Friday, 24 July 2015

How Not To Spam

If you live in the UK, you can buy my book 'Here Be Dragons' (and look inside it) here and if you're in the States, you can get it here.  Oh, and look inside it of course.

I have now succeeded in getting past the baggage which came with writing and publishing it.  My task now is in the area of publicity, and being able to distinguish between being too pushy and not being pushy enough.

I know people don't like spam, so I assiduously avoid being spammy.  The trouble is, however, that I don't understand why people hate spam and what they perceive to be it, and the two are connected.  When I see spam, my first reaction is not annoyance but puzzlement.  I wonder why people bother to send it because it seems futile.  I suspect it corresponds to r/K selection theory, although apparently that's outdated.

If you're an oyster, not only do you get free gender reassignment as part of your normal life span and a load of vegans arguing about whether it's okay to murder you, but also you get to produce literal clouds of gametes, either sperm or eggs.  Up to a hundred million eggs a year in fact, so it looks like the approach taken to reproduction by female oysters is more like that taken to reproduction by male humans than female ones, so the gender reassignment involved is not really very impressive at all.  When these eggs get fertilised and start to develop into oysters, they will mostly die or be eaten by fish and the like but a few will survive.  The advantage to the parent oyster is that they can get away with what we would think of as negligent parenting without it stopping them from having grandchildren, so the whole hideous business, from our perspective, continues.  This is known as an "r strategy".

As a human being, if my approach was to produce a hundred million babies and abandon them to the vagaries of fate so that most of them died but I had a few grandchildren would possibly get me arrested unless I happened to be a sperm donor or a dictator or something.  Also, if I happen to be the proud possessor of ovaries, the situation gets even more complicated because an unprecedently vast number of surrogate mothers would become necessary, or possibly a massive baby bottling plant or something, and - well, we're not meant to do that are we?  One reason why school is such a strange idea of course, but I've been into that before:

(Can't believe I said "are a fungi" on that video!)

Instead of all that, humans currently have what is known as a "K strategy" with reproduction.  We have a few children and spend loads of time and energy parenting them. We have that in common with other species, but it seems to be more common among mammals and birds than most other animals.  Even fish aren't keen on it.  It's interesting to speculate on what a K strategy with marketing would be, but I won't do that here.

This brings me back to spam.  Spam is an r strategy game.  Spammers emulate oysters by producing huge clouds of emails, almost all of which are ignored.  There is presumably the very occasional response, which keeps them going.  Since like almost everyone else, I don't respond to spam, I don't understand why anyone does and consequently the main thing I feel when I see spam is bafflement at two categories of people:  spammers and people who respond to spam.  I sometimes wonder if they're the same people because presumably they must think it works, so maybe it works on them.  Maybe there's a group of people who spend their time both sending and responding happily to spam and they're all one little cosy community.

One thing spam does not do to me, though, is irritate me.  Nor do I understand why anyone would find it irritating.  Even so, I am aware that many people are annoyed by it, and I presume the reason for that is that it feels to them like they're being used and not respected as human beings, which they're apparently not accustomed to feeling, possibly because they are mercifully distanced from the sheer indifference and uncaring nature of the world we live in.  It's probably true that spam is disrespectful, but disrespect is perfectly normal and not confined to email.

Since I don't know when that kind of behaviour annoys people, I try not to do it, in the same way as in the past I have tried not to stalk people.  When I have something I wish to push on people, I am stuck with the problem of not wanting to be pushy, in other words to use people, or to be perceived as such.  I also have a problem with splitting - I tend to try to simplify things by going to extremes.  I hope transitioning will help with this and I'm aware that I do it more when I'm stressed.

The result of all this is that I don't promote myself at all most of the time, and the fact that I happen to have a new book out might not be widely noticed.  This is not so much an r or K strategy of reproduction as a strategy for extinction.

Having said all this, apparently the whole idea of r/K selection theory has been replaced by the something called a life history paradigm, about which I know very little but am about to learn more.

So anyway, please buy my book!  Is that pushy?  I have no idea.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Hypergraphia

I think I've been here before.  If so, here I am again.

One of the big, influential things which has happened in my life is when a close family friend began to acquire and become fixated on what I am fond of referring to as "unpopular beliefs".  Most people would say she was suffering from paranoia.  For some reason unknown to me, we're not supposed to call it paranoia any more, but "delusional disorder", which to my ears sounds annoyingly non-specific.

Our friend was clearly suffering terribly.  She was constantly stressed, constantly afraid and there was also a tendency for her to return to a state where she would start believing things which most people would be sceptical of when she discontinued her medication.  When this happened, each time she was convinced it was true this time even though she was then convinced that previously she had been mistaken and that it was part of a mental illness.

We tried to get help for her but found that every group of people you might expect to be able to turn to considered it to be someone else's problem, and when we went to somebody else, they considered it to be somebody else's again, and so forth.

It was awful for her, totally unbearable, and it's horrible to think of how she must have lived in constant fear and stress.  I also feel a bit disloyal setting this down here because it was her own private hell, but circumstances mean I need to mention this situation and I think the people who knew about the situation will know who I'm talking about and will be thinking of her sympathetically as they read this.  I mean no disrespect to anyone.

Due to her being passed around between various professionals, all of whom claimed it was not their remit to help, it fell to us and her other friends to try to help given limited resources and experience (and a lot of prayer for some of us).  One of the things which emerged as helpful, and I can't remember how we stumbled upon this, was that none of us should say or do anything likely to confirm the beliefs which were frightening her.  This was difficult but I hope we managed it.  It would only make it worse for someone who was so afraid to have the people around her to agree with her, and the beliefs would become more entrenched.

Someone who is paranoid, if our friend is at all typical, has painted themselves into a mental corner through jumping to conclusions, but is crucially not hugely different from anyone else in the way they think.  What seems to have happened, at least with her, is that she became more attached to a feeling of certainty than one of happiness, and very attached, like the rest of us, to her views of how her life situation  was.  In fact, if she stopped believing what she believed, it would be very threatening because she would not then be taking steps to avoid the impending disaster and danger to herself and everyone she loved.  Given that situation, well, why the heck would you stop believing all those things?  If it's going to get you killed if you stop believing them, well, you're just going to carry on.

You may have noticed that I've now written over five hundred words without making my main point, and that these five hundred-odd words could easily have been winnowed down to a hundred or so without losing anything except verbosity.  These aren't words which go together well.  More of that in a bit, probably a very long bit.

That attachment is the problem.  Very often in mental illness, and I am open to various interpretations of abnormal behaviour but let's just call it that for the sake of much needed brevity, the problem is the "overvalued idea".  In other words, one could be said to have become addicted to an idea.  Doing something to confirm a paranoid's belief is like handing an alcoholic a glass of vodka.  It's similar in some ways to an addiction.

Some addiction is of course self-medication, but it would be better to remove the cause of the problem which has led the person to self-medicate in that way than simply to give them a syringe, ultimately.  That said, it is very hard to be cruel enough to be kind and they will often draw you into their world and do anything to get their fix.  My only substance abuse is caffeine though, so I don't know this from the inside so much as some other people might.  I don't generally feel driven to make my life more bearable with recreational substances because I'm not particularly keen on it being bearable in the first place.

To get back to the fact that I'm going on and on, this is what I do and it's a problem.  Some people feel the need to check whether they've turned the gas off or locked the door over and over again, and that happens with me and some of my patients - I feel the need to reassure myself they haven't got a brain tumour or something when all they have is a tension headache, but usually I manage to restrain myself from intruding too much.  Obsession of that nature isn't that big a problem for me.

No, my problem is hypergraphia.  I write too much and can't stop myself from writing, or rather, I find it difficult to stop myself from writing, in the same way as some people find it difficult to stop picking their noses, pulling hairs out or biting their nails.  It's a sign of a temporal lobe lesion along with some other things I do, the most important of which went away when I did the thing which is the subject of the other blog, which in a way is unfortunate.

A lot of hypergraphia looks something like this:

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Mine has occasionally looked exactly like that, but I was only about seventeen at the time and nowadays it looks more like coherent sentences.  I say, it "looks like" coherent sentences.  In fact it isn't at all.  Like many other people nowadays, I'm afflicted by the ability to say nothing very much in thousands of words.

NaNoWriMo is an annual project where you write a 50 000 word first draft of a novella in a month.  It would be really nice if it was hard for me to do this, but what would be hard for me to do would be NaNONoWriMo - to reduce my output by fifty thousand words in a month.  There unfortunately doesn't seem to be anything out there like that.  Not a problem for many people, but for me it's a major one.

It may be very unclear to people why I hate the fact that I write a lot.  The reason would be clearer to you when you realise that I frequently find it hard to scrape together enough money to buy a tin of baked beans to feed our son because instead of trying to find a job I've been writing all day, or not bothering to listen to Sarada because I can't stop myself from incessant scribbling about Sumerian cuneiform or some such irrelevant nonsense.

This is why when 'Here Be Dragons' arrived in the post a couple of days ago I reacted with such despair.  This is not a triumph.  It's three hundred and fifty pages of stuff which represents my failure to engage with real life, provide for my family or prevent us all from being chucked out on the streets.  For those of you who have congratulated me on its completion, I don't want to appear ungrateful, but I could be working in a pizza place or stacking shelves by now, i.e. earning enough money to prevent starvation and homelessness for the three of us, if I'd been able to tear myself free of this compulsion for long enough to do something worthwhile with my time instead.  What you don't seem to appreciate is that you are feeding this, and that's one reason I can't feed my family.

It was very difficult to  sit there with my psychotic friend and know what to say which wouldn't confirm her beliefs and I probably didn't manage all the time, but some of the time I hope I did manage to minimise the damage I was doing to her mental well-being.  Yes, it was hard, a lot of the time it didn't feel like I was helping to do that, and it's difficult to stand firm in this kind of situation, just as it would be to resist the pleadings, and even more so the rationalisations, of an addict, but it was what I owed her.

Therefore, whereas you may think you would be helping me earn an honest crust by buying the book, you would in fact be doing the opposite.  We're really close to disaster now, and we need people to stop providing the smack or we're going to be in deep doodoo.  I understand you're well-intentioned, but for God's sake please just stop.  It isn't helping anyone.  Do not buy my book.  It's a manifestation of serious mental illness and that mustn't be fed.

OK?

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Here Be Dragons Actually Here

I feel like I've gone back in time:


Right, this is an unboxing video.  I'll just stick the blurb in from the vid:


Have you ever wondered how dragons fly and breathe fire, what life is like in Atlantis or who designed aliens? Answers to all these questions and many more can be found in this book, which seeks to help you learn real-world science through mythical animals and urban legends. Readers are invited to add their own illustrations to the ones already present.

Order it here.

The idea behind it is considerably different from how it started out.  The initial aim was to produce a book with home edded children about mythical beasts which enabled us all to learn through the process, in a multi-disciplinary way.  For instance, as well as the angles of mythology and science there's history, geography and drawing, and the process of publishing a book and making it look good.

It didn't quite go according to plan because it was unusual for children to turn up to the sessions on a regular basis and so I ended up doing almost all of it on my own, which was fine because of my control-freakery.  It also meant that since my time as a home edding parent was coming to an end, I was able to channel my energy into something else which was worthwhile.

However, I was also concerned at motivation and bad energy, so I set myself a deadline of 30th November 2012, after which I would no longer be adding to it and I would just shelve the project.  I also wanted people to illustrate and proofread it, in return for which they would receive free copies of the book.  I couldn't afford to pay anyone of course, since that would involve the assumption that the book would be bought.  Anyway, this didn't happen for some reason, so instead of including lots of illustrations I decided merely to include a few and a lot of places where people could add their own.  Since it was a home ed-oriented book aimed at children, this seemed to make sense to me.

It came unstuck when I missed the deadline.  I decided that in order to motivate myself to finish other projects, I would have to make missing it devastating, so I resolved not to publish when that happened.  It was like the nuclear option which would persuade me to get on with things.

A couple of years passed, during which the catastrophe ensued.  Then, a few weeks ago I realised my NaNoWriMo freebie book publishing thing for my novella 'Unspeakable' was about to run out, so I joined Create Space to submit it there, only to find that the code they offered for a free book was invalid, so that remains unpublished.  By then, I'd chugged through the IRS thing - they expect you to pay tax in the US on books you publish there, which had previously put me off - so I thought I might as well submit it too.

So here it is:


...and this is me "reading" it:


Four years is a long time in home ed due to childhood being so short, so I'm not sure who's still involved who was at the time, but if they are, they might be gratified to know it came to fruition in the end, even if nobody ends up buying it.  It was worthwhile doing it in itself, but then what isn't?

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Here Be Dragons Nearly Here

Remember this?

(except without the free sample bit).

A few years ago, I used to do science workshops with children of whatever age.  These were generally popular and successful although also hampered by lack of resources and poor attendance.  The time came when our own children reached adulthood and I stopped doing them because of that, and also because I found them very discouraging.  However, there is a quandary for me in home education, thus:  how do you participate in home ed without becoming some kind of teacher when your own children are not participating?  There is a danger that as your children leave that age group, you will cease to empathise as well and not be able to "keep your hand in", as it were.  On the other hand, one does seem to acquire useful skills and experience as one raises children which are then lost to the home ed community when one leaves it.

In order to address this, I decided to produce a collaborative book with the children involved in the late lamented Big Science project.  This kind of got off the ground with the design of two dragons, but after that failed to proceed, as is often the case with my projects.  I decided to turn the germ of the idea into a book called 'Here Be Dragons'.  The idea behind this was to write the kind of book I enjoyed reading as a child, and from which I learnt a lot (shades of Ross Geller here:  "playing AND learning", but okay, if it's just entertainment that's also fine because childhood needs to be enjoyed for its own sake too).

I spent eight months on this book.  At first I expected collaboration but found that people were unwilling to do so, probably because they had lives to live, so I ended up writing it myself with input from others.  I also wanted it proofread by others, so I sent them copies and it didn't happen, so it's more or less stayed as a first draft.  Most importantly, I wanted it illustrated.  Each of these activities was to be rewarded by a share in the profits.  None of them was forthcoming.  I then got concerned that I would miss the deadline and that the bad energy created by missing the deadline would affect me in other ways unless I imposed swingeing consequences for missing that deadline.  Then I missed the deadline.  I stuck what I had on Scribd and did something else I forget - possibly put it on Smashwords - and abandoned the whole thing.  Someone also suggested that I pay the illustrators, and I would of course have been entirely willing to do so but that would only have been possible after someone had actually bought the book.

That was someone else.

This person was not the one who made the rule that the book wouldn't be published, so I'm going to cheat and pretend that rule wasn't made by me at all, but by the previous occupant of this body, as it were, even though neither of us was dualist.

Therefore, I am now revising 'Here Be Dragons' with a view to publication.  The illustrations problem has been addressed by exhorting the reader to illustrate the book, I have added a glossary and a preface, today I will be adding a table of contents and I will then be providing a cover.  I will then submit the book to Create Space.

Then it will be ignored.  Nobody will buy it, read it or even notice it's there.  I will have wasted my time and the discouragement I feel as a result of the silence will probably provoke a bout of depression.  I can't really avoid this depression, just acknowledge that it's lying there in wait for me, probably some time next week.

This is the thing about us, Liz and me.  We put enormous amounts of effort into what we do, and incidentally what we do includes looking for paid work with an employer, and we're not even fussy about that work - shelf-stacking or street sweeping is fine - and nothing, nothing at all ever yields financial rewards, and we don't know why.  Nonetheless, I'm convinced there's something I must be doing wrong, and I can't see what it is.  I also find that the suggestions people make are entirely useless and reflect projections of their own issues.

So I dunno, I wrote a book, it's rubbish, and it's going to be on Amazon.  Whatever.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

"Will, Will, Harry, Stee..."

Three months since I last posted here, but this time there is something worth saying again finally I think, so here I am.

Now, I am in no way a monarchist.  I think the monarchy is a pointless anachronism and probably has no place in any society, and even if it had, that it had long outlived its usefulness by the seventeenth century when Cromwell did his thing.  Having said that, I also think the monarchy is the least of our troubles and that arguing for a republic is a bit like complaining that the handle of the axe which is about to chop off your head is green rather than red, so I don't feel strongly about it and I think there are more important things to worry about.

Even so, I find the monarchy interesting for a number of reasons, and also believe it to be a structure to hang history on in the same way as the periodic table is a structure to hang happy tales of underachievers with lung cancer on (or maybe even chemistry) and the tree of life to be something useful to enthuse oneself about the variety of life on.  On the whole, monarchs are winners, so there is a problem with looking at history through queens and kings, and I also see history as a process which goes on without individuals having much to do with it, so I wouldn't want to personalise history too much, but doing that can give you a way into it.  Unlike most other subjects I've mentioned on here, I'm very much an outsider to history.  It's not like science, herbalism or linguistics to me, so I may very well be pretty naive with respect to it.  Well, I just am - what more can I say on that matter?

Anyway, there's a famous mnemonic rhyme for the kings and queens of England from William the Conqueror onward.  It has various versions, one of which goes like this:

Willie, Willie, Harry, Stee,
Harry, Dick, John, Harry three;
One, two, three Neds, Richard two
Harrys four, five, six... then who?
Edwards four, five, Dick the bad,
Harrys twain VII VIII and Ned the Lad;
Mary, Bessie, James the Vain,
Charlie, Charlie, James again...
William and Mary, Anna Gloria,
Four Georges I II III IV, William and Victoria;
Edward seven next, and then
George the fifth in 1910;
Ned the eighth soon abdicated
Then George the sixth was coronated;
After which Elizabeth
And that's the end until her death.

I've always felt a little uneasy that we can't know how this ends, but that's just how time is, isn't it?  As it happens, someone on YouTube has addressed this issue thus:

We just don't know what the future holds, do we?

Monarchs are interesting for several reasons.  One of them is that they are people who represent their time.  They're clearly not representative of people at their time in that they are far from average, but the attitudes they have and embody are often in some way typical.  Moreover, precisely because there's nothing special about them, they constitute interesting character studies because they're thrown into the limelight and respond in all sorts of ways to the pressures their times and places put upon them.  Also, they are by no means any more free than their subjects.  They have to marry out of expediency, for example, and if they try to exercise their supposed freedom in certain ways, bad stuff happens to them (think of Edward II for example).

Also, what's going on around them is important.  A country in which even a royal can die of smallpox in this part of the world is clearly very different from the one we're living in now, and many of the events currently taking place in other parts of the planet are remarkably reminiscent of what went on here a few centuries ago, so either it's being hushed up better here than it used to be or we have no leg to stand on when we look down at such shenanigans.

Therefore I make no apology for being interested in the monarchy, and to this end I hereby submit the picture I've just cobbled together which is the real raison d'etre of this entry.  It's derived from the artwork above and will of course be removed on request, but here it is:


Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Getting From There To Here

Here we are!  Finally posting another entry on the "main" blog.  Incidentally, in case Healing Tree is wondering, I am currently overthinking the melothesia entry, which is why it hasn't emerged.

One of the weird things about my life is that I went from being completely against home education to being almost completely in favour of it in the space of about three years around the late '80s and early '90s, and I cannot clearly recollect the process, although I will try to work out what happened and how.

Early in my school life, when I was about six, in 1974, I can remember getting excited about a project we were doing called "My Book", which was supposed to be "all about you".  I don't know how I drew the conclusion, but I imagined it would be about anatomy and physiology, because at the time I understood my identity to be that of a human animal, and therefore a physical organism whose primary attributes were biological.  I was very disappointed to find it was about a much more obvious sense of "aboutness", which I don't recall but was much more boring to me.  Another incident was about bees, and again I expected much more detail than was actually presented.  In both cases, I was being presented with information which I already knew.  The academic side of school really bored me, and I saw it as a distraction from study.  I was rather bookish, but I did also do practical things outside of school, particularly biological stuff about protozoa, wildlife and the like, particularly focussed on aquatic freshwater animals.  In the areas I found interesting, I didn't learn anything new in the classroom in academic terms until I was doing A-levels, by which time I had lost interest and switched off academically.  It should be pointed out that in practical terms I did pick up a few things and in areas where I had little interest such as French and History I did learn something because I hadn't explored them myself, but the motivation was not there.  You can perhaps see the seeds of a future home edder in that lot.

Nonetheless I was heavily in favour of school.  I felt that it needed to be tinkered with a bit but that the principles were sound, and in about 1978 the idea seemed to be that they were moving towards being increasingly child-centred and using school as a place for educational resources accessed autonomously, so that was the kind of school I expected to be in favour of as an adult.  I even considered a career as a teacher quite seriously.  Even now, if schools were like that, I would probably think they were okay, if a bit superfluous.

However, the main reason I was in favour of school was that I was communist.  I felt that bringing children up in nuclear families led to children getting screwed up by their environment, and in fact not only did I approve of schools, but I disapproved of families.  I thought children should be taken away from their parents at birth and raised in state children's homes in order to avoid being indoctrinated by their parents.

My politics shifted from red to green in the mid-'80s,  When Cathy Cantwell posted me the Green Party manifesto in '86, I read it avidly from cover to cover and agreed with almost all of it.  The only things I disagreed with in the entire book were the discouragement of trade, because I felt redistribution of wealth from richer to poorer countries could not be achieved in any other way, and their support of home education, because I felt it would make it harder to break into the vicious circle of oppression which was destroying the planet.  At the time, I still accepted the idea that humans were powerful enough to wipe out all life on Earth, so the stakes were very high indeed.  Nonetheless I joined the Greens and got involved, eventually, because disagreeing with two policies, one of which I didn't expect to affect me directly due to me being convinced I was sterile due to being gender dysphoric and not wanting my body to "work" in that way.  Therefore to me at the time, children were just "out there" somewhere in an abstract kind of way, and not something I wanted to concern myself with.  I was also a little inclined towards voluntary human extinction, which is the idea that you don't have any children so that the planet does fine after the species has gracefully and peacefully vanished off its face.

While all this was going on in my personal political journey, government education policy was changing.  In fact, I approved of GCSEs because of their emphasis on coursework rather than just exams, but not particularly of the National Curriculum because it didn't seem locally determined enough.  I should point out that at the time I thought the UK and England should be broken up into regional states such as the Midlands, the North and so on, so a National Curriculum didn't make sense to me.

My political allegiances changed again in the late '80s as I became anarchist, and this is where things become a little confused.  I didn't think much about education of children because I had become quite cynical and thought the species would die out soon anyway.  There didn't seem to be much of a future and I certainly had no prospect of having children.  With 1991 and the first Gulf War, I entered utter despair because I couldn't believe the naivete of the general public.  It seemed that attitudes hadn't moved on since the First World War, and to have children would be to inflict existence upon them in a doomed world.  It would be cruel for them even to be born under those conditions.  Also, at the time I was blissfully single and not even considering sex, which in any case wouldn't yield any offspring.  It was only gradually that I came to realise that in fact I very probably had already conceived, but that's another story interesting here only as an illustration of how deeply I was in denial about the possibility of reproducing.

When I was twenty-four, in '92, I was working producing lesson plans on environmental issues based on the National Curriculum, and I noticed something quite startling.  Up until that point, I had assumed that the National Curriculum had been kind of "vamped up" and had more advanced content at appropriate ages than CSEs and GCEs, for example, had had.  However, I was most disappointed to find that in fact the opposite seemed to be the case.  It was just the same old story of stuff I'd known since I was seven.  It also gradually emerged that there were oversimplifications which were effectively lies, and I don't think it's okay to lie to children anyway, but it also makes learning inefficient by destroying trust and meaning you have to unlearn and relearn repeatedly.

I can't pinpoint it completely, but I suspect having a look at the National Curriculum was a factor in my about-face on home ed.  I realised that whereas parents might not be perfect (and at this point I wasn't thinking in terms of autonomy), they could hardly do a worse job than the government.  Also, once I realised having a child was something which was probably just going to happen regardless of my satisfaction or otherwise with the means whereby she would be brought into the world, I became very focussed on developments in schooling and, when asked at the time why we were considering home educating, I would answer that everything the government did to change education policy was another reason for doing so.

There are various ways of changing the world.  You cannot, of course, use your child as a vehicle for doing so, because it's her life.  However, if you have children, you are unusually strongly focussed on their needs and know them better than anyone else.  Moreover, children are where you can break into the circle of unhappiness down the generations.  The little bundle of joy God (or the Atheon) has lent you needs to become a bigger bundle of joy and to thrive from whatever life will chuck at it.  In order to do that, I needed to be a responsible parent and not hand her over to strangers, no matter how well-trained and well-intentioned they might be.  It was my fault she existed, so I needed to do what I could to maximise her chances of flourishing.  Consequently, we chose to present both children with the option of going to school or not, and they never chose to opt in.

It was really initially the revelation that the government wasn't really interested in educating children at all that did it.  Nevertheless, the freedom of children to attend school if they so choose is important.

I don't know if that explains why I completely changed my mind, but I do that sometimes, very suddenly.  I still don't know fully what happened, but it did.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Herbs And Planets

This is the kind of post which risks annoying people who think of themselves as sceptics, so before I launch into this, I want to say in defence of the concept that just as nowadays we refer to things as being, for instance, in the Rosaceae, which reminds us that they're likely to contain vitamin C and tannins, or the Ranunculaceae, thereby reminding us that they're probably quite toxic, so back in the day, before Linnæus, people needed another method to help them remember significant features of herbs.  In fact, over the next few days I plan to cover quite a few of the most contentious aspects of herbalism.  I also want to point out that just because this is "out there", it doesn't mean everyone uses it.  It also has cybernetic significance, and as usual I suspect that word is going to make people think of this kind of thing:



(both copyright 1981, BBC - will be removed on request).

Incidentally, that last graphic is less than 2K in size and could easily have been displayed on a BBC Model A or a ZX Spectrum, so the fact it's copyright 1981 is quite appropriate.

Anyway, herbs and planets.  Astrologically, the traditional planets are:  Cynthia (the "Moon"), Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.  Many astrologers nowadays include other planets and there are also the "hypothetical planets" such as Cupido, but leaving those aside, in the seventeenth century when the herbalist Culpeper was around the general idea seems to have been that there were eight like today, just a different eight.  Let's get going:



Associated with Cynthia, here labelled "Moon", are those herbs to do with water or which are cold or lunar in shape.  One example is the banana and another the cucumber, but others are weeping willow and many types of seaweed.  The general association is between the tides and the herb itself, although menstruation and pregnancy are not associated with it.  I'll come to that in a bit.

Next is Mercury:


Mercury is so similar to Cynthia that even astronomers are often unable to tell the difference from photographs of craters on either body.  From a distance it's somewhat easier because Mercury lacks the "seas" found on our companion world.  Mercury is associated with the metal because it darts around the Sun very fast, like quicksilver.  Mercury is an airy world in astrological terms and is therefore associated with plants whose aerial parts are finely divided, or contain a lot of negative space, such as dill:

(Yes I know I've used it before).

Mercurial herbs are also associated with communication and therefore the voice and throat.  Their airiness is also expressed in their fine odours, another example being Valerian:

Valerian also indicates a signatury thing:  herbs of Mercury have an affinity with the nervous system because it too is finely divided and subtle.  The communication thing also links Mercury with Gemini, but that's another blog post.

Next, Venus:


This is of course not what Venus looks like at all.  Earth and Venus are the only major planets with feminine names.  Just to explain this image, this is what Venus would look like if she had water and had been more like Earth, and in fact at some point early in her history, this is what Venus might have looked like.  Venus as she stands is completely covered in cloud and this leads to one of the associations with her herbs.  Only the superficial parts of Venus are visible and the rest is hidden.  This is seen as giving the planet an affinity with herbs which have a superficial action, on the skin for example.  The association with the female reproductive system - "venereal herbs" - is another thing. This is where menstruation and pregnancy come in, and it means that gooseberries and raspberries are venereal herbs.  So is rose, partly due to its association with the skin - it prevents scar tissue - and partly because it has a prominent non-phallic reproductive part, namely its flower.

The next "planet" is the Sun:


Solar herbs include herbs which look like the Sun, so for example:


"Hypericum-perforatum-250605-1" by Michael H. Lemmer - Own work * http://www.naturkamera.de. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hypericum-perforatum-250605-1.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Hypericum-perforatum-250605-1.jpg

Hypericum perforatum, incidentally, is intensely "signatury" to me.  It has so many associations it's not true.  The Sun doesn't literally have rays in the sense that a sunflower or a marigold has, They tend to be strikingly orange or yellow, and to be bitter or aromatic.  They also have direct associations with the Sun, such as the tendency the above plant has to photosensitise the skin, the tendency of the one above that to follow the Sun and the usefulness of marigold for alleviating sunburn (hint).


Mars, the bringer of war, is the "male" planet and as such is associated with herbs which vigorously defend themselves in various ways such as nettles, thistles and mustard.  These plants have weapons.  Some of them, such as arum lilies:

"Arum maculatum 0 700". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Arum_maculatum_0_700.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Arum_maculatum_0_700.jpg

have a frankly phallic appearance, so the idea behind it can be that they look like the male member in the same way as a rose might be considered to look like the female one.

Jupiter is of course the largest planet, and the Solar System has been described as consisting of the Sun and Jupiter with assorted debris:

It is of course bloody massive, like the biggest human internal organ, the liver, which basically does everything except for the few functions performed by other more specialised organs.  The function of the liver in the human body is often to change things which are problematic if they hang around to ones which aren't as problematic.  This frequently involves absorbing toxins and converting them to a form which is less toxic and/or can be booted out of the body.  The planet Jupiter does exactly the same thing for Earth, and here's a photo of him doing it:


Those "bruises" you can see near the pole are a comet hitting Jupiter, which is a big target with a lot of gravitational pull, so it's a useful planet to have around.  It also had the role of pulling rocks, dust and gas around in the early Solar System so that the planets formed roughly where they are, so were it not for Jupiter, Earth wouldn't exist and there might not be any planets capable of supporting "life as we know it".

It's not surprising, therefore, that jovial herbs govern the liver.  An example is dandelion:

"DandelionFlower" by Greg Hume - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DandelionFlower.jpg#mediaviewer/File:DandelionFlower.jpg

Many liver herbs are also yellow, but since the same applies to solar herbs this can be a bit confusing.

Finally, there's Saturn:


Saturn is of course distinguished by its rings and, in terms of early modern astronomy, its position on the edge of the Solar System.  Both of these things can be considered limits.  Saturn can be personified as Old Father Time:

"Lord's weathervane". Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lord%27s_weathervane.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Lord%27s_weathervane.jpg


Father Time's scythe is of course very like the Grim Reaper's and this is also true of saturnine herbs:  they tend to kill people.  An example of a saturnine herb is the deadly nightshade, Atropa belladonna:

Atropa is named after Atropos, one of the three Fates, the one who cuts the thread of life.  In other words, the Greek version of the Grim Reaper.

Saturn also governs herbs which have prominent rings, which obviously includes many trees (which are not botanically speaking herbs).

That's all a fairly sketchy portrait of herbs and the traditional solar planets.  The next entry will be about the star signs, Melothesic Man and iatromathematics.