Convalescence

Sep. 2nd, 2014 09:59 am
sunflowerinrain: Noodles and Pepper with toy ratty (cuddling cats)
[personal profile] sunflowerinrain
I type to the accompaniment of furious yowling: Pepper is feeling better and wants to go out.

By the evening he'd responded to the injected anti-inflammatory and was able to eat a little supper. We went to bed, him in my apartment while Noodles was out in the living-room/kitchen, with the catflap open[0]. Pepper was still wanting to be a cosseted kitten and slept on my tum, but he was much livelier[1]. He woke about 5am and had a light breakfast, then curled up on a chair. All was going well, with hopes of giving him freedom today, and at last I had my bed back.

Just after 7, I was woken by the dreaded Announcement of Imminent Vomiting.

Since then he's had a little more food and he's certainly feeling well enough to be Loud, but he just tried to jump onto the back of the sofa next to the desk and didn't make it - less than a metre of leap that he'd normally not even notice. There are dogs and cars and a huge angry tomcat out there. No, he has to stay in.

We are running out of cat-litter and the stock of cat-food is getting low.

[0] Complicated business, letting one out while keeping the other in. Also have to keep doors locked because neighbours have been popping in to bring figs (for me, not him) and eggs.

[1] Unlike me, dizzy with lack of sleep.
tajasel: photo of me with a rainbow hat and big scarf on (Default)
[personal profile] tajasel

Ze Frank - Why Trust Is Worth It
Words by Ze Frank, emphasis my own.
We talk about trust as something you build. As if it's a structure or a thing. But in that building there seems to be something about letting go. And what it affords us is a luxury that allows us to stop thinking, to stop worrying that someone won't catch us if we fall, to stop constantly scanning for inconsistencies, to stop wondering how people act when they're not in our presence. It allows us to relax a part of our minds so that we can focus on what's in front of us.

And that's why it's such a tragedy when it's broken.

A betrayal can make you think about all the other betrayals that are waiting for you, and things that you haven't thought of, and people you rely on. And you can feel yourself tightening up, bracing. And in the worst cases, you might resolve to trust no one.

But, that doesn't really work. Trust is your relationship to the unknown. What you can't control, and you can't control everything. And it's not all or none. It's a slow and steady practice of learning about the capacity of the world. And it's worth it, to keep trying, and it's not easy.

[…]

I almost imagine trust as these invisible hands that we stretch out into the world, looking for someone to hold on to, as we walk into the unknown future. […]

So who do you trust, and how can you grow it?


Well, that was a punch in the feels.
"You might resolve trust no one."

Yeah, and someone on the internet says that that doesn't really work, except what if it does? What if that's how some people have to stay safe?

We can't choose who we love, and we can't choose who falls in love with us. People tell me they're different, that they won't smash my heart into pieces like the last person, or the person before that. What if I'm tired of hearing promises, promises held with as little regard as my emotions? What if I don't want to trust anyone with my heart anymore? What if I've grown weary of seeing how people treat each other in this world, and I don't believe that trust offers the payback people say it does?

I just told a friend who's experiencing some similar thoughts that he's not alone, that he has friends who care, and that that's the important thing. That one day maybe he'll be happy with someone, maybe I will be too. That the two of us will probably never find happiness together, but I'm OK with that, as long as we're still friends as long as it feels right for us to be that way.

I said that there's no point in pining for relationships that have gone wrong, that instead we should try to learn from break-ups and bad relationships, and know that we won't always find the answers we're looking for, but unless we stop staring bleakly into the past, berating ourselves for being terrible people and unloveable monsters… unless we stop focusing on past failures, we won't ever find happiness, in ourselves or others.

I told him that he shouldn't beat himself up for loving people who didn't love him back, or for not loving those who loved him. That we can't choose who we love, and we can't choose who'll reciprocate.

I told him that all we can do is to look forwards and be the best people we can be. That if we focus on being as happy as we can within ourselves, then one day, people might come along and tell us they love us, and we might want to love them back. That if love doesn't follow the happiness, then it doesn't matter, because we will be happy in ourselves.

I pointed out that some people die alone, that I probably will, and I may never be OK with that, but I can at least try and be happy with who I am, and what I have, even if it's not everything I'd choose, if I had the choice.

Deep down, I believe everything I said just now, or I wouldn't have said a word of it. But who for?

I know that I'm happier recently than I've been for the best part of this year, and yet, there are these thoughts niggling at the back of my mind. What happens when my body gets old, and I have to slow down? Will there be anyone there to look back on years of adventures with, or will I sit alone, flicking through online photo albums at photos of people who have been and gone? What happens if I never again hear the words "I love you" from someone who I want to repeat them back to, from someone I want to grow old and decrepit with?

I get reminded that other people are worse off than me. I have no doubt about that, and I'm grateful for what I do have. But this world, our society, it isn't set up for people to be alone. We're supposed to trust, to be trusted. To fall in love, to be loved.

I get told that I'm still young, that I've got time, and maybe that's true, but by now, I'm far more used to saying "I love you" and hearing an affirmation that later turns out to be false: maybe they never meant it, maybe they did but realised they were wrong. It doesn't matter, because what it comes down to is that they never loved me, never could, never will.

They love other people, often people I know, but I was not loveable enough for them, I am not loveable enough now, and I may never be loveable enough anytime in the future. The only way I can find out if I can be loved is to trust… but what if that has already hurt me too much? What if I can't? What if trust is too tied up in heartbreak already?

Maybe trust is worth it… for other people.

yes good

Sep. 1st, 2014 08:05 pm
kaberett: a patch of sunlight on the carpet, shaped like a slightly wonky heart (light hearted)
[personal profile] kaberett
1. I woke up surprisingly easily, especially given how late I got to bed, which is always pleasantly astonishing when it manages to happen.

2. Some of the post waiting for me at work was more rocks! I was delighted, and expressed this delight to a colleague in the lift, and everyone else in the lift just looked... baffled. Which to be honest I found a little surprising given where I work, but mostly? Mostly it was amusing, and also I have lots more rocks. Plenty enough to keep me going until the new year!

3. I got heaps of labwork done today, including lots more tidying up than I normally manage, including making some sensible judgment calls

4. As I was leaving, having tidied up, the skies opened, and it was brilliant - I walked down the middle of the almost-entirely-empty pavement on Exhibition Road in the warm rain with my clothes rapidly getting plastered to me, and oh, it was glorious.

5. I finally settled in with Scalzi's new novel Lock In today, and to my surprise I am genuinely enjoying it. (Why surprise? Because much as I like the guy I didn't expect him to do it well, and so far he is. Also, I'm a fifth of the way through and the protag's gender hasn't been mentioned yet, which is pretty much the reading experience I want.)

6. I got home to find warm couscous left on the table for me, because I have the best housemate <333

7. ... and for afters there is leftover strawberry trifle in the fridge, brought me yesterday by [personal profile] sebastienne and my useless ex when they rocked up to feed me lunch, badger me into wearing clothes, and drag me to a film festival & concert (which was pretty great once the first short was over; Did Not Like). But srsly though, a. CN Lester wrote a song for you and then made a music video, and (b) I got to curl up in a big comfy chair and watch an entire hour of people talking mostly in German about queer & trans stuff, and -- that's not something my inherited language does, we're rural Austrian Catholics, I got to listen to people speaking about queers in German, which was a kind of homecoming even though it was the wrong flavour. (By which I mean: the Berlin accent is not the accent of the stories and the prayers and the songs of my childhood, but nonetheless it is German and therefore soothing.)

8. My counsellor got in touch yesterday about arranging a session with an apology for having dropped off the face of the Earth (bereavement), which saved me doing the reaching out and means we are Working On A Date probably sometime next week.

9. An Elementary fic showed up in my head while I was finishing up the washing up at work; specifically, a story that begins "The first time Joan surprised Sherlock..." with reference to some dialogue from (very!) early season 1, though I suspect I am going to have to wait for the beginning of season 3 to make sense of where it's trying to end up.

10. I really am surrounded by fantastic people, and I am so, so glad of all of you <3 (And I am aided in appreciating this by the bit where I seem to be starting to pull back out of the brainwrong I've been in for the past little bit: hurrah discontinuing the anti-histamine!)

Soul Music: When the day goes down

Sep. 1st, 2014 12:48 pm
gerald_duck: (lonely)
[personal profile] gerald_duck
I've been blogging for well over a decade, and still there are things important to me that I've never written about.

Such as the song When The Day Goes Down by the Eurythmics.

Almost a decade ago, I created a list of the discs I'd take to a desert island. But without much commentary.

Most of that music was chosen as a cross-section of what I love, and what I'd want to hear if I was suddenly deprived of all other music. But one was the "emergency chocolate" piece for when things were rough.


Once upon a time, it was the summer of 1989. For me, that was the summer between school and university. I took some work and was actually earning a significant quantity of money rather than dribs and drabs for the first time in my life. I took the first tentative steps down the path of audiophilia. And, of course, I bought some records.

The Eurythmics album We Two Are One was the first I ever bought on trust, without having heard the tiniest snippet. I was working on Victoria Street in London. Payday coincided with its release date. Twenty-five years later, I can still remember the excitement of going to the cashpoint during my lunch break, confirming the money had turned up, withdrawing some, crossing the street to Our Price, making the purchase then having to wait until the evening before I could listen to it and discover if it was any good.

If it had sucked, that might have discouraged my music collecting and my life might have been very different. But it didn't suck. It felt like the final step from the band's self-conscious Bohemian roots towards a more mature universality. Indeed, though I've never heard either of D'n'A confirm this, it's almost as though they realised they'd finally got it right and had nothing more to do: after We Two Are One, Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox moved on to solo projects. It was to be a decade before their slightly lacklustre over-the-hill album Peace turned up and there's been nothing since.

Both the previous two Eurythmics albums, Revenge and Savage had ended with quiet, contemplative, sorrowful numbers — unequivocally sombre and downbeat in the case of I Remember You, then more resolute and uplifting in the case of Brand New Day.

The final track on We Two Are One is When The Day Goes Down. At one level it's more of the same, following the template of Brand New Day. Yet the orchestration feels less gimmicky, more measured, meaningful and accomplished, the singing more sincere, the lyrics more universal to the human condition.

When I first heard it, I was riding high. I liked it, but I didn't need it.

Since then, I've needed it. And it's been there for me.

Until the advent of delta-sigma DACs, I had a firm preference for vinyl over CD. So that copy of We Two Are One was a vinyl LP. I've always been careful with turntable and stylus quality, minimising damage to discs. I have only two albums I've played so much over the years that there's been obvious degradation, and that's one of them. Now I have the CD. But I still have the record, of course.

Well don't you cry now —
Don't go drowning in your tears.
Haven't you learned anything
After all these years?
All God's little children
Are beautiful and pure
And you're as good as all of them
Of this you can be sure.

And we are just the same
Underneath the shadows of the sun.
And we are just the same
No more no less than anyone.
All the people of this lonely world
Have a piece of pain inside;
Don't go thinking you're the only one
Who ever broke right down and cried.

That's when the rain comes down.
That's when the rain comes falling down.

This is for the broken dreamers
And this is for the vacant souls
And this is for the hopeless losers
And this if for the helpless fools
And the burnt out and the useless
And the lonely and the weak
And the lost and the degraded
And the too dumb to speak.

And the day goes down.
That's when the day goes down.

I never made any conscious attempt to learn those lyrics; they just insinuated their way into my mind. Now, it turns out, I can remember the words as actually sung more accurately than the album's lyrics sheet.


And I seem to be in a mess. And this time, this time, although the song is a comfort to me, it's not helping as much as it usually does.

Partly, it's not great that my hi-fi has been in bits for months. I was part-way through an upgrade that should have been fairly quick and easy, but my life has been in bits, so my hi-fi remains in bits.

But mainly, this time I'm much more acutely aware of some of the ways in which I've screwed up. And I've hurt people. And no matter how special and significant I may find it, the Eurythmics didn't write that song just for me. I'm not that special and significant. They wrote it for the people I hurt, too.

And I thought things were finally getting better. I thought the worst was over. I thought I could see light at the end of the cliché. And now I know I screwed up even worse than I'd realised and hurt people worse than I knew, and suddenly things look even worse.

And the situation has been getting worse faster than my ability to make sense of it. So I don't know what to do for the best. And I don't want to try, because I'm no longer confident I can avoid making matters worse and hurting people even more, even if that matters more to me now than it used to, though still less than it ought. So I'm stuck. And picking myself up might be easier if I still knew which direction "up" was.

(And yes, I do know one thing I can do, and I'm about to go and do more of it right after hitting "Post". But that would be a spoiler for a couple of posts I've still not written.)

Fractal theology

Aug. 31st, 2014 06:30 pm
gerald_duck: (ohai)
[personal profile] gerald_duck
Consider Langton's Ant.

It's really easy to describe: take a grid of squares, each of which is either black or white. Drop an "ant" on one of the squares, facing N,S,E or W. If the square is white, have the ant turn right, flip the square's colour and move forwards; if the square is black, it instead turns left, flips the square's colour and move forwards. Lather, rinse, repeat.

So what happens?

With a blank canvas, the ant moves through three subjectively distinguishable phases: fairly regular, somewhat symmetric shapes; a chaotic mess; indefinitely building a perfectly regular highway off on a diagonal.

This phenomenon of simple rules giving rise to complex behaviour is known as emergence and is all around us, both in theoretical models like Langton's Ant and in the physical world.

But what happens if the initial canvas isn't blank? You still end up sooner or later with that same indefinite regular highway. Or, at least, you do with every configuration anyone's ever tried. Does it happen with every possible configuration? God alone knows.

And I use that phrase advisedly: as yet, answering that question has proved itself beyond the wit of man, but an omniscient god must surely know. Such a simple setup, such complex emergent behaviour, such a flummoxing question.


This kind of emergent complexity is the stock in trade of fractals, of course: shapes like the Mandelbrot Set, with complex detail at every level of magnification.

But a few years ago, [livejournal.com profile] filecoreinuse introduced me to the idea of fractal wrongness, reasoning or views which are not only wrong, but have a depth and breadth and detail of wrongness such that they look equally wrong from every angle at every level of magnification.

The notion that human thought processes might be modelled by a fractal set me thinking…


What about fractal sin?

Christian doctrine is that nobody is free of sin. Everyone does sinful things from time to time. But what if everything we do is sinful?

Humans are not straightforward creatures. While we can look at cold-blooded murder and see sinfulness, what about helping someone across the street? Not sinful? What if the offer is condescending or demeaning? What if you secretly hope someone will spot your good deed? What if you realise you weren't hoping someone would spot you and felt smug about that? What if helping them let you feel better about that thing you said yesterday? What if… what if…

It seems a reasonable assumption that we are sinful to a greater or lesser extent in every aspect of everything we do at every level of magnification — fractal sinfulness.


And how about morality?

We know some deeds are moral and some are immoral. But where does the boundary lie?

I've experienced two schools of thought: the first that there is a strict dichotomy, each deed is moral or immoral, no equivocation, no half measures; the second is that between moral and immoral lies a grey area of deeds that are, to a greater or lesser extent, questionable.

Maybe morality is fractal: the boundary between moral and immoral being infinitely gnarly everywhere at every level of magnification. This strikes me as very plausible and, importantly, is a way that both schools of thought can be correct: the former being literally true, the latter a pragmatic recognition of when a situation is so subtle it's too close to call.

If, in some specific circumstance, one person sees a grey area and the other sees brilliant white or inky black, we must ask ourselves: do they have clearer oversight of the issues, or are they simply over-extending their value set into the middle ground? It could be either.


Now combine those two previous notions: how we lead our lives is a fractal of deeds, motives and pretexts, an infinitude of filaments pointing into a fractal morality.

I feel this model makes it clear why our chance of consistently avoiding sin is quite infinitesimal, but an omniscient god can necessarily comprehend, at a glance, the totality of what we have done and omitted to do, excercising perfect judgment in utter detail.


As a worldview this appeals considerably to me: it captures the benefits of steering clear of grey areas as much as possible, the impossibility of avoiding them entirely, the duty to discern wisely the detail of the situation before acting to the best of our ability, the duty to introspect the detail of our motives similarly. Yet also, the recognition that we will eventually reach the limits of our grace, our wisdom, our learning, our instinct, our counsel from others. When that happens, the infinitely bifurcated and self-referential nature of the moral landscape means we can't rely on there being any "safe" option. We must be bold, confidently doing our best to do our best in whatever situation is put in front of us. And when we do, and if we believe in an omnipotent, omniscient god, able to judge perfectly, perhaps this model offers a glimpse into why divine mercy is a precious thing.

Getting things out of my system

Aug. 31st, 2014 06:18 am
kaberett: Toph making a rock angel (toph-rockangel)
[personal profile] kaberett
If eyes are the window to the soul, volcanoes are the window to the soul of the planet - or at least to the Earth's interior, which might very easily be the same thing, depending on your definitions. Very well: I define planetary interiors, with their various motion and stillnesses, their complex simplicities, their confusions, as souls.

Brought to you by "ways I am not in point of fact permitted to open my poster"...

Um.

Aug. 30th, 2014 09:22 pm
kaberett: Photograph of clementine with perplexed face drawn on. (clementine)
[personal profile] kaberett
Can people, like, talk to me about the economics of doing a PhD part time? Because I think I need to at least consider doing this part-time rather than full-time at least temporarily (witness the last month, the majority of which I have spent asleep and incapable of sitting upright for more than about 5 minutes without noticeable impact on brain function), but I'm terrified because I have no idea which of ESA, Housing Benefit etc I'd be eligible for, and how much of my savings I'd go through before they arrived, and if they'd even make up enough of the shortfall.

Doing thy bidding

Aug. 30th, 2014 12:59 am
gerald_duck: (carcassonne)
[personal profile] gerald_duck
Ra is a fine Reiner Knizia board game with a well-designed auction mechanic: on their turn, players either draw a tile and add it to a pool in the middle, or initiate an auction for the pool as it stands. If there's an auction, each person in turn either bids a higher number than any previous player or passes. The bids are made using wooden number blocks, and the winner of each auction takes the block that was the winning bid for the previous auction.

At the start of the game, players are given a fair and balanced selection of number blocks, which then get permuted in subtle ways as the game progresses.

Then Reiner Knizia produced Priests of Ra, which has a near-identical auction mechanic, using identical components, but the auction is for completely different tiles with different scoring.

This demonstrates that the auction mechanic is somewhat portable. Hmm…

What if it was applied to entirely different tile-based games? I could see it potentially working with almost any game where players draw tiles and find some more useful than others: Scrabble, Mahjong, Rummikub, Carcassonne… any other notable and good such games?


In discussing this elsewhere, someone needed reminding which game Carcassonne is. I blithely said it was the original game with meeples, then thought to check my facts. In the process I chanced upon Thirsty Meeples, a wonderful-looking boardgaming cafe. Only problem is, it's in Oxford. It's not often I'd rather be in The Other Place! Anyone fancy setting up something similar here? (-8

Maybe I'm too sneaky

Aug. 29th, 2014 11:32 pm
gerald_duck: (Dafydd)
[personal profile] gerald_duck
An artist has buried thirty gold bars worth £300 each on Folkstone beach for people to dig up and find.

Or so he claims, anyway.

Mindful of this apocryphal trick, it occurs to me it would be both cheaper and more amusing to bury only give gold bars. Preferably clearly numbered 5, 8, 13, 25 and 27.
kaberett: A series of phrases commonly used in academic papers, accompanied by humourous "translations". (science!)
[personal profile] kaberett
It was once, several years ago at this point, my intense displeasure to be party to a conversation in public space in the house I was living in at the time, where I was doing housework -- and actually, I say "conversation", but what I mean is "a middle-aged white guy who was a guest of one of my housemates was holding forth about his expertise in child language acquisition".

Astonishingly enough, he was wrong about everything. In particular, he literally claimed that children should be taught Esperanto instead of a natural language like French, because it's completely unfair and unreasonable to expect children to memorise tables of irregular verbs before they can have a conversation with their friends, and Esperanto doesn't require them to do that! It is, he said, ridiculous -- you give five-year-olds recorders, not bassoons.

(1) That isn't even how child language acquisition works (very different to language acquisition post-11, and third & subsequent languages are much much easier than the first couple),
(2) The reasons you don't give five-year-olds bassoons are that (i) they are extremely expensive, (ii) they're twice the height of most five-year-olds, and (iii) five-year-olds do not have the lung capacity because unlike violins where it is possible to make 1/8th-sizes at standard pitch by changing the tension of the strings the same cannot be said for a wind instrument,
(3) Actually giving 5yos recorders is preposterous, because while they're very easy to get a sound out of they're very hard to get a nice sound out of, see also "why on earth do we teach children to draw with wax crayons",
(4) There is absolutely no benefit from teaching children a constructed language rather than a natural language, especially not one that is not only so heavily based on Indo-European but the Romance family while claiming to give people an introduction to ~every language ever~,
(5) ... dudebro you just claimed Mandarin and Cantonese were IE languages I am so done with this conversation, please stop mansplaining linguistics to me and please for crying out loud stop encouraging schools to teach children Esperanto.

If you have ever heard me loudly exclaim bassoons are NOTHING like irregular verbs, you now know why.
kaberett: Photo of a pile of old leather-bound books. (books)
[personal profile] kaberett
The point of language is to communicate; if communication's been achieved, everything else is window-dressing and point-scoring. Who defines "accuracy" and "what (forms of) nuance matter)s(" is a case of privilege. Rich white folk not caring to understand Englishes (written or spoken) other than "Standard English" also means that communication loses accuracy and nuance, but oddly rich white folk (of which I am one!) don't seem, by and large, to be as worried about that. Taking the time to understand multiple Englishes (or multiple forms of any language) doesn't impoverish us - it makes our engagement with language richer.

See, e.g., linguistics blog Languagehat on the topic; I feel I should clarify that I'm Cambridge-educated and upper-middle class and I speak RP - but English is my second language and I speak a really weird hybrid of dialects in my first language, that combines the "standard" form of the language as legislated in the largest country in which it's spoken with forms of dialect that were definitely spoken in one very specific geographic area in the 1950s, but might well not have been since then. In my first language, spelling things the way I do is absolutely a political statement and will be interpreted as such, even though what it is in practice is "that's how my grandmother taught me to write". Just because the politicisation of Standard English is largely invisible to people for whom it is their first or primary language doesn't mean that the choice to use it (never mind attempts to enforce it) aren't political.

(Questions about the specifics I'm referring to re German etc welcome from you lot!)
gerald_duck: (Oh really?)
[personal profile] gerald_duck
Writing on corrugated cardboard is like driving across a cattle grid at 100mph.

What does that statement tell us? How are they similar? What insight do we gain from the comparison?

In fact, I just made it up, so it tells us almost exactly nothing. I couldn't even find any online data about how fast people typically write. Not in metres per second rather than words per minute, at any rate. I pulled the number out of my arse.

I'm not fond of analogies, and very wary of them when I encounter them. Then [livejournal.com profile] geraldinegoose complained that my posting last week contained several, and this was somewhat hypocritical given my attitude. On re-reading it I can only see one or two incidental ones. But that's by the by, because I considered my attitude to analogies a little more closely before I thought to make that check.

Analogies can be used for many purposes, and I think it matters a great deal how they're used. To me, the gold standard of an unexceptionable analogy is isomorphism: within its domain a pretty-much direct one-to-one mapping between examples of one thing and examples of another. Especially in mathematics, we know what to expect of an isomorphism and the relationship is strong enough that even a formal proof in one system is also a formal proof in the other.

But most analogies are rather more vague and approximate than that, meaning they can bring confusion or error as well as insight or clarity.

To take an example, look at the well known beginning of Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.


At the most straightforward level, this is a statement about God's protective nature towards us. But how compelling is it? I feel it's important to recognise that, while the analogy may be useful to someone wanting a ready reckoner for God's nature having already grasped something of it, the analogy is most certainly not direct enough to convince someone who is not already in agreement. Nobody (sensible) is going to say "Gosh, yes, previously I wouldn't have agreed that God is protective of me, but if you put it like that…"

Then again, this is in the Old Testament. It is speaking to a people who have been brought by their God through tribulations into a Promised Land and given a Covenant: if they obey God's law they will prosper and be protected; if not, they will suffer and die. Jesus's message in the New Testament, for example in Luke 21:10-28 is rather different: now God is protective of one's immortal soul, not of one's physical wellbeing in this life. Is the analogy quite as useful and relevant now? (Maybe the Lord is my sheep dip — unpleasantness now that, once endured, offers the promise of a better life hereafter?)

I heard a series of sermons about Psalm 23. It didn't address the contextual issue of how an analogy to the Old Covenant remained relevant to the new, which I felt was a pity. What it did do was extend the analogy by talking about sheep becoming cast down: stuck on their back unable to right themselves because of a heavy fleece or pregnancy, coupled with ending up in a hollow of some kind. If left like that, they lose circulation and die. We are — so the extended analogy goes — sheep liable to being cast down and in this respect also, the Lord is our Shepherd.

I'd not heard of sheep being cast down. I asked a vet and he hadn't either. The Internet does know of the phenomenon and, indeed, knows that a cast down sheep is also known as a riggwelter. I know that term, admittedly only via the Black Sheep Brewery beer which gets its name by a somewhat more direct, if frivolous, analogy.

Most of the hits I found was for people using the example of cast-down sheep in sermons. Hmm!

It seems the phenomenon is pretty uncommon. I found only two YouTube videos of it, a few still photos, one blog entry. Yet the analogy hinges on becoming cast down being a frequent and serious risk that, just as any sheep could become cast down and dependent on the shepherd, we must all rely on God or risk calamity in our lives.

But there are other notable aspects of the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. One is that, once upon a time, there was the Mouflon, the wild sheep, which survived as a species just fine without human help. The shepherd took an existing species and made it dependent.

Another is that the analogy is always to sheep, never to goats. Yet goats, you can call or lead; sheep have to be driven.

Neither of these, I submit, extend the analogy into areas that give any positive or accurate message to Christians. If anything, they're ammunition for detractors.

The trick with relatively weak analogies like this, it seems, is to know the answers before you start. Otherwise, if you take the analogy seriously you could come away thinking practically anything. As another way of thinking about a thing already understood, perhaps it helps. Perhaps. But I'm baffled as to why anyone ever thinks such an analogy would actually convince me of anything I didn't already agree with.



As a postscript, I recognise that there are important philosophical theological concepts that transcend the expressive power of human language. Zen addresses this problem with Kōans, neat little iron bars to drop across the railway line of thought. Where straightforward, straight forward, language fails, maybe analogies are needed. But even then the analogy either has to content itself with opening up ways of thinking about the issue, that the student might reach a conclusion by themself, or it has to carry some authority that is already recognised by the listener. It won't be inherently convincing.

PPS: Yes, I know I've created analogies between analogies. And indeed used a flagrant analogy of my own in that last paragraph. I've tried to steer clear of the pitfalls I've described and with a little luck I may even have succeeded. None of you are going to accuse me of saying Zen is ferrous and at least 1,435 mm long… right?
kaberett: a watercolour painting of an oak leaf floating on calm water (leaf-on-water)
[personal profile] kaberett
1. Two poems finished up, for the time being, which means I've completed all prompts from the last round of mass spec theatre - one tiny little love poem for [personal profile] jjhunter, and Pyrrhic Failure, around which prompt crystallised something I'd been trying to say for a while (or, looked at another way, which prompt gave focus to some lines that had been trying to happen).

2. Preposterous hot chocolate. ("Gingerbread hot chocolate" - dark chocolate with misc spices; it's fab.)

3. Always and always and always, Mia's art, which is always and forever a blessing. (I have some siblings to that piece on my wall, one of which has hair of autumn trees and bluebirds; I should tidy that section of my room a little and give you all photos. It is the wall that contains art from Mia and art by [personal profile] elisem and other bits and pieces I've collected along the way, including a bundle of bay leaves from my mother's garden tied with a piece of gold-edged white ribbon, blessed by a priest on Palm Sunday, because Austria. It sits next to a photograph of the Moon and a scattering of rocks and my tiny sun and my most extravagant aloe vera, and I try to remember to incline my head before it every morning and say I will try to make good choices.)

4. I have read a small heap of short stories today, including Nghi Vo's Tiger Stripes and Song of the Body Cartographer (the former author I was introduced to via Long Hidden; the latter I hadn't come across before LonCon3, but she ended up being a deciding factor in whether I felt like attending a particular panel because she is that good).

5. I have Scalzi's Lock In now on my ereader, and I am looking forward more than quite makes sense to Ancillary Sword (which is still like a whole MONTH away, wow). Also super-endeared that someone's already started predicting that AS is going to be on the Best Novel Hugos slate for 2015!

6. My household. So many good things about it, including the general stream of amazing queers who do not give any fucks about any of the things. (Housemate's guest tonight was completely cool with me wandering out of my room wearing mostly a blanket, acquiring a plate of food from the hob, and disappearing back into said room having mostly gone "I AM WRONG NEW MEDS ARE NOT AGREEING WITH ME". It was pretty awesome.)

7. I am pretty damn stressed at the moment but my reaction seems to be "I need to grit my teeth and pull through this and This Too Shall Pass", rather than anything more... histrionic? Which, given my history, is an achievement of which I am very proud.

8. aaaaaaaaaaah mine's a size 40 (why are these classified under "Swimwear" WE SHALL NEVER KNOW) (on which topic, I only in the last few weeks realised that the "beachwear" vs "swimwear" distinction is one of function - one of these is not expected to actually be useful for anything involving physical activity beyond stretching picturesquely on a towel...)

9. I have been pretty good about Just One Thing-ing today - I got laundry put away, I got a significant amount of stuff moved through to recycling/bins as necessary, watered the aloe (which after nearly 2 months without was starting to wilt a little in places) etc.

10. More reading, I suppose - I have finally today got around to reading several poems I'd had open in tabs for ages, including a thing by Borges the title of which is translated as You Learn/Learning, and a thing by Rilke. (I am, I swear, going to get around to reading all my Rilke ebooks one of these days.) Nom, poems.

And now a tiny bit of python, I think, and then attempting sleep...

Never read the comments

Aug. 29th, 2014 12:30 am
gerald_duck: (unimpressed)
[personal profile] gerald_duck
One should never read the comments. But I read the comments.

And the article was bad enough! It appears some people have taken Vicky Beeching's coming out even worse than I expected.

A penultimate bit of WorldCon tidying

Aug. 28th, 2014 07:27 pm
kaberett: Overlaid Mars & Venus symbols, with Swiss Army knife tools at other positions around the central circle. (Default)
[personal profile] kaberett
Specifically, copying up the various flyers and business cards I collected as Looking Interesting Enough To Warrant Further Investigation. (My final bit of write-up will be the list of authors I'm intending to check out as a direct result of panels etc, and is distinct from the list of people I picked up flyers by coz they looked vaguely interesting.


... and there was definitely someone else - a small press who do books of poetry and also books of creepy and lots and lots of female werewolves? AUGH I seem to have lost their flyer that is DEEPLY irritating. If any of y'all can identify them for me I'd be super-grateful!

Calling the faithful - ways and means

Aug. 28th, 2014 01:36 pm
gerald_duck: (loadsaducks)
[personal profile] gerald_duck
A few months ago I read this article.

As it happens, it's about Facebook and is a bit of an eye-opener in its own right. But what mainly struck me was the list, three quarters of the way down, of techniques used for brainwashing. The article then added "I’m not ready to call Facebook a totalitarian thought reform organization. I am startled to find more alignment between Facebook’s behavior and these markers than I thought I would."

For me, the same sentiment applies to relatively mainstream religion.


Relatedly, I recall Neil Kinnock discussing that Labour Party rally in Sheffield in 1992. There was much to criticise about it, but one point he raised as having made him especially uncomfortable at the time was the motif of Kinnock and the shadow cabinet parading to the stage from the back of the venue, passing through an increasingly enthusiastic audience — he said it reminded him too closely of the Nuremberg Rallies.


And I am also reminded of Salvador Dalí saying "The sole difference between myself and a madman is the fact that I am not mad!"


Evangelical Christian churches use — in milder form — a great many of those techniques for brainwashing. For many, the church becomes the centre of their social life, and this has actually been advocated to me by a minister. There is a tendency to try to convince or reinforce via presentation as well as substance. There is the othering of people who don't conform. There is the somewhat selective awareness of science. The soundbites. The — as that list puts it so neatly — primacy of doctrine over person.

I realise there is great variability even within Evangelical churches. And any of the churches I've encountered only tend to be especially prominent in a handful of those ways. But I've seen enough of them in enough places to give pause for thought.


There is an argument that if one knows not just a truth, but the truth of truths, the Good News that, if accepted, means the difference between eternal life and eternal damnation, the imperative to evangelise about that truth is so great that the end justifies any means.

This feels dangerous to me, both doctrinally and pragmatically. Would it really be OK for a Church to take a leaf out of Hitler's book in terms of presentation? Is it a problem if the only difference between a Church and a cult is that they're not a cult?


In doctrinal terms, I am reminded of a sermon that I heard Rowan Williams give: God is ineffable. The temptation in envisaging a god of infinite might and lordship, Christ Pantocrator is in thinking of worldly power and imagining God as having that kind of power, only to an ifinite extent. Rowan Williams presented a compelling argument (more compelling than I'll be able to repeat here) for a perception of God coming in at right angles to our more usual ways of thinking about power and authority. It's not quite what we think it is; words can't quite describe it; we should be wary and tread carefully.

(The next hymn was "Crown Him With Many Crowns". I wanted to ask him afterwards what he thought of what seemed to me a deep irony, but grabbing a moment with a former Archbishop of Canterbury is harder than it looks.)

Also, Christ acknowledges that not everyone will listen. He tells his disciples, if ignored, to shake the dust from their feet and move on. What to make of that? On the one hand, it was a gesture laded with considerable significance in Jewish practice, so might be viewed as a low-tech first-century equivalent to proclaiming the gospel with a rock band and powerpoint slides. On the other, there's a definite message to step away and let matters take their course.


At a pragmatic level, I worry about the practical effects of even slight tendencies towards the by-any-means-necessary approach.

We live in a cynical age. There is a battle afoot between people clamouring for our attention, our hearts, our minds and above all our money; and people who, in self-defence, are alert to and suspicious of such techniques.

Non-Christians (hereinafter, in a good-natured post-ironic way, referred to as "heathens"), especially well-informed, skeptical heathens of a scientific mindset, are alert to being manipulated into thinking something rather than convinced of it substantively. A lot of what the average Church does to reach out to heathens will look like advertising to them. That's because it is advertising. Why would a rational person, seeing a board outside a Church saying "I am the way and the truth and the life." pay it any more attention than "Every Generation Refreshes the World" or "Just Do It"?

Conversely, what is the fate of someone who is convinced by "headology" rather than substance? Are they not now more susceptible to similar approaches from other organisations and people? One could take the approach that this doesn't matter provided they're Saved, but that assumes both that they're genuinely Saved and going to remain so (ooh — can of worms, there!) and that there's no better way for them to be Saved.

More subtly, I feel that many churches lose sight of what they're actually doing. Obviously, Churches should do many things, but if they take the attitude that evangelism is an extreme end that justifies extreme means, I feel they should be very careful to make sure both that they do apply those means to evangelism and that they refrain from applying them more broadly.

It seems to me that few of the messages Churches emblazon on placards and projector screens and song lyrics actually relate to salvation, redemption or Christ's distinctive moral message. As an agnostic, I have heard sermons I could agree with almost entirely. I have sat in a home group at which people were asked "if someone saw you reading a Bible in an airport departures lounge and asked what it meant to be a Christian, what would you say?" and heard answers that a Muslim could have given. Important though those messages may be, they are not at the core.

Similarly, I have seen the evangelical arsenal of techniques applied to topics far more specific than the core message. The moment one is Othering another denomination, seeking to drive a wedge between different groups of Christians on some doctrinal issue, perhaps even claiming those others aren't real Christians, it seems important to think even more carefully about whether the means are being used responsibly. At the pragmatic level, there is a risk that people who disagree about that peripheral issue will fall away from faith or, by seeing it portrayed as integral, never find faith in the first place.


It is often observed that the burden on those who lead a Church is a heavy one, in terms of their good character and in terms of what they teach. The burden might be even heavier than that — I'm not sure how they teach doesn't matter just as much as what they teach.

I am *so* discontinuing fexofenadine.

Aug. 28th, 2014 04:43 am
kaberett: Overlaid Mars & Venus symbols, with Swiss Army knife tools at other positions around the central circle. (Default)
[personal profile] kaberett
No noticeable improvement in breathing, and my sleep is even more disastrous than normal. On the plus side:

1. I have my desktop working again, and even looked up some more arguments I can apply to redshift for better screen colour temperatures.

2. While I did not learn as much about MySQL as I wanted, I have learned some.

3. I have made a tiny tiny dent in the towering pile of terrifying PhD work, which makes the future a little less scary. (I made it into work during normal working hours for the first time in three weeks yesterday. I barely made it out of my room today, but hey, so it goes. Have I mentioned round these parts that I'm a bit wrong at the moment?)

4. The necklace arrived in the post: it is deliciously heavy and does all the right things with body temperature.

5. I have dealt with the washing up. (Hello lovely housemate I hope the 3am washing up didn't bother you it seemed like the best option at the time.)

6. I have read a whole pile of book - finally got around to Long Hidden, and have several authors to follow up as a result (and have already read more Nghi Vo, who I think I am hoping to nominate for something Hugo-related).

7. Lock In arrives in e-book format tomorrow, entirely breaking my rule of "don't buy books, especially not books by straight white cis men, while the in-ereader to-read pile is over 50" (the exemption for "unless you're going to read it straight away" is only really supposed to apply to people who aren't... white men), but do you know what there's a fair chance I'll find it pleasing escapism, so.

8. In more "spending money will totally make me feel better, right?" news, I have Dealt With My Lack Of Post-It Notes, Thank You eBay. (The yellow gingko-leaf-shaped-ones are probably going to be for writing nice notes to myself and sticking up places; the pale blue square ones are for work when I want to use the whiteboard for three things at once.)

9. I am enjoying the rain.

10. I have not yet finished the pear-and-apple juice we have in the house, but the blueberries we finished earlier continued delicious.

Things Google doesn't know

Aug. 27th, 2014 05:36 pm
gerald_duck: (frontal)
[personal profile] gerald_duck
Here's a challenge for people with greater Google-fu than mine, or indeed for any sociologists out there looking for some research to do:

How do attitudes to self-service checkouts in shops correlate with religion and/or political leanings?