Wednesday, December 31, 2003

And not a minute too soon

I am referring to 2003, of course. Let it be over with. I have just checked two thirty-ish couples, plus dog and toddler, into our rental cabin, and I hope they have a good New Year's Eve celebration. Mary and I will be catching up on The Sopranos on video, since we live beyond the range of cable television.

We have just returned from a 3,800-mile train trip: Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington (and for me, Newark and New York--right through Tony Soprano's fictional homeland). Two-and-a-half cheers for Amtrak; I think that it is time we join its "frequent traveler" club and see if we can get any discounts or upgrades. That makes two transcontinental rail trips in six months, and it sure beats flying commercial airlines, an experience that is more and more like going to jail--without the jail cuisine.

And now we have yet another of those perpetual, unwinnable marital argument topics: Is the Superliner (double-decker) sleeping car preferable to the Viewliner (single-decker) sleeping car, or vice-versa? I vote for the Superliner: true, the upper berth has no window, but it just has much more of that 1940s, film noir feel to it, even though the cars are newer than that.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Hear that lonesome whistle blow

Blogging will slow down until the week after Christmas while Mary and I get on the train for Philadelphia and New York.

According to Leslie Miller, who covers transportation for the Washington Post, on Wednessday the 17th, the Federal Railroad Administration "is trying to give communities that want to silence train whistles some peace," permitting more gates and flashing lights at crossings. The FRA news release link is here, but may have some problems.

Most of my life has been lived within sound of a train whistle. When I was a poor college student in Portland, Oregon, the Southern Pacific ran through the kitchen of my house, or so it seemed to roommate Yiorgos Chouliaras and me.

Aphrodite Will Not Be Denied

. . . as evidenced by this story from an Associated Press contributor in Beirut.

In an incisive bit of analysis, Lebanese sociologist Dala el-Bizri, a resident of Cairo, says male-dominated societies are to blame for making women cover up. "When the condition of women on the street is unnatural, the demand for vulgarity and nudity increases," she says.

"Come to me once more, and abate my torment;
Take the bitter care from my mind, and give me
All I long for; Lady, in all my battles
Fight as my comrade."

That's not one of singer Haifa Wehbe's lyrics (that's Haifa on the right), but rather the last verse of the ancient Greek poet Sappho's invocation to the goddess Aphrodite, as translated by Elizabeth Vandiver. Is the imagery too warlike? Well, one Muslim critic called such performers "weapons of singing destruction."

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Monday, December 15, 2003

Does this symbol make you horny?

Two links on alleged aphrodisiacal properties of a design
found in a Neolithic Scottish village, here and here.
Neil Gaiman on blogging versus writing

Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods, a favorite novel of mine, interviewed at Slashdot, responds:

"I'm not sure that there's a conflict between journalling and writing fiction. (I'm not sure that there's not.) The big picture problems with doing the journal are more to do with writing in general. I'm a writer: time that I spend writing is time I know I'm working. . . . .

"It's quite possible that the next time I want to write a novel I'll stop blogging, or, more likely, cut back enormously -- possibly only allow myself to blog if I've I've made my word count, or only post on Sundays, or something equally as mundane. Because the journal's well over quarter of a million words long already. And that's not a book... "

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Ancient Andean polytheists

Not the newest news item, but still interesting -- a bowl that archaeologists label as possibly the oldest religious icon in the Americas.
Where our English majors find work (initially)

Days in the life of a Barnes & Noble clerk.

Now for the heresy. Barnes & Noble came to Pueblo a couple of years ago, and that was A Good Thing. Yes, there were independent bookstores, a couple of them--tiny, understocked, no doubt undercapitalized. One went out of business. (There was also one store from a smaller, Colorado chain.) The new B&N seems to be doing well. People are in there, reading magazines, looking at books, drinking espresso, just like in Th' Big City. From a writer's viewpoint, I like to see the business of book commmerce in motion.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Culture shaping religion

A recent Washington Post story surveys Pagan response to H. James Towey, director of the White House's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, whose recent remarks implied that Pagan charities did not exist.

I wonder, of course, if Towey really was thinking of capital-P Pagans when he responded to the original question. But that's irrelevant now.

Two thoughts:

1. Congratulations to someone out there for effective public relations work in rounding up sources for the reporter, Alan Cooperman. Based on my own newspaper and p.r. experience, I suspect that he had help in shaping the story. (But why was he unable to get even a "no comment" from Towey's office? Or was that cut from the story?)

2. Although many Pagans contribute to secular charities and nonprofits, this incident once again shows that in the American religious marketplace, you have to tie your religion's name to what you do and "show the flag" as part of acquiring legitimacy.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Of course Jesus was married

I did not want to be one of the 50 people in the English-speaking world who had not read The Da Vinci Code, especially after one of my students wrote a flattering review of it in which I recognized all the elements of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, so I got a copy. Think of it as "Tom Clancy meets Holy Blood, Holy Grail."

It's a remarkably Pagan-friendly book, in a generic sort of way.

Apparently, the book's success has led more Catholics to take a hard look at the Opus Dei organization.

Meanwhile, the book's success has Christian apologists scrambling! No, he wasn't married, no no no! All wrong! Evil obscene pagan propaganda!

Here is another attempt.. But all these Christian apologists can do is endlessly quote their four gospels. They do not deal with the notion that 1st-century Jews did not promote celibacy as a religious option. Temple priests, rabbis, kings and shoemakers were all expected to marry and produce children. How would a healthy 30-year-old carpenter/building contractor have evaded that social responsibilty?

Monday, December 08, 2003

Another upcoming cinematic success for Philip K. Dick

He is, of course, dead. And he never made a whole lot of money. But now Dick is a "brand image," says his agent, Russell Galen in this story from Wired, "The Second Coming of Philip K. Dick."

"It may be for the best that Dick's career in Hollywood took off only after his death, because he'd certainly have had a hard time handling it in life. Psychologically, the guy was a mess. His fear of going out in public was so bad it's difficult to imagine him taking a meeting at a film studio. According to Isa Dick-Hackett, one of three children he produced in five marriages, he couldn't even make good on a promise to take her to Disneyland when she was little. 'Twenty or thirty minutes into it, he started to complain of back pain and had to leave,' she says. 'Later, I realized the crowds just freaked him out.' "

My connection? Jay Kinney deeply admired Dick's work. Jay started Gnosis: A Journal of the Western Inner Traditions. I wrote for Gnosis almost from Day One, and I regard that connection as one of my big breaks as a writer.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Strictly forbidden

A list of laws against Pagan practice, from the late days of the Roman Empire (4th-6th centuries C.E.), compiled by Christopher Ocker of San Francisco Theological Seminary.

Those Christian emperors just swung a big ax. On the other hand, the divine Julian's ways of dealing with Christians were much subtler. After all, why force someone who does not believe in the gods to teach the Iliad, which is so painful to their conscience?

Medicine man granted 'confession' right

Courtesy of Belief Net via Gus DiZerega comes this federal judge's decision that a Native medicine man can enjoy the same privilege of keeping secrets that Christian clergy enjoy, when those secrets are given in confidence during sacramental confession or its equivalent,.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

"Chicken Hawk Down"

I have been meaning to link to cartoonist Tom Tomorrow's view of the political blogosphere.

Pueblo's Hipper Image

Pueblo, Colorado, where I am employed, has seen its reputation slowly changing. While this column by Colorado Springs Independent columnist John Hazlehurst is actually a reproof of his own city, with Pueblo playing the role of "noble savage," it's part of a trend. As the northern Colorado Front Range region becomes more malls, subdivisions, and freeways, suddenly non-trendy blue-collar Southern Colorado is looking better, more "authentic."

Maybe Pueblo will become "Santa Fe in the Rockies." (But, John, Santa Fe, New Mexico, is already in the Rockies.) If so, trendoid newcomers will have to learn "Pueblonics" -- how to say "youse guys" with a Hispanic accent and how to apply such similes as "X was like a Bojohn wedding," or "Y is bigger than the Cannon Game."javascript:void(0)

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Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Time for poppy tea

"Constant sobriety is not a natural or pleasant condition, and intoxicants are an essential part of life and literature" -- another story on artists, writers, and drugs. (Thanks to Butterflies and Wheels.)
Lose yourself here

The Internet Sacred Text Archive is an amazing place. Recent additions include the complete corpus of Anglo-Saxon poetry, in Old English, of course. (Time to dig out my undergraduate copy of Bright's Old English from Prof. Harper's class.) Thanks to Language Hat for the link.

You were wondering if they had Pagan texts. Yes, they do. But why that cheesy cheap graphic that looks like a computer-game backdrop? No stock photos of Stonehenge? No John Waterhouse paintings?

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Dem bones

American archaeologists have had more a decade's experience with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). It has also been misapplied, I believe, as in the case of Kennewick Man. Although that skeleton may have been proto-Polynesian rather than European, Steve McNallen of the Asatru Folk Assembly filed a brief in the court case over who got the skeleton under NAGPRA's rules. Mattias Gardell (see 27 November post ) makes an interesting point: We know that Norse people visited North America, but if a Norse cemetery were discovered in, say, Maine, a literal reading of NAGPRA would require those bones to be handed over the nearest federally recognized American Indian tribe as "ancestral remains."

Now similar legal issues could be on the horizon in Europe, as discussed in two stories on Spiked Online, "Battle of the Bones" and "Burying the Evidence."

"So far as governments are concerned, repatriation strategies have become part of the way in which they attempt to connect with what they perceive as fragmented, divided societies. In the USA and Australia, the apparent failure to integrate indigenous populations had became a particular cause for concern by the 1980s, and with no new solutions to integration on the horizon, the issue became how best to build a relationship - any relationship - with these separate, impoverished groups of people came to the fore.

"Repatriation, in this context, represented a symbolic reversal of conquest - a giving back of what had been taken, a recognition of the value of indigenous culture at the highest levels of government, and an attempt to create, not one national identity, but a new 'pluricultural' ideal" ("Battle of the Bones").

(Thanks to Arts and Letters Daily for sending me down this track.)

British Pagan are increasingly positioning themselves as "indigenous religion" and taking an active interest in the management of prehistoric Pagan archaeological sites, so these controversies will only increase.