Archive for the ‘books’ Category
(Image courtesy of Mingle2‘s Blog Rating Tool.)
Why? They’re doing some keyword matching, and the reason given was:
- bomb (4x)
- dangerous (2x)
- drugs (1x)
All the “bomb” references must be those in my recent post slagging off the bombers, which was about another plot to bomb London, after the July 2005 bombings. Indeed, the front page (today) has two uses of the word “dangerous”: the first examining the risks of capture that terrorists expose themselves to, in their drive to publicise their acts; the other was regarding the religious indoctrination of children.
The drugs? Well, if I’ve passed all the tests, I will be engaged in a trial of a new Multiple Sclerosis therapy, FTY720 (fingolimod). I also have some other plans in the pipeline, but (like the trial) it’s too soon to talk about them here.
The trial is an unnecessary risk, strictly speaking, as are my other plans; way to live dangerously, dude! I don’t believe I say anything here that is unsuitable for kids, but then I wasn’t brought up in the USA, where kids would grow up totally unprepared for the real world, if their parents had their way. (Not that they always do – YouTube has many examples of failures of parental control.)
No, I’m British, from a previous generation, and all is not lost there, either. This year, the winner of the prestigious Galaxy Book Of The Year Prize was The Dangerous Book for Boys; designed to get them out from behind their computer games and out in to the world, climbing trees, fighting battles, falling into streams, and generally acting like healthy boys should. The book has just been released in the USA, with some modifications: baseball instead of cricket, General Grant instead of Lord Nelson, etcetera.
Can you tie a Reef knot? I can, but that’s about all I remember about knots. A Bowline was about as far as I got, and (I recall) the Sheepshank defeated me utterly. Granny knots, on the other hand, are not a problem. 🙄
I’m back from London, a trip that finally allowed me to finish The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Airport lounges and the flights themselves were enough for me to put a major dent in it, with only a little left to finish this morning.
The book got a little heavy-going around the middle, but opened up nicely after that, and far more of it is positive and practical than the iconoclastic title would have you believe. It is more of a personal statement by the author than his previous scientific books, but I knew that going in, so the occasional lump of loaded langauge was to be expected.
The heading on this post is my attempt to summarise my position on religion in to a pithy soundbite – a take on “Think Global – Act Local”. I found myself fully in agreement the Isaac Asimov quote that I used here before, which says what I have been saying for years, but more effectively. Prof. Dawkins touches on this in the GD book, under “The Poverty of Agnosticism”: the way I see it, Agnosticism is acceptable as a philosophical proposition, but it just doesn’t cut the mustard in today’s world, where taking a neutral position is seen as passivity, a sign of weakness, a chink in the armour to be exploited by those with strong theocratic agendas they can enact without opposition.
The metaphorical door that could lead to belief in a God or Gods is closed, but not locked. It won’t be falling open by itself, no matter how hard the wind blows. If some agent is intelligent enough to figure out the handle, I will welcome it in for a cup of tea and a chat, but I’m not going to hang around waiting. I have things to do, and I’m going to get on with them.
However, there are dogs at the door: their howling is annoying, they are crapping on my doorstep, attacking my cats and stealing my chickens. I would like to be left alone, but I’m not being allowed to do my work. So: they should not be surprised when I open the door with a shotgun in my hand, and pepper them with rock salt.
I’ve seen some highly complex epistemological arguments about all the relationship between the concepts of Agnosticism and Atheism, but if we’re going to make any impact on the general population, the ones who don’t read Newsweek or The Grauniad, we need a Tabloid headline. I concede that Think Agnostic – Act Atheist might be a bit much, since it assumes people understand those respective concepts, but it’s something..? 😕
Ever since my last boyfriend tried to kill himself, robbed a store, and shot at a guy, before disappearing off the face of the earth, (Mom) wants to meet everyone I date.
Claire Fisher, in Six Feet Under, inviting her new boyfriend to Christmas dinner. I’m halfway through Series 2, and eventually expect to see it through to the end, in Series 5. I already know how it will end but, as a self-professed connoisseur of Black Humour, I have to say this is about as good as it gets on TV. It helps that it was made by HBO, the cable-only TV channel in the US, who don’t have to answer to the FCC Broadcast regulations, any more than they did with Sex and the City.
More black humour arrived yesterday in the form of a book, Blood, Sweat & Tea, created from the author’s blog, Random Acts Of Reality. It’s quite hair-raising stuff, based on the author’s daily work as an Emergency Medical Technician in Newham, London. I’m only about 1/5 of the way through it, and the author has already had a HIV-positive patient blow chunks in to his mouth, necessitating two months of “prophylaxis”. So far it appears that most ambulance calls are the result of age, alcohol, and a surprising number of people in diabetic shock, possibly due to being overweight.
Back in the Fisher family funeral home, meanwhile, Christmas dinner is a non-starter: besides Mrs. Fisher’s employer Nikolai, stuck there with two broken legs and a lot of painkillers, there’s a biker funeral that threatens to go on all night, complete with airbrushed casket and cases of JD. What else? Oh yes, it’s the anniversary of the death of Nathaniel Fisher, the first of many cadavers we meet, who refuses to stay down where they put him. Why should he, when there’s so much happening to his family up top? Rest in Peace? Like Hell.
A quote I vaguely remembered, on the importance of imagination, which I finally found the time to look up:
‘Anne and Paul both knew
“How fair the realm
Imagination opens to the view,”
and both knew the way to that happy land. There the rose of joy bloomed immortal by dale and stream; clouds never darkened the sunny sky; sweet bells never jangled out of tune; and kindred spirits abounded. The knowledge of that land’s geography… “east o’ the sun, west o’ the moon”… is priceless lore, not to be bought in any market place. It must be the gift of the good fairies at birth and the years can never deface it or take it away. It is better to possess it, living in a garret, than to be the inhabitant of palaces without it.’
— Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea
OK, it hardly seems my style, but I read most of the series years ago, and have not forgotten it. Readers focus on the first book, Anne of Green Gables, because of its popularity with girls, but the series follows Anne through adult life, faithfully documenting the late Victorian and Edwardian eras in eastern Canada. At times it touches on real-world politics and changes in society, and even World War I. Two of Anne’s sons go, and only one comes back, the other remaining on the Flanders fields.
As Anne liked to say: there’s scope for imagination in there.
I was asked, today, what I thought of the first Narnia film, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I read the book many years ago, and remember finding it bizarre and clumsy. What was the problem? Isn’t it a classic? I only figured it out recently, in the publicity haze surrounding the film release. I haven’t seen the film, and have no intention of doing so now – the book was enough.
The book is based on some fairly explicit Christian imagery, and was written by a devout Christian. CS Lewis, the author, found Christianity after talks with his friend JRR Tolkien, who went on to write The Lord Of The Rings. Yet Tolkien disapproved of what Lewis was doing in his books: why? The problem as I understand it, was that Tolkien objected to the clumsily explicit Christian references and that Lewis targeted his books at children. I’m fully in agreement with this, and strongly believe that children should not be exposed to religion until they are old enough to understand what they are getting in to. I’ve seen no indication that the film reverses this – quite the contrary.
I’m aware that Lewis said that that was not the intention when he started writing – see Wikipedia – but he did not fight his impulse to evangelise as he went on, in my opinion. Today, fundamentalist Christians, especially in the USA, see the film as an opportunity to “spread the word”. References: here, here, here, here. That didn’t really happen with other films that used bits of Christian mythology – for example, the “One” references in The Matrix were never taken as seriously as this is being taken, and The Lord Of The Rings has few clear references evangelists to hang their hats on, despite Book 3 being named The Return Of The King. I could mention Star Wars too – Anakin Skywalker was a “virgin birth” for all the good that did him in the end.
But I’m not alone in being annoyed at all this: see here, here, here. I know several religious people, and I don’t mind using words like “God”, “Christian” and “Christmas” in the relevant context – but I’m saddened when they drag kids to church/mosque/temple before they are old enough to decide for themselves what is believable, and what is fantasy.
I could not let this “backdoor evangelism” happen without remarking on it. I consider Narnia backdoor evangelism in sugar-coated form, just like the Turkish Delight that was the price paid for Aslan’s life in the book.
In case there was any doubt about CS Lewis’ intentions, here’s a quote from his authorised biographer George Sayer , from the following CBN article:
But the author almost certainly did not want his readers to notice the resemblance of the Narnian theology to the Christian story. His idea, as he once explained to me, was to make it easier for children to accept Christianity when they met it later in life. He hoped that they would be vaguely reminded of the somewhat similar stories that they had read and enjoyed years before. “I am aiming at a sort of pre-baptism of the child’s imagination.”
I’ve just taken part in the WritersWeekly.com’s 24-Hour Short Story Contest, writing just under 1,000 words on the topic listed on that page. I may post my story to this site once the judging is over, which should take about a month.
Since I’m studying Japanese language and culture, I tried to follow the “write what you know” idea: the topic sent me to a beach on Okinawa, a popular holiday destination that was once a war zone. An average granny takes a dip in the ocean one sunny morning, only to find her buried past reaching out for her.
I found myself staying relatively close to the prescribed topic, which should be a good thing; I suspect other entrants might get a little frustrated with its restrictions and stray too far from it, trying to be excessively clever. I would have done the same years ago, but this time I hope I found an emotional connection with the topic, and created one decent character from it, a grandmother with a past she kept from her own family.
A couple of very unproductive days later, much of it spent reading Teeth Of The Tiger by Tom Clancy. Now I’ve finished it, it’s clear that it’s only the first part of what will be a longer saga, involving Jack Ryan Jr., the son of the main character of most of Clancy’s previous books. In Executive Orders, Ryan Sr. had promulgated the Ryan Doctrine, which indicated that the enemies of the USA will not be safe anywhere in the world, and underlined that with a missile strike on an Iraqi cleric. Teeth Of The Tiger is the continuation of the same policy, but by other means entirely, in the form of a “black” organization operating without congressional or presidential oversight. Set up by Ryan Sr just before leaving office, its existence is unknown to the current president. They are party to the intelligence gathered by other agencies, and use that to fund their operations, but the downside is that they can not call on any other material resources.
If anything, the events of the past few years must seem liberating to an author like Clancy; it’s now a decade since he suggested that an airliner can become a weapon of mass destruction – you have to wonder just who was paying attention to the fictional ending to Debt Of Honor – but reality has since blown past many of his maddest ideas.. The Cold War is over, the enemies of the USA don’t play by any civilized rules, so the gloves are off. It’s not all gung-ho, however, and Teeth Of The Tiger is replete with philosophical musings on the legality and morality of the path followed by the new black organization. At one point Jack Jr. even has the sense to ask “what if I become like them?“, and doesn’t have a neat answer to that question. Does he finds out later? We’ll see.