou shalt have a bit of a nap the while his brethren do make an B-movie about thee."

And who does that B-movie feature? That's right. Ice Cube. Ice Cube... cold-resistant serpents... At least now we know what God was smiting us for.

So what can we, the faithful, learn from this dire peril into which our Maker has cast us? The lesson is clear, for it is written:

Upon that day when a film crew be gathered together in My name, and J.Lo be among them, yea and Jon Voight also, and he that was in The Royal Tenenbaums, you know, the blond guy, and the script doth verily suck worse than the special effects, such that the result be a two-hour abomination unto My sight: and I do send unto thee My warning, saying,
O Man, release not this piece of shit where it may afflict the eyes of filmgoers, for even My prophet Liam Neeson could not save this trainwreck, seriously, thou shalt DAMN WELL LISTEN. Else shall that state which most resembleth an detumescent wang be smitten with fearful plagues of superevolved cold-resistant Burmese pythons, yea, and also tempests, Jeb Bush and mosquitoes the size of chickens. Thus saith the LORD.


Well, I've done my part in spreading the word... HAVE YOU???
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The title of this post is Sir Christopher Wren's epitaph, but I think it applies equally well to Steve Jobs.
I was going to make this post a personal history. I was going to write about going to the computer store and learning to use the 128k Mac that became our first home computer. (After that, upgrading to a 512K seemed like a huge deal.) About the art I did with MacPaint, and the music notation I learnt by working with ConcertWare, and the term papers I wrote, and the dumbass games-- the games were the best. [livejournal.com profile] speedlime had one called Despair where there was no score and no timer: the only object was to kill the little stick-figure people that milled aimlessly around your screen. Typing that now, it seems kind of sad, even though I remember how cool it was to discover that if you froze them and then struck them with lightning, they'd explode.

Then I read the obituary thread on MetaFilter, and I realised my story is far from unique. It's my generation's story, at least in America, and possibly Europe too. We were, at the age of anything between five and sixteen, shown a computer that we instantly, instictively, fundamentally understood-- and it made geeks of us. We loved it.
Seriously. The old mainframes and such were sinister things that you could use to contact aliens or hack into the Pentagon or zap the entire world, but the friendly little computer became a much-loved character in a newspaper comic strip. A Mac would never have declined to open the pod bay doors. (Although it might have given you one of those annoying little bomb messages. Remember those? Yeah, they sucked. And OS9 in general was a pile of shit, but let's not dwell on that.)
I know I'm not alone in this, because a few years ago I visited [livejournal.com profile] badmagic's apartment for the first time, glanced over at the stubby rectangular monitor on a shelf in the corner and cried out "Holy crap! Is that a 128k?" Joe let me know that I was not the first person, nor even the first woman, to say this upon entering his apartment. How many of us hang onto our old PC boxen? The old Mac wasn't even designed to be that beautiful, and yet it's iconic in a way that no other computer of its time is.

One man isn't the company, and Jobs didn't singlehandedly create all those great machines. But he is inextricably linked to all the pieces of hardware that inspire such irrational affection in geeks and others like us. That's our link to him, and that's why the passing of a CEO none of us met feels strangely personal.

Belief in an afterlife is irrelevant, really, because by the time it's going to matter to us we'll be past caring-- but the thought of one is such a good metaphor that there's no way an English-degree wanker like me could pass it up. So, in the metaphorical probably-nonexistent afterlife, I hope that there's a vision of perfection of form and a place to find out all the answers.

Alternatively, there's IKEA. (April Fool's column from 2005, a horribly irreverent note to end on-- but one has to end somewhere.)
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Huge banner headline: WOMEN GIVEN THE RIGHT TO VOTE IN SAUDI ARABIA!

Smaller subheadline: ... but not in this week's elections. All that's been promised is that one of the world's most woman-hating states will, at some point between now and 2015, bestow on women the right to vote, to stand as candidates, to hold elective office, and to be appointed to the Consultative Assembly.

I will believe this when I see it: when I see Saudi women going freely to the ballot boxes and voting by secret ballot without being subjected to abuse, bullying, murder or threats of murder; and campaigning and serving in elective office free from those constraints.

When today's declaration is fulfilled, it will be worth celebrating. If Saudi women should also acquire the right to drive their own cars; to travel or marry or make any decision without the approval of a theocracy-imposed male guardian; to engage in political protest without punishment falling on them or on those theocracy-imposed male guardians; that will also be worth a spot of partying... when it happens.

When it happens, and not a heartbeat before.
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I would be commenting on the recent News Of The World/News International kerfuffle, but [livejournal.com profile] webofevil is already doing a far better job. Short version: Newspapers have narrow profit margins; closing the News of the World will cost Murdoch nothing, and launching the new Sunday edition of the Sun will cost him pocket change. (Hell, it might even go into short-term profit-- a miraculous state for a newspaper.) The real prize is the BSkyB deal, which looks set to go ahead: proof, if proof were needed, that no matter how rank the cesspit in which Murdoch stands, he can always get Parliament to clean off his shoes. With their tongues.

But let's get to the real story: the imminent release of the next volume of A Thingy Of Thingies, AKA The Knights Who Say Fuck, AKA George RR Martin's ongoing shag-maim-destroy-and-piss-on-the-ruins party.

If you haven't read these, don't start: going by the evidence, it's going to be at least five years before the next book. But for those poor souls who've started and therefore must finish, here's the very thing you need: a handy and clever drinking game. Of course, you could just start drinking on Page 1 and keep on chugging till the pain stops, but then you might pass out and drool all over your lovely new book. Far better to undertake the necessary brain-soaking in a responsible manner, regulated by the following terms:
In the Game of Drinks, you win or you die )
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So, apparently, some people actually believe that the world is going to end today. These people are mostly Americans. ...Look, I'm sorry, OK? If I'd stayed and devoted my life to attempting to enlighten idiots, the world would already have ended by now because I'd have blown the motherfucker up. And I like the world: it's got blue skies and green trees and cavorting animals and Shakespeare and Doctor Who and pizza and little fluffy clouds. So I left and settled in the UK, where most people are too self-defeatingly morose to blow anything up, but at least vaguely less idiotic than in the country I left.
How shall we fuck off, O Lord? )
So what will you be doing today? For ideas, I recommend to your attention [livejournal.com profile] badmagic's Rapture poll-- in fact, I recommend his journal in general for funny polls, interesting observations, occasional games and cogently worded nerdery. I also draw to your attention that the Facebook Post-Rapture Looting event currently has an attendance figure of 629,916.

More to the point, what will *they* all be doing tomorrow? I think it's a fair bet that Fuckwit-in-Chief will be repeatedly sued, this being America; I hope we don't see any suicides. Should the Rapture actually occur, one geek has already analysed the potential consequences. The only certainty is that one group will turn around and say to the other, "I told you so."

Meanwhile, here's some music to watch the fun by.
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Last Friday, the 4th, Buenos Aires airport was rife with cancellations and delays. We've all been there and can imagine the scene: uncomfortable airport chairs, weird airport-smell, awful airport food, and you're stuck there for hours with a huge crowd of reeking strangers...

Except that one of the passengers whose flight got cancelled was Cyndi Lauper, and she commandeered the announcer's mike, launched into "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and invited people to sing along.

CYNDI LAUPER, people. How glorious.
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On Saturday 12 February, the world lost Kenneth Mars, a fantastic character actor.
You may remember him as:

Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind in the 1968 film The Producers
(a role written for Peter Sellers, but when Sellers was too crazy, Mars stepped in and owned it)

The police sergeant with the misbehaving artificial arm in Young Frankenstein

King Triton's voice in The Little Mermaid

King Triton's voice in the Kingdom Hearts games

...and many, many more. He definitely made me laugh many times during his life, and will continue to. Rest in peace, sir.

pallas_athena: (Default)
The BBC site is claiming that the first known valentine in English has been found among the Paston letters. Sent by 17-year-old Margery Brews to her future husband John Paston, it's been dated to 1477. Text here; John evidently sent an answer, getting a further reply from Margery.

From the BBC site:
It is a letter, written from a young woman to her love, and is the first mention of the word Valentine in the English language. [...]

"It might not necessarily be that nobody had used Valentine in any context before, but this is probably one of the first times it was written down," says British Library curator Julian Harrison.


That last is, of course, WRONG. Come on, guys, I'm only a lousy BA in English and even I know that Chaucer's Parlement of Foules, in which a number of talking birds hold a huge celebration of St Valentine's Day, predates this letter by almost a century. (Current best guess: about 1382-ish.) There are fifteen manuscript sources for the poem.

Chaucer's poem, admittedly, does not use the word "valentine" as a noun denoting either a letter or a person (or bird), but it invokes the saint, and the day as a festival of love, several times. Here's the final song, as all the birds leave with their newfound mates:

Qui bien aime a tard oublie.

Now welcom somer, with thy sonne softe,
That hast this wintres weders over-shake,
And driven away the longe nightes blake!

Saynt Valentyn, that art ful hy on-lofte; --
Thus singen smale foules for thy sake --
Now welcom somer, with thy sonne softe,
That hast this wintres weders over-shake.


Wel han they cause for to gladen ofte,
Sith ech of hem recovered hath his make;
Ful blisful may they singen whan they wake:
Now welcom somer, with thy sonne softe,
That hast this wintres weders over-shake,
And driven away the longe nightes blake.

Represent

Jan. 9th, 2011 07:16 pm
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I never met Congresswoman Giffords, but I am hoping that she survives with as little impairment as possible. I hope she lives to hug her astronaut husband, receive the admiration of her constituents, look her political opponents in the eye and teach them a thing or two.

Apparently the bullet passed through her head without fragmenting. If you're going to get shot in the head, supposedly that's a good way for it to happen.

Some quotes from the Representative herself (mainly pulled from these three articles):

March 2010, after her glass office door was kicked or shot in the night of the House health care vote:
"We're on Sarah Palin's targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realise that there are consequences to that action."


Early 2009, when a protester brought a gun to her town hall meeting:
"When you represent a district that includes the homes of the O.K. Corral and Tombstone, 'The Town Too Tough to Die,' nothing's a surprise out in Cochise County."


June 2008, praising the Supreme Court for overturning Washington DC's handgun ban:
"As a gun owner, I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. In February, I was proud to sign the Amicus Brief [...] asking the Supreme Court to uphold the lower court ruling that overturned the long standing DC gun ban.
"This is a common sense decision that reaffirms the Constitutional right - and Arizona tradition - of owning firearms. I commend the Court for ruling in favor of restoring our right to bear arms."


May 2009, commencement address at Scripps College, Claremont, Arizona:
"The safety of the world depends on your saying 'no' to inhumane ideas. Standing up for one's own integrity makes you no friends. It is costly. Yet defiance of the mob, in the service of that which is right, is one of the highest expressions of courage I know."
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The headlines are bold and breathless: Jane Austen's famous prose may not be hers after all. Scandalous!! ...or not. The suggestion is that Austen's spelling, punctuation, paragraphy and (to a degree) diction may have been cleaned up by her editor, William Gifford. In other words, that "Austenian" style may be partly the result of an editor doing exactly what an editor is supposed to do.

A headline-hungry professor has broken this non-story after extensive study of handwritten, unpublished manuscripts from throughout Austen's career. It turns out that the handwritten drafts are... wait for it... less refined than the printed version! Poorly spelled! Full of spelling and grammatical errors! There are even (horrors!) blots and crossings-out. Seriously, these articles are written as though they expect Austenians, en masse, to drop their fans and spill their tea. The Telegraph, in particular, makes much of the fact that Austen's surviving manuscripts are written without paragraph breaks, including the dialogue passages. It seems obvious to me that she must have done this to save paper, since dialogue with paragraph breaks leaves much more white space.

In any case, if even I (who am no devotee of Austen's) can see what bollocks this is, then surely the spurious nature of this "revelation" must be readily apparent to one and all. Meanwhile, I'm raising a glass to the unsung Mr Gifford, on behalf of editors everywhere.

Burned

Sep. 12th, 2010 11:35 pm
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It has come to my attention that my nation, despite finally having elected a cool President, is still afflicted with a tragic case of The Stupid. There was the ongoing theatre-of-ugh involving certain sectors getting unnecessarily exercised about the "Ground Zero mosque" (note: not at "Ground Zero"; not a mosque). Then some dickbag in Florida posts one sentence's worth of idiocy on Facebook about burning the Koran, and the media fall for it and give him airtime, and the government gets involved and suddenly Rev. Dickbag is headline news. Well done, ladies and gents, your Pulitzers are in the post.

So it gives me great joy finally to have something positive to report on the state of religious relations in my homeland. Namely, that last Saturday in Amarillo, Texas, a Koran-burning was prevented by a 23-year-old skateboarder who yoinked the holy volume away while the burner (head of a local group best known for harassing swingers) wasn't looking.

“He said something about burning the Qur’an. Then I snuck up behind him and told him, ‘Dude, you have no Qur’an,’ and ran off.”


I know it's a small victory, but it's a sweet one.
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I have a friend who has an Alexander McQueen coat. Because she is a woman of glory and valour, she let me borrow it once; I wore it to the opera and revelled in style-by-association. Since I heard the news of McQueen's untimely death, my thoughts have been lingering particularly on that coat and that friend.

Moth trails: long-exposure photos of moths and lights, inspired by this picture of a bat chasing a moth.

Drunkenness in bats does not impair their flight, scientists find. It does, however, make them wear little tiny fruit baskets on their heads.

Kitty Carlisle was a classically trained soprano who sang at the Met, among other places. In later years, she became politically involved with the arts, arguing strongly against censorship of such artists as Robert Mapplethorpe. (She was also a friend of my grandmother's, which I think is kind of cool.) However, she's best remembered as the attractive, dark-eyed girl from the Marx Brothers' film A Night At The Opera. The hit song from that movie was called "Alone," and here she is, singing it with sweet-voiced tenor Allan Jones on YouTube.

A few years ago, I found the sheet music to "Alone" in my local charity shop. I was overjoyed, since it's been out of print for many decades. I brought it home, but have never had a chance to sing it in public... until now. Tomorrow night, ladies and gents, White Mischief at Proud Cabaret! Be there! I'm singing 8.30 - 9pm, and afterwards we can all get drunk as a fruit bat.
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2010 is already historic: this was the year the Poe Toaster didn't show. He may now be enjoying a sherry with Poe himself in the shadowy realms of Hades.

In other literary news, a new Gormenghast novel has been found in an attic. (Of course in an attic. Where else would you find a Gormenghast novel?) This one was written by Peake's wife Maeve Gilmore from her husband's leftover notes.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Christopher Tolkien", right? And rolling your eyes? Well, it may be merited. But if you've read Titus Alone, you know that Peake in his later years would have benefited from a ghostwriter in any case. The new book won't be Peake-- lugubrious, lunatic, stormlit Peake-- but it may still be interesting.

Haiti

Jan. 14th, 2010 11:50 am
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Some useful links:

Partners In Health, a local Haitian medical charity just outside Port-au-Prince. According to their site, 94.8% of funds raised goes directly into their work, with only the remaining small percentage on overheads. These are the people I've donated to.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières US, UK; Red Cross

And, sadly, beware of scams-- make sure the charity you're giving to is legitimate.

Photos of the Presidential Palace before and after the earthquake. Seriously, go give whatever you can.
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Tsutomu Yamaguchi, only known survivor of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs, has died aged 93.

Knut Haugland, explorer (notably on the Kon-Tiki mission) and leader of commando raids for the WWII Norwegian Resistance, died on Christmas Day aged 92.

They do not make guys like these any more.

In other news, it's still fuck-off cold (that is, so cold that it can only be ameliorated by swearing. A lot.) To find out exactly how ball-shatteringly cold it is, go to Fuck This Weather and enter your cold-as-all-fuck location.

Attempts to warm up by looking at Shirtless Superheroes ground to a halt when all the muscular torsos started looking sort of same-old-same-old. (except Nightcrawler, obviously.) So from there, I went to these images from the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival, which could heat a whole city with their sheer awesomeness. Also, some fun snow sculptures from Northern China. Enjoy!
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This photograph of Barack Obama with Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero and his family, including two vaguely gothic teenage daughters, is causing a bit of a stir.

"Try as they might to stay hidden, the children of world leaders will find a way to show off the regrettable teenage phases they are going through for posterity."


Sigh. They're not even that goth. No more goth than their mother, anyway. No corsets, no piercings, no overexposed flesh-- even the most conservative parent would concede that they're dressed entirely appropriately for a formal occasion (and very pretty).

I think I'm right in saying that if you, o gothic ministers of LJ, were to be photographed with a head of state, you would show these political types a thing or two about style? Oh yes.

Should I ever get a chance to meet Obama, damn right I'll be wearing a corset.

Meanwhile: solidarity, Spanish baby bats. Keep the faith.
pallas_athena: (Default)
Deep in darkness    as dragon's dwelling
Hidden under hill    lay heaped the hoard, 
Battle-gear    brightly gleaming.
Sword-hilts splendid,    serpent-spiraled,
Helms and horns    and handles to hold,
Gold to grace    the graves of the great.
Silent it slumbered    as centuries passed.
Then a carl came,    keen and cunning,
The dark earth delving    with deft detector, 
Singer of spell-song,    seer into stone.


Shiny pictures here,
explanation by a British Museum bod here.

I love the way the BBC keep referring to the find as a "hoard," as if it had been found with the bones of a dragon coiled possessively over it. Attempts to interview the finder were unsuccessful as he seemed to have disappeared, along with one of the hoard's less significant items, reportedly a small inscribed gold ring...

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