Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween. The bogles and beasties have been at my computer. When I clicked on my favourites, I found everything in disorder. Some links have been lost, (don't worry, I'll get them back) and others were in the wrong place. I've just checked Snopes, and there's no mention of a Halloween virus, so I'm baffled.
Not many guisers tonight. We've bought a couple of bags of sweets, but so far only two parties of three.
I got a Halloween joke from one of them:
Q: Why is today a monster's favourite day?
A: Because it's Chews day!

Monday, October 30, 2006

No halt couture

I think people should lay off muslim women, about whether they wear the hijab, niqab or burka. This is a free country, and people should be allowed to wear what they like - even if it's nothing at all. Wearing cultural apparel gives people a sense of belonging, inclusiveness, and identity. Goths, Sikhs, Muslims, Weegees, Punks - all have their own tribal outfit to distinguish them in a crowd. But you can't tell someone's character just based on the way they dress. Everybody is an individual, and you have to get to know them before you can make judgements.
I'm Scottish. The cultural costume for Scots men is the kilt. Now I don't have a kilt, and I haven't worn one since I was 14. But if society said they didn't want to see Scottish men wearing kilts, I would go out and get one, and wear it, just to show my solidarity with my fellow countrymen, and to annoy those who disapproved.
Disapproval of the niqab is turning it from a symbol of subjugation into a symbol of empowerment for muslim women.
Banning stuff stirs up the rebel in us all.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

It raises my IRE

The Eye Pavilion, where I work, is an outlying part of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. This is abbreviated to RIE for ease of communication. But for some strange reason, our local newspaper persists in calling it ERI - Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. To me, it's like they're trying to create an insider status for themselves, much like a middle-aged parent trying to appear cool to his kids, by using what they believe to be the in-phrase, and getting it horribly wrong. Everyone who works for the Lothian Health Trust says RIE. The bed linen is stamped RIE. What more proof do you need?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Whit a hangover

I was out last night with my friend the Demon Landlord. We went to our usual haunt, the Sheep Heid Inn. This is the oldest pub in the country. It was established in 1360, and has been frequented by many eminent Scots such as Bonnie Prince Charlie, Jock Tamson, Robert Louis Stevenson, and of course Deacon Barry.
It was also the scene of the most famous resurrection in Scottish history.
Maggie Dixon was found guilty of killing her child, and hanged in the Grassmarket. Her body was loaded into a coffin and transported out of the city. The wagonners stopped at the Sheep Heid for a quick hauf, and to their horror, watched as Maggie pushed back the coffin lid, climbed out, and staggered home. In those days (18th century), hanging was not yet a scientific art, so survival was possible. Because the sentence of the court had been carried out, Maggie was free. She lived the rest of her life as a local celebrity, and was nick-named Half-hingit Maggie.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Tempus fuggeddit

There are many interesting and spectacular constellations in the night sky, such as Orion, Ursa Major and Cygnus. But which constellation would you consider to be the most boring? My initial candidate was Horologium - the Pendulum Clock. This was mapped by Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille - an astronomer with an inordinate fondness for machines - in honour of Christiaan Huygens who invented it. Huygens also discovered the rings of Saturn.
Horologium is made up of a number of faint stars, the brightest being magnitude 3.85. Iota Horologii has a planet twice the mass of Jupiter, 0.91 AU from the star, orbiting in about 311 days. Now if it's got a large enough moon, orbiting far enough out to avoid the intense radiation, it could be within the star's habitation zone, and have liquid water on its surface, and possibly life.
This makes Horologium much more interesting, so my candidate now for most boring constellation is Caelum - the Chisel. It has no star brighter than 4th magnitude. It's got a Mira-type variable star (R Caeli), and that's about it.
It's also a neighbouring constellation to Horologium.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Deconstructing modern art

Today I took my wife and my mother down to Peebles for the day. We had lunch in one of the hotels on the High street, then went for a walk round the town. The Peebles museum and gallery is holding an exhibition called Connections, and we went in to have a look.
The idea behind this exhibition is that artists pass their work on to another artist who uses it as inspiration for their work. It's like the games Consequences and Chinese Whispers. It has produced a number of chains of artwork, where you can see how the ideas have been used and moulded by the artists. There are also some chains of sketches which had to be done in three minutes, and they are a fascinating insight into the artists' creative thought processes.
In the centre of the hall though is a wooden, interactive machine/sculpture. The idea being that you turn a wheel, which turns cogs and levers, and draws a design in a container of sand.
Well I had a go. I turned the wheel anticlockwise. The pulley went back. the wheel on top turned. The lever hit the pegs and reversed direction, moving the brushes in the sand drum in a different direction, then...


The bottom fell off.

It was broken.


It was a large wooden wheel with a plastic cable round it, to turn the sand drum which had fallen. Mind you, it was only held on by a single screw. A heavy thing like that? No wonder it fell! I went and found one of the staff and pointed it out, so I did the right thing. It looks like it'll be easily fixed, thank goodness. Now I know how the man who crashed into the Ming vase felt - shattered!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Timidus. Ipse timidus.

If you've wondered why I get so het up about the perils of society sliding into a theocratic mindset, you should read this proposed criminal code proposed on an extreme christian website called Shadowgov. Or click over to Gods4suckers and read their take on this.
It's a simple system. Flogging or execution for all crimes. No need to keep criminals locked up in prisons for years at the public expense. Do you want to live in such a society?
I admit, it's about as extreme as you can get. It makes Sharia law look merciful. But don't ever say that it couldn't happen. This was the norm three thousand years ago. The Middle Ages weren't much better. We are capable of creating this kind of society. It just won't happen suddenly, that's all. To get from here to there requires a lot of small incremental steps, that get the population thinking that law and order based on biblical teachings is not such a bad idea. America has already gone some way down that road. We, fortunately, are much further behind.
Complacency and apathy are the tools that will help the theocrats gain momentum. There are already about a dozen religious channels on Sky, including Britain's very own Revelation TV. The evangelical churches are growing at the expense of the traditional churches, and they're against abortion, evolution and homosexuality.
Britain is nowhere near as religious as the USA, and the likelihood of it moving towards this theocratic mindset is, I admit it, extremely slim. But if America succumbs, then the outlook is bleak. We've seen how the government wants to maintain that special relationship with Washington. Would the pressure be on to adopt more christian-friendly policies?
Let's just say I'm concerned. I don't want us to sleepwalk into a second Commonwealth, so I'm going to shout about it as long as I've got access to the internet.
All I can do is spread the word.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Absens in Remota

By way of Pharyngula comes this interesting site. It tells you how many people in the USA have the same name as you. So I typed in Christopher Dallman, and got the answer 6. Now one of these I already know about. He's the one who occupies my spot on Google, and doesn't let me appear until page 7 or 8. That leaves five unaccounted for. Remember, I live in Scotland, so I'm not included in the count. Neither is the other Googled Chris: he's English.
6 may be an estimate, the people who run the site say it's a ballpark figure. It's also based on the 1990 census. My Book of Dallmans doesn't list any American Christophers. So I'm left with only the three I know about. (Three of eight? Sounds like a borg!)
My message to any of those missing Christophers out there is: Get yourselves noticed! Don't be anonymous!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

You'll need back-up

I read in the paper that in twenty years, we'll be able to download our minds onto computers. I must admit, I'm skeptical about the timeframe, but if it is possible, then how cool is that? In twenty years time, I'll be approaching retirement, and my body will be starting to wear out. If I wait another ten years while they get the bugs out the system, I can then download myself, and live for centuries in cyberspace. I would create my own worlds, and become god of my own universe, raising up mighty virtual civilizations. It would be like Age of Empires, only much more like reality.
If you want to get an idea of what it would be like, read Tad Williams' Otherland series. It explores the concept of virtual reality, and downloading personalities. For another take, there's a humourous short story by Bob Shaw called Harold Wilson at the Cosmic Cocktail Tea Party, where the downloaded character is a right wing dictator, being kept online by his government. Unfortunately, he's become more interested in conquering virtual realms than running his real one.
Seeing virtual worlds through a plasma screen is a delight. Being part of them, would be an afterlife worth pursuing.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Hiatus hearin' ya

It's good to be back. I've just been reconnected. My phone line went dead on Thursday. Today the BT engineer came and discovered the problem was a fault at the exchange. So, no phone and no internet for two days. And things build up when you're not around to read them. Fortunately, it wasn't long enough for me to develop any severe withdrawal symptoms (my precious.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A cross in the box

When I'm admitting a patient to the ward, one of the boxes I have to fill is 'religion'. The reason for having this box is to give us a heads up on any dietary requirements, or pastoral needs the patient may have. The hospital kitchen can supply halal, kosher, vegetarian and vegan meals, as long as they're given enough notice. The chaplaincy service can be contacted, if the patient requests it. And a priest can be summoned to perform the last rites if that were ever necessary. In an ophthalmic ward, it would be an absolute rarity.
Most often, when asked, people reply "Church of Scotland" which I write down as 'C of S'. Some just say "protestant." Occasionally, someone will tell me they: "Don't really have a religion." For that I put down 'none.' I have hardly ever had someone describe themselves as atheist. Yet I suspect that many of those C of S's are just giving me the church they were christened or married in, which they haven't been to for years. Agnosticism seems to rule in Scotland. True believers always describe themselves as "Christians."
Nobody has ever objected to being asked their religion, and I would be overjoyed to hear someone reply "Jedi", or "Reformed Odinist"
The dearth of atheists troubles me. I feel it wouldn't take much to herd these soft agnostics back into the fold of more evangelical churches if the right charismatic preacher came along. The only reason most people don't bother with church-going is the boredom factor. One hour of a typical presbyterian service is the most mind-numbing experience you can have in a week.
The traditional churches are dwindling as their aging congregation expires. Evangelical churches, on the other hand are gaining momentum and young converts to a hard core message that is fertile ground for intolerance against their three big bugbears: evolution, abortion and homosexuality.
The allegiance of the soft agnostics is the prize, and there are so few atheists, and so many evangelicals. The Culture War rages in America, and the storm is coming to Britain.
atheists of Britain arise! Your country needs you.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Grand Rounds and Coffee Grounds

Grand Rounds is up at Emergiblog. And guess what? I'm in it! Remember my post on leeches? I sent it to Kim at emergiblog for Change of Shift, which is the nursing carnival, but she asked if she could include it in Grand Rounds, which is the medical carnival. So I said, of course, and now there it is.
She's got a Starbucks theme to the event. I'm at the end of the menu under Irish Coffee. Ireland - Scotland? Close enough.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Death of a President

I watched Death of a President this morning. If you remember, I blogged about this last week. I was working Monday night so I had to record it, and I finally got round to watching it today.
I enjoyed it. It was well put together. They've managed to splice footage of Bush and Cheney seamlessly into the film so that it looks and sounds like a real documentary. The date of this fictional assassination is 19th October 2007 - just over one year from now. It will be interesting to see what happens then. I think Bush should avoid Chicago on that date, just to be on the safe side. I don't agree with his policies, but I am opposed to anyone trying to assassinate him.
It was an interesting film, but because it is so obviously fiction, one is tempted to ask what the point of it was. Last year, I watched a similar type of film - a fictional documentary - about a plane collision over London. I didn't catch the start of the programme so I thought it was a genuine documentary about the risk of collision. When they started showing the pictures of burning wreckage, it felt very weird. I felt I was witnessing some alternative history that had somehow interfaced with my universe. Surely I would have remembered something as dramatic as a plane collision over London? I soon realised it was fiction, but with an important warning about the state of our airways. This was an accident that could happen.
I didn't get that feeling with this film. The risk of assassination is always there for US presidents, but they have a substantial security team whose job is to prevent it happening. The film touched on the consequences of Bush's assassination, and all I can say is I fear it would not be a good thing for America.
I may discuss this later once my readers in America have had a chance to see this film. It's definitely worth watching, and I give it three stars.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Be vigilant. Be pure. Behave.

In the education section of the Independent this week is this article, about a creationist group trying to push an information pack onto British schools. Now while this is a big problem in America (though fortunately the tide seems to be turning against them), here in Britain we have so far escaped the worst idiocies of this movement*. That doesn't mean we don't have to be vigilant. Unlike the USA, there is no separation of church and state. Anglican bishops sit in the House of Lords. The Queen is Head of the Church, and is therefore a religious leader as well as a secular one. She is the equal of the Pope and the Dalai Lama. The UK is technically a theocracy, though most people will shrug and say, "Whatever." Fundamentalists are regarded as cranks, and creationists are lumped with other loonies such as Flat Earthers, Scientologists and Iridologists**.
Creationists see themselves as doing God's work, which is getting everybody to worship Jesus as fervently as themselves. The Theory of Evolution is a major obstacle because it is logically incompatible with the Creation account in Genesis. Without Genesis, there is no Original Sin, therefore no need for the Crucifixion. This renders Christianity meaningless.
The creationists can't push their literal version of Genesis directly, because most people consider it a myth. Therefore, they must first sow the seeds of doubt by getting schoolchildren to question evolution by putting forward arguments that some biological structures are so complex, they couldn't have evolved naturally and therefore it's reasonable to assume they were designed. By whom? Oh...a creator.
If you press a creationist to define what he means by a creator, it becomes obvious that he's not talking about an Arisian*** or a Flying Spaghetti Monster. There's only one creator he wants you to know about, and that's the one written about in Genesis.
These (dis)Information packs need to be shot down in flames and banned from science classes. If they are included in Religious Education classes, they need to be ridiculed and scorned, as an example of the foolish things some people believe.

*The 'bowel' is implied.
**Sorry, couldn't resist.
***Literary reference to EE'Doc'Smith's Lensman books.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Where the streets are paved with gold

It's official. I work in the most expensive street in Scotland. It's called Chalmers Street and the carpark at the foot of it has just been sold for nearly £10 million. When I say carpark, don't be having visions of a multistorey edifice with wardens and CCTV. I'm talking 0.8 acres of open, gravelled ground with a parking ticket dispenser in the middle. So why the hefty price tag? Across the road, they're demolishing the old Simpson's Maternity Hospital, and converting the old Royal Infirmary into an upmarket estate of luxury apartments and leisure facilities to be called Quartermile (because it's a quarter mile from Edinburgh Castle). It is also next to the Meadows, the large public park in the middle of Edinburgh. So if you build fifty to sixty apartments and sell them for £1 million each, you're going to make one heck of a profit.
The problem with this from my point of view, is that just up the hill is the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion, where I work. £10 million would come in very handy for the Lothian health trust...

Monday, October 09, 2006

Death of a blogger

I just found out this morning that Sean from God is for Suckers has died. Apparently he died in his sleep on Friday. He had been ill for some time, but had put off treatment. Tragically his death came only two weeks after his father's death. His blog, GiFS for short, is an athiest blog, and his posts were an entertaining and incisive take on the absurdities of Christian Fundamentalism. I only started reading the blog this year, but his 'voice' was distinctive. The best post he did was on April 1st, when he put up a complete false web page, announcing that he'd seen the light, repented, and was now born again! When I saw this I said WTF! When I clicked on the page for further information, all was revealed - April Fool!
I don't know much more about him, what his last name is, or what he looked like. He lived in San Francisco. Hopefully somebody will post an obituary on the site.
I'm sad he's dead. The Blogosphere is still in its infancy, and already a leading light has been extinguished. He'll never see how blogging matures and develops over the next few decades, or how GiFS fares. I hope it survives. It is a communal blog with a number of contributors. But Sean will be missed.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Splish splash

There are many flood myths. Every culture seems to have one. This has been taken by christians to be proof for Noah's flood. Of course, all the other flood stories have been handed down by word of mouth, and have been distorted over time. The biblical account being the only literally true version - yeah right! The biblical account is reckoned to be based on the Babylonian version, which is in turn based on the one referred to by the Sumerians in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The hypothesis I favour at the moment is that this story is based on an orally transmitted memory of the deluge back in the sixth millennium BC, when the salt waters of the Mediterranean Sea burst through the land barrier where Istanbul is now, and drowned the shores of the vast freshwater lake north of Turkey, to create today's Black Sea.
In Greek mythology there is the Ogygian flood, whose survivors are Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha. This flood, however, seems to date to a few generations before the main events of Greeks mythology such as the voyage of the Argonauts, the Theban wars, and of course, the Trojan war. A flood dating to 4,000 years previously is incompatible with Greek writings. A flood dating to 1628BC, on the other hand, is well within the timeframe. That's when Thera erupted according to ice cores excavated from the Greenland Ice Sheet. It caused a tsunami that devastated Crete, and drained then flooded the marshes of Northern Egypt, an event which may have been remembered as the parting of the waves in the Bible.
And what of Greece? The tsunami would have been as devastating to its coast as it was to Crete, and just as traumatic to the survivors as the Black Sea flooding was centuries before. And it has not gone unrecorded. My hypothesis is that the Ogygian flood of King Deucalion was the result of the Thera eruption, and not a distorted retelling of an earlier flood legend.
Two floods. Not one.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Don't stop the Carnival

Kim at emergiblog is hosting this month's Change of Shift. "What's that?" say my readers who are not nurse bloggers. It's a Carnival. "What, with dodgems and carousels...?" Not that sort of Carnival. In the Blogosphere, a Carnival is a round-up/collection/digest/pick of the best posts of the month from various blogs. Change of Shift is the nursing Carnival. I only discovered it last month, so I haven't had a chance to organise a contribution. Once I write a post about nursing that I feel good enough to be included, I'll be sending it to whoever is hosting it. Bloggers take it in turn to host it you see. This month's is volume one, number eight, which suggests that it's only been going since March. That's the thing with blogging, everything's so damned new!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Five tunes to die for

I've just been meme-tagged by Mother Jones RN of Nurse Ratched's Place. My very first meme-tagging. Whassat then? Meme tagging is a game that bloggers play, usually involving posting a list. Then you tell another blogger, "It's your turn!" A meme, of course, if you've read anything by Richard Dawkins, is the cultural equivalent of a gene - a self replicating idea.
So what has Mother Jones tagged me with?

Five songs to be played at my funeral.
1. Tibetan monks' chant.
This to be played as the pallbearers carry my coffin into the crematorium. Many years ago, I was in a production of The Jew of Malta, and this was the opening music.
2. Chantilly Lace by the Big Boppa.
Anyone who's been to a karaoke with me will understand this one. "Hello babe!" is just the thing to open the ceremony.
3.Cinderella Rockefeller by Avi and Esther Ovarim.
This is the song of my childhood. It's also a final "I love you." to my family and friends.
4.Pawn's Lament from The Chess Game by Ian McDonald.
You won't have heard this one. It's from a musical, performed over twenty years ago at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe which my brother and sister were in. It goes like this:
I hear the bells toll for just another pawn
Your life was but a moment in the whole of time
The bell rings soft now, but no-one seems to hear
Why am I living when so many lie around?
Why...do I feel so cold now?
When...I have survived.
I don't want to grow so old now
Now that all my friends have died
They're not alive
But they'll survive
Their memory lingers on.
Finally, as my coffin heads towards the oven, the final song -
5.The Cygnet from Carmen Burana.
I can't resist the refrain:
Miser, miser
Modo niger
Et ustus fortiter.
(Alas, alas, now black, and roasted thoroughly.)
So that's my bunch of five. Now who can I tag? Lemmee see now. Mother Jones tagged me, Sapient Fridge doesn't have a blog, so that leaves...
BeepBeepitsme - you're it!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Bush assassinated!

Made you look! Next Monday, apparently, there's a programme on More4 called Death of a President which is a drama about what would happen if somebody shot Dubya. I know nothing more about it other than Hillary Clinton and Kevin Costner have denounced it, and the Whitehouse has said nowt. What's interesting, is that it's been made by a digital channel. More4 is the digital branch of the terrestrial Channel 4. Digital channels are not best known for their commitment to original drama production, so this comes as a nice surprise. I'll have to record it though, because I'm working a night shift next Monday. It's on at nine o' clock.
And it comes less than a month after Disney's mock assassination of Clinton! (Which I avoided like the toxic candy floss it was.) This sounds way more(4) appealing. If I do manage to record and watch it, I'll review it for you.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Plates of meat

When I was a nursing student, we had a class on complementary therapies. These included massage and relaxation techniques which I have found useful, but it also included reflexology. If you are unaware of what this is, I will now dispel your good fortune. Reflexologists believe that the body is mapped onto the soles of the feet, and by massaging the appropriate area of the sole (soul?), one can alleviate disorder in the corresponding body part. What bollocks! Foot massage is only foot massage and nothing else. Have they considered the logical flipside of their delusion that if massaging the foot helps to heal (heel?) and organ, then accidently treading on a broken glass, or spilt drawing pin should cause injury to that organ. Of course it doesn't, which only demonstrates that reflexology doesn't have a leg to stand on.