Recent blog entries for marnanel

Anarchism compared to vegetarianism

Something I said at a party at the vicarage last night:

People ask why I'm an anarchist. The reasons are a bit like my reasons for being a vegetarian. I believe this would be a better world if we gave up eating meat-- and that humanity can't survive unless we do. Once, perhaps, our civilisation was at a stage where eating meat is necessary, but we've shown we've got beyond that now. But now and then, in a world where most people still have to eat meat, I might agree to eat meat too for the short term-- with caution that it doesn't become the long term. It's easy for the best to be the enemy of good.

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Syndicated 2015-08-17 12:50:48 from Monument

Boycotting the Stonewall movie

Homophobia seems to me as if the straight people are crammed into a small and dimly-lit circular compound, holding on to all the power and hating the queer people outside full of colours and sunshine. Most of us want to break the wall down, stop the hatred, let the power flood out and the colours flood in. But some say the answer is for everyone outside to run away from the sunshine and climb into the courtyard too.

For years before the Stonewall riots, queer people had held peaceful protests asking to be respected in the same way that straight people are respected. Nobody listened. Then the riot happened, queer people fought back, not assimilated and not ashamed. And the wall began to break.

But the wall-climbers haven’t gone away. We’ve often seen LGBT associations forget trans folk in their hurry to climb over the wall into respectability. And this film is selling a lie. The rioters weren’t the acceptable face of gay culture. They weren’t even trying to be.

They lived on the outside.

So do we.

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Syndicated 2015-08-06 17:03:41 from Monument

Privation of good

I've always heard that the idea of "privation of good" was something Augustine came up with. (Summary: evil is not a thing in itself, but only the absence of good-- like how darkness is the absence of light.) But 300 years earlier, Epictetus was saying:

"As a mark is not set up for the sake of missing the aim, so neither does the nature of evil exist in the world." (Enchiridion, 27)

Isn't that the same idea?

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/338987.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2015-08-01 09:47:02 from Monument

Corbyn and electability

I don't give a damn whether Labour is electable under Corbyn-- the next election's too far off to worry about. What I *do* care about is having an effective Opposition, and that's something I'm certain he can provide. Six PM's questions a week, the chance to choose who's on the front benches, and a guaranteed place in almost every political TV show-- given a year or two, he'll move the Overton window enough that today's estimations of who's electable will be irrelevant.

I don't believe for a moment that Labour can't gain power with Corbyn as leader-- we can't know, because there hasn't been a Labour Party that was much distinguishable from the Tories since the nineties.

No, I don't think Corbyn is the second coming of Marx. I don't think the Labour party is going to do a great deal of good for ordinary people any time soon. I don't believe electoral politics will deliver enough change to fix the system. But I do believe that the parliamentary Labour Party can do more good in the world than they're doing right now.

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/338790.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2015-07-31 17:33:55 from Monument

Information Bona Highway

HORNE: Well, you might have noticed that round-the-horne dot com is looking a bit drab these days. So I decided to hire a website consultant, and the first one I tried was called "Information Bona Highway".

(FX: shop bell)

JULIAN: Oh, hello! I'm Julian and this is my friend Sandy.
HORNE: I need some help with my website. I found you online...
SANDY: He's been googling us, Jules.
JULIAN: We get so much trade that way, Mr Horne.
HORNE: Do you have much experience in site design?
JULIAN: Oh, we've been at it for years. Back with Geocities and Myspace.
SANDY: Yes. Everyone wanted a bit of Myspace. They were positively queueing up for my top eight.
JULIAN: Tom-- you remember Tom? He was my top.
HORNE: I want my site to look a little less...
SANDY: Nineties?
JULIAN: Passé. That's your actual French.
HORNE: Yes. Would you be available to update it?
SANDY: Oh, you'll be wanting my help, Mr Horne. I'm positively a tiger of web design.
JULIAN: A tiger in the stylesheets.
SANDY: I do everything that's handled by the client. Everything responsive. If you want a nice double-column layout, I'm your man.
JULIAN: He just tweaks his padding-bottom and we're away.
HORNE: I see. Are you both client-side?
JULIAN: No, I concentrate on the back end. Django, mainly.
SANDY: Django! His Python is a sight to behold.
HORNE: Can I run it on Windows?
JULIAN: Oh, no, I swear by Debian.
SANDY: Swears by it.
JULIAN: Nothing else manages my packages so well.
HORNE: And it's more secure, I take it?
SANDY: Well, I must be frank, Mr Horne. Julian's never been much of a dab hand at intrusion detection.
JULIAN: Traitor!
SANDY: Well, it's true.
JULIAN: I can guarantee, guarantee that someone will be probing my ports this evening.
SANDY: Will you excuse us, Mr Horne? I really must go and check his log.

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Syndicated 2015-07-24 15:30:11 from Monument

Gentle Readers: boil it to a brilliant blue

Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 4, number 2
6th July 2015: boil it to a brilliant blue
What I’ve been up to

Surprisingly little, actually, though I did go to a rather interesting conference, about the meaning of love, at a housing co-op in Manchester.

A picture

https://gentlereaders.uk/pics/thou-art-a-scholar

Mar. Thou'rt a scholar; speak to it, Horatio.
Hor. Well, who knew... I mean, what are the chances you'd ask me that just after my college's "Speaking To Ghosts 101" course was oversubscribed? I mean I tried to get a place on it, but it's, like, the most popular course in the whole university, isn't it? Duh.
 

A poem of mine
 
SHATTERED
 
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said...
I couldn't comprehend his speech;
he spoke a tongue I didn't understand.
It might have meant “a statue's on a beach”...
at least, he let me see vacation snaps
and there was quite a lot of sand about
and one old statue, African perhaps,
or Indian, I'm in a bit of doubt.)
   So anyway, I saw the statue's face:
   its nose was crinkled, like a lord who sniffs.
   And then there was some writing on the base;
   I couldn't read it. It was hieroglyphs.
It all seems kind of strange, and far away,
but must have had some meaning in its day.
 
Something wonderful
https://gentlereaders.uk/pics/salford-rainbow

The end of the rainbow-- it was in Salford all along

I'm pretty sure you were taught the order of the colours of the rainbow-- maybe with "Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain", or perhaps with someone named "Roy G. Biv". Either way, the standard colour sequence is red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. The obvious question is: what on earth is indigo?

The sequence we all learned is taken from a book called Opticks, written by Isaac Newton in 1704. In this book he sets out his discoveries about the way light breaks up as it passes through a prism. Newton was a rather superstitious person, and he believed that the number seven is really important, so it seemed good to have seven colours. Here's the diagram he drew.
 
https://gentlereaders.uk/pics/newton-opticks

The colour Newton calls "blue" comes immediately after green. So it's a greenish blue-- what we might now call cyan, or turquoise. Indigo, then, must be blue-- and in fact it's the name of a dye with a deep and brilliant blue colour.

Blue has always been a difficult colour to produce. The Ancient Egyptians knew the art of making things blue, but with the fall of the Roman Empire their technology was lost. In the Middle Ages blue was so rare that it was worn only by the very rich. One of a very few places you could get blue dye was from the indigo plant, Indigofera tinctoria, a kind of bean. You take the plant's leaves, soak them in water, and wait for them to ferment. Then you drain off the water and mix the residue with a strong alkali, such as lye. Heaven knows how they discovered this.
https://gentlereaders.uk/pics/indigo-plant

The indigo plant comes from India, as you may have guessed from the name. By the eighteenth century it was also grown in other hot parts of the world, such as Mexico and the southern United States. Predictably those who farmed the plants and extracted the dye were soon slaves; there was a major non-violent revolt in Bengal in March 1859, which was severely suppressed.

Must indigo be grown? Can it be produced in a lab instead? Yes, it can: Adolf von Baeyer discovered how, which won him the 1905 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. These days almost all indigo dye produced is artificial, and most of it goes on dyeing denim jeans.

The indigo plant can only grow in hot climates. But there's another plant with similar properties, which grows even in Britain: a kind of cabbage called woad (Isatis tinctoria). There is a story that the Picts used to dye their bodies with woad, and strip naked to scare invaders. It's probably untrue, and based on a misreading of Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico. Which is a shame, because there aren't many things more likely to make you run away than naked blue people smelling of rotten leaves.

Something from someone else

WOAD SONG (to the tune of "Men of Harlech")
by William Hope-Jones

What's the good of wearing braces,
Vests, and pants, and boots with laces?
Spats, or hats you buy in places
Down the Brompton Road?
What's the use of shirts of cotton,
Studs that always get forgotten?
Such affairs are simply rotten:
Better far is woad.

Woad's the stuff to show men.
Woad to scare your foemen:
Boil it to a brilliant hue
And rub it on your back and your ab-do-men.
Ancient Briton never hit on
Anything as good as woad to fit on
Neck, or knees, or where you sit on!
Tailors, you be blowed.

Romans came across the Channel
All wrapped up in tin and flannel:
Half a pint of woad per man'll
Dress us more than these.
Saxons, you can waste your stitches
Building beds for bugs in breeches:
We have woad to clothe us, which is
Not a nest for fleas.

Romans, keep your armours!
Saxons, your pyjamas!
Hairy coats were meant for goats,
Gorillas, yaks, retriever dogs, and llamas.
Tramp up Snowdon with your woad on,
Never mind if you get rained or snowed on.
Never want a button sewed on.
Go, the Ancient B's.

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at https://gentlereaders.uk, and so is a form to get on the mailing list. If you have anything to say or reply, or you want to be added or removed from the mailing list, I’m at thomas@thurman.org.uk and I’d love to hear from you. The newsletter is reader-supported; please pledge something if you can afford to, and please don't if you can't. ISSN 2057-052X. Love and peace to you all.
 

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/337288.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2015-07-07 00:06:43 from Monument

puns

Sometimes I like throwing puns into a discussion without marking them as such, and seeing whether anyone notices. I'm at a conference thing, and they're doing massages for the people there. I had one, and afterwards the massage person said, "Sorry to cut it short, but I have three more people to go in the next twenty minutes. I didn't realise I'd be so busy!" I said, "Well, everyone wants to feel kneaded." They agreed, and I smiled, and went on my way.

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/336931.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2015-07-04 13:51:57 from Monument

The Ghost in the Crown-- act 2, part 1

(I haven’t finished Act 2 yet, but here’s the first part. More soon.)

I'm reading a book
That I took from my school.
Polonius comes in.
(He’s a pompous old fool,
But also my girlfriend
Ophelia’s dad.)
I’ll scare him away!
I’ll pretend to be mad!

He said, “Who am I?”
And I looked all about.
I said, “You’re the fellow
Who sold me a trout.
But have you a daughter?”
He said, “Just the one.”
“Be careful,” I said,
“If she walks in the sun
Where meat becomes maggots
And milk becomes curds.”
He asked what I’m reading.
I said, “Words…
words…
words.”

“But what do they say?”
And I said, “I detect
Some satire, some slander,
Some lack of respect.
It says: when you’re old
Your eyesight gets hazy.
Your whiskers go grey.
You start to go crazy.
Your eyes fill with goop.
And yes, it’s all true
But seems a bit rude
To codgers like you.”

He hurried away.
But my uncle instead
Strode into the room
And called me and said:

“I will open the door!
I will show you a thing!
You will like what I show you!”
(Said Claudius King.)
“Your friends came to visit!
Come quickly and see!
Some friends, and I call them
Thing R and Thing G!
They came to the castle
To be a surprise!
They might cheer you up!
And they’re not at all spies!”

They said, “We’re in Denmark
To see how you are!
Would you like to shake hands
With Thing G and Thing R?”

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/336692.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2015-07-03 20:51:52 (Updated 2015-07-03 20:53:03) from Monument

Gentle Readers: proof by elephant

Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 4, number 1
2nd July 2015: proof by elephant
What I’ve been up to

I'm back! I've been ill for quite a while, and I've missed writing Gentle Readers enormously. But today I'm back.

A picture

Metro gnome

Metro gnome

Something wonderful

The voyage of Columbus didn't convince anyone that the world is round. Nobody needed convincing, because nobody believed that the world was flat. Nearly two thousand years earlier, a Greek scholar named Eratosthenes had demonstrated it-- not only the shape of the earth, but even how far it was around. (He went to two different cities, and measured the angle of the sun when it was at its highest point on Midsummer Day. Then, since he knew how far apart the cities were, he could work out the circumference of the earth.)

But a century before Erastothenes, Aristotle's book On the heavens (Περὶ οὐρανοῦ) gave five reasons to believe the earth is round. And one of them is a proof by elephants.
How to find the shape of the earth using elephants
What do you find if you go as far west from Greece as you can, to Africa? Elephants!
What do you find if you go as far east as you can, to India? Elephants!
So obviously if the east and the west both have elephants, it stands to reason that they're next to one another.

"Hence one should not be too sure of the incredibility of the view of those who conceive that there is continuity between the parts about the pillars of Hercules and the parts about India, and that in this way the ocean is one. As further evidence in favour of this they quote the case of elephants, a species occurring in each of these extreme regions, suggesting that the common characteristic of these extremes is explained by their continuity."

Thomas Aquinas helpfully pointed out the flaw in this reasoning:

...they make a conjecture as to the similarity of both places from the elephants which arise in both places but are not found in the regions between them. This of course is a sign of the agreement of these places but not necessarily of their nearness to one another.

Something from someone else

This is a famous retelling of a very old story.
 
THE BLIND MEN AND THE ELEPHANT
by John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, "Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he;
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

At this point I should include my parody; I wondered what might happen if blind elephants had tried to find out about humans.
 
It was six jolly Elephants
(And all of them were blind),
That all agreed to search a town
To study humankind,
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The first one felt a person's head;
In puzzled tones he spake:
"This wonder of a Human Man
Is flat as griddle-cake!"
The others solemnly agreed,
"'Tis true, and no mistake."

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at https://gentlereaders.uk, and so is a form to get on the mailing list. If you have anything to say or reply, or you want to be added or removed from the mailing list, I’m at thomas@thurman.org.uk and I’d love to hear from you. The newsletter is reader-supported; please pledge something if you can afford to, and please don't if you can't. ISSN 2057-052X. Love and peace to you all.
 

This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/336130.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2015-07-03 01:23:00 from Monument

marnanel @ 2015-07-02T20:06:00

Random happy memory:

Once, in a needlework class at secondary school, I overheard the girls at the next table, gossiping about a Korean girl who wasn't in the room. She was in our year, but she'd only just started at our school, so they didn't know her very well. One particular thing they didn't know was that she was my cousin.

"Did you see that new [redacted] girl?" one said.

"Yeah," said the other. "Looks like a sumo wrestler."

It was a beautifully satisfying moment when I turned round and said, "Is that my cousin you're talking about?"

They spluttered for a few moments, then said, "But she can't be your cousin!"

"Look, I ought to know who my own cousins are."

"But, but...," they said. "Are you adopted?"

I hope it was a teachable moment for them in more ways than one.
This entry was originally posted at http://marnanel.dreamwidth.org/335972.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Syndicated 2015-07-02 19:06:30 from Monument

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