wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
Sophie's World, Jostein Gaarder
This was technically a re-read, but I'd forgotten virtually all the details. This is a history of western philosophy textbook in disguise as a novel, and does a pretty good job at both. There were occasional bits where I wasn't entirely convinced that the philosophy was being conveyed perfectly accurately, and it's quite likely that someone with a more in depth grounding would find more to disagree with, but as a high level overview, it certainly did the job of making me want to read more of the originals.

Xenogenesis trilogy (Dawn, Adulthood Rites, Imago) - Octavia Butler
I really enjoyed these - sociological science fiction set on and near a future Earth which has brought itself to the brink of destruction. The survivors are rescued by aliens, but as part of the rescue they are genetically modified to be infertile - descendants are only possible through interbreeding with the aliens, in an attempt to eradicate the human flaw of constantly seeking to build hierarchies and dominate. These novels are both great stories, and a powerful allegory for fear of racial integration.

Between the world and me - Ta Nahesi Coates
This is an autobiographical book written in the form of letters from the author to his son about the experience of growing up in a black body in America. His thoughts about the construction of whiteness as a means to enforce a hierarchy dovetail nicely with the ideas in the Butler trilogy. I found this fairly uncomfortable reading, as I expect I should have. It opened my eyes to some aspects of black experience that I'd been oblivious to before - in particular, the sense of all pervading fear, and the way that changes how you look at the world. Strongly recommended

Snippets

Apr. 23rd, 2017 04:25 pm
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
Yesterday I went to Walsingham for the wedding of Fr Daniel and his lovely bride Elise. It was a beautiful service, presided over by the Revd Canon Stephen Gallagher, Elise's father, and with a sermon from +Philip North which was both moving and highly entertaining. The music was exquisite - the ordinary was William Walton's Missa Brevis, which I'd not heard before, and sounded beautiful but also very hard! It was marvellous to spend some time in Walsingham, and I somehow managed to come away from the shrine shop without buying any tat, and only one book.

As Fr Daniel had other places to be this morning, we had a visiting celebrant today, and since she had enough on her plate getting to grips with an unfamiliar ceremonial, I was asked to step in as cantor for the Alleluia. I'd had enough warning about this that I was able to ask CN to turn half my piano lesson the previous week into a singing refresher, and that helped me feel a lot more confident. Despite being frightfully anxious, I think I did a pretty decent job, and I might ask about possibly doing it more regularly, so I can work on getting over my nerves.

We continue to settle in to the new house. We still lack a functioning dishwasher, and have slightly more furniture in the spare room than we actually need, but apart from that we've done all the urgent jobs, and are starting to move on to the longer term nice-to-haves. Today I put together a new standing desk, which I'm hoping will have the twofold effect of being good for my back and shoulder tension, and discouraging me from wasting too much time hitting refresh on social media.
wildeabandon: Champage bottle and flutes (champagne)
One of the things I find most difficult about not drinking is missing out on celebratory Champagne, so over the last few weeks I have been sampling every non-alcoholic fizz I can lay my hands on, in the hope of finding a suitable substitute. I tried twelve that could generously be called wine, as well as a couple that were definitely-not-wine which came in a wine bottle. The latter two were Lloberetta, a perfectly pleasant fizzy passion fruit drink, and Cloudem Blue, a truly absurd concoction which is bright cyan with iridescent swirls, and tastes of pure e-numbers. There’s definitely a place for it as a ridiculous party drink, but it’s not the Champagne substitute I was looking for.

The majority of the wine-like options fell into two categories. Most of them were about as sweet as your average rosé, which is far too sugary for my tastes. I found it less off-putting in the one that actually was a rosé, because it wasn’t so out of place, but it still wouldn’t be something I’d like to drink regularly. A couple of the others were actually dry enough, doing a passable impression of an inferior Cava, but neither of them was terribly pleasant - they had the distinct carbonic sharpness of a wine made with the soda method and lacking any complexity to distract from it.

Of the remaining three wines, one was a red, which, well, wasn’t the worst sparkling red I’ve tried, but there is a reason that nobody makes them, and that is that they are universally terrible. On Easter Sunday I opened a bottle of Differente Aromatic Cuvée, which was dramatically better than any of the other ones I’d tried. It was also more expensive than the actual vintage Champagne that everyone else was drinking. And whilst it was good, it wasn’t that good, and certainly not worth shelling out thirty quid a bottle for on a regular basis.

There was one wine left to try though, which had been out of stock the first time I ordered, appropriately named Win Sparkling, because ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. It’s still very slightly sweeter than would be perfect, but well within acceptable parameters - on a par with a typical Prosecco, but with more of the biscuity notes that I’d associate with a Champagne. If money were no object I’d still prefer the Differente, which I'll probably treat myself to on special occasions, but the Win comes in at less than a quarter the price, and is very nearly as good.
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I continue to be in that slightly weird place emotionally, where everything in my life is awesome and keeps getting better, but I have this nagging conciousness of the world descending into madness, and don't quite know how to incorporate the two. I'm intending to do some campaigning for the upcoming election, probably in the nearest Lib/Con marginal, but concievably for Labour if that looks like it might have more impact for the anyone-but-Tory cause.

After the Watch, my Easter weekend continued well. I was nearly late for the Easter Vigil because I was making an unsuccessful attempt to retrieve my crucifix from the massage parlour where I'd lost it earlier in the day. Fortunately I made it just in time, and they called later to say that they'd found it, so I picked it up on Tuesday, which I think you can call a happy ending.

I was a little bit grumpy towards the start of the Vigil, partly because it's at the wrong time (dusk rather than dawn) and in the wrong order (with the new fire preceeding the readings rather than coming afterwards), and partly because the children were more than usually rambunctious, but of course all that got swept away as the fanfare sounded and the Allelulias rang, and I was filled with joy in the Risen Lord.

There was another Mass on Sunday morning, after which I set off home for the Feast, which we were hosting this year. I was really pleased with all of my courses. As a starter I did chargrilled courgettes in a mint dressing with olive tapenade and crumbled feta. The fish course was scallops and black pudding with caramelised red onion (or sushi for the vegetarians - teriyaki mushroom & tamago chirashi and avocado & watermelon nigiri). But I think best of all was the pudding, which was rhubarb and yuzu posset. I reckon when you're on course seven of a nine course meal, and told that the only criticism is that there should have been more of it, you must be doing something right!

Passion

Apr. 14th, 2017 06:54 pm
wildeabandon: crucifix necklace on a purple background (religion)
Well that's certainly been a spiritually intense day. Unsurprisingly, keeping silent vigil for sixteen hours (even with a short break to get some coffee and breakfast about thirteen hours in) is both physically and psychologically taxing.

At first I was consciously trying to keep my thoughts focused on our Lord and his tribulations in the garden of Gethsemane, remonstrating with myself every time my mind wandered and dragging it back. As the night deepened I realised this was folly, and allowed my thoughts to drift away; in retrospect the fact that they wandered back of their own accord, bringing me new insights and answers to the question "Where is God in my day to day life" isn't that surprising.

The real revelation came later though, after the watch had ended, and we entered into the Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday, a service which draws you in to the horror of the crucifixion, and always leaves me feeling somewhat fragile. Entered into from a starting point of having been awake for 24 hours, alone in the garden watching my Beloved Lord suffer, something just broke. I began to weep as Fr Daniel delivered an austere and beautiful chant of Psalm 22, and continued through the Passion of our Lord.

Fr Justin, always an outstanding preacher, was on particularly fine form, with a meditation both impassioned and erudite on the different interpretations of Jesus' final word, Τετέλεσται, "It is finished." We were invited to shed our hindsight knowledge of the resurrection, which makes clear the valedictory nature of the phrase, that Jesus' great saving work, His fulfilment of the scripture and His redemption of the whole world is now complete. It is finished. Instead we were asked, hear those words through the ears of Mary, of the disciples. Watch the last breath of our dear son, our beloved friend and teacher, and see his life, and all that he has worked for disappear, ended, ruined. It is finished.

By now I am a complete mess of tears. I don't believe I can truly imagine what it can have been like to be there, but I understand better now than I ever have before.

Liveliness

Apr. 12th, 2017 08:49 am
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Gosh, my DW feed is livelier than usual today - between people switching across from LJ, and reconnecting with a few folk who'd either fallen off my lists or I'd never got round to adding, plus, I think, an uptick in posting because of the migration, it all seems pleasantly active. Possibly I should try and post a bit more myself?

The University closes its offices for an extra couple of days over the Easter bank holiday, so this is my last day until next Wednesday. I brought in Hotel Chocolate eggs for my team - confectionery bribery is a key part of being a good boss, right?

I'm quite glad to be getting the longer break, even though in contractor world it means losing out on a chunk of cash, for a couple of reasons. One is that this year I had the brilliant idea of suggesting to Fr Daniel that instead of keeping the Watch of the Passion until midnight and then closing the church, we should try to keep it all the way through to the Good Friday Solemn Liturgy*. And then I had the next brilliant idea of saying that if we didn't get enough volunteers to do it in stages, I could just do the whole thing myself. I'm expecting it to be quite an important experience, but probably also quite hard and exhausting, so having a day beforehand to adjust my sleep pattern as much as possible is quite helpful.

I've also got an Easter Feast to plan for - because clearly the first time you cook for guests in your new house and kitchen a ten course meal for nine people is the way to go. It's going to be fabulous of course, because it always is, but usually I'm a bit more prepared at this stage, so it feels slightly daunting...

*for non-Catholics, the Watch of the Passion is a tradition where after the Mass of the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday evening, we process the body of Christ to a special altar called the altar of repose, and stay with it, praying, in memory of the night Jesus spent in the garden of Gethsemane. Although we are, in some sense, following in the steps of the apostles who accompanied Jesus, the idea is not to emulate them in the 'falling asleep' part of the story.
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As you may remember from various posts in recent months, for the last year or so I've been trying to take the next career step from analyst into management. A week ago I finally managed it, and without having to go back to permanent work. I've just started a new role as Interim Head of Student Records at the University of Bedfordshire. The job is based at their Luton campus, which is only 22 minutes out of St Pancras if I get the fast train, so in addition to providing an important step for my career, a more interesting job spec, and a faintly implausible pay rise, it has the extremely wonderful benefit of being commutable from home, which means that I get to see a lot more of [personal profile] obandsoller and [personal profile] robert_jones, and to actually live full time in the shiny new house we've just bought.

Given all that, it feels like a slightly unfair hogging of all the good luck that from my initial impressions my team are scarily competent and thus easy to manage, the work looks like it will be just that right level of challenge to ensure that I'm not bored, but don't feel out of my depth, and everyone I've met has been incredibly welcoming, open, and helpful. There may be an element of new shiny going on, but even accounting for that, I seem to have fallen on my feet in quite a spectacular fashion. Hoorah!
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Given the new ToS, this will be my last crosspost to LJ, and I'll be deleting it and moving entirely to Dreamwidth in a week. If you want to follow suit and haven't done so already you can import your entire LJ including comments here.
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This year I organised my first every readthrough weekend (with [livejournal.com profile] the_alchemist) of the first two seasons of Game of Thrones. It seemed to go reasonably well, so next year we'll be doing seasons three and four.

First dibs on places will go to people who came to the first one, but there'll be at least one more space, and maybe more if some people decide they can't make it. If you think it might be your kind of thing, there's a poll about interest and dates here.

Piano

Feb. 21st, 2017 10:34 am
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I’ve been learning the piano again, and it’s giving me a great deal of pleasure. I learned for a few years as a child, but gave up when it started getting difficult, and in the last five years or so I’ve periodically gone “I should learn to play again”, made enthusiastic attempts for a couple of weeks, and then gotten bored. About a year ago, when we were preparing for a couple of singthroughs at Ardgour-en-France, I volunteered to do the easy piano version accompaniment for a couple of the songs. It took a ridiculous amount of time to get these really quite simple pieces to a non-terrible standard, but it got me back into the habit of playing regularly again, and I’ve carried on ever since.

When I moved out to Northampton I had quite a lot of time to myself, so after a little while decided to treat myself to a cheap spare piano out here, and since then I’ve been playing a lot more, and recently started taking lessons again. I’m not someone who’s naturally musically talented, but it turns out that actually practicing a reasonable amount means you get better at a reasonable rate. Who knew? I’m preparing for my grade 5 now, and having a lot of fun with the pieces (not so much fun with the scales, of which there are many, but I do seem to find it easier to be disciplined about them than I did as a youngster).
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This is technically a reread, but the first time was around eight years ago, and I could remember very little of it. I found the first half, where he sketches out his model of consciousness - very condensed, a disparate and competing set of “content-fixation events” in the brain, some of which get retained as speech acts or memories, some of which get discarded and forgotten, but lacking any central “meaner” or “observer” co-ordinating these individual elements, and the bit of the algorithm that feels from the inside like being conscious is content-fixation events that are about other content fixation events - quite hard and slow going, and as I was reading them, wondered whether my memory of having found the book illuminating and clear was inaccurate.

Then I got onto the second half, which started looking at specific examples, and suddenly everything became much clearer, and I polished it off in about a tenth the time the first half took me. There are still bits that I don’t quite understand, or at least can’t articulate, in particular what ‘aboutness’ means as a property of a content-fixation event, but in general the theory felt quite comfortable and intuitive by the end of the book.

One thought that came out of the book that I want to follow up on is that there’s a fallacy in thought experiments, which is common to philosophical zombies, Mary the colour scientist, and the ontological argument, which goes “I can imagine this phenomenon, and using the properties of the thing I have imagined, such and such a proposition must be true (or is impossible)”. The fallacy being that you can’t actually imagine it accurately. I’m curious how much this crop up elsewhere. It almost feels as though it undermines the very concept of thought-experiments - or at least relegates them to ways of generating ideas, but not of providing any further insights.
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Gosh, has it really been more than six months since I last did one of these? It's been quite an eventful few months as well.

I am largely continuing to react to the giant trashcan fire that is UK and US politics by burying my head in the sand and not thinking about it, although I am guiltily conscious that I'm only able to do this from the top of giant pile of privilege that I'm sitting on. I need to make space to give some thought to what I should actually be doing about this, but that's a whole separate post, and in this one I shall concentrate on the personal.

The big exciting news is that we just bought a house. As it turns out, it's the place we'd had an offer accepted on nearly a year ago, but thought it had fallen through. It unfell in October, and after a fairly moderate amount of faff in the house-buying scheme of things we completed a couple of weeks ago. We've got the current flat until the 6th March, so we're taking the opportunity to get some minor bits of work done whilst it's empty, but we'll be moving in soon. I am very excited! Amongst the things that I'm excited about are having a bigger kitchen, and a proper dining room, and enough social space that hosting dinner parties and cocktail parties and readthroughs becomes much less logistically faffy; having a proper spare room so that we can put people up; Ramesh having a room that's big enough for him, so we can both share each other's space; being able to set up a home gym just the way I want it; getting a cat; having a permanent home, rather than somewhere I'm expecting to leave in a couple of years; never ever having to move house ever again; not having to move furniture around every time someone want to switch from using the dining table to using the piano; having double glazing, so Ramesh is consistently warm enough, and hopefully catches fewer colds; exploring the restaurants and cafes and shops of Green Lanes. Yes, many exciting and pleasing things.

Work is bobbing along reasonably enough. I'm currently working at the University of Northampton, doing much the same stuff I've been doing for the last few years, but no longer working for a raging narcissist makes it far more enjoyable. I've got a little flat out here where I stay Monday-Wednesday nights, and then work from home on Fridays, and although I'd rather be living at home full time , for some reason a 3/4 split feels far less arduous than a 4/3 one was (and Ramesh seems to find the same), so I think it's reasonably sustainable. Since I moved out here I've had a couple of interviews for interim positions at the 'next stage of my career' level, and although I didn't get either of them, in both cases it was close enough that I'm now feeling a lot more confident that something else will come up that means I'll be able to make that step without having to go back into permanent employment.

Health is mostly good. I've not been exercising as much as I'd have liked over the winter, because cold and wet and running don't mix that well, and the combination of some persistent tension in my shoulder, plus the logistics of living in two places has limited how much strength training I've been doing. But it's warming up now, and I'm seeing a physiotherapist tomorrow, which will hopefully lead to some progress on the shoulder, and I'll get a decent gym set up in the new house before long.

Relationship stuff is great. Ramesh & I celebrate our eighth anniversary this week, and I continue to be astonished by how lucky I am to be with him. He brings me delight and excitement and warmth and security; he's kind and clever and considerate and interesting; he goes out of his way to make me happy, and always notices and appreciates it when I make an effort to be good to him; he listens to me and makes me feel safe showing my vulnerability to him, and he opens up and trusts me with his in turn; even when we have conflicts to work through, he comes at it constructively and kindly and charitably, and then when we've reached an agreement of how to handle it he follows through. And if that weren't bounteous overflow of joy enough, I managed to spend time with all three of my FWBs in the last couple of months, all of whom remain charming and delicious. I do sometimes think it would be nice to have a secondary partner, someone I saw more than a handful of times a year, but without the commitment of lives entwined. But I don't want it enough to seek out new people, and my social life is shaped such that I rarely meet them through happenstance, so unless something changes, I think that will remain an occasional idle thought.
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Aulis is the chef's development table at Fera, where they have a menu which is more experimental and changeable than the main restaurant, and is where they try out and showcase new ideas. With the exception of the first amuse bouche (which was rather bland, and an unfortunate note to start on) it was consistently very good, without ever reaching "this is the best thing I have ever put in my mouth" moments of rapture.

There were three courses that stood out as particularly highlights to me. First was the taco where both the taco itself and the filling were primarily made of celeriac, with flakes of cured egg yolk on top. Secondly the venison, momentarily blow-torched but almost a tatare, served with beetroot that had been dehydrated and then rehyrdrated with beetroot and blackcurrant juice (amazingly intensely flavoured, with a distinctive and pleasing texture), and a sorrel sauce, which tasted as vividly green as it looked. And finally the calcot onions (somewhere between a spring onion and a baby leek) with tiny mushrooms, mushroom goop (technical term, that), and grated truffles. I'm a simple creature, and it's not hard to please me if you cover a dish in fresh truffle, but this was an especially good use of the ingredient, with just enough sharpness from the onion to balance the rich warmth of the mushroom and truffle.
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (dorian)
Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality - Eliezer Yudkowsky
This is a novel-length piece of fanfiction, which follows an alt-universe plot loosely paralleling that of The Philosopher’s Stone, where instead of Vernon Dursley, Petunia Evans marries an Oxford professor of physics, so Harry is brought up as a sceptic and a scientist, and after being selected for Hogwarts, starts trying to apply what he’s learned previously to the study of magic.

I was a little bit sceptical about it, because I find EY incredibly irritating on social media, and thought that his attempts to evangelise his philosophical ideas through fiction might be equally annoying. I was wrong. It was entertaining, emotionally engaging from start to finish, often laugh-out-loud funny, and occasionally moved me to tears, all the while opening me up to and convincing me of its philosophical underpinnings. 10/10 would recommend to anyone who doesn’t hate Harry Potter.

Rationality: AI to Zombies - Eliezer Yudkowsky
This is a long and multifaceted book in six volumes with lots of diversions. It originally took form as a series of blog posts, and whilst they have been edited for coherence, it still feels rather bitty. There’s lots of good stuff in the earlier sections on why rationality matters and ways in which we convince ourselves it doesn’t matter. One aspect that was a bit off-putting for me personally was the constant use of theism as an example of irrational thinking, which meant I was spending less time absorbing the general principles of his arguments and more time going round in circles that I’ve been round many times before as to whether I can justify my faith. There’s a bunch of stuff about biases and cognition which wasn’t new to me, but I felt was presented well.

Some parts, primarily the philosophy of science and consciousness, I found it very hard to understand what he was saying. I’m not sure if this is just material that is beyond my ability to understand, or was explained poorly. There were sections on quantum dynamics, specifically arguing the obvious correctness of the many worlds interpretation which sounded relatively convincing, but I don’t know if I would agree after understanding the maths and the actual arguments from those proposing collapse. I’ve seen people claiming that his understanding of the physics is lacking, but I’m not currently in a position to judge.

I thought the intuitive explanation of Bayes theorem was pretty good (but I’m not the target audience), and I thought the concept behind the extension of this into a “Technical explanation of technical explanation” was good, but that the conclusions come into conflict with concerns about privileging the hypothesis. It seems as though it was boiling down to “it’s okay, indeed desirable, to privilege a hypothesis if it turns out to be right”. I found myself extremely suspicious of the whole analysis of the conflict between science and rationality, and although I can grant his point that we need some way of making decisions about what is true in cases where performing the experiments is very difficult or even impossible even in principle, he seemed a little bit too enthusiastic about careering off down that road.

Once it came back to ethical philosophy in the penultimate volume I found it much more enjoyable and easier reading again, and the final volume about how to make rationalism work in the real world was quite inspiring. II would definitely note that my perception of the quality of his writing and arguments correlated strongly with the areas where I already agreed with him, suggesting that he may not have presented them as well as I felt he did, and that all I’m seeing is a reflection of longer and shorter inferential distances.

Six Easy Pieces - Richard Feynman
One thing that I got out of the previous book was a great long list of stuff I want to read and learn more about, and fairly high on that list is quantum mechanics. Only one of these six lectures touched on QM more than very superficially (and even that one was pretty superficial), but it was a good memory jog of the basic physics which I’d forgotten lots of, and of course delightful reading in Feynman’s characteristic style.
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2015; 2014; 2000-2009

I did actually write this at the end of the year, but it's been sitting in my drafts folder waiting to be posted since then...

Was 2016 a good year for you?
Personally, yes. Lots of the good stuff from 2015 got consolidated. I feel like I spent much more of the year doing and learning interesting things. I am, unsurprisingly, worried about the state of the world, but so far none of it has had much direct impact on me, and I'm fortunate enough to find it quite easy to feel serene about the things I can't change.

Read more... )
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I have dinner with [personal profile] kerrypolka once every couple of months, and recently we have been on a fantastic roll of amazing places, of which Bao was the first that I can remember clearly enough to review. They don’t take bookings, which is a practice I don’t entirely approve of, but the fact that we had to queue for 45 minutes after arriving at 18:00, whilst slightly irksome, did seem like a good sign.

We were reading the menu as we waited, and let me tell you it looked like it was going to be a challenge to pick, but I remembered reading a review that said that one of everything was a fairly sensible amount of food for three people, and we were both quite hungry, so we figured what the hell. That was a good plan. There are various starters, bao (basically small sandwiches in buns half way between the fluffy white things you get in chinese style dim sum and sweet brioche), and a handful of other mains and sides, but everything just turned up when it was ready. For me the standout starter was the sweetcorn with beef butter, which was so rich and warming, with just the right amount of spice. Kerry was particularly keen on the crispy prawn heads, although I was less blown away by them. Of the sides, the grilled lettuce with confit garlic was the thing that kept us going “but how, how did they get lettuce that texture” all the way to the tube station. Every single one of the bao was incredible - the buns so soft, the meat so tender and flavourful, and the accompaniments so well balanced and innovative.

It turns out that when the food is that good, not only can two people polish off one of everything, but they can go back and order seconds, and then when told that there’s no pudding menu, thirds. The bill came to around £100 between the two of us, including drinks and tip. You could certainly eat there a lot more cheaply if you could resist filling yourself almost past the point of bursting with all the tasty tasty buns, but you’d need a stronger will than mine.
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[livejournal.com profile] venta asked about a favourite piece of clothing. I used to have lots of fabulous flamboyant clothing, and then went through a phase of feeling uncomfortable about transgressing gender boundaries and dressing rather conservatively, and gave away a lot of my wardrobe. That turned out to be just a phase, and since then I've been gradually finding my own style again.

I still haven't quite settled on exactly what sort of things suit me now, especially with my body having changed shape quite a lot over the last year or so, but as a general principle I like clothes that go swoosh, I like silks and velvets, and I like jewel colours. In my current wardrobe my favourite thing is a garment that's somewhere between a jacket and a cardigan, it has a ruffley front, kind of like this, but longer, just brushing the tops of my thighs, and with wider sleeves, in a deep rich purple velvet. Wearing it never fails to make me feel gorgeous.

Legend

Dec. 15th, 2016 03:14 pm
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It's all been a bit hectic, so updating dailyish seems to have fallen slightly by the wayside. On the other hand, I'm about to write my last prompt, so now would be a good time for new ones.

[livejournal.com profile] yiskah prompted with, "I would like you to write about a book (or books) that means a great deal to you, or has changed your life in some way."

I feel oddly embarrassed by this, but probably the book that means the most to me is Legend, by David Gemmell. I read it on the recommendation of Adam, my first serious boyfriend, when I was sixteen and stuck in a psychiatric ward. Since then I must have re-read it dozens, maybe hundreds, of times. Whenever I'm feeling under the weather or miserable, and want something comforting and easy t read, it's the first thing that jumps into my hand, and I read it in the bath until the water goes cold and I turn into a prune.

And in many ways it's "just" schlocky heroic fantasy, unsubtle and unclever. But it gives me a world to escape into, where the heroes are just flawed enough not to be annoying. It wraps me up like a warm blanket, and gives me somewhere safe to hide.

And there's a bit, quite near the end, which comes back to me again and again, whenever my faith is shaking. Serbitar, a deeply religious warrior monk, is dying:

"He took three deep shuddering breaths, looked inside himself and saw that he was dying. Reaching out with his mind, he sought Vintar and the others.
Silence.
A terrible silence.
It was all for nothing then, he thought, as the Nadir tensed for the kill. He chuckled wryly.
There was no Source.
No centre to the universe.
In the last seconds left to him he wondered if his life had been a waste.
He knew it had not. For even if there was no Source, there ought to have been. For the Source was beautiful."
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Preamble
I’ve been doing quite a lot of thinking about freedom of speech lately, and would like to tease apart some thoughts. Before I start, I would like to comment that I am not particularly interested in a conversation about what the law is currently, and how that should be applied, but about what both the law and social norms ought to be in an ideal world. As such “your argument is wrong because that’s not what the Public Order Act 1986/the First Amendment to the US Constitution/Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says” is missing the point.

Freedom of speech is complicated, and it would be better if people at all points on the political spectrum acknowledged this. This complexity means that it’s very easy to look at the behaviour of your political opponents and see hypocrisy - that they are espousing support of the principle of freedom of speech, and are very quick to complain when they see theirs being restricted, but all too happy to overlook it when it comes to speech they disagree with. It is much harder to look at your political allies and see the same thing - suddenly the arguments for why the restrictions being placed on you are clearly insupportable, whereas the ones you seek to place on others are perfectly reasonable start to make a lot more sense. The lesson here is not that your opponents are hypocrites, it’s that people are hypocrites.

I think the complication manifests in a variety of different ways, and part of the reason it’s easy to convince yourself that this restriction is draconian and this other is completely reasonable is that any given act of speech falls in a different place on multiple dimensions, so it becomes tempting to weight the area which points towards your viewpoint more heavily, without realising that that’s what you’re doing. I enumerate five of them below, but there may be others which I’ve overlooked.

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[personal profile] kht asked "What do you like to cook for yourself when you're low on time and energy?".

I'm afraid the answers to this are fairly boring. I don't get nearly as much pleasure out of cooking if it's just for me, so a lot of the time when I'm on my own in the Northampton flat I practically live on fresh filled pasta with a bit of grated parmasan and olive oil, and then fill up on fruit to make sure I'm getting enough vitamins. My other staple is scrambled eggs, which I sometimes add rice wine and soy sauce to, and eat with a croissant, and sometimes do with just salt on pepper, served with marmite covered toast.

When I feel like making a tiny bit more effort I'll make egg-fried rice, which I can throw vegetables into, or I'll make a stew (onions, garlic, various root vegetables, lentils, pearl barley (or buckwheat if I want it to be gluten free), cabbage or other green leafy veg, stock, red wine, dried herbs, spoonful of marmite), which takes about 15 minutes of work, and then just sits and cooks, and makes great leftovers.
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