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Nulla est magna scientia absque mixtura dementiae

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Over the past few weeks, I have seen several online acquaintances-- witty, intelligent, talented, funny people-- voice opinions on the current Gaza conflict which, coming from them, have startled me. Among these, the biggest fallacy is the one which characterises any criticism of the Israeli military action as anti-Semitism.

To speak clearly, I condemn anti-Semitism; I believe all reasonable people should condemn examples of religious and ethnic hatred wherever they find it. I believe that among these forms of hatred, anti-Semitism deserves special consideration due to the atrocities of the Holocaust, committed within living memory. I believe the State of Israel has a right to exist and to keep its own peace. However, I disagree with many of the policies of the current coalition government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, and I don't believe that it is anti-Semitic to voice this disagreement.

Here is why:Collapse )
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Through gilded trellises
Edith Sitwell, Façade

Through gilded trellises
Of the heat, Dolores,
Inez, Manuccia,
Isabel, Lucia,
Mock Time that flies.
"Lovely bird, will you stay and sing,
Flirting your sheened wing,-
Peck with your beak, and cling
To our balconies?"
They flirt their fans, flaunting
"O silence enchanting
As music!" Then slanting
Their eyes,
Like gilded or emerald grapes,
They make mantillas, capes,
Hiding their simian shapes.
Each lady, "Our spadille
Is done."..."Dance the quadrille
from Hell's towers to Seville;
Their siesta," Dolores
Said. Through gilded trellises
Of the heat, spangles
Pelt down through the tangles
Of bell flowers; each dangles
Her castanets, shutters
Fall while the heat mutters,
With sounds like a mandoline
Or tinkled tambourine...
Time dies!
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Whispers of Immortality
TS Eliot, 1920

WEBSTER was much possessed by death
And saw the skull beneath the skin;
And breastless creatures under ground
Leaned backward with a lipless grin.

Daffodil bulbs instead of balls
Stared from the sockets of the eyes!
He knew that thought clings round dead limbs
Tightening its lusts and luxuries.

Donne, I suppose, was such another
Who found no substitute for sense;
To seize and clutch and penetrate,
Expert beyond experience,

He knew the anguish of the marrow
The ague of the skeleton;
No contact possible to flesh
Allayed the fever of the bone.
. . . . . . . .
Grishkin is nice: her Russian eye
Is underlined for emphasis;
Uncorseted, her friendly bust
Gives promise of pneumatic bliss.

The couched Brazilian jaguar
Compels the scampering marmoset
With subtle effluence of cat;
Grishkin has a maisonette;

The sleek Brazilian jaguar
Does not in its arboreal gloom
Distil so rank a feline smell
As Grishkin in a drawing-room.

And even the Abstract Entities
Circumambulate her charm;
But our lot crawls between dry ribs
To keep our metaphysics warm.
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"This morning came home my fine Camlett cloak, with gold buttons, and a silk suit, which cost me much money, and I pray God to make me able to pay for it."

Don't we all know the feeling, Pepys.
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For the huge full moon tonight, I thought I would collect all the moon-similes from the first bit of Oscar Wilde's Salomé.


Look at the moon. How strange the moon seems! She is like a woman rising from a tomb. She is like a dead woman. One might fancy she was looking for dead things.

She has a strange look. She is like a little princess who wears a yellow veil, and whose feet are of silver. She is like a princess who has little white doves for feet. One might fancy she was dancing.


How good to see the moon! She is like a little piece of money, a little silver flower. She is cold and chaste. I am sure she is a virgin. She has the beauty of a virgin. Yes, she is a virgin. She has never defiled herself. She has never abandoned herself to men, like the other goddesses.


Oh! How strange the moon looks. Like the hand of a dead woman who is seeking to cover herself with a shroud.

The moon has a strange look! She is like a little princess, whose eyes are eyes of amber. Through the clouds of muslin she is smiling like a little princess.



The moon has a strange look to-night. Has she not a strange look? She is like a mad woman, a mad woman who is seeking everywhere for lovers. She is naked too. She is quite naked. The clouds are seeking to clothe her nakedness, but she will not let them. She reels through the clouds like a drunken woman. ... I am sure she is looking for lovers. . . . Does she not reel like a drunken woman? She is like a mad woman, is she not?


No. The moon is like the moon, that is all.

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A Ballade of Theatricals
G. K. Chesterton

Though all the critics' canons grow--
Far seedier than the actors' own--
Although the cottage-door's too low--
Although the fairy's twenty stone--
Although, just like the telephone,
She comes by wire and not by wings,
Though all the mechanism's known--
Believe me, there are real things.

Yes, real people--even so--
Even in a theatre, truth is known,
Though the agnostic will not know,
And though the gnostic will not own,
There is a thing called skin and bone,
And many a man that struts and sings
Has been as stony-broke as stone . . .
Believe me, there are real things.

There is an hour when all men go;
An hour when man is all alone.
When idle minstrels in a row
Went down with all the bugles blown--
When brass and hymn and drum went down,
Down in death's throat with thunderings--
Ah, though the unreal things have grown,
Believe me, there are real things.


Prince, though your hair is not your own
And half your face held on by strings,
And if you sat, you'd smash your throne--
--Believe me, there are real things.
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Today I would like to talk about my friend Liana, an artist who goes by the name Playful Eye. I've known her since 2006, when a random conversation at 4AM turned into a lasting friendship.

You may remember her work from various things I've done, like this poster:

Poster photo WIPflute.jpg
More beautiful images beneath the cutCollapse )
The thing about Liana is: She is currently using her resources of wit, spirit and bravery to fight off a particularly invasive cancer (esthesioneuroblastoma). In the USA, this is also a potentially financially ruinous situation, even with insurance. Recently, she posted this:

"My friends, I need your help.
I have been hospitalized with growing tumors all throughout my body. I cannot walk without assistance. My left arm is completely useless. I am being overwhelmed with too many medical bills and an insurance that is not moving quickly enough to settle my finances, and I come to you with most humility to ask for whatever monetary contribution you can give."

There's a donation website up at http://www.gofundme.com/helpliana . If you can spare a beer token or two, then please, please do go and give whatever you can. As well as being a wonderful artist, Liana is truly one of the most loveable people you could ever hope to meet, and I wish her well with all my heart.

More beauty resides over at her Flickr page.
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My good friend, author and singer simonsatori, has posted some intriguing thoughts on atheism, which has given rise to some thoughts on my part.

You should go read his post, first of all, which ends thus:

If god doesn’t exist [...] then I will not just ‘… go and enjoy my life’. I will suddenly live in a meaningless universe. Not only will there be no hope or chance of any higher power guiding or interacting with us but I will have the sure knowledge that there never was and never will be and the infinite universe becomes a smaller and finite one. This is not my definition of enjoyment.

I agree with many of Simon's fundamental points, including that Richard Dawkins is a bit of an arse and that smug evangelical atheists are just as annoying as smug evangelical anything else.

Here's where I differ, though: a universe devoid of deities would not, to me, be meaningless. It would still contain wonders aplenty, and it would still beckon us to search industriously for any theories or systems underlying it all. It would still be expanding, challenging us to understand that. It would still contain the light and radio waves emanating from distant stars, quasars, pulsars and all their relations. It would still contain billions of other planets and their satellites, of which (even within our own solar system) we have sent probes to the surfaces of only two (plus two moons and two asteroids.) It would still contain whales, elephants, great apes and other social animals whose ways of communication and interrelation are largely unknown to us. It would still contain rocks whose crystalline structure the human eye finds elegant, and water droplets whose prismatic refraction the human brain finds beautiful. It would still contain us and our insanely complex biology, about which a hell of a lot still remains to be discovered. It would still contain the silky black cat with white feet currently attempting interspecies communication by arranging herself on my lap and purring. It would still contain the human affection I feel towards the aforementioned black cat, as well as the urges which would prompt other humans to kick her, or kill and eat her. And my desire to punch them in the face.

In short, a definitely-godless universe would still contain all the things previously thought to be evidence for the hand of an omniscient creator, only now they would be evidence that the universe is an amazing, fucking awe-inspiring place. Perhaps, in the absence of gods, we would begin to personify that universe which reveals its secrets so slowly and dangles its veiled areas so tantalisingly before us, daring us to discover it and cheering us on as we do. Within a generation or two, humans might not even miss the concept of God-- or might have redefined it along the foregoing lines.
Further thoughts belowCollapse )
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There are many more urgent things I should be doing right now than writing about how much I love Saga. But Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples have reached in and grabbed my cerebellum in one hand and my heart in the other and twisted until telling the Universe of my fierce passion for Saga is all I can do right now.

First things first: Saga is not safe for work, children, or those easily offended by nudity, sexual content, gore, foul language, and so on. Saga has all these things in abundance (and the nudity is fairly evenly spread across genders and species.)

There are very few comics I buy in single issues; usually, no matter how great the story, I'm happy to wait for the collections to come out. Saga is different. This series has given me such a burning, visceral desire to know what happens next that I may as well cable-tie myself to the rack in my local comics emporium till the next one comes out.

The heart of the premise is simple: Alana and Marko, members of two perpetually warring species, have run off to get married, quitting their respective armies. Now both sides have agents in hot pursuit of the two deserters and their newborn daughter.

The creative team do a particularly good job of depicting what happens when two cultures have been at war for a time stretching past living memory. Cynicism and black humour among the forces on the ground are matched by the callous, calculated ruthlessness of those in power. No side is portrayed as 'right'; nobody on either side believes their own propaganda any more. Both armies are composed of draftees who'd rather be anywhere but here.

In addition, we have aliens speaking Esperanto; an assassin with the torso of the Venus de Milo and the abdomen of a giant spider; a rocket ship that's really a tree (or possibly vice versa); a friendly teenage ghost who floats around trailing intestines; and a large hairless cat who can tell when you're lying. In Saga the beautiful and the disgusting lie cheek-by-jowl from the very first panel, and the story they combine to tell is believable and utterly human.

So: if this sounds like something you're up for, then go buy the first collection and await further instructions from Vaughan, Staples, Alana, Marko, The Will, The Stalk, Izabel, Lying Cat and company. Issue 9 is out in two days, so you know where I'll be cable-tied to. Bring scissors, will you?
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Music I am working on right now:

Erda's aria from Das Rheingold
A whole bunch of Handel
Schubert's Winterreise
Mahler's "Du bist der Welt abhanden gekommen"

...and today my singing teacher asked to hear Eboli's Veil Song from Don Carlo. Surprising. I remembered the words, but forgot the cadenza. Eeesh. Thankfully, the top As no longer present a problem.

Confusingly, I'm getting the Veil Song ready to audition for Amneris, because Amneris has no arias. It may well be the only audition at which I ever perform the Veil Song, since Eboli herself is sadly out of my reach (seriously, if I ever tried to sing O Don Fatale I'd end up splattered over the orchestra pit).

There are few things I love better than singing music with long, sustained phrases. To me, it feels like the vocal equivalent of speaking in complete sentences. Also-- I don't know if this is oxygen deprivation talking or what-- but there are times when those phrases make me feel this sort of expansive, wing-spreading euphoria, as if borne aloft on a tide of fire. It's a good feeling, and a salutary reminder of why I do this.

It has been a sad, barren year in terms of finding work, and the most high-profile job I had was in extremely difficult circumstances. I coped, because I am a warrior, and because the alternative was nothing-- but the end product was nowhere near as good as it could have been, had I been cast six weeks from opening night and not two.

It's hard to keep faith during the lean times. I mean, it's easy when one's mood is positive-- those times of "Rrrraaah! I am Elizabeth Oakenpiano, sole heir to the Kingdom Beneath The Stave! Fear my semiquavers!" I have learnt to recognise the negative moods and try not to introspect overmuch during them, or make any permanent decision while feeling lousy.

But in the practice room, things are going well. Whenever an opportunity comes onto the radar, I trust to be able to meet it halfway.
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