Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

I will not submit to the Council a proposal to build a Halal abattoir on my property as a side-splitting April Fools' Day joke.

I will not submit to the Council a proposal to build a low-level radioactive waste repository, ditto.


I will not make any machinima inspired by the "Touchstone" trilogy with Gungans playing the parts of Setari.

I will not make any machinima inspired by "Diary of Space Nympho", full stop.


I will not tell new acquaintances that I was born in "U.S.-occupied Mexico" and then timidly refrain from arguing with them when they go off on a rant about the knuckle-dragging australopithecines of Middle America. Already did that this year.

I will not try driving back home from Sydney after having been awake for 24 hours, zone out, and wake up on the wrong side of the highway. Already did that this year.


I will finish what I wr

Sunday, December 25, 2011

So this is Christmas

This bit of doggerel was written twelve years ago in the Bingara Caravan Park, in between enthusiastic scribbling of a fantasy novel that was ultimately doomed by my foolish resolution to fill a a 320 page notebook with handwritten first draft before putting fingers to keyboard. In 2004 I baldly inflicted this poem-like-object on you: this Christmas I want to give a more extended autobiographical gloss.


In that last week of the 1900s - I am too pedantic to say 'of the 20th century' - we were on holiday visiting relatives, but we lived in a predominantly Arabic suburb of Sydney. We had moved there about six months before and I was still in the first flush of finding it particularly splendid, a feeling that never really abated. I loved hearing Arabic pop music in the street, trying to make out Arabic street signs and Arabic graffiti, buying rosewater and pistachios at the corner shop, and seeing people going by whose clothes indicated to the world that they believed in something.

In 1999, as well as living next door to an Arabic video shop and eating manaqish za'atar at least once a week, I was both trying very hard to believe the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and spending a lot of time talking with a Baha'i friend.

Central to the Baha'i faith is the idea of progressive revelation. There have been a number of Prophets, each appointed by God for a particular time, and the torch of revelation is metaphorically passed from one to the other through the millennia.* An obvious question I asked my Baha'i friend was: If revelation is progressive, how is the revelation of Muhammad superior to the revelation of 'Isa?

Since I ask questions not (usually) just to stir up trouble but because I want to know the answers, I had already come up with an answer that satisfied me before I asked the question.

The Gospels are pretty much in agreement with Margaret Thatcher's famous observation 'there is no such thing as society'. They are addressed to individuals as individuals and contain no plan for how society might be ordered in a more Godly fashion. If everyone lived according to the literal precepts of the Gospels, society would collapse into chaos. Something like this can be seen from the history of some of the more Anabaptist-infected corners of Europe in the early years of the 'Reformation'.**

Nearly 1300 years of painful experimentation elapsed between the Crucifixion and Dante's De Monarchia. While I am a great admirer of the ideal of Christendom, the articulation of Christendom as a social and political system was a very long time coming, and it was never implemented to the extent that the Chesterbelloc would have us believe.

On the other hand, Islam is an appeal to a community, not to individuals. It is a plan for building a more Godly society. This plan was immediately implemented with significant success. Despite all the other points of difference where the Gospels seem to be in advance of the Qur'an as a revelation, it can be argued that this one difference outweighs them all, particularly in times and places where Christianity has signally failed to establish a Godly society.

The poem-like object draws a parallel between two cases where the emphasis of Christianity on the individual has resulted in a dysfunctional society and this superiority of Islam over Christianity could be argued.

In the pre-Christendom Roman Empire of the East, living as directed in the Gospels was institutionalised as the monastic movement. Huge numbers of people chose this way of life, concerned for their salvation as individuals. Unlike the later monastic establishments of Western Europe, these early monks and nuns engaged in little economic activity and were essentially parasitic on the rest of society. The most able intellects were diverted into futile theological disputes and we now remember those centuries mostly for their incessant religious discord. Then the Muslims came and conquered the better half of the empire.

In the post-Christendom West, the evangelical sects emanating from the rebel colonies are similar to the monks of the byzantine Near East in their obsession with individual salvation and their propensity to theological hairsplitting and discord. Like the monks of Egypt, they have been ineffective in ordering wider society on a more Godly basis. Society has become as decadent and genocidal as the pre-Christian Roman Empire.

So then, this sincere doggerel written twelve years ago at the flood of the theoconservative tide in my soul.*** If we cannot have Christendom, if we are too pathetic and divided for that, it is better that we have Dar-al-Islam than go on the way were are going. 





* Not that I think this analogy is helpful, see: 'Why I am not a Baha'i'. 

** Note Prod-baiting scare quotes on 'Reformation' in a transparent attempt to goad Nato into commenting if he ever drops by.

*** But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Testing, testing...


The link I put to this in a comment a while ago has gone dead due to Spouse-of-Clam's byzantine manipulations of the website, so I thought I would see if this worked. The image is of course targetted at people who have played both Lord of the Rings Online and Age of Conan, but may appeal to anyone with an interest in photoshopped hobbits in skimpy lingerie.

***

Long ago - I cannot remember if I ever told you this story before - when such things were still a litte respectable, one of my biochemistry lecturers wrote a letter to the local paper about the prospects of a biochemical cure for homosexuality. I wrote a letter saying that I thought this was a great project and I would like to help, and when we had done that we should go on and find a cure for heterosexuality, because this condition had ruined many more lives. I never did send the letter, having cold feet.

***

Anyways, I recognise that photoshopped LOTRO hobbits in skimpy lingerie are at odds with my degenderised Dr Clam persona. I wish there was a pill I could take when I felt like wasting time on these sort of projects, but I never did send that letter to the editor.

We Have Cookies

They are on Coruscant.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Unification Day, w/o Brownshirts

One evening last month in Gumi, an Australian colleague of mine asked a Korean colleague what the highest mountain in Korea was. 'Mount Baekdu' said my Korean colleague. 'On the border' - and being geographically ignorant I expected him to say 'of South and North Korea', - 'of China and North Korea.'

I thought I would share this fridge magnet I bought last month at Incheon airport. Note that Mount Baekdu is the only place it shows north of the DMZ. There are no names of cities or little pictures of the works of man, just a mediaeval-looking horseman hunting a tiger. North Korea is a terra nullius. In terms of useful infrastructure this is probably more or less true.


I think reunification will come soon, in the next decade, and what will follow will more closely resemble the colonisation of Mars than the reunification of Germany.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A metapost that makes no sense without reference to Marco's Blog

All the action is happening on Facebook, Marco tells us.

(1) It is splendid to see this discussion happening on Facebook. This is the sort of thing I had hoped to find on Facebook. Well done!

(2) It is terrible that you have abandoned your blog, winstoninabox :(

(3) Nathanael, have you read an English translation of the Qur'an yet? Have you spoken to any Copts? I am afraid the only thing that really irritated me in this thread was your cavalier roundhead abandonment of 60% of Christian history (4th December 11:37).

(4) And last in order of importance, this whole argument is another illustration of our society's grotesque lack of any sense of proportion.

Civil marriage is an empty contract in our country. It has been white-anted by no-fault divorce, by the extension of the legal benefits of marriage to de facto couples, by the extension of the legal obligations of marriage to de facto couples, and by the refusal of the banks and the courts to countenance the level of trust traditionally expected between married people. I recognise there are good reasons for these changes, and they were made sincerely by people thinking they were doing the right thing. Nevertheless, their net effect has been to make civil marriage a contract unique in its lack of legal benefits or penalties for non-compliance to the parties to the contract. Those were the ditches to fight in. It is too late. So I don't care if such meaningless 'marriage' is extended to homosexual couples, or polyamatory relationships, or interspecific cohabitation, or pairings between blocks of granite considered by the Cult of Zorr to be avatars of the God H'jaa and Goddess P'zorth.

In the words of the Preacher of Ecclesiastes: 'Meaningless, meaningless! All is meaningless.'

You know, there are still some countries where homosexuals are killed. Not by their bigoted neighbors, but by the government. I think this is more important.

Friday, December 16, 2011

An Abolished Choice

When race-based slavery was abolished in the colonies and rebel republics of the Americas, black men lost an important right. That was the right to sell themselves into slavery. In most times and places where slavery has existed, this extreme choice has been available to men faced with starvation, or prison, or murder at the hands of neighbours who will not tolerate a free man.

I will leave aside the obvious question of whether we have really only exchanged this individual right for a collective right - as epitomised by famous book titles such as The Servile State and The Road to Serfdom - to make the obvious analogy suggested by the historical preoccupations of this blog:

The social conditions that would lead a woman to chose to kill her unborn child are as pathological as the social conditions that would lead a man to chose to sell himself into slavery.


Seven years and a month and a day ago I wrote this.



***



Oh, and I will miss Christopher Hitchens. Here he writes about Borges.

Monday, November 07, 2011

"I once asked Carpenter whether he knew of a spell which when spoken would annihilate the whole cosmos and all it contained, both physical and mental, and all memory of the same, absolutely and utterly for now and all time. And I recall vividly how he looked up from the book he was reading and said: 'I suppose things are not going well for you this afternoon.'"

(From Philip J. Davis, Mathematical Encounters of the 2nd Kind)

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Epiphany v2.0

I find it difficult to finish most novels most of the time.

This is true for most people as far as writing them goes. For me it is also true so far as reading them goes.

Beginnings are of course the easiest and most fun to write: and I also find them the easiest and most fun to read. It is best when a story is full of mysterious possibilities. Once a novel has settled down to a 'plot' and most of the possibilities are blocked off, I almost always lose interest.

I think that thirty years of GMing, most of it on the fly, for most of that time more than once a week, for the past twenty years most of it in a system we invented ourselves, has ruined me for the novel. This used to make me feel bad. But I have had an epiphany.

Life is complexity: it sits at the interface of order and chaos. By the time the reader gets hold of it, the content of a novel is preordained. No matter how much it may seem complex, it belongs to order: it cannot sit at the interface. It is only an unfolding in the reader's mind of what already existed in a different embodiment in the writer's mind. I hate how every time I read a book the characters do exactly the same thing.

In a role-playing game he interactions between players are not preordained. They can sit at this interface between order and chaos. The mechanisms within role-playing games that introduce chance drag the story towards this interface. The GM has to abdicate the desire for complete control, to become one of the co-creators. There is no question of honing a scene to make it perfect, of taking days to find the right word: the word must be spoken, now. In a role-playing game there is only one draft. A role playing game is a more complex artistic product than a novel and requires a greater degree of skill. Thus, I assert:

The Role-Playing Game is a greater form of art than the novel.

Though the people who can play a Role-Playing Game 'well' enough to actualise its potential do not yet exist. One day they will, and passively consumed art will fade into the background.

Monday, October 24, 2011

To Paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen

I know the Wall Street Journal. The Wall Street Journal is a friend of mine. Ma'am, you are no Wall Street Journal.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Jaws was never my scene

Though I do like Star Wars.

This is basically just a post to announce that I have finished "The Third Policeman" and you should read it too.

I think it would be interesting if you re-read "Pilgrim's Progress" first, although I didn't do that, since they are sort of complementary. Though you probably have enough books to read already.

Anyway, bicycles are a big theme in "The Third Policeman". The first two policemen, Pluck and MacCruiskeen, are obsessed with bicycles. I am sure they ought to be an allegory for something but I am not sure what I want them to be. They sort of embody both cyclic motion and motion in a striaght line. They have the theory that gradually atoms of bicycle migrate into the riders and make them less human, while atoms of rider migrate into the bicycles and make it them more human. In my ideal life I would bicycle for three hours a day and this theory explains a lot about some of my more bicycle-like behaviour.

"How would you know a man has a lot of bicycle in his veins?"

"If his number is over Fifty you can tell it unmistakeable from his walk. He will walk smartly always and never sit down and he will lean against the wall with his elbow out and stay like that all night in the kitchen instead of going to bed. If he walks too slowly or stops in the middle of the road he will fall down in a heap and will have to be lifted and set in motion again by some extraneous party. That is the unfortunate state that the postman has cycled himself into, and I don't think he will ever cycle himself out of it."


While I cycle about not getting anywhere (since I always end up back home in the same place) I like to pretend that I am going somewhere. So using the wonders of GoogleMaps I have tracked my virtual progress from Land's End to John O'Groats, and last year I started virtually crossing the Sahara and gave up, and recently I have started virtually crossing the Sahara again. I am retracing some version of the path of the narrator of "Beau Geste" from Oran to Kano via Agades. On the basis of GoogleMaps, I am prepared to weigh into the debate into whether P. C. Wren ever actually joined the Foreign Legion - or even travelled extensively in Algeria - with a NOT.

About approaching Sidi bel-Abbes: "It was not until we were approaching our destination that sand-hills and desert encroached and a note of wildness and savagery prevailed".

No, the sand-hills and desert are far away on the other side of the mountains: it is still a long way to go to the top of the range from Sidi bel-Abbes, and while the cultivated land the road runs through might not have been cultivated then, there are plenty of uncultivated hills covered with trees.


I have ordered a paper about quantum physics in 'The Third Policeman' and I promise to come back with another post in which I quote slabs of it.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

October's Factoid

From wikipedia (PBUI):

"By 1838, open hostility was peaking again. Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs issued Missouri Executive Order 44, which encouraged Missourians to expel Mormons by all means possible or exterminate them if they would not leave. ...  In 1976 Missouri officially revoked the extermination order."

I think it would have said in the article if in say, 1975, some enterprising Missourian had beaten a Mormon extermination rap by citing Executive Order 44. So well done to the government of 1970s Missouri for seeing this potential loophole and closing it before it caused trouble!

***

I wanted to link to this as part of my Seven Year Anniversary linkfest. I don't really have anything to add, I just felt like linking to it again. The two pillars of optimism discussed in that link are visited again here.

***

The other day I had a look at my blogger profile to see how many bloggers had registered the same interests. I think you will agree that the blogosphere's priorities are sadly out of whack.


       Politics  :  119 000
       History  :  104 000
       Literature  :  94 000
       Science  :  78 200
       Philosophy  :  74 000
       Religion  :  58 100
       Ethics  :  13 100
       Buffy the Vampire Slayer  :  3 500
       Turanga Leela  :  3
       Photoshopped pictures of LOTRO Hobbits in Skimpy Lingerie  :  1

***

Finally, here is a picture of that shirt that Marco wouldn't make for me:




I don't believe I have ever owned anything made in Haiti. Or seen anything owned by someone else made in Haiti. It fills me with a wild enthusiastic glee to think that Haiti might actually now be a place where people make things to sell me.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

At last, an excuse to put up a picture of Tasha Yar

She hates time

Make it stop
                     (1985, Bowling for Soup)



It is chilling to think that the span of time separating the me of now from the airing of the final episode of Star Trek: TNG is greater than that yawning abyss, that age of the world, separating the young fanboy me from the airing of the final episode of TOS. Please forgive me for sitting here paralysed with existential terror for a while.

When I first wrote that I wanted to complain about the shoddy tricks in the presentation of certain modern utopias - Kim Stanley Robinson's Colour Mars series and Julian May's Galactic Milieu series- Lexifab said I ought to talk about the Roddenberry utopia as well.

The main practical problems with this were, first, that I hadn't actually thought of any shoddy tricks in the presentation of the utopian world of Star Trek and second, that the amount of canonical material out there was vastly greater than a few novels.  Also, the shoddy tricks I was concerned about were the sort of things novellists do, when they can write whatever they like to justify their creation, and Gene Roddenberry did not have this same degree of freedom. Unlike a novellist's utopia, the Roddenberry utopia already had to make compromises with the real world before we got to see it.

So I put off Lexifab's assignment for a while while I looked for my copy of David Gerrold's “The World of Star Trek” on all the bookshelves, and then in boxes in the sheds, and then gave up and ordered another copy from the other side of the world. About a minute after it arrived last week I realised it would be no help at all. It was all about TOS, filtered through network sensibilities, with a bible that explicitly warned writers off too close an examination of the society the Enterprise came from. Instead I went back to the interwebz.

The interwebz are full of win. I will just link lazily to a few of the things I found. Here is a worthwhile discussion of various unsavoury features of the society of the United Federation of Planets. This highlights the peculiar pervasiveness of a military organisation, Starfleet, in the supposedly peaceful UFP.

Most importantly, I found this.
 
If you allow your eyes to glaze over while you scroll down a page or two of rather shrill wingnutty background material, you will find that post on stardestroyer.net to be a lucid exposition of how TNG is a communist state. It all fits together very nicely. Michael Wong postulates some sort of left-wing revolution between TOS and TNG, but not being slaves to continuity we can simply say that TNG is the more valid picture of the Roddenberry utopia: the show made by the recognised Master of the Uberfranchise, who could finally do what he liked, showing the utopia he intended. 

Quoted elsewhere on the stardestroyer.net site is Paula Block, head of Star Trek licensing at Paramount:

“Gene R. himself had a habit of decanonizing things. He didn't like the way the animated series turned out, so he proclaimed that it was NOT CANON. He also didn't like a lot of the movies. So he didn't much consider them canon either. And—okay, I'm really going to scare you with this one-after he got TNG going, he .. well .. he sort of decided that some of the Original Series wasn't canon either. I had a discussion with him once, where I cited a couple things that were very clearly canon in the Original Series, and he told me that he didn't think that way anymore, and that he now thought of TNG as canon wherever there was conflict between the two. He admitted it was revisionist thinking, but so be it.”

We are not shown how property has been abolished in the human societies of the UFP, or how religion has withered away, or how transportation and communication have fallen completely into government hands. But it is not too hard to imagine how this could happen given the amount of time we have to play with. The trend over my lifetime – and really, for the past century – is all in this direction. Regulate the media, have government agencies take the lead in space travel, entangle corporations more and more with regulation, grow the public sector until most people get all their income from the government – it is not so far to TNG. Give humanity a few major crises to rally people around the defenders of humanity and it is easy.

My original set of requirements for a utopia were:

(1) An incorruptible ruling class who will not selfishly exploit the system, and

(2) A class of ruled who will meekly go along doing what they are told.

The fact that communication between worlds is limited in TNG, and is in the hands of a relatively small group that has been aggressively selected for certain traits since the beginning of space travel, means that these two requirements can be met more realistically than in other utopias.

In TNG, we are essentially never shown the ruled. Our picture is restricted to a small sub-section of elite cosmonauts: people with real skills who are given important work to do by the Federation and can lead useful and exciting lives. It is reasonable that these people will not bother themselves with politics and will be outwardly committed believers and happy ambassadors for the system, just like real life cosmonauts. So the only real shoddy trick is a trick of emphasis that is also a requirement of drama: we see neither the ruling class which must be incorruptible, nor the meek ruled, just this highly anomalous population of heroes.

The trend of current events shows us how a meek ruled class can be achieved. Technologicial advances mean we can make a lot of stuff cheaply. The government gives people lots of free stuff. QED. Postulating the sort of technological developments shown in Star Trek, the economic sclerosis that doomed historical communist regimes is not an issue: the ruled can be given enough free stuff to lead materially satisfying lives. If most people are comfortable with their lives, any dissidents that exist will be unable to get much traction. 

Furthermore, the government control of interworld communication and transport will effectively quarantine any trouble that does get started: there is no faster-than-light Facebook to spread the message of civil disobedience across the quadrant. The limitations of communication also mean that government in the Federation cannot possibly be centralised to the same extent as on a united Earth. It cannot be a despotic regime, but must be an aristocratic one, where a class with shared values provides a stable elite. Starfleet as shown is a plausible picture of such an elite, educated to uphold the ideals of the Federation in much the same way as the ruling elite of the British Empire were educated. Because of the poor communications between worlds, not very many of these people are required, just like a mere handful of bureaucrats were needed to run the British Empire. Aristocratic regimes have maintained relatively high standards of incorruptibility for quite long periods of time – so long as you have a small governing class with a shared ideology and mechanisms for dividing power between them, everyone in the class will watch each other, and bring anyone who diverges from the ideology or becomes too individually powerful to account.

The Roddenberry utopia of TNG is dependent on a government monopoly of interworld communications that is reasonable, given the size and probable cost of the intersystem ships shown. The utopia seems entirely plausible to me. It could be introduced and maintained without any shoddy tricks of the kind I talked about with Kim Stanley Robinson's utopia or Julian May's utopia. The only trick is involved in selling the utopia to us, the viewer at home, by zooming in on one small facet of the world.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Three Anecdotes Addressing the Existence of God

First Anecdote
I can only ever remember once praying for God to show me a sign of his existence, one night when I was lying in bed unable to sleep. That night I went on and on being unable to sleep, long after the time I would usually be asleep. Then I heard a small sound from the cat. I got out of bed and found that the cat had gotten hold of a gecko. I rescued the gecko from the cat, and then I could sleep.

Commentary on the First Anecdote
An action of God within the universe ought to be explicable also in terms of a chain of causes within the universe. Futile acts of interspecies altruism can be explained as an accidental side-effect of the development of intraspecies altruism that has survival value: is it foolish of me to see them also as signs of a merciful God working in the universe?


Second Anecdote
At that moment I was the closest I have ever been to committing a terrorist act. As I strode briskly from the station to the building where I worked, I was full of righteous indignation, and was thinking – still very idly, still not seriously at all – of the best mechanism for distributing a certain white powder to certain temples of Moloch in the City of Dreadful Night. In the middle of a pedestrian crossing the lace of one of my boots caught on a hook on my other boot, and fastened my feet momentarily together. My momentum carried me forward so that I teetered crazily for a moment and then fell flat on the pavement. I had my keys in my hand, ready to unlock the door of my office, and as I fell forward I lost hold of them. Sharing my forward momentum, they skittered ahead across the pavement and disappeared into a storm drain.

Commentary on the Second Anecdote
Is it foolish of me to see this as a sign signifying “don't do that”?


Third Anecdote
Every day I skim the news for some word of the long-running conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the fate of the refugees displaced the better part of a generation ago. There is never anything. Instead, almost every day I read of another conflict, involving similar numbers of people, about which the nations of the world complain continually. I observe one small nation against which the whole world is united, whose crimes are smaller than most nations and yet are the only crimes which the world condemns. I see that this is the only nation that you would find with the same name and in much the same location as you would 2800 years ago. I see also that this is a nation of people that were condemned for thousands of years for not having a nation, for being parasites on other nations. I see that this people have made an enormously disproportionate contribution to science and art and to the entire structure of modern Western civilisation. And I observe that the religion of this people is uniquely free of selfish meme material: it neither promises its adherents extravagant rewards in an afterlife, nor claims to be a universal religion that all men must follow.

Commentary on the Third Anecdote
One would think that the Jews would be the one people the 'international community' would be willing to cut a little slack, if they had any historical consciousness. The Chesterbelloc wrote at length about how the survival of the Catholic Church was a miraculous thing, how the institution was again and again on the point of becoming a lifeless shell but was then reanimated: but the survival of the Jews seems to me to be orders of magnitude more impressive. If there is anything miraculous in swimming against the tide of history, in maintaining through many trials an uncorrupted ideology that points to a just and merciful God, then it is the Jews who are miraculous.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

FWIW...

I  have read that a theatre academic somewhere in the rebel colonies put the poster on the right up on his door, and the university administrators sent people to take it down because it was an incitement to violence. Now, probably in the small print of his contract there is a statement that says they can do this. And maybe the academic in question is some sort of a psychopath, but has another clause in his contract saying he can't be sacked unless he actually shoots someone, and the university PR people have just done a crummy job selling the story. But I suspect not.
What struck me painfully, this being the week it is, was how diametrically opposed Captain Reynolds' stated philosophy is from the current practice of the rebel colonists in carrying out their overseas contingency operations. When the unmanned drone crashes through the roof and blows you into small pieces, you will be asleep and unarmed, and your attacker will be hundreds or thousands of miles away. This is doubtless much more practical than Captain Reynolds. But the rebel colonists are much less likely to end up with an enemy that respects them. And the world will hear only hypocrisy when they make impassioned speeches after their enemies kill their people when they are unarmed and sleeping.
The reference to 'this being the week it is' refers to another thing I read this week, that the rebel colonists are now doing this sort of thing to their own citizens without going through the forms of sentencing them to death in absentia. This is one further little step down a road whose destination, I think, is bad. And it disturbs me much more than the Andrew Bolt thing that I was going on about earlier.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

'Even if a cataclysmic upheaval like a communistic regime should come, the old tradition of individuality, toleration, moderation and common sense will break Communism and change it beyond recognition, rather than Communism with its socialistic, impersonal and rigoristic outlook break the old tradition. It must be so.'

(Lin Yutang, My Country and My People, 1934)

Friday, September 30, 2011

An exercise in translation

AS you see, the two men on the right are from a species who face terrible racism just because of the pointiness of their ears.  

So you'll be thrilled that both have won a rare opportunity - one offered to their species alone to end such injustice.

The man to the right, Lunar arts academic Derek Pasolini-Wong, this week won our richest prize for Vulcan artists - the 40 kilocredit Sarek Award.  And the man to the left, Lunar law academic Tricia McMillan, has won one of our richest prizes for Vulcan students - the Zefram Cochrane Extraterrestrial Scholarship.

If, studying the faces of these two "Vulcans" you think this is surely the most amazing stretch of definition, you're wrong. 

McMillan has gone one better still: he's also won the Vulcan Android's Action in Education Foundation Scholarship, originally intended to help educate Vulcan androids, not biological humans.
But that's modern species politics at our universities and anywhere else where grants and privileges are now doled out.

Hear that scuffling at the trough? That's the sound of Vulcan refugees being elbowed out by Humans shouting "but I'm Vulcan, too". Hark! - is that a man I now hear breathing heavily as he runs up: "And I'm an Vulcan android."

You see, Pasolini-Wong and McMillan are representatives of a booming new class of victim you'd never have imagined we'd have to support with special prizes and jobs.

They are "round-eared Vulcans" - people who, out of their multi-stranded but largely Human genealogy, decide to identify with the thinnest of all those strands, and the one that's contributed least to their looks. Yes, the Vulcan one now so fashionable among artists and academics.

Let McMillan himself describe the torture he's faced as a result - the shocking pain of having not been discriminated against for being pointy-eared.

"I am a round-eared, red-blooded, illogical Vulcan Earthling . . . As a child, I grew up expecting everyone to be like me, to look like me - with the round-ears and straight eyebrows. Clearly, my naive ideas about how Vulcans were 'supposed' to look were wrong. But being Vulcan and irrational and pink-skinned was normal to me and I grew up in a world where I was treated 'normally' . . . Impeding my growth from that young person into the adult I wanted to become was the profound issue of identity. I was a round-eared pointy-eared man . . . I was becoming a victim." 

You'd swear this was from a satire -- a local version of Mimsy Marquis Mopoke's routine as the fashionably aggrieved human vole fighter Gul Broni, complaining: "Is it cos I is cardassian?"

But no, this is meant seriously, and serious perks and Vulcan-only benefits flow as a consequence.
McMillan - whose confusion about his identity leads him also to declare he's both a "proud cyborg" and a "proud technophobe" - has received all the special help you once thought, when uploading credits to Federation consolidated revenue, would at least go to people who looked Vulcan, but which is increasingly lavished on folk as pink in face as they are in politics.

This trained lawyer has not just won several prizes intended for Vulcans, but has worked for Vulcan groups such as the Vulcan Refugee Council, and is the Vulcan representative on several boards, including that of a local Vulcan Philosophers Union.  Now he's a researcher at Delta Vega House of Learning at the University of Technology, Luna - a "vulcan" outfit run by the very illogical Prof Ayesha Miraflores, who may have been raised by her human mother but today, as a professional Vulcan, is chairman of our biggest taxpayer-funded Vulcan holographic entertainment service. 

The blue-skinned and antennaed Pasolini-Wong has been similarly privileged, despite having a "Andorian-Earthling" father and a mother with only part-Vulcan ancestry in her otherwise Klingon past. He now lectures on "Vulcan and Terran perspectives of culture and history" at Luna University and his Vulcan art now hangs in most of our planetary art collections. 

Nor are Pasolini-Wong, McMillan and Miraflores atypical or even rare as "round-eared Vulcans".
Venusburg artist Henna Tattoo Sullivan, raised by her human mother, explored her own pain at being too round-eared in a Next Wave Festival show, Not Really Vulcanian, for which she photographed herself with giant pointy corbomite ears attached to her distressingly round ones.

Hulking crinkly-foreheaded Kozak Qua'lon, daughter of a Klingon immigrant, also identified herself as a "round-eared Vulcanian", which fortuitously allowed her to make the shortlist for the L5 Colonies Vulcan Art Award, alongside other Vulcan artists as emotional as a Jane Austen novel.

THE bearded Elsie Teapot Naarg was just as lucky. She needed to write just one book -- and say her dad had Tellarite-Vulcan ancestry - for the Solar Council to snap her up as its Vulcan Literacy Project ambassador.

I've written before of a dozen similar cases, several even more incongruous.

For instance, how can Muhammad Al-Misri be co-chair of the Vulcan Telepaths Justice Group when his right to call himself Vulcan rests on little more than the fact that his Ba'ku great-grandfather married a part-Vulcan woman?

Yes, yes, I know. What business is it of anyone else how we identify ourselves? In fact, we're so refreshingly non-judgmental these days - so big-hugs-for-all - that the Federation's Human Rights Commission wants our laws changed so a man can even call himself an android, should he feel like it.
Hear it from the HRC itself: "The evidentiary requirements for the legal recognition of biological status should be relaxed by . . . making greater allowance for people to self-identify their biological status."

Lovely! Soon there'll be no end of Humans claiming prizes meant for Vulcan androids. And don't dare then tell the HRC's anti-discrimination police you object.

Yet I do object, and not just because I refuse to surrender my reason and pretend round really is pointy, just to aid some artist's self-actualisation therapy.

That way lies madness, where truth is just a whim and words mean nothing.

I refuse also for two other reasons that should be important to us all.

First, of course, is that the special encouragements and prizes we set aside for Vulcans are actually meant for . . . well, Vulcans. You know, the refugees whose planet was blown up in the franchise re-boot and who we fear would get nothing, if we didn't offer a bit extra, just for them.

So when a privileged round-eared Vulcan then snaffles that extra, odds are that an underprivileged pointy-eared Vulcan misses out on the very things we hoped would help them most.

Take Pasolini-Wong's art prize. This round-eared university lecturer, with his nice Armstrong Dome studio, has by winning pushed aside real draw-in-the-dirt Vulcan artists such as T'Nap, M'Nang and N'gkur, who'd also entered and could really have used that cash and recognition.

DOES this make sense? What's a Vulcan art prize for, if a man as illogical and cosseted as Pasolini-Wong can win it, and with a work that shows no real Vulcan techniques or traditions?
What's a greenish-skinned Vulcan artist from an asteroid in the Vega system to think, seeing yet another human hyperdrive back to Earth with the goodies?

Same with McMillan. When a man as illogical as I, already a lawyer with a job, wins a prize meant to encourage and inspire hard-struggle Vulcan students, what must those Vulcans conclude?

And here's my other objection.

Seeking power and reassurance in a racial identity is not just weak - a surrendering of your individuality, and a borrowing of other people's glories.

It's also exactly what we have too much of already. The noble ideal of the Federation of Planets, that we judge each other by our character and deeds, and not our faith, fortune or birthworld, is breaking down. We're not yet a Federation of tribes, but that's sure the way we're heading.

I've never before seen so many Earth-born people identify themselves by their species, whether by joining racial gangs, living in racial enclaves, forming racial clubs, demanding racial entertainment, playing in racial sports clubs, or grabbing species-specific prizes and grants.

Why is that a problem? Because people who feel they owe most to their species tend to feel they owe less to the rest. At its worst, it's them against us.

Feel that fracturing yourself?  

So when even academics and artists now spurn the chance to be people of our better future - people of every ethnicity but none - and sign up instead as human Vulcans, insisting on differences invisible to the eye, how much is there left to hold us together? 

****

Now, if all these anecdotes about faux-Vulcans are factually untrue – if they didn't actually do and say the things they are reported to have done and said – then, whoever wrote this ought to apologise, and it's well and good that they be prosecuted as a journalist on the grounds that they shouldn't make stuff up. Amen to that.

But, if these anecdotes about faux-Vulcans are substantially true, then the only rational way of thinking about these people is: what a bunch of daft pillocks.

It doesn't matter what they think or feel about what they are doing and why they are doing it. They might honestly think they are behaving the way they are for perfectly noble and sensible reasons. They might honestly feel a deep and passionate connection to their Vulcan heritage. But they are still daft pillocks.

I am thinking that the wise thing for the author to do would have been to stay well away from any speculation about the motives of these faux-Vulcans - because saying that they are in it for the money is the only thing that can be construed as defamatory - and restrict the discussion to the undeniable effects of their actions. By assuming this cultural identity and being better able to function in the society of the United Federation of Planets than people who are more genetically and culturally Vulcan, they have marginalised less acculturated Vulcans. They have taken resources that were meant by society at large to assist those less acculturated Vulcans. They have contributed to the cancer of identity politics in the UFP. I think those are all solid assertions that no rational person would find offensive.

Update October 7th:
Having read (or skimmed) Justice Blomberg's judgment, and had a good look around the web trying to find out exactly what the factual innacuracies Andrew Bolt committed were, and read - it being hard to avoid without having much greater willpower than I  do - numerous other op-ed's on the issue, like this one, and this one, I think I have a better feeling for the emotional texture of what is going on and wish to reiterate the paragraph immediately above this one.

I first read Bolt's chastised articles in a Marconomic way, taking the words at their literal meaning and not paying much attention to the rhetorical flourishes: and read that way I think they are not bad, and make some important points that are very largely true. But it seems to me that the rhetorical flourishes really are intended to imply that named individuals are guilty of opportunism, dishonesty, and greed. The errors of fact are all rather nebulous and trivial, but they are all there to contribute to this implication. And Bolt ought to have had the self control not to make this implication it if he wanted his points to be taken seriously.

Barry Cohen writes: "I don't intend to discuss the details of the case brought by the nine pale plaintiffs for the obvious reason I could well be the next one in the dock. Oddly enough I had been planning to write an almost identical article to Bolt's". Here I think he is exaggerating his danger. I don't think he would have been in the dock for writing an article that made the same points, because he would not have gotten carried away making personal attacks on people.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

This Post Redacted by the Ministry of Nice

...

Pyramid Scheme

I thought I would very badly paraphrase Marco's point at the end of his post here that it doesn't matter what sort of cockamamie nonsense we spend our money on, it will still be more sensible than what the rest of the developed world has done with theirs. This has a lot of resonance with me. So let's go ahead and build the National Broadband Network. Let's buy a shiny new carbon management bureaucracy. Let's work out the most expensive way we can possibly think of to deal with asylum seekers, and do that.

But what I really think we should build to bring our debt levels in line with the rest of the world is a pyramid.

Yes, that's right. After we stop painting the Harbour Bridge, it will rust away to nothing in a hundred years. A tsunami is sure to get the Opera House sometime in the next millennium. What have we really got in terms of durable architecture to tell the people five thousand years from now how great we were? Nothing. So, a pyramid. Instead of this pissant little monument to commemorate the birth of the Australian Labor Party, we should have taken all that stimulus funding and built a ruddy great pyramid, as in the cheap and nasty photoshop artist's Google Earth impression below:

The Great Pyramid of Barcaldine, before addition of marble facing and golden bit on top.
 

I have gotten up at three in the morning to post this, I reckon it is such a great idea. 

Friday, September 09, 2011

Interim report from the 5th of September

Everywhere I look from my house I can see the handiwork of mankind. The land is broken up into little pieces with fences and with lines of trees. If I wanted I could look up on maps exactly which piece of land has belonged to who, for the last 150 years or so. The trees that separate these plots of land are alien trees, brought by man from distant lands, and the land is dotted with large animals people have also put there. Lines of poles carrying wires stretch across the land in places, and in other places there are roads, and every so often I can see the speck of a house or a shed. It is all tamed and humanised.

So I am pleased to be holidaying somewhere where I can appreciate the wildness of nature. Outside the window I can see nothing made by mankind. Stretching to the horizon is a plain unmarked by a fence, road, or permanent structure of any kind. There are no maps I can consult to see who has owned a plot of it. for no one ever has. As I sit I can see a vast creature moving across the plain, larger even than any animal that lived in my home country when it was wilderness, a creature which has doubtless travelled many thousands of miles without encountering the works of man.:

We are staying on the 20th floor of a hotel on the Gold Coast, facing the sea. From this height we can also hear practically nothing but the sea: all the ground-level sounds of the city are swallowed up in it except at rare intervals, when the sound of a human machine or a human voice cuts through the sound of the waves like a distant sound from the highway might reach me at home. There was other sound I noticed this morning, striving mightily with the sea: birdsong. So it is like being entirely alone with the wilderness.

Furthermore I have here no internet, and have not bothered to go downstairs and buy any newspaper in the shopping centre twenty floors below, so I am removed from the flow of the affairs of other human beings that I am usually immersed in. In a few days no doubt I will be glad to return to civilisation. But for now I am happy in this solitude.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Breaking it down: Economics is the means, not the end


Quoth Marco: How would you judge economic activities by not for profit organizations over normal private companies doing similar things?
 

What I am going to say is not at all original and is probably half-remembered from Chesterton, or Simone Weil, or possibly Proudhon. 

The unit of economic activity is the man-hour. 

A field of wheat has no economic value without someone to harvest it; a mountain of iron ore has no economic value without people to smelt it and beat it into plowshares; a law has no economic value except to the extent that it changes the way people spend their time.

Money is a superbly effective instrument for doing two things. First, for convincing people to spend man-hours in ways they would not do spontaneously by giving them a way to command the time of other people with different skills and different access to resources. Second, for distributing man-hours efficiently in time and space so that most people in most places get most things they need, things they could never possibly get if they were just one person with a plot of land, a hut, some seeds and a sharp stick.

Now, for sourcing goods, money is a good thing, since it allows us to use the labour of people all over the world to take resources and transform them into neat stuff. For sourcing services, I think the health of a society is directly proportional to the fraction of services that are given voluntarily and do not show up in the money economy. A country that relies on a volunteer militia and posses and barn raisings is socially healthier than one that has a standing army and a police force and a regulated construction industry. You can call this Distributism or Anarchism or nostalgia for an imaginary 18th century New England if you like, since those are only names.

This way of seeing things also puts technology at the very centre and shows how technology-driven productivity increases could make England the economic powerhouse of the world at a time it was pursuing economic policies that we can all agree were stupid.

Hmm, and rather than quoting a slab of the Chesterton essay I referred to on Marco's blog, I will just find it on the interwebz and put a link to the whole thing here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Just kicking down the cobblestones


Last year the powers that be reduced the speed limit on the long, straight, and featureless stretch of highway between Narrabri and Coonabarabran from 110 to 100 kph. The rationale was that this marginal reduction in speed would reduce accidents and save lives. On the local ABC radio they had one of those talkback thingies, and everyone who rang in – as you have probably guessed – was opposed to the change, saying it would only increase fatigue, thus increasing accidents and costing lives. I don't know what the actual result of the experiment has been. At the time, for a few brief moments I wished I owned a mobile phone, since like Athena out of the head of Zeus a glorious contrarian vision of the future had taken shape fully formed in my mind, and I wanted to ring in and share it:

Let's make the speed limit 50 kph everywhere.


We know that there will be very few fatal accidents at 50 kph.

We know there will be much less wear and tear on the roads at 50 kph.

We know roads intended for maximum speeds of 50 kph can be constructed much more cheaply than roads intended for 100 or 110 kph.

50 kph is not slow: it is faster than any man can run. It is a speed that would have staggered our ancestors of 200 years ago. They feared it might be fatal. Travelling at that speed for eight hours and covering 400 km in a day would have astonished them. Let's regain that sense of wonder.

But what about the fatigue? What about the poor people forced to take a little more than two hours instead of a little more than one hour to cross the featureless state forest between Narrabri and Coonabarabran? This can be solved by building a place to stop in the middle. A motel and a petrol station and a cafe. People will stop and get out and maybe actually see the Pilliga state forest instead of just hurtling through it at cherubim-like speed.

Sure, things where I live will cost more. But things in places 800 km from Sydney don't cost twice as much as things 400 km from Sydney. I doubt it would increase prices that much more than the introduction of the GST.

And, in so much as it increases the cost of road transport, it will be a vast subsidy to rail transport, the ultimately more efficient and environmentally responsible way to transport goods across the country. It will also encourage domestic aviation - which I don't see as ultimately such a good thing - but which in bringing more regular flights to more country towns will encourage business and improve access to health services.

It will arrest the trend in which large rural towns suck the oxygen out of the smaller towns nearby: instead of at the town 45 km away, we will do our shopping at the town 25 km away, or even at the village 5 km away. On the weekend we were in at the village hall shooting holes in the wall with bows and arrows (which is another story) and I looked again at the pictures on the walls of days gone by, when there were three churches, and two schools, and two post offices with full-time postmasters, and a railway stations with a real platform like Sydney suburban stations – now there is one school, and one shop, and a level crossing, and a single once-a-fortnight church. By slowing down, we can go some way towards bringing these little places back to life, and that must surely be a good thing.

Reducing the speed limit to 50 kph will hardly impact the inhabitants of the outer suburbs of the great metropolises at all, since they have to crawl along their mighty highways most of the time they use them anyway.

In the short term, it is a reform that can be brought in at almost no cost to the government. There are no new signs involved, just pulling up old ones, and I expect the temporary spike in traffic fines can be managed to more than cover the cost of this work.

And in psychologically quadrupling the size of our country, it cannot help but strengthen the states against Canberra, and the regions against the capital cities, and the little shires against the big country towns: a decentralisation which I think – being in the throes of reading Tocqueville's 'Democracy in America”- is healthy for a democratic society.

If it loosens the ties so much that the further flung parts of the country secede – why, so much the better. Without Western Australia, we can have monetary policies more suited to the slower speed of the two-speed economy, and can gently subside to the New Zealand-like standard of living that our productivity deserves. Without North Queensland, we need not have any inhibitions about importing cheap Filipino bananas. Everyone wins.

This is a perfectly serious proposal. My next step will be to write Tony Windsor with a request that the Commonwealth do a full cost-benefit analysis.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

In which Dr Clam watches TV

Like many people, I have never had much occasion to think about Christine Anu. My in-laws saw her once when she appeared in a shopping centre in Coffs Harbour in the last years of the last century, and I remember them reporting that her dissing of One Nation fell flat with that audience, and that's about all I can think of.

At my in-laws place the other night we saw this nifty programme about her researching her ancestors. There was one thing that impressed me that none of the effusive commenters on the programme remark on. During the course of her investigations she talked to all sorts of different people, and I was impressed how effortlessly she adapted the way she talked to who she was talking to. She wasn't just swapping between two dialects, but sliding along a continuum. With her close relatives who spoke slightly non-standard Australian English, she talked like them; the more non-standard the speech of whoever she was talking with, the more she changed to fit in with them. Some older people on Saibai required subtitles and spoke a creole peppered with non-English words, and there she talked like them. I have talked to plenty of people who can swap naturally between a standard English and a local dialect; but I had never seen anyone who seemed so naturally to inhabit a whole continuous expanse of linguistic space like that. I was impressed.

The other thing that surprised me was that she didn't know where Merauke was, when her researches uncovered the fact that her grandfather had been stationed there during the Second World War.

Since Merauke is in fact the closest large town to Saibai.

I suppose that, (a), though places might look close together on the map from where I sit, when you get there 300 km is a long way, and (b) for a long time the attention of the Torres Strait has been directed south and east to the other British possessions, and for almost half as long there has been an impermeable border between West Papua and East Papua.

 
Wikipedia tells me that Merauke was established as a fort by the Dutch authorities to keep these people - who seem like they would fit right into a Sheri S. Tepper novel with a little tweaking - from raiding into British territory.

I still haven't forgotten about the Roddenberry utopia. Every so often I get up from what I am doing and forlornly look about for my copy of David Gerrold's "The World of Star Trek". I may have to order another one from the interwebz.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Where is the essence that was so divine?

Hey, apropos of nothing at all, it is seven years since I posted this link to my story, written some years before that, set in the Monastery. The Monastery is a milieu invented by Lexifab and Androoo that was the setting for Androoo's first NaNOWriMo novel - a work still unpublished and in hiding, alas. The Monastery is also the setting of this other excellent story.  Are there any others? Please let me know.

Like most of the products of our decadent culture, my story is chock full of jocular references to other ephemeral products of our decadent culture. But I am very fond of it irregardless. I commend especially the reference to 'Pascal's Wager'. Together with this piece of Cyberiad fanfic from the same period it is a fairly complete picture of turn-of-the-century Clam thought about life, the universe, and all that...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Night Express

The Night Express, Kenneth Slessor, 1933

Out of the night, immense and shrill
It comes with cloudy fire
To curse a girl at Bogan's Hill
With torments of desire.
A string of golden window-lights,
A rope of flame - they're gone.
Over the windy mountain-heights,
The night express flies on.

Drowned in the silent loneliness,
The lantern's ruby dies.
A girl looks at the night express
With bright and wistful eyes.
The night-express, with panther grace,
On reaching Bogan's Hill,
Shows its opinion of the place
By going faster still.

O, to be on the night express
O, to be there some day.
Miles to go with a port-mant-eau
And a ticket for far away!

The Pullman cars are full of light,
And lurching corridors,
And swagmen huddled out of sight,
And cigarettes and snores,
The atmosphere you find on trains,
And fat men playing cards,
And tumbling jugs and rattling panes
And honeymoons and guards.

The engine roars, the whistle cries,
The echoes follow shrill,
A girl sits on her berth, and sighs,
And stares at Bogan's Hill.
Pulling the window blind, she sees
A moment into space -
A shed, a flash of moonlit trees,
Some milk tins and a face.

And, O, to be in Bogan's Hill,
O, to be there some day,
Cows and peace - release, release,
And the night-express far away!



I couldn't find this poem, which is one of my favourites, on the web anywhere, so here it is.

Somewhere out there must be the equivalent poem for our times, with a girl looking up at a contrail and another looking down at a farm nestled in the bush.

A Belated Observation on the Golden Rule

I realised a few weeks ago that I have been subconsciously resentful for quite some time – possibly my whole life – because I always subconsciously added a little extra bit to the Golden Rule:

'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you ... and they will.'

Of course, they won't.

The Golden Rule is what we ought to do. It is counsel for moral perfection, like the 'Turn the other cheek' thing. It is not practical advice for success. If you follow it expecting things to turn out pleasantly for you, at work, home, or in politics, you will end up bitter and miserable. I expect you already know this. Nine times out of ten people will assume it is their inalienable right to be treated the way you treat them and go blithely on treating you as they damn well please.

I think this vague feeling that if something is right in a moral sense it will also be successful in a practical sense is more widespread than just me and is part of the heritage of Protestant European cultures. This is why - I think – there was quite an extraordinary amount of abuse of 'Freakonomics' by members of the conservative commentariat I generally tend to agree with. I think the evidence that abortion reduces crime is pretty solid: but this isn't a good reason to condone abortion, any more than Judge Death's incontrovertible observation that all crime is committed by the living is a good reason to slaughter everybody. In fact the two observations are pretty much the same observation.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Confessions of a Contrarian Penweasel


Seven years ago, Lexifab had almost-but-not-quite-finished the first draft of his NaNoWriMo novel, “Bard Wars”.
I thought, in light of the opening words of “Confessions of a Freelance Penmonkey”, which Lexifab recently quoted with approval: “I am a writer, and I will finish the shit that I started”, that it might not be *entirely* presumptuous of me to express an interest in reading the second draft.  Hmm?

Parenthetically, seven years after becoming King of Macedon, Alexander the Great founded the city of Alexandria-the-Furthest, now Khodzent, in modern Tajikistan.


And, speaking of novels and stuff, do those 'adult' covers for Harry Potter books irritate you as much as they do me? 


 Here is an example of the sort of thing we may see in the future if this trend continues:



Saturday, August 13, 2011

There were giants on the Earth in those days


Pish, I said, when the talk turned to e-books. Tosh, I said again, burnishing my Luddite credentials to a high sheen and preparing to stand well back from this particular bandwagon as all my friends and relations leapt on board.  And yet, no sooner has my dearling Spouse-of-Clam acquired a Kindle than I am merrily off buying 21 volumes of Chesterton essays for $1.99 and proceeding to filch said Kindle whenever she is not actually using it herself.

Thus I have found this afternoon the following excellent definition by someone much greater than I:

“The Sentimentalist, roughly speaking, is the man who wants to eat his cake and have it.  He has no sense of honour about ideas. He will not see that one must pay for an idea as for anything else. He will not see that any worthy idea, like any honest woman, can only be won on its own terms, and with its logical chain of loyalty. One idea attracts him; another idea really inspires him; a third idea flatters him; a fourth pays him. He will have them all at once in one wild intellectual harem, no matter how much they quarrel and contradict each other.”

This is my quarrel with Jim Wallis’ credo, and with the Humanist manifestoes, and with the whole amorphous reef of modern civilisation of which they are representative polyps.

An ideology ought to be held together by a logical chain of loyalty; there should be axioms which, if you are loyal to them, will logically support the other ideas. It does not matter if they are crazy axioms. You or I might well recoil from them even as from a YouTube mashup of the 100 top internet memes of 2010.  No matter how twisted and bizarre the structure looks like from the outside – no matter how weak the foundations – if it really is a structure, and it really is sitting on the foundations, then it is an image of truth worth wrestling with.