Marriage Announcement: rlogan and Lira

Congratulations to rlogan and Lira, who were married on April 7th in a small pool-side ceremony in the Philippines. They exchanged Visayan vows as well as some of their own (Visaya includes Mindanao, Cebu, and other Southern Philippine Islands). Interestingly, Lira’s dad did double duty, performing the wedding as well as being father of the bride.

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Book Review: Barry Hughart’s “Bridge of Birds” – by Karalora

bridgeI am an avid and lifelong fan of fantasy, but rarely indulge this preference with anything new. This is because most fantasy novels seem very much alike to me: young hero who is secretly of royal blood, wise old wizard mentor, cardboard love interest, epic quest to find legendary artifact and/or save the world, repeat ad nauseam until the author gets tired of churning out 800-plus page volumes. So instead of seeking out new fantasy books to feed my inner escapist, I tend to re-read the ones I have grown to love. Ones like Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart.

What keeps this book so dear to my heart even after repeated readings is the fact that it is so different from what I think of as mainstream or “standard” fantasy. It is an exception to the all-too common rules, hinted at above, that seem to govern fantasy writing. For starters, the setting, rather than being an unimaginative Tolkien-inspired faux-Europe pastiche, is explicitly and unequivocally ancient China…as it would have been if the Taoist myths and folk legends were true. The writing style, correspondingly, has a delicious Oriental flavor, with long alliterations, poetic hyperbole, and casual references to Chinese culture scattered throughout the narrative.

There are two main characters, peasant hero Lu Yu, nicknamed Number Ten Ox, and Master Li Kao, a sort of professional wise man whom Ox hires to solve the mystery of a sudden calamitous illness plaguing the children of his village. Now, the concept of a wise-man-for-hire is delightful enough, but Master Li takes it a few steps further into the realm of the unexpected by being not a serene and virtuous monk-like sage, but a drunkard ex-crook who is friends with gangsters and tells Ox things like “I’m afraid we’re going to have to murder someone, and I just hope we can find someone who deserves it.”

Number Ten Ox, for his part, is not your typical fantasy peasant hero. For one thing, he really is a simple peasant, and not the secret heir to a kingdom or a born sorcerer or anything like that. Circumstances, not destiny, drive him to undertake his adventure, and the most unusual ability he possesses is above-average physical strength (and, of course, great courage and purity of heart). Like many a fantasy hero, he is an orphan, but he lives with caring relatives, and rather than questing to broaden his horizons and escape the drudgery of his existence, he is at heart contented homebody whose only goal is curing the village children. He does broaden his horizons in the process, of course, but his experiences serve to enrich his cozy life rather than overshadow it.

The plot is certainly epic—Ox and Master Li ultimately find themselves assaying to topple the reign of a bloodthirsty, supernaturally empowered duke—but instead of rambling on for up to a thousand pages like so many fantasy authors, Hughart manages to tell his story in about three hundred. As a result, there are no scenes that the reader feels comfortable skipping; every chapter is packed with exciting action. Or heart-rending drama. Or witty humor. Or lushly described scene-setting. Or all four, with a little romance on the side. No single mood dominates the story, a feature that makes Bridge of Birds, for all its myth and whimsy, more true-to-life than any gritty detective thriller, and certainly more uplifting.

Speaking of detective stories, Bridge is as much mystery as fantasy, with the protagonists traveling far and wide across China in search of the pieces of the increasingly complex puzzle. They cross paths with a wide assortment of secondary characters, from brilliant scholars to depraved thugs to scheming noblewomen, and thanks to Hughart’s economical storytelling, not one of these encounters turns out to be superfluous to their quest. In fact, nothing in the whole book turns out to be superfluous to their quest; from the most casual expository anecdote to the most profound personal revelation on the part of the characters, it all ties together into an extremely satisfying whole by the end.

I cannot recommend this book enough to fantasy fans who are looking for a change of pace. Try it!

Nutwatch – by Queen of Swords

Hi everyone, and welcome to the most ephebophilic website you’re ever going to see. The man responsible for it preys on what’s literally a captive audience – incarcerated teenagers, and I’m sure that after meeting him, they’d be begging for solitary. Best of all, he writes in a style so hyper and juvenile that I thought he would lapse into textspeak at any moment. Chris Hanson of Dateline NBC deals with sleazy men who want sex out of teenagers, and I’m focusing on an equally sleazy man who wants teenagers out of sex, because this month’s Nutwatch pwns

Truth 4 Teens

The whole purpose of this website is to convert as many teenagers as possible – quality isn’t half as important as quantity. That’s why Steven Blankenship writes happily of how

FOURTEEN YOUTHS TRUSTED CHRIST FOR SALVATION TONIGHT!!

Maybe he has a good friend who’s also a pastor, a Gimli to his Legolas, and they compete to see who can score the higher count each time they wade into battle.

Blankenship : Twelve! Thirteen!
Other pastor : Hey, I just got a guy who did drugs and had sex and believed in evolution.
Blankenship : Still only counts as one! Fourteen!

Some were weeping on the altar!

But since they were face-down, the tablecloth muffled their cries dried their tears, and they soon grew used to the sensation of being filled by the Holy Spirit. Repeatedly.

We had a very good spirit in the service tonight. The Holy Ghost began moving early in the service!

Did the Holy Ghost usually show up late, unshaven and reeking of spirits?

With tattoos covering his arms, 16 year old Michael kneeled at the old fashion altar and trusted Christ to save him tonight! So sad to see how the Devil gets young men to dedicate their spirit, soul and body to him.

So the tattoo artist’s needle = the bloodstained claw of the Prince of Darkness. Still, maybe Michael will get some tips on tasteful dressing at the old fashion altar.

After the service we ate at Cracker Barrel. The Lord opened the door to speak to the Cashier about her eternal soul.

“Excuse me, but is that your eternal soul outside, the one with the ‘$5000 OBO’ sign on it? Would fifty cents be okay?”

Here is a dear lady who said she was “scared” to get saved! Her reasoning? With Muslims and other wicked people in America, “I would be afraid to say I’m a Christian. You don’t know who you would set off.”

I imagine that each time someone wearing a headscarf or a yarmulke or an ankh gives this nitwit a tip, she washes the poison off the coins before she bites them.

You know, even lost people realize the coming persecution! Be ye ready.

Be ye steady. Be ye go!

While the boys were looking at me, I asked does any one wish to be saved today? James SHOT HIS HAND UP QUICK!

The veins in his arms were too scarred from overuse.

Calvin said, “I can’t pray!” His face was so much in pain. It was obvious that the devils of Hell are tormenting him. A young man who wants to be saved but unable to pray!

“Here I sit, broken-hearted, tried to pray but couldn’t get started.
All the devils had their fun, gave me wedgies one by one.
The pastor stood there doing jack, guess he didn’t have the sack
To make the devils go away, so that I could kneel and pray.”

But don’t worry, folks. The young man’s predicament didn’t last long.

CALVIN WAS SAVED TONIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!

HE BURNED HOBBES! GLORY! Sorry, even in a satire I can’t bring myself to abuse the exclamation mark. When he isn’t collecting the spiritual scalps of teenagers, Brother Blankenship writes articles on interesting and controversial topics, and the first of those is about

Evolution

Let’s take a little time and examine this “theory” of Evolution; basically, it is the belief that the human species evolved from a line of various creatures over millions of years until finally, the modern state of man occurred.

Yep. That was the entire purpose of evolution, to produce a biped which could drive a car, talk on a cell phone and eat a donut at the same time. Its grand design finally fulfilled, evolution looked at its work, saw that it was good and rested on the seventh day, though modern man had to mow the lawn.

And one day those scientists, teachers and everyone else will have to stand before their Creator and be judged for putting their faith in the great lie of evolution.

For there is no god but Young Earth Creationism, and Hovind is its prophet. And even with a ten-year sentence in federal prison, he’s still going to come back before Jesus does, unless he actually learns some science in there and commits honorable seppuku in shame at what he’s done with his life. But speaking of messed-up lives, one aim of this website is to instill a Victorian horror of sex into teenagers. That’s what happens when abstinence-only folks live in mortal fear of scientists and teachers; they never realize that they’re working against millions of years of evolution and losing. They do put up an entertaining effort, though, and here’s Brother Blankenship’s take on

Sex

What a wonderful God we serve! A God who will not leave anything to human reasoning.

God must get pretty tired of telling this man what clothes to wear each morning.

God has instituted the wonderful pleasure of sex to populate the earth.

Poor God, he never realized that people could obtain this wonderful pleasure whether they were a-populatin’ or just a-copulatin’.

THE FIRST MARRIAGE WAS CONDUCTED BY GOD HIMSELF!

After their marriage, which was conducted by God Himself, Adam and Eve got evicted and one of their kids killed the other. They and/or their descendants also resorted to incest in order to populate the earth.

God is not known to have conducted any further marriages.

When unmarried couples begin to touch, IT WILL LEAD TO FORNICATION!

When married couples begin to touch, it leads to either domestic violence or CPR. Both of which are preferable to sex, of course.

Holding hands; putting your arm around each other; hugging; etc. All touching should be avoided… When God loving Teens begin to touch, the flesh begins to ignite its lustful flames.

Man, these teenagers must be pretty scared from all their “God loving”, because when I was that age, I could reach the “lustful flames” stage from just thinking – no touch necessary.

Wait, I said “thinking”, didn’t I?

When you fornicate, you are creating a freak of nature (spiritual freak of nature)…

What is a spiritual freak of nature? Is it the same as a natural freak of spirit?

Spiritually, you are adding members to your body. In other words, you are creating a spiritual freak of nature that has many added on members to the body.

Ohhh, I think I get it now. Each act of sex, for Brother Blankenship, gets an invisible intangible member attached to you like a spiritual dog tag. Without this handy-dandy means of identification, God might find it difficult to tell the difference between those who fornicated and those who didn’t, and he might end up destroying everyone in a fit of frustration.

When you fornicate, you will never forget about it. You live with the memory of it till the day you die!

I agree. That’s why I made sure it was with someone I liked and found very attractive, and it was warm and sweet and sensual and… excuse me, I’ll be in my bunk.

Who wants to marry a girl who has had spiritual members added unto her? Or a girl marry a boy who has many members added unto him that was never intended?

Now I have a mental image of a teenager with spiritual members sticking out all over him like a Hindu god’s arms.

This world says, “If two people love each other, it doesn’t matter what gender you are, what race you happen to be, or anything else. Love is the deciding factor.”

I was really hoping Brother Blankenship would expand on his or God’s views on interracial marriage. For instance, what would he consider suitable marriages for “mixed” people – should they only be permitted to marry others like themselves, or since they’re evidently sterile mules, is marriage a moot point? But Brother Blankenship doesn’t elaborate on this point, so alas, he got me interested and failed to deliver. The former is probably a rare occurrence for him with a woman, but the latter must happen only too often.

Two men may be legally married in some States, but God Almighty never recognizes it! God has ordained marriage to be One male and One Female. Period.

So when Jacob married Rachel, God punished him. Oh, wait. Still, I suppose one guy with four women after him, all trying desperately to get pregnant, was punished enough without God having to take a hand.

God destroyed entire populations for the sickening sin of sodomy.

Don’t you mean the thickening thin of thodomy, girlfriend?

God’s Word clearly speaks volumes to the ears of His children. When we obey His words, He dumps over the “honey buckets” into our soul.

God’s version of golden showers? I have no idea what Brother Blankenship actually means by this bizarre statement, and the bible clearly contradicts him on this point – Job obeyed God, after all, and what God dumped on him was more of a divine chamberpot than a honey bucket. But that’s a common theme in this website. For all the author’s protests and pretensions of religion, he seems to be curiously ignorant of his own holy book, and no section of his website highlights this better than the one about

Harry Potter

CHOOSE YOU THIS DAY… HARRY POTTER OR THE HOLY POTTER?

Why can’t I have both?

Pontius Pilate : Crucio!
Jesus : …
Jesus’s friends : Mobilicorpus!
God : Wingardium Leviosa! Accio Jesus!

J.K. Rowling has a degree in Mythology from Exeter and was a treacher.

She traught evolution! Also, she’s a single mother, which means she must have had S-E-X. Truly, this is a sign of the End Times.

The Potter books promote a disturbing view of death. An animal is sacrificed in order to drink its blood.

“And he brought the second ram, the ram of consecration. Then Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram, and Moses killed it. And he took some of its blood and put it on the tip of Aaron’s right ear, on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot.” (Leviticus 8:22-23)

However, here the blood was clearly for cosmetic purposes rather than gustatory ones, so that makes all the difference.

Voldemort exhorts his followers to kill.

“Thus says Voldemort the Lord of hosts : ‘I will punish what Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him on the way when he came up from Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” (1 Samuel 15: 2-3)

Since diatribes against Harry Potter are fairly common among the more deluded fundamentalists, Brother Blankenship needed some way to distinguish his corner of the Web from the rest, and he found it in this cute little picture.

nutwatch1

This is a picture of a real brain scan.

I wish they had scanned the little guy’s brain too. He might have an even tinier head inside his own, like the cranial version of those Russian dolls.

This is an Emergency Room in NC, where a man came in complaining of Voices in His Head!

Because every emergency room is equipped with an MRI that is immediately used on anyone who hears voices. Too bad it isn’t used on anyone who capitalizes Nouns as if doing a Translation from the German.

After viewing his brain scan… The Doctor on Duty said that this was common with people who had “voices in their heads” He had seen this several times.

What, the man with the homunculus in his head was discharged, just like that? No head transplant? No demotherapy? What a letdown. Plus, if the man heard voices (as in, the plural) in his head, why did only one little demon head show up in the scan? Was that demon a ventriloquist?

In conclusion, this is one of the sillier websites I’ve had the pleasure to browse, though I’m less delighted at the idea of teenagers being forced to listen to diatribes against books, science, sex and everything else that makes life worth living. On the plus side, no one who actually reads this site is likely to do anything but laugh heartily. Fundamentalist literature isn’t usually produced for or by people with any in-depth knowledge of the bible, but anyone writing seriously about spiritual members or the Holy Potter is also unfamiliar with the concept of unintentional self-parody… and probably goes to a proctologist for a brain scan.

Till next time, everyone!

Queen of Swords

Book Review: Paul Broks’ “Into the Silent Land” – by Don Alhambra

broksThis month I was going to review a book on sleep, but when I tried to find it to write the review it had vanished under one of the piles of stuff that tend to accumulate in my room. So instead, I bring you a book I bought and read some time ago, and chanced upon as I was looking for the other one. It’s called Into the Silent Land, by neurologist Paul Broks. Sleep can wait for next month.

The premise of the book is simple: the brain is a vastly mysterious object, and when it goes wrong it very much affects our idea of what it means to be human. While techniques such as neuroimaging have enabled us to see more clearly than ever what is going on inside our heads, the brain is a closed book to most of us – a black box, to use a behaviourist metaphor, where stimuli go in and responses come out. But this simplistic explanation does not take into account the fact that in between stimulus and response there are many internal brain states as sensory information is processed and transformed into action by complex and intricate machinery. When that machinery stops working properly, it is the job of the neurologist to tease out the problems and, where possible, recommend treatment.

Broks is such a doctor, and in this book he not only explains what it is like when brains go wrong but also tackles some of the deeper philosophical issues that a non-dualistic worldview brings up. In an opening chapter that gets straight to the meat of the problems of brain injury, he describes two patients with damage to the frontal areas of their brains: Stuart and Michael. Stuart has damage to his left frontal lobe, and his neurological problems are characterised by lack of drive, the inability to get started on tasks and his emotional coldness. Michael has damage to his right frontal lobe, and his problems are quite the reverse: an inability to inhibit himself, especially emotionally, and he is also unable to stop himself saying inappropriate things in social situations.

All this is all very clinically interesting, but Broks brings the tales of Michael and Stuart and the other patients he describes to life. He writes in the way I love to read: in a flowing, often whimsical manner that is interrupted occasionally by tangents that take the train of thought somewhere else, and perhaps return it to the main thread with a different cargo. Not to mention his habit of jotting down conversations he has with people in his head. The book is alternately poetic, clinical, full of human warmth, fascinating and terrifying. To think that so much of what we are capable of as humans is down to the squishy mess in our skulls. It boggles the mind to think about it, even for me, and I think about the brain every day.

There are other stories of interest too. If you ever wanted to know what happened to Einstein’s brain, Broks tells all in his characteristic style. If you were to wake up one morning and suddenly be unable to remember the last 23 years of your life, what would that do to you as a person? And what would happen if Star Trek-style teleporters became a reality? If you stepped into a box, were annihilated instantaneously, and the information about the configuration of atoms and molecules in your body was beamed elsewhere to be reconstructed? What happens to you? More worryingly, what happens if something goes wrong, and you’re not annihilated after all, but your information is still reconstructed at the other end…? In an entertaining fictional thought experiment, Broks explores this last question quite carefully.

I highly recommend this book for all those who are interested in the inner workings of the brain. As I mention above, Broks not only explores neuropsychology and what happens when the brain goes wrong, but also delves deep into the philosophy of mind and even touches on some religious issues concerning where modern neuroscience is taking us – issues of souls and consciousness that I am sure Nexus readers will be aware of. I doubt that many will be as perturbed as theists are likely to be when they stop focusing on evolution and really understand how little scope there is for the soul in the machinery of the brain, but having these issues laid out explicitly still gives one pause.

All in all an excellent book, and I very much urge you to let Paul Broks take you into the silent land.

Don Alhambra is a Research Fellow in Neuroscience at the University of Birmingham, UK. He can be found mainly at the Heathen Hangout or the Heathen Hub.

Watercolours – by judanne

Cotton

Cotton

Dawn

Dawn

Greensboro Woman

Greensboro Woman

Hay Wagon

Hay Wagon

Plants Crack Stone

Plants Crack Stone

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne's Lace