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.