Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Barnyards of Delgaty

I was taught a sanitized version of this Scottish bothy ballad at primary school. One of the less comprehensible parts of the sanitary process involved respelling it 'Delgatee' and relocating it from Aberdeenshire to East Anglia. Whaaa?



Lyrics here, via Rampant Scotland's song page.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Brother Nerd, Sister Geek

Via Fred Clark on Slacktivist, College Humor have a video out on YouTube positing that Religious People Are Nerds. Fred, who is both a religious person and a self-styled nerd, thinks it's true, funny, and even making an important point that goes way beyond the reach of its slapstick. Here we go:



I am, of course, as much a nerd as the next gunner on the canon crew. I can tell you anything you should somehow want to know about Castamir's rôle in the Kinslaying, or Traken sociology, or the several myths hung upon the rainy Pleiades. This definitely makes me a nerd within the meaning of the act, to which I can only respond: Preach it, brother!

Unlike Fred, I am an infidel nerd, a passionate agnostic. But after I watched this video, something interesting occurred to me.

I can also tell you - not necessarily anything, but almost certainly more than, you want to know - about the homoousion and what happened when an iota got into it, or the fire of Tertullian, or the fannish speculations around those sinister goings-on in the land of Nod. Yes, I was born into a rootedly Christian culture, and there is no good reason for my unbelief to make Christian things alien to me. But these are things that most Christians, in my experience, neither know, nor suffer any significant deprivation thereby.

There is only one possible conclusion. I am a bit of a religious nerd in general, and an enormous Christian nerd in particular.

Truly, these men and women are my neigh-

Excuse me. Must rush off now.

Jehovah's Witness at the door!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Charles Johnson on Free-Market Anti-Capitalism

Some excellent guest blogging going on at Bleeding Heart Libertarians from Charles "Rad Geek" Johnson - on the governmental oppression and public injustice at the roots of Capitalism As She Is Spoke, and the great moats of bullshit in which her defenders and opponents alike are wont to flounder:

Libertarian Anticapitalism

I’m Against Free Trade Agreements Because I’m For Free Trade

One of the good bits about these articles is the high general calibre of the discussion in the comments, with responses running the gamut from right-wing anarcho-capitalism to a sternly statist leftism. BHL in general is distinctly academically oriented, which has its own drawbacks but certainly cuts down on the noisemaking and trollery.

Johnson's philosophy is not exactly mine, but it drinks in a lot of the same boozers.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

More Anarchism, Please - Less Anarchy, Thanks!

Gandhian anarchism vs bombthrowing anarchy, original image composed from two public domain images of uncertain authorship, via Wikimedia Commons.  Released into public domain by me, Gray Woodland, as author - attribution requested.
Anarchists are widely unpopular, because of a pervading suspicion that they are for some reason in favour of anarchy. Since people seldom notice anarchy around them except when it expresses itself as rioting mobs, feuding warlords, and/or general social collapse, they understandably dislike it quite a lot.

So, not being complete looneys, do most anarchists. This is because anarchists who are not looneys are committed to anarchism much more than they are eager for anarchy. There is quite a big difference.

Full-spectrum anarchy is easily, if often bloodily, achieved in any given society. One simply, and simplistically, smashes existing bosses without replacing their authority.

Anarchism is a much harder project, necessarily approached much more with words than with swords. Just as monarchism is the not entirely satisfactory attempt to solve social problems by putting them all in the hands of a hereditary boss or king, anarchism is the commitment to solve social problems without benefit of any bosses whatsoever.

Getting those solutions up and running, and persuading people to buy into them - in a word, making the bosses unnecessary - has got to come before smashing the bosses, or even forcing them all to storm off in a snit. Otherwise, what you invite is merely a gloves-off scramble amongst the powered-up dregs of society to become the New Boss. Unless the Old Boss was very bad indeed, that is only going to be the same old same old, with a double order of mayhem and blood ketchup on the side. You know, pretty much like your bog-standard progressive or reactionary revolution on the pro-government side. Everybody who responds with, "Do. Not. WANT!" is absolutely right to do so.

In a society which is already successfully anarchist, anarchy will no longer be anything to fear.

But in a society which is, for example, basically monarchist in its customs, institutions, and instincts, anarchy will be simply sacking the king, and then getting trampled into the mud as the dukes duke it out all over us.

In today's corporate republics, the likely tramplers would be big corporations, religious crusaders, organized criminals, and orphaned security forces. And we would still have government at the end of it - more government, and worse government, in most places. The painstaking, backbreaking, kindly toil of the working anarchist - feeding the hungry mouth, filling the hopeless heart, teaching the defenceless body emergency first aid and krav maga, and so forth - is not yet ripe for the harvest, if it will ever be so. It is barely even begun.

This is the reason why, though philosophically every bit as much of an anarchist as Mahatma Gandhi, I usually call myself a libertarian. I think that dominance hierarchies in general, and government by sovereign bosses in particular, are abominably rotten solutions to almost any problem imaginable. But we have yet to see stable anarchist solutions emerge, and we have yet to convince practically anyone that they are even desirable. Those jobs are going to have to be pretty well accomplished before a dream of anarchy can bloom into anything in the waking world but the red flames of terror.

We will know when and if anarchism has really got to grip with its defining problems, when we start hearing conversations like this down the pub:

MILDER: It's total anarchy in the streets today! Nice, innit?

MULDER: Yeah. Mind you, it was absolute government after the Chelsea game on Saturday!


Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Adam Smith Is Angry

Adam Smith - etching by unknown artist, from original medallion by James Tassie (1787) - public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Today's Goat Quote arrives via a specially splenetic post from Kevin Carson, who is characteristically unimpressed with pro-corporate politicians' pretensions to champion - or even to tolerate - anything resembling a free market.

To their complaints that their usefully acquisitive rich pals are being oppressed and envied all over the shop, Carson offers this alternative estimate of them from the Father of Free-Market Thinking himself, in the much-cited and seldom-read 'Bible of Capitalism':

All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.

- Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book III, Chapter IV.

The Invisible Hand of the market is fine by me. But it would be well for the rich bloke trying to pick my pocket on the sly, to understand that he is not what I mean by it!

Friday, 12 August 2011

Dies Irae, Dies Iller

From the Wikipedia article on Thomas of Celano's great plainchant Dies Irae, I have found myself being wickedly astray, according I suppose to the predestined doom of all goats:



It turns out that the notorious Ambrose Bierce - author, amongst other works, of the spectacularly cynical Devil's Dictionary - once found himself moved to commit the following translation from Carcosa. Via The Poor Blogger:

Dies Irae (trans. Ambrose Bierce):

Day of Satan's painful duty!
Earth shall vanish, hot and sooty;
So says Virtue, so says Beauty.

Ah! what terror shall be shaping
When the Judge the truth's undraping--
Cats from every bag escaping!

Now the trumpet's invocation
Calls the dead to condemnation;
All receive an invitation.

Death and Nature now are quaking,
And the late lamented, waking,
In their breezy shrouds are shaking.

Lo! the Ledger's leaves are stirring,
And the Clerk, to them referring,
Makes it awkward for the erring.

When the Judge appears in session,
We shall all attend confession,
Loudly preaching non-suppression.

How shall I then make romances
Mitigating circumstances?
Even the just must take their chances.

King whose majesty amazes,
Save thou him who sings thy praises;
Fountain, quench my private blazes.

Pray remember, sacred Saviour,
Mine the playful hand that gave your
Death-blow. Pardon such behavior.

Seeking me, fatigue assailed thee,
Calvary's outlook naught availed thee;
Now 'twere cruel if I failed thee.

Righteous judge and learnèd brother,
Pray thy prejudices smother
Ere we meet to try each other.

Sighs of guilt my conscience gushes,
And my face vermilion flushes;
Spare me for my pretty blushes.

Thief and harlot, when repenting,
Thou forgavest--complimenting
Me with sign of like relenting.

If too bold is my petition
I'll receive with due submission
My dismissal--from perdition.

When thy sheep thou hast selected
From the goats, may I, respected,
Stand amongst them undetected.

When offenders are indited,
And with trial-flames ignited,
Elsewhere I'll attend if cited.

Ashen-hearted, prone and prayerful,
When of death I see the air full,
Lest I perish too be careful.

On that day of lamentation,
When, to enjoy the conflagration,
Men come forth, O be not cruel:
Spare me, Lord--make them thy fuel.

Bad, bad man.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

If Only, and Also -

Making light: simulating ball lightning in the lab - by user Sfusare, at en.wikipedia - released under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

One of my long-term favourite blogs is Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden's Making Light - a mostly-fannish, mostly-liberal watering-hole, around which the most amazingly various, erudite, and just plain convivial community of guests and commenters has grown up. This has not occurred, or been maintained, by accident.

As a libertarian, no less than as somebody who lives in the world among men and women, I'm deeply interested in the nature, care, and feeding of voluntary communities. Making Light, in its long and mostly distinguished avoidance of the classical failure modes of online society, has often given me much nourishing food for thought on these matters. Also, it is a good deal of fun.

The fun and the community mechanics of this fluorosphericity are now combined in a highly recommended virtuoso thread, begun by ML moderator Abi Sutherland when she reposted an exchange between her and Chris Clarke for the public benefit. The topic was web social dynamics. The medium was pastiche of classic poetry. The result was absolutely bloody hilarious, especially when the regular commenters began responding to this soft and unmistakable sound of a gauntlet landing on the dusty ground. Read! Read! Read it all!

Unlike Abi, and several of the other Regular Light Cavalry, I'm not capable of improvising poetry at a conversational pace, even online. In the course of the festivities, though, I did manage eventually to scrape together my own thoughts on these things into a suitable form. I'm quite proud of the result, which I repost herebelow. My point of departure is an old favourite of mine, Rudyard Kipling's now legendary If -.

If Only -

If you can keep your shit when all about you
Are losing theirs like senna-scarfing fools,
If when goodwill and patience have run out, you
Can plainly keep, nor lawyer, common rules;
If you can pause before the fatal posting,
Or lacking context, won't give way to rage,
Or having beef, take counsel before roasting,
And yet don't come it like the Web's Great Sage:

If you can draw - and not draw just for eyeballs;
If you can link - and not make links your aim;
If you can comment justly till the sky falls,
And, heaven-scarred, rise up, nor rise in flame;
If you can dare admit your heart's truth spoken
Slipped in your hand to slice a harmless face,
And neither double down, nor slink off broken,
But make amends with gallantry and grace;

If you can take your hard-won reputation
And chance it on a very devil's choice,
And weather patiently all indignation
Before you'll channel someone else's voice;
If you can drive off dolt and bore and spammer
With gnome or weeding-hoe or witty verse;
If you can make like Thor with your ban-hammer
With those who only speak to make sound worse;

If you can take young trolls and show them reason,
Or shine with stars - nor grow too high and proud,
Or ride your hobby-horse, but in good season;
If passion moves your posts, BUT NONE TOO LOUD;
If you can fill the Infinite September
With thirty days of making song and light,
Yours is a gaff its guests shall long remember,
And - which is more - pls lnk t my cl st.

Many thanks to Mr Kipling, and to Abi and the whole Fluorospherical crew, for supplying the inspiration and the occasion between them!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Calpurnia Janowick's Song

Calpurnia Janowick's Song

Our loved ones blow away upon the wind.
They are reborn into this world by grief.
We miss them, know them, taste them, take them in,
Until with each surrender, every known goodbye,
They mould the soul and body of our selves
A little more to them, to that we loved:
With every sorrow we embrace, they learn
To live again - dear love, to live again!

In empty worlds of babble and bad books,
Grief is a healthy stage, a psychic purge,
A blister burst, a mental enema -
A dark leg of our Journey to ourselves;
And these are true words, love, and they bring death.
Grief is not shameful, not a test, a trip,
Nor least of all, salubrious exercise!
When grief becomes a duty or a phase,
Each true, specific sorrow comes off cheap,
And one we love haunts us and hurts no more -
And they are not reborn, oh, love! are not reborn
Into the coward, lost and empty souls
Churned out by shrinking therapies and writers of bad books.
A lesson comes, a homily, then pull-together time:
The bitterest belittled, we can share a tasteless sweet.

Taste all my sweets, beloved, as I would taste all yours.
Weep. Walk. Sing. Curse. Laugh, cry, mind no reason
Except these reasons, means, ends: You, and I,
And life again, dear love - our life again!
And joy, my love, forever: joy, grief, joy.

Don't ever wear a mask, my love; nor suffer me
To hide my tenderness away from you,
But let us court and love until the dark,
And, dancing soul to soul, you in me, I in you,
Do all and all that mortal we may do,
To be reborn, my love - to be reborn!

This is a real poem from a fictional book: King Sorrow, by Lena Rushwell.

Lena is a major secondary character in a very long and overstuffed SF novel which I was writing through 2001 1996 [Good gravy! Time flies!], before it finally ran into the sand - teaching me several important things about rhythm and plot in the process. She is a far better storyteller (and, mostly, a nicer human being) than I am ever likely to be; and her voice is not much like mine, though on a very good day I can sort of emulate her in short bursts.

After my grandad died, I had neither words, nor any tears that did me much good, until Lena tapped me on the shoulder and insisted on writing this through me. I have no idea of what its context may be in King Sorrow. In Lena's world, she is writing this shortly after her ex-lover has been mindblasted into a coma by a phenomenon in which she most militantly does not believe, under circumstances which she strongly suspects she helped set up.

There is the material for several books in the Kitchen Sink Yarn, one or more of which I may someday excavate from the general rubble. Had I but world enough and time... Still, I should like to work with Lena again, if I could ever arrange a clear shot at it.

Her other novels are Turkish Stone, a lyrical eco-thriller which I have neither the desire nor the skill to write; and Camilla Kinnison's Dance, a literary space-opera and sequel to E E 'Doc' Smith's classic Lensman series, which I very much wish I could write, and about which I may possibly know more detail than is entirely good for me.