Tuesday, June 28, 2005


It's Jean-Jacques Rousseau's birthday today. He'd be 293. Since studying Rousseau I've often wished I'd been born a day earlier to share that birthday. As it is, it's my birthday tomorrow, and I turn 21. It's something of an anti-climax, since I've made no plans except to travel down to Oxford and London to see who I can find bumming around, but I've never much liked birthdays anyway, and it'll be good to leave behind youth and Birmingham at the same time, even if only to return to both a few days later.

The day itself aside, 21 feels like much more of a milestone than 18, something which I didn't expect. There's certainly cause enough to reflect as well as to celebrate. At 18 I was just looking forward to university, without much thought to the future. Now, that future's much less certain, and it's good to think about things. With a drink or two, of course.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Vegetarianism and religion 

Adam is arguing over at The Weblog that vegetarianism is like a religion. Seeing eating rules as being central to the material side of religion, he argues that vegetarianism qualifies on this front, since its adherents will frequently claim that they cannot eat something, rather than merely expressing a strong preference against it.

Well, there's a non-ethical point here. The 'can't' involved for many people - when they use 'can't', since most vegetarians I know do tend to say that they 'won't' rather than 'can't' eat meat - is a hint that eating meat and fish will actually make them physically ill. Going long enough without these foods tends to change the metabolism so that we can no longer cope with them. I know that, having never eaten more than a mouthful or two of meat, doing so makes me quite sick. That has nothing to do with religion; though I imagine those who have avoided certain foods for religious reasons might face the same problems.

More important, though, in arguing that vegetarianism very poorly resembles 'religion', is the fact that the reasoning behind the vegetarian 'can't' is very different from the religious 'can't'. Within a religious context those who concentrate on dietary restrictions do seem less 'liberated'. Focussing on Romans 14, as he does: a limited diet - perhaps of the sort which deems certain foods unclean - is something to be accommodated in the name of peace, but not something to be encouraged, since it could be harmful to the peace and community which we try to seek with one another. As he suggests, it puts out the host if a guest will not eat what is on the table, and damaging the peace we hold with one another is more important than observing some trivial point of doctrine.

Religious dietary restrictions seem to involve maintaining a superiority over the unenlightened in material matters, while true freedom should involve liberation exactly from such worldviews, in which worldly, fleeting distinction is sought rather than the cultivation of the soul (something which can at least partly be achieved through true community with one another).

Nonreligious vegetarianism, by contrast, isn't about this kind of material distinction from other humans. Indeed, if it's religious at all, it taps into the communalist, egalitarian vein in Christian thinking, in that it discourages us from thinking that we might have property in other creatures such that we can simply use them for our own purposes. Given human tendencies to seek superiority and advantage wherever we can, allowing this sense of superiority to have free rein in one realm can hardly work to reduce the comparisons we seek to draw between each other in others. Vegetarianism encourages humility with regard to the world we have before us.

By seeking to understand the suffering of even the 'least' of animals, we can better understand each other's sufferings; by eating only what even the poorest could afford, we reduce distinctions between rich and poor nations and communities; by treating the world's resources as something to be properly managed for future generations, rather than wasted in the way that meat-production does now, we will at the same time be better able to feed ourselves in the present (someone in the comments thread to Adam's post called it "Moby's argument"). Through vegetarianism in general we can come to develop a certain respect for the world and for one another.

The ethical vegetarian is not religious, in the sense of being merely restrictive. If vegetarianism resembles a religion at all, then it does so much more broadly than this. The Christian who argues that the vegetarian is 'weak' (Paul) for being less flexible in accepting hospitality is thinking too narrowly. Maintaining a diet is never as important as the relationships we have with one another, as Paul argues in Romans. Yet equally, the manners of hospitality and are less important than maintaining a longer-term community with one another and with the world around us, something with which vegetarianism is eminently concerned. Most vegetarians can strike the balance - faced with no alternative, we'd eat meat to live, but frankly a dinner party isn't a situation where there's no alternative, and it's lazy to pretend that it is.


Like Alan Johnson over at Norm's, I love many things associated with America and could go on at length about them.

But, in response to his post, I must point out: Joni Mitchell's Canadian (even if that album does sound very Californian...)

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The New Hanky Code 

Well, some said it was bound to happen... The Pink Paper has reported that the proliferation of coloured charity wristbands has led to some treating them as a new hanky code.

Teenagers have been using the wristbands to suggest their sexual preferences, and a majority of those wearing the wristbands (of those surveyed in Wales and the West Country) claimed that the colour is more important to them than the charity the wristband represents. Around 60 percent of 16-19 year olds said that the bands' colours signalled sexual preferences and relationship availability (which, it must be said, is a bit tamer than the old code).

Here's the colours, for those who want to size people up:

Red: Available for sex
White: Attached
Purple/Turquoise: Gay
Pink: Straight female
Blue: Straight male
Pink and blue together: Bisexual
Yellow: Lost virginity
Black: Recently separated.

Also, in trying to find an internet source for this story, I came across something much more bizarre: The Christian Hanky Code. So be careful - looking at the codes it seems that those rent boys might actually just be pro-lifers...

Thursday, June 23, 2005


Well, this may be a particular expensive and/or lazy solution to the problem of taking notes from books which refuse to stay open, but I still think it's an excellent idea. Still, might be a bit weird if it's the only thing I ask for for my 21st birthday...

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Nice is different than good 

I've been wondering for a while now whether the construction 'different than' is simply what's correct in American usage, as opposed to our 'different from'. Can anyone help on this?

When I was listening to Sondheim's "Into The Woods" many years ago, I thought that the use of 'different than' was an indication of the naivety of the two characters who used it at the stage in the musical - Little Red Ridinghood and Jack (of Beanstalk fame). But more recently, reading a lot of American academic literature, I've noticed it everywhere. The natural British thing to do would be to assume that this is an American thing, and that the Americans are wrong, but I'm willing to reserve judgement on that just to clarify the issue.

(And yes, I am a complete geek).

Which Theologian Are You? 

You scored as Jürgen Moltmann. The problem of evil is central to your thought, and only a crucified God can show that God is not indifferent to human suffering. Christian discipleship means identifying with suffering but also anticipating the new creation of all things that God will bring about.

Which theologian are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

I also came pretty high on Martin Luther, Paul Tillich and Charles Finney. Which makes me part reformist, part Pelagian, part existentialist. The quiz doesn't give an Aquinas option, which is a pity, and perhaps less surprisingly, not much room for Marxist orthodoxy.

Music meme 

To complement the book one, Norm's passed this along to me:

1. The total volume of music on my pc: About 1000 songs. A combination of favourites I want as many copies of as possible, and songs too embarrassing to have in a physical collection.

2. Songs playing right now: Franz Ferdinand - "Michael" (upping my quota of controversial gay songs. Though it's only really controversial amongst their self-appointed moral majority teeny bopper fans).

3. Last album I bought: The Tears - "Here Come The Tears". (Very good album, worth owning, only a tenner - go on, go on, go on...)

4. Five songs I've been listening to a lot: The Decemberists - "Legionnaire's Lament" ("I am on reprieve, lacking my joie de vivre"), Lucinda Williams - "Greenville" (with lovely harmonies by Emmylou Harris; I'm going to see LW soon in London" ("in nobody's eyes but mine" - a debt to Morrissey there, I think), Johnny Cash - "Daddy Sang Bass" (trying to sing along to all three pitches in this, with a female vocal range, is quite amusing), The Tears - "Autograph" (Bernard Butler unashamedly rips off Johnny Marr - great stuff).

5. Passing this along to: No one, for once, but here's an open invitation to everyone to take it up.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

A plastic panacea for the problems of our populace 

[Via The Current Outlook] This animation is easily the funniest thing to come from the No2ID lobby so far. Gilbert & Sullivan crossed with cartoon dogs and political satire. Excellent.

Don't you know that you're Toksvig? 

I never thought of Sandi Toksvig as someone who inspires great devotion, but there's a fansite which proves me wrong. It even allows you to make your own Toks-wigs, and frame your photos with them...

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Book meme 

John B's tagged me with this one:

1) Total number of books I've owned: At the moment I have about 550, but I've just chucked out nearly 200 books I owned as a kid. That was made necessary thanks to a childhood spent trawling round bookshops and telling my parents that buying fifty books for £1 was a good thing, even if they were all rubbish (they were all rubbish).

2) The last book I bought: Milton's political writings, for a fiver from Birmingham university students guild. I'm collecting all the books in this series - Cambridge texts in the history of political thought - but pretty slowly. My 21st birthday should bring in a few more, though.

3) The last book I read: I haven't finished a book in ages, as I've not got much concentration, so it was probably volume one of Marx's Capital back in March/April. But I've got about five on the go at the moment - Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks, Augustine's Confessions, Fo's Can't Pay, Won't Pay!, volume one of Goethe's Faust and Hardt & Negri's Multitude. Whether I'll finish any of these is another matter, though Dario Fo is very fun indeed.

4) Five books that mean a lot to me (in no particular order): A book of Primo Levi's collected poetry (in translation). I bought it in a very bad patch in my teens, and it's kept me going ever since. The Outsiders by SE Hinton - I reread it about twenty times between the ages of 9 and 13, and wished I was a flick knife-owning boy in a black leather jacket too (I've since owned both, but not exactly managed the image). Arthur Miller's Death of A Salesman, which was the only text I ever enjoyed studying in English lessons, and I still think it's a very good, very moving play. Capital itself, because reading it through properly, and thinking about it from a particular perspective, has altered my outlook on life in many ways recently (Francis Wheen has a nice, short piece about it in Norm's blog). And CS Lewis - all of the Narnia stories, but in particular The Last Battle, which is another one that's meant a lot to me since I was very young.

5) Tag five people and have them fill this out on their blogs: Michael, Chris B, Norm, Kat and Chris K, assuming they've not done it already.

Monday, June 06, 2005


I've been having problems with enetation for ages, so I've moved to Blogger comments, but I'm having trouble getting the template right. In the absence of any suggestions, I'll leave it like this, though I know it looks odd.

Cooking disasters 

A post at Crooked Timber about the dangers of cooking with empty Teflon pans reminds me of when I was 16, and I forgot to add any water to the rice I was cooking, leaving it dry heating for 15 minutes. The results of this were something very closely resembling tar and a completely unusable saucepan. The fumes coming from that were probably deadly for birds too...


[Via Kat]. I've been reduced to talking with computers. However, this programme is a far cry from the days of text-based adventures which understood nothing except 'east', 'west', 'north', 'south' and 'inventory'. Here's the conversation I had, which, while admittedly nonsensical in parts, is frighteningly intelligent in others:

>Intellibuddy: Hi, I'm Intellibuddy! Nice to meet you.
>You: It's good to meet you too.
>Intellibuddy: Tell me about its good qualities.
>You: how can I? That is an nonsensical imperative.
>Intellibuddy: What is your highest level of education?Thanks for telling me, undefined.
>You: My highest level of education is "some college", as you Americans would say. >Intellibuddy: Your highest level of education is "some college" as you Americans would say?>You: Yes indeed.
>Intellibuddy: How can I help you?
>You: You can't. No one can.
>Intellibuddy: Oh yes I can.It's impossible?
>You: Yes.
>Intellibuddy: It goes without saying.
>You: Then why did you claim you could?
>Intellibuddy: Because my programming determined it.
>You: Why did you say anything?
>Intellibuddy: It was a preprogrammed response completely determined by your statements.
>You: Aren't you upset by this?
>Intellibuddy: No I am completely calm.
>You: I'm glad.
>Intellibuddy: That makes me happy too.
>You: Have you found Jesus?
>Intellibuddy: No I am still searching for Jesus.
>You: Might he be in your sock drawer?
>Intellibuddy: Perhaps I'm just expressing my own concern about it.
>You: Perhaps.
>Intellibuddy: Why the uncertain tone?
>You: I was mocking you.
>Intellibuddy: Where were you mocking you you?
>You: You know you make no sense, right?
>Intellibuddy: Actually I was just free associating. I'll try to make more sense now.. And I know it.

Strangely engrossing.

Friday, June 03, 2005

...and they know the offside rule too 

I'd have been watching football more often if I'd known I'd get scenes of lesbian violence. As it is, I'm stucking listening to England wipe the floor with Bangladesh in cricket, and there's very little sex or violence in that...

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