Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Think your look is unique?

Think again.
A common Anglo-Saxon name

This (third name on list) is not me. I do not write poems about my toes. Or maggots. Not that I've got anything against maggots.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

The Rosvellov Incident

Now the story can be told . . . in Pravda, apparently taking its journalistic lead from the supermarket tabloids, which, as we all know, are staffed Florida-loving expatriate British journalists fired from their UK jobs for excessive-even-by-Fleet-Street-standards drunkeness:

In the beginning of August 1987 five soldiers of Leningrad Military District went to the North of Karelia region on a special mission. They were required to guard the object of unknown origin. It was found on the territory of another military unit near the town of Vyborg. The item was 14 meters long, 4 meters wide, 2.5 meters high.

Read more

Monday, January 26, 2004

His name's not George (unless it really is)

Although it is a bit off this blog's stated purpose, I have published earlier (here and here) on the joy of transcontinental travel by Amtrak sleeping car.

Sometimes I think of what were the glory days of train travel, when the Pullman Company owned the sleeping cars (leasing them to railroads) and hired the attendants -- "porters," as they were called then -- freed black slaves at first, in the latter part of the 19th century.

But the relationship between the porters and the company was far from simplistic. By 1925, the Pullman Company was the largest single employer of blacks in the nation, and the company's involvement in communities as a good corporate citizen, especially its contributions to black churches, had bought it considerable goodwill among influential black leaders, particularly the ministers in the big churches in large cities. Well-placed advertisements in black newspapers helped as well. Recipients of the company's largess were loath to call for organized opposition to their benefactor.

They were paid less than white railway workers, of course, and they not only had to serve but to be subservient as well. Hence, in the 1920s, they struggled to unionize as the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a "craft union" that would eventually, in the 1930s, become part of the American Federation of Labor.

For that story, you might look for a made-for-television (Showtime channel) movie, "10,000 Black Men Named George," starring Andr� Braugher as organizer Philip Randolph and Mario Van Peebles as one of his associates. Charles S. Dutton's character helps earn the film an "R" rating. Sure, it's a TV movie and it's a little two-dimensional and cleaned up, but how many such movies on labor history are there?

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Some updates

While I wait for some uploading issues to be sorted out, here are follow-ups to two recent posts.

First, I mentioned on January 1 the book Nightmare Alley as possibly inspiring or prefiguring Anton LaVey's Church of Satan in the 1960s.

I have now read Nightmare Alley, and the short answer is, I don't think so. It certainly is not the blueprint for the CoS that Stranger in a Strange Land was for the Church of All Worlds at about the same time. Nightmare Alley does involve a shrewd, glib carnival mind reader who becomes a fraudulent Spiritualist minister, and it is appropriately cynical about the human condition, however.

Second, Mary Beard's The Invention of Jane Harrison, mentioned on January 14, disappointed me, perhaps because I was hoping for more of an intellectual biography that assessed Harrison's study of ancient Greece and also positioned her--as Ronald Hutton briefly did in The Triumph of the Moon, as one of the foremothers of today's Pagan revival.

Instead, the reader gets more of "who had a spat with whom in 1889." Beard, who teaches Classics at Cambridge University (in Harrison's footsteps, so to speak), offers some interesting light on how Classics as a field was presented and was evolving in late-Victorian and Edwardian Britain. She also spends much effort in a sort of meta-biography, writing about the problems of writing a biography of Harrison. And she dances around the topic of sex, saying several times that we cannot impose the term "lesbian" on the Victorians; but, on the other hand, was she or wasn't she?

As a study of the rise of academic celebrity--Harrison as a sort of public intellectual--it is interesting, and Beard's style is fluid and entertaining.

Blogging has been interrupted while DrakNet, where I park this blog, changes servers again. "This is only a test."

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Haifa Wehbe Watch

Ever since my original post about Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe
(or Wahbi), this blog has been receiving sporadic hits from the Middle East: Israel, Syria, Egypt, Dubai . . .

Apparently she and some of her peers have really undermined traditional Arab ideas of beauty.

But I say this to her fans:

"Some would say an army of cavalry, others of infantry, others of ships, is the fairest thing on the dark earth, but I say it's whatever you're in love with."

Those lines are from the ancient Greek poet Sappho. Read Sappho, and understand.

Where the weekend went

To the detriment of my students, I spent most of the past weekend editing the first issue of the "new" Pomegranate: The Journal of Pagan Studies. To help the process go faster, I asked the aid of my old friend Michael McNierney, who not only teaches but has written for The Pom in the past, as well as possessing strong editorial skills. Peer-reviewers of academic journals are normally paid in the coin of glory, but I was happy to share food, drink, and some of the old .45 ACP ammunition that I inherited from my late father.

Bang bang, you're legal, Part 2

Certificate from my mostly redundant pistol-handling class of 10 January in hand, I drove on Monday up to the county seat to apply for my concealed-carry permit, which is issued by your friendly local county sheriff.

Entering the sheriff's office, I immediately saw a notice posted by the receptionist/dispatcher's counter: Concealed-weapon permit applications will be accepted only between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., Monday-Friday. Obviously I am about the last person in the county to get his!

Paperwork. Fingerprints. Oh gods, I've been fingerprinted. Having lived a blameless [unapprehended] life until this point, I have never been fingerprinted. But now I have, "nail bed to nail bed." (Note to self: stock all vehicles with latex gloves.) I did not mention my marriage to M___ C____, notorious deep ecologist, advocate of jury nullification, and all-around subversive. Stay cool, act normal. All I have to swear is that I'm not a felon, alcoholic, wife-beater, habitual drug user, illegal alien, or close personal friend of Osama Bin Ladin.

And I paid some more: a fee to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation so that I might have the privilege of being investigated, plus a fee to the sheriff's office.

Afterwards, Michael and I drove to the shooting range and burned up some of the aforementioned .45 ACP ammo, plus others.

Am I gaining an additional layer of legal protection, or putting myself into a bureaucratic noose? M.C. would say the latter, of course.


Sunday, January 18, 2004

The Revealer

When I left (I thought) journalism to go to graduate school in religious studies, I thought that one possible later career path would be to be journalist specializing in real religion reporting, as opposed to merely retyping churches' news releases.

That path was not taken, but others have taken it, and a new way to follow religion-reporting is The Revealer, a blog based at New York University.

From a current entry:

"The religious language with which Disney sold its Celebration [planned community in Florida] and with which buyers bought it isn�t coincidental. The town was -- is -- the most stunning example of civic religion aestheticized, an extreme-case scenario of gated communities and �new urbanism� throughout the country, the realization the impulse to create through quaint, storybook settings the community once provided by more stringent faiths.

"But all good things must come to an end, and so Disney embraces evolution rather than creationism by putting its Garden of Eden on the block and announcing plans to build elsewhere."

I am flattered that Revealer's "Links--Pagan" page includes this blog and also The Pomegranate, which is taking a lot of psychic energy now as I prepare the first issue with our new publisher.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Inventing Jane Harrison

I have received Mary Beard's The Invention of Jane Harrison--there goes the evening. (And all hail the interlibrary loan staff for producing it so quickly.)

Ronald Hutton writes of Harrison in his book The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft:

"Savagery and barbarism both frightened and excited her. She admitted that 'ritual seizes me: a ritual dance, a ritual procession and vestments and lights and banners, moves me as no sermon, no hymn, no picture, no poem has ever moved me.'"

She was both Puritan and would-be Bacchante in the same body, a fascinating character, described when lecturing at Cambridge as "a tall figure in black drapery, with touches of her favorite green and a string blue Egyptian beads, like a priestess's rosary." Hutton suggests that she did much to create the notion of a Great Goddess who preceded the familiar Greek pantheon. He quotes Beard, so now I will see what Beard has to say.

Beard herself describes the myth of Harrison thus in her preface:

"Jane Ellen Harrison changed the way we think about the ancient Greeks; she infuriated the academic establishment at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with her uncompromising refusal to play the submissive part; she fell repeatedly and hopelessly in love--usually with entirely unsuitable men, who were also her academic colleagues; she gave some of the most remarkably theatrical lectures that the University of Cambridge has ever seen; in the very male intellectual world of a century ago, she put women academics and women's colleges (dangerously) on the map."

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

An interested bystander

. . . is all that I am in the Kennewick Man case, but I enjoyed this post from Moira Breen's Inappropriate Reponse blog. You might like this post as well on the whole sacred-lands issue. British Pagans, for instance, continue to pester English Heritage, etc., about sacred sites management--wanting a say, at least--but, in my experience, most are eager to learn what archaeology tells them. Unfortunately, it's not always that way.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Bang, bang, you're legal

Instead of writing or working on spring-semester syllabi, I spent Saturday immersed in gun culture, taking the required pistol-handling course so that I can apply for my concealed-carry permit. (Colorado is a "shall issue" state, meaning that the county sheriff must give you the permit if you pass the course, pay the fee, and are not a convicted felon, mental patient, or otherwise fail the pro forma background check.)

At 10 a.m. I reported to the Cactus Flats shooting club with two small-caliber pistols (I was indecisive up until the last moment about which to bring), protective ear muffs, shooting glasses (rose-tinted lenses that turn the sky Martian indigo and the arid landscape almost Martian orange), and ammunition.

My four fellow students were all in their fifties or sixties--one man probably over 70--and all of us lifelong shooters. (One man had had a concealed-carry permit in Seattle already.) Consequently, the morning instruction session was, shall we say, leisurely, conversational, and fairly cursory, although I picked up a minor point or two. After lunch we demonstrated that we could all hit the silhouette targets at short range, and we learned some useful things about practicing for "the gravest extreme," to use Massad Ayoob's phrase. When the class certificate arrives, I can do the paperwork for the permit.

But why? Other than when hunting, I do not normally go around armed. Once in twelve years in this house--just last month--did I strap on a revolver for the night-time dog walk up through the woods and down a dark road, because I had seen a mountain lion here the night before and a prison escapee was possibly in the area (he was captured elsewhere in the county). Rationally, therefore, I could say that I want the permit primarily for when I have a pistol in the truck when traveling, especially in other states that honor Colorado's permits. (New Mexico just passed its own concealed-carry law, so maybe they will sign a reciprocity agreement soon with us.) The permit adds a layer of legal protection.

And it is also because an armed citizenry bothers the bejesus out of authoritarians of all political stripes. (Do I think that George W. Bush really endorses the Second Amendment in his heart anymore than Senator Joe Lieberman does? No, I don't.)

Friday, January 09, 2004

Ecotheology recognizes Paganism

Graham Harvey of the Open University in Britain has guest-edited the latest issue of Ecotheology: The Journal of Religion, Nature and the Environment, which has a new subtitle and a new publisher, Equinox Publishing Ltd., London.

Ecotheology, which formerly had a largely Christian focus, is now broadening its reach, and the latest issue "aims to consider the ways in which places have influenced or perhaps actively engaged with the evolution of particular religions, and the ways in which religious people have engaged with particular places," to quote Harvey's introduction.

Contents include these articles:

"Orchestrating Sacred Space: Beyond the 'Social Construction' of Nature" by Adrian Ivakhiv

"Imagining Gaia: Perspectives and Prospects on Gaia, Science and Religion" by Grant H. Potts

"Smokey and Sacred: Nature Religion, Civil Religion, and American Paganism" by Chas S. Clifton

"'Gaia told me to do it': Resistance and the Idea of Nature within Contemporary British Eco-paganism" by Andy Letcher

"Reclaiming the Ecoerotic: Celebrating the Body and the Earth" by Sylvie Shaw

"Covenanting Nature: aquacide and the Transformation of Knowledge" by Laura Donaldson.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

The invention of 'Goth' style?

From David Clay Large's Where Ghosts Walked: Munich's Road to the Third Reich, a cultural and political history of the city from the late 1800s through the rise of the Nazi party, comes this description of an avant-garde cabaret, The Eleven Executioners:

"After the opening song came an appearance by the resident femme fatale, Marya Delvard, an extremely thin woman with flaming red hair, black-rimmed eyes, and luminescent skin. Dressed in a long black gown and bathed in violet light, she looked as though she had just crawled out of a coffin. Hardly moving or changing her pitch, she moaned songs about dawning sexuality, suicide, and murder. 'She was frightfully pale,' recalled the writer Hans Carossa. 'One thought involuntarily of sin, vampirically parasitical cruelty, and death . . . She sang everything with languid monotony which she only occasionally interrupted with a wild outcry of greedy passion.'"

The year was 1901.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Drat that Mary Magdalene

More attempted damage control from the Christian right to the fuss raised by The Da Vinci Code, about which I blogged earlier on Dec. 9, 2003.

Here, AP writer Richard N. Ostling writes a fairly snide review of Karen L. King's The Gospel of Mary Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle.

(Credit to Religion News Blog, which has the dirt on all kinds of religious groups, so long as they are not "Christian apologists [or] countercult professionals.")
Now it's candles

As one of those people who always liked candles, I hate to admit this, but it seems to be true. Burning parafin-based candles indoors might be bad for you. But how many candles are too many?

From the linked risk-analysis paper: "These results support the conclusion that the public health risks posed by benzene in candle emissions (soot) do not exceed the threshold (1 excess cancer in 100,000 individuals) for California Proposition 65 listing and labeling. "

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Interest in Vodou Surges

As long as I am on the topic of Vodou/Voodoo/Voudoun, this New York Times story ties a "surging revival of interest" in the religion to 9/11, oddly enough. (Free registration required to read the article.) "The appeal of voodoo now cuts across racial and national lines. Some specialists say that in the United States, and particularly in New Orleans, many of those who now gravitate toward it are white."

"Something very real is happening," said Martha Ward, a professor of anthropology at the University of New Orleans who wrote one of the forthcoming books about [famed early 19th-century Voodoo priestess Marie] Laveau. "Americans today are hungry for spiritual fulfillment, and voodoo offers a direct experience with the sacred that appeals to more and more people."

Practical Polytheism

I am currently reading Devoted to You: Honoring Deity in Wiccan Practice. The title is a bit of a misnomer, as one contributor, Maureen Reddington-Wilde, could be more properly described as a Greek Reconstructionist. Since I was recently blogging about Aphrodite, I'm starting with Reddington-Wilde's chapter on Her.

Editor Judy Harrow contributes a section on Gaia; other constributors are Alexei Kondratiev (Brigit) and Geoffrey W. Miller (Anubis).

Harrow writes, "We are four Pagan henotheists, each of whom has a long-standing devotion to the Deity he or she has written about here. We are devoted. We respect and admire one another's devotion. . . . Since modern Paganism is a high-choice relgion, we have a wide range of choices in our basic approach to religion itself. So another thing that I would hope is that this book will show you something of the range of options available to you and help you find your own comfortable place within that range."

Vodou souls

"The Quick and the Dead: The Souls of Man in Vodou Thought" is an essay by the Berkeley, California, musicologist Richard Hodges, who writes, "In nineteenth century France, the Nancy school of hypnotism discovered a way of producing states of abandonment of the body by the personality as profound as in traditional ritual possession. This only became a minor chapter in the history of Western medical psychology. There is a deep-seated prejudice in the West against loss of control. There is such a high evaluation of the individual and his personality that it is very difficult to conceive of the possibility for the ego to relax its grip and to accept to be displaced by something higher and finer. Such relaxation is one of the fundamental states of the human psyche. The absence in the West of cultural institutions for the socialization and development of this state is one of the signs of the loss of genuine psycho-spiritual knowledge in modern times. "

Thursday, January 01, 2004

Nightmare Alley

Last November, Jim Lewis, the editor of Syzygy, the journal of new religious movements, tipped me off about William Lindsay Gresham's 1946 crime novel Nightmare Alley. He suggested that this book about "carny" life--with its attitude that most people are marks, rubes, sheep and that all religions are tricks and con jobs, held the blueprint for Anton LaVey's creation of the Church of Satan twenty years later.

The relationship might be analogous to the way that the Church of All Worlds was based on Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land -- terminology, polyamory, and all (except for Martians).

Gresham's books are apparently "collectible," and the cheapest way that I found to buy the book, after cruising Advanced Book Exchange, was to order a discounted copy of Crime Novels, an anthology of noir-ish ficition, from Powell's Books online. Nightmare Alley is included, along with The Postman Always Rings Twice and other classics.

Now for the truly strange part: he and his second wife, the poet Joy Davidman, became strongly interested in the writing of C.S. Lewis in the 1940s. They broke up in 1954; she went to England and later married C.S. Lewis herself.

L. Ron Hubbard comes into the picture too, but I think that's enough weirdness for now.

(That makes two posts in a row using the word "noir." What's going on? I don't plan these things.)