Gently does it

One of the best gadgets I’ve ever bought is my iPod Classic. Its 160Gb capacity means that I’ve been able to leave all my CDs and other music media packed up, along with my main stereo. All I need for instant music here until we move permanently is contained on the iPod which I’ve hooked up to a Panasonic mini hi-fi.

I’ve got about 150Gb of audio on the iPod which gives me plenty of choice and just lately I’ve been listening to some audiobooks.

I’ve never been too fond of audiobooks but listening to them whilst I was laid up with a cold which turned into a sort of stomach flu last month was very enjoyable and I’ve continued to listen to them.

With such a huge capacity on the iPod it’s easy to overlook things but I’ve rediscovered some Douglas Adams audiobooks I put on there a couple of years ago on a whim.

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I have all five of the Hitchhiker books, read variously by Douglas Adams, Martin Freeman and Stephen Fry. I also have both Dirk Gently books read by the author.

I first heard ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ when it was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4. It was OK, although I remember thinking at the time that it was a bit too clever-clever and perhaps tried too hard to be different.

However, I continued to listen to the broadcasts and after that the next two radio sequels and then the TV series. I even read the first three books.

After about 1982 I didn’t bother with Adams again until just recently, although I did buy the DVD set of the TV series and also borrowed the recent(ish) film from the library, although I found the latter to be an execrable piece of shit that should have never been made.

Being able to catch up, as it were, with Adams’ writings after the original trilogy I’m starting to really appreciate him again and a re-evaluation is now due.

From what I’ve heard of the last two Hitchhiker books (and also the two Dirk Gently novels), I reckon he got better and to me they seem to be a vast improvement over the original trilogy.

This might well be heresy to Hitchhiker fans, but his later novels seem to have benefited from concentrating more on character and plot and less on witty observations and all the fussy details when the Guide is quoted.

In short – more substance and less gimmick.

Arthur Dent becomes a far more rounded character and the passive, bumbling ingénue of the first three books develops into a far more realistic and assertive individual to whom one can relate more closely. The early Dent is a comic book character; the later one a comic novel character – a big and welcome difference.

This depth of characterisation extends to his Dirk Gently novels which were a real surprise to me. I thought they were excellent, with a wealth of references to all manner of things that piqued the intellect, plot lines which interwove in a labyrinthine way and, at times, some quite haunting descriptions of the ways in which the main characters’ minds worked.

Dirk Gently himself is an amazing invention. At times he seems to act as a deus ex machina facilitating intersecting twists and turns in the plots and subplots just when you think they can progress no further. The closest parallel I can think of is the character of Dr Who and so it was really no surprise to discover that Adams wrote the scripts for three series of the iconic TV show at around the same time that Hitchhiker got off the ground.

I’ve been reading more about the author himself and he was one of those people who was fortunate enough to be able to indulge his passions as part of his work. Interested in science, music, computers and the conservation of endangered species, Adams brought these all to bear on his work and they even became his work at times.

Adams’ life, before the phenomenon that Hitchhiker became, followed a pretty similar path to many of his peers’ – boarding school, Cambridge, BBC script writing; a bit of a cliche really. But Adams was much, much more than most of them, and, had he lived, then people like Stephen Fry might well have far fewer Twitter followers.

He was, if you like, what Stephen Fry thinks he is.    .   

Yes, Adams was a true Renaissance man for the technological late 20th century and, had he not died in 2001, would have been equally at home in the 21st.

To wrap this article up, here’s my favourite Adams quote:

Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?

Stoned again

It might be an activity that wouldn’t appeal to a lot of people, but if ever I’m within range of a dolmen or a menhir then I have to go and find it.

Mrs Shark is somewhat less enthusiastic than I am, having been disappointed by some of the rather less spectacular examples I’ve insisted on visiting, but she humours me and is occasionally impressed by a good example.

For the uninitiated, dolmens and menhirs were erected roughly five millennia ago by stone age man. Dolmens are burial chambers and typically remain today as upright stones which support a large stone slab. These were originally covered with earth to form mounds within which the stone chamber and the burial were contained.

Menhirs are simply standing stones – sometimes solitary and sometimes in groups.

The megalithic culture which erected these structures and stones reached its zenith with Stonehenge, the alignments at Carnac in France and many other famous monuments.

However, there are hundreds of far lesser-known megalithic remains which can be visited and these often have their own charm and fascination – albeit rather more low key than Stonehenge and the like.

We tracked one down yesterday – a single menhir a couple of kilometres south of Pouance called ‘La Pierre Frite’. This translates as ‘The fried stone’ or even ‘the chip’, I suppose.

Following the sign from the main road to Craon, we took a right up what was obviously a farm track and great for tractors but not too good for a Ford Fiesta as it was heavily rutted, leaving a high middle which was a tad sump-unfriendly. Leaving the car as the track got more uneven, we walked the rest of the way which only turned out to be a couple of hundred yards.

This was a welcome change as most of the menhirs and dolmens we visit are tucked away and need a good hike to reach.

Anyway, here it is:

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Standing some 5 metres high it had a sort of pyramidal top and just over halfway up on one face there was a niche cut into the stone with a mesh grille which contained statuettes of Jesus and his mum.

I’ve heard of this practice before, when pagan monuments were Christianised by priests but have never seen an example. Sometimes, crosses are incised or even sculpted in the stone, but in this case someone had opted for figurines.

At least it hadn’t been taken down and then eventually smashed up for building stone or even dynamited, which has been known to happen when some ‘good’ Christian folk have decided that such stones are the work of Old Nick.

La Pierre Frite stacked up pretty well against other menhirs I’ve seen. Its setting was unusual – tucked away in a small woody glade and when you stood right next to it, you realised that it was quite big and must have taken considerable time and trouble to erect, given the primitive means at the builders’ disposal.

I have to say that I prefer menhirs to dolmens. I can see the point of dolmens quite clearly – to mark and protect a burial, but the reason menhirs were erected is far less clear cut. This one wasn’t even built on high ground – the glade was in a sort of dingle  – so it wasn’t clearly within the line of sight of any other conspicuous objects; not that there seemed to be any in the immediate vicinity.

It must have been placed there for a what seemed a good reason at the time, given the obvious cost in man hours to a people whose time was mostly spent just surviving.

Anyway, well worth the small detour in my opinion and curiously atmospheric, standing in its small shady glade – although It probably stood out in the open 5 000 years ago.

Beautiful.

Atheismus macht frei

Richard Dawkins – sucking a Werther’s Original – or something…*

I only caught the tail-end of a news story about this on the radio this morning but the excellent Spaghetti Factory blog filled in the gaps for me (and also raised some interesting pointers on how to really fuck up a child’s summer holiday).

I mean…what the fucking fuckity fuck?a summer camp for the children of atheists?

But not just atheists.

(Yes, Mr and Mrs Antireligionist there is somewhere you can shuffle your children off to whilst you shag each other’s tits off in an overpriced hotel on Cos before you go down with a nasty dose of the shits.)

Camp Quest, founded in 1996, is the first residential summer camp in Europe, United States and Canada specifically for irreligious children or the children of nontheistic parents (including atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, skeptics, (nontheistic) rationalists, freethinkers, brights, antireligionists, and others who hold a naturalistic worldview).

I didn’t know there were so many ways to not believe in something…

Now, I’ve made it abundantly clear that I have no time for religion in any form and its attendant bullshit regarding evolution and other hijackings of scientific thought.

However, I have an equal lack of patience with this new rise of organized non-faiths – atheism and secularism.

I see this strange new phenomenon as a reaction to religious communality.

Now, whilst there might be threats from organized religion – some subtle like the Catholic Church’s opposition to birth control and some not, like Muslim Fundamentalists blowing your shit up – it seems to me that as religion is a matter of choice, then you either believe in a particular deity – in which case you join a religion – or you don’t believe in a deity – in which case you don’t.

End of.

As an atheist you are a free-thinker, unbound by the shackles of faith and instead guided by your own moral tenets and principles and there must be as many individual atheist creeds as there are atheists.

But as soon as you start to band together to cement your non-faith with others then there’s a danger that you lose that freedom and instead you end up following a non-faith with all the blinkeredness of a religious adherent.

It’s not just moronic, it’s oxymoronic or, as I tweeted to Mr Spaghetti Factory this morning:

Organized atheism – right up there with compassionate fascism and low fat lard…

It’ll never catch on…too much fucking effort…

Besides, do you really want your kid sharing a tent with a Tamsin or a Gregory?

No?

Thought not…

*Dicky’s up there because he supports Camp Quest.

Who the fuck does he think he is?

JK Rowling?

I want my own church…

…so I can go there and not pray…

Gratuitous Charlotte Church photo

More stupidity from secularists who sometimes get on my tits as much as religious types.

The BBC Trust is considering a non-religious Thought for the Day on Radio 4’s Today programme, sparking criticism from faith leaders.

Mark Damazer, the channel’s controller, has said that the slot on the flagship programme could “take in a wider range of voices”.

Secularists claim the item discriminates against non-believers and have complained to the Trust, the governing arm of the corporation, which will deliver its response in the Autumn.

I just find the whole thing laughable with Secularists acting almost as though they have some sort of shared belief system.

Surely, almost by definition, there must be as many secular belief systems as there are Secularists themselves?

As is pretty obvious from past entries I’ve written on this blog, I’m not at all religious and I have no time for it, but if other people want to worship whatever gets them through the night then as long as they don’t seek to impose their views on anyone else then let them get on with it.

As long as I get left alone to get on with pondering the mysteries of life, the universe and everything without religious interference.

Steve Clifford, General Director of the Evangelical Alliance said: “The Today programme has no problem running slots for business and sport, so why shouldn’t it have a slot dedicated to religion? It strikes me that the secularists predominate in the other 2 hours and 55 minutes, so is it really asking too much for religion to just have a small chunk of dedicated time?”

You know, as much as it grieves me to agree with an evangelist, I find very little to argue with in that statement.

And much to disagree with in this:

AC Grayling, the philosopher, said: “At the moment the slot is discriminatory. A lot of people are irritated by it being on a main news programme. They should really abolish it but at the very least they should have alternative views.”

Abolish it?

For fuck’s sake…5 minutes of religion out of 3 hours…so some people are irritated…and there seem to be plenty of opportunities for alternative views to be expressed…

Maybe we should all have our own radio stations – then we could express our own views.

To an audience of none as everyone would be too busy expressing their views to listen to anyone else’s…

In the end, it’s all about tolerance and not getting bent out of shape too much when people try and get some so they can do what they want to do.

My last post had the subtext of how smokers and others were suffering because of a lack of tolerance.

I can then hardly turn round and deny religious people 5 minutes from a 3 hour program for a bit of religious content, can I?

Live and let live – hardly a new aphorism but still a bloody good one.

An educational jihad in London

I’ve just checked my blog’s spam folder which is very efficiently policed by the excellent spam blocker – Akismet – that comes with all WordPress blogs.

Apart from the usual crap I found this:

There are hundreds of state schools where Muslim pupils are in majority. In my opinion, all such schools may be designated as Muslim community schools with bilingual Muslim teachers. There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school.

Iftikhar Ahmad
http://www.londonschoolofislamics.org.uk

It was commenting on the piece I wrote about the NUT’s own goal seeking a 10% pay rise.

Fuck knows what the whole lengthy comment – I’ve left out most of it here – had to do with that entry but the closing paragraph took me aback.

As far as I can make out, whoever the fuck Iftikar Ahmad is, he’s saying that schools with a majority of Muslim pupils are de facto Muslim schools and hence there’s no place in them for non-Muslim pupils or teachers.

I find that totally fucking outrageous.

It’s nothing more than a jihad waged on our education system by a dogma-obsessed minority.

The stated aims of the London Scool of Islamics are:

1. The aim is to make British public, institutions and media aware of the issues of the Muslim community in the field of education and possible solutions.
2. To help with social, personal, emotional and educational issues and problems.
3. To provide marriage guidance and counselling.
4. To find divorcees, widowers and disabled persons partners for marriage.

Nowhere does it mention taking over schools on the basis of a Muslim majority on the school roll.

You know, as much as it goes against my past very socialist and liberal leanings, I’m starting to get heartily sick of having to avoid treading on eggshells when it comes to Islam.

On the whole, as a religion, it’s far more trouble than it’s worth.

In short, I’m fucking sick of it.

By all means, pray to Allah – or Micky Mouse for all I fucking care – but keep religion the fuck out of British democracy.

In my experience the democratic track record of Islamic states isn’t much to be proud of…

Lest I be accused of some sort of ‘ism’ I have no objection to Islamic faith schools being set up.


Pine cones are complicated

If this wasn’t serious it would be a work of comedy genius.

Some fascinating nuggets from it:

It however saddens me greatly that the proponents of Evolutionism have corrupted this true purpose of science and are instead using it as a propaganda tool to spread Secularism.

This is also the first year that Muslim students from the Al-Jannah Islamic school have been invited to participate; two of their students presented a project on human anatomy entitled “Allah (SWT) Created Me” which, while it was found ineligible for a prize due to a number of Biblical inconsistencies, did win a special Interfaith Outreach ribbon.

2nd Place: “Pine Cones Are Complicated”

David Block and Trevor Murry (grades 4) showed how specifically complicated pine cones are and how they reveal God’s design in nature.

2nd Place: “Women Were Designed For Homemaking”

Jonathan Goode (grade 7) applied findings from many fields of science to support his conclusion that God designed women for homemaking: physics shows that women have a lower center of gravity than men, making them more suited to carrying groceries and laundry baskets; biology shows that women were designed to carry un-born babies in their wombs and to feed born babies milk, making them the natural choice for child rearing; social sciences show that the wages for women workers are lower than for normal workers, meaning that they are unable to work as well and thus earn equal pay; and exegetics shows that God created Eve as a companion for Adam, not as a co-worker.

2nd Place: “Maximal Packing Of Rodentia Kinds: A Feasibility Study”

Jason Spinter’s (grade 12) project was to show the feasibility of Noah’s Ark using a Rodentia research model (made of a mixture of hamsters and gerbils) as a representative of diluvian life forms. The Rodentia were placed in a cage with dimensions proportional to a section of the Ark. The number of Rodentia used (58) was calculated using available Creation Science research and was based on the median animal size and their volumetric distribution in the Ark. The cage was also fitted with wooden dowels inserted at regular intervals through the cage walls, forming platforms which provided support for the Rodentia. Although there was little room left in the cage, all Rodentia were able to move just enough to ward off muscle atrophy. Food pellets and water were delivered to sub-surface Rodentia via plastic drinking straws inserted into the Rodentia-mass, which also served to allow internal air flow. Once a day, the cage was sprayed with water to cleanse any built-up waste. Additionally, the cage was suspended on bungee cords to simulate the rocking motion of a ship. The study lasted 30 days and 30 nights, with all Rodentia surviving at least long enough afterwards to allow for reproduction. These findings strongly suggest that Noah’s Ark could hold and support representatives of all antediluvian animal kinds for the duration of the Flood and subsequent repopulation of the Earth.

Funny, but simultaneously scary.

Only in America – well, I fucking hope so…

Pope Tony

Milli Vanilli

I don’t get it.

Ex-PM and career shitweasel Tony Blair converts to Catholicism and now turns round and tells the ex-Hitler Youth Weeble in the dress that the Vatican’s attitude towards homosexuality is wrong.

Surely if you choose to join any organisation it’s because you share its values?

If you don’t then don’t join it in the first fucking place.