Oh, for the love of ….


Lily Burana decided, for some reason, that Anne Rice’s recent decision to quit being a Christian meant she needed to tell us her life story.

At some point when I wasn’t looking — I was distracted by punk rock, alt.feminism or maybe yoga — the dominant tenor of Christianity became almost unbearably shrill. As America in general became more stratified along religious and political lines, I slunk to the margins, caring less and less. Now, something rebellious and itchy has awoken in me, and I care a lot. Despite the frequent impulse to just keep quiet and hope that someone will rescue Christianity for the rest of us, I want to engage. Even if I have to start a lot of sentences with “I’m a Christian, but…” Even if I end up sounding like a two-bit Anne Lamott with anger-management issues.

After all, the self-satisfied and self-righteous have come for me, too: “YOU, a Christian? With those politics? With that past? Not with those go-go shorts, missy, your Queer Nation stickers, your unrepentant cursing, and your premarital everything.” I knew they’d show up, those stingy, uncharitable moral goalkeepers, with their underlined passages in Leviticus and their pointy-finger God. It just ain’t a Jesus party without this particular turd in the spiritual punchbowl. Maybe it’s the believer’s rite of passage — until you’ve encountered this type and had them declare a fundamental component of your identity an “abomination,” you kind of haven’t lived. The challenge is to have your faith tested this way and not blink.

And it’s testimonies like these, and Rice’s announcement via Facebook, that remind us so acutely that faith is something best kept between the believer and God.

Having run the religious gamut myself (I’ll skip the liturgy) the one thing I can say, after years of discussions both spoken and written, countless observations of diverse people’s behavior, and witnessing the train wreck that “Christianity” has become in our public discourse, there is no greater testament against conversion to faith than the faithful themselves. Seriously. In the name of Christ, she’s no longer a Christian? Or Anne Rice can leave, but Lily’s staying?

How about, fuck off?

Really, how is it that alleged Christians can rally behind lies as a call to arms? How is it that a Christian conscience can advocate torture? How the hell can a bunch of homophobes rally up behind gay preachers denouning homophobia? Perhaps it has something to do with the static superficiality of the discourse. No, seriously: This is what it comes to?

Why should we care? Aren’t there better things to worry about? Oh, right, here’s why we should care: 76% of American adults identify as Christians, according to Wikipedia. That’s a three to one margin over all other religious outlooks combined. This is the driving moral and philosophical force in American culture and thought, and this is what it’s come to?

Why would anyone ever want to be like these people?

The ants go marching ….


Okay, so this is like really, really cool. Victoria Gill, writing for BBC, lets us in on the coolness:

Ant and FlowerIn Africa and in the tropics, armies of tiny creatures make the twisting stems of acacia plants their homes.

Aggressive, stinging ants feed on the sugary nectar the plant provides and live in nests protected by its thick bark.

This is the world of “ant guards”.

The acacias might appear overrun by them, but the plants have the ants wrapped around their little stems.

These same plants that provide shelter and produce nourishing nectar to feed the insects also make chemicals that send them into a defensive frenzy, forcing them into retreat.

It is actually a fairly intricate relationship, with the ants territorially protecting a food source, including the swarming of larger herbivores, and the tree being able to chemically prevent the ants from causing too much havoc. Dr. Nigel Raine, at University of London, explained:

“The flowers seem to produce chemicals that are repellent to the ants,” said Dr Raine. “They release these particularly during the time when they’re producing lots of pollen, so the ants are kept off the flowers.”

In recent studies, described in the journal Functional Ecology, Dr Raine and his colleagues found that the plants with the closest relationships with ants – those that provided homes for their miniature guard army – produced the chemicals that were most effective at keeping the ants at bay.

“And that was associated with the flower being open,” he says. “So the chemicals are probably in the pollen” ….

…. The repellent chemicals are specific to the ants. In fact, they attract and repel different groups of insects.

“[The chemicals] don’t repel bees, even though they are quite closely related to ants. And in some cases, the chemicals actually seem to attract the bees,” says Dr Raine.

The researchers think that some of the repellents that acacias produce are chemical “mimics” of signalling pheromones that the ants use to communicate.

“We put flowers into syringes and puffed the scent over the ant to see how they would respond, and they became quite agitated and aggressive” he explained.

“The ants use a pheromone to signal danger; if they’re being attacked by a bird they will release that chemical that will quickly tell the other ants to retreat.”

Dr Raine says this clever evolutionary system shows how the ants and their plants have evolved to protect, control and manipulate each other.

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Aynal adventures


A couple paragraphs worth reading:

But much as Rand craved appreciation for her work (as sadly reflected in the worshipful eyes of The Collective and her bitterness about every negative book review she ever received), it’s hard to imagine that she would have been terribly happy about its current appropriation by a motley assortment of conservative populists, who mix quotes from The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged with Christian Scripture and the less-than-cerebral perspectives of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. In her own view, Rand was nothing if not a systematic philosopher whose ideas demanded an unconditional acceptance of her approach to metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, psychology, literature, and politics.

Rand’s famous intolerance should not be dismissed as simply the psychological aberration of a flawed genius. She feared, for good reason, what lesser minds might do with the intellectual dynamite of her work when divorced from its philosophical context. The prophetess of “the virtue of selfishness” made rigorous demands of herself and all her followers to live self-consciously “heroic” lives under a virtual tyranny of reason and self-mastery, and to reject every imaginable natural and supernatural limitation on personal responsibility for every action and its consequences. Take all that away–take everything away that Rand actually cared about–and her fictional work represents little more than soft porn for middle-brow reactionaries who seek to rationalize their resentment of the great unwashed. This is why Rand was so precise about the moral obligations and absolute consistency demanded both of her fictional “heroes” and her acolytes. She hated “second-handers,” people who borrowed others’ philosophies without understanding or following them.

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Sci-Fi writer vs. U.S. government … hmm ….


A not so fun little story to keep an eye on. Carolyn Kellogg explains that earlier this month,

Peter Watts; photo by Dan BrooksHugo Award-nominated Canadian author Peter Watts was returning home from a trip to Nebraska when he encountered U.S. customs agents at the border between Michigan and Ontario. His rental car was stopped, and then something happened — Watts says he was pepper-sprayed and attacked, while agents say he became aggressive. Watts was arrested and charged with assault.

Turns out that even a former marine biologist turned science fiction writer can have friends in the right places. Cory Doctorow, who writes science fiction in addition to contributing to BoingBoing, and science fiction writer John Scalzi, who maintains the popular blog Whatever, blogged about Watts’ troubles, encouraging people to contribute to Watts’ legal defense fund.

Canadian publishing magazine Quill & Quire notes that Doctorow is not the only one in Watts’ corner. Toronto bookstore Bakka-Phoenix is not only accepting contributions on the author’s behalf, it’s selling out of his books. And author David Nickle was integral to spreading the word and bailing Watts out of jail.

Certainly there is more to come of this sad tale.

Crumb does creation (and more)


Although I’m not much for the comic and graphic novel market (I think my library consists entirely of one adaptation of Re-Animator and one of Rawhead Rex) the forthcoming project by R. Crumb has my attention:

Having already given the world Mr. Natural, the cartoonist Robert Crumb has finished his long-awaited work about another mystical gray-bearded figure — namely, the Almighty — in a comic-strip retelling of the Book of Genesis, The Guardian reported. On his Web site, rcrumb.com, Mr. Crumb, right, announced that after four years he had completed the project, adapted from the King James Bible and a translation by Robert Alter. The finished work, “Robert Crumb’s Book of Genesis,” is scheduled to be released on Oct. 19. “It’s very visual,” Mr. Crumb said, according to The Guardian. “It’s lurid. Full of all kinds of crazy, weird things that will really surprise people.”

Review: Robert Julian’s “Postcards From Palm Springs” (Part 1)


Julian-Postcards From Palm SpringsA friend recently returned from Palm Springs and handed me a copy of Robert Julian’s self-published memoir Postcards From Palm Springs. The jacket summary informs that the recollection of a writer/actor’s adventures in Palm Springs “does for this California desert community what Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil did for Savannah”. While I enjoyed Berendt’s tale of murder, strangeness, and antiques, I’m not sure this is a compliment to Palm Springs. It would be more appropriate to say “does to this California desert community …”.

Postcards is not without its charm. Indeed, for someone who enjoys a casual yarn about the melodrama of the resort, Hollywood, or homosexual social sets, the book delivers—or, at least, seems to. I must confess that at this moment I’m only approaching the halfway mark.
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The Canon – Barker’s Weaveworld


Excerpt: Weaveworld, by Clive Barker

Nothing ever begins.

There is no first moment; no single word or place from which this or any other story springs.

The threads can always be traced back to some earlier tale, and to the tales that preceded that; though as the narrator’s voice recedes the connections will seem to grow more tenuous, for each age will want the tale told as if it were of its own making.

Thus the pagan will be sanctified, the tragic become laughable; great lovers will stoop to sentiment, and demons dwindle to clockwork toys.

Nothing is fixed. In and out the shuttle goes, fact and fiction, mind and matter woven into patterns that may have only this in common: that hidden among them is a filigree that will with time become a world.

____________________

Barker, Clive. Weaveworld. New York: Poseidon, 1987.