my life

Went to Safi’s birthday party, which included a ceidlidh by the marvelous Karl Sandeman, who seems to have cornered the market in this town. Much fun was had.

I had a random encounter with an evangelical Christian, who we shall call R, who it turns out I recognised from my StAG days. Found myself wishing for hyperlinks in conversation, since a lot of it covered ground I’ve been over before. Along with another atheist, who we shall call A, we talked about what basis there was for morality without God. R felt that any atheistic morality would eventually come down to “might makes right”. While that’s true in the sense that if a very large number of people believe something, it’s hard for people who don’t to make any headway (and perhaps even for them to survive), I hope intelligent people see the need for co-operation and that a civilised society is better than Mad Max. In any case, evangelical Christianity also comes down to might making right: it’s just in their case, it’s God who will impose his will by force one day.

Interestingly, R didn’t think that the reason why God doesn’t show himself much was to avoid overwhelming our free will (which is an argument I’ve heard before), but rather that it was up to God to decide how much to reveal of himself, and that he’d revealed enough that non-believers were without excuse. She made reference to the line at the end of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” So it was arrogant of people to insist on more evidence. I think that’s something of a cop-out, myself. Although I can see that it’d make sense if you were already committed to the idea that what God says goes, it isn’t particularly useful for evangelism.

Got onto how well attested the New Testament was from other sources, which really becomes an argument about how much the Gospel writers made up, and whether there are later Christian modifications to people like Josephus. I attempted to short circuit this discussion by saying that nobody is asking me to bet my eternal destiny on whether Julius Caesar existed, but if I’m to choose between EvangelicalChristianGod, Allah, and whoever, I’d better have a bit more evidence because those deities’ followers tell me the stakes are rather high.

We then got on to whether creation provides evidence of a God. It went like this:

R: The Bible says that God is clearly seen in creation, so that unbelievers are without excuse.
Me: aha, but science and God of the gaps.
R: aha, but Just Six Numbers.
A: aha, but Weak Anthropic Principle.
Me: and deism isn’t Christianity, right? All this is just a plausibility argument.

Thence to the fate of us unbelievers. Like nlj21 (see recent discussion), R was clear that A and I are pretty much doomed, as we’ve heard the evangelical Christian gospel and rejected it. A was not worried by this as he thinks it’s all a lie anyway, but was was more interested in R’s opinion on the fate of people who haven’t heard. Somewhat surprisingly, R thought that they might be doomed too. Her reasoning was that God was justified in condemning everyone, and so whoever was saved should thank God for his grace and favour. A seemed somewhat shocked by this. Felt compelled to defend Christianity and point out that not all Christians believe this.

Again, there’s that disconnect between what evangelical Christians think they and others are guilty of and what most people think of as justice. As I’ve said elsewhere, I find it hard to comprehend the mentality that believes itself to be deserving of Hell. It seems a common tactic among evangelical Christians to say things like “I know how sinful I am”, presumably in an attempt to show that they don’t think they’re better than non-Christians. The problem is, the people saying this are generally the nice personable ones (such as the anonymous commenter who’s been talking to me about my essay, on this entry). It makes me want to shake them, sometimes. In non-Christian love, of course.

Then we talked about the evangelical way of reading the Bible, of which I’ve said a lot already, so I won’t rehearse it all here.

Then the party ended and I went home, after delivering a very dense amp back to Homerton. There isn’t a conclusion, other than that people don’t really seem to reach conclusions in arguments like this. Still, they’re quite fun to have, anyhow.

I had an email from a producer for Radio 4 the other day. She’d seen the famous web page and wanted to talk to me as part of some research for a programme the BBC are doing on people who’ve lost their religion. The programme is intended to show talking heads (er, except it’ll be radio, obviously) rather than debate, so it’ll be a sort of montage of people recounting their experiences.

I spoke to her on Monday lunchtime, having gone out into the car park to avoid being overheard (it’s not a secret from my work colleagues, at least two of whom must have googled me before hiring me, but I didn’t think I’d feel comfortable talking about it in an open-plan office). She asked me some questions about the experience, such as whether I’d found it frightening (no: dislocating and odd yes, but not frightening) and whether I was glad I’d done it (ultimately, yes, although has been a hard 3 years in some ways). She seemed particularly struck with the image, described in the essay, of me stuck above a prayer meeting manning the overhead projector, looking down on it all and wondering what I was doing there.

I’m not sure whether they intend to ask me to be in it. Radio 4 woman said she’d let me know within a few months if they did, and before the programme airs (probably about September) if not. I don’t mind either way, but it’d be interesting to be on the radio. I’ll let you know what happens.

<lj-cut text=”New Year Meme”>

1. What did you do in 2004 that you’d never done before?

Resigned from a job. Went to Singapore. Went to the Lake District. Will that do?

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

No and no.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?


4. Did anyone close to you die?


5. What countries did you visit?

Singapore, and that’s it.

6. What would you like to have in 2005 that you lacked in 2004?

Kickass ninja powers (watching a lot of Buffy lately).

7. What date from 2004 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

Ain’t telling.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

I’m not sure it counts as an achievement of mine or dumb luck, but I seem to have found a great new job. Which was nice.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Not staying in touch with friends and family as much as I should have.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Had random chundering bug earlier in the year, but other than that, no.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

The Powerbook is a great new toy.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

S’s, for being generally amazing. I hope I don’t get told off when she reads this.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Lots of people in the big world out there, but among people I know, nobody’s.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Survival essentials: food, shelter, bandwidth, Powerbook.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

I don’t do really, really, really excited. I’m phlegmatic.

16. What song will always remind you of 2004?

Natasha Bedingfield’s Unwritten, which Radio 2 have had on non-stop. It’s a good song, though, so I don’t mind.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?


18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Nothing much.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Worrying about nothing.

20. How will you be spending New Year’s Eve?

At bluap‘s party.

23. What was your favourite TV programme? (spelling Anglicised: take back the language)

My favourite (and only TV) programme was Strictly Come Dancing. I greatly enjoyed both Spaced and Buffy, but those were on DVD.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?


25. What was the best book you read?

I read a lot of books. A History of God and Lapsing stick in my memory.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?

The Freelance Hairdresser, obviously.

27. What did you want and get?

That’d be the job, then.

28. What did you want and not get?

Enough sleep.

29. What was your favorite film of this year?

It’s been a quiet year for films. I quite liked The Incredibles. Ooh, was The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind this year? That was good, too, in a rather different way.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I was 28. I had a big party for my friends.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

The spontaneous conversion of all evangelical Christians to the worship of Lord Kelvin. Kelvin is Lord!

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2004?

M&S chic. I think the long coat is rather good though.

33. What kept you sane?

Teh girlie.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

The Russian one on Strictly Come Dancing was rather nice.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?

I’ve given up on politics. We’re doomed.

36. Who did you miss?

I’ve been practising my aim. I don’t miss.

37. Who was the best new person you met?

My new colleagues are a fine bunch of highly skilled engineers (can I have a raise now, please?)

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2004:

Check shirt pocket for passport before washing shirt.
Love is the Law, Love under Will. Do What Thou Wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year?

“And the sacred moments of silliness are where I find my heaven”

The song lyrics are mostly down to the obscure ones, although I’m surprised no-one’s got 15 yet. Some CDC people would probably know 11 when they hear it, too, but possibly the Spanish thing is a bit much.

In other news, I have an experimental beard:
<lj-cut text=”Cut for picture”>

I think it makes me look like a tramp, but other opinions vary. It’s going by the weekend anyway, as I want to look smart for family outings.

<lj-cut text=”Dancing and that”>

GD on Friday was fun. CDC had been running events all day to raise money for Children in Need. In the evening, we had silly games at General Dancing, including the one where you put hats on people, play a quickstep and tell them to put the hats on other people. You stop the music occasionally and people who still have hats leave the floor. I got knocked out fairly quickly: I claim I was disadvantaged by dancing with Safi, who is too short to plonk hats on people’s heads from above (having the woman do this is clearly the best strategy, as it leaves the man free to steer). Ginger Joanna and I did win one of the “one dance to the tune of another” competitions, but cannot for the life of me remember which dances were involved. There was also a ceidlidh, although that suffered from the caller and band being a bit quiet (possibly down to a dodgy sound system) and assuming that we all knew what things like “set to your partner” meant. Oh, and they played the St Bernard’s Waltz painfully slowly. But it was all for charidee, so I shouldn’t grouse so much. I then decided I wasn’t rigged for hip-hop so ran away when that came on.

Went to a better ceidlidh on Saturday, for Allen’s birthday. It was a one man show by the inestimable Karl Sandeman. A good time was had by all. Thanks to Karl’s dressing up bag for use when dancing The Flying Scotsman, I now have a new user icon (the bigger version is even scarier). My attempts to channel Rab C Nesbitt were described as “actually scary, even though I knew it was you” by one onlooker. So, can yer mammy sew?

You can’t have one of these updates without mentioning religion, so I thought I’d point out an interesting article on Ship of Fools about university CU missions (like CICCU’s Promise this year). There’s a link at the top of the article to a longer PDF version, which is worth a read.

The author talks about most students being apathetic toward religion and student politics as if this were a recent change. I’m not sure I believe this, though. Kate Fox’s Watching the English mentions “The Importance of Not Being Earnest” as a general rule of Englishness: we’re naturally suspicious of anyone who appears too keen on anything. When she talks about religion, she also notes that while many people will say they’re C of E on census forms, few people actually care about religion enough to bother arguing about it. The hothouse environment of the vast Cambridge friends-of-friends web magnifies the importance of religion, since it is full of people who have thought about it and decided one way or the other.

This is probably a good thing, since it means that there is no political capital in placating the fundamentalists in this country. No Bush for us: Tony keeps quiet about his (quite serious, by all accounts) Christian faith. We’re far more interested in class war: witness the way that, as shreena pointed out, the ban on foxhunting got far more press coverage than the introduction of civil partnerships for gay people.

Last night, we went to a fine dinner party, courtesy of bluap. The BBC has put on a new series of Strictly Come Dancing, so we watched that before we ate. Excitingly, a couple of the non-dancer blokes did pretty well: both Roger Black and Aled Jones have some sense of rhythm and moved their hips a bit. Poor Hazel Newbury had Quentin Wilson from Top Gear as a partner, and he really couldn’t dance, so one of the best dancers in Teh World Evar went out in the first round. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in future weeks, as there are some strong contenders this time around.

After that, there was food and conversation and stuff. I must link to Bob the Builder vs Eminem, Tony and Dubya’s lovely duet (and again) and yet more Enimem mash-ups for people who hadn’t seen or heard them. There was lots of discussion on whether LiveJournal was geeky or whether web-logging and suchlike is now a pop culture thing. I think one of my previous entries sums up what I think about that.

I much prefer old, depressive-to-rival-Leonard-Cohen Counting Crows to new, happy Counting Crows.

It’s quieter now all those weddings and barbeques have subsided for a bit. Me and she had a lovely evening with Gareth and Emma the other night. Gareth is the Scourge of Uk.religion.christian, putting nutters to flight with his rapier-like logic. Or something.

I remember mentioning Leonard Richardson’s Guess the Verb interactive fiction game, Munchkin, and opportunitygrrl (whose interests include geology, interplanetary video feeds, Mars, and Christina Aguilera).

Speaking of interactive fiction, I remember I promised terriem some links to IF works recommended by S. terriem also pointed me at Kingdom of Loathing, which I’ve not tried yet. I played through Slouching Towards Bedlam and enjoyed it, although I did have to resort to the help a couple of times. Still, the story’s the thing in this one, not the puzzles so much.

S also recommended 9:05 (which is short and funny in a twisted sort of way), and Spider and Web (which I’ve played a little way, and which is apparently longer). Get them from Home of the Underdogs in their IF section. To play them, you’ll need an interpreter which runs the files. On the Mac, I got Frotz from Fink for the .z5 files and MaxTADs for the TADS ones. This page lists IF interpreters for Windows. There’s a selection of Beginner’s Guides to help with the conventions of the medium.

The TouchGraph LiveJournal Browser is a rather pretty toy. It uses LJ’s machine-readable user information to plot nice graphs of the friend and interest relationships (if you just want to see the friend relationships, nudge the max and min interest popularity settings so they’re close together). Double-click on another user and their friends appear, with the graph shuffling itself around to accommodate them. Load up someone with lots of friends and watch the thing grind to a halt. Super.

It’s written in Java, so it runs on my Mac (and presumably under Linux). If you’re not on Windows, use the command line from the batch file which comes with it, but replace the semi-colons in the class path with colons. It is, as numerous people have said, all good.

Had a gluttonous weekend, dining in a posh restaurant (well, it was a special occasion) and going to PaulB’s barbeque. My stomach has just about recovered now.

The Lakes were lovely. We had excellent weather, and the scenery was beautiful. S and I took many, many photographs. We walked up Cat Bells, went to the Sellafield Visitors Centre (which, disappointingly, does not sell fluorescent T-shirts saying “I’ve been to Sellafield”), went on a boat trip, and also managed to do a bit of reading in the evenings.

At Brantwood, John Ruskin’s former home, we happened across a performance of The Tempest by Illyria, who were excellent: a company of 5 actors, a simple set and a rollicking performance, in the best tradition of traveling players (being a Pratchett geek, I thought of Vitoller’s Men in Wyrd Sisters).

We also happened across a “3 for £10” deal on SF classics in a bookshop, so I bought Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War and Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowiz. I’ve read Canticle, so that’s gone to S. The Forever War‘s grinding tale of the pointlessness of war came to mind when I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 on Sunday night. My favourite was The Left Hand of Darkness, though, for the evocative and touching description of an alien society. Recommended.

Fahrenheit 9/11 was biased and polemical and relied too much on pathos (or do I mean bathos?), but was quite terrifying for all that. I hope lots of Americans are watching it.

Dave and Abbie’s wedding was fun. We started in Kew Gardens for the wedding itself, in beautiful surroundings for a charming ceremony. That was the first and only civil wedding in the crop of five (count ’em) weddings this year, and it lacked nothing on the church ceremonies. We then moved on to Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park, for the wedding breakfast, and, after some quick furniture removal, for an evening of ballroom dancing.

I took some pictures, as did S. Hers are the well composed portraits, mine are the blurry ones with people half out of shot. You can find them all here. Higher resolution ones are available if anyone wants them.

I’ll run out of superlatives if I try to describe it much further. Suffice to say it was a lovely day.